In my mind they were missionaries to the lost and dying. They went where no one else wanted to go and to whom no one wanted to touch. On their mission field you would find broken lives, shattered minds and tortured souls. There were no doctors, social servants or degreed experts of the mind, who could begin to understand how one arrived to this level of suffering, let alone fight to save them. Yet they did, and they were there among the “new untouchables.” If anyone would ask why they did this work, I would offer you this simple answer: They experienced what it was like to be untouchable. It was a time before an addiction profession was even thought about; however, they gave birth to what would be the core mission of the profession-in essence, that no one should suffer.
A Heritage Left for Us
They were the generation of “pioneer counselors” before us and their mission was passed to us. There may be a few of you reading this who served on the “mission field”, while even more of you may have been the focus of the mission. Sadly the mission field will never be empty of broken lives, yet I wonder, who are the next missionaries and where will they come from?
When seeking the office of NAADAC President-Elect, I shared with you (the NAADAC membership) a vision and a plan for not only NAADAC, but for the “addiction profession” (NAADAC News, April/May 2008). I asked that our efforts be focused on one overarching principle to guide us, to build upon a heritage and leave a legacy. To that you gave your endorsement, and thus we begin.
As we begin these next two years together, I want you to take a moment as you read this, to ask yourself and answer these questions:
From the profession, what heritage was left for you?
Who mentored and “poured” into you?
How have you benefited?
Finally, the most important question: Is there anyone in the future to which you will be the answer as they answer these questions?
In other words, what will you leave behind that will be your heritage and legacy to profession?
Mel Schulstad and others left us NAADAC as their heritage and legacy. It cost them something to leave their heritage that culminated into a legacy; it's called sacrifice of time and self. I will grant you that it also took finances, yet the cost of personal time and sacrifice in several ways was far more. It was an investment in us who are reading this now, even before we came to the field. We are fortunate that they did not have an attitude of “What are you going to do for me?” or “What can I get out of this?” True leadership is exemplified by what you give or add to someone, not by what you can take. Their example of leadership for each and every generation in NAADAC is truly one to emulate in the profession. We are the temporary stewards of NAADAC and the profession.
An Era of New Realities
In the last few years the NAADAC Executive Committee and the Board of Directors chose to further invest in NAADAC and secure its future, when the decision was made to “purchase our building.” At the heart of this decision was the reality that what we are doing was not for us currently, but for the next generation of addiction counselors. It is this generation we must now focus upon, and understand their future and that of NAADAC and the addiction profession.
Previously I communicated to you in this forum that the changes that at one time were talked about in NAADAC and the addiction profession are now here. The main door into the profession was through that of personal experience for most counselors. That door is still open to the profession. I and others will advocate for that door to remain open, but there are new realities for those who enter and have entered through that door. That door, while open, is not the main door, nor as wide as it used to be. The door now comes with increasing limitations.
What are those new realities? Over time the standards and criteria to “practice addictions counseling” have evolved. Some changes have come more slowly than others and have varied according to locale. In that time many counselors evolved with the changes. Unfortunately, others could not. Not because they did not want to, but they may have lacked the means. Sadly, some who had the means chose not to evolve, hoping that nothing would change or ignoring the change that happened. Some expressed resistance based upon principle. This choice was made even in informed discourse with colleagues to the ramifications. Those ramifications are being experienced today.
Seizing Our Destiny
I have advocated that as a profession we need to take control of shaping our own destiny; if not, others will do that for us and they will be eager to do so. That is part of the purpose of NAADAC. To ensure NAADAC is “at the table” for members and the profession in directing, creating, consulting on practice standards. Paramount is NAADAC ensuring that information and opportunities exist for members to grow in professional acumen and advancement. This will be an uncompromising hallmark of my tenure as President of NAADAC. Not to just be at the table, but establishing standards. NAADAC is the addiction profession and the one to whom the above responsibility falls.