Two weeks after we purchased the weekend house in Duchess County, Trudi stopped returning to New York on Sunday night. She would, however, make the trip to the city for Wednesday afternoon couples counseling. We had each of us been talking to mental health professionals most of our lives, so it wasn’t a stretch for us to engage a shrink to moderate this geographic development.
Not long into the process, the therapist, a woman named Rhoda Schroeder, asked me to describe my drinking. “Oh, I drink a lot,” I said, finessing the question with what I expected would be taken as a lighthearted exaggeration. “What do you think is a lot?” was the comeback I anticipated.
“Well, Robert, I think you drink too much and I want you to schedule an evaluation at Smithers,” was what I got.
For the duration of our marriage, I had been a daily drunk. Weekends, I was damp and sloppy and reeked of potential embarrassment. During the week, though, my goals were modest and my efforts more circumspect. After work, I would consume a six-pack of lite beer, augmenting the buzz with a joint or two of decent downtown weed. This nightly ritual always brought the desired result – basic oblivion. Meanwhile, Trudi might nurse a beer and take a couple of tokes while the two of us sat on the coffee table in front of the TV playing Atari. We exploited the conviviality that relationships slide into when affection and rationalization dance around issues no one can acknowledge.
It took me two weeks to get evaluated. Rhoda Schroeder had taken me completely by surprise, and then I surprised myself by following through. But for the next week or so, I played the I-can-quit-by-myself game, only to find myself getting shitfaced on spritzers.
When at last I made it to Smithers, I was befuddled, exhausted, and not a little defensive. Preliminaries consisted mainly of the famous twenty questions for which a single affirmative answer would confirm a problem with alcohol. Have you ever felt remorse after drinking? Did your ambition decrease the longer you drank? Have you ever had a complete loss of memory as a result of drinking? Yes. Yes. Yes.
Do you drink alone? Oh, shit.
I found myself in a beige room facing a metal desk. Out the window was a brick wall. Behind the desk sat Howard, a gruff guy with enough street cred to make me feel self-consciously pansy-assed, in the way only an Upper West Side, co-op owning, pot smoking, Wall Street-type could feel when confronted by an Ivy League-educated, recovering heroin addict. He asked me about my drinking, then asked what drugs I had done, and when I recited a long list of what I considered minor dabbling, he called me a ‘garbage head.’ I spluttered, nonplussed, and entered their nine-month, outpatient treatment program.
I left shaken and stirred. In five days, they expected me to start showing up for group therapy Tuesdays and Thursdays. Maybe I could do this.