One morning during breakfast, late in the second week of my stay, someone announced that our schedule had been changed and everyone needed to meet downstairs in the lecture room at 9:30. I arrived early and counted 45 chairs placed in a U shape against three of the walls in the room. The chairs started on one side of the door and ended on the other side of the door and next to a tall white marker board. There weren’t half as many residents and staff together as there were chairs in the room, and I had no idea what was about to go down.
Unfamiliar faces and voices peppered the mix of staff and residents bustling through at 9:30. Someone yelled for more chairs. I quickly took the last seat near the door and next to the marker board as everyone decided where to sit. Once everyone had quieted down, Lany walked to the center of the room and explained that she’d been given the wonderful opportunity of presenting to us several guest speakers, including the founders of our treatment center.
YAY! Just about everyone but me clapped. I watched.
Tossing off my flip-flops, I sat Indian style on my chair and listened. Lany took her seat and our guests began taking turns walking to the center of the room to introduce themselves. The last lady to introduce herself was one of the founders of our treatment center. She looked and dressed, but didn’t sound like, Stevie Nicks of the music group Fleetwood Mac. At the end of her introduction, Stevie walked to the white board and, standing next to me, informed us that we were going to play a game.
Oh, Shit! I thought. I hated group games.
Stevie, that was easier to remember than her real name, picked up a red marker and drew a straight line through the middle of the board from the left side to the right side. Then she drew a circle in the center of the line and colored it in.
“This line is the line of addiction.” She said, tracing her index finger along the line. “This circle represents the ‘Addicted Self’.” She explained. “The idea behind the game is honesty.” She clearly emphasized that word. “Every resident is going to write their initials somewhere along this line of addiction. The line extending to the left of the circle represents how far away you believe you are from being addicted to your substance of choice. The line to the right of the circle represents how deeply you feel you already are in your addiction. Before you come to the board, please introduce yourself and share your triggers.” No one said anything. “Okay?” She asked.
Everyone nodded and uttered affirmations. This seemed easy enough.
But she hadn’t finished. “Now remember, triggers are people, places or things that make you want to drink or use. For example – 5:00 p.m. is a trigger for some people because it indicates the end of a work day. An argument with a spouse, a family member or someone at work can be a trigger. A celebration, maybe a birthday or a wedding or even a phone call; these can all be triggers. Things or people or situations that makes you feel either bad or angry or happy or good can be triggers.”
And then she started to repeat her entire explanation all over again. I wished she’d shut the fuck up already so we could get on with the game. Eventually, she chose the woman sitting next to the door on the other side of me, which meant that my turn would be last. An hour and a half later, my turn finally loomed. Time had never passed so slowly in my life. Not even in jail. This was torture. Nearly every resident turned their turn into an episode. There were only 24 of us for crying out loud. The entire game shouldn’t have taken more than maybe 30 minutes. Each resident had to be reminded to keep their turn down to two minutes, but no one payed attention.
Nearly every resident had marked their initials within about three inches of the circle that represented the ‘Addicted Self’. This made me wonder why they were even here. Several residents had initialed the board far to either side of the circle, but no one had written their initials near either edge of the board. I remembered what Stevie had said about the game and that the point was to be honest. Excitement coursed through me. I knew EXACTLY where I wanted to write my initials!
I intended to end the game quickly.
Finally, my turn arrived and I walked to the center of the room. “My name is Jennifer Place, I’m addicted to alcohol, and my trigger is being conscious.” I looked around at the group. I walked to the board and wrote my initials at the top of the board above the ‘Addicted Self’ circle. But before I could continue, someone interrupted me. I turned and saw that it was Stevie. “Jennifer, Before you continue, would you please elaborate on your triggers?”
“TiggER.” I corrected her. “Life is my trigger.” I said, wondering if she needed more information. She did. “You said that being conscious is your trigger, Jennifer. What do you mean?” She asked.
How could I be more specific? It irritated me that I was being singled out to elaborate. She hadn’t asked anyone else to elaborate. Stevie just so happened to be sitting next to my counselor, who, I noticed, was nodding her head at me slightly.
I took a deep breath, trying to shift my impatience over to one side so I could indulge her. “The word ‘trigger’ is bullshit.” I said. “Using that word to identify something that makes a person want to drink or use is an excuse. I don’t need an excuse to drink. I drink all day every day. I like alcohol and the way it makes me feel. Mmmkay? When I wake up, I drink. I drink all day until I go to bed or pass out. Being conscious IS my ‘trigger‘.” I figured if that didn’t help her, we were both out of luck. I didn’t know what else I could say to this woman.
“Yes, thank you, Jennifer. Please continue.” So I faced the board again and completed Stevie’s’ line on the right side of the circle by drawing it to the edge of the board. I drew an X at the edge. Above the X, I drew an arrow to where I’d written my initials at the top center of the board. I drew another arrow pointing to the doorway and wrote in large bock letters next to JP, “MY LINE ENDS OUT IN THE HALLWAY ABOVE THE BATHROOM,” indicating that I was so far into my addiction, I wasn’t even on the board.
The above post is an excerpt from my memoir, Saturation.