by Matthew Desmond

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Chapter 23

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The Serenity Club

Scott is newly sober and attends Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings at the Serenity Club. After his three-day bender, he went to his friend Pito for help. Pito, who is two years sober, knew how to help Scott detox. He introduces Scott to his brother, David Aldea, who is fourteen years sober, and David’s wife, Anna, who used to do acid and cocaine. David and Anna call their house the “Aldea Recovery House” because it is open to everyone all of the time. Anna keeps large bowls of rice and beans in the fridge and never locks the door.

Scott’s new routine involves a “binge” of AA meetings—ninety meetings in ninety days—and spending time with either Pito, David, or Anna so that he is never alone. Soon, he is evicted because his roommate D.P.’s new pit bull broke into their downstairs neighbors’ apartment. The Aldeas offer to let him move in for $200 every month, plus food stamps. Scott sleeps on their couch, picks up their children from school, and helps David with his work as a freelance mason and occasional metal scrapper. David does not always pay Scott, but Scott does not complain because of all of the things that the Aldeas have done for him.

Between 10:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m., Scott cleans the Serenity Club. He initially enjoys the solitary work because he has time to think. He considers what it will take for him to regain his nursing license: fifty-six urine screenings per year, which would cost thousands of dollars, biweekly AA meetings, and five years of sobriety. He wonders if he would have put more effort into sobriety early on if getting his nursing license reinstated did not seem so impossible.

The novelty of sobriety wears off. Scott is bored and hates cleaning the Serenity Club. He grows frustrated with his AA meetings, both because he is embarrassed about being around “washed-up drunks and cokeheads” and because of AA’s condemnation of using methadone and Suboxone to treat recovering opioid addicts.

Scott goes to the Milwaukee County Behavioral Services Division Access Clinic, hoping to get antidepressants and Suboxone. His psychiatrist prescribes two antidepressants, but only mentions other treatment programs when Scott asks for advice about coping with cravings.

The Aldeas’ daughter finds a syringe in Scott’s swimming trunks, and soon Scott is kicked out of the house. He says nothing even though he knows that the syringe belongs to Oscar. However, Oscar is a new father and Scott believes that it is fair to allow him to continue using so he can be there for his family.

Before being thrown out of the Aldeas’ home, Scott had learned that his AA meetings and urine tests do not count toward getting his nursing license reinstated. Days later, he ran into Heroin Susie and Billy at a gas station and accepted Susie’s offer of heroin. Perhaps his relapse would have been an isolated incident; however, Oscar moved in “with a full-blown habit” and soon Scott began to get high with him. After several months, Scott dropped his counseling and AA meetings.

Scott spends the night in Heroin Susie’s and Billy’s trailer. The next day, his mother agrees to give him $150 so that he can start methadone treatment. Before receiving his first dosage at the Tenth Street Methadone Clinic, a teenage girl advises Scott to not “get on this stuff” because she has been on 100 milligrams of methadone “for who knows how long.” Nevertheless, he swallows the red liquid and wonders how he can afford to continue treatment, which costs $370 per month. He checks into a homeless shelter called the Guest House.

Over time, Scott becomes the resident manager of the shelter. After one year, the county agrees to cover all but $35 of Scott’s monthly clinic bill. Furthermore, through a program offered by the Guest House, he moves into permanent housing. He feels “affirmed” and “deserving of something better.” He even displays his five year plan on the refrigerator: “Back to nursing, make a lot more money, live as cheaply as possible, start a savings account.”

Scott begins to save for the lab tests required for him to regain his nursing license. He had felt “stuck” in Tobin’s park, to the point of wanting to take his own life by doing “a monster hit of heroin.” Having stable and comfortable housing has given him the ability to improve his life and, gradually, to lift himself from poverty.

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Chapter 22


Chapter 24