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.
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.
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.