Friday, March 27, 2009

Liars and drunks

Me, Me! After all these God-Damn years I still get sucked in.

He is 53 years-old for Chrissakes. He has been seeing me for almost two years, the length of his probation. He got put on probation for trying to hit a cop. He tried to hit the cop because the cop was laughing at him when he was staggering down the front stairs of his house screaming at his neighbors. Then the cop flipped him on his chest, cuffed him, and brought him to jail. It was his third arrest in ten years for drunken/disorderly so they put assaulting a police office on top of it. He got two years probation. He had six weeks to go.

Sure, he had some slips, and he told me about some of them. How many he didn't tell me about I can't know. He found a bottle he had hidden and slurped it down and threw up all over his wife. He had a few other such moments, but they all ended privately.

Wednesday he was in my office. He spoke about how much his life had improved since he had stayed sober. He was employee of the month. He was building chairs in his basement. He showed me pictures. He said he would never work with ban-saws if he was drinking, he would cut off his hands.

He also told me how his attitude had changed in so many areas. Last week his car window had been smashed by some punks driving the streets. He told me how clearly he remembered how angry and vengeful he used to feel. So many times he had chased people for miles if they had cut him off. He had confronted people whose car doors had scratched his car. On Wednesday he was telling me how crazy that behavior was and how he relieved he was that he had finally out-grown it. Now he could just shrug it off and remember things he had done when he was a punk kid.

Thursday afternoon I received a call from his wife. She told me that Wednesday night he had been arrested for sitting on his porch and waving bee-bee gun at people. He was drunk and screaming that they had best never touch house and car again.

They arrested him and threw him in jail for thirty days for violating probation. He will probably lose his job.

Usually, when I see someone with an alcohol addiction, and they stay in treatment, they stay sober. I have had many people who drop out and go drink, and that's it. But to have someone who seemed so insightful, so convinced and convincing, yet so addicted.

He had taken all the pills, he had gone to all the programs, he was chairing a meeting every week.

Just say "no."

You can say no 10,000 times, and when the sun goes down you take that flask out of your hip pocket and think no one will notice.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Donald Barthelme

There is a new biography of Donald Barthelme that was reviewed in the NYT this weekend, and has been getting a lot of notice. I probably won't read the book because I already have too much to read, and I mostly only read reviews anyway, but it was good to read that Donald Barthelme is being fondly remembered.

I remember reading his stories and then buying one of his books of stories in the early 80s and reading them over and over, slowly. It was exciting. I knew he was trying very hard to do something, and I felt from the energy of the story that whatever point he was making was a big step. It was something of a turning point, probably very self-consciously.

I don't think I ever really got the point. I don't read enough for that. It was post-modern. It was beyond avant-guard and it was very descriptive of how I felt about the world, and probably still do. But it didn't really make much sense, which was I guess, part of the point. His stories had a beautiful flow, but no story, not even a narrative, hardly a character.

Each sentence was beautifully written, and constructed. But each sentence usually didn't seem to have that much to do with a sentence that was two sentences away.

Reading the review of the new biography made it kind of clear what I had kind of known, that his life was often a mess. A long time ago I had read about how he and his brother lost thousands of dollars gambling in Biloxi. He drank an awful lot, and had been married four times, which is different from me.

I kind of admire people who struggle like that, to find the edge. It takes it's toll.

I have clients like that. I try to find the balance between encouraging them, but making sure it's they who really want to go there, and not just me.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

exploring on and on

There was this guy named Pierre-Simon Laplace, a French mathematician who died in 1825. He was one of the first to imagine how a huge IBM mainframe super-computer could be really helpful. He was excited by science and he felt that if someone could get all the information of where all the particles were in the universe and what direction they were moving, then he could predict everything that was going to happen.

It makes sense. There are supposed to be laws of science, they are supposed to be constant, and therefore if we know everything we can predict everything. No one really expects to know everything, but the more we can know, the better we can do.

I have been struggling with that a great deal lately. There are lots and lots of things coming out of new science and technology that could add clarity about what any of clients are doing and why. There are new brain imaging techniques that show what parts of the brain are operating. There are ways of taking blood levels and hormone levels that can show what physical state they are in. Physical and mental correlate much more than you think.

Then there is all this genetic information pouring forth. How much of what we feel and do was determined way back when our parents chromosomes joined? I certainly have evolved to look so much like my father. He also was a blogger in his own way, as I have a few of his tiny notebooks with all kinds of notations.

But now I have read a article about a computer scientist named David Wolpert. He has written a "proof" which demonstrates that you can't know it all, especially if you are part of the system. You can't measure the weight of the earth if you are standing on the earth, you can't know the limits of the universe if you within the universe and, I assume, you can't know exactly what is happening in someone else's mind by using your own mind.

I think that is true, no matter how many machines you have to measure brains, bodies, hearts and heads. It's kind of frustrating, because I always know when I am talking to one of my clients that something more is happening and I don't know what it is. If I knew I could be more helpful, more effective.

On the other hand it is kind of comforting. When I think about it, I really can't predict with any certainly what I will do tomorrow. So how much can I expect to know about anyone else?

Some, but not all.

Sunday, March 01, 2009


Well, he died. I wrote about him back in January (1/10), how he was slipping slowly away, and now he is gone. He died of very natural causes, his heart, his lungs, his mind, all seemed to have had enough. The morphine made him more comfortable, and probably made everything more certain. He had officially been on an "hospice treatment plan" for less than a week.

He was 95, and of all the people I have known, he is one who could say that he achieved most of what he set out to do. He fit the true American ideal mold. He grew up poor, worked hard, made the most of a couple of breaks, kept working hard, and made a good life for himself. He was an older son who tried to care for his younger brothers. He had a wife and two daughters, and he tried to be good to them, in the classic, fatherly way.

He retired to Florida for years, played golf, walked the beach, and was generally pleased with himself, if not with too many others. For me, his son-in-law, he wasn't that easy to get to know, but he was easy enough to get along with. He was a business man and I was a psychologist, and I don't think that any of this "get-to-know someone stuff" made much sense to him anyway.

He was a man of his time, and he enjoyed doing what he was supposed to do. He did it with structure and discipline and that paid off. If his example of how to conduct business was continued by others after he retired in 1980 we certainly would not be in the mess we find ourselves now. He didn't try to get rich quick. He got up and went to work every day and tired to work harder and smarter than the competition, yet without trying to be ruthless enough to put anyone else out of business. And he enjoyed what he did.

Most of the people who knew him have died before him. He had four siblings, now only one remains. Most, but not all, of his marbles had rolled away before his body gave out. It was time for him to go, and you could tell he knew it. he had done almost all of what he set out to do.

A few weeks ago he said to his daughter, " I have had a good life." and he really did. That's the best anyone can say.