I began my relationship with the PHP program by meeting with the head of the department. I didn’t want to go to the meeting, of course; I had spent the morning staring off into the depths of my laptop screen at nothing in particular but feeling that mounting, creeping sense of dread. When it was time to get in the car, I stared at my room from the doorway and wondered if I would ever see it again. Maybe this meeting was where they would come and get me with the straitjacket and a cattle prod.
What if they doom me to a lifetime of hospitalization? I certainly felt depressed and crazy enough for that to be possible. What if they drug me into near-unconsciousness? Actually I considered that a good alternative to the present. What if they torture me with things I can’t face or worse, ridicule me for being weak? I certainly felt vulnerable. What if there’s — gasp — a tumor or some other kind of cancer? WHAT IF THIS KILLS ME? WOULDN’T THAT BE WONDERFUL?
I got to the floor of the hospital where the meeting was to take place and my first stop was with someone who was to eventually become my treatment coordinator. She was very nice, very comforting – and I didn’t trust her at all. Not one single bit. She was young and healthy, lean and pretty, smart and caring; she was everything that I was not.
I got through the initial intake with her by being as sullen and unreasonable as I could. I gave her the information she needed, but I made damn sure she understood I didn’t want to deal with her or anyone else right then. I just wanted to get the hell out of the hospital because it was screaming ‘Danger, Danger!’
She showed me to an office where a man was seated behind a desk; he was bespectacled, skinny, had a wicked fashion sense and one of the biggest, brightest smiles I have ever seen. Needless to say, I hated him instantaneously. I hated anyone that could smile like that in front of me. I mean, how dare they?
I cannot remember what I said in the interview. I remember being there, and I remember my impression of him; during the interview he had calmed me down somewhat and it made him seem just a little more tolerable. (When I finished the PHP program, he told everyone assembled for my goodbye about that intake interview. He said of me, and of course I am paraphrasing, ‘I had never seen anyone so angry in my entire life. He was a suicide waiting to happen.’ I was a vicious pool of unreasoning mess. And he was so right – I wanted very badly to die.)
But that’s not really true. I just felt that way. In reality, I wanted to live. I had come for help. I wanted to see a way through my self-disgust and whacked out perception. I wanted to move beyond the past and find some semblance of quiet inside my brain. I needed help, I admitted it. Luckily, they wanted me to be on the path toward healing. They were the secret keepers. They knew the path out of this hell. Sounds like a good thing, right?
What I was to find was that they weren’t there to perform an Expecto Petronum Charm like Harry Potter. They could not themselves drive the Dementors away from me. They could not do anything for me, really, except show me why my thinking wasn’t reality. Show me how my behavior frustrated and doomed my feeble efforts. Work with correct medication to help me think.
Please, read that last paragraph again. It’s worth re-reading.
The operative words in that paragraph are: Show. Work. Help.
They made it clear from the beginning that any hand-holding would be minimal. That I was there to work. That working in a group was an important element to help me understand myself and others. They were there to, basically, whip my ass into shape, and I mean that in the nicest way. The program was not an emotional dumping ground. It was so much more than that. It was a university.
So I began the classes, five days a week, six hours a day. I was cast into a group of people that I simply did not want anything to do with, and they made sure I came because if I didn’t, I was out of the program. If I used illegal drugs of any kind, I was out of the program. If I didn’t cooperate and engage with them, I was out of the program. If I was abusive or violent, I was out of the program.
Hell. I just wanted help. Whatever. I seriously doubt that you can help me, dudes.
So I came every day and sat there, unable to engage, unable to tear myself away from my anguish and hating every minute of it. That is, until something grabbed my attention. Something they said about it being all right to feel the way I feel. But just because you feel it doesn’t mean it has to always be that way.
They taught that reality is constructed. You get out of it what you put into it. And that means changing the way you think, not just changing your brain chemistry. It means taking a good look at the lies you’ve told yourself. About the habits you’ve created that are killing you. About the crappy things you hold on to because you don’t want to change. It means commitment and acceptance.
That’s right. They had accused me of not wanting to change.
That’s where my old self that was locked deep inside said to my newer, disorganized and dysfunctional brain that YOU NEED TO CHANGE. LISTEN TO THEM. AFTER ALL, WHERE HAS THIS MESS BROUGHT YOU?
Very slowly, I began to sit up in the chair (something I had not yet done) rather than drooping, scowling and staring at the floor. For the first time, I looked my counselor straight in the face and said “I don’t believe you.”
And that’s how the conversation — and the challenge — began.