By Matt Shapiro
I watch a good amount of TV, probably more than I should. Still, it's rare for an episode of a show I watch to linger in my mind and heart, but that happened last night and continued into today. My wife and I have been working our way through Enlightened, the recently cancelled HBO show, about...well, it's hard to describe. It tells the story of Amy, a woman recovering from a mental breakdown, who's trying to put her life back together and find meaning in her existence. Occasionally, the show focuses in on a secondary character; this episode focused on Levi, her alcoholic ex-husband. From start to finish, it focuses almost exclusively on his experience at a rehab facility. He starts the episode in a place of frustration, with the rules, with his fellow residents and the staff, with his own failures. This leads him to go out with two other residents on a cocaine and alcohol fueled binge, in which he moves from euphoric to despondent, coming back to the rehab with his tail between his legs and deciding to give his sobriety a real chance.
As I read my synopsis, I see how trite the story sounds. Yet, there was an emotional immediacy to the episode, along with a depth in how it depicted both Levi’s lack of willingness to feel like he belonged in the facility and, at the end, the investment he felt in his own journey. Obviously, part of what stood out to me about this episode was the very direct relationship it has with the work that I do. Many of the details about what happens in a rehab felt pretty right on: the complaining about petty things instead of focusing on deeper issues, the self-loathing disguised by disdain for others. More than that, though, what stood out to me most about the episode was how little in his life changes except for his perspective, yet that's enough to offer him the opportunity for transformation. There was no hugely dramatic event, no life crisis that gets him engaged, just a series of things that happened which attuned him to a desire to become connected rather than isolated. It's unclear if the shift is sustainable but, just for the moment, he leaps from being apathetic to being invested.
I think this is a journey that most people, addict or not, must undertake as they go about their lives, certainly one with which I can identify. The pull to isolate is frequently strong for me, and I need to reach out and connect, instead of draw inward. Otherwise, I quickly find myself in the place where, as one of Levi's partying friends says, "there's so much I hate and so little I love." This, of course, is just a reflection of my own state when I'm isolating, mad at myself for disconnecting and frustrated that I feel I can't break through my self-erected walls. Though there are actions I can take to jar myself from this self-pity, the true solution is much subtler, that shift of perspective to seeing how life can matter and have meaning, even if for the moment, that meaning is just relaxing and watching TV with my wife.
By Matt Shapiro