Friday, August 19, 2011

Meet My Former Boss Tina

I met Tina the Program Manager when she hired me to work part-time in a transitional housing ministry for destitute HIV-positive addicts in recovery.  Tina was a licensed additions counselor and herself a recovering addict and alcoholic.  Her mother had been an alcoholic diabetic; she died when Tina was three years old.  Tina was raised by some relatives; I don't know what became of her father.  It could not have been a happy childhood for the young Tina to have resorted to alcohol and cocaine to numb her pain.

Tina was also married and had two daughters.  She was determined to give her daughters the loving home she had never had.  Her husband was one of those very rare men who had stuck with his wife through thick and thin.  Both spouses did whatever it took to build a home and a family for their children.  They were lay Catholics who lived their faith in a way that put the clerics to shame.

Tina taught me how to toss a room to look for drugs and how to confront addicts with quiet yet blunt resolve.  My prior experience with HIV had been as a laboratory technician in clinical and research immunology laboratories.  Western blots, Northern blots, and ELISA screening tests I knew about.  Coping with addicts was a whole new ball game for me.  I quickly learned that drug addicts and politicians share an incredible capacity for deceit and readiness to sacrifice everything and everyone just to feed their narcissism.  The only effective way to handle either is up front and immediately.  Never, ever let a lie or a deceit slide until another time, or it will become a sacrosanct precedent in the twisted mind of the addict or the politician (You let it slide once, so you owe it to me now.)

But if Tina was a determined program manager ready to storm the gates of hell to bring an addict off the street and into recovery, she was also just another woman in a ministry run by her church.  Our particular house had been founded by a man who specifically recruited Tina to take over for him when he was transferred to set up another house in another city.  Tina did an admirable job, but the bigshots from Chicago would come through and talk down to her.  I do not recall ever hearing them listen to Tina.  Oh, the boys in the dog collars would show up to raise money for the building and to schmooze with donors alright, but I do not think that they ever truly grasped the sometimes gutwrenching work Tina did in that ministry.  Even if they had grasped the stress of Tina's work intellectually, they would not have respected, much less honored, it (cf.

The time and the pressure came to expand the ministry to increase through-put and reduce unit costs.  In other words, we were supposed to take on more addicts; cycle them through their treatment regimens faster regardless of outcome (multiple relapses are expected in recovery); and reduce the cost of housing and managing each addict -- at least on paper. Yes, my dears, addiction recovery is not merely a Christian mission, it is an American industry.

The boys in the dog collars hired a bloodless banker to do the job, and he in turn did a number on Tina.  He gave her one month to raise a million dollars in grants for the ministry or lose her job.  She raised the money.  He wanted to get rid of the volunteer activities coordinator, but Tina fought to save that woman's job.  The woman turned on Tina and played into the hands of the banker.  The banker fired Tina and named the former volunteer coordinator the acting program manager even though that woman had no qualifications as an addictions counselor whatsoever.

The last time I spoke with Tina over the phone, she was fighting kidney cancer and terrified of leaving her daughters orphaned as she had been orphaned.  Even before the cancer struck, she had been suffering autoimmune flare-ups that crippled her.  The doctors had warned Tina that she would spend her later years in a wheelchair.  How much of those autoimmune problems was rooted in the family history of diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis and how much in the damage caused by the alcohol and the drugs, I do not know.  But the boys in the dog collars did unload Tina from their payroll within one year of her first crippling flare-up.

I left that ministry shortly after Tina was let go in a "right to work" state.  I will not work for any management that I can not trust.  I can no longer work with or for Tina's church in any capacity.

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