Silence and good questions


Whenever a counselor or therapist hears that they’ve asked a good question, it’s likely a prelude to an awkward silence or a fumbling speculation. For recovering addicts, in particular, there is a paradigmatic mystery: why do they keep doing the same things over and over again expecting a different result. Definition of insanity. Cognitive dissonance.

In the residential settings depicted in Working Through Rehab: An Inside Look at Adolescent Drug Treatment, counselors like me got to observe not only the complicated relationship drug users had with substances, but their relationships in general. Basically, we got to see how they related, period. Psychoanalysts and trauma experts, allied in their focus upon past experiences, might refer to the internalized object relationships, the ways in which users sleepily attach to the past, and to the absent, through the lens of the present.

And so went treatment. What is it they want? I ask throughout my book. Do they know? Do the kids we work with, the kids in us, want containment; someone to say ‘no’, to parent? We suspect, or rather we hope, that they do; at least unconsciously. Please, we might desperately ask. Do they want insight, an answer to those multitude of ‘why’ questions that they seemingly admire. Possibly. After all, that may be what drugs, or the mileu that surrounded drugs, offer: an experience of being free, seen, and understood. Here’s a passage from Working Through Rehab:

Staff members at Thunder Road, the 12-step or TC Concepts veterans especially, ardently told their stories, but knew they were fighting an uphill battle. They offered the paternalistic perspective of “I wish I’d gotten this at your age” with melancholic airs. They drew attention to physical deterioration as a principal consequence of unabated substance use; others may have cited constant legal difficulties, a series of relationships destroyed by bad decisions, or the tragedy of estrangement from their own kids. Many clients had experienced these events from the other side, as witnesses: they had parents with disease; parents that were separated or divorced. Some knew what it was like to be removed from a home by a social worker, or to have known or even witnessed a caretaker’s death. The platitudinous cautionary tales of staff resonated with some kids, but often missed the mark with others, sometimes because kids were not ready to cope with painful histories, but also because staff caveats aimed too narrowly at the projected results of an unresolved problem rather than the intrinsic problem of a disturbed inner life. “I’ve got problems because I’m messed up,” said the recovering addicts, reflecting on past damage but a chronic condition. “I wanna learn so I can avoid this stuff in the future,” the most motivated kids would answer, missing an important point. The slogan One Day At A Time seemed designed for them, for their myopic ambitions and short attention spans.


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