WARNING – THIS IS A VERY LONG POST!!!!!
This week has been a very strange one in the grand scheme of things. It has been a week of “lasts” and goodbyes.
It was my last Sunday at St Marks in Colney Heath, my last church small group (a group which is called “Bernard” and when I asked why the response was “because it is a good name”. We had a curry on that evening and they presented me with a gift of spices and things for curry and a rice cooker. My last Pilates class, some of which I have been in class with for over 5 years.
Most importantly though today was my last day at work. Since 17 September 2001 I have been employed as a Specialist Social Worker at an NHS Trust in a Community Drug and Alcohol Team. I had made huge efforts to keep myself busy all week, finishing off with clients, writing up their notes, handing them over to their new key worker with prescriptions completed up to the end of March, and generally making sure they will be ok. Today however was officially my last day and I had done all that I needed to do. My work was complete and I went on a long round of goodbyes to people I worked with. I described this as feeling like Cher’s World Farewell Tour – it seemed never ending.
I am not sure how I feel about leaving. In some way I feel relieved. The job was getting more paperwork and statistics driven and it was becoming very political. My time with my clients and the way I was able to work with them was being squeezed and I was not able to be as creative as a liked. I wanted the chance to be able to work with people in whatever was was successful to their ongoing recovery, but that wasn’t possible as things were statistics driven. My frustrations were mirrored by my clients, and it was only by working overtime to do the paperwork that I was able to fit in any time with them at all. I used to deliver substance misuse training to child protection and health professionals, but that stopped about 18 months ago. I felt de-skilled and demoralised and yet, in many ways, I loved my job.
My clients could be absolute pains in the backside. They were often difficult and challenging, but also they were resilient, funny and honest. Their lives regularly put any Eastenders storyline to shame and if their histories had been written down people would have accused them of embellishing the stories. However, what I have realised over the last couple of weeks is that many of these clients have such a hard time attaching to and relating to people and the loss of a drug worker who may have worked with them for years cannot be underestimated. I did laugh though, when one client who has really put me through my paces over the years, describing me as “A fucking pain in the arse” told me that I was the best drug worker she ever had. I gently reminded her that she very eloquently told me in August last year that she hated me and never wanted to see me again. At this she laughed, and said “yeah, but you were one of the few people who didn’t disappear when I spoke to you like that. I knew I was out of order, but I knew that you would always look out for me and be honest with me.”… and then she laughed again and said “I still think you are a fucking pain in the arse”. That comment, followed by a genuine hug meant more to me than completing any set of statistics.
My colleagues could almost be as much of a pain in the backside as my clients. Over the years I have come to realise that most people who work in drug and alcohol work have big personalities, characters and attitudes. As a result confrontation is a part of the work. We confront, argue and challenge each other as much as we do with the clients. Substance misuse work seems to take a certain type of person. I still believe you can teach people the theories of drug and alcohol work, ways of working with people, and the technicalities and skills they need to know. What you can’t teach them is the character they need to cope with this sort of work. It takes a special sort of person, and the team I worked for was comprised of some amazingly talented and funny people. I will especially miss my colleague Jo, who started work a week after I did. We were both very green and inexperienced and we made some monumental cock-ups over the years, but I learnt a lot of medical stuff from her as a nurse, and I know that she learnt a lot from me with regard to social care and intervention. I will also miss my colleague Nuala. Quite simply a brilliant alcohol nurse who totally knew her stuff.
Working with doctors always brings real challenges. They are difficult at times, but you just have to learn how to handle them!!! It’s nearly always possible to get them to do what you want if they think it is their idea in the first place!!! I had the pleasure and privilege of working with Professor Fabrizio Schifano. A brilliant consultant psychiatrist who not only knew his stuff, but was incredibly personable. One of the things I am most sad about it that the team is gradually being eroded by poor management and the recruitment of practitioners with no background of either social work or nursing. The services are much poorer for this and the lack of experience is evident when dealing with complex cases.
I am sad, in so many ways, and yet I still feel like it is not quite real. Like I am going on holiday and I will come back to my job in a couple of weeks. The decision to move on is so clearly the right one, and yet I feel as though a huge chapter of my life is ending. I hope that I will be able to find another job in Yorkshire in which I will be able to be so fulfilled. I am excited, as well as being a bit anxious.
I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to my colleagues and clients. They have taught me so much and I will miss them.