"A Man Of Substance" by Karen Tina Harrison - Special to amNewYork.
The big career switch: From rock star to drug counselor
Who pulled it off?
Brooklynite Jimmy Destri, 54, was the keyboard player of Blondie.
Why did your rock star life crash?
Performing was such a rush, I had to continue the high offstage. I was a profound coke addict for 25 years. My life fell apart. Rock bottom was my 17-year-old daughter cutting me loose. I checked into St. Jude, a retreat upstate. I stopped using blow that day in '03.
How did you get into counseling?
What worked for me could work for other addicts. I'd had EMT training and studied counseling part-time at CUNY for two years. I work with patients at Carnegie Hill Institute uptown and am about to earn my wings as a credentialed alcohol and substance abuse counselor. (www.carnegiehill-inst.com)
What's your day like?
I lead groups and see patients one-on-one. I'm their case manager and number-one advocate. I get deep into patients' lives and help them deal with all their issues, because drugs aren't the problem. They're the symptom of a messed-up life.
Who succeeds in this intense occupation?
Empathy and connection are key - you have to understand what addicts go through, and give them hope even if they have none. I tell my patients, don't do this for yourself, do it for your mom, your partner or your kid. You need a ton of personal strength and the ability to set boundaries. You have to be patient, organized and good with red tape. And you need a state-of-the-art b.s. detector.
What's in it for you?
Social service salaries aren't huge. But helping someone get their life together is the most beautiful feeling.
What else is there to know?
Believe me, drugs are as glamorous as a garbage truck. Living a real life is better than living the high life.
Link to PDF version: http://www.amny.com/media/acrobat/2009-01/44481126.pdf