I was invited to give a talk to the first ‘class’ to graduate from a brand new rehab program. About halfway through, a fellow in the front row raised his hand. “What advice would you give to somebody who had already been in thirty programs?”, he wanted to know. The others laughed. I gathered he was referring to himself.
I don’t remember exactly what platitude I recited, but after the lecture ended I checked the story out with the clinical director. “It’s true enough,” he admitted. “We had him at least twice where I used to work. He does OK in the program, but gets drunk within a couple weeks of discharge. Lot of places won’t take him anymore. So when a new one opens, he’s sure to show up.”
I asked what he thought might be behind all the relapsing. “Honestly?” he said. “I think it’s that big fat trust fund his mother left him. He knows he’ll always have a soft place to land.”
No doubt it was more complicated than that. Still, there was indeed something off about the way this alcoholic presented his history. As if he were proud of it — as if his list of treatment ‘failures’ represented a weird sort of achievement.
Perhaps illustrations of the strength of his will to resist any and all attempts to change him.
If you’re going to live like this, you need enablers. I recalled a former TV star who retained both a personal assistant and a bodyguard to share the task of protecting him during his frequent binges. The bodyguard hid the keys to the boss’ assortment of fast cars. The PA was responsible for booking the old man into whichever detox would still accept him (there weren’t all that many left). It was a demanding job and most staffers lasted less than a year. But the money was good so some enterprising young person could always be found.
As one explained it to me: “Sure, you could say we’re helping him to a slow death. But for us, it’s a living.” She didn’t seem embarrassed. But then, it was Hollywood.