An Alcoholic Therapist’s Fight for Recovery in a Tragically Flawed Treatment System.
Chapter 1: Three Mile Beach
It’s like a stuck record that no one nudges.
“Let me outta here! You sons of bitches! I wanna talk to my lawyer!” Dana’s caterwauling reaches from the solitary cell in the women’s wing. It’s getting on my nerves. It’s three a.m. and she’s been at it for hours.
“Cocksuckers. Let me talk to my lawyer. Let me out of here, you sons of bitches.”
“Shut the fuck up, bitch!” another female inmate howls, matching Dana decibel for decibel. “I’m gonna fuck you up when we all get outta here, you drunken whore.”
I roll over on the thin jail-cell pallet and pull the bleached blanket over my head in a useless attempt to drown out the hollering. I fade in and out of sleep, no longer able to discern what’s a bad dream and what’s an even worse reality.
I wish I’d never gone to Three Mile Beach.
The autumn sun’s wan rays bathe everything at Three Mile Beach in light so fragile, so ephemeral, it’s almost magical. A rare kind of day.
“Mr. Pond.” Dana emerges from the lake, runs across the sand and stands before me glistening in the sun. “Let’s move to Nelson and open up a treatment centre on Kootenay Lake. It’s our destiny. We are meant to do something amazing together.”
I gaze into Dana’s piercing blue eyes and I’m sick with longing. I long for her and the fantasy we’ve built together, a fantasy so flimsy I already feel it slipping away. She arranges her perfect coral-bikini-clad body on the towel, plants a kiss on my sun-burnished brow, lies down and closes her eyes. At forty-two, Dana’s lithe, willowy beauty belies her age. I track a rivulet of water as it slides into the hollow between her breasts.
I’d always wanted to open a treatment centre. I’d been practising psychotherapy for over twenty years in Penticton, and I’d often thought I wouldn’t have much of a practice at all if not for alcohol. From the surly conduct-disordered kid slouched on my couch to the shame-faced husband convicted of domestic assault, court-ordered into treatment, to the suicidal young First Nations mother of five kids, barely thirty and already worn out, you don’t get too far in family-of-origin research before you stumble over a raging alcoholic. I’d helped hundreds of people kick booze. But I cannot help myself.
“Yeah, the universe has a grand plan for us, Dana.” I try to muster enthusiasm as I lie back next to her. “We were put together to make great things happen.” Great. Now I’m lying even to myself.
Dana exhales, her face breaking into a wide smile. Her perfect white teeth dazzle. I smell vodka. The fantasy fades just a little bit more.
Over the course of the afternoon at the beach, we polish off a twenty-sixer and a half of Smirnoff mixed with Clamato juice and a generous splash of Frank’s hot sauce. We regale ourselves. We are as eloquent and witty and deep as only drunks can be.
Three Mile Beach edges Okanagan Lake in British Columbia’s hot, dry wine country. As Napa Valley is to California, the Okanagan is to Canada. Vines droop, burdened by lush late-harvest Gewürztraminer grapes, the air pungent with the earthy promise of ripe fruit. Vineyards march up every slope, stretching over the horizon, their uniformity broken here and there by the odd gnarled apple or pear tree, poignant reminders of the days when this was orchard country.
This is wine country, but we don’t drink wine. One would have to drink too much and wait too long for its effect. Vodka is a much more efficient drunk. And after going hard at it for nearly a month, we are all about efficiency.
Forget wild sexual attraction, stimulating conversation, shared values and beliefs and interests. What keeps us together now is booze. Every encounter plays out in the same sickening sequence, from that first seductive sip to giddy intoxication, through belligerence and anger and exaggerated competence to melancholy and sullen self-pity, ending always in self-loathing.
Dana has just arrived at exaggerated competence.
“Mike, I want my kids to meet you.” She gets up off her towel, brushing sand from her bare legs. “They’re not far away, in Naramata. Let’s go.”
My judgment dulled by Smirnoff, I agree to this absurd idea. Who wouldn’t want to meet mom’s drunken boyfriend?