When I first submitted Working Through for review at the The Therapist, I waited. I waited patiently. Over the previous year, I’d been writing prolifically, completing two books, one a novel whose basic plot I strain to describe in less than a paragraph, but whose themes cover the bases of a therapist’s sphere of influence: addiction, depression, psychosis, and most crucially, the good news: empathy. My other book, my expose of drug treatment and adolescents, fully entitled Working Through Rehab: An Inside Look at Adolescent Drug Treatment, is an ambitious, sprawling memoir cum essay that has been variously thrust at agents, publishers, and indulgent peers, though getting people to read it feels a bit like peeling wet leaves off a driveway in the dead of winter. I take my readers one at a time.
A colleague, a good friend whom I do not shame into reading my material, suggested I take advantage of membership in the statewide association of Marriage and Family Therapists, and submit my non-fiction to its flagship journal, The Therapist. The magazine, which is published quarterly, or thereabouts, features a section in which members can volunteer to read submissions and then provide a review. It seemed like a good idea to take advantage of a service that is a privilege of membership. My friend is good at having ideas that obscure his lack of effort. Anyway, what could I lose? I thought, especially after I’d just waiting six months waiting fruitlessly upon a publisher to study WTR, express enthusiasm for its content, but ultimately reject its content. They don’t publish memoirs of non-famous people, said an executive editor, gratuitously pointing out that I wasn’t famous. Fair enough, I thought. However, he could have told me this earlier, rather than having me wait with bubbling hope that a fantasy writing contract was forthcoming. In the end it was a flat e-mail that delivered the publisher’s verdict—an afterthought, really—by a deputy editor who had forgotten to reply to my last message. A flattering response, “well-written and compelling”, was quickly followed by the word, “unfortunately…” rendering the compliment a consolation.
So I submitted WTR to The Therapist in January 2014, thinking it might be advertised in the next issue, and possibly reviewed in the issue following that (as suggested by the editor). March was the next issue, and my fresh-looking book was there in print, alongside several other titles, looking eager like playful children, but also like bags on an airport carousel waiting to be collected. I was pleasantly anticipating, thinking my book an important work. As far as I could tell, no one else was writing about what really happens in drug treatment, and I feel in my gut that there’s a readership for subject that’s slightly off-center: it’s comprised partly of parents concerned with the impact of drugs upon kids, which is what publishers might presume the book is about. There’s a faction of society that is more broadly concerned with mental health, and with the problems of poorly attached individuals, the famous and non-famous, who are collapsing around us, killing themselves with addictions, violently attacking others in schoolyards and movie theaters, or just plain killing themselves. And there’s a faction of workers in this field, who aren’t necessarily readers, who are slated to work with all these people and somehow help figure out all of their problems: they are therapists, social workers, drug and alcohol counselors, for the most part, and they—not the adolescents or their families, actually—are the heroes of my story.
At least some of them are, and that’s what’s potentially controversial about my book, because it’s not exactly a tribute. You see, I write about some of the things people expect to learn about drug treatment: like what leads kids and their families into drugs and addiction, and how treatment and therapy can help claw them out. But I’m not writing a how-to guide for parents, or any other consumer of the industry. I’m more of a critic of the process; the only kind of critic this business could really have: that of an insider, versus, say, a peripheral insider, such as a policy maker, or even most physicians. I’ve worked several positions within a hospital-based treatment setting, as a counselor and later as a supervisor of therapists. I was a manager of a six-bed group home for teens for three years; a leader of an intensive outpatient program for another three, and have seen patients across several divides in private practice for about twenty years. I’ve tracked the dialogues between the addicted and their families. I’ve been a part of and witnessed the back and forth arguments between patients and helpers, administrators and clinical professionals, and I understand the context of treatment’s limited resources, the conflicts many do not understand. I know the Gordian Knot that is drug addiction and the continuum of drug treatment, and the strained efforts to untie it.
As for the feedback process: I’d written the book, had it appear in black and white, and learned that it was selected by a volunteer to read. Again, I waited. When it didn’t appear in the next issue I sighed and reasoned that the book was long (350 pages) and dense, and was perhaps demanding more time and effort from a committed reader than I’d accounted for. But when a review didn’t appear in the issue after that (another two and half months on), I wondered what was happening. I e-mailed the magazine’s editor, a man who had cheerfully written that WTR had been selected six months earlier, and asked the question. Seeming like the deputy editor of that unnamed publisher, he wrote back that he hadn’t yet received a review from the volunteer, and didn’t know why. With curious incuriosity, he added that I might re-submit a copy such that the book could be advertised again as available for review, and that I might implicitly begin the cycle of waiting all over again. It was: oh yeah, I forgot, followed by an attempt to sweep the matter aside. Waiting and writing: years ago, when I started practicing this pleasing craft, I had no idea there would be this much waiting. What was I submitting myself to? Coolly, I replied to the editor, modeling the curiosity the situation compelled: Was there a problem? Is the volunteer no longer willing or able to provide a review? Did they get bored after reading a chapter and burn the copy? Or were they so engrossed that they couldn’t take their eyes off the material, even when driving, and thus died in a fiery crash. The sheepish editor, to whom I did not share these fantasies, wrote back that he’d pursue my inquiries. A week later, after I again solicited information, he replied that he still had none to give. He vaguely apologized on someone’s behalf, perhaps his own, for being inattentive. He excused the magazine by pointing out that this event—this phenomenon of neglect—seldom happens, and once again invited me to re-submit a copy.
Which I have done, and I am waiting. It is June of 2015: enough time for topical subjects to come and go; happily, or not, addiction isn’t one of them. And as I wait, I will continue to ruminate on my work, and perhaps inflate its importance, thinking that someone is out there waiting to snatch up another copy for review, but then blocking its exposure by abandoning the task. Or maybe I’ll be rewarded for my patience, and my raw message on this subject will be read, perhaps even in numbers, and a fair critique will come back at me finally. In the meantime, I will remind myself that while the culture continues to seek and develop tools for immediate gratification, the writer must endure the slowest, most excruciatingly elusive feedback system ever known.