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Infinite Optimism: Inspiration in Treatment

By kristinfehrman 10/06/19

When David Foster Wallace walked into the Granada House in 1989, it wasn’t the same red home that stands today.

When the writer decided to go to treatment for alcohol in the late 80s, he found himself in a six-month residential community in Brighton, which inspired him to create the “Ennet House” in his famous novel  Infinite Jest.

30 years later, I unknowingly walked into the real-life Ennet House.

I’ve written about my struggles with alcohol, and I’ve written about my recovery.  What I haven’t written about is my own experience in treatment.

I didn’t want to move into a residential alcohol and drug treatment facility.  No, not me.  I couldn’t be like any of the other people.  I have a college education.  I’ve lived on my own.  I’m a marketable person!  My credit isn’t even that bad!

I had tried other programs, had gone to meetings on and off for years, and had even been sent to the south for a month (which lead to me Boston)- another stint in treatment was the last place I wanted to go.  Somehow, every time I started to build my life, I found a way to tear it down- and alcohol didn’t help matters.

I needed a safe and supportive place to find my stability.

Most of all, I needed a place where I could learn to be myself.

Out of all of my options, Granada seemed like the best choice.  Unlike most treatment homes, it’s co-ed, has pets, and doesn’t allow smoking.  I knew all of those things would be good for me- it would force me to interact with men in a kind manner even when I didn’t want to, it would build my tolerance to dogs, and would help me avoid a bad habit (smoking, not my poor taste in men).  It seemed like the healthiest option, and my intuition told me everything would be okay. 

It had to be.

On my first day I met with Deb, the Executive Director of the house.  We sat in her brightly lit office decorated with orchids, family photos, and a Buddha statue.  I didn’t know her yet, but I liked and trusted her somehow.  She offered me a Diet Coke, smiled, and asked me about myself.

“I’m a writer- that’s what I have always loved to do.  I recently worked at a law firm, but I am not sure what I am going to do now.”

She smiled and said, “this house has a legacy of writers!”

I couldn’t have prepared myself for what she was about to say next.  She told me a couple names of people, one I had vaguely heard of, but the other:

David Foster Wallace.

“I worked with David,” she said.  “He did a lot for this house after he left.”

I couldn’t believe it.  As a fan of David Foster Wallace, I never would have dreamed I would have ended up in the same treatment home as him.  In fact, I had only been introduced to his work a few years earlier- by a guy I was hopelessly smitten with, nevertheless.  We had (what I thought was) a special bond with the speech, “This Is Water,” which even prompted me to get a fish tattoo.  Stupid, yes, and a drunken choice, absolutely- but left without the guy and stuck with the memory, it seemed appropriate that I was getting sober under the same care as DFW.  

Drinking wasn’t my only addiction- I was just as much of a mess with men, too.

Now was the time to let go of all my past pains, self-doubt, heartbreak, and finally start to heal.  No more isolated nights, listening to sad songs while drinking.  No more romanticizing unrequited love, dwelling on trauma or writing sad poems about the past.

It was time to start a new life.

Writing in the front room, which was dedicated to David Foster Wallace, was how I spent my mornings.  I would wake up early, get a cup of coffee, and sit with the cat.  Oh, the hours I spent in that room!  It was the place I could retreat to when I needed time to myself, but also where I felt divinely inspired.  I knew I was meant to write something more, but I didn’t know what.

I continued to write throughout my time at the Granada.  Deb, the Director, encouraged me to write about my recovery.  A few other people did, too.  I scoffed at that idea at first; I didn’t want to be labeled or seen as “one of those sober people.”

It seemed their whole lives were based on something they don’t do, and I hated that they gave alcohol so much power.

At the Granada House, I learned I didn’t have to do that- I learned that I could make my recovery my own. In sobriety, I could be myself. I didn’t have to live out someone else’s recovery- I could live out my own.

I learned to set boundaries, to stop cutting corners, and to stop being so selfish. I learned the value in being able to give to others simply through sharing my time, and the importance of doing what is best for you- not what is best for someone else.

As I continued to write, attend groups, and make connections, I also started working full-time at a mental health nonprofit and began carving out my own recovery groups and doing service in the community. I was published in The Fix, began receiving emails and messages from people in recovery, and started Sobah in the City on Instagram.

As the weeks went on, I began to embrace my new identity: the Kristin I was always meant to be. A clear-headed woman with dignity and grace, and a woman who was no longer ashamed to say she survived the struggles and is sober.

In fact, today I couldn’t be more proud of that.

There are many feelings that occur when it’s time to leave the Granada House, or any treatment program for that matter- feelings of excitement, relief, and a sense of accomplishment.

But there can also be also loneliness.

What I appreciate about the Granada House is that is it a family- a family you can always go back to. Although Deb is now retired and the faces in the house are new, we all have been on the same journey- and that is irreplaceable.

If it weren’t for Deb Larson and David Foster Wallace, this post wouldn’t exist- and I am confident that my willingness to own my truth wouldn’t, either.


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