“Sometimes you want hope to bludgeon you until the blood streaming down your face leaves you convinced that you’re not making any of this shit up.” Despite the sterile AC air of the building, Ashwin always managed to work himself up enough to drip in sweat within minutes of entering my office. You’d think he was preaching to a crowd of unbelievers by the tone of his voice. “I’ve tried too much shit in my life to know that this stuff is really real. How else could I be thirty days sober?” I respond, “You don’t need to convince me. As long as you believe it’s real that’s all that matters.” As an Addictions Counselor, I’ve heard it all. I’m not put off by it. Ironically, as an atheist I’m a fierce believer that religion has its place in helping people find sobriety. I’ve seen it work. But more often than not, I’ve seen it fail. Not because religion doesn’t work, but because they believe that’s the only thing that will work. Ashwin has been seeing me for the past six months. As a recent convert to what he calls, “Fire-baptized Christianity” he is capable of some very insightfully philosophical thoughts that often leave me wondering if it’s true that he only has a grade three education.
For instance, after the death of his brother, he visited me so that he could articulate the sadness he was feeling. “I don’t know why I’m sad. Maybe it’s all the chemicals in my brain that make me feel this way. I hated my brother almost my entire life, but today, knowing that he isn’t here, feels like we’re closer than we’ve ever been. I don’t know what to do with this feeling other than to kill it with booze. Does that make sense? I don’t want to be happy when I know I should be sad.” Often times he would read pamphlets and tell me something startling as if I’ve never heard it before. “Did you know that the same endorphins released when people use cocaine is also released when people eat some foods?”
Today I have the misfortune of telling him that I’m leaving this job in a week and that this is the last time that we’re going to meet. A part of me wishes that he won’t care because I’m one of a long line of “professional helpers” who’ve been a part of his life.
“I’m glad you’re leaving.” he said. “It’s a good thing because you were like a placebo to me. You make me think that our time together is really helping me. But there’s no Jesus in it. So it’s not real. I like you as a person, but you don’t give me real faith like Jesus does.” His words stung, but maybe he was right. He continued, “I need faith that can move mountains! Not faith that makes me feel needy. Maybe, you leaving is a sign from God that I should stop all of the meetings, therapy and stuff. I’ve become too dependent on man for my sobriety and I need to turn all of my life to God.” At this point he stood unexpectedly, extended his hand and said, “God bless you and thank-you for your help.” With that he left my office. It was then when I learned that what some people call a placebo, others call hope.
*This post is part of the “30-minutes of fictional writing every day for 7 days” series.