By David Helling, LCSW
I was born and raised in small rural towns (Gray Summit and Villa Ridge) in Franklin County, Missouri. I am the eldest of my parent’s second family, one of nine children; the first to complete high school and later in life the first sibling to earn a college degree. Fond childhood memories were spent walking miles of creek beds exploring all that moved, catching crawdads, identifying and tracking animal tracks, and fantasizing about finding lost gold once hidden by Jesse James.
As a young adult, I struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. I sporadically worked in construction related jobs and spent a great deal of time and money in local taverns. Until the age of 34, I had no significant or long-term relationships, no children, and frequently called the Franklin County Jail my home due to several alcohol and marijuana related arrests. Eventually, I was told by the judge, “You are a threat to this community.” I was given two 5 year terms in the department of corrections for my third and fourth DWI (in a 10 day period) lost my driving privileges for ten years, and was advised by the judge to take the proverbial look in the mirror and ask myself what I saw.
The second year of my incarceration was at Maryville Correctional Center in an intensive, year-long “Therapeutic Community” substance abuse treatment center. It was here that someone noticed something inside me that I wasn’t capable of seeing at that point in time. Then a counselor and a role model, now a mentor and a friend; this person nourished and guided me through my struggles of rehabilitation. This person continued to guide me through my bachelors’ degree of social work as an intern substance abuse counselor at Boonville Correctional Center and advocated for me when I was escorted off the property for being seen by the correctional staff as a security threat.
This same counselor, role-model, mentor and friend wrote a reference letter that helped me get into the master of social work program at the University of Missouri. I went on to complete a masters’ degree in clinical social work at the University of Missouri with honors. I am currently employed as a licensed clinical social worker in a non-profit organization that provides long-term, “Modified Therapeutic Community” residential treatment services with individuals who have substance abuse issues, have co-occurring mental disorders, and are homeless.
I am approaching 12 years of complete abstinence of all illicit drugs including alcohol, I will be celebrating eight years of marriage next month, we are first time home owners, I have my driving privileges back, and I enjoy nourishing and guiding others in their struggles with addiction. To sum it all up, “Treatment works, trust me, I know, I am not the person I used to be.”