We all have had our issues with alcohol – be they big or small. We all know somebody who has had issues with substance abuse. Again, be they big or small. But the problem is how we look at those issues – or even openly talk about them. Michel Pond and Maureen Palmer have started many thoughts and discussions on the subject on addiction and how it is handled. And their book Wasted: An Alcoholic Therapist’s Fight for Recovery in a Flawed Treatment System is one venue where they have documented their journey and pondered the difficult road taken.
Page 43 – I Don’t Want to Go to Rehab
I’ve been through enough rehab to know what comes next. Intolerable vomiting, shakes, fevers, chills, blinding headaches. Every noise magnified ten thousand times. Even the softest touch is too much. And that’s if I get off easy.
My first stint in treatment was Pine-Winds Recovery and Treatment Centre in the Okanagan in November 2005. Taylor and a couple of guys from AA ambushed me. I stayed at Pine-Winds just long enough to detox and then I left. April 2006, a few months later, back to Pine-Winds. Fast forward a few more months and I’m in the back of our Honda Odyssey family van gagging and heaving, yet again in the throes of detox. In the front, Rhonda drove as our family doctor glanced over the seat, his face furrowed with worry. We sped to Kelowna, about an hour’s drive away, where Rhonda and my doctor intended to admit me to the psych ward. He wanted to save me, a fellow health care professional, the embarrassment of being hospitalized for alcoholism in my own hometown. All I could think about in the back of that van was my practice. What would become of my practice?
The story of Michael Pond appeared on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s documentary program The Nature of Things. But it is in the book where we see Pond’s true story comes through. He had been a psychotherapist dealing with other people struggles when he lost control of his drinking. We read as Pond describes in simple terms how he lost his practice, his home and eventually the support of his friends and family. We read his struggles through assorted therapies and group homes to help him yet he continually fails, spiraling him deeper into shame.
Pages 222-223 The Last Dance
I wake up Sunday with the familiar ache of loneliness. It’s a classic sunny summer beach day in White Rock. Tide’s out. The smell of the sea wafts up on a light breeze and settles around my little house. I can smell the barnacles and seaweed . Me alone with my thoughts can be a dangerous thing, so I head to the 9 a.m. AA meeting on the beach. I quietly take my seat on a log, settling in amidst some twenty people, mostly men, lounging in lawn chairs. The chair asks me to speak, and reluctantly, I share.
“I’m three months sober now,” I say with a hint of pride.”But with the sobriety, comes the regret, the realization of how much my drinking has hurt those I love.” I feel the tears prick and I try my damndest to put a stop to them, but they trickle down my cheeks. Ashamed, I quickly sit down. Next up, a new guy who has taken over the cooking duties at We Surrender. He reflects on how grateful he now feels, then sits.
Then the man who founded We Surrender pulls his considerable heft off his chair. Normally, he spends the meeting reclined, arms crossed across his chest, observing others with an air of superiority. But now he looks directly at me and erupts.
“You’re so full of fucking self-pity. Why can’t you be like him? He points to We Surrender’s new cook. “He was homeless. He lost everything but he got out of his head and started to do service. That’s what’s wrong with you. You need to be doing service. You need to be giving back to this program that’s saving your life. I’m so sick of guys like you. You’re never going to get sober if you don’t get it. You’re pathetic” He glares at me and sits down.
After his tirade, despite the warmth of the morning sun, I begin to shiver. Maybe he’s right. I should do more service. Tears well again. I sit, stunned, wondering why he feels he has the right to speak to me like that and how he thinks that kind of talk will be helpful. Deep inside, I know this kind of shaming is not part of the AA program. After the meeting, others talk to me. “It’s okay Mike, the main thing is you’re sober. He means well.”
Does he really?
There is something noble in the fact Pond has opened up and talked about his experiences and his feelings with his addiction and his long search of a cure. We finally see his success and are introduced to Maureen Palmer, who becomes a guiding force in his life. We all think that life has improved for Pond has we read how they are about to start filming for the Nature of Things documentary. Yet a motorcycle accident send Pond to the emergency room. The trip fills him memories of his days when he was consumed with his addition to alcohol. We read how he tries to fight the urge to drink and relapses once again.
Page 317 The Party
Eyes open. Birds; to loud. My head pounds and my mouth is dry. I lightly touch the puffy line of stitches on my upper lip. With sickening clarity, last night slams in.
Damn it. I drank. I drank a lot. Images flicker through my brain. Shoving aside all the casserole dishes and cookie trays, grasping back deep in the cupboard to retrieve the bottle of Captain Morgan rum. Guzzling it straight from the bottle. Pouring glass after glass of wine. Jamming the cork back in the empty bottle.
What’s wrong with me? What did I do last night? What did I say to Maureen? We had guests. What did they think? What’s going to happen to the film now? After five-and-a-half years of sobriety, I drank. I blew it. The whole world will know. Mike Pond is a hopeless alcoholic. We told you it was just a matter of time. He was getting too cocky. How will I face the shame and humiliation?
I fumble my way out of bed and head to the kitchen where Maureen pecks with purpose on her MacBook. She’s surrounded by research for our film.
She looks straight into my eyes. “We’re going across the line.” A doctor in Bellingham administers Vivitrol injections, a drug believed to keep cravings at bay for up to thirty days. It’s not available yet in Canada. His receptionist says they can have it ready for you in a few days.
“That’s really expensive. Over a thousand dollars.”
“Twelve hundred American. Plus an administration fee of four hundred . . . And, Mike – we need to bring the camera crew.”
The complexities of this book (and the documentary) are far to many to fairly mention here but the story brought forth is a compelling one. It took skill, time and courage to bring forth both and the effort has enlightened many. No doubt this book will be one of the memorable I will remember of the 2016 season. Wasted: An Alcoholic Therapist’s Fight for Recovery in a Flawed Treatment System by Michael Pond and Maureen Palmer is canon for every reader interested in improving the human condition.