Several days before New Years, an old friend called our home, leaving a message. He asked us to call him. I called. Could he come visit me? Of course, I said. I was surprised to hear from him. He lives only a couple of blocks from me, but his home has looked empty for some time. His wife left him several years ago, taking the children with her. I thought he had rented out the home, because I did not see a for-sale sign whenever I drove by and occasionally I saw other persons at the house. He is a real estate agent. I guessed he left Old Citrus Town for livelier real estate markets.
No. He had been camping out in the house, he said, when we talked that afternoon. The bank foreclosed on the house, but had done nothing since the initial default. The city turned off the water and electricity. The gas company left the gas on. He has been living in front of the natural gas fireplaces, whose heat pushes back the chill of the Fall and Winter nights. He looks, honestly, a wreck. He had several automobile accidents that injured his back and left him unable to walk a sustained distance. He has put on much weight, around his middle and in his face and limbs. His wrist is sprained from unknown causes, as if his wrist surgeries for carpal tunnel symdrome did not heal properly. He is bloated, perhaps from medication. He has been treated for Bell's palsy, the healing of which wasn't complete. He cannot move the left side of his face. He speaks as if numbed, as when you cannot feel your mouth when injected with local anesthesia for dental work. He doesn't have a job. He can't work. He hasn't worked for--how long? A year? More? It is not clear. He let his real estate license lapse. Recently, the city ordered him to vacate the house, as it is unfit for habitation. They were calling him daily with eviction notices. He has no money. He had no place to go. We sat at our dining room table. He folded his arms on the table and dropped his head onto them. He cried. He was at the bottom of his life, he said. He was embarrassed. He stood up, head down, dejected. He cried again. I held him as he sobbed. He asked, would we help him?
He is an alcoholic and drug addict. He has probably been an alcoholic from his early adulthood, judging from stories he has told me of his college years. He has been a drug addict for at least twenty years. He told me that he hadn't used in two years. That was a lie, he later admitted. He was taking meth just two weeks before he called. It felt so good, he told my wife. Some years ago, he told me he had an epiphany on an airline flight. He was fighting reality. The insight stunned him. He thought he had made a breakthrough in self-understanding; but its tenure was fleeting. Sitting at the table, a few days ago, he told me that he had come to understand that life is a journey. Your life was valued by the journey, not by its destination. This insight, too, excited him. He thought he had found guidance for the rest of his life, wisdom he could even pass to his alienated children. But this insight, too, faded. He could not resist the allure of drugs.
I don't know what to do, he confessed. Tell me what to do. I told him, he could stay with us until he or we found a place for him to live. We made it clear that we would help him only with the first month's rent and only for residence in a clean and sober house. He agreed. It turned out, he wasn't really without money. He qualified for Social Security and has been receiving Social Security income for four months. He decided that he needed a car and passed over his Social Security income, presumably holding back enough to purchase drugs, to a friend who would sell him an old vehicle. He has food stamps. I am not sure what he was eating, however. When I visited his house with him, to collect some of his belongings, I observed that his diet was apparently peanut butter sandwiches, chocolate syrup, and milk and bread. The menu of the addict. We were the fall-back for housing. He was manipulating us, even if he was unaware he was doing so. I thought he had made a bad decision, to buy a car he couldn't afford to insure or maintain or operate when he knew he was to be evicted. My wife thought it was not unreasonable; anyway, we told him we wouldn't help with his car. He has enough money to pay for a rented room.
My friend's entire life has been a temper tantrum against reality. Did it originate in his childhood? Probably, but such antique psychoanalytic knowledge would be of no use today. Now he erupts suddenly and frequently in anger at all the injustices he believes he has suffered from his ex-wife, the courts, and the world in general. A restraining order, preventing him from visiting or communicating with his children, fuels his rage today. In the mood of anger and blame, he has constructed, what appears to us as, a fantasy world. A world of self-delusion, in which he has not really admitted to himself his enslavement to alcohol and drugs or acknowledged how terrible they are for him and the people around him. He does not understand you cannot fight reality; reality simply is. He has obliterated the real world through avoidance and mood. We talk with him, face to face. When we advise him to get past his anger, regardless of its justification, he registers our words, but, expressing pain, deflects them, as if he were a boxer, whose face has just been smashed by a right hook. In this sense, he has not reached bottom of his fall. He exists, instead, in flight from fix to fix.
One would not have predicted such a troubled life from his personal circumstances. He is from a wealthy family. He is a brilliant intellect. He had a successful, internationally recognized, professional career. He is socially a convivial person, a charming dinner companion, a knowledgeable conversationalist on nearly any topic, a world traveler. He has exquisite taste in clothes, that has, interestingly, utilitarian benefits. The best clothes last longer. Even in homeless despondency, he dresses well, if he desires. I have enjoyed his company on many occasions, when he was sober. Nonetheless, he has waded through multiple marriages, affairs, and a roaring stream of drink and drugs. Whenever disaster struck, money floated into his life, like autumn leaves out of season. Even now, he looks to another financial fix, a sudden, little avalanche of funds from a reappraisal of a marital breakup, or insurance settlement from his last auto accident, or some other magical event.
We gave him a deadline to find and move into housing. Two weeks, Wednesday, 6 PM. 6 PM? I explained, it would be difficult to move after dark. He found a vacancy in a clean and sober house. Four men live there now, with a common bath and kitchen. He would share a bedroom. The manager works as a security guard. The house is clean, neat, and plain, though old. The residents rotate chores, the scheduling chart for which is in the kitchen. As with other clean and sober houses administered by a local community organization, it is gender segregated. Women are not allowed in his house, not even as visitors. The men in the house are a mix of ages and ethnicity. The manager is non-Hispanic white and in his thirties. Each resident is required to attend twelve AA meetings a month, including weekly Saturday evening meetings at the residence. It is in a quiet, older neighborhood of single-family homes, away from the madding crowds of the downtown commercial streets and the ceaseless noise of the railroads and freeway. There are other clean and sober houses nearby. The neighborhood also houses released sex offenders, a computer check illustrates. Otherwise, the majority of worn homes are occupied by working class Latino families, including many households of single women and their children. The clean and sober home is a shelter in his storm, a mini-monastery, providing minimal material comfort and abundant opportunity for contemplation. My friend agreed to live there. We will pay for his first month. Social Security and food stamps will suffice to pay for this monastic life.
He does not want to remain at the clean and sober house for more than a month. He hopes to get a job or a benefaction of funds that will enable him to live in private and more attractive rooms. So situated, alone, without structure, he would again be vulnerable to relapse. We doubt we can do much for him. We are at the limits of our capacity to do so. We have left little water of mercy to draw from our well of friendship. His anger, his willfulness, his fantasies reach out from him, the cosmic altering gravity of a black hole, demanding the entire universe conform to its twisted spatial field. Continuing to live with us would only transform us into enablers of his addiction and delusions. Three times in the past, we took addicted or drug-abusing youths into our home to help them. We had modest successes; their illnesses were new, their bodies and souls still growing. Youth was on their side. He is 62 years old. His addiction has metastasized. Age has calcified the patterns. We cannot help him more than this effort to stand him on his feet again. Trying to help him in an extended way would destroy our own family.
We have counseled him that we believe he has underlying mood disorder, to our observation, depression. We asked him to see a psychiatrist. He has been turned down as a new patient by one and is contacting a referral. He must come to terms with himself and with reality. If he is fortunate, he will reach the bottom of his fall and acknowledge his location. He could then take the first step of his long delayed journey. We will have the chance to witness any success. We invited him to join our other guests at our regular, Friday evening, Sabbath dinners. He said he would.