Being the Lie
by Author R.J. Roberts
“Yeah, that’s all behind me, that’s why I don’t even get why I’m here! This is insane!” Janet, the stringy haired, strung out, manic looking brunette said. Twenty minutes earlier she walked into the morning group session and proceeded to tell everybody how rude the lady at the front desk was, how it’s unacceptable to treat her like that, and how she was going to call her psychiatrist and get taken out of this place. Nobody else in the eight person group session particularly listened to her, we just nodded politely as we always do to everybody who comes through the door and begins their account of how wronged, how persecuted they are, how this is all a big mistake, how unseen forces conspired against them to bring them here. It happens every single morning.
“So, ok, can you explain why you tested positive for methamphetamine two weeks ago, which is why your pain management doctor sent you here, and why you also tested positive on the test you took yesterday?” Jim asked, following a pretty standard interrogation script. We all know that arguing or lying is useless, as the staff of the recovery center has already done their homework. They already know the answers to the questions, the point of asking is to simply see how you answer. Will you tell the truth, or will you lie?
Guess what happens every single time?
“Well, uh,” Janet stuttered and looked down at the floor, her eyes darting rapidly back and forth as she thought up a lie. Two guys sitting across from me have fallen asleep, as they usually do during the morning confrontation/interrogation, at this point it’s become routine and tedious. Janet brings her fingers up to her mouth and begins chewing her nails nervously. She’s probably not aware that she is enacting very typical tweaker behavior, or that she looks exactly like a worn down tweaker and the second she walked through the door everyone spotted her as precisely that. It reminds me of looking back at the bloated, red splotchy skinned, fish lipped pictures of myself when I was drinking, and how I thought I was thin and handsome at the time.
“Well,” Janet looked up and said, “See if any of you people actually listened to me, which you’re not very good at, especially that bitch at the front desk, you’d know that I explained all this.”
“But none of us have met you, so we’re not familiar with your situation. Why don’t you explain it all to us?” Jim said in his typical reasonable, compassionate manner. I can see somebody across from me rolling their eyes, knowing where this is going, bored by this show like a rerun they’d seen a dozen times. I don’t think anybody in rehab, besides me, realized that the reason we go through this little scripted, predictable play so often isn’t for the benefit or shame of the interrogated, it’s for the group. It’s so everyone else can see, recognize, and rightly shun the banality and absurdity of this person’s behavior, so we can do the same for this exact behavior within ourselves. It’s a very good, living, breathing, talking example of what’s wrong with all of us, and why we’re here.
“Well first of all, I have a very serious neck injury!” Janet started her story.
Everyone in rehab has a very serious neck injury. It’s the hardest injury for doctors to accurately diagnose, even with modern MRIs and cat scans, the neck is so complex and impenetrable to scanning technology that it’s hard to tell if anyone genuinely has one or not. So, addicts complain about a neck injury, their doctor gives them pain pills, the addict starts asking for way too many and creeps their regular doctor out, so they get sent to a pain management doctor. The pain management doctor is a fairly new concept, it’s basically a doctor they send addicts to, their job is to strictly monitor addicts’ pill use and randomly drug tests them.
When you fail the drug test because you’re taking way too many pills (modern drug tests are good enough to determine not only what you’re taking, but how much), and because you’re also taking outside illegal substances, then the pain management doctor cuts your pills off and says you either go to rehab or he reports you to the authorities. This is a fairly intelligent system designed to cut down on Medicaid abuse, as most addicts are on Medicaid, and use the system to get a steady stream of pain pills to provide their base line high while they also sell and trade the pills for the illegal drugs they’re getting their real kicks out of.
This is the painfully boring and scripted back story of almost everyone who walks into recovery. Except me. I’m simply an unemployed for ten years, suicidal alcoholic. In my entire stay in rehab there were only two other alcoholics, we’re out of fashion it seems. Everyone else was either on meth and pills, or heroin and pills, or both, or everything.
Janet reaches up to her neck, as it’s suddenly bothering her, and caresses it as she moans, “Oww,” and makes pouty, labored groans. Her acting might be better when she’s sober, but everyone in recovery also noticed right away that she was high the second she walked in, her pupils wide at dinner plates, her manic way of speaking, her constant itching and fidgeting.
“But I tried explaining this to my pain management doctor!” she says after nursing her neck. “Of course, nobody listens to me! Everything’s got to be a conspiracy, everything’s got to be a lie right? You can’t make your money if people aren’t up to no good, can you? Ok, fine, like I explained to my doctor, and that cunt at the desk; at home I like to smoke flavored tobacco out of my hookah.”
“You have a hookah to smoke flavored tobacco?” Jim repeated in his typical nonjudgmental, matter-of-fact manner. He is, of course, judging, but he’s skilled at doing so without upsetting his subject. He repeats this line not for her but for us, in case we missed the ridiculousness of the statement.
“Yes, right!” Janet nodded happily, glad that someone appeared to accept her story, which I’m sure she’s told dozens of times and gotten extremely skeptical reactions. All addicts live in their own little fantasy world, and the second anyone even appears to buy into their fantasy, they’re ecstatic to tell more, and in the drug councilor’s benefit: to tell more and more lies to hang themselves.
“So you see,” Janet said, “one day I smoked like one puff of tobacco out of my hookah and it didn’t taste right, and my son’s friend came over and says, ‘oh I didn’t know you go fast’, and I’m like what? So then he tells me he put meth in my hookah and I tell you what, I just went berserk! I mean, I kicked my son out of the house, I told him he’s not going to be staying with me if he brings that type of person to my house. I called his father to come get him. I’m actually just going to sign over custody, because this is unacceptable, this kid is just getting too much!”
“Ok, ok,” Jim nodded compassionately, as if he accepted the story, and felt it reasonable. “So it’s your son’s fault that you got caught smoking meth,” he said in that nonjudgmental way. He, of course, felt the need to highlight this to the rest of us, so that we could see the absurdity, and even morbidly sad patheticness of it. Addicts are willing to throw anyone under the bus.
“Yeah, I mean, I love him and stuff,” Janet said, “But he’s a bad kid, I did what I can for him, time for him to go! Now I got to get this rehab bullshit straightened out.”
“Ok, ok,” Jim nodded compassionately. “Thanks for sharing that. I guess it’s just…” Jim cocked his head, then grimaced as he looked up at the ceiling and shook his head slightly as if pondering a truly complex subject. “I guess my whole thing is like,” he always said this when he was about to call somebody on their lies, “You say you just smoked the once and it was an accident, but you failed two separate drug tests, and they was like two weeks apart from each other.”
“Well, that stuff stays in your system for weeks though! I mean, you would know that, wouldn’t you? You’re a drug counselor, I would think you’d know something as basic as that!” Janet said, her voice becoming defensive.
“Yeah, it’s just like, I know that, probably everyone here knows that, but the average person, a person who don’t have a drug problem, a person who never has a problem with failing drug tests, they don’t know that. So how do you know that?” Jim asked.
“Well, I uh,” Janet said, and the color of her face began to turn red. “That’s just common knowledge! Wait a minute here! Are you accusing me of something?”
“No, no,” Jim said in that, “Yes, Yes,” sort of way. “It’s just that you failed the two drug tests, and the levels in your system both times was off the chart, you don’t get that from just smoking a little one hit like you said. I’m just wondering how you would explain that.”
“Also,” a voice coming from the speaker mounted on the wall began saying. It’s usually a surprise to the new people that everyone in the offices of the recovery center are listening to the group sessions, and can chime in through the fully wired sound system. “Your son doesn’t live with you Janet,” the electric voice said, “you’ve never had custody of him, and your neighbor we spoke to says he sees you smoking meth out of your hookah all the time, and you’ve also been arrested for possession of meth twice in the last six months,” the voice said, then an electronic click sounded as they shut their microphone off. It’s also a big surprise to the new people that the staff actually does their homework on the new clients, and fact checks the stories they tell in real time. This might be seen as big-brother-esque and extreme at first, but keep in mind for the staff it only amounts to maybe a five minutes of work and a few phone calls, or casually flipping through a legal file in order to disprove most addict’s already dubious tall tales.
This, of course, is all necessary. One of the first things I learned in rehab is to never believe a single thing any addict in recovery says, as most have been habitually lying to others and themselves for so long that they probably aren’t even aware of what’s true or not anymore. Janet might very well have believed this story. Addiction, in its essence, is a destructive, desperate attempt to escape reality. The entire rehab process is, at its core, an effort to bring addicts back to the real world. But almost all addicts ward off reality like a single desperate foot soldier, backed against a wall, flailing away with a useless imaginary weapon at the surrounding, encroaching, truthful enemy hoard.
“Well,” Janet shook her head bitterly. “Looks like you all made up your mind, no point in me saying anything. You don’t want to listen to my side of things.”
Janet refused to speak after that. After a few minutes of coaxing, she still stayed silent, and Jim moved on to the other new girl sitting next to Janet.
“Ok Cindy, so tell us why you’re here,” Jim said.
“Well, it’s funny, because I was, like, amazed while I was listening to Janet here, because the exact same thing happened to me! I was smoking out of my tobacco hookah and I didn’t know my son put meth in it!” Cindy said.
And it would have been funny she said that, I suppose, if the exact same thing didn’t happen yesterday.
And the day before that. And…the day before that…
It happened every day, an addict made up a ridiculous story about why they got sent to rehab, and some other addict didn’t feel like making their own story up, and said the same thing happened to them. Or maybe it was some kind bonding ritual, a show of sympathy from one addict to another, I don’t know. The longer I stayed in rehab, the less I felt in common with other addicts, the more I looked down on them, the more I actually started to hate them, the more I was vehemently sick and tired of listening to their bullshit, because I knew they were simply a part of me that I was mercilessly trying to kill.
Janet left rehab that day, I think. I don’t really remember, if it wasn’t her in that same seat the next day then it was somebody exactly like her.
Almost all addicts don’t actually want to be in rehab, they’re forced there by their doctor, or court, or spouse, or any number of authorities. I was the only one different, because during my entire stay, out of the scores of people in there with me, I was the only person who was there voluntarily. It also might not be a coincidence that out of all those people, I was the only person who completed the program.
My last day in rehab was a typical interrogation of bizarre and unbelievable stories, trying to get addicts to realize that they were addicts, followed by group mediation and then making a list of ten things we like about ourselves, I could only find three. They waved me into a back room where I had to do one final drug test, the technician rolled her eyes when I handed her my specimen jar, “They’re still making you piss test?” she asked. “They know you’re not going to fail.”
“Why’d you even come to rehab?” she asked me.
I asked her what she meant, I was a suicidal alcoholic, isn’t that reason enough?
“Yeah, but…you don’t need rehab to quit. I mean…you quit, right?” she asked.
For a long time, I had the suspicion that the state-run rehab I was at wasn’t really there to cure people of their addictions, its purpose was to try to cure people of their addictions. If somebody, like Janet, leaves rehab it’s generally a ticket straight to prison, noncompliance with their recovery program will bring the full weight of whatever law they broke down on them. The state can then shrug, and honestly say “Hey, we gave them an opportunity to get better, we tried,” if any voters start complaining of swelling numbers of nonviolent addicts packed into prisons. Jail is an addict’s biggest fear though few, if any, ever mention being afraid of death, even though each of us knows at least half a dozen people who’ve died from their addiction. It’s the big black elephant in the room with a gun pointed at your head that nobody wants to mention, hoping that if we don’t talk about it then it doesn’t exist. Breaking through this impenetrable wall of denial, lies, and deception is a titanic effort that most addicts aren’t game for, no matter how much help or how many chances they get, and they end up choosing the seemingly easier path of living the lies and the addiction. It isn’t easier, in fact it’s a hell of a lot harder than just quitting, but it’s almost impossible to see that when your mind is fogged with booze, drugs, lack of sleep, and those deadly ever-present lies.
On my way out of rehab I passed by Jim and he nodded to me. “You’ll be fine,” he said. “You get it.”
I asked what he meant. “Most people come through here a dozen times, they don’t get it. People who want to quit, they quit, rehab or not, they get it,” he said and looked anxiously over his shoulder to his office, as if he had something important to do. “Well, good luck,” he said and scurried away.
I was temporarily upset that on my last day of rehab I didn’t even get a hand shake or a pat on the back, just a coin (that I think I immediately lost) and a “good luck.” But then again, it also struck me that I probably shouldn’t be congratulated for finally sobering up in my late thirties and acting like a normal person.
If nothing else, my stay in rehab made me appreciate the truth and develop an intense hatred of lies, especially the ones that I tell myself.
I was an alcoholic, it was fun for a little while, then it really sucked for ten years, and I realized I had to either quit or voluntarily or involuntarily kill myself, so I quit and I’ve stayed sober for over two years now. Quitting isn’t even very hard, it’s actually a pretty logical thing to do after the complete hell you’ve dragged yourself through, after you’ve sickened and polluted your mind with the degenerate crippling lies you’ve told yourself for so long. You either quit, or continue down that fake path and die eventually. Most addicts choose death, or rather death chooses them–when they continue on that deceptive path long enough to lose their way, becoming lost and stuck forever–living their addiction so long they become it and cease being anything else. It only leads in one tragic, predictable, monotonous direction.
Short, sweet and infrequent! Stay up-to-date with curated content, links to book reviews, interviews, craft essays, contest and submission announcements, and other excellent resources for memoir writers! All for FREE!