Dr. Craig Pauline, head psychologist, sat in the group therapy room in one of the chairs set up for the first session of new patients. They circulated groups in rotations based on duration of stay. This group would be his crowd for the next six months. Craig, thinning dark hair and brown eyes, was a tall, lean and lanky guy who was so thin he had no choice but to wear belts to hold up his slacks. Weight gain had been a lifelong problem. When the other boys in high school were bulking up, Craig just wished to gain a pound.
Craig was mercilessly bullied through middle school and high school. His nemesis one James Buckner managed to almost literally kick his ass from grade to grade to grade. James was the resident scumbag who was always double Craig’s size in both height and weight. Craig’s mother Irene tried to help her young son. She sent him to Karate and even bought him vitamins and protein shakes hoping to bulk him up. She went to the principals and teachers and counselors begging them to get James to stop. Craig had begun to dread school. And no amount of begging got James out of the picture. Everyone was afraid of the kid and his parents were known associates of the local crime syndicate. Craig’s problem was but a tiny speck in an overflowing bucket of problems this family caused around town.
Finally in Craig’s senior year James got busted for possession of narcotics and sent off to Boys Town in the Sierra-Nevada foothills. Craig was relieved for all of five second before James’ buddy Connor Beltran took over the mantle and went after Craig. It seemed making the skinny boy a punching bag was a lot of fun for these aspiring gangsters. By the time Craig graduated he had become accustomed to daily taunting and occasional broken bones that included his now slightly crooked nose. No one stood up for Craig, and at the age of 41 Craig’s lasting damage enabled him to commiserate with the many patients who came in through these doors.
Craig though was a lonely guy. He really couldn’t make friends with the patients although occasionally he did bond here or there. The rehab center was located on the outskirts of Portland so his opportunities to meet women were scarce. And even so it didn’t matter. Most women didn’t find the skinny man with the thinning hair very attractive. He was often socially awkward and miserably nervous when he did manage to speak to women.
Soon Craig found himself surfing the net and watching online porn. He jacked off to the various videos and found he had an odd fetish for watching guys suck their own dicks although he wasn’t gay. He couldn’t say why watching contorted bodies or guys lie in bed with huge penises and lick themselves turned him on. He also liked watching women suck their own nipples on obscenely large breasts. Maybe his real fetish was self-pleasuring because he had to do so much of it himself.
After a while he gave up on the idea that he would really ever meet someone in the flesh. So his online porn obsession turned to XXX chat-room time. He would post pictures of other hot men and not himself and begin chatting with interested women. The chats were varied from normal discussions to dirty talk. He lied about himself. He lied about his lifestyle. He was in essence just lying in general because of his own self-loathing. Every time a woman would want to meet him he would make up some ludicrous story about how his mother was bedridden with breast cancer and he couldn’t really date anyone right now. His other go-to story was about having lost a limb in the Afgan War and he wasn’t comfortable going out in public. The women typically lost interest, especially with the missing-limb story. No one wanted to date a one-legged guy. Well, most of them anyway. He occasionally found a sympathetic type who still insisted they meet, and he would set up a date and stand her up – that got rid of those girls.
He was an online addict who was in classic denial. His online activities were keeping him from a real life with actual in-the-flesh women, and somewhere inside as a psychologist he knew better. But like all classic addicts he kept denial as his rationale to continue. After all, he thought what did it hurt? No one really cared about him anyway. Anytime it appeared to become real he dumped the girls. If they got hurt he never knew it. His addiction only occurred at night and didn’t interfere with his job. He even rationalized that it helped him understand his patients better.
He glanced at the clock and thought the patients were being ushered to group therapy by now from their lunchtime. He looked at his clipboard and saw the roster of names in this new batch: Pete Mulligan, Kendra Stephens, Deacon Curio, Frank Haley, Derek Pendergrass, Darian Masteron and Kevin Sanders.
“Hmm,” he said aloud. He was curious why not eight. They usually came in groups of eight.
Just then the door opened and in shuffled the most-pathetic looking people around. They always looked like this the days that followed detox. By the time they would finish their six months of personal work, these dregs of society would look like shiny new cars with fresh coats of paint and sparkling surfaces. Almost all of them would relapse, but there was always that one or two who cleaned up permanently. The ones who he never or heard from again made him feel proud. The others were simple statistics that with enough patience and time might find their way out of the haze of addiction to become productive members of society. No matter what the outcome, Craig would put his all into each and every person who entered his room. He knew how it felt to feel out of control and hopeless. At this stage in their journeys that is how they would feel. Some would express it and others would listen and look sad.
This particular group of sad sacks shuffled in and all found their respective seats. Craig noticed the beautiful and exotic-looking Kendra. She had a vacant look on her face, but her gorgeous and natural beauty still shined through. She clearly hadn’t destroyed her looks during her addiction process. Craig had studied all of their folders and her story had stood out. He wasn’t surprised after what she had been through that she elected to sit the furthest away from the men in the room. She sat next to the other girl, Darian. Darian did look the worst in the room. Her once unblemished skin had sores and pockmarks. She was all of 19 and looked 50. He had studied her history too. Kendra though still had youthful freshness about her, but she wore her pain in her body language.
“Hello,” he said once they all sat down. “I realize most of you have been consumed in the depth of hell the last few days,” he said and watched them all shift and nod or make regretful noises of agreement. “I’m here to tell you it probably won’t be your last trip. Most of you here today will relapse perhaps two or three times before you finally hit your true rock bottom. It isn’t until you and nobody else decides that you’ve had enough and you want to fully own, embrace and love yourself before it will be completely over. I’m here to teach you how to do that. To guide you toward, well, redemption. I have a great quote about redemption I want to share. ‘Redemption just means you just make a change in your life and you try to do it right, versus what you were doing, which was wrong.’ Do you know who said that?”
The room was silent.
Craig continued, “Ice T.”
“The rapper?” asked Pete.
“The rapper, yes,” replied Craig. “The work we do in this room make no mistake is going to either kill you or set you free. It won’t be easy. I’m going to make you face some unpleasant things. We’re going to walk our way to recovery together. You’ll have moments of tears – extremely raw emotion and sobbing. You’ll have moments of laughter and commiseration. But mostly what you’re expected to do here is listen. You do not pass judgment. You do not sit and get to look down on anyone. Truth is, none of you are in any position to judge the others. You will be expected to participate and interact, and not a single one of you will be allowed to sit in silence. No worries, though. I will give you the peace you need when I can see you need it, and I will force you to talk when I see you need it, too.
“We have basic rules we follow in our discourse. We do not interrupt our fellow addict. We do not argue with our fellow addict. We allow others to express what they need to express. I know the center demands use of last names, but not in this room. In this room we are human beings with first names. That formality will be reserved for the center staff, but make no mistake. You are expected to show the staff that respect.”
“Why?” Darian blurted as she shifted uncomfortably.
Craig narrowed his eyes on the teenager. “You will raise your hand before you speak. You do not interrupt me or anyone else.”
Darian’s eyes shifted throughout the room. She tentatively raised her hand.
Craig nodded, “Yes Darian…”
“Anyone want to answer Darian’s question?”
Derek Pendergrass, the disgraced politician, raised his hand.
“Because if you can’t respect others you can’t respect yourself.”
“Thank you Derek,” said Craig. “That is exactly correct. We’re going to teach you respect of self and others. Our staff are not your friends. They are respected in their fields of choice. You will always refer to them as Mister, Miss, Mrs or Ms. It might seem uptight, but it’s respectful. You’re going to have etiquette classes, because this society has lost its manners. You’re going to exercise and enjoy natural endorphins. But anyone caught using will be sent back to California and face whatever the courts demand of you. Are there any questions?”
The room went silent. Craig got up and grabbed a stack of books off his desk – The 12 Step Program. He handed each person a copy. They all glanced at the books. Pete Mulligan started laughing.
Craig looked at him, “Is there something amusing, Pete?”
Pete and his Hollywood buddies had once used a copy of this book to snort blow off it. He really didn’t want to tell Craig that story.
“No, sorry,” replied Pete.
And that is how the group session got started. And that is how Craig first saw the lovely Kendra whom he couldn’t stop thinking about the rest of the day.