On several occasions in the last eighteen months, Robert had attempted a detox, desperate to get control back of his drinking and stay in employment. In the time I knew him, he moved in and out of homelessness, sleeping rough in a tent but also renting rooms during sporadic periods of sobriety and work. He had no difficulty obtaining work, and less difficulty abandoning it when the alcohol level rose and a fresh binge started. He was confident in many areas of his life and aloof from professional help despite using the day centre for post and meals from time to time. It is understandable that a man such as Robert would convince himself he could do it by himself, after all, he was able to weave his way through many situations by his wit and skills. In the early onset of heavy drinking, he probably didn't miss work or have seizures and by the time he realised it was out of control, it had probably been out of control for a some time.
As I started to think back to people I have known who are still in recovery and some who didn't make it, another 'hopeless case' came to my mind. David was the same age as Robert when he was first referred to me, and he had just come out of a year long rehab. My role was to support him in his resettlement, and our fortnightly meetings were fraught because he was so anxious and paranoid. Not long after I started working with him, he also renewed acquaintance with an old girlfriend who was still in active addiction. I knew a relapse was imminent as he was breaking one of the first rules of recovery by reconnecting with alcoholic associates.
Over the next year, having no conscious expectation that David would make it through to sobriety again, I did my job and kept in contact, salvaging what I could of the working alliance with him as he started to break down physically and mentally. His slight build became an emaciated frame, and by the time his girlfriend died from alcohol causes, a year later, he was himself close to death. But he was asking for help, begging for a referral and I did on two occasions advocate decisively for his admission to a certain rehab in London for I even managed to get him re-admitted after he had been sent out for running a card school. I often wondered where it would all end.
David was my client ten years ago and last year he messaged me on Facebook. Recognising the name I could hardly believe what I was seeing when I clicked onto his page: there before me was a robust, smiling, bodybuilder with photos of family and friends. Could this be the same David, arrested in shops and precincts for his psychotic outburst in withdrawal? His face was no longer the wizened old man but a full beaming mug, showing off his biceps and with no trace of the David I knew, except for something familiar about the eyes. It was only when he sent me a photo of the contact card I gave him in 2008, with my name, agency logo and number and my handwriting. He had kept it all those years as some kind of good luck charm he told me, because I had always been there when he needed me.
Now I am not sharing these ruminations to self aggrandize; in fact as I will explain, I have a far more fruitful purpose in mind. You see, I never knew whether what I was doing on behalf of David, was going to contribute to a successful outcome or result in a lot of time spent with only tragedy waiting at the end of it. But there are I think some clues (I dare not call them laws) to why on this occasion, David's Kairos moment became a door to recovery. My consistency in turning up, speaking up and putting up was definitely essential but in my view, a fraction of the reason he recovered: an essential fraction. David reached out for help time and time again, and eventually he began to listen, not just seek relief. His willingness to get out of alcoholism was accompanied by an honest search for answers, and for understanding of himself.
David reached out of himself to another person, and this was the 90% that no one could do but him. Yet throughout all the time I worked with him, begged hospital sisters from discharging him too soon, and pleaded with religious sisters to let him back into their establishment, I simply practiced the 10 % art of giving the right help at the right time to someone who was not waving, but drowning. My role was the easy one, David's task was removing a mountain, one spadeful at a time.
Bringing my thoughts full circle back to Robert, I wonder if we could have done more, challenged him more to open up, to engage his mind with the urgency of his problem. Addiction theorists call this moving him from precontemplation to contemplation. Yet Robert went through detox several times which suggests he did move forward at times, but fell back. In the end I take the view that we must do our ten per cent, and always acknowledge that we cannot forecast who is going to make it and who is not. That's why an open mind and a dynamic willingness toward those who ask for help, is key to keywork. And scepticism towards tidy formulas and short term support for people who may need a lot of time to move from not listening to listening, and from not asking for help to asking for help. Recovery is the embrace of sanity through an honest and humble commitment to reality and it requires true courage to set out on that road.