The bar hummed with the energy of human emotion. It was one of the few places Alfred could still smoke in public. He remembered the first time he was directed to a smoking area in the airport that looked like an enclosure for zoo animals, with glass walls, and positioned in the line of traffic. What in the world?! So Alfred felt unjudged at the bar, and also pumped up.
Alfred got energy from being with people – gravitated to them like a little brother follows his big sister around. If it was the bar, or the smoke break, Alfred got energy if he wasn’t alone. He absorbed every moment, marinated in it no matter how brief. The “moment” was his forever, for however long that moment would last. He was inside the color, flavor, aroma, texture, and song. He noticed. And, Alfred grazed. Amongst ideas, people, choices, and of most anything that came into his field of vision, he chewed it up in that space of time, and then moved on without guilt. Generally people didn’t hold grudges when he moved on. Alfred was just so nice!
When Alfred was in sync with his energy, senses, feelings, and perceptions, and his wife was in sync with her own, she looked at him like he was someone she was interested in. He could make her laugh and play, whereas she was never normally someone who was playful. This was nectar to Alfred’s pollinator.
Out of sync, however, Alfred’s wife called him names when they argued. He was “flakey,” or “narrow-minded.” And Alfred, awkward with conflict, developed the habit of escaping during those times. He did not like conflict.
Alfred began to drink a lot more alcohol. After work instead of going straight home, he’d “catch a few beers with the guys”. When entertaining clients he started joining them when he offered alcoholic beverages to his clients, imbibing during work hours. His work performance started to smell sour like his alcohol.
You can see where this is going for Alfred. When he came into my office, he reported his inability to enjoy anything, increasing hopelessness, and now when he left the bar in the evening, his mood regularly plummets, a false weight in the scale of life.
Alfred looked at me with a degree of distrust, expecting judgment. But of course, he was also coming to me for judgment – an evaluation and diagnosis, and then to present a plan for treatment.
The treatment plan was short this day. Go to alcohol rehabilitation. Telling Alfred that there was nothing else we could do for him until he engaged in a rehab, was nerve-racking for me. (I never know how a patient will respond after similar directives like this. Sometimes they are not kind. Especially when talking about their substances or addictions, of any sort.)
Alfred stood up, a bit like a mechanical man, thanked me for his contact referrals, and left. I thought that was the last time I’d get to see him. It’s impossible not to hope for the best.
The deal with brain illness is that the treatments I am able to offer in an outpatient setting are ineffective in this context. Other stuff going into the body hits those brain receptors, turning genes on and off, like Wile E. Coyote in the back country. It would be enabling the mal-behavior if I diverted our focus onto anything else. Even so, like so many in the company of users, it is wilting not being able to offer more.
About two months later, I was completely surprised when Alfred came back sober! He told me he did just what we talked about, and rehabilitated. More surprising though, was his statement,
Thank you for refusing to treat me. You saved my life.
Alfred was still married, and yes, the marriage was still volatile. But he wasn’t plugging his ears and disconnecting from his wife with alcohol. It was a start. And Alfred still had restarts available to him.
We did end up starting psychotropic medication and psychotherapy, with which Alfred continued to heal.
I am humbled by Alfred’s courage to pursue rehab, the path of more resistance, and recognize that I should never underestimate the same courage in others when they present similarly.
Self-care tip: Taking the path of more resistance may bring just what we are hoping for.
Question: What have you done courageously? Where has it taken you? Please tell your story!