Once, having rescued a half-broken rocking chair from the sidewalk, I sat in my tiny half-basement apartment on the edge of the Capital of the World—in Brooklyn. I rocked back and forth, accompanied by the squeaking wood, and deliberated my next step.
Was it really my fate to perpetually seek something and wind up with nothing? Would I ever find my calling? I had no idea what to do. I felt like a helpless puppy, abandoned on a dark street in an unfamiliar city.
I didn’t know a soul in America at that time. There was only one person in New York to whom I could turn: a distant relative of my mother (her cousin’s wife). I called her and asked if we could meet and talk. For some reason, she chose to meet at a pub.
Nestled at the bar, I asked for her advice: What profession should I choose?
Treating me to a fine cocktail, she without hesitation advised, “My dear Peter, why don’t you become a drug counselor? Treat drug addicts and alcoholics!” Ironically, she raised her glass in a toast, as if the matter was settled and all that remained was to drink to it. “I myself have been a drug counselor for many years. It’s really not difficult.”
I was a little confused by what I was seeing and hearing. This sweet lady, a drug counselor, is sipping on her second cocktail and advising me to treat alcoholics? There was something very off about this picture.
I uttered, “But I don’t really have any specialized education. I’ve never used drugs. I only drink occasionally.”
“Listen, in America, you only need to study for a year to get your substance abuse certificate. You don’t need any specialized medical training. The salary isn’t that high, but it’s good enough to keep a roof over your head. Besides, in your own words, you like to ponder about life. You can’t imagine how addicts like to philosophize, better than professors at any university. I believe that the substance abuse clinic is your rightful place. I’m sure you’ll be great at it.”
As I parted ways with my relative, I thought to myself: Can I really become a substance abuse counselor? Hmm… I suddenly remembered the names of my favorite writers—Hemingway and Fitzgerald—and of many famous rock idols who died after suffering from drugs and alcohol for most of their lives. To become a substance abuse counselor, I’m going to deal with interesting, creative people who can still be saved.