Thursday, March 10, 2016

Learning About Love

In the early ’60’s my family joined the golf club down the road.  My father wanted to play regularly, and the club had built a swimming pool, so it seemed like a no-brainer for my parents.  The entire family spent much of the summer at ‘the club.’  I was at the pool most days.  I hung around the pool during the summer and made some great friends.  I found and lost my first serious girlfriend at the club.  My parents also made some close friends.  I was often included in many events.  As a result, I was able to observe how couples treated their partners, interacted with others and expressed their love.  
My parents were sitting at the bar talking with Bonnie, a close friend of theirs.  They were all having a good time when Bonnie started getting a little flirty with my father.  
Bonnie put an arm on my father’s shoulder, looked at him and said, “Gene, I think you and I will have to have an affair.”  She clearly meant it as a joke.   
My mother’s entire face changed.  Her eyes narrowed.  Her face seemed to darken.  Her lips tightened.  She gazed at Bonnie.  With great sincerity she very slowly, quietly and deliberately spoke:  “Over my dead body!”  It seemed like time froze.  I know Bonnie froze.  Then she quickly made a joke of it, so that they could move on.  The moment was over.  
There was something very primal about her claiming my father.  He belonged to her and nobody would be able to get near him until she was dead and gone.  She was letting Bonnie, my father and anyone around know that she loved my father enough to fight for him.  The moment changed from fun to serious so quickly, it had a huge impact on me.  The message to me was that you have the right and a responsibility to protect your marriage.  

I saw this  again at my father’s wake.  My mother stood by my father, lying in the coffin, the entire time.  She later told me that she was going to protect my father up until the last moment.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

In Memory of Joe

         After fifteen years of working in an adolescent psychiatric hospital, I transferred to a substance abuse program.  There, I met Joe Doucette.  We became great friends.  Joe was a great person and a brilliant therapist.  He started the family program at Conn. Valley Hospital years before I arrived.  The family night program that he started eventually had a total attendance of 50,000 people, over the course of a couple decades.  I remember watching him run those meetings. As a therapist, he was an artist. It was fascinating to watch him do therapy with one hundred people at once.  He touched thousands of lives.  When I met him, I realized that we thought the same way about substance abuse treatment.  He taught me how to work with addiction and the family.  We spent lots of time working together, but we also got together outside of work to play.  I remember how excited he was when we got an article about our work, published in a professional journal.  He was a great friend to me through all those years.  He never got the credit he deserved for making that program work.  I don’t think he ever felt that he got recognized for his abilities.  He knew that I believed in him.  I will forever be grateful that we crossed paths.  I want to give one example of how I benefited from his wisdom.
         I was working with a young, intellectual drug addict.  He professed to use drugs to stimulate his thinking.  He thought the drugs took him places he might otherwise not go.  He worshiped drugs.  However, he knew they were dangerous to him.   He decided to get clean.  His family came in to help and we held several family sessions.  His mother was sure she knew the problem.  According to her, no matter how often her son got clean, there was one girl that he could not leave alone.  They would get together and use drugs. 
         The son described the girl with reverence.  He believed they were soulmates.  They understood each other.  He believed their using drugs brought them to a deeper connection.  The girl was as intelligent as he was and they were magnetized to each other.  But he heard our warnings that she would bring him down.  He found a new resolve to stay away from her and not use drugs. 
         After the holidays I got a call from his mother.  Her son remained clean for several months then he had met up with the girlfriend and they had started using together.  He had overdosed and died.  Would I see her again to help her mourn?  We met the next day.
         She brought in a picture album.  We talked as we went through the pictures.   She knew she wasn’t responsible for her son’s death but she felt responsible.  We talked about what she did and didn’t do.  I helped her get out from under some of her regrets and I gave her permission to mourn as long as she needed to.  It was a very sad meeting. 
         Several months later, a young woman was admitted that caught my attention immediately.  She was attractive and profoundly intelligent.  Her insight was deep and impressive.  Within a couple of days of seeing her in groups, I felt a strong pull to help her.  
         One day in group, she started talking about her boyfriend that had overdosed when he was with her.  She talked about trying to save him and watching him slip away.  As she talked, she provided enough details that I knew who the boyfriend was.  This was the infamous girlfriend of my previous client.  There was something about this girl and her relationship to my client that fueled a compulsion to save her.  It was as if I was caught in a spell.  I had seen this in other staff many times over the years.  It was at that point that I knew I needed more input.
         I went and talked to Joe.  In addition to being a dear friend, I respected his skills as a clinician.   He knew recovery, he knew addiction, he knew people and he knew me.  He listened quietly while I told him what I was experiencing.  When I was done, he just starred at me for a minute before he began. 
         “William, during the next week, I want you to spend more time with her.  I want you to talk to her whenever you get the opportunity and then we’ll talk again in a week.” 
         I was surprised that he didn’t tell me to stay away from her.  That would have been the standard recommendation.  But his suggestion sounded terrific.  I went about talking to her whenever there was an opportunity.  My experience was an eye opener.  The more I got to know her, the more I realized that she was crazy.  She wasn’t crazy in a psychotic way, but her logic didn’t make sense.  Her thinking was upside down.  I found it a total turnoff and realized that my delusion of saving her was gone. 
         When Joe and I again talked he just smiled.  After that we never talked about it again.  He brought me through a dangerous experience.  I’ll never forget his wisdom and guidance.    I am forever in his debt.  He touched many lives and made the world a better place for it. 
         I never got to say goodbye to him.  That was my fault and I regret it.  But I wanted to write something that would honor him while demonstrating his therapeutic wisdom.  Goodbye Joe, I miss you and will always remember you.