Reflections from Our High School Intern

When I first got to The Next Door, I was very nervous about what to expect. In my previous years, I had read and learned from the basis of a text-book about addiction and treatment, but I had never interacted or had a first hand experience with someone with an addiction themselves. Stepping into The Next Door would be a coming of age experience for me.

When I first arrived I was greeted by Mary Spencer, with a welcoming hug and a friendly hello. Once I met her, I knew I was in a welcoming home and facility.

To say the least, I was very anxious on my first day, not knowing the right thing to say or how to act. I had no idea what awaited me.

In order to become more comfortable and familiar with the building, Mary Spencer gave me a tour. To say I was speechless would be an understatement. As we walked around, my eyes began to open up to all the ‘behind the scenes’ work The Next Door does for women in need. I learned everything from the outpatient groups and their work to the history of the old wooden doors hanging on the wall. Seeing the production of working women fighting to change the lives of other women struggling with addiction and reconnecting them to the Lord is otherworldly, as it provides a sense of unity between everyone.

I had no idea how many women around Nashville struggle with addiction, and the many treatments they could receive.

When taking the tour, I felt connected to the Next Door and its mission to reassure women on their hopes for the future. I felt a sense of comfort knowing that women could have a place to go during difficult times in their lives.

As much as I could talk about the many different things I learned from the tour and mission statement, it wouldn’t be fair to not include the values I have learned from the clients.

The clients have taught me many things that I will forever be grateful for. My first interaction with clients was during my first week as an intern. I was informed that I would join one of the Rock to Recovery sessions. During these sessions, a group of clients get together and write a song based on their values for the time being. As everyone entered the room, the clients talked to me as if I had known them for years. They welcomed me with smiles and many laughs.

When we began to write the song, each of us went around the room and shared what we were grateful for to get an idea of what the lyrics should be based on.

Before coming to The Next Door, this was one of the ‘get to know you’ questions I hated the most. Not because I wasn’t grateful, but because it was hard for me to think of an answer that truly was beneath the surface of “friends and family”.

Everyone went around the room sharing answers such as “waking up in the morning”, “being able to see my daughter in two weeks”, “being here and bettering myself”. They shared their thoughts so easily–it almost seemed as though it was rehearsed. I had never once thought of these things to be grateful for. I was shocked to even realize all the simple aspects I had overlooked in life.

As we began to write the song, we came up with the chorus “nothing is impossible today”. As I was singing the lyrics, I looked at the clients around me. It was almost as if they were not only  singing the song, but they were also feeling the lyrics. It is one thing to say “nothing is impossible,” but to mean it is a whole different story.

I felt inspired by the lyrics and motivated through the song. Singing may not be my most gifted talent but expressing our hopes and dreams through the song was a way for me to connect with the women there. Everyone in the room came from different backgrounds, however; during that moment we shared the same desire to complete the impossible.

Another time I felt truly connected was during one of the Walk to Recovery sessions. This is a time after lunch when the clients get to walk around the block for some fresh air.

As I began talking and walking with the clients, we started talking about the things we all shared in common such as TV shows, songs, etc.

One of the clients came up to me, and she began to tell me about her life. She asked me why I was here, and I told her because I wanted to become a therapist in the future to help women battle mental health.

She smiled at me and said “We need more people like you to help more people like me, I am so proud of you.”

It felt like an honor to be there and make such a simple but effective outcome on one of the clients.I did not know her prior to our walk, but knowing she was proud of me for even being there and talking made all the difference.

The hope she had and saw in me was encouraging.

Being at The Next Door has taught me many valuable lessons, but the clients have taught me the most. It has taught me that the lessons in a textbook about the topics such as addiction and mental health will only get you so far. Creating bonds with the patients, listening to their stories and sharing a close connection with them has truly taught me the importance of gratitude and compassion. No one is just a statistic in a textbook or the exact product of a definition. People have stories, and the client’s joy shines through them.

They appreciate the simplest aspects of life that I overlook and keep an open mind for the future that brings them joy during their everyday struggles. Their power and determination to accomplish their goals has inspired and uplifted me.

This is only a fraction of the life lessons I learned at the Next Door and I will never forget and always be appreciative of.

– Jamisyn Larkin

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