Wasted: An Alcoholic Therapist's Fight for Recovery in a Tragically Flawed Treatment System

BOOK: Wasted: An Alcoholic Therapist's Fight for Recovery in a Tragically Flawed Treatment System
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WASTED
An Alcoholic Therapist’s
Fight for Recovery in a
Flawed Treatment System
MICHAEL POND & MAUREEN PALMER

To my three sons: Taylor, Brennan and Jonathan, for allowing me to be their father again

Contents

Preface

PART I: THE COUCH OF WILLINGNESS

1. Three Mile Beach

2. The Visit

3. Bonnie and Clyde Go to Jail

4. Getting Here

5. Sandy Lake

6. Come Down Here, Mr. Pond

7. I Don’t Want to Go to Rehab

8. Good Luck, Mr. Pond

9. The We Surrender Addiction Recovery Society

10. A We Surrender Christmas

11. Harold

12. Leaving Today

13. Coming Back

14. Crazy Mike

15. Rock Bottom

16. I’m Done

17. Mission Possible

18. Check Out

19. Crazy Mike Walks Again

20. Cloverdale House

21. A Second Chance

22. Pay Day

23. Piss Test

24. Back to Work, Week Two

25. The Last Date

26. The Last Bender

27. Death’s Door

28. Fifty-Six

29. The Universe Cuts Me a Break

30. Your Honour

31. The Fraser Regional Correctional Centre

32. Christmas

33. Life Goes On

34. The Prodigal Father

35. Spiritual Enlightenment

36. I Know That Walk

PART II: SEARCHING FOR NEW
TREATMENT

37.
The Party

MAUREEN:

38. The Real Story of Addiction

39. Shaming and Blaming Only Makes the Problem Worse

40. Abstinence Doesn’t Mean Success

41. How
AA
’s Standard of Success is Now the Culture’s

42. Most Doctors Don’t Know How to Treat Addiction

43. The Modern Theory of Addiction

44. Drugs Approved to Treat Addiction

45. Could Vivitrol Work for Mike?

46. Motivational Interviewing

47. Community Reinforcement and Family Training (
CRAFT
)

MIKE:

48. Why I Relapsed

49. Why Me?

50. Training Doctors in Addiction Medicine

51. My Relationship With
AA

52. Our Relationship With Alcohol

53. The Challenge with Evidence-Based Treatments

54. Hope

 

Acknowledgments

Endnotes

Preface

I MET MIKE A
few years ago on the dating website PlentyofFish. On our first date he arrived on transit and ordered cranberry juice and soda. Ashamed, he admitted he had lost his licence to drunk driving and had been sober just over a year. This is the part where my female friends screamed, “Run, run, run for the hills.” Over the next few dates, Mike revealed such a riveting
story, I blurted, “We have to write a book,” to this near stranger. Initially, I was probably more intrigued with the story than the man.
Wasted: An Alcoholic Therapist’s Fight for Recovery in a Flawed Treatment System
is that story. Five years later, we are very happy together.

In telling this story, we needed to be respectful of people’s privacy. Many names and other identifying information
have been changed. This book is Mike Pond’s truth. As much as possible, we corroborated events with others.

—MAUREEN PALMER

PART I
The Couch of Willingness

• 1 •

Three Mile Beach

IT’S LIKE A
stuck record that no one nudges.

“Let me outta here! You sons a’ bitches! I wanna talk to my lawyer!” Dana’s caterwauling reaches me from the solitary cell in the women’s wing. It’s grating on my nerves. Three a.m. and she’s been at it for hours.

“Cocksuckers. Let me talk to my lawyer. Let me out of here, you sons a’ bitches.”

“Shut the fuck up, bitch!” another female inmate howls, matching Dana decibel for decibel. “I’m gonna fuck you up when we get outta here, you drunken whore.”

I roll over on the thin jail-cell pallet and pull the grey blanket over my head in a useless attempt to drown out the hollering. I fade in and out of sleep, no longer able to discern what’s a bad dream and what’s an even worse
reality.

I wish I’d never gone to Three Mile Beach.

THE WAN AUTUMN
sun bathes everything at Three Mile Beach in light so fragile, so ephemeral it’s almost magical. A rare kind of day.

“Mr. Pond.” Dana emerges from the lake, runs across the sand and stands before me glistening in the sun. “Let’s move to Nelson and open up a treatment centre on Kootenay Lake. It’s our destiny.
We’re meant to do something amazing together.”

I gaze into Dana’s piercing blue eyes and I’m sick with longing. I long for her and the fantasy we’ve built together, a fantasy so flimsy I already feel it slipping away. She arranges her perfect coral-bikini-clad body on the towel, plants a kiss on my sun-burnished brow, lies down and closes her eyes. At forty-two, Dana’s lithe, willowy beauty
belies her age. I track a rivulet of water as it slides into the hollow between her breasts.

I’d always wanted to open a treatment centre. I’d been practising psychotherapy for over twenty years in Penticton, a small resort city in Canada’s Okanagan wine region, and I’d often thought I wouldn’t have much of a practice at all if not for alcohol. From the surly conduct-disordered kid slouched
on my couch to the shamefaced husband convicted of domestic assault, court-ordered into treatment, to the suicidal young First Nations mother of five, barely thirty and already worn out, you don’t get too far in family-of-origin research before you stumble over an out-of-control alcoholic. I’d helped hundreds of people kick booze. But I can’t help myself.

“Yeah, the universe has a grand
plan for us, Dana.” I try to muster enthusiasm as I lie back next to her. “We were put together to make great things happen.” Great. Now I’m lying even to myself.

Dana exhales, her face breaking into a wide smile. Her perfect white teeth dazzle. I smell vodka. The fantasy fades just a little bit more.

Over the course of the afternoon at the beach, we polish off a litre and a half
of Smirnoff mixed with Clamato juice and a generous splash of Frank’s hot sauce. We regale ourselves. We are as eloquent and witty and deep as only drunks can be.

Three Mile Beach edges Okanagan Lake in British Columbia’s hot, dry wine country. As Napa Valley is to California, the Okanagan is to Canada. Vines droop, burdened by lush late-harvest Gewürztraminer grapes, the air pungent with
the earthy promise of ripe fruit. Vineyards march up every slope, stretching over the horizon, their uniformity broken here and there by the odd gnarled apple or pear tree, poignant reminders of the days when this was orchard country.

This is wine country, but we don’t drink wine. One would have to drink too much and wait too long for its effect. Vodka is a much more efficient drunk. And
after going hard at it for nearly a month, we are all about efficiency.

Forget wild sexual attraction, stimulating conversation, shared values and beliefs and interests. What keeps us together now is booze. Every encounter plays out in the same sickening sequence, from that first seductive sip to giddy intoxication, through belligerence and anger and exaggerated competence to melancholy
and sullen self-pity, ending always in self-loathing.

Dana has just arrived at exaggerated competence.

“Mike, I want my kids to meet you.” She gets up off her towel, brushing sand from her bare legs. “They’re not far away, in Naramata. Let’s go.”

My judgment dulled by Smirnoff, I agree to this absurd idea. Who wouldn’t want to meet mom’s drunken boyfriend?

• 2 •

The Visit

DANA DRIVES DELIBERATELY
slowly just under the speed limit so as not to alert cops. The late-afternoon October sun still warms our shoulders as we cruise up Lakeshore Drive in her little Miata
MX
-5. We first parallel the beach where sailboats dance on the sparkling water. Then we veer north up through the Bench plateaus, curl around the base of Munson Mountain
onto Naramata Road and meander through the Upper Bench vineyards and orchards to Naramata Village. A tiny warning pings in my head.

“Dana, I don’t think this is a good idea. Let’s turn back, drop me off at my place.”

“Oh no, I want them to meet you.” Dana focuses on the road ahead. “I’m so proud of you.”

I’m not proud of me. I’m a drunk.

We pull up to a 1960s two-storey
and I’m filled with a sense of foreboding. Dana and her husband are separated, and her boys are living with their dad. He sounds like a pretty good guy. He lets Dana drop by to see her sons as much as she likes. I’m not sure how he’ll feel about today’s little unscheduled stop.

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