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02 September 2011 @ 07:13 pm
A Conversation With Sarah Katherine Lewis continued  
Page 5




Sexism and Classism in Rehab

TSM It’s become an orthodoxy that you can’t question and that bothers me about it because I don’t think that anything in mental health should be an orthodoxy because we’re constantly learning more about the human brain and so if we get hardened in any kind of orthodox thinking then that just discourages innovation that might actually help people so I have a problem with that. Well, besides all of those issues, there was a lot of sexism going on in your program and I suppose that’s not uncommon to programs everywhere, but besides the guys trooping through your room to use your bathroom, I don’t know if you had gold-plated fixtures or, what was special about your bathroom?

SKL I honest to god believe it was just the fact that it was women’s private space. that they could not stand the idea that there was a small area in the house where they were not allowed to go or wanted.

TSM Yeah, I mean you guys weren’t trooping into their bathrooms.

SKL No, no, no no no…I mean, I mean you know it’s hard because I mean I am a feminist for sure, and I’ve been accused of taking things that are not feminist issues and putting sort of a feminist spin on them but there’s so many things that I have no other explanation for, you know?

TSM No, I couldn’t get it unless, you know, they only had a bathtub and you had a shower, unless there was some logical reason why your bathroom was actually better and more desirable, and I couldn’t understand why it was even being allowed under house rules…like why in the world?

SKL I couldn’t either.

TSM I was just dumbfounded, I would think that you would want to discourage the men from going into the women’s rooms. Period.

SKL Right. Yeah, you would think .. you would really, you would think that….except that, the house was owned by a young man who, umm, you know…I, I actually had meetings with him and said this has got to stop …this is, this is horrible, like women need to have private space. If the bathroom is not the private space, give us a shack in the back yard and have it be women only private space. Or give us a towel, and when we’re sitting on the towel, you know, I was like “It’s not, it’s not the idea of like whether the space is desirable or not, it’s that the space needs to exist, and it needs to be protected.” And we went around and around and he never, ever was able to understand that.

TSM Wow, that’s amazing.

SKL it occurred to me that maybe it was a generational thing because what I saw was younger men had no ability to understand why women might need space of their own, it was nuts to them. They had no capacity to even understand why someone might even ask for that. But my older male friends, to a man, got it. Of course, of course you need your own space.

TSM I know and maybe that’s just, you know, young men are clueless about everything and that’s just one of those things or maybe the young men, like a lot of young women, think that feminism isn’t needed anymore because we’re all equals and as equals you’re just one of the guys? I would use my buddies bathroom so why shouldn’t I use your bathroom?

SKL Why does it have to be such a big thing, why are they making such a big thing out of it?
TSM [laughing] Oh my God.

SKL That’s something I was accused [of], why are you making such a big thing out of it?

TSM So if you stood at the door of your bedroom and said “No, you can’t come into the bathroom” they would’ve just barged past you and gone in?

SKL you can’t hold down the fort 24 hours a day, eventually you’re going to have to go to sleep or go get some food and they just come in

TSM They would just come in…Wow. It’s just so rude. And then the other thing that was rude was the actual counselor who was saying all these sexist things in your groups.

SKL Yeah, yeah the prick-tease counselor?

[So named because he talked about some women being prick teases in a mixed group.]



TSM Yeah, I mean [the part] about his big-breasted clients/ Oh my god … and you managed to not say anything . I was apoplectic reading it , I don’t know how you managed to just not let him see that it was getting to you but I realize [you were] picking your battles.

SKL He was a real piece of work and it was interesting because I started talking to other women who were in the rehab and none of the women were comfortable with him.

TSM Wow, that says a lot.

SKL I didn’t go to bat over that, umm, and that was weird for me because, you know, it’s really, uhhh, a new thing for me to decide to just, like, roll with something but I felt like I needed to shore up as much strength as I could because I was working on other things and I didn’t want to be distracted by going into battle on this when I needed all my resources to get better.

TSM I understood why, because you weren’t going to change him anyway. Like you could’ve talked till you were blue in the face and this guy would’ve continued to be a sexist asshole.

SKL Yeah, no he’s a total f---ing idiot and just an ignorant, ignorant man. He would do these things about how the brain works but he’d get the areas of the brain all like mixed up and stuff and he’d say like the instincts, you know, the instinctual part of the brain and the autonomic nervous system was like at the forefront of the brain and the more advanced analytical thoughts were at the base. And I was like, you know, physically you’re wrong, you’re giving bad information , but on the other hand, does it matter?

TSM Yeah, so I got why you weren’t challenging him but I just thought it was so unfortunate that there he was spewing this out to the detriment of any woman who goes through that program and you’re going there to get some help and meanwhile this guy is potentially doing damage, especially to women who don’t already have a feminist consciousness and know that it bothers them but they don’t understand exactly why, they can’t put a finger on it or point out exactly what is wrong.

SKL Right, right.

TSM Then the other thing I was noticing in addition to the sexism were the class issues. The people, the high paying clients with the rich parents versus people like you who were there on a scholarship basis and how those dynamics weren’t recognized, weren’t consciously handled by the people running the house, to the detriment of both parties, because the rich people were being pandered to in a way that was not helpful.

SKL That actually, that became way more of an issue sort of when I got to California because I was staying in a sober home. There were distinct strata of how people were being treated. The wealthy people basically were allowed all kinds of freedom that, for instance, I was not allowed. They could skip meetings at will, where if I skipped meetings I would get screamed at and get threatened with being thrown out. I understand that it’s nice to make money from people and you want them to stay and you want them to have a positive experience. I guess what I’m getting at is that it’s a business, I mean, which sounds like ‘yeah, duh of course it’s a business’ but no I mean it’s REALLY, REALLY A BUSINESS.

TSM Yeah

SKL Like, people really, you know, they go into the recovery business not because they’re super into recovery but because it’s a pretty easy way to make a lot of money.

TSM God we should open up a house…[laughing]

SKL I have seriously thought about it because I made all kinds of calls about the house I was staying at because I was like, this is absurd. There’s gotta be some sort of state regulatory thing that oversees the administration of sobriety houses. Otherwise, why isn’t everyone hanging out a shingle as like a sobriety house … and what I found was that there was NO overseeing…like, you can essentially hang out a shingle and be a sobriety house. You don’t have to provide anything, basically, you just have to say it’s a sobriety house.

TSM Wow.

SKL So yes, that’s kind of my master plan I suppose if, you know, the writing thing doesn’t work out maybe I can like open a series of sobriety houses [laughing] cause I mean, the people that were staying there were paying like tens of thousands of dollars a month. It was an absurd amount of money for staying in a place with roommates….for staying in a living situation that was maybe worth five or six hundred dollars a month.

TSM WOW

SKL I’ll send that to you like, if you’re at all curious cause, umm, yeah that’s really the whole like class thing has been really really in the forefront since I got here….

TSM Yeah, no reading…just reading your accounts on Facebook of crazy Botox lady and …
SKL [laughing]

TSM and the lady with the non-stop Fox news ..you know

SKL I know, Oh my god. People were like “Well why don’t you just ask that she has to turn it off like after eight or something?” and I was like, “You don’t understand, like, I’m there on charity, she is a paying, she gets to do whatever she wants” and it’s pretty, pretty right up front …I mean they, they to their credit they don’t try and pretend much of otherwise [laughing]…

TSM Yeah, I was one of those people and I couldn’t believe that they would actually run things that way.

SKL Oh yeah, oh yeah, but, I mean, how much responsibility do they have to be altruistic? Really? You know?

TSM [laughing] I don’t know…in an ideal world a hundred per cent, but my husband’s always telling me “No, people don’t think like you think” and I’m like “Well, I know but.” I’m always the idealist and I’m always expecting the best of people, assuming that they would care about the well-being of everybody under their roof because I would, if I were running the house.

SKL Right.

TSM So it was really hard for me and I think some of your other friends who also have some ethical basis to comprehend that--no really, they only care about the paying customer, they could give a f--- whether you’re in distress there.

SKL Right…right. But what’s interesting is that my sobriety has not suffered so who’s to say whether that’s an effective way of treating people? [laughing]

TSM I think it was a good thing that your sobriety didn’t suffer and that other people may not be that lucky and also I don’t really think it’s even the best thing for the rich person to continue to think that she has all the rights and you have none because I don’t think that’s inherently good for her either.

SKL Right, right

TSM and I think that somebody somewhere in her life ought to call her on it.

SKL Right

TSM …but apparently that will never happen.

SKL [laughing] but you know, I mean one of the things that I kept asking myself through this whole thing is like what part of this is effective? What part of this is working? And I think you can’t know it because there were so many things going on. I mean maybe for someone like me, part of what’s keeping me sober is the whole like ‘F--- you’ aspect. [laughing]

TSM [laughing] I gotta be sober in spite of you people.

SKL I mean that’s genius. That’s brilliant. That’s built into the system, you know, working with people’s, you know, un you know, human tendency to be selfish. Maybe that’s, maybe it’s a brilliant aspect, you know?

TSM [laughing] Yeah, I’m gonna show you people. I’ll get my zillionth day yet.

SKL Yeah, f--- you guys! F--- you guys!

TSM [laughing] Oh my god that’s sad. That’s sad. Well I’m delighted to see you self-publishing.

Next month: The story behind Indecent and why self-publishing may be a good choice for writers as the conversation continues.

*My Boring-Ass Rehab Diary can be purchased directly from SKL for $20.00 U.S. via her paypal account: markedformetal(AT)yahoo(DOT)com (you fill in the @ and .com). Her website is currently being reconstructed. If you prefer another payment option you can contact her at that email address to arrange it.

 
 
 
Christinekisekileia on September 3rd, 2011 02:34 am (UTC)
I have a friend who had a really shitty experience in a CA sober house, too. The other residents ostracized her, and one staff member got romantically entangled with her while the others hated her. Ultimately they kicked her out, not so much for the reason that would have been justified (she was still drinking and probably should have been readmitted to her previous day rehab program--she was in there for meth and didn't admit to the drinking until right before discharge, and they discharged her anyway) as because people didn't like her, and she tried to commit suicide as a result. There clearly wasn't anyone supervising the staff and getting them to behave appropriately.
Tapatitapati on September 3rd, 2011 05:44 pm (UTC)
Yes apparently it is not regulated at all so I can imagine many people are psychologically injured at a vulnerable point in their recovery process. I had no idea until this interview that there were no regulations.

It's the kind of thing I (and anyone in CA) should write to my state representative about.