Walk Down Misery Street

The patients called me “dude.” Indeed, for them I was a Russian dude who didn’t understand a damn thing about drug addiction, prison, or life on the streets. “Bookworm, try to teach us something.” Still, recognizing my sympathy toward their needs, patients tried to go easier on me.

As the defender of miserable folks, I went to our director Francesca, who had returned from another boutique with a pile of fashionable clothes. I told her that the conditions in the sober house were very bad. Something needed to be done.

Franchi blinked her charming eyes. She had clearly just come from a store filled with silks, leathers, furs, music, fitting rooms, and mirrors. Now she had to hear about broken air conditioners, cockroaches, mice . . . Pee-ew.

She interrupted me impatiently, replying that she knew all about it and measures have already been taken. She reminded me I am not a house superintendent but a substance abuse counselor, and I should concern myself with psychotherapy. She casually noted that maintenance and repair services today are expensive, and all our staff in the clinic want to get paid. Our conversation ended.

After I left Francesca, I poured out my frustration to Liza. But she didn’t always take my side:

“Yes, you’re right. I know, Franchi is stingy about money. But listen, buddy, don’t you think patients might be leading you on? They bullshit about other things so they don’t have to talk about the drug use. Addicts don’t want to talk about drugs. It’s painful. They will tell you about anything else in the world, including bed bugs and mice. They’ll turn their hearts inside out. But they avoid talking about drugs. It’s shameful, it’s scary, and it’s uncomfortable to open up. So they complain about their living conditions. Capisce?”

I had no doubt that I’d made a mistake choosing this profession. I didn’t know who to blame for what: myself, Francesca, the patients? More and more often, confusion and despair seized me. I didn’t understand these people at all. I didn’t see how anything I was doing was helping.

I was applying my real-life experience of my father drinking, but somehow that didn’t help me.