Walk Down Misery Street

At other times and under different circumstances, I most likely would not have related to these prayers seriously, feeling instead like a spectator at a play. But my life had changed. As a counselor, every day I encountered something new and frightening. Unanswered questions started to torment me increasingly. My faith in justice was beginning to waver. I didn’t know who was to blame for this nightmare, this ugliness and distortion of any truth. God or man?

“Our Father who art in heaven . . .” Liza began with a voice that spoke from deep within her chest, not loudly but with each word carefully intoned.

We prayed together. Blessed warmth emanated from Liza’s hands and from her forehead. I swear I felt this heat! I remember it even now.

We prayed for ourselves, for all our relatives, and for all the patients. We clasped each other’s hands tightly:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. . .  Thank you, Lord, for everything . . .”




In addition to conducting psychotherapy sessions, each substance abuse counselor in the clinic does intakes for new patients. Here is how that works.

I invite a new patient who sits in the waiting room into my office. He typically comes in carrying some old bags. This signals that he has just been released from prison, is on parole, has been sent for mandated treatment, and has no place to live. He has no money and no job, and his family and friends have refused him. All he has is a list of his convictions and an old sack with his belongings—all of his earthly possessions. Downstairs, outside the clinic building, a van is already waiting to take the new guy to a sober house.