Jacob Lawrence, "Two People in a Bar" (1941)
Jacob Lawrence, Two People in a Bar (1941)
Can a Game Be Literature?

Mark's Pages

Visitors' day at rehab.

The structure's as tight for visitors as for residents.

I love it.

We're in class nearly the entire day. Lectures on the science of addiction, instruction on communication skills, lectures and role-play re family dynamics. It's only four Saturdays but I learn so much.

I'm some kind of unholy cross between The Hero and The Caretaker. I've taken responsibility for my addict fiancé's wellbeing while also holding the family together. She's The Scapegoat of her dysfunctional family: the one the others blame for all their problems. Turns out, these crazy-ass relationships aren't unique to us, they're common patterns found in the majority of families with an addicted member. They're part of how the illness plays everyone who comes in contact.

They teach us recovery-speak. To not express judgments; to not claim to know better than what someone else is saying. To say, "I hear you saying xyz," leaving room for the other to reply "No that's not what I'm saying." To hear each other. To think before speaking.

It's wonderful. Everyone should do this.

At the end of the day visiting time is often less than wonderful. We're given an hour of semi-supervised semi-private time. The classes are prerequisite. No class, no visit. That's cool. But the dynamics between my addict fiancé and myself are sometimes fraught.

As she nears graduation there's a ritual for residents and visiting family members. One after another the residents take turns addressing their loved one, typically to apologize, also sometimes to express their resentment over being vilified. My fiancé tells me, "I'm sorry for the ways I've harmed you." I tell her, "Thank you but I don't require apologies. My need is for assurance that the violence will stop." She acts like she's been hit with bricks. Later I ask her why. She says, "You shut me down in front of everyone." I don't think I did. She had her say, she said it clearly. I had my say, also clearly. What we identified there was a conflict of interest and expectation. As we were intended to do. In hindsight granted the nearly immediate failure of her sobriety I find the exchange symptomatic.

It's my final visit before graduation. Residents and visitors take a supervised walk — to the liquor store down the block. We're allowed to buy snacks and cigarettes for our residents. My fiancé wants Red Bulls. I've already brought her cartons of the swankass clove cigarettes she smokes.

Her rehab doesn't stick. They don't. Rehab's not a cure, it's just a breathing space to gain some sober clarity. She lasts about three weeks before relapsing into the old chaos.

I break down weeping. That life is so stressful. These last weeks have been heaven for me. A little window of peace, and relaxation, and hope.