Friday, December 18, 2015


In drug rehab, hour two after coming out of his latest blackout:


"I don't belong here."

He said it, and it sounded friendly.  Reasonable.  Rational.  Sane.

He glanced at the pile of books.  I'll Quit Tomorrow.  He remembered reading that one before, but couldn't remember anything about it.  Ann had given it to him.  Some coincidence.  The Recovery of Reality.  Hmm.  A big blue book: Alcoholics Anonymous

He bolted upright, his eyes widening.  "They told me that Saint Mary's has nothing to do with A.A.!"

There was a skinny light blue book titled Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions: A Co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous Tells How

"Damn!" Living Sober: Some Methods A.A. Members Have Used

And every rock Jacob turned over exposed another snake.  A Day at a Time, a tiny tome filled with daily doses of religious claptrap; and Twenty-Four Hours a Day, more daily doses of more religious claptrap.  Even a handy wallet-sized item containing the selfsame twelve steps and twelve traditions on the inside, and a little prayer on the outside: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

"Well, goddammit, I can certainly change this!" Jacob shredded the little white card.

"There's no smoking in patient rooms."

Jacob tossed the pieces of the card on the floor, pulled the pipe from his mouth, turned and saw another female clad in slacks, but this time the woman was wearing black curly hair instead of blond.  "What do you mean, no smoking?"

"Smoking is allowed only in the lounges designated as smoking areas." She smiled.  "It's the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act."

Jacob shook his head as anger reduced his despair and confusion to righteous certainty.  "That tears it."

"What do you mean?"

He pointed at the mountain of treatment texts.  "What is this shit?"


"This."  He slammed his hand down on top of the texts.  "I was told Saint Mary's didn't have anything to do with the A.A. program!"

"The program here is based on the A.A. pro—"

"I sort of figured that out for myself!" Jacob turned abruptly, his eyes narrowed, the tip of his beard an inch from the woman's nose.

"Honeybuns, do I have a news flash for you.  I'm no spook-sucking religionist.  This halfwit bible society doesn't have a godfuckingdamned thing to teach me."

He stormed around her and marched down the corridor past the nurse's station.  He needed a cup of coffee, a smoke, and to go home.  "I am in the wrong place," he muttered.  A blond woman in a lavender jogging suit came out of a room.  Jacob said to her, "Why is everybody around here so stupid?"

Her expression didn't change.  "Don't worry about it.  If you stick around long enough, they'll smarten up."

—From Saint Mary Blue by Barry B. Longyear


The above scene from my novel Saint Mary Blue was taken from very real, down-and-dirty life. My life. I was the original trapped monster roaring and shaking the bars of his cage, a long way from understanding that there were no bars or locked doors at the rehab. I could walk out any time I wanted. The prison I was in was a disease called "addiction."

All those at the rehab with whom I disagreed weren't stupid, I learned. I did stick around long enough, they did appear to smarten up, and the knowledge they possessed was the key to the door of the prison that was killing me and torturing everyone who loved me.

Change. Recovery from addiction depends on it. Given sufficient reason, people can change. Addicts can change from active to recovering. Millions have done it through Twelve Step programs. The first time I noticed myself having changed was in rehab only three days later than the scene appearing above:



Jake opened his eyes and looked at the door to his room.  Brandy was looking in.  "What?"


"Thanks."  He sat up, rubbed his eyes, and felt sick.  Fear.  The outlines of the fear were in sharp focus.  The things Ann could say to him; the things she had every right to say to him.

He pushed himself up from the bed.  "C'mon, Jake, keeping those tongs hot forever wastes energy.  What with the price of whips, bamboo splinters, and rack straps these days.  The Office of Inquisition was terrific basic research for opening up a rehab."  He left the room and headed for the phones located in the corridor between the third floor kitchen and east wing.

Two of the phones were occupied.  The center one had the receiver off the hook.  He picked it up and held his hand over his left ear to block out the voices of the other callers.  "Hello?"

"Jake, honey?"  It was Ann.  She had been crying.  "Jake, I want you to come home."

He lowered his receiver, found a chair, and sat down with a thud.  He felt lightheaded, his gut in knots.


"Yeah, Ann.  I'm here."

"Did you hear me?  I want you to come home.  I'm so frightened, and I miss you so."

Jake nodded silently.  Take his ticket, his money, pack his bag, he could be home before Monday.


"Yes.  I heard you.  Ann.  I can't.  I can't come home."

"Why?  You said you were coming home two days ago."

"I know."  He shook his head and wiped his cheek with the back of his hand.  "I'm where I belong, Ann.  I can't come home.  Not yet."

There was a long silence on the other end of the line.  Then Ann's voice, tiny, puzzled.  "Goodbye, Jake."  A click.  A dead line.

Jake reached up and replaced the receiver.  He stared at the telephone, stunned that he had flatly turned down his free ride out of recovery.  "That was a stupid thing to do," he muttered  He debated calling her back and saying that he had changed his mind, but the spiders and worms were still fresh in his mind.

—What would I be going back to?

The patient on the phone to his right began shouting, "Look, you told me this place didn't have anything to do with A.A.!  Shit!  The program here is based on A.A.!"  He looked like a cross between a hippie and a U.S. Marine.  "I'll let you know when I'm coming home, y'hear?"  The patient hung up his receiver with a bang and looked at Jake.  "Can you fucking believe that?"

Jake stared as the angry man stormed into the east wing hallway.

—From Saint Mary Blue by Barry B. Longyear


In the three decades of recovery since those scenes took place, there have been many changes in me, each one unwiring the program of addiction and moving me closer to existence as a human being. That phone call, and my response to it, however, was the moment where I realized I wanted life, love, happiness, and becoming a useful, productive member of the human race. I wanted that for the people in my life, but mostly I wanted it for myself. And in rehab and in recovery was where I was going to learn how to do those changes. I was exactly where I belonged.


No comments:

California Clean and a Brief Peek at Reality

  Denial, that old Egyptian river. It is the principle symptom of active addiction. This is why addiction is often described as the disease...