It was on the third business day of my stay at the hospital when things got interesting. I was settled in by that point. I was making friends with the other guests, and I was looking forward to visits with my therapist. Every night after dinner we had a special guest visit us to talk to us about addiction and how they turned their lives around. Some would talk about how God helped them on their journey, others, how music was their life line, or how the support of other addicts got them on the right path. To end the day, after a lengthy debate, we gathered around the television to watch a lengthy movie.
“Hi Henry! Do you have time right now to meet with me?” came the perky question from Jenny.
It was about 10 am and I was just hanging out in my room. I picked up my journal, opened it, and scrolled through a page with my index finger “I think I can squeeze you in.”
As we walked down the hall Jenny asked “There are going to be a few people joining us this morning, is that OK with you?”
“Of course” I replied as she opened the door and we walked into a large conference room packed full with people.
As I looked around the room I couldn’t help but notice that there were about 15 people in the room. They were sitting in a U shape around half of the room with their chairs against the walls. In the middle of the room, there was a small table with a single chair on one side facing the U of people. On the other side sat a man. He looked official. Indian man in his 50s. Smart Glasses and dressed professionally. Blazer, dress shirt, legs crossed, looking relaxed and very academic. Next to him was another empty chair.
“Henry, this is Dr. Reddy”. Jenny gestured toward the man. “Please have a seat” she said as she took the chair next to Dr. Reddy. “These people are here to observe” she said as she looked around at the people of the U. “Is that ok with you?”
As I was taking my seat, I said “Sure. That’s fine.” As I assessed the people in the room, starting at the top left of the U and working my way to the opposite end, I noticed they were all in their early 20s. Jenny’s age. Then it hit me. This was a University hospital.
I said “hi” to the group. They all had smiles on their faces. They looked eager. Excited. “Was this their first time in a session with a patient?” I thought. It was September. I looked at the man sitting on the other side of the table and he said with a slight Indian accent and a smile “Good morning. How are you today?”
“Good thank you” I replied.
“Henry, today we just want to get to know you. To understand your background and to understand what brought you here.” Dr. Reddy explained.
I replied, “Ok. I can do that I think”. I looked at Jenny. I am sure my face conveyed what I was feeling ‘what the hell is going on here?’.
She picked up on my look. I felt like we had a connection by this point. She went on to explain that Dr. Reddy was there to oversee and guide the students through their interactions with the patients. I felt like I was in a fish bowl. A lab rat. “Why didn’t anyone explain this to me when I first arrived” I thought. I decided to just go with it. What choice did I have.
Jenny went on to ask me questions, many of the same questions she had asked in the previous days. Dr. Reddy jumped in from time to time to gain clarity from my answers. Sometimes asking new questions. As the session went on, the U people started to fade away and I started to relax and be more forthcoming with my answers.
On the walk back to my room with Jenny, I could tell she was making sure I was ok. I was. I assured her that after the initial shock I was ok with how the session went. Suddenly, I stopped and asked her “when am I going to get help? I’ve been answering questions for three days but no one has told me what I need to do to get better.”
“It takes time. Be patient. We have to understand you and your background before we can help you.” Jenny said with real sincerity.
I accepted her response. It made sense.
As the day went on I couldn’t shake this bad feeling I was getting after the morning session. By my calculation I had only a few days left in the hospital and I didn’t feel like I was making any progress in figuring out what was wrong with me.
That night I skipped the evening’s movie. I was so preoccupied with the lack of “real” help I was receiving I decided to go to my room to figure out what to do about the situation. I had my journal and rubber pen and was writing down random thoughts. I decided I had to take action. If I wasn’t going to get a solution from the professionals, then it was up to me to figure out. Inspiration struck and I frantically started writing. I started making lists…..
What was happening?
1 – I was in deep trouble at work. I had been erratic and had missed a lot of time
2 – My wife was tired of living with an alcoholic
3 – My children didn’t like me, I was always grumpy.
4 – …
What was going to happen?
1 – I was going to lose my job
2 – My wife was going to leave me
3 – My kids were never going to talk to me again
4 – …
What could I do about it?
1 – I could always find another job!
2 – I would stop drinking
3 – I would be nicer. I would hang in there as long as I needed to
4 – …
I then had a stroke of genius. I would make a DECISION TREE! I drew diagrams that included every scenario. ‘If my wife left, I could learn to live on my own. If my wife kept me, I would be the best husband ever’. This went on in great detail. I stayed up late into the night trying to come up with every scenario and how I would deal with it. It was a beautiful diagram! A real work of art. It accounted for every aspect of my life. I wish I had kept it, I could have made millions turning into a self help book. I slept well that night. Very well. The best sleep I had had in a long time.
I woke up the next morning in the best mood ever. I was full of energy. I was bouncing around the common area talking to everyone. Helping the rest of the guests with whatever they needed. “You need shampoo? Here, take mine.” “You need milk? Let me go get that for you.” I even decided to wash my clothes. Being escorted by the police from my hotel room directly to the hospital and not having any family in town, I only had the clothes on my back and the hospital gown I received when I checked in. After five days of wearing the same clothes I thought it was time to wash them. I wanted to look my best grand presentation of my diagrams to Jenny and the U people. They were going to be blown away at the progress I had made in such a short time, and without their help.
As I changed into my hospital gown I had a little surprise. It was a Medium. I normally take an Extra Large with gusts up to 2XL. It was a little snug. It was A LOT snug. No worries, my clothes would be washed and dried by the time I was called in for my morning session. I threw my street clothes in the wash.
“Hi Henry! How are you this morning?” Jenny asked from the entrance of my room.
“ITS ONLY 8:30!” I said in alarm!
“We are starting early today. Come on, they are waiting.” she said with her relentless smile and charm.
“But I am not dressed. My close are in the wash” I pleaded.
With a laugh she said “You look great. You can show off those muscles. “
I looked down at my shoulders and arms as best I could. The gown was so small it turned into a way too tight tank top. My shoulders and arms were on bulging out of the tight fibric. For some reason I couldn’t keep my arms snug to my sides. They were pushed out away from my torso like a Frankenstein monster. The bulging of muscles was not muscle at all but what appeared to be well-formed fat. It was as if all the fat that was normally stored in my torso was being squeezed out directly into my arms. I looked ridiculous. I could feel the blood rushing to my face.
Jenny laughed again and said “Lets go Henry, you look great!”
I was in shock, but as we were leaving the room I managed to remember my journal and grabbed it on my way out. I thought “I may look ridiculous, but I am still going to blow them away with my diagrams”.
I was at the table again with Jenny and Dr Reddy. Of course the assembly of students were back as well. Everyone’s smiles were twice as big as they were the day before. I shook it off. They wouldn’t care how I looked after I walked them through my diagram. On our walk down the hall I hadn’t let on to Jenny what I had planned for the session. Sitting at the table I kept the façade up. I acted calm, cool, and collected despite the fact I was starting to feel a light headed due to the restriction of blood flow to my head.
“How are you this morning Henry?” Dr. Reddy asked. He seemed to be in a good morning.
“I am doing ok I guess” I replied. Still playing it cool.
“How was your day yesterday?” he asked.
This was my chance to unveil my brilliant diagram. “It was good. Actually, I had time to reflect on things yesterday. I am feeling a lot better about everything today. I am feeling rather optimistic.” I was about ready to whip out the diagram.
Jenny jumped in with a little excitement “Oh that’s great Henry. What did you think about? What revelations did you have?” She leaned in. I could tell she was anxious to see the fruit born from her well intentioned labor over the previous days with me.
I opened my journal and casually flipped through the pages until I got to the diagram. I knew exactly what page the diagram was on, I was just building suspense. “Well, you see…” I explained in my best teachery tone, “I thought really hard about my current circumstances and I was really getting stressed out over it. So I decided to write down my worries.” I looked down at me journal, paused, and looked at Jenny again. “Then I thought about what my options were for each issue I was facing.” I looked around the room to make sure everyone was paying attention. They were. “I then constructed this decision-tree diagram.” I held up the diagram to Jenny and Dr. Reddy to offer them a quick review. “You see, once I wrote down all of my issues and mapped out what each scenario could result in, I found that I could handle whatever happens. For example, my job. When I return, if I am not fired, I will work extra hard to build back trust. If they decide to fire me, I will simply start looking for another job. Either way, I have an action plan.” This was going even better than I had imagined. I was nailing it!
Then I noticed Jenny’s expression had changed from excitement to alarm. She sat back in her chair and looked at Dr. Reddy, then back at me. She asked “Henry, what about your family? The pain you’ve caused them?”
“Yes! I have action plans for that too.” I held up the diagram again and pointed out that part of the master plan. “You see, if they take me back, GREAT! I will work extra hard to be a loving and fun father and husband. If they still hate me, I will be patient and just be there for them when they need me. It will be painful but I will do it. I will be there for as long as it takes”
Her expression didn’t change. For some reason she was still dismayed. At this point Dr. Reddy turned away from the table. He was pissed. I was thinking “what the hell is their problem?” I was starting to get pissed. Jenny looked over to Dr. Reddy, she was at a loss for words. Finally, he turned back towards me, looked at Jenny and then back at me. He asked in a raised tone. “What about your all the things you’ve done and how you’ve affected all the people in your life? what about all the things you’ve put your family through? The people you work with? The damage you have caused over the years?” He was angry. Why was he angry? What the hell was going on here?
“Why? Why does that matter? Its in the past? Why live in the past? I just need to focus on the future.” I was really really mad now. “I pointed to the diagram “This makes me feel better!”
“You can’t move forward until you confront your past.” he yelled.
I yelled back “Then tell me what to do! I have been here for 4 days and no one is helping me. I am the only one trying to figure this it out. That’s your job!”
“Start being honest with yourself. Face your reality!” he yelled.
I didn’t know what to say. I sat there, staring at Dr. Reddy. My arms bulging out of my tiny hospital gown. Journal in my hand. Furious. Deflated. It felt like time had stopped. I felt worse than I had felt before I came into the place. Dr. Reddy sounded deflated too “Thank you Henry. That’s all for today. We will see you tomorrow.”
Without a word, I got up and walked out. I didn’t wait for Jenny and went straight to my room. I didn’t talk to anyone for hours. I didn’t know what to do next. I think that was the first time in my life I felt despair.