Harry and Marvin, two late middle-age guys, sat quietly in the waiting room of the Find Recovery Treatment Center, straining to make conversation ahead of group. Restless, Harry settled for default mode, remarking on the mid-summer weather, cooler than the usual riotous heat by a good ten degrees.
“Glorious,” he intoned. “I was just telling my wife yesterday that we’re so lucky to live where we do. No hurricanes, or tornadoes. Not even humidity. It’s great.”
Marvin shrugged and chuckled, seeming to agree. He noted the wife reference, thinking he’d follow-up later, when it was Harry’s turn to check-in during group. Marvin liked talking about wives, about his wife: about how much he loved her, wanted to take care of her, especially since she’d started having knee and back problems, and more especially in the wake of…well, ever since his behavior had come to light. Marvin always called it the behavior. It was the reason he’d been coming to Find Recovery every Thursday night for a year, not that he talked much about that. He didn’t like to go there. He preferred to talk about his wife instead.
“Too bad violets aren’t in season,” Marvin said.
“Excuse me?” said Harry.
Marvin chuckled again and shuffled, embarrassed. “Sorry, I was just thinking, since you mentioned your wife, about flowers. My wife’s favorite flowers are violets, only I can’t find them currently.” He air-snapped his fingers in mock-disappointment.
Harry mouthed acknowledgement, half-smiling, mildly if inconsequentially confused. Were the more senior members of the group—senior as in seniority—present, they would teasingly school the newcomer on Marvin’s non sequiturs: how to deal with them, indulge them, and if in group, re-direct back to important matters. Just then, Dave, the group leader, breezed in cheerfully and told the guys the group room was ready, as in available. Group always started on time, regardless of who was present. The others would file in tardily, sequentially, making perfunctory comments about traffic, a work meeting running late, childcare needs; the soccer game or swim meet that didn’t finish on time. Dave thinks of his female colleagues, how their women’s group members present the same excuses, only in reverse order of frequency.
Harry struggled through the first half of group. Six weeks in, he was sporadically engaged, speaking when another’s share touched on some aspect of his life; silent and nonplussed if he didn’t relate. At times, Dave would glance over at him and appear to nod, as if this would jolt the new member’s attention. He did this if a member’s eyes appeared ready to drop, a head poised to slump into a chest. Nothing was worse than a group member appearing to fall asleep during another member’s share. Group members could talk about the perils of “judgement” all they liked, but Dave could think of nothing more rejecting, more therapeutically devastating for a client than seeing someone else pass out while they were talking. At the hour mark, Dave called upon Harry as if to rescue either him or the group from this calamity.
Initially, Harry’s share mirrored the norms of group. He said things like “we’re doing fine” to indicate himself plus a non-group member, his wife, like they were a fused unit, inseparable. He declared progress in their communication, a slowly re-building trust previously broken by an ever alluded to but rarely specified betrayal. Dave, the facilitator, dryly noted the irony of all this loving focus on spouses which—while the comment didn’t pass over members’ heads—didn’t exactly re-shape the process, either. Harry pronounced himself patient, prepared to wait for his wife to learn recovery while he did what he could do: avoid temptation, learn about his addiction, stay focused, one day at a time. Focus. Harry had long-known, exploited, abused, the currency of focus.
“What have you learned so far about your addiction?” Dave asked, seizing upon that piece: a generic question, but timely, right on point. Harry stared back levelly, appearing to collect his thoughts, his resilient cool. In the silent interim Dave expanded the preface: “I mean, when you think of those twenty years of visiting prostitutes, spending thousands of dollars and managing somehow to keep that from being noticed, you must have considered what made it all worthwhile. So what was it that justified all those trust-eroding risks? What was it in those women that so turned you on, year after year, one day at a time?”
The sideways glances of the group’s core suggested they’d been waiting for this. Ostensibly, while it was anyone’s prerogative to ask probing questions, invariably it was Dave’s job to go for the jugular, or call out the unsaid. The most senior members smiled ambiguously, half-appreciating a group rite of passage, half finding pleasure in a newbie’s discomfort. Harry admitted he was uncomfortable, but tactfully applauded the process, even before he delved in. Dave was set to protest until Harry—anticipating the critique—suddenly dropped the glibness and dropped instead the following: he liked disinhibition. No, he loved disinhibition; had been craving it throughout his whole marriage, maybe his entire life—he couldn’t tell. And his wife? She just wasn’t into all of the things he wanted; the things prostitutes would not only provide, but also volunteer. And that was the bonus: he wouldn’t even have to ask. Upon Dave’s prompting, Harry named the acts he sought. Spilling it out, he spelled it out.
Nodding heads suggested he was getting somewhere, was being honest in a way he’d never been before, with witnesses. There was a pause in which engaged minds scrolled for the best follow-up questions, the most astute comparisons; the most painful shared experiences. Harry wasn’t done. There was more to share—more tantalizing, ugly detail—but there was a sense in the room that everyone related; that everyone was on board with Harry, ready to support him as he took new risks, was about to join the group, truly, darkly. More deeply. Dave canvased the room, thinking it time to invite response.
“I see a lot of nodding heads. Feedback?”
A hoarse cough heralded a bad turn. Marvin’s once-per-group body shuffle always struck Dave as a strange and disturbing motion. It seemed like the gesticulating action of a suddenly awakened creature. Marvin’s words leapt into the space as he glanced at Dave but then turned, excitably, to face Harry.
“I know this if off topic, but I was just thinking. Have you ever thought of getting her roses? They’re never really out of season, roses. Trust me, you can never go wrong with roses.”
** this entry is a fiction