Rehab Vignettes, Part 1

By Anne Théron 03/15/18

I imagine you among the other boys in the hall tonight, perhaps frightened and filled with apprehension. Not yet knowing the regime, unsure and doubtful.

Side view of a person sitting on a wall, seen from the torso down.
Have you come to this place hoping to find your enlightenment? Photo by Redd Angelo on Unsplash

1. The New Boy

“The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.”
Mother Teresa

We pour out our praise ……………………. ad infinitum. The song goes on and on like a long funeral procession. They play it every night.

They brought you in late afternoon. You and your parents were down in the reception area below – I saw you while I was unpacking my car. I stay in the staff quarters next to the Boys’ hostel. I was on weekend duty.

You must be lonely tonight, especially as it is the first time you have been left behind in a rehabilitation center among people you don’t know. What would be going through your mind, I wonder. Fear? Resentment? Anger? Hope maybe?

Ah, the song they sing or chant just carries on. The procession to the unnamed place is long and tedious …………….. we pour out our praise.

Your parents left late afternoon. After sunset, I saw the tail lights from my room in the semi-dark going down connecting up with the bypass — a road of dust and gravel — leading to the highway. It must have been a lonely journey for them with impressions of a place situated between the mountains in a valley while at the same time connecting up with some image reminding them of a prison encampment with all the security measures and restrictions. An incongruous image.

They signed you in here for the minimum compulsory period of six months. Will this place be beneficial to you? Not tonight I think. Not even tomorrow. Perhaps in a month’s time? I wonder. I imagine you among the other boys in the hall tonight, perhaps frightened and filled with apprehension. Not yet knowing the regime, unsure and doubtful. I hope you are mindful of any expectations, they might just not be realized.

They came to the quarters where I stay earlier to fetch a bed for you to fit in with all the others. Similar to squeezing another sardine into the tin. The provisions supplied here in the material sense are very basic. Your daily routine — except for attending class, parallel to home-schooling — might swing from being bored to being strange. You will work in the kitchen. You will work in the garden. You will attend group session at night as well as personal counseling sessions. You will attend Christian orientation where you will learn, perhaps against your will, to ……………pour out your praise; for what, to whom, you may ask. For how long may also become one of the more pressing questions. Until you receive, may be the answer. Hopefully within the next six months.

2. The First Session

“That submission to passion is human bondage, but the exercise of reason is human liberty.”
Somerset Maugham

Pot, weed, CAT, meth, coke? They are numerous; the list just goes on. What have you lost in this endeavor? Your job, your car, medical cover, pension, wife, kids? The list is endless. Can you identify your biggest loss, or are you confused? It is said that the more intense you go up into the emotion (created by the substance) the more you lose the self. You mentioned your preferred substance is cocaine. Most addictive drugs work by altering levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. The neuronal networking system breaks down as the high kicks in, generating an overdose of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, all this leading to a feeling of absolute euphoria. The constant hunger for dopamine is what is creating, according to research, most of the neurotic and self-destructive behavior you exhibited during the past years, according to your history. Your drive to the pleasure dome is slowly busy killing you. How about recalling an image of the Ruins of Pompeii?

Currently you find yourself in a restricted area with an assortment of red flags and notice boards: no entry, queue for service, no cross gender association, only prescribed Christian literature permitted, silence after 21h00 – and so it goes. Hard work, poor pleasures. You get what you deserve in life; so it is said. George Orwell’s “Big Brother Is Watching” applies. Tread with care. Overstepping a line here, you get "consequences" which may take you down from a level of just functioning to a level of barely functioning.

You are a bit under age to have hit the compulsory conscription era back then but perhaps this is not that far removed; so view this time here as service to your country.

3. Baggage

“Just because you have baggage doesn’t mean you have to lug it around.”
Richie Norton

You came in with only a few pieces of luggage. The list of requirements sent to your wife is not lengthy; the available space in the dormitory is very limited. You seem a reflective kind of individual so perhaps I should tell you a story or recall certain aspects from this story that might be relevant in your case.

Paul Theroux is a travel writer and in his book Ghost Train to the Eastern Star he describes his chance meeting with a gentleman by name Tapa Snim on his train journey to Mandalay in Myanmar (Burma). Tapa boarded the train with a plastic bag in hand as his only luggage. The kind of plastic shopping bag issued at grocery stores like P&P or Checkers. On further enquiry Theroux learned that all Tapa’s earthly possessions are contained in that single shopping bag: one clean set of clothes, pain killers, a small pair of scissors, a razor, a bowl, flashlight, soap in a container, and some other essential small items. Tapa has been traveling on trains for the past 10 years all over Asia, seeking enlightenment which he is sure he would find somewhere on a journey to some place. Is this a courageous act or an exercise in futility, you may ask.

But then we also travel, maybe not by train through strange and foreign countries, but in our minds. Our travel explorations are often laden with heavy accompanying baggage accumulated through the years. Some of our baggage is of a material nature keeping us in its hold while others have an emotional origin: suffering, desires, fear, and anger. We might find that the further we travel into life, the more we tend to pick up additional bits and pieces, unknowingly at times. Also unwillingly.

When Tapa Snim was asked how one reaches the point of enlightenment he answered: “you need to empty your mind – the mind must be vacant.” We can maybe translate that concept to the externalization of our suffering, desires, fear and anger. Perhaps these emotions contribute to much of our heavy baggage we carry around day by day. Most of us have been on this journey for many years, searching for the light, the acceptance, forgiveness, and peace of mind that seem to be so elusive in this world. Have you come to this place hoping to find your enlightenment? Are you looking for a similar emotion you have been experiencing in those rarefied moments when the high took you flying?

You have, I read in your file, been on a similar train journey before, but never stepped down; perhaps there will still be more to come or will this be the last station? Tapa Snim was after 10 years still unable to find that place of peace and a vacant mind but he has not given up. This meeting between him and Theroux took place in 2005, he may still be boarding trains in Asia in 2018.  

Anne Théron is a pseudonym.

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Anne Théron is a pseudonym.