Nazia, Maguire Fellow in Dallas

Nazia is a graduate student in medical anthropology in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. She was awarded a Maguire and Irby Family Foundation Public Service Fellowship for summer 2014 from the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility at SMU. She is conducting research with Nexus Recovery in Dallas.

I am woman, hear me roar

As I’m coming to the conclusion of my fellowship, I am growing increasingly attached to Nexus and the people there. However, I am grateful my time does not end here. I will be continuing my research beyond the fellowship, and I am thankful for the opportunity to find my passion among the narratives of these women.

I have learned more about myself and what it means for me to be a woman in the past couple months than I have thus far in my adult life. I have learned all kinds of interpersonal skills and coping skills from listening to anecdotes and the counselors’ classes. The lessons I learn from the stories that get exchanged in group therapies, in the hallways, and in the dorms both in public and in private are unmatched by anything I have gathered over the years.

The societal definitions of being a woman and mother are challenged by the women at Nexus, which is a great thing for women all over. Being in treatment is generally seen as something bad, that you have failed as a mother or woman or person. However, the progress and quick resilience shown by these women prove that they have not only beaten the odds but also come out on the other side as a stronger woman, mother, and participant of our society.

Nexus is proof that a center such as itself not only works but is crucial to the cornerstone of our community’s success. They have told me that we may fail and fail repeatedly, but persistence pays off. Narcotics Anonymous teaches that “we accept responsibility for our problems and see that we’re equally responsible for our solutions.” This quote rings true for the women at Nexus. They step up to the plate ready to conquer their own mistakes and lay out solutions that work for themselves and their children. This is true not just for their recovery, but also for their health care, their desire to succeed, and their role as a mother or wife or partner.

I am thankful to these women for allowing me to be a part of their lives and to continue the dialogue between them and those who do not understand.

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You can’t win if you don’t fight

As I’ve gotten to know the women at Nexus, I’ve learned one very important aspect of what a successful treatment center means. Educational lines, economics, politics, and social (un)acceptability are all washed away when the women of Nexus sit down together in a circle of recovery. Strength, hope, passion, and even regret fill the room as stories unfold and emotions resound. It does not matter if you are an upper-class teen mom from Preston Hollow or a woman from the streets of South Dallas with no life line, no social network. Everyone comes together with one purpose and cause – to live a sober and directed life.

Surely, there are feuds and suspicions that arise, which is natural when living in close quarters with anyone, familiar or strangers. Some do form cliques and are wary of others’ gossip; however, it is uplifting to see the support each woman gives the next. Over and over, I’ve gotten the same response to the question, What is one thing you would tell someone who is unsure of going through treatment?. The response being, You can’t win if you don’t fight. Recovery isn’t something that just happens. You have to make it happen.
The common thread between each of the women who walk in and out of the doors at Nexus is the desire to win and the desire to make a life for their children. Many obstacles lie in the path for success, but despite every knockdown, meltdown, or otherwise, each woman is ready to push harder and harder.

One topic of concern, which comes up in any conversation I have, is the issue of Child Protective Services and prolonged cases. I cannot divulge too much here, but I can say that the role of CPS in the lives of mothers trying to take the next step to a clean and successful life is often detrimental. CPS is a necessity for many situations, but the issue lies with the degree and scope of cases. As an anthropologist, it is second nature for me to delve into the culture and context of any given situation. I have seen that an overwhelming majority, if not all, of the women understand the need for CPS to see what they do at Nexus outside of the half-hour to hour-long meeting they have on occasion. Some caseworkers do not even come to Nexus to see their clients, rather make the client go to their office. It is not only important, but it is crucial for a caseworker to observe and understand the progress these women make not just on their own but also with their children.

Navigating the issues with CPS and other detriments of recovery is an ongoing process that requires in-depth observation and research, which is my next step. I believe Nexus stands as an example of what is right for successful treatment of women and mothers in recovery. However, there needs to be a blend between policy and action that allows for a more holistic approach to recovery.

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Gaining new understanding at Nexus

Over the past three weeks, I’ve immersed myself in the bustle and daily life of Nexus Recovery Center. I’ve learned more about the unique population I’m working with than I ever could have reading article upon article in academic journals.

The first day I was there, I felt like a fly on a wall – observing and taking in every moment, every interaction, every movement of body language. However, within a couple hours, the women there were opening up to me like I was a friend. I am working with the women in the pregnant and parenting program, many of whom are my age. Initially, I felt that it would be difficult to connect with these women, but they are just like you and me. They have aspirations and dreams, families they love, friends with whom they share secrets, and a network of support and like-minded individuals. The only difference is they live in this center, which some consider home, while others count down the days until they can leave.

There is a regular schedule that is more or less the same week to week. The routine is wake up, eat breakfast, send the children to daycare, then attend meetings throughout the day, interspersed with lunch duties and cleaning. Once the mothers pick up their children from daycare, the day winds down to dinner, and finally, lights out.

Nexus aims to normalize the family process for these women, who have been pushed to the edges of society because of their disease of addiction. The selfless counselors provide tools for these strong women to learn and utilize once they leave the center, so that they may successfully find work and housing. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that many are back on the streets without social capital or access to housing. State insurance only goes so far for some. This is a truth that I have known but never witnessed; and as I am learning more each day about who these women are and how they may not know if they’ll stay for another day, I am forced to look inside myself and come to terms with why I get to live a cushioned life while others do not.

As I continue my time conversing with the women and gaining a greater understanding of what it means to be a woman in recovery and to raise a family, I hope to bring justice to the many voices that have not been heard. It has only been a couple weeks into this fellowship, but I already feel the women have impacted me in a spiritual and lasting way.

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