Sunday, October 23, 2011

It Was Addiction

When I started teaching at the local community college, I was completely caught off guard by the deluge of essays about alcohol and meth addiction/rehab/relapse. For years, most of the narrative papers from my school have been about this struggle, the loss that comes with it, the day-to-day recovery.

I'll tell you what, it's heartbreaking, reading these stories of parents offering their 13 year-olds methamphetamine, of kids being taken away/given back/taken away again. Homes are lost. Jobs are lost. Marriages dissolve.

But in many of these papers, there has been hope. These students have been to the bottom, and have found it isn't pretty, and they've learned that they can make things better for themselves. They can choose to stop using, they can join support groups. They can decide to live again.

Now, though, there's another problem. A different problem. A new one.

For the first time since I've been teaching, the big theme is unemployment.

Sadly, it does make sense.

Oregon's unemployment rate exceeds that of the national average, and in our county here, it's two whole percentage points higher.

My students write of being laid off, of looking (and looking and looking) for work, of being turned away for body piercings or heavy-lifting requirements.

They are losing their homes, their families, their self-worth.

In these stories, I'm not seeing the hope, the will, that comes with the addiction essays.

I'm seeing desperation. Devastation. Despair.

I would like to see this turn around. Of course, I would like to see the job market explode. But, realistically, I want to see my students be stronger, be more active, to take control.

I want them to clean themselves up and look admin. right in the eye. I want them to shake hands with a firm grip, leave behind sparkly applications.

I want them to learn a little from each rejection, to get more determined, more wise, more driven from it.

I want them to keep trying.

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