Some got clean, and even though you knew the blood, sweat, commitment, and years that had taken, it still felt like a fall-down-on-your-knees miracle every time. Some died (overdose, accident, murder, disease).
Mark did both.
He walked into his first detox group at the methadone clinic wearing a grey fedora cocked at a jaunty angle—swaggering but humble, willing but stubborn, in-your-face but respectful—giving off sparks that hinted he could accomplish the next-to-impossible. He could get clean. I began to wonder, how can I prove to myself that I am real and a part of this mad world I had been watching through blurry rain-soaked glass?
He got into the methadone maintenance program and I was assigned as his counselor. He defied everyone else’s expectations, but not his and not mine. Happy Valentine’s Day. You gave me (didn’t you?) hope.
Mark was in and out of jail while he was on methadone and wrote me long letters from his cell. I wonder if anyone knows how much or how useless this place really is for someone like me.
Otherwise, he lived in his car, an older model orange BMW he cherished. He was a heat-seeking missile bent on getting laid, so he had to keep up appearances. Almost got some today. My friend Kelly was being awful affectionate.
When his guitars weren’t in hock, he played bass, so he had that musician cachet going for him. And at one point, he owned two vehicles: the BMW he drove and a green Volvo he slept and stored his belongings in. I’m sitting here in my Volvo and my alarm starts sounding, but I can’t find my clock, right? So I’m digging all around and I’m finding all kinds of stuff I’ve been looking for, but the clock is still beeping, and I can’t tell where from. I finally find it in the back under some clothes, and what does it say—“Group Men’s 5:30 pm.” Whoops. Late again.
Mark’s openness was sometimes unnerving. Baring all doesn’t bother me because that’s how you will know who I am.
My expectations for him were relentlessly high. He attended two groups and two individual counseling sessions each week. I get a lot of encouragement from you, and seeing you keeps my commitment to you to stay clean fresh in my mind. I know I will have to be able to do that on my own, but isn’t that what recovery is about—support while you learn how to be strong without drugs?
We pushed each other’s buttons and challenged each other to dig deeper, to try again—try harder, try something else, something new—to push through it (whatever “it” was), to extend ourselves further, both within our respective roles and outside of them. I became a better counselor because Mark forced me to get real with him. All I can do is tell you how I feel about it and hope you see that it is as important to hear what you’ve been through as it is to tell you my story or feelings.
He got off dope. I was thinking about how dumb it was when I used to get depressed, and I would go out and use depressants to try and not be depressed, and they just made me more depressed. Duh!
After a community service gig revealed his talent for working with computers and he started earning money, he rented an apartment and got a cat. When he tapered off the methadone program after two years, clean (but not entirely sober), it was unusual enough that everyone on staff signed a congratulations card for him. Maybe my situation is almost the same, but the way I see the world and the way I make decisions and the way I feel about myself is all different. Cool, huh? Well, I think so, anyway.
Of course, Mark’s road had more rough patches, but he was never homeless again. I’m at a point where I’m just glad to be here, no matter why I’m here or what I’m doing.
And when he got together with Leslie, it was as if the last star in his personal constellation had finally fallen into alignment. Someday I’ll meet someone that I can be with who is what I’m longing for, and I can be for them the same. Not to try and make someone happy, but to augment their life and them mine.
Mark never relapsed to heroin. Haven’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t, didn’t, won’t, can’t and shouldn’t use.
It was alcohol that did him in. He was a maintenance drinker, and in spite or because of health problems, including Hepatitis C, from years of drug abuse and poor medical care, he wouldn’t, couldn’t, didn’t completely give up beer. He was 56 when his liver failed, 15 years after he came to the clinic. Well, I’m beat. I’ll see you tomorrow. Sweet dreams. Love, Mark.
I don’t know how many of my former clients are still clean (too few!) or how many are now dead (too many!). The others who I know have died—Jim, Dylan, Scott, Ray, Mark S, Alex, Rocky, and Russ—were all luminous and maddening souls. Each one fought hard—with humor and determination. Each one lifted me up, pissed me off, made me proud, and broke my heart. Each one infused me with enough hope to try again with someone else. Their passing has left holes in the world, openings you can sometimes glimpse when you look up into the night sky.
Sweet dreams, you guys. I’ll see you tomorrow. Love, Joycelyn.