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The Struggles of a Substance Abusing Immigrant in The United States

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On my first day as a graduate social work student, the Power, Privilege and Oppression in Society Implications for Social Work Practice professor asked the students to respond to the following question: Who am I? My classmates and I were asked this questions several times. This exercise was used to show that people are multifaceted beings. Aristotle once wrote “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. Culturally, I identify myself as Russian-Jewish. I am also a first-generation American. I am plus-size woman and I am a recovering substance abuser. All of these things are a part of me and make me who I am.

Originally, I was born in Minsk, Belarus and immigrated to this country when I was two years old. Like most other immigrants, my parents left the former Soviet Union in search of a better life. We also left because of our religious affiliation. In Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and other soviet countries, Anti-Semitism was institutionalized and “Jewish” was considered a nationality, not a religion; a concept that I have found hard for many Americans to grasp. In fact, Soviet passports specified whether you are Jewish. It was very difficult for anyone who is Jewish to be accepted into certain educational institutions and there was limited job opportunity. My parents were discriminated against their entire lives. Their religious affiliation was suppressed and they could not express pride in… My mother told me she grew up feeling embarrassed to be Jewish and was often teased throughout her childhood because of her stereotypical large nose and curly hair. As a result, my parents instilled a strong sense of pride in my Jewish heritage. I was taught to believe that Jews are the most intelligent and creative people in the world. I am glad that my parents taught me to be proud of who I am, but sometimes I wonder if this ethnocentric view has done a disservice to me as well.

Sometimes, I feel that the burden of anti-Semitism has fallen on my shoulders. Even though my parents always tell me that the most important thing to them is my happiness, they do not hide that fact that they would prefer for me to marry within my own culture. I do not bring home boyfriends that are not Jewish because I know they will disapprove. I am also an only-child so I feel like our Jewish family lineage has to survive through me. On the one hand, I do not want to disappoint my parents, but I also do not want to live my life solely for them, even they have done so much for me.

When we first came to America, we immigrated to Brooklyn, NY. I was surrounded by other children just like me and have mostly fond memories of that period in my life. However, one incident left a lasting impression on me. When I entered the first grade, my Italian-American teacher could not pronounce my birth name, Valeriya, and I have been called Valerie ever since. when I was eight years old we moved to Staten Island, NY. I was the only Russian-Jewish girl in my elementary school and was often bullied. I still remember lunchtime when everyone was eating sandwiches and fun snacks like dungaroos and Dorito chips and my lunch was packed with borsht (a traditional Russian soup) and raw tomatoes (my snack). This transition was very difficult for me and it was the first time that I, like my parents, had to face adversity. I also started to gain weight around this time and was bullied for this reason as well. I was called “fat”, “shamoo” and “weird” on a daily basis. This bullying continued well into my junior high school years and is the one of the most traumatic experiences of my life.

My sophomore year of high school I lost all of my weight. I finally was getting the attention I wanted for so many years. However, even though my outward appearance was different, I did not feel different on the inside. I had no confidence or sense of self-worth and was looking for something or someone to fill that void. In junior high, I was a stellar student; I was at the top of my class and was accepted into one of the best high schools in the country, Staten Island Technical High School. However, after I lost my weight, my grades and personal relationships began to plummet. I did not have any sense of direction anymore. I began drinking and using drugs recreationally. I was practicing unsafe sex with multiple partners. I did not respect my body at all. I was uncomfortable with who I was and used drugs, alcohol and sex to ease my pain. My parents and I were fighting constantly and I resented them. I did not care about anything except going out, having fun and being popular. When I was 17, after a long night of drinking, I came home in the early hours and the tensions in my household had reached their peak. My father and I got into a physical altercation and he struck me in the face, leaving me with a black eye, something we have never talked about till this day.

Luckily, my grades were still good enough to get into college and I went away to school at Stony Brook University where I began my undergraduate studies. This freedom was beneficial because I was no longer living under my parent’s roof and our relationship improved tremendously, but I still did not have any sense of direction. I wanted it all, I wanted to party and still have good grades. I began taking Adderall to make up for my “extracurricular activities” and would stay awake for days studying. The Adderall and lack of sleep left my body feeling very anxious and jittery so I began taking Xanax during the day to calm myself down. Many substance abuser have what we call a drug of choice, Xanax was mine. It filled the void those years of bullying left. I was hooked instantly. The combination of Adderall and Xanax eventually led to an accidental overdose and I was hospitalized in the psychiatric unit. I was weaned off the drugs and this was the first time I was sober in the past seven years.

Not only did hospitalization save my life, but it also helped me find my true passion; social work. In college, I majored in psychology and minored in Africana studies, but did not have the conviction to pursue graduate studies in social work because of familial pressures to pursue a career in medicine.

From a cognitive perspective, stereotypes are useful in order to process information quickly. Therefore, biases are a natural part of life. Nevertheless, as social workers, we must not inflict our biases onto our patients. I, personally, find it difficult to empathize with deeply religious people. I know that spirituality can be a strong foundation for …., but I am a strong believer in scientific fact and still at odds that certain people dismiss theories such as evolution and…I especially find it hard to empathize with people that affiliate themselves with the Judeo-Christian and Muslim faith as it oppresses women. When I see Orthodox Jewish women wearing wigs, long skirts and shirts past their elbows I feel a strong urge to confront them and ask them why they let their religion oppress them. I feel the same way about religious Muslim groups that wear Jihads in the scorching summer heat. However, I know that their spirituality is a strong part of their lives and cannot dismiss that because it contradicts my personal beliefs. Furthermore, when taken literally, the bible condones slavery and this was used tojustify the enslavement of millions of Africans during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

I know that spirituality can be a stong force that guides people to do the right thing, but it has also brought so much hatred into the world. Culturally, I am Jewish, but I do not afflicate myself religiously with this sect. I consider myself agnostic. As a social worker, I am supposed to advocate for vulnerable and oppressed people of society, but how do I do this if it is at the core of their identity? Perhaps, Iview them as oppressed by my standards, but I cannot dismiss my bias towards the agnostic faith. Social workers aren’t perfect, but we must recognize our own biases in order to truly help our clients.

I currently work as an office manager in a pain management clinic. We have no minority employees and I often find myself at odds with the employees. I found myself in a debate with one of the employees over the academy award winning movie 12 years as a slave. She said “the only reason this film won I because Obama is president” I could not hold in my frustration and was angered by her comments. Her ignorance angered me and I asked her if she had even seen the movie and she answered no, I am sick of this subject and know enough about it” We entered a heated debate and I eventually gave up because I knew that my approach would not change her mind. She is actually a kind and decent woman, but her racist tendencies were disgusting. I realize that not only do vulnerable people in society need help, but the dominant race needs to be educated as well.

I believe that I am empathize with minority groups because of my past. My Jewish heritage and the history of the Holocaust make me sensitive ot the plight of others. In fact, during the Civil Rights Movement, many Jewish people stood along side African-Americans in order to end segregation. I think that the plights of Jewish people have made many of us sensitive to the discrimination of others. In fact, two of the three men shot during the Freedom Summer were Jewish. These men lost their lives trying to help African-Americans vote in the South.

I also believe that when I hit rock bottom as a substandce abuser and recovered, I also gained a compntact to work with underprivledged people because I understood what it means to be stigmatized.

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The Struggles of a Substance Abusing Immigrant in the United States. (2018, July 31). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 8, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-struggles-of-a-substance-abusing-immigrant-in-the-united-states/
“The Struggles of a Substance Abusing Immigrant in the United States.” GradesFixer, 31 Jul. 2018, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-struggles-of-a-substance-abusing-immigrant-in-the-united-states/
The Struggles of a Substance Abusing Immigrant in the United States. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-struggles-of-a-substance-abusing-immigrant-in-the-united-states/> [Accessed 8 Aug. 2022].
The Struggles of a Substance Abusing Immigrant in the United States [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Jul 31 [cited 2022 Aug 8]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-struggles-of-a-substance-abusing-immigrant-in-the-united-states/
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