This is much longer than most of what I write, but I think it illustrates the all-or-nothing mindset to life most addicts have. The only alteration to reality is that I changed people’s names.
Aside from the rotund early-20s-something Brackett, I was the longest tenured primary patient at Spencer Recovery Center’s Palm Springs location, with 52 days behind me to that point. I was running the morning meeting and it seemed like Sam, the program director and Allison, the office manager, both leaned on me when they needed help. Sam asked me if I wanted to be an intern just as I was coming out of the morning meeting.
It meant I didn’t have to attend one of the three group sessions every day and there was more leeway when visitors came, but I had to make sure the primaries — what we called the patients who had been there less than 28 days — were behaving for an eight-hour shift, six days per week. I didn’t understand what the upside was and he said, “You’ll be helping out.” I asked if it reduced my costs at all and he said no. He said the fact I was in my mid-30s made me accessible to both the younger patients and the older. I told him that if he needed me to do anything, I’d be happy to help, but I didn’t want to be an official intern until the 60-day mark, when it was mandatory. I was very comfortable and saw no reason to take on anything extra.
The van from Laguna Beach, where the detox and main Spencer facility was, would show up twice a week, dropping a few people off who were deemed to have the demeanor for Palm Springs. I was lucky in that I only spent my first 8 days in Laguna Beach.
The calmness of Palm Springs did catch up to many people. Laguna Beach was a den of drama where drugs and sex were rampant. Palm Springs was not. I don’t think anybody was having sex and it seemed like any time someone did drugs, they were found out quickly. We would max out at 30 patients in Palm Springs where Laguna Beach had about 50. It was much healthier for my recovery from alcoholism.
I made an effort to get to know everyone’s name, but I’d guess I only became close friends with one out of every six or seven people. You could spot from a mile away who was going to get kicked out or simply walk out the door, and with those people, I never got too close.
We had our fair share of “hot messes” as Brackett would call them, meaning girls between the ages of 18 and 21 who seemed like on the outside that they were from lower-socioeconomic homes, yet had a sense of entitlement that the world owed them something. They were clearly promiscuous, with many having their first kid around 16 and some with two and even three kids. They were often loud, enjoyed swearing at the top of their lungs and among the most rattled by the calmness displayed by those of us who lasted more than a week in Palm Springs.
While I didn’t make friends with the “hot messes” it bothered me when they would get kicked out. Usually it was for drinking, which I couldn’t understand because I know it wasn’t about satiating their addiction. It was about looking cool. How much fun could it be to get hammered at rehab? What are you going to do? Get tipsy and watch Family Guy? Either these girls had the worst judgment (something that was hard to argue against) or they just needed to be rebellious, which seemed to be the real answer. When they would get kicked out, they would usually be given anywhere from two-to-six hours additional on the Palm Springs property to figure something out. Those who lived in California were usually able to get a friend or family member to pick them up. Those who were from other parts of the country could usually get family members to wire them money to get home. Sometimes though, their first, second and third plans fell through and despite being young girls who constantly postured that they were “bad bitches” in control of their lives, they broke down crying, not knowing what they were going to do because they were hours away from homelessness if a plan didn’t come together.
My daughter was turning 14 in a couple of months and while to the best of my knowledge she had never touched drugs or alcohol, nor could I ever see her engaging in the kind of stupid behavior most high school teens did, you never know what’s going to happen and the idea of her ending up in a rehab facility in a few years really scared me and broke my heart. Despite the fact these hot messes were not people I socialized with, when they dropped their “bad bitch” acts, they were young, frightened girls and I’d seen my daughter frightened before.
One of the girls I rarely talked to, among everyone’s least favorite, was a 19-year-old called Tawny. She’d been caught drinking for a second time, freaked about it when confronted during our morning group and was kicked out. Told she had only a few hours to leave, she joined us in the van to go to the Friday night AA meeting at City Hall in the City Council chambers. She thought her sponsor would be there and could help her plan what to do next.
The first half of the meeting was typical AA business and mantras. At the 30-minute mark, they would take a short break. The last 30-to-45 minutes was a speaker, who would talk about how AA saved them. I would sit there week after week and think it was some kind of karma that I had to sit in the room where the City Council did its work whereas back home, it was being a City Councilor that contributed to my demise. At least Sonny Bono was never the mayor of my town.
Devising a plan
At the break, I was sitting on a bench about 20 yards from the front door, smoking a cigarette. I don’t smoke, but there was nothing to do in rehab so I took up for the habit for three months. Tawny came over and asked me if I had another, so I gave her one. Never be the asshole who won’t hand out cigarettes in rehab. Nobody likes that person, and they’ll tell you so.
She was a pretty girl, but you could tell the last several years had not been kind to her. When she did her hair and makeup, she was presentable, but without, she looked somewhat haggard. Of all the girls at Spencer, she also seemed to gain weight the fastest. She had to put on at least 20 pounds in the three weeks she’d been there, but it didn’t stop her from wearing the same bikini, which couldn’t hide her growing butt and stomach. She should have been tossed multiple times, but throwing a full bowl of cereal during a process group at Sam when he briefly checked in to ask her about the bottles he found was the last straw. She was given until 9 p.m. to get off the property.
She was told she’d have to be off the Spencer property 30 minutes after we returned from the AA meeting she was hoping to find the absent sponsor at. I knew she lived in California, but didn’t know her plan and wasn’t going to ask.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do. My sponsor isn’t here and isn’t answering my calls,” she said matter-of-factly sitting down next to me. I felt bad, but she didn’t seem to care. She had been caught drinking the first time about a week earlier. They put her on a “behavior contract” which stated she had to follow all the rules. She stopped attending some of the group sessions three days before she finally got kicked out and when she did attend, she often brought food against the rules or was a distraction. It was certainly not a surprise to anyone when she was told to leave.
“At 9 p.m. you’re on the street, I heard.” I said.
“Well, what have you tried to do?”
“I tried calling my Mom. She lives in Long Beach, but she doesn’t want to talk to me. Neither does my grandma in Manhattan Beach.”
“Everybody in your family live at beaches?”
“Pretty much,” she said.
“What about friends?” I asked.
“None of them are going to drive 100 miles to Palm Springs,” she said.
“You do realize there aren’t many homeless shelters in Palm Springs, right?” I asked.
“Yeah, I heard Sam say that in a meeting the other day,” said Tawny.
“So what are you going to do?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said, this time more seriously. We stopped talking and smoked our cigarettes. A few minutes later, a bell rung letting people know they needed to return to the auditorium.
“Ready to head in?” I asked, but noticed she had turned away and had tears coming down her face.
“What am I going to do?” she said through tears and threw her arms around my midsection for what others saw as a hug, but what I could tell was more clinging to hope. I put my arms around her and she started bawling into my chest.
“You’re strong. You’re going to be OK,” I said. “Keep crying, it’s OK. We don’t have to go in.”
She cried for another two or three minutes then pulled herself together and sat up.
“Sorry I got your shirt all wet,” she said, wiping the snot from her upper lip.
“We’re in the desert, it’ll dry in five minutes,” I said and she laughed. “Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to come up with multiple plans and we’ll figure out the best to the worst, OK?”
She nodded and looked incredibly vulnerable, like a little girl. “OK,” she said sheepishly.
“Do you know anybody around here?” I asked.
“Not really,” she said.
“And you have no family, no friends who are willing to come pick you up…none?”
“I don’t think so. I called everyone on my phone that made sense,” said Tawny.
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t want to call someone who is just going to get me fucked up. I want to stay clean,” she said.
“That’s commendable,” I said.
“And I don’t want to go back to being a prostitute,” she said.
“You were a prostitute?”
“Yeah, for a year. It was the only way I could pay for a place for me and my son. I couldn’t stay with anyone else so I did what I had to,” she said, sniffling and still trying to pull herself together. “If I could get to Laguna Beach, I have some friends there.”
“I’m not judging. We do what we have to,” I said, realizing I now knew a teenage prostitute. I was becoming more like a character from a Lifetime movie every day at rehab. “Would anybody at Spencer be willing to sneak you back into their room late at night?”
“I don’t think so,” she said. There were only a handful of girls at Spencer and I didn’t think any were close with Tawny. There were a couple of scuzzy younger guys who might, but the odds of them not getting caught were non-existent and she knew they’d expect something in return.
I checked my phone (yeah, it was one of the rare rehabs that let us have our cell phones. We can debate the merit of it another time) and found Mickey’s number. He lived in the desert nearby with his girlfriend and had left Spencer before Tawny arrived, which was probably to her advantage. He didn’t know what a pain in the ass she could be.
“I’m going to call my friend Mickey. He was at Spencer before you got there. He’s probably about 30. He and his girlfriend Sharon are pretty cool. They’re clean and they did like 90 days each here. I’ll see if you can stay with them one night, but tomorrow you have to figure something else out,” I said.
“I can probably get a friend to come tomorrow,” she said.
“OK, and if they say no, we’ll ask Tom if you can sleep in his truck tonight. If he says no, when we get back, I’ll say I forgot something in the van that brings us here and I’ll leave it unlocked and you can sleep in there.” I said.
Tom was a patient my age who I bonded with quickly. He was a member of the Hell’s Angels who drove himself to the facility, so his truck was sitting in the parking lot. While I know he enjoyed the party lifestyle, I also had a suspicion he was hanging out in rehab because it was a safe place to hide from the police.
“Thank you, Josh. I’m sorry I was such a bitch to you,” Tawny said.
“You were never a bitch to me of if you were, I just ignored it. Promise me that you won’t be so defiant in the future. You would have a bed there tonight, your bed, if you didn’t break the rules,” I said.
“I know. I’m sorry.”
I called Mickey and explained the situation, trying to play up the fact she was a scared, young girl and playing down the mouthy teenager I saw far more often. He asked Sharon if it would be OK and they both agreed to take her for a night. Mickey said they were renting a house near Joshua Tree National Park, so it would take him about 40 minutes to get to Spencer. Since we weren’t going to be back for a half hour, it was good timing.
Tawny gave me a hug and again apologized for everything. I didn’t tell her that I liked problem solving, especially other people’s problems, far more than I enjoyed listening to someone talk about how AA saved them. We sat on the bench for another 20 minutes waiting for the meeting to finish. We talked about her son, my daughter and what she pictured her future looking like. She wanted to eventually get to Hollywood to do hair and makeup for movies and TV shows. She said she’d taken half the cosmetology courses she needed to get her license. Her grandmother, who had custody of her son, said once she finished that schooling, she could live with them. I tried to tell her what great choices those were and how she should strive for that dream. I told her to imagine 10 years from now, when she’d be making good money and having a son who was proud of her. It seemed to perk her up.
When we returned, Tom and I helped Tawny take her bags out to the parking lot area. He was given access to his truck after 30 days and mentioned he had to go to Laguna Beach to sign paperwork at that facility and he could give her a ride there the next day.
“See, everything does work out,” I said.
Tom and I waited a few minutes with her before Mickey and Sharon showed up. I thanked both of them and they said they were just going to watch videos that night and Tawny seemed very grateful. I hoped she could pull the gracious houseguest act for at least a night. Tom said he’d pick her up very early at Mickey’s house, like 6:30 a.m. and take her to Laguna Beach. Tawny once again thanked me, gave several people seeing her off hugs and left with Mickey and Sharon. I felt good that I came to her rescue, even if only for a night.
Happily never after
I got a call from Tom shortly before the 10:30 a.m. group meeting the next morning.
“So, we’re on the way to Laguna and she asks me to stop at 7-11 so she can get coffee. Instead of coffee, she comes out with a handle of vodka. Before she even gets back into the car, she’s drank half of it. I told her she couldn’t drink when I was driving, so she drank another half of what was left. I have brothers in the Angels who are drunks that can’t drink in an hour what she drank in three minutes,” he said.
“Where were you?”
“We hadn’t even got out of Joshua Tree yet!” he said. “Then, we start to go and she starts begging me to take her to that hotel down the street in Palm Springs so she can get dope. And I asked her what money she had and she said she could just blow a guy to get what she needed.”
“Jesus Christ,” I muttered into my cell phone.
“I told her we didn’t have time and about three minutes later, she’s asleep. She wakes up like after 40 minutes and sticks her head out the window and pukes all over the side of my truck. So we had to get off the highway and wash the side of the truck at a car wash. She pukes like two more times while we’re there and then said she’d be OK,” said Tom.
“Did she get fucked up at Mickey and Sharon’s house?” I asked.
“No, Mickey said she was great. They watched a movie and she fell asleep halfway through.”
“So what happened then?”
“Once she was done puking, we got back in the truck and kept going. She’s on her phone the whole time and like five friends of hers all said she couldn’t stay with them. I don’t know what the fuck she’s done to her friends but she doesn’t have any fucking friends. Once she tried that, she called a guy and told him if he gave her a place to stay, she’d work for him again.”
“As a hooker?”
“Yeah. She said she fucked guys for anywhere from $50 to $200 and if she was lucky, she’d get half the money,” Tom said.
“So she’s going back to being a prostitute?”
“I dropped her off in front of what looked like a crack house in Laguna Hills,” he said.
“There are crack houses in Laguna Hills?” I asked.
“There are crack houses everywhere,” Tom said.
“That’s disappointing,” I said.
Her time at Spencer meant nothing. She was drunk again and planning on selling her body, something she had told me less than 24 hours earlier she didn’t want to do. The optimist in me said that it was the booze talking and once it wore off she’d come to her senses, but the realist in me knew it wasn’t true and her bad upbringing and addiction had not been conquered, and probably hadn’t even been affected by her time at Spencer.
“You can only save yourself,” Tom said. “Anyway, I’ll be back this afternoon. Talk to you later. Bye.”
“Bye,” I said and hung up. Tawny was on my mind for a few minutes, but my daughter was the one really on my mind. I know Tawny’s parents were not helpful, but I didn’t know if that mattered. Most of the people who were young at Spencer had parents visit who seemed like great people. How do decent parents, like I’d like to believe my wife and I are, keep our children from using? Whoever figures out a foolproof plan could make a lot of money.
I walked into the office before the meeting and told Sam I was ready to be an intern.