Patient gets back in driver’s seat with help from Clinic

August 11, 2021

Andrew had a job that he loved. He had built a useful skill set in natural resource management and even held some leadership positions. But over time, the alcohol and drugs he used took over his life.

“I burned it all to the ground,” he said.

He maxed out his credit cards and spent all his savings. When he could no longer afford to pay rent, he lived in motels for a while before he began living out of his car. Andrew found himself wandering the Venice boardwalk, looking through trash cans for anything that might be valuable, like food or recyclables. After a few months, he realized he needed help.

“That was my bottom. I just couldn’t do it anymore,” he said. “I started looking for resources.”

Andrew went to one of our partner organizations, St. Joseph Center, where they referred him to Venice Family Clinic. He first sought medical assistance and received Vivitrol injections to help prevent relapse into alcohol use. Then about three years ago he began counseling in the Clinic’s SUMMIT substance use program, beginning a journey to a healthier life.

“When I first met Andrew, he was reserved and shut off to his emotions. He was really depressed and couldn’t imagine life without alcohol,” said substance use counselor Denise Salas, who worked with Andrew for most of the past three years. “After a year of working with Andrew, I started to see a lasting change in his behavior. I attribute that to an openness to receiving care and a desire to address his mental health needs so he wouldn’t fall back into unhealthy patterns.”

Salas gave Andrew some tools and techniques to help him better manage his personal relationships and his emotions so he wouldn’t feel compelled to manage them by drinking. She encouraged him to ask for support when he needed it, and to identify problem areas and address them immediately. Salas also advised Andrew to take time to reflect on past problematic situations and the role he played in them so he could determine how to better address them in the future.

“Denise always has a positive attitude and helps me see things more clearly,” Andrew said. “She is an effective listener and has challenged my ideas when I needed it. She has a way of carrying herself that shows she has done the work she talks about. I’ve learned a lot from her.” 

Andrew is now on a path to regaining the life he had before. He works at a local grocery store, lives in an apartment, and is in graduate school. He has been sober for more than two years. He is doing so well that his time with Denise has come to an end, and after all the hard work he has done, he feels confident he’ll be able to continue on this journey, setting up a support group outside the Clinic with an AA sponsor, a therapist and a psychiatrist.

“Everyone at SUMMIT and the Clinic have been supportive and incredibly helpful. They’ve made it an easy process,” he said, referring not only to the counseling and medical care but also the case management he received from our SUMMIT program. “I’m sad about moving on, but things do change in life. Denise and the team at Venice Family Clinic helped me to understand and accept this. I’m getting my life back on track.”