I have found really interesting article in Journal of Contemporary Ethnography from 1991. The author, J. David Brown, is Assistant professor of sociology at Northern Illinois University who had struggled for 13 years with substance abuse problems, then he went to rehab and after then, he started to be a counselor himself. He uses the introspective methods and the qualitative interviews to describe the identity transformation of drug users into professionals – drug counselors. According to him, the identity of “professional ex” is formed even before the professional trainings – he calls this process “preprofessional socialization”. As he points out: “One of the most pervasive characteristics of preprofessional socialization is its ability to transform the stigmatized identities of substance abusers into identities that have adopted a calling to a professional counseling career” (p. 159).
He cites really amazing statistics in his article:
**72% of the people working in more than 10.000 treatment centers in U.S. has experienced substance abuse problems (according a research of Sobell and Sobell, 1988)
there was only 13% recidivism rate within ex-prisoner who were hired to work as a prison-counselors
**Also, he notes that all the ex-users he was interviewing were working in treatment programs that were based on 12-step approach and most of them evaluated the knowledge of disease concept of addiction as significant for being effective substance abuse counselor.
From my point of view, Brown describes quite special group of people who had transformed their “fixed” identity of drug addict (ill) into another “fixed” identity of drug counselor (professional ex). People who I was doing interviews with, have not created so “fixed” identities. Their identities seem to be more flexible, more fluent. But even within them there were two people who started to work as professionals after they stopped using drugs.
One of them, Milos, was a methamphetamine dealer and consumer for three years. Then, one day, he went with his friend to the “meth cook” place and he met his sister in law. She said: “why don´t you come to see your daughter?”
“Where is she?” he replied.
“In our place… Her mother left her here and went to Germany with her new friend.”
It was the turning point for him. He went to his sister in law place and when he met his daughter, she gave him a big hug starting to shoout: “Daddy, daddy!” He started to cry. He deleted all the friends´ phone numbers immediately and was for few weeks only with his daughter. Then, for two years, he worked in different positions doing mainly in constructions field but he all the time he was attracted by the drug issues somehow. So he applied for a job as an outreach worker in drop-in center. He was hired and after several weeks the number of clients increased from 30 to 120.
“…the people started to perceive me as one of them, I did not use any professional language, I used slang words, and they accepted me and started to bring their friends too. The worst feelings were when the people whom I used to hang around with and whom I used to sell drugs appeared there. But at the end, it helped. Like me, they also did not want to talk about the past, however, they were bringing other people bacause they knew me.”
“…so they can see on their own eyes that it is possible to stop. Also, we get lots of help from people who stopped using and they visit us from time to time. The others, who are still using, can see that they have good clothes, they are smoking good cigarettes, telling the stories as they were skiing in the mountains at the weekends and they are just impressed… they say… that guy was totally down and look, where he is now…”