Oct/Nov 2004 Nonfiction

working with wet ones

by kat mcelroy

'tis a schizophrenic sorta existence i've been living this year since going back to work; i've give up on wage slavery and yea even salaried positions and am eking out a living as a professional contract clinician, doing about 20 hours a week in a harm reduction program with addicts and another half-time position commuting to the little town of nenana, alaska to provide clinical supervision to an outpatient addictions treatment program.

it's good not to feel so gawdawful MARRIED to an agency. i have more latitude in making my own hours and deciding for myself how much client contact i can handle.

i got to do an intervention today on a real drunk, who has scheduled and blown three appointments to get an assessment down there in nenana. he keeps showing up intoxicated. he can't understand why i think this is a problem.

three times he has shown up and one or another of my counselors has gotten partway through an assessment interview with this critter only to realize that he's blotto. ya cannot legally do a chemical dependency assessment on someone who is chemically impaired (which is about weird, eh? i mean, even i can see how strange this is.)

so, this is how it played out today when he blew in the front door, definitely listing to port.

"so here i am again, let's get it over with."

"i'm sorry, i can't do an assessment on you, you're intoxicated."

"how can you refuse to work with me on the grounds that i am drunk? isn't that what you're s'posed to do, help drunks stop drinking?"

there IS an irony here.

we have referred him to long term treatment but he walked out after five days (as soon as he finished detox). we sent him BACK to detox, from which he walked again, after only three days this time.

because he keeps insisting on his inalienable right to get liquored up and drive his car, and because he keeps having the misfortune of getting caught shitfaced behind the wheel of his automobile in this or that ditch, and because the troopers don't just drive ya home anymore like they used to and because the judge is Not Amused, he is mandated by the court to have an assessment and to follow the treatment recommendations, but he is fighting it every inch of the way.

"i told his honor that i've been driving lots drunker than that before," he declared.

this just cracked me up. honest, i haven't laughed so hard in months.
"OF COURSE I'M DRUNK!" he hollered. at which point i smacked him upon the arm.

later on i told my program director, traci, who was sitting with us in the room at the time of the incident, "it isn't considered good practice to smack the clients."

he trauma bonded to me, though: "finally, someone who understands!"
he agreed to try detox one more time, as soon as i can book him a bed, with the promise that if he can stabilize i'll do outpatient treatment with him.

it feels good to work with the wet ones. simple problems for simple people. (me, i am the simple person, not casting aspersions on my clients, no, no, no.) i can maybe help him learn how to keep his behaviors enough within societal boundaries as to stay out of jail. i sure as hell can't fix any of the big picture problems.

in fact, i find that i can't even LOOK at the big picture problems. i am so enraged by the actions of our "leaders," the bullying and fear-mongering and doubletalk, that i am literally at a loss for words.


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