I talked about this combat veteran in an earlier entry, One More Time Around, With Feeling. I first met him a couple years ago. In the interim he had struggled with difficult circumstances. He had called me a couple months back to see if I would be willing to work with him again. He’d been surprised that I so easily said yes.
We’ve been in touch since then, though infrequently. He had found clonidine to be helpful (a blood pressure medication that can reduce some symptoms of opiate withdrawal). He had been reluctant to consider Suboxone again, although I could never quite figure out why. Then yesterday he called me.
“Can you see me today? Everything’s falling apart. Everything.”
This is not a man who would stoop to sounding desperate even if he were so. Yet his vocal chords did not allow him the luxury of anything even close to coolness in his words. I heard the message.
“Of course,” I replied.
He came in about an hour later, accompanied by his girlfriend–well, at least she had been his girlfriend, but he wasn’t sure if she still was, and he wasn’t even sure he cared whether he was sure if she still was, and she, for her part, didn’t . . .
Initially he brought her with him into the office, but within microseconds all three of us realized that little was to be gained by this exercise except for another entry for their scrapbook of crummy times. I suggested that he and I speak alone. She wasn’t pleased, but honestly I couldn’t tell whether she was displeased with me, with him, with herself, with all the above, with whatever. She left. Thankfully, drama was minimal.
“She lied to me,” he said, his voice as steely as a hanging judge’s. “I can’t stand that. I’ve always told you that I’ll never lie to you, and I won’t. She’ll try to manipulate and say she didn’t, but I don’t care what she says: she lied.”
This line of discussion wasn’t going to get either of us anywhere, and I believe he knew that as well as I did. I will vouch for one statement, though: I believe it when he says that he wouldn’t lie to me.
He might have lost his job a few days before. He wasn’t sure. He had been too upset to check. He had been living with his parents, and it was likely that his mother was going to demand that he leave the house, for reasons complicated and anything but new.
His struggles hadn’t just accumulated overnight either. Whatever few chunky-ish pounds he’d previously sported, they were no longer there. Food had not apparently been a priority. From a physical standpoint, he looked quite good, even, as strange as this might sound, dashing. From an emotional standpoint, though–well, he was right: everything was indeed crashing around him.
But he hadn’t used. He was proud of that. “Check my urine,” he said. “You’ll see.”
He was right.
But he had hoped that he would get to see me, prayed that I would pick up the phone earlier that day, because he had been afraid that if something were not to happen fast, he was going to use. He wanted back on the Suboxone. He wanted back on anything that would do something to make all the emotional pain abate, even if slightly, even if momentarily.
I had to say it.
“I know that you’re struggling with the opiate dependence, but clearly: your depression’s back.”
In a previous encounter he might have stiffened at that comment, just enough to let me know that he wasn’t going to let some hot-shot doctor label him that easily, thank you. None of that today, though. Not a facial muscle moved, in irritation, in relief.
“I don’t have a clue what I feel,” was all he could answer.
The Suboxone part was easy; we discussed the dosage at which he’d previously been able to maintain his sobriety. We decided to do one task at a time: get the Suboxone started first, then think about whether an antidepressant might be helpful. I told him I suspected it would. He didn’t even make a move to disagree with me.
We talked about housing options. He was unsure whether he’d have to leave his parents’ house or not. He has always been quite close to his father; it had always been his mother who had been his periodic nemesis. He was going to speak to his father later that evening. He promised to let me know if he needed something from me. He assured me that he knew that the emergency room was always available to him.
Then we just looked at each other.
There was no defiance, no begging, just heaviness, a face that could have been on the verge of a sob had he been anybody but himself. It didn’t feel as if he were trying to keep that sob at bay. He was just too tired to deal with it.
He looked so sad. He broke my heart, seeing his sadness encase him like a second skin, so familiar, so alone.
So once again, I had to say it.
“This isn’t working, you know, the posttraumatic stress injury, the holding it in, the nightmares, everything. It’s going to take you down. You have no more strikes left. You’ll become a statistic, another one of those combat veterans, defeated, imprisoned, alone. The opiates are too ready and willing to do just that. You know that as well as I do.”
He just stared at me, blinked, stared. He swallowed. His eyes then did the nodding in agreement for him.
“Please,” I finally whispered. “You’re a good man. You are trying. Please. Please.”
He swallowed again, looked down.
“I’ll come back tomorrow if I can, Wednesday at the latest. I will. I promise. She’s got an appointment she’s got to get to now. She’ll be freaking out if I don’t get going here.”
“You two going to be OK in the car together?”
He looked up, sporting the closest thing to a smile I’d seen in I-don’t-know-how-long.
“It’ll be fine. I don’t care what happens, if you want to know the truth. If she makes me get out of the car in the middle of the street, I’ll be fine, whatever. I’ll get home. I’ve always had to take care of myself. I’ll do it again. I won’t use any drugs. I’ll make it. I’ll be back here.”
“Talk to your Dad,” I finally said. “Let him know at least some of what’s going on with you.”
He nodded and then simply said, “I will.”
He got up and stood before me. In another life he could have been a model, not the pretty-boy type, mind you, but the J. Crew type, maybe in the winter jacket section, woods behind him, self-confident enough to have the camera snap his picture, but no posing, pal, none, leaving you, oh, casual peruser of the catalogue that you are, with no doubt whatsoever that he could whip up a more-than-decent-enough campfire and take care of himself just fine, thank you, long before you’d ever know that you really are as untalented as you look. You’d be welcome to join him, of course, if you were to so choose, but don’t expect a second invite, understood? Then as he sits down on the log just behind him and takes a swig of whatever ecologically-sound water he had stuck in that backpack of his, he’ll half-smile enough at you to remind you one more time–because, you know, he’s really not totally as über-cool as he looks : yes, you really are more than welcome to join him.
If only he weren’t so sad.
He offered me his hand. I took it. Unlike the last time, I did not linger with it. He turned toward the door, sighed, uncertain, apparently, of how much drama awaited him on the other side, opened the door, and with a “See you,” he was gone.
He doesn’t lie to me. He’ll be back.
The Dad in me sometimes just wants to take these guys by the shoulders, look them straight in the eyes, and then . . . and then, what?
Just look at them, I guess. Make no promises except the promise to remain as faithful as I can for as long as I can. Not waste his time or her time or my time with anything ridiculous like “I’m so sorry” or some other such nonsense. Let, instead, my eyes speak as honestly as they can for me. Hope to God that he or she’ll get the message that needs to be gotten–the message that I mean what I say
And then let go, I guess. Not leave. But let go.
“See you,” would be all I’d be able to say at that point.
And all I can hope is that he or she would say “See you” in return.
We keep going. No Plan B.