My First One

It was him, my Supervisor said.

It was who, I said.

She paused. She said his name and told me that my former client had died.

Silence. Then tears rolling down my cheeks.


I knew it was coming. I’ve been working in rehab for almost a year. Death would appear in my professional life at some point. I just didn’t know when. I didn’t know who. Until I knew both.

He was my first one.

I never expected to work with the substance and alcohol abuse/ addiction population. I was supposed to work with teens, yet somehow my path led me to supporting adults in residential treatment. Through this experience I’ve found a home with my work. Every day I get to be a small part of someone’s recovery journey towards freedom and independence. Every day I get to see someone make connections in their mind that weren’t there the day before. Every day I get to see someone overcome a struggle, roadblock or blindspot. And every day I get to come home knowing I did my best to create spaces for people struggling with addictions to feel understood and seen. For many in this population of remarkable human beings validation is not a regular occurrence.

I remember him clearly. A hardened man who loved his momma. He struggled with all kinds of demons. Full of pain and suffering from his own insurmountable losses throughout his life. His heartbreak immense. His soul laden with grief. In the quiet space of our sessions together he let his guard down and cried. He allowed me to sit with him in his despair. He left back home after completing the program sharing with me his rose-colored vision for his sober life. While my prognosis was poor my optimism was high. You see, in this line of work the death of our clients is a constant reminder of the battle we face.

He was my first one. He is not the first one.

Tonight I think about this man sitting across from me, vulnerable and full of inquiry. Asking me why is it so hard? When does the pain stop? Tonight I honor his humanity. His memory now woven in my psyche like a warm scarf whose ends lay resting on my heart.

To this man I say,

I saw the light in you and I looked at you without judgement. May you forever rest in peace, my friend.

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