The Rule of Threes

The Rule of Threes

He’s a smart guy – college educated and graduated at the top of his class. He’s experienced success and failure and sees them both as ongoing inevitabilities. He knows his priorities are skewed but he’s trying to believe that all he needs to do is get back to the top of his game. He thinks the game is going back to work, making money, getting stuff, meeting a woman who buys his bullshit. In truth the rules of his game don’t allow him to win. His life is a rollercoaster with no brakes.

He’s got a plan and he doesn’t want to hear that it’s not going to work. I appeal to his logical side and he agrees. I point out his history and he can’t argue. I remind him that he’s incredibly articulate and has a sharp mind but that he hasn’t refuted a single point I’ve made. I explain the “rule of threes”, that there are only three places an alcoholic or addict can wind up if they continue to use – jail, institution, or death.

He’s passively suicidal and tells me so. I’m instantly annoyed. I don’t mind if someone really is considering taking their life. What I hate is ambivalence. If you don’t care what you eat for lunch I understand. If you don’t care whether you live or die then it’s time to get off the fence and make some choices because you’re not really living – you’re surviving and surviving sucks.

I point out that jail is a lot more likely than overdose at this point. He tells me he can’t go back there. We both know he will.

It’s like playing Texas Hold ‘Em and going “all in” after the “flop.” You flip your cards over and your opponent shows theirs. You see what they need to come and you pray it doesn’t. Then it does. It’s a kick in the gut. You had it then you didn’t. You were sure that fate would take care of you but she seldom does. Superstition and magical thinking take the place of God when we gamble. The risk is the reward but we’re all just trying to break even while knowing we’re going to lose.

I ask him to read the “thinking Person’s Guide to Recovery.” He laughs and asks, why?” “Because it’s a story about a guy very much like yourself. He’s smart and at the top of his field but he can’t stop. He meets a guy who isn’t smart and that guy teaches him how to deal with the most important relationship in the world – the one he has with himself.”

I ask about his belief system. He tells me there is no God. I ask him what he does believe in. He tells me he believes in treating people well. I point out that he’s a hypocrite – that he treats himself poorly. He laughs at this and agrees. He tells me that when you’re as fucked as he is then you might as well “chase the dragon.” Deep down he’s hoping to die. He asks me if I’m going to try to convince him that life is worth living. I remind him that he hasn’t truly lived a day in his life.

I asked him if he’s an organ donor. He loses his composure and demands to know why I ask. “Because you told me you believe in treating people well.” He finds this disconcerting. He’s trapped by his own logic yet again. He changes the subject and wants to know why someone as smart as me can believe in a Higher Power. I laugh and tell him I’ve got a front row seat to miracles. He’s intrigued.

I tell him about the people I’ve met and how fucked they felt their lives were. I tell him about the changes I’ve seen take place in the halls of AA and by making new friends and kin. I explain that he can have a miracle too and that all he needs to do is to keep showing up at meetings until it happens. All he has to do is listen, talk, and not push away the people who try to help him.
He’s ready to crawl out of his skin. He asks why do I waste my time talking to him? I tell him that he’s one more person that my Higher Power put in my path. He tells me he doesn’t believe this. I remind him that he asked. He wants another reason so I tell him, “I hate your disease.” He suddenly looks ashamed. I explain that I’m going to be pissed if he decides to end his life but that I’ll be even madder if his disease takes it first. He won’t look at me.

“What do you want me to do?” I explain that I want him to try living before dying. He asks me how to do this. I tell him to go find someone who really needs help and to help them. I tell him to go to two meetings a day until he meets himself. I leave him with a story about my most recent hero.

She’s a single mom who has more problems than she can shake a stick at. I’ve known a lot of good women like her. I marvel at their strength. Good single mothers don’t have time to feel sorry for themselves. They just do more work than any three average people do in a day. I explain that this woman realized that deep down she did want to die. She would never see this as an option because she has two adorable reasons for living and her commitment to them is unshakeable. Her choice in managing these feelings is to find women like herself and do them some small service with great love.

We give away the things we want to receive. We see hope for others even when we can’t see it for ourselves. Sooner or later it always comes down to the same choices. Give up, get by, or choose to have a life. The best people I know choose to give to others and are rewarded for it. They accept that others believe in them and thus they have a seed of doubt that maybe they too can have more. Sooner or later we collect enough evidence that we can have a life worth living and from there on out they are “all in.”

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.