Special report to CSMS Magazine
I attended a meeting at the Avanti Wellness Center in Saint Augustine, Florida, where I live. This was one of the first mental health centers to open up its doors in the local area. Even though the facility was situated near the heart of the Saint Augustine Historic District, this particular facility clearly defines contemporary art. It has nothing to do with the classic 18th century colonial houses that have always been the trademark of the town, the oldest town in the United States.
From the entrance of the facility down to the group meeting room located on the west wing of the building, the whole facility was nicely decorated. The main building was over 8,000 square feet of plush working conditions for both patients and workers. The group room, where the meeting was going to be held, was very spacious, and the seating area was very comfortable. The meeting began at 5:00 PM. I arrived at around three thirty. I came early just so I could take a detailed tour of the compound.
As I left the group room, I ventured to the left and went outside to where the smoking area was. It was very peaceful. It had many beautiful plants, and the sun beamed from every edge of the room, giving the area a “glow of hope,” if you will. The view that was overlooking the Saint Johns River was quiet, something to behold. I could imagine patients coming here just to unwind. Through their thoughts, I suppose, it was quiet like the peace maker. As I left the smoking patio, I went back inside and got a view of the laboratory. The lab was even more spacious than the group room with space for lab tables and experiment canisters. It was my first time in an actual lab of this kind. So, one could say that I was akin to a child in a candy store.
As I saw the time was getting closer for the drug recovery meetings to take place, I strutted myself back to the group room, sat in the back of the room and waited for the meeting to start. As the participants in the meeting were entering in rapid fashion, I noticed how none of them had the stereotypical look of the average “Junkie”. I guess one could say I grew up watching HBO movies late at night as a child. So, the image in my mind was quite at odds with what I saw that day in the meeting. Most of these patients looked like the average person one might see at the church or the library. In just five minutes, the group room was filled with people—people who were ready to tell their story, to get out their frustrations, to simply get help.
The first person to speak was this young man who went by the name of J.T. This young man was a surviving cocaine addict. When he was just14 years old, he was diagnosed by his English teacher for having A.D.H.D. His parents took him to a psychiatrist who confirmed the diagnosis. It was true, according to the young man. He later became addicted to the prescription medicine the doctor had given him, which was called Dexedrine. He later admitted that he crushed the Dexedrine pills and snorted them, and that the high he would receive from the drug would last him up to at least two hours.
As he got older, he would find himself getting addicted to coke. His father owned a gas station, and he would always have large wads of cash on him at all times. J.T said that he would wait until his father would leave his room to come down stairs so that he himself could go upstairs to steal some money out his father’s pocket. As I was watching and listening to this compelling story from J.T, I noticed the emotion in his eyes. He looked so honest, as he was telling this story. It was as if I could peek right into his soul. This was the first time I had seen a recovering addict, expressing his ordeals right before my face. J.T went on to say how he started to view himself as a total failure, and the fact that he was stealing from his parents to support his addiction was making him sick. He got arrested twice for having ecstasy found in his pocket by a cop during a car search.
J.T would go on to say how he would start selling drugs to support his own addiction. He went into a comparison between Dexedrine and Crack Cocaine. He said the high with coke lasted too short, specifically about 20 minuets. As for the Dexedrine, high would last for well over two hours. He started to cry as he paused after breaking down the differences of the drugs. Everyone in the room went silent; the room’s silence was so thick that one could have cut it with a knife. He would gather himself together and would conclude by saying that he had been sober for the past seven years, and that he also had been married for the past three years. J.T talked about how being clean truly gives his life some new meaning. When his speech was over, he gently stepped down from the podium and went back to his seat which was in the far left of the emergency exit door.
I sat there, trying to analyze J.T. It felt just like how we were talking about in class, about how most medications end up doing more harm than good to patients. If it weren’t for the doctor prescribing him Dexedrine, probably he would have never gotten hooked on coke. I truly felt a large portion of empathy for this young man. He couldn’t have been any older than 29 to 30 years old. I witnessed a total of 50 accounts from different people that day, but J.T had the most impact on me on the personal level, as well as on a professional one.
On a professional level, J.T made me focus on his behavior patterns as he was telling his accounts from his pass. It made me start looking for any correlations of patterns from a variety of things, ranging from speech, hand gestures, and facial expressions. I also could tell that J.T sought attention from his parents. He knew by stealing from his mother, his mother would have suspected or caught him doing it. Therefore, by interrogating him on such questions as to where the money was held, he could have gotten the help or the immediate assistance. In essence to him the fact that she would yell at him was good enough attention, even if it wasn’t one that was desired.
This story has strengthened my resolve even more to continue my dream of becoming a Psychologist. Even though my form of psych has more to do with marriage counseling and relationships, it still has to do with helping someone to get better. My whole life I have always wanted to have a reason to continue living, a reason to keep hope alive. And being there that day listening to J.T speak, reinforced my reason for choosing this profession. I want to become a productive citizen, some day.
Coming to the Avanti center really opened my eyes on the ins and outs of running a mental institution. It’s no easy task. People are always walking up and down the corridor. Does the word sleep exist for these professionals? That may be true. I know one thing for certain. if not for places like these young men like J.T wouldn’t have a story to tell nonetheless a life to keep living. I want to do the same thing with Psychology, the idea of helping others strive through adversity it what motivates me every day.
Note: Ardain Isma Jr. is a student at University of North Florida (UNF), majoring in Psychology. He wrote this piece exclusively for CSMS Magazine.