The Most Interesting Person in the World

Back in February 2015, I was sitting behind a group of people in group therapy led by “Lisa.” I was there to observe a trained therapist in action. Afterward, I was to interview Lisa so my sponsor would be in a better position to understand the painkiller epidemic that was ravaging Ohio. The encounter was more than I anticipated as I got to know Lisa, otherwise known as the most interesting person in the world.

Lisa was a quiet, private woman. As I reached out to shake her hand, she used both of hers to almost entirely encapsulating my own. This was one method of hers that allowed her to put people at ease and reassure them. I also noticed she walked with a limp on her left leg. She then gave me a Coke, telling me, “It’s on the house.”

Lisa told me her story of how she became involved in drug counseling. Like many therapists, she had a prior history. She mentioned the abuse she suffered from her family. Her father, for example, turned to alcohol to help with the depression he suffered from Black Monday. She asked if I had ever heard of it. I nodded.

“Sept. 19, 1977,” I told her.

She expressed surprise. Only people familiar with Youngstown, OH, and surrounding areas tend to have heard of it. Sept. 19, 1977, is when Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced that the company’s Campbell Works, Youngstown’s largest steel mill, would be shut down by Friday, causing 5,000 steelworkers to lose their jobs. By 1979, 5,000 more steelworkers had lost their jobs. But the devastation to the community was much higher. The loss of jobs spiraled into other job losses. Local businesses, truckers, government workers, etc. all lost their jobs along with the steelworkers. Altogether, about 50,000 people lost their livelihoods within the span of two years.

Entire families were uprooted to find jobs in other locations. Others stayed. Lisa’s family stayed, but that’s when her family’s problems began. Her father developed a taste for alcohol and never was able to wean himself off it. He also became violent, and on several occasions assaulted the family during a drunken rage. Eventually, Lisa’s parents divorced, with Lisa and her two siblings opting to live with their mother. Despite the divorce being understandable, Lisa gave a bitter smile when she revealed how her mother was treated as a social outcast by her peers.

Lisa’s family moved westward for better prospects, but her home situation left much to be desired. To help cope with her loneliness and depression, she hung out with people who didn’t have her best interests at heart. Eventually, she fell in with the “wrong crowd” and started experimenting with drugs. Even after she was raped by a “friend” she still couldn’t bring herself to stop.

“I didn’t care whether I lived or not. At that point, all that mattered was getting high.” She also told me how she started feeling miserable again after a week or two went by, signaling to her that the drugs had worn off.

Her addiction was causing issues in additional areas of her life. She lost her job after showing up drunk. Furthermore, she started engaging in thievery to fuel her addiction.

Lisa, at times, had brutal fights with her “girlfriends” over drugs or unfaithful men. On one occasion, a fight occurred in broad daylight and out in the middle of the open road, with both women nearly getting hit by a speeding driver not paying attention. She also engaged in thievery to fuel her addiction.

The final breaking point came when she stole from her mother. At this point, fed up with her daughter’s behavior, she kicked her out of the house. Months later Lisa and one of her girlfriends were out driving drunk which ended in a fatal car accident, which killed Lisa’s friend instantly. Lisa herself was barely hanging on when the paramedics arrived.

Lisa underwent immediate surgery and came out alive. Over the course of a year, she underwent rehab to regain her lost mobility, though her left leg still limps. She also underwent therapy to help combat her drug addictions and mental health issues. During her recovery, Lisa’s family visited every time they could to keep her cheerful. Unsurprisingly, only a few “friends” showed up to see how she was doing. Meeting with a local pastor to help with her grief over losing her best friend had a big influence on her too, causing her to convert to Christianity after she was discharged. The sense of community and belonging helped her overcome her addictions and to become the happy, whole person she is today.

“I felt reborn after that incident,” she told me. “The person who I was before and after the crash are two completely different people.”

After Lisa recovered she felt inspired to help people realize their full potential. She went back to college and became a therapist specializing in drug addictions. Over the years her insights into people’s suffering have expanded considerably. She has taken a keen interest in trauma, situations where people feel helpless and terrified, and even out of control. In her work, almost all addictions have some sort of trauma at their source. Many addicts relapse despite being in addiction recovery programs because their treatment does not focus on the core of trauma resolution. She has tweaked her therapy and has boosted her clients’ ability to live happy, fulfilling lives.

There is still much work that needs to be done, however. Lisa is fond of her jian metaphor. In Chinese mythology, the jian, also known as birds that fly together, are mythical birds that possess only one wing and one eye. Born imperfect, they need to lean against one another and act as one entity in order to be able to fly. This mutual dependence symbolizes the bond between a husband and wife.

“People used to feel more connected with each other…Nowadays it’s the exact opposite. Many of my clients have no one to turn to during a crisis, and it has a really big impact on whether they succeed or not.” Lisa considers herself lucky. Despite the numerous times she screwed up during her youth she still had people who cared about her. In her opinion, this was the biggest factor in helping her get her life back on track.

Lisa is adamant on spending her days with laughter and cheer. Her gratitude toward being alive left quite an impression on me. As I finished my interview with her, she insisted that I find something fulfilling and go do that just as she does with most of her clients.

I still speak to her from time to time. Last July I visited her as she was planning on opening her practice. She was also gung ho about the college class she’d be teaching for the first time this upcoming fall semester. She was enjoying life the way she dreamed of and despite the traumas, she experienced in the past she still made the best of them. She is still one of the most positive, inspirational people I have ever met.

As I left, she gave me a Coke. “It’s on the house,” she quipped.