Rochester, Minn. – Like a well-behaved prisoner, I have gained the trust and respect of staff at the Zumbro Valley Mental Health Crisis Receiving Unit (CRU), which is a local euphemism for detox. On my fifth stay there recently, after a multi-day artistic bender in Brooklyn, the counselors saw me nervously pacing around and asked me how I was feeling. “Not physically sick, no withdrawals this time,” I said. “But depressed. Sort of hopeless.”
The CRU is ironically located less than a football field walk away from the biggest bar in town – a faux British Pub called Whistle Binkie’s, which boasts an astonishing selection of beers from as far as Russia, Croatia, and Australia. In the summer, the bushes are neatly trimmed and the facility has a quiet, orderly presence at the end of a road that is home to the local food shelf and a couple other non-descript warehouses. Behind the Zumbro Valley complex is a small man-made lake, a glorified pond. A couple ice fishermen had set up their tents and were carrying around foam coolers and a gas-powered auger.
Attached to the CRU is a peaceful one-story building painted beige with wood trim. It has a lengthy name that is another fancy euphemism for battered women’s shelter. In a less affluent community, such as South St. Paul, the hyper political correctness might seem laughable. But here, it is meant to alleviate people’s fear of seeking help.
The counselors invited me into their central office, which consists of a few outward-facing desks that allow them to work while also keeping an eye on the detainees, or “clients,” as they call them [us]. I sat in a swivel chair nervously picking at myself and giving the two young women and one man furtive glances. I went on to tell them about how difficult it is to succeed while homeless, and how much I miss my friends in New York. You have to achieve sobriety first, they told me. All of those other things you want will begin to fall into place. I’ve heard that so many times, and it is exactly what I would tell someone else struggling with addiction. I assuaged a slight twinge of resentment at that idea, quickly reminding myself of where I am in life — $100,000 in debt, no money, no place to stay, no significant other, and well-earned family mistrust. Shit. They’re right.
“Do you journal?” Asked a tall, slender 20-something counselor whose plastic nametag read Perrin. The last name was scratched off. “No,” I said. “People have told me I should, but just never really have.”
“You should,” she said. “It can help.”
I wrung my hands and looked at the open file box next to me, peering at some names and details on a couple patient records that were sticking out of the edge of their folder. I began to think that perhaps they’re right. Maybe I should.
I am, now. And probably no one cares, but it’s for me, not you.
Onward and Upward, as the Professor always says.
p.s. – If they take away my laptop for a bit, I might need a trustworthy friend who will receive my open journals via snail mail, transcribe, proof, and publish them here.