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Desta Can

Since she was a teenager, Desta was a fighter. To cope with severe childhood trauma, she began using substances and getting in trouble frequently. As she grew older and had children, those children were removed from her care multiple times. It came to the point that Desta knew she needed help, so she contacted the Heartland Family Service Family Works program in Iowa.

She arrived in the program angry at the system that removed her children, at her partner and father of her children for enabling her substance use, but most of all, Desta was angry at herself, her choices, and her recent relapse that landed her back in treatment.

A fighter her whole life, Desta’s initial response to the Family Works program was to fight back and preserve herself and the only life she knew. She questioned the expectations and motivations of the staff who were trying to help her. Because of this  paranoia and self-defense response, she made it clear that she was only in the program to “get her kids back”.

The purpose of the Family Works program is to promote stable sobriety and economic self-sufficiency for mothers, and enhance a strong, protective maternal bond for their children. Desta’s children, ages six and one, arrived at the program dysregulated, and so pushed back at her attempts to put into place the things she was learning through the parenting curriculum.

Instead of giving up, Desta began the additional difficult work of Dyadic Therapy with both children. She met weekly for Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) with the Family Works child and family therapist to build attachment, increase her ability to set limits, and create safety with her oldest child. She also met for weekly therapy with her one-year-old to increase attachment, and to learn new ways to nurture and parent emphatically. Desta began to use the fighting spirit she had always had, to begin fighting for her children.

Desta also began to recognize her own self-worth, participating in the Heartland Family Service Mental Health Counseling program, as well as therapy sessions to challenge some of the negative beliefs she held about herself resulting in her noticeably increased self-esteem. She even physically began carrying herself differently, speaking of her willingness to accept help and immersing herself fully in all aspects of the Heartland Family Service programs she participated in.

Diving deeper into the program, Desta began challenging some of the relationships in her life outside of treatment, setting out to heal her relationship with her partner of 16 years, participating in weekly couple’s therapy offered through the program. She began setting boundaries with people and was able to now identify destructive forces in her life.

As Desta continued her healing journey, she even mentored new clients, co-facilitating groups and taking on other program related responsibilities. She grew in her understanding of trauma and substance use, beginning to heal mentally from the  significant childhood trauma she experienced. Desta learned to turn her anger into assertiveness.

Like so many women in residential treatment, Desta’s time at Family Works was filled with outside challenges to her continued progress and commitment to sobriety. Yet she continued to push herself to grow and find new ways of coping. With the help of Heartland Family Service advocates and programs, Now Desta Can.

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While Heartland Family Service aims for this community of opportunity, using it to guide our plans and actions, we know that there will always be someone in need, and those needs are always evolving.

Our work, both on the individual and systemic level, is never done.

That’s why we are inviting our entire community to share this vision — because a world where everyone can needs everyone’s unflinching support. Our client base is not lacking. Our staff is skilled and ready. Now, you can help us expand possibilities.

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