Think Addiction and Bipolar Disorder aren’t Connected? Think Again.

Quite often when I’m doing interviews, I’m asked about the connection between my bipolar disorder and my alcoholism and pornography addiction. I’ve always felt like there was some link between the two, but I finally did a little research to confirm it. As it turns out, there’s a huge link.

Bipolar disorder, which has made it onto the list of most self-diagnosed conditions (migraines continues to top that chart), actually only occurs in between 1.5 and 2.5 percent of the population according to one 2018 study. Another said that it was 4.4%, so I guess you have to believe the one you want.

I was diagnosed at age 26, although I can recognize episodes of mania and depression going back to my mid-teens, not-so-coincidentally when my addictions first began to surface. Ironically, the average age for onset of bipolar disorder is 25, but I know I had it long before that.

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of research yet on the likelihood of someone with behavioral addictions like sex/porn addiction, gambling addiction or video game addiction also suffering from bipolar disorder, but based on what we know with substance addictions, I think it’s safe to say there’s a link.

To the unaware, bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression) is essentially a psychiatric disorder characterized by unstable moods, depression or mixed manic and depressive episodes that are accompanied by drastic changes in sleep patterns and energy levels. Erratic, irrational decision-making can also be a sign of untreated bipolar disorder.

Back when I went untreated, manic was my norm. It was the bouts of depression that indicated to me something was wrong. I’m not going to give my entire history here, but if you’d like to see an article I wrote for my magazine way back in the day where I essentially confessed to the community I had bipolar disorder, click here. It’s a long read, but a good one.

I’m going to try not to turn this into an academic paper, so if you want sources for my statistics, just let me know and I’ll provide them, but I’d rather these be an easier read.

In the US population, roughly 15% of the population are tobacco smokers. Among those with bipolar disorder, anywhere from 60% to 80% either were or are currently tobacco smokers. I was among those in early 20s, but I quit a two-pack-a-week habit in my mid-20s. I took it up again shortly after I was arrested (ironically in rehab) in 2014 and kept it up for about 9 months before quitting again.

In the US, about 1-in-8 people, or 12.5% or the population can be classified as alcoholics. Among those who have bipolar disorder, it’s closer to 42% to 44%, depending on which study you use. I was firmly in this group as well.

As for drugs, someone with bipolar is 14 times more likely to have a substance use disorder than a person without. In fact, over half the people with bipolar disorder (56%) have a history of illegal drug use. One study I saw said that number could be as high as 70%. Although I experimented a little bit, I never embraced illegal drugs the way I did alcohol or pornography.

There is information out there that also links bipolar disorder to populations who report much higher than average anxiety, ADHD and eating disorders.

It’s important to note that it’s just not higher rates of addiction among people with bipolar disorder. You’ll find higher rates of homelessness, violence (both committed by and against), crime and suicide in this population.

There is no known cause for bipolar disorder, addiction, or co-occurrence. It’s just as important to highlight that addiction does not cause bipolar disorder and while the numbers clearly indicate those with bipolar disorder have a much, much higher likelihood of a co-occurring disorder, it is not guaranteed. Researchers believe a combination of factors, such as environment, genetics, biology, etc., are believed to play a role in both bipolar disorder and addiction. Reading between the lines, that seems code for, “We still have no idea.”

When I was at rehab, it felt like two-out-of-three people claimed they had bipolar disorder. I thought they were way overstating it, but as it turns out, maybe those numbers were right on the money.

I hope that the scientists who conduct the kinds of studies and surveys that I referenced above are studying behavioral addictions look to establish a connection between them and bipolar disorder as they’ve done with substance addictions. Anecdotally, based on the sex and porn addicts I’ve known, I think you’ll see very big numbers.

Recovery Included the Surprisingly Therapeutic Task of Simplifying My Life Story

I’ve been a professional writer since I was 17 years old, which means people have been paying me to put words down on paper that others presumably want to read for 26 years now. Oddly enough, it’s a couple of non-paying assignments that I think have helped me the most in recent years.

Despite a few need-to-survive, part-time jobs here and there, writing is all I’ve ever really done in my professional life, yet I know if I never got a cent again, writing would continue to be the cheapest and one of the most crucial parts of my recovery.

When I entered my first rehab for alcoholism in April 2014, one of the first assignments given to me was to write my autobiography to share with the group. Every newbie got this assignment. While telling our overall story, we were asked to focus in on the things that brought us to rehab. I ended up writing 56 pages. When Bob, my caseworker, heard about this, he said that I should not read mine, and just tell the story from memory.

I thought I was doing everyone a favor because most of my fellow residents wrote three or four pages. I wanted to show everybody writing was my strength and delight them with an epic tale of triumph and tragedy. Then, I couldn’t even read it.

Fast-forward a year or so and I’ve entered my second rehab for the porn addiction. Once again, they asked me as a newcomer to share my story. Remembering that I went overboard at the first place, I wrote 30 pages this time. I did get to read it in my daily small group session, but the feedback was still that it was too long. There were many important parts of the story, but they were buried within sections that were just long anecdotes, the group agreed.

After I got out of jail, one of my probation conditions was to participate in group therapy with men who also had sexual offenses. Unsurprisingly, I was told to write my life story. This time, I wrote about eight pages and nobody complained about the length. After three attempts over three years, I was finally able to highlight the important parts of the story. The point of the assignment clicked.

* * *

All three times, I was required to write my story by hand. Maybe that should have been a clue it didn’t need to be a novel. Writing by hand is a bit of an old trick, believed to force the writer to think about their words more carefully. I can type around 75 words per minute, but I know I can’t write that fast.

My story isn’t about funny or interesting events that happened at my jobs. It isn’t about trying to prove I’m a good father or husband. Nobody needs a rundown of places I’ve travelled or sidebars full of opinion. Most of my failures and triumphs have just been run-of-the-mill and had no serious long-term effects on my life.

No, my story is about a kid who was raised by decent parents who made the one mistake of picking the wrong babysitter. The time spent at that babysitter created maladaptive coping skills, which were only enhanced when I developed early addictions to pornography and alcohol. Despite putting together a fairly normal life, those addictions and poor coping skills remained. I was (finally) correctly diagnosed with mental health issues, including bipolar disorder, in my early 20s, but despite therapy and medication, I continued as a functional addict. That stopped in my mid-30s when negative conditions in my life caused a complete breakdown. Part of the breakdown involved an illegal act, but that was my opportunity to seek help. I’ve done well in recovery, never having relapsed, and now have coping skills and tools that were lacking for years. I’m relatively content now as I warn others of the harm of pornography addiction and make up for lost time with my family.

That’s it. That’s my life. Despite the hundreds of thousands of words I’ve written, that’s what it comes down to and I think it’s important I can sum it up in 160 words. It allows me to focus on what’s really important. Yes, details count, but in this case brevity is therapeutic.

I know many of the people reading this have their own blogs, or do a lot of writing as part of their professional endeavors, but if you’ve never done it, I would urge all of you to write your life story in five or six pages and then write a single paragraph summarizing it. If you write long, edit it down when finished. Given those somewhat limiting parameters, it’s surprising what you can learn about yourself.

Gonna Be a Man in Motion…

Last night, I had dinner with the person who I would say was likely my closest friend between 2000 and 2003. I think the last time we sat across from each other was 2005. I didn’t know what to expect.

I’ll call him Joe to maintain his anonymity and because “Joe” is a short name to type. It wouldn’t make sense for a hypothetical name to be Bartholomew. Too long. Anyway, Joe knew me in the years before I was put on my bipolar meds, when hyper-creative, super-energetic manic was my norm.

I don’t think hierarchy-wise, Joe was my boss, but I first met him in early 2000 when I went to work for a small trade newspaper company. He was the editor and I was the staff writer for a monthly paper covering the northern New England high-tech sector. For the most part, it was just he and I putting the paper together.

Last night, I wasn’t the 24-year-old man-child who knew he was destined for huge things sitting across from Joe anymore. It was a 43-year-old guy who not only got kicked in the ass by life over the last decade, but recruited, lined-up and paid the ass-kickers overtime himself. Joe hadn’t seen me since before the magazine publisher and city councilor days. It also meant he hadn’t seen me since all my legal stuff connected to the addictions went down.

In a brief email he wrote while we were organizing the dinner, he said, “I don’t know many of the details, but I do believe we all make mistakes and get beyond them, so we don’t have to talk about any of that stuff if you don’t want to do that.”

It was a nice offer but the moment I sat across from him at the restaurant yesterday, I said, “OK, here’s the deal, I talk about this stuff all the time. Most of the time I talk about it for educational purposes because I’m writing about it or giving interviews. I almost never hear a question I haven’t already been asked. I don’t want you to feel bad for being curious, but I also have to say, if you got nabbed for what I did, I’d have SO MANY questions for you!”

He let out a nice long laugh, realizing if the situations were reversed, he would be willing to talk to me about it and would expect me to have questions.

For 45 minutes, we talked about the case and what happened. It was nice because I didn’t have to be 100% politically correct and choose my words ultra-carefully because despite our time apart, we still knew what the other guy meant without having to add lots of disclaimers or clarifying statements.

We were at a restaurant that – like every other one in Maine lately – is a brewpub that makes its own beer. Joe was super-apologetic to learn I haven’t had a drop of alcohol in my system since April 1, 2014, saying he would have suggested a different place. I told him what I tell everybody, “It’s my issue, not yours. Drink up.” Thankfully, I’m not tempted to drink in this kind of environment because it was never really my typical getting drunk scene in the 25 years I did that.

Perhaps understandably, I dominated the conversation, but like old friends do, we turned back a bit to remembering many of the people and times from when we were younger. Somewhere in the distance, behind the rumble of a faraway locomotive destined for the West, a jukebox played Springsteen’s “Glory Days.”

As I mentioned, Joe knew me even before I started being treated for bipolar disorder. That was the period of time in my life that I romanticized when I decided to pull myself off my meds in early 2013, which I believe was the removal of the keystone that led to my life toppling in the following months.

I would say 85% of the drinking I did in my life was medicinal and directly to feed the coping mechanism of the alcoholism. But 15% was still recreational. I experienced the kind of drinking that “normal” people do who don’t develop problems. This 15% took place in those first few years of the new millennium when Joe and I would hit the town often with a whole cadre of young people who were part of Portland, Maine’s burgeoning tech scene.

Joe and I recalled several stories from those days fondly. Would I want my kids to have roles in stories like those? Of course not, but I’m sure they will and won’t tell me. It was young adults finding themselves, making dumb mistakes, and having a good time learning in the process. I think it’s a place in time many young people find themselves. Despite having no money and not knowing where your life is going to head, you feel a freedom for the first time that you never have, and looking back, never will again. It’s the St. Elmo’s Fire life against The Big Chill life I’m living now; 1980s movie reference of the day award goes to me.

I said goodbye to Joe at the end of the night and we agreed to get together again soon. With the lack of actual friends in my life these days, I’m going to hold him to it. Mentally and emotionally, it was a great thing for me.

Driving home, I started to think about sharing those “war stories” from nearly two decades ago. In AA, and almost every mode of therapy I’ve been through, they advise against glamorizing stories from your drinking days. I think the fear is that if you romanticize what a good time it was, you may want to recapture it and think the only way you can is to hit the bottle. I also think that the recovery community believes hearing old stories that involve joy while engaging in alcohol lends one remember alcohol in a positive light.

I can’t change what happened 18 years ago, and I don’t know if I’d want to. I know that alcohol contributed to poor decision making that in the right light, creates a funny story. Sneaking around fishing docks at night with several people who are drunk, trying to be quiet because one person (not me) wanted to steal a lobster trap to make a coffee table is absolutely stupid and illegal. But if you were there in the moment and knew the people involved, it might elicit a smile, as it still does with me.

What I was left wondering on the ride home was if that kind of fond reminiscing is wrong. Should I be trying to put a negative spin on events every time I drank during those specific years? I was already well into alcoholism and drinking for the wrong reasons when I met Joe, but I think that if I was capable of “normal” drinking, those years were the window when it happened and Joe was one of the people it happened with.

Am I supposed to retroactively see those times with red flags and as warnings I didn’t admit, or despite the fact alcohol played a huge role in my demise 10-11 years later, is it OK, or dare I say even healthy to remember them fondly?

I curious what other people think. Please share your two cents.

 

The Grateful Eight

OK, so if you’re reading this in the far-future, today is Friday, November 8, 2019. I’ve spent much of my week proofreading my (please, God, please) final galley of my book coming out next month. I’m so proud of the book and think it’s going to help a lot of people, but it’s been a lot of work. I need to remind myself that I’m grateful for having the opportunity to write it and see it published.

As I was reminding myself I need to be grateful, I came across another blog that I follow that said today was the Grateful Eight. Apparently, on the eighth of each month, this nice lady likes to list 8 things she’s grateful for. Despite the fact I’ve been cranky for a few weeks, I am actually someone who has included gratitude as part of my everyday recovery.

I had so much to be grateful for, even in the depths of my worst alcoholism and porn addiction, but couldn’t recognize it. I now understand how much work it is to create and operate a magazine, so I’d never do it again, but I think I still possess the dumb optimism that allows me to embark on grand adventures. And I’m very grateful for it now.

Anyway, along with that, and in the spirit of embracing other people’s blogging games, here are my Grateful Eight…

  1. My wife – I know it’s a sucking-up move, but she doesn’t read this blog, so it really isn’t. Despite our differences, we make a very good team and if it was not for her support, not only over the last 6 years, but also the 10 years we were married before that, I think I’d be a shell of who I am today.
  2. My mind – Despite the fact there are facets of it that seem broken, there are other facets that work far better than most people’s. From my ability to read people and size them up quickly to the photographic-like way I can remember trivia, I know that I was given extremes in how my mind operates. I’ll take extremes over average.
  3. My parents – If you can find two parents who have been dragged through more emotional highs and lows by their kid, well, I don’t want to have dinner with those people. Within the space of a year, my parents went from hearing from everybody, “You must be so proud of your son on the city council” and “His magazine is so terrific, you must be so proud” to having to deal with, “So, he didn’t really do it, did he?” Their support for me has never wavered, and at times, that has included far too much financial support. I hope I’m half the parent they’ve been to me.
  4. Vaccinations – Both because they may have saved my life multiple times and I’m sure there’s someone reading this who will get irritated and claim that I don’t know what I’m talking about because they once heard of someone’s kid getting Flying Squirrel Syndrome or whatever other disease from a polio vaccine. Realize this, though. Our grandparents could die from stuff that we don’t even think about. That’s science at work, not superstition.
  5. My kids – While I admittedly wasn’t the best father for many years of their childhood, thankfully they only have one father, so they don’t know the difference. Just kidding. I find as they get older they offer me far more wisdom than I offer them these days. Taking the cross-country trip with my daughter (it was just her and I the first 10 days, then other parts of the family joined up for a week, then just my dad and I the last 10 days) this past summer was one of the best experiences of my life with her and I can see my son and I developing a best friends relationship that will run deep into his adult life.
  6. The open road – The thing I missed the most while on bail, in jail, and on probation was my inability to move freely outside the state of Maine. If I had been in California, that’s plenty of space to roam around and experience different places and climates. Not so much here. While that August road trip sent me into the red, it was the soul cleansing 9,000-mile journey I needed to put the legal ordeal behind me.
  7. Chefs – Thank God there are people in this world who know how to take food and make better food from it. I have literally never made anything from scratch except for fried rice and pasta salad, and neither are very good. I don’t think they get enough credit for being true artists. My life would be far less joyful without them.
  8. The benefit of the doubt – I need this a lot in life now and I’ve learned there are many people who will never give it, nor give it back, to me. It’s an act of faith and means a lot.

As a bonus one, I’m grateful for all of you who will spend a few seconds looking at pictures from my awesome road trip. I keep meaning to put these up. I guess two months late is better than never, right? I guess if you click on the photo or hover over it you get a caption.

 

I don’t need your full eight, but I’d love to hear about a few non-obvious things that you are grateful for in this life, and you can’t say my photos. I already know you loved those.

Dialetical Behavior Therapy fun with Pink Floyd

I never talk much about dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), but it is the modality that probably best help me learn how to face what I don’t want to acknowledge, deal with injustice I can’t fix and ultimately learn the practice of radical acceptance. I only had a half-dozen sessions learning the technique at inpatient rehab and will admit that I only read half the workbook and barely filled anything in, but I learn by doing.

If you want to learn everything about it, I urge you to go read THIS article. It gives the basic outline, but I’ll tell you what it did for me. In moments of heightened emotion, good or bad, it gave me skills to bring myself down and not go off the deep end for a prolonged period of time.

It taught me how to pause, look introspectively, and let my mind be present in the moment, wherever that took me.

I drank alcohol and I used pornography as coping tools to handle the rest of my day. Now, DBT is not only a great coping tool for the rest of my day, but helps me to center myself in the closest way I’ll ever get to meditating.

But enough about me babbling how it helps me keep my shit together, let’s try an exercise…

 

This is going to take about 7-8 minutes. If you don’t have the time, don’t start. If you do have the time, I promise you that you’ll be in a different mindset by the end of it. Come back and try later if you can’t do this now.

 

I want you to play the following Pink Floyd song, High Hopes. It was off  of their final studio album, 1994’s The Division Bell.

When the music starts, close your eyes and begin to listen to the lyrics. Try figuring out what the song is about. If you feel like a fool closing your eyes, you can just read the lyrics as I’ve included them. Again, start by trying to figure out what the song is about.

When your mind starts to wonder, let it. Let it go wherever it’s going to take you. Don’t fight it, don’t manipulate it, don’t avoid where your thoughts take you.

By the time the guitar solo kicks in at the end of the song, almost exactly the 5-minute mark, I want you to go to the comments section and write what you were thinking about at that moment. Where did 5 minutes of your thoughts take you? It’s not about deciphering the meaning of the song. It doesn’t matter what somebody commented before or after, or if you’re the first. After 5 minutes, what were you thinking about? Stop writing when the song finishes, at exactly the 7-minute mark. I’ll do this as well, after at least one person shares their thoughts.

 

Here are the lyrics if you prefer to read them instead of closing your eyes:

High Hopes by Pink Floyd

Beyond the horizon of the place we lived when we were young
In a world of magnets and miracles
Our thoughts strayed constantly and without boundary
The ringing of the division bell had begun

Along the Long Road and on down the Causeway
Do they still meet there by the Cut

There was a ragged band that followed in our footsteps
Running before time took our dreams away
Leaving the myriad small creatures trying to tie us to the ground
To a life consumed by slow decay

The grass was greener
The light was brighter
With friends surrounded
The nights of wonder

Looking beyond the embers of bridges glowing behind us
To a glimpse of how green it was on the other side
Steps taken forwards but sleepwalking back again
Dragged by the force of some inner tide

At a higher altitude with flag unfurled
We reached the dizzy heights of that dreamed of world

Encumbered forever by desire and ambition
There’s a hunger still unsatisfied
Our weary eyes still stray to the horizon
Though down this road we’ve been so many times

The grass was greener
The light was brighter
The taste was sweeter

The nights of wonder
With friends surrounded
The dawn mist glowing
The water flowing
The endless river
Forever and ever

 

Trying to Figure Out Why Local Election Results Tweaked My PTSD

Sometimes I wonder when I’m having a legitimate PTSD moment and when it’s just a combination of anxiety and borderline nausea. Last night, I think I had a PTSD episode looking at local election results.

I didn’t feel off because of any specific results. I, more than anyone, know how insignificant one person is in the vast machine known as our government. I’m not sure exactly why I had a physical and mental reaction, but I’m a writer, so I’ll work it out on the page.

In 2011, when I made the decision to run for the city council in Auburn, Maine, I thought that I could try to move the city in a more forward-thinking direction. Between my city and the one next door, we are the second-highest population density in Maine. The first, Portland, is a progressive city where things like art, culture and a view toward the future is a good thing. Here, not so much. I think most believe our best days are long behind us. The magazine I launched two years earlier was trying to change that mindset and I thought being on the City Council would also help.

I’m not going to deny that I knew being on the City Council would also raise my name recognition if I won. I really didn’t aspire to any higher office, but then again, I’d never made many plans in life, just going with the flow and seizing opportunity where I saw it. If nothing else, running would give me a good gauge of how popular I currently was.

I won, defeating the other four candidates with only one, a long-serving incumbent, coming close. It was needed validation that I was as awesome as I tried to convince myself.

The experience serving was not good. As you have probably surmised about me, I like to be the one in control. It’s why I started companies and didn’t work for other people. It’s why I now work from home. Being an equal part of a team, especially one as divided as that City Council, wasn’t fun. I had very little respect for a couple of the members as I was going into office and that number only grew during my tenure.

With my socially liberal, fiscally conservative bent, I usually ended up being the tie-breaker on a lot of 3-3 votes. Ironically, in the voting order, I came last, so everybody saw it as me making the decision, and since I was the only one there who knew how to give a good soundbite to the media, it was always me that was quoted. I liked that power at first, but grew to hate it.

Despite the fact I showed up to most of the meetings in the second half of my two-year term borderline drunk (or full-on drunk), I didn’t like making decisions that either way, hurt people. I didn’t like making decisions that would leave one group of people angry at me and the other feeling like I was on their side. My wife knew that I’d come back from most meetings angry and sad.

With about six months left in my term in early 2013, ironically just as I was seriously descending into the worst of my porn and alcohol addictions, I made the announcement I was not running again on my Facebook page.

I didn’t regret stepping away as I secretly knew just how much my life was spinning out of control. There hasn’t been a day that I wished I was back there and with the exception of seeing the results last night, I don’t follow a damn thing they do in the news.

I’m so thankful I left the City Council before my arrest. I don’t know if it would have been any bigger a deal if I was actively serving, but amidst the clouded judgment I was showing at that time in my life, walking away after only one term was probably the smartest thing I did.

Maybe reading those results was a flashback to the night I won and was so smugly full of myself. I didn’t like that guy. I don’t attribute the City Council to my downfall, but maybe subconsciously I do think those long Monday nights contributed to my trip toward rock bottom. Maybe it reminds me that despite winning the seat, I felt like the time I served was a failure or it could be that it just shows this community marches on without me, never missing a beat, as if I never mattered at all. And while the magazine, film festival, co-workers, award ceremonies, friends, etc., are all gone, the City Council always remains.

I’m still processing why I had such a visceral reaction, but at least I’ll have something to talk about at therapy this week.

Watching My First Connection in Recovery Almost Die in Front of Me

Note: This may be a story worth a trigger warning. It may also be exactly what you need to hear, so viewer discretion advised.

Bob was the best counselor I had at either of my rehabs. He wasn’t medically trained or have 15 groups of letters after his name, but he had risen to run the two small properties in Palm Springs (really just former adjacent motels probably used in the Hollywood heyday of Palm Springs) and he was tasked as my caseworker.

Since they were understaffed, Bob was most people’s caseworker. I started my time at the main property, where about 20 patients lived. That property was overseen by Jackson, who had once been a patient at the rehab. For some reason, Jackson went to rehab 14 times and it never clicked until the 15th time. Now, he was a model of clean living. This 26-year-old didn’t have much of an active role in running the rehab except as the overnight intake person, should one be needed.

Once you completed 30 days, if you were staying, you were moved to the adjacent property, where only about 8-10 people lived at any given time. These people were the “interns” who just did the occasional bed checks and kept attendance at the four daily group sessions, although they only had to attend three. Sometimes you’d also be asked to do additional tasks, like make breakfast, or bring a patient to the nearby “real” hospital if they had a minor injury. I once took a guy for a nasty spider bite. Bob lived at this property, although he kept to himself in his room.

Meet Bob

Bob was around 60 years old. Born in Iowa, he moved to Chicago as a young man and become either an investment banker or high-end stockbroker. He ended up married, had a couple of sons and a brutal, brutal alcohol problem in his late 30s/early 40s. That problem only came under control when he admitted to himself that he was a homosexual. This epiphany tore his family apart and sent him packing to Palm Springs, which at the time (and still to some degree) was a safe place for homosexuals to live their lives openly compared to other places in the U.S. at the time.

Bob continued working in the financial sector for many years. After giving it several years, he tried to rebuild the bridges with his sons, but it was a very rocky road. Bob settled into a steady relationship with a man, but after several years, the man left. With his relationship with his kids still in tatters, Bob was introduced to meth.

While he didn’t have the length of time being a meth addict he did with alcohol, it floored him once again and he sought professional help. Something clicked while he was there, and he decided he’d get certified as an addiction therapist. Along the way, he met another man in recovery who he started a relationship with, and they decided that they’d open a sober house, which was an aftercare facility for addicts.

This went fine for a couple of years, but inevitably, the duo broke up. His partner kept the house and he took a job with the rehab I attended. A friend he met in recovery, Amy, was the day intake person and also led one of the group sessions. They’d just lost their lead and were looking for another. Bob took the job. I arrived about eight months later.

Forming a Bond

Bob saw me almost immediately when I arrived and welcomed me graciously. I attended a couple of his group sessions before we had our first real one-on-one where he told me parts of the story I just explained. Others helped fill in the gaps along the way.

I had told myself that I wouldn’t tell anybody about the charges I had unless they needed to know about them. Probably 97% of the people at the rehab never had any idea that less than two weeks before I got there, I was arrested for possession of underage pornography.

Bob made it clear quickly that he knew I did, but also shared he’d known several men who had the same issue and what happened to them, ranging from nothing to 10 years in prison. We didn’t dwell on this part of my story because he didn’t have the training there. We talked a lot about my drinking, but mostly we just talked.

He had red hair and striking sea green eyes that looked they could see through you, so you shouldn’t bother telling a lie. I opened up to him about my drinking more than any other person I ever had to that point and as a former alcoholic with around 10 years of sobriety, he could relate. I felt a connection with him as a fellow addict that I’d never made with anybody in my professional or personal lives.

When I made it to the smaller property after 30 days, I thought we’d hang out a little more, but Bob kept to himself in his room. I was a little disappointed we didn’t get that “down time” chance to bond, but it was what it was.

The first time I was ever asked to lead one of the groups was when Amy had to intake a client, so she couldn’t lead the late morning group and Bob had called in ill that morning. Aside from Jackson, another office worker and a maintenance manager, that was it for the staff. They should have had at least two more counselors and another staff person there.

After a few days of calling out sick, and not seeing Bob at the adjacent property, Amy pulled me aside and asked if I’d take over the late morning group as a permanent thing. The reality is, anybody can do the job of a group therapy counselor. You just have to be able to keep the ball rolling and get people to talk. My training as a reporter was perfect. When I asked why she wanted to do this permanently (and if it would knock anything off my bill since I was now functioning as a part-time employee) she told me that Bob relapsed and had been asked to leave after a confrontation with the owner of rehab who also owned and operated two other facilities in Florida and further north in California.

Never Saw It Coming

Bob’s relapse really hit me and a few other people who had been there for a while hard. I was probably 40-45 days into my 70-day stay at that point. If he could relapse, it was clear anybody could. A lot of us spent the next few days comparing notes and agreeing he’d had a difficult road in life, but for someone who preached asking for help, he couldn’t follow his own advice.

A new manager named Autumn was hired within a couple of days. She was young, probably in her late 20s and asked me to continue running the late morning group. I liked her and we developed a relationship that was more like co-workers than treatment provider-patient. When Bob left, so did my one-on-one sessions. They closest thing I had to that with Autumn was in the almost daily patient rundown when I’d report was happening in my group and around the properties when she wasn’t there.

At around probably my 62nd or 63rd day, Amy approached me early one morning.

“I knew how much Bob meant to you and we have to help him,” she said in a whisper.

I asked her to explain what she was talking about and she launched into a story of how after Bob left the adjacent property, he went to live with his sponsor. After four or five days of heavy drinking and refusing to go to meetings, his sponsor kicked him out in fear of his own safety and sobriety.

She said Bob then went to live with a friend, but that person kicked him out too after a couple of days. Amy had seen him the morning before when he called to get his last check and she agreed to meet him in a Walgreen’s parking lot. He revealed that he had been living out of his car, spending his days in the park drinking and sleeping in his car in various parking lots, drinking, at night.

Amy worked the phones calling nearby detox and rehab centers and was able to pull some strings to get Bob into one of those facilities if he agreed to go. She finally was able to convince him to go to detox and offered to pay for a night at the Motel 6 down the road so nothing would happen to him.

The problem was that the van that was going to pick Bob up and bring him to the detox center about 20 miles away was not going to pick him up until 4 p.m. and he had to be out of the hotel by noon. She had to stay at the facility, but she said that Jackson had secretly agreed to pick him up at the hotel.

Now, understand that bringing someone from the outside who was using – which describes Bob accurately at the time – was the worst thing you could. Nobody from the outside was let in without prior approval, and certainly not someone with a problem. Jackson couldn’t hide Bob in his room for 5 or 6 hours to wait for the van since it was the main property. Amy asked if I could let him stay in my room next door since nobody monitored that property closely. I was a little hesitant, but she said she’d thought he’d just sleep all day and I could just hang out in the room watching TV or by the pool while he slept.

About an hour later, Jackson and I headed to Motel 6.

Addiction is Real

Jackson had known Bob much longer than me and said he had no idea what we’d encounter at the hotel. I think even he was shocked when Bob opened the door.

I’ve seen peoples in the throes of alcoholic benders, but this was beyond what I’ve ever seen. Bob had been drinking around the clock for who knows how many weeks at that point. He’d lost about 15-20 pounds since I last saw him and his fair complexion was completely sunburned from those days in the park.

He limply motioned to us to come into the room. We entered to a mess of empty Listerine bottles. He took a half-full one from the dresser and downed its contents.

“Do you know why I have so much Listerine here?” he slurred at me.

“Because of the alcohol?” I asked, knowing that was the answer.

“Of course, but here’s the secret. You can’t go to a bar or buy liquor after 1 a.m. But you can go to a 7-11 and get Listerine in the middle of the night and it’s 80 proof,” he said. This was one of those things you only learn through the rehab experience.

Bob immediately turned into a sad, regretful drunk.

“Look at me. Look what I’ve become. You guys are doing great and look at me,” he said.

We tried to let him know he’d picked us up when he was down, and this was our turn. After assuring him we weren’t judging him and everything would be OK, we told him that he’d be coming to my room to wait for the van to bring him to detox. I gathered his stuff while Jackson let him polish off another half-full bottle of Listerine by the nightstand, then helped him outside and into the back seat of the car.

As we drove the two miles back to the rehab facility, Bob kept talking down about himself and saying that we were pieces of shit when he met us but that we’d turned it around and wondering why couldn’t he do the same thing.

In the middle of one of his pity-party sentences, he stopped talking and simply fell to the side.

“Did he pass out?” asked Jackson?

I turned around and saw him face down on the side seat with a disgusting, thick liquid coming out. As I tried to lift his head, we pulled into the small parking lot next to my facility. I ran and opened the gate while Jackson worked on getting Bob to sit up. He just kept slumping backward into whatever was in that puddle.

“He just needs to sleep it off in your room,” Jackson said. “We may have to carry him.”

As we pulled him toward us from him slumped position again he vomited what was clearly Listerine, blood and who knows what else onto himself and Jackson’s backseat.

“Dude, that’s blood, he needs to go the hospital,” I said.

At that moment, Amy called from next door.

“We’re bringing him to the hospital,” I said. “He’s puking all kinds of whatever including blood.”

“But he’s going to lose his chance at detox and rehab,” she said.

“Amy, we need to take him. I’ve never seen this come out of somebody before,” I said.

Jackson grabbed my phone.

“Amy, he’s seriously in trouble. We’re going to the hospital.”

He hung the phone up and gave it back to me. I ran to the other side of the car and jumped into the passenger’s seat.

Thankfully, the hospital was only about three blocks away. We pulled into the emergency room entrance and I ran in, telling the person at the desk we needed a gurney and a couple people to help lift this guy who was OD’ing onto a stretcher.

They were out there within 10 seconds, pulling Bob out of the car and putting him on the gurney. He’s stopped vomiting, but as he lay back on the gurney, I saw his eyes roll completely backward into his head. They whisked him away leaving Jackson and I standing there.

“I probably know more about him, so I’ll stay and try to answer his questions. You should go back. You’ve got a group to run,” he said.

I walked back to the rehab, trying to make sense of the last half hour.

The aftermath

I ran the group like nothing happened. Shortly when it was over, I walked into the courtyard area and saw Amy leaving with her stuff. I ran to catch up with her and she told me that Autumn had just fired her. We exchanged email addresses and I went into Autumn’s office.

She was crying and asked me to shut the door.

“This isn’t how a rehab is supposed to operate,” she said. “I went to three of them myself. I’ve worked at four. This is all wrong. I can’t do this.”

She told me that the owner of our facility got a call from the owner of the facility Bob was supposed to be heading off to had the day gone as expected. When he found out, he called our facility and Amy fessed up to him what was happening. He then asked to speak to Autumn and told her that she had to fire Amy for getting Jackson and I involved since it could have been a liability.

I sat with Autumn for 20 minutes trying to calm her down. I explained to her that this was her first rehab as the facility leader and since it was kind of a bottom-of-the-barrel place, all she could do was move up.

“Do your year here and then find a new job. You have to look at this as just a great line to have on your resume. Someday you’ll be running the facility you deserve,” I said.

“One of the patients who is paying to be here shouldn’t be running the most effective group and soothing the director of the place because she can’t stop crying,” she laughed, realizing the absurdity of everything going on that day. She assured me that I wouldn’t be in any trouble and she appreciated what I was trying to do, but also told me not to be an accessory to any schemes again.

I visited Bob at the hospital the next day with Jackson. He told us that the doctor said if he’d have had that episode in his hotel room and we arrived 30 minutes later, he likely would have died choking on his vomit or the internal bleeding might have caused things to go far worse than they did.

When Jackson and I walked back to the facility I asked him if he thought everybody could be saved from addiction. He said no, the statistics proved they can’t.

“Bob’s one of those guys,” he said. “The bottle is going to kill him. He’s not done with it.”

I preferred to believe those people who died just didn’t get help in time and not that they were incapable.

About 18 months later, I spoke to Bob a few days before I went in front of a judge to be sentenced. He agreed to write a letter of recommendation for me, but it never came. He said he was sober at that point and ironically serving as a counselor for the same company, just at their location further north.

I haven’t talked to him since. I know how to reach out through Facebook, but am not sure I want to do that. I don’t want to find out something went bad, and I don’t want silence, because I’ll assume the worst. I prefer to believe that Bob is still in California, doing well and helping others. I would rather live in a world where Jackson’s conclusion is wrong.

 

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