An Interview with WW Counselor & Alum Blake Arnold
If you’ve come through Willingway in the last 6 years, you’re likely to remember Louie’s House alumni Blake Arnold, CAC I, whether he served you breakfast, shared his recovery experience with you on the detox unit, or helped get you into treatment during his time in admissions. For close to a year, however, Blake has been counseling men in our Outpatient Program, with a special focus on residents of the Lodge, Louie’s, and Broad 90. As Tim Maguire, Assistant Director of Extended Treatment Services, now takes on a larger, more administrative role, Blake has transitioned into the role of Program Manager for the men’s Lodge. Alumni & Community Relations Coordinator Emily McFarland was very excited to sit down with her good pal to discuss his past and future at Willingway, which he describes as his “heart”, a sentiment we know that many others hold as well.
EM: How long have you been working at Willingway? What are some of the different departments you have worked in?
BA: My current stint is a little over a year, but I have been a part of the Willingway family in some capacity for the past 6 years. I started back in 2011 when I was still in treatment at Louie’s House and began to work in the kitchen as a Dietary Assistant. After finishing up at Louie’s, I ended up transferring to the Nursing Department to work as a Nurse Aide on our Detox Unit, which is now known as a Recovery Tech. I enjoyed that because it provided an opportunity for more patient interaction and I felt like I was on the front lines helping others. I didn’t have any clinical experience at that time but I was able to share my recovery experience, a process that was so beneficial to my own recovery, and I hope beneficial to the patients.
After working as a Nurse Aide for some time, I ended up moving to the Nurse’s Station and worked as a Ward Secretary for almost a year. At that time, the evening Ward Secretary assisted our Admissions Department in a significant way, often taking pre-admission assessments. I developed my phone skills, my rapport with families, and was able ease their concerns about sending their loved ones to treatment. That ended up providing an opportunity to work in Admissions full time.
Also during that time I had a part time internship—my first actual counseling job. I worked at my recovery alma mater, Louie’s House, as a Counselor Intern and was able to do the things I love—talking to families, reassuring them, and counseling our guys going through extended treatment. These are the guys that have been in the same spot as myself, to whom I can offer not only my personal experience of going through long-term treatment, but also provide counseling to help them with what’s going on with them internally.
As I worked both at Louie’s and in Admissions, eventually my schedule became untenable and I began to work solely on the admissions side, but shortly after that I was transferred into Willingway’s Clinical Department and began working as an Inpatient counselor.
[Laughs] I certainly have run the gamut here at Willingway.
At this point I took a brief hiatus to take care of my family back home in Kentucky. I hated to leave because I had no idea if I would have another opportunity to work here and Willingway is where my heart is. When I returned to Statesboro from my time away, there wasn’t a clinical position available, but I felt so strongly about working at Willingway that I came back as a Recovery Tech in the hopes that something would eventually open up and I might be considered. I kept putting one foot in front of the other and was given an opportunity to work as an Outpatient Counselor with a focus on our Lodge residents. I love what I’ve been doing this last year and will now be the Program Manager of the Lodge as of September 1 st . Our current program manager, Tim Maguire, is moving up to a more administrative role for all of Extended Treatment Services. My clinical role will decrease a little, but I’ll be on the front lines again, able to spend even more time with the guys and work with them in a capacity in which I can really give them my all.
EM: What was your favorite position that you’ve held at Willingway other than your clinical role?
BA: Counseling is definitely my favorite. Of course it can be difficult and even frustrating at times because sometimes patients, deep down, are not willing to give up their addiction. At times it is painful to watch and impossible to not have my heart hurt for them, knowing what they have ahead of them if they are unable to make some changes. But when they are willing to try suggestions and to engage with me therapeutically, theirs lives begin to change and I get to see that unfold right in front of my eyes. I love being a counselor.
Besides clinical, my favorite role was probably—you’re going to laugh at me—the kitchen. I look back and think about the women that I worked with—Miss Rosie, Sheila, Gladys, Brindre—and all the fun we had. That was a time in my life when I was very much figuring out who I was and what I wanted to be. It was an exciting time, where I could help people, but it was also low stress. My life was simple then.
EM: What do you love the most about your job?
BA: The guys. The relationships that I see form between the guys as they go through treatment with each other. Being present and available for them during difficult moments. The men in Extended Treatment, while they are in a structured environment, there are still things that they have to deal with and it’s usually the first time in their lives that they have ever had to do so without chemical assistance, without drugs and alcohol to just dull everything out. It can be a struggle and I vividly remember that struggle for myself.
Being helpful to these guys is the most rewarding and satisfying part. That’s why I get up and come to work in the morning.
EM: What’s the hardest part?
BA: As I mentioned earlier—the guys that don’t want to be sober. These are individuals that are very recovery and treatment resistant. I am a big believer in meeting someone where they’re at and am always willing to work with any type of patient, but it becomes very sad when you see somebody that is hurting and you know that there is help and a solution. You know that if they would just take some of these suggestions, listen to what not only me but also our Treatment Team and the people in our Recovery Community have to say, and then take some action, they wouldn’t have to hurt anymore. That is frustrating to no end.
EM: Please share with us how going through extended treatment strengthened your own recovery.
BA: That person that I described to you that doesn’t want to take suggestions, doesn’t even really want to be sober, they’ve just found themselves in treatment to appease somebody and deep down they don’t even really care if they do that – well, that was me when I arrived at Louie’s House. I couldn’t even show up on time. The Program Director told me to be there at 4:00 p.m. on a Wednesday and I showed up at 8:00 p.m. on a Friday.
The truth is that I wanted something different for my life because I had burned it to the ground and had thrown away so many opportunities, but was unwilling to do anything about it because I was so hopeless. The unconditional support, along with the structure that was provided at Louie’s House, not just from the staff but from my peers that had already begun to change really opened my eyes and gave me a kernel of willingness. Extended treatment ultimately provided me with a safe place to deal with some things that I had never dealt with through counseling and twelve-step recovery work. My father had passed away when I was 14 and I started drinking and using just after that. I had never addressed that issue prior to Louie’s House. Yes, at times I was miserable. I was in a restrictive environment where heaven forbid someone tell me what to do. But it was exactly what I needed.
There were firm ground rules—go to your meetings, talk to us about what’s going on with you—those were mind blowing concepts to me at the time. Not so much now, but definitely then. Have a schedule, make your bed, take pride in your appearance, take pride in your possessions, your space, your home—you might as well have been speaking a foreign language.
Extended treatment gave me the experience and strength to deal with hard things as they come up in my life today and that’s the thing that I try to impress upon the guys that I am currently counseling. If they leave with nothing else after working with me, I want them to know that there is hope and there is a solution. There will still be difficult moments, there will still be hard experiences. But there are ways to deal with it without just sticking your head in the sand with a bottle or a pill.