Bridge and Lighthouse
By Kathy Link, LCSWA, LCASA
In the summer of 2009, a close family friend was in the process of dying. Through attempting to support her, I learned about hospice and palliative care, and I instantly decided that the next step for me in life was to become a social worker – not just any kind of social worker, but specifically a hospice social worker. I had been working in marketing for almost ten years, was pushing 40 years old, and was ready for a change. I called the local university, made some inquiries, and found myself enrolled in an Introduction to Social Work class, along with four other social work classes at the same time. I had made my decision, and I hit the ground running, because you know what they say: “Go big or go home!” Luckily, I already possessed a Bachelor of Arts degree with a double major in English and Professional Communications, so I was able to dodge the prerequisites and general education classes in the process.
One of my instructors instructed three of the five classes. I’ll never forget him. His name was Dr. Robin Johnson, but he liked to be called Rob. It seemed as if every time he opened his mouth in any of the classes, the phrase, “In social work, your personal self informs your professional self…” came out. I was intrigued. I had unwittingly stepped into the study of a profession where bringing who you are to the table is not only tolerated or warranted, but it is a valuable tool.
In those early days of study, I did eco-maps and genograms and embarked on a study of my personal self from pre-birth to date, studying every nook and cranny of my life, and my connections with the world-at-large, as well as my connections with the generations in my family that came before me, and the generations yet to come. I left no stone unturned, and I spilled all during those early assignments. If there is such a thing as TMI (Too Much Information), I definitely proved it during my early social work assignments.
I analyzed my marriage with my husband and my relationship with my stepson. I included my dog as my first-born in all of my assignments about my personal life. I looked at my choices with great scrutiny and some awe, including current and past employment situations, current and past friendships and relationships, and, of course, family-of-origin issues. Or in my case, Family-of-Origin Issues. Or to be really clear, FAMILY-OF-ORIGIN ISSUES involving several generations of substance abuse and dependency (including my own generation), and parents who attempted to set it right by becoming chemical dependency counselors. I could for the first time analyze my life–particularly the painful parts–within not just a personal context (which several years of therapy had provided me), but a relational context and societal context, as well. All the while, I had the goal in mind to become a hospice social worker.
When looking at the landscape of my life, I discovered it wasn’t so much the things that happened that caused the worst wounds and scars, but rather the suppression of things that happened. It wasn’t just the unfolding of events that caused damage upon my psyche, but the fleeing from the events unfolded that caused the most damage. Being able to walk forward with those simple personal truths was an absolute gift to me. My dragons became lizards. Past tormenters become ineffectual, comical caricatures of themselves. And eventually, an overwhelming regret of the past was swept away in a flood of gratitude and understanding.
When asked, “Why did you become a social worker?” these days, I smile and say, “So I could become a hospice social worker.” Then I laugh, as people look at me confused. Because as so often happens, the ending I sought at the beginning of my journey didn’t turn out the way I thought. I earned my Master of Social Work degree in 2013. I even did an internship in hospice and palliative care. But when it came time to obtain a job, the doors I found opening for me were in chemical dependency. I am now a master’s level social worker in the field of chemical dependency. I’m working on my state social work licensure, and I’m also working on my certification to become a licensed clinical addictions specialist. The reason I became a social worker turned out to be a bridge from my past to my future.
Kathy Link works as a Qualified Substance Abuse Professional and lives in Asheville, NC, with her husband and two dogs.