A long time ago, I walked through the double-door entryway of an old white, center-hall colonial home that was perhaps built long before my oldest known relative was born or before they even arrived at Ellis Island. With the dining room to the left and a slightly rounded, sweeping stairway to the left, a hallways led straight towards the back where the adolescents waited for their group to end. And me, well, all I kept wondering is what would have happened if I had a better lawyer.
There was a somewhat tall, heavyset man with a red mustache and reddish brown floppy hair, which was pin straight, down to his ears, and parted in the middle.
He was somewhat friendly looking and somewhat odd, but approachable. He wore brown framed glasses and a red polo shirt, which, although I knew this man for 42 days—it seemed as though I never seen him dressed in anything else.
He was to be my primary counselor for the duration of my stay. I had yet to meet the other guests at the facility. I saw a few of them pass by to catch a quick peak of the new kid; namely me, which is understandable because rehab time is a strange time. Aside from the workbooks given and meetings, and aside from the groups and the one on one sessions that go on between guest and counselor—rehab time lacks the general spice of anything new or fresh from the outside world. Therefore, when a new intake walks through the door, the guests become curious and try to sneak a glimpse of the new prospect.
Everyone has that “First day,” expression on their face, which I describe as half nervous and partially frightened, mixed with parts of anger, one part regret, another part shame, and then of course there is the main part, which glares in their eyes as if to ask, “How the hell do I get outta here?”
I had that same look. I was afraid. I wanted to leave. I wanted to run away but I was miles away from anything familiar and located in the small town of Liberty, New York. It was clear the kids that saw me in the back were laughing; only, they weren’t laughing at me but more accurately, they were laughing because they remembered their first day in too. They remembered their arguments and incidents with their intakes.
As far as my case was concerned, this was neither my first placement nor would it be my last; however, this was just a way station for me until the court system arrived at their decision of sentencing.
I had just completed a 28 day inpatient facility but to better my chances with the judge, I remained in treatment to show a proactive stance so that I could receive leniency. I wasn’t physically sick anymore but the fog on my head was still quite thick. Mainly, I spoke through grinded jaw, mumbling my words, and looking around through beady and shifty eyes to which I was confronted about on a regular basis.
I was neither sorry for my crimes nor sorry for my choice of habit. I was neither willing nor able to give myself to the program at hand, nor was I interested in a life clean from drugs or alcohol. To me, this was still a system that I could use to help me with my case.
There was a strange sense about being away. I felt as though I was placed on a shelf somewhere and forgotten about. My home life was behind me. My parents did the best they could. But now it was time for professional help.
I wondered if any of my friends missed me. I wondered if anyone thought about me. But the truth is addicts and drunks and the corners that spend time on are interchangeable. One goes away and another comes into the scene. Me, I was gone and that was it.
After being greeted at the entryway, my over the shoulder gym bag, which contained my clothes, a Walkman with a few of my favorite cassette tapes, and some 12-step literature and a book that was signed inside the front cover by my friends at the last facility. I had a few pairs of underwear, a few t-shirts, some jeans, and socks. However, I still came from outside, which meant it was possible for me to try and transport something inside; hence, this is why they took my bag, to search it, and make sure I was not trying to bring in any drugs, alcohol, or paraphernalia.
The previous 28 days flew by me like a blur. I was not able to truly grasp much of what I learned. Then again, I am not sure if I actually learned anything. My first week in treatment was physically uncomfortable. I suffered a physical sickness and underwent the initial mental anguish.
I was uncomfortable in my skin and I did not like my choices or my surrounding; however, after a short while —I made out okay. And what I mean is the other guests were kind to me. I met friends there who I still have clear memories of. And again, I was not ready and I would not submit. I admitted there was a problem but the idea of accepting this as a problem and surrendering to it made little sense to me. Nevertheless, I can say with all honesty, I met people in that first 28 days f treatment that helped changed the direction of my life.
After my bag went through screening and I, of course, was asked to strip down and submit to a search that was not too intense or intrusive—I went upstairs to a small room where the nurse asked me a series of questions. And I hated these questions. I hated them because at the time, none of these questions made sense to me.
“Did you ever drink or use so much that you had a black out?”
My answer: “Not that I can remember.”
“Do you feel paranoid?”
Me: “What do you mean?
“Do you feel like people are out to get you?”
Me: Like how?
“Do you feel like people are looking to hurt you or like people are always talking about you?”
Me. No, why? Did someone tell you that about me?”
“No, Ben. These are just some of the questions we ask to get a feel of where you’re at and sometimes paranoia is a problem for people.
Me: Are you trying to find out if I’m crazy? I’m not crazy!
This was the tempo of my interview. I was combative and confrontational. I was frightened and yes, I was paranoid. I was all of the questions asked. In truth, I had no idea what the roots of my mental illness was nor did I think taking away my usual remedies would be helpful. And now to add color, I had to go downstairs and face my introduction to the other guests or “inmates” as they called themselves.
These were kids from all across the country. Some of them were beaten and underwent unthinkable things. Some of them were the spoiled kids of rich parents that rather someone else deals with the problems of their child. And some of the residents had blood on their hands.
I didn’t want to be here. Upon the completion of my intake, I was now a resident as well. But more, all I could think of is I wished I had a better lawyer.
This way I could be home and at least in the company of people I knew—or, at least I could sneak a drink or at minimum, have a cigarette.
No, none of that was within my reach anymore. I was away upstate and living in a dorm house. I was about to undergo another 42 days of one on one sessions, group meetings, 12-step meetings, and while waiting for my sentence to be passed down from the powers that be, I would hide here until the court system decided where they wanted me to be.
I remember hearing words like “Surrender” and sayings like, “Surrender to win.” I remember hearing people talk about acceptance and how surrendering to truth is a pathway towards acceptance.
But to me, this whole scene was unacceptable. I didn’t want to surrender. I didn’t want to accept my choices or my surroundings. No, I just wanted to leave.
Man, those first days were tough days. I
had no idea where I was. I had never heard of the town of Liberty before —and to me, the ideas of the city or anyplace I could run to at the time was farther away than anyplace my feet could take me.
I remember my counselor asking me if I was ready yet.
Ready for what, I asked
Are you ready to stop fighting back?
You are, said my counselor.
I argued that I wasn’t fighting anything at all. I argued my opinion and told him where I stood.
He smiled and told me you sure yell a lot for someone that’s not fighting.
It took me a long time to see where I was. It also took me a long time to understand where I came from, how I felt, and why. I spent much of my life fighting back and trying so hard to fit the edges of my square pegs through the round holes. I didn’t want to let go. I didn’t want to submit or feel weak. Most of all, I didn’t want to give up the moments of excess which I used to sort of euthanize the time and suspend the boredom in my mind
I wasn’t ready yet . . .
But I was about to be
I always wonder what would have happened if I chose to do as they say instead of do as I wanted. I wonder if I might have learned quicker; —then again, if I wasn’t ready, the answer is plain and simple.
I wasn’t ready.
Therefore, I wouldn’t have retained anything they tried to teach me because in my head, I already knew better.
It took me a long time to understand what the words, “Surrender to win,” mean.
Besides, how does one surrender when all one understands is the fight?
I had to stop looking for the angles. I had to stop looking for the quick cheats, the easier ways, and I had to stop testing the waters. It wasn’t until I understood that I could not successfully live as I was that I found a better way to live.
I listen to parents ask what they can do to coerce their child into a better sober lifestyle. Sadly though, there is no coercion in this case. Show them what they have to gain instead of what they are losing and leaving behind. Addicts and alcoholics (and most people for that matter) are “What’s in it for me,” kind of people.
When I came into the rooms, I didn’t see what was in it for me. I heard a lot of suggestions and rules, to which I argued all of them. It wasn’t until someone helped me get to the roots of my illness that I began to understand that maybe, just maybe, there might be something out there for me.
I didn’t know other people felt the same as me. I didn’t know how to shed myself of the weight behind my deepest secrets or uncomfortable emotions.
My point here is no one can make an addict submit; however, we can do things to open their eyes and plant the seed of wellness. This way if they choose to give themselves to this process—at least now, they’ll know where to go . . .