Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Day twenty...I don't think I really belong here.

Here's a laugh.

I used to be a mental health counselor.

Yeah, I think it's funny too. But it's what I did for almost four years. And I was damn good at it.

One of my favorite things to do was to visit the fifth floor of Cooley Dickinson Hospital. For those of you unfamiliar with the fifth floor I will explain. The fifth floor is where a person is taken, usually under duress, when certain people with fancy credentials deem them to be unsafe to be out and about with the rest of society. In other words, C-R-A-Z-Y. Coo-Koo! Looney Tunes. Off your rocker. Section 8. Loco en la cabeza.

Get the picture?

Like I said I liked to visit the fifth floor. I never booked a room there. But it was part of my job on occasion to bring certain necessary items to various people residing in the penthouse suite. People who most of the time resided in the house I worked in.

I had a game I liked to play with the nurses.

You see, to complete my mission, first I'd have to take an elevator. Then I'd have to ring a buzzer and wait for the nurse. After she walked slowly down a very long corridor, said nurse would proceed to unlock the gigantic steel door with a punch of a few buttons. This whole procedure was visible through a small octagonal window that would invariably fog up as I peered into it from the other side.

And then I would be let in.

I'd take care of whatever detail I was assigned to. More often then not it was to bring a carton of 'Smokin Joes' cigarettes ($10.99 for twenty packs of 120's). Mmmm-mmmm. Satisfying.

Other times it was to deliver some papers or med info or whatever. That was the boring stuff. The fun part came when it was time to leave.

To exit the fifth floor-(voted best place to throw your food on the wall in the Valley Advocate 4 years straight)-you had to have a nurse escort you. They never checked my I.D. and I never offered. But we would make small talk and maybe tell a joke or two on our way down the hallway. Then she would unlock the door for me which made a loud 'clunk' sound. A buzzer would go off just like in prison movies. I would slowly walk through the doorway and inhale a big audible whiff of freedom. As the nurse closed the door behind me, just before it latched shut, I'd make eye contact with her through the little octagonal window and yell...

"See ya sucker!!!" And run down the hallway arms flailing over my head and feet kicking up behind me.

Good, clean, fun. Get the picture?

One nurse who knew it was coming asked me once on our way down the hallway: "So...Mr....Mr. Johnson...are you sure I'm supposed to let you leave?" I winked and smiled at her and said: "Why yes...I am very sure. Thank you." And we prepared for the inevitable faux fracas. It was all in a day's work.

But it made me wonder today as I went by the hospital, about a word with many different definitions. That word is 'Commit.'

com·mit : (kə-mĭt)

To do, perform, or perpetrate: commit a murder.
To put in trust or charge; entrust: commit oneself to the care of a doctor; commit responsibilities to an assistant.
To place officially in confinement or custody, as in a mental health facility.
To consign for future use or reference or for preservation: commit the secret code to memory.
To bind or obligate, as by a pledge: They were committed to winning the big game.

These people had been committed to the fifth floor. I was committed to helping them. The nurse had committed to memory, the secret code which unlocks the door. If I hadn't been careful I could have been detained for committing fraud by implying I was myself mentally ill. Which I suppose is a matter still up for debate.

But it takes a big commitment to stay sober. You have to not allow yourself to be swayed by the unbelievable desire to use. Just watching the games on Sunday I was salivating like a rabid chipmunk at all the beer ads. But instead of getting loaded, I lounged on my couch and had a few delicious cups of tea and made some popcorn. I had fun, and I remember more of the action than ever before. It has been awe inspiring to watch a team, namely the Patriots, being so committed to perfection that they haven't lost a single game all season. It's simply amazing.

And I have one more night to go in my substance abuse outpatient program which I voluntarily entered earlier in the month. Tomorrow makes 12 nights spending three and a half hours talking about my problems. After 9:30 tomorrow I will have 42 hours in the books. 42 hours of sitting in a room with a bunch of other people who all have problems with things they loved more than the people in their lives. I could never have predicted that I would have enjoyed it as much as I did. The counselors were not pandering. The material was not outdated or boring. And I've made some special connections with some of the participants which I can picture lasting through the off season.

12 nights of perfection. 12 nights of contributing as much as I could. Of telling the truth. Of sharing secrets. Of coming clean. Of being a team. We even regrettably lost a few players along the way due to egregious errors of conduct. The officials saw to that. So I suppose it wasn't exactly perfect, but you know what I mean.

And tomorrow's the last game of the season. Superbowl XLII if you will. I can't predict the future but I'm pretty sure I won't commit a foul before I receive my letter of completion. Before the door opens at 9:30 and I leave the field. Before I get my coin that says "Keep it Simple" which is sometimes so hard to remember. I'll keep it in my pocket with my change so I can hear it clink each time I stride. It'll sound different than the currency it cohabitates with. And each day it will remind me that if I'm committed enough, I'll be able to hear that I have a little money in my pocket. Even if it is just a few coins.

Maybe, on my way out of the conference room, just before the door latches shut, I'll look at the counselor and wink and yell...

"See ya sucker!!!" And run down the hallway arms flailing over my head and feet kicking up behind me.

On second thought...

Coming soon: Alex shaves, gets a trim and picks out an outfit for his court date which, if you've lost count is Wednesday 1/23.

"Since, my friend, you have revealed your deepest fear,
I sentence you to be exposed before your peers.
Tear down the wall!"

-Pink Floyd "The Trial"

1 comment:

Libby Spencer said...

Good luck tomorrow Alex. I'll be thinking of you and sending thought waves to the judge to give you a break.