Grateful Addict


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Meet St. Joseph Institute’s Alumni/Aftercare Coordinator and PRN Counselor, Emily Benjamin. An alumna of St. Joseph Institute (SJI) and a self-professed nerd, Emily brings joy and enthusiasm to her work. Her passion comes in large part from her own experience as a recovering addict and the thrill she finds in being able to live life fully, both at work and at home.

When I asked Emily if I could interview her for the SJI blog, she readily agreed. Read on to discover the LONG list of things Emily does for St. Joseph, her vision for the future of alumni relations at SJI, and what exactly makes her a nerd.

How long have you worked at St. Joseph Institute, and what brought you here?

I have been at SJI as an employee since August 2017. However, my journey takes me back to 2011. In 2011, I came to SJI seeking treatment for my own addiction to heroin and opiate pain killers, via injection. I came here against my will (my parents basically dropped me off and said, “Cya later!”); to say I held on to anger for my first few days of treatment is an understatement. It took me about 3 days until I realized I was grateful to be at SJI. I spent 30 days here and have been clean ever since (May 24, 2011).

At three years clean, I entered my Master’s Program for counseling at Mount Aloysius College.  It was the owner of SJI that advocated on my behalf to get into graduate school even though I had a felony on my record. To my surprise, I was accepted. By my senior year, it was time for an internship. SJI had recently come under new ownership and I did not know if I would be able to obtain an internship there. I tried, anyway. To my surprise, Summit Behavioral Health was happy to take me on for my practicum and internship.

I began on May 26, 2017 (5 years and 2 days to the date of me entering as resident). I interned for 14 months, and then was hired as a PRN counselor. In August, I became the alumni/aftercare coordinator/PRN counselor. Today, I have 6 years and 3 months clean and sober, and have a job at the same facility that gave me my life back! I am beyond grateful.

Give us a brief description of what you do as alumni coordinator.

As the aftercare/alumni coordinator, I set up all aftercare for clients. This includes all counseling services (IOP, PHP), sober living, case management, probation appointments, and all things necessary for a client to leave with a solid aftercare option. I also coordinate events for campus. For example, I recently coordinated a full day of events for National Recovery Month, including the coloring of a banner for overdose victims as well as a balloon release and candlelight vigil; a few days later, we had a campfire featuring the Penn State CRC (Collegiate Recovery Community) alcoholics and addicts, who shared their own addiction stories with our clients while we all enjoyed music and s’mores.

I am also the speaker-seeker and invite speakers, both alumni and outside speakers, to come every Thursday night for our in-house NA/AA meeting. I place phone calls to residents who have discharged, beginning at 7 days post-treatment, followed by 30 days, and then 6 months. I create a database of alumni clients so that I can then invite them to the reunions that we schedule yearly. I also facilitate all orientations for the new residents on campus.

What do you love about your work?

I love working with addicts and alcoholics, because I was in their same shoes. I can speak their language and I can empathize with what they are going through when they get here. Not only that, but I love to help. I just received a phone call yesterday from a mom of a current client, and she said, “My son told me that you give him hope every day.” That’s why I do what I do. To let my clients know there is hope. WE DO RECOVER! 

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The fact that I am able to help these clients understand that their disease does not have to stop them from living a life beyond their wildest dreams gives me a feeling that I cannot describe. I was given a second chance at life through SJI. I could not have gotten clean if I had not started in treatment here just as they are doing. What makes SJI unique is that EACH individual staff member cares about the clients. From the counselors to the cleaning ladies, we all take our time to make sure our clients are comfortable, because we love what we do! 

What do you want to see happen for the alumni in the future?

I would like to see the alumni group increase and empower current residents. I would like to bring in more of an alumni presence into our in-house meetings as well as host events on campus, regularly, where clients are able to see that recovery works and that recovery is awesome. I want the alumni to have a network with each other where they can motivate each other and reach out, all having the common bond of SJI. I want a resident from 2010, when SJI first opened as a treatment center, to be able to encourage a resident in 2017, and vice versa. I want to see SJI hosting events that bring in alumni on a monthly basis, at least.

Why are alumni connections important in recovery?

Evidence. Alumni connections show evidence that treatment WORKS. Alumni connections show that someone else has been in one’s seat and is living a life beyond their wildest dreams, in just a few month’s/year’s time. Alumni connections give clients the ability to see that they are not alone or unique, and that addiction does not discriminate—but neither does recovery!

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not coordinating alumni?

I am a nerd. If I am not reading up on counseling techniques and finding new fun activities to host at SJI, then I am typically hanging out with the ones I love. I have five nieces, one nephew, and one niece/nephew on the way. I like to spend my time with my family, because I remember a time where they were the last people I wanted to see.

My active addiction took me away from enjoying little things, like a walk in a park, or a drive back the mountain. I enjoy alone time so I can read and even catch up on my favorite reality TV shows! I love attending NA meetings and giving back to my sponsees, guiding them through the 12 steps. I love carrying the message of hope in my free time, because any day is a good day to give back!

If you are seeking treatment for yourself or a loved one and would like to know more about the treatment services at St. Joseph Institute, please contact us today. We find great joy in helping our clients find their path to an exciting, sustainable recovery.

By Cindy Spiegel

St. Joseph Institute would like to share a recent interview by Kurt Angle, alumnus of our inpatient program. During this candid conversation with ESPN Radio, Kurt reveals the extent of his addiction, as well as the pains and triumphs of finally achieving sobriety, noting St. Joseph Institute as the rehab facility that saved his life and recommending it to anyone looking for substance treatment.

Earlier in 2016, Kurt was inducted into the International Sports Hall of Fame. Kurt has been a professional wrestler in the WWF, WWE, and TNA, racking up 13 world championships, including an Olympic gold medal. In fact, he has been described as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. In the midst of his career, Kurt battled with substance use and has since made a full, sustained recovery. We congratulate Kurt and encourage you to read and watch the interview about his inspirational journey.

I will never forget the little speech that Sara gave at St. Joseph Institute during an evening discussion on relapse prevention.  With strong emotions, she argued that the best people she knew were in recovery.  The group chucked when she concluded by stating that everyone in the world should be required to go to rehab and have an aftercare program.

The point that Sara was making highlights how easy it is to go through life complaining about problems, exhibiting bad behavior, and never striving for self-improvement.  However, a successful recovery from addiction demands that problems be addressed, bad attitudes reconsidered, and that a never-ending struggle to become a better person be passionately embraced.  If the ultimate goal of recovery is to create “a life where it is easier not to use,” then a constant effort to become a different person, and have a richer life, must be a top priority. Sara claims that “lots of folks sleep-walk through life,” while a successful recovery demands an active response.

joy-in-the-journeyIt’s not uncommon to hear the addict or alcoholic in recovery describe a glass that is half empty.  They look at their life in terms of things they can no longer do, people they can no longer see, and places that should be avoided.  It is so important that they begin to see life for what it can now become.  Dreams can be realized, relationships gain richness and stability, physical health be restored and joy rediscovered.  In contrast, addiction encourages people to see what they are giving up rather than what they can now attain.

Science has been telling us that happiness is in large part a state of mind that must be sought.  The thoughts we place at the center of our mind affect our moods and our sense of joy.  The addict that focuses on “gratitude” will have a better day that the one who grumbles about the challenges in life that must be faced in recovery – rather than escaped through addiction.

At the end of the evening, many of the other residents in treatment came to agree with Sara.  Recovery could – no must – lead them to be better people.  They needed to learn to manage stress, practice self-care, stop lying and manipulating others, and see their new life as one filled with opportunity.  The best friends and companions might be found among those people in recovery who were determined to examine and overcome what AA refers to as “defects of character.”

That thought put a smile on many faces.