A Break from Reality. Part 1

The psychiatric ward wasn’t too bad. It was actually quite interesting, even fascinating in some respects. Sure, it is a little intimidatingly at first, but after you start getting to know people and get into a routine, it becomes comfortable. Safe. A pause from the daily grind. You didn’t worry about all the little things you become used to on a daily basis. Getting to work on time. Getting that presentation ready. Lunch. Dinner. The commute! Dealing with friends and relatives. Running to this. Running to that. Its all removed! Gone!

On the other hand…you have to talk. A lot! You have to talk about uncomfortable things, like yourself. The hardest part for me was talking about things I didn’t have words for. “What are you feeling right now?” “Tired” “Tired is not a feeling”. “Well shit. I don’t know then.” “How do you feel about how you have treated your family?” “Not good” ” ‘Not Good’ is not a feeling” “Well shit.” I quickly learned that on a scale from 1 to 10, my “emotional intelligence” was about a negative five. I didn’t even know emotional intelligence was a thing. It was a break from reality, but it was also a lot of work. Sometimes painful work.

The cast of characters was amazing! There were folks from all walks of life! Young, old, black, white, male, female, rich, poor, smart, not so smart, professional, blue collar, students, introverts, extroverts, etc. etc. etc. There was a man in his mid 50s that cut diamonds for a jeweler. He spent all his money on cocaine and whores. There was a lady in her 60s who had started doing crack again because a man was shot on the street, stumbled to her house, and died on her door step. There was a school teacher in his 50s whos addiction to prescription pills just got out of hand. There was a young lady who showed up in the middle of the week. Beautiful, confident, and charming. She turned out to be a frequent visitor. As she put it “my husband, who is 30 years older than me, drops me off here every three or four months to dry out”. The thing we had in common was addiction and life had become unmanageable because of it.

Our bedrooms were in a semi-circle off the common area. We would slowly pour out of our bedrooms in the morning and disperse about the shared space. Some would gather around the television in the comfortable chairs and couches to watch the news. Some would gather at tables situated around the edges of the area talking, reading, coloring, playing checkers or some other board game. Every morning coffee was brought out and was gone in 5 minutes. Even though it was decaffeinated, it was the only habit we were allowed to cling to. I was sooooo thankful I wasn’t a smoker. The smokers really struggled and it showed. The smokers had nicotine gum and patches, but it wasn’t the same. They missed the ritual. The inhale. The exhale. Holding the cigarette. I really felt for them. It was hard enough to break an addiction to alcohol or drugs, but to give up caffeine and nicotine as well. That is really really tough.

The offices and meeting rooms were all down the hallway from our “living quarters”. After our morning ritual completed, we would meet in one of the room down the long hall for group meetings or one-on-one counseling sessions. In between we would wonder back to our living space and go to our rooms or hang out in the common area. After a couple of days I realized that our lives were being played out on this one floor. There was no going outside. There were no visits to another floor. We were in lockdown. I was ok with that. Actually, I was comforted by that.

I had checked in late Friday night and slept straight through Saturday and Sunday. Monday morning I was feeling kind of groggy. The medications they had been giving me were obviously still in my system. It was about 10 am and I was talking to a fellow resident at one of the tables. He had been there for 5 days and was giving the low down on the place. I young women entered the room and was asking where Henry was. I was pointed out and she walked over to me. She was young. Twenty two. Maybe twenty four. Very pretty. Straight long brown hair and large dark rimmed glasses. The kind of glasses that academics wear to either see better or to look smarter. I don’t know which, I am not an academic.

She introduced herself with a broad smile and hand extended. “Hi Henry! I’m Jenny. I am your therapist and will be working with you this week.”

I shook her hand timidly and said hi. I was a little thrown off. She was very stunning. And so young to be a therapist in such a big hospital. Her parents must have been very proud of her.

“Do you have time right now to me with me?” she asked.

I looked around, not at anything in particular, and said “I think I can make some time for you”.

I followed her out of the common area and down the hall. We made small talk as we walked, “How has your morning been so far?” “Ok I guess. How about you?” “Oh fine. Thank you for asking”.

We entered a small room and the questions began.

“What brought you here?” “When did you start drinking?” “How much do you drink?” “Does anyone in your family drink?” and it went on and on. The same standard questions I’ve been asked since I had started this journey. I was getting a little annoyed, but Jenny kept smiling and reassured me that it wasn’t going to take long. But it did.

That afternoon we had met again. This time there were workbooks. “Discover Your Emotions” work books. We stepped through the workbooks together filling out the blanks and answering the questions. “I felt mad when _________ happened. I was mad because what I was really feeling was ____”.

“I was REALLY feeling mad when that happened though!” I would say.

“No Henry. Dig deeper. WHY were you mad? Answer the WHY?” she said.

“Because……I was super pissed off!” I said with excitement.

“No Henry. Pissed off is the same as mad.” she explained. Always with a smile. Always in a gentle voice. If it was anyone else I would have gotten really MAD. She had a way of keeping me calm and laughing at myself. So we sat there, filling out the workbooks with rubber pens that were really really hard to write with. I stuck with it and after some time I did start to understand that I needed to dig a little deeper.

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