Transcript of 16th Session between Charles Balis, M.D. and Ms. Sharon Lough, Friday, May 8, 1998 at 10:00 am.

Dr. Balis: Hello, Sharon.
Ms. Lough: Hi. I almost didn't come today. I was afraid you'd strong-arm me into going back to another nut house.
Dr. Balis: I assume you're referring to California Pacific's substance abuse treatment center.
Ms. Lough: Yes.
Dr. Balis: As long as you're able to stay off drugs, there's no reason for you to go back. I'd like you to continue working on your recovery. Were you able to attend the substance abuse group that the hospital referred you to?
Ms. Lough: I went to the Rational Recovery group earlier this week. Their approach is completely different from, say, Narcotics Anonymous. A therapist leads the group discussion, instead of a reformed drunk or druggie. I didn't have to hold hands or say that asinine serenity prayer, either. I always hated that; it was so trite.
Dr. Balis: I understand that some people involved in Rational Recovery left traditional twelve-step programs because of philosophical differences with the "higher power" concept. Do you consider yourself an atheist or agnostic?
Ms. Lough: I consider myself extremely intolerant of people who follow pop-psychology and that mushy-headed new-age jargon they all speak. I have to admit that I like Rational Recovery's straightforward, no-nonsense approach. The people there seemed real, not like the insufferably sanctimonious brainwashed zombies you see at AA meetings, who speak almost entirely in twelve-step clichés like that Stuart Smalley character from Saturday Night Live.
Dr. Balis: Good. I'd like you to attend these sessions every week.
Ms. Lough: What? I have to go back there again?
Dr. Balis: Recovery from substance abuse is a continual process, and many former addicts find it helpful to have support, particularly in the beginning.
Ms. Lough: What's the difference between a drunk and an alcoholic?
Dr. Balis: What?
Ms. Lough: A drunk doesn't have to go to those stupid meetings. That's an old joke. I couldn't resist.
Dr. Balis: I'd like you to return to the Rational Recovery group at least one more time.
Ms. Lough: Okay, okay, I'll go. This is an effective form of aversion therapy, punishing drug use with recovery group meetings.
Dr. Balis: It's not so bad, Sharon, admit it. And consider the alternative.
Ms. Lough: I hate it when you're right.
Dr. Balis: How are things at home?
Ms. Lough: Okay, I guess.
Dr. Balis: How is your relationship with Rob?
Ms. Lough: Relationship? I never really thought of it that way. I guess we do have a relationship, of sorts.
Dr. Balis: How have you two been getting along?
Ms. Lough: "You two?" How romantic. You make it sound like we're a couple. Boyfriend-girlfriend, significant other, whatever you want to call it.
Dr. Balis: How do you characterize your relationship with Rob?
Ms. Lough: He's the guy I fuck because I can't come up with the rent. I don't dislike him, though. We get along pretty well. I think we get along so well because we don't see each other much. Though sometimes, I think I'm making a big mistake.
Dr. Balis: How so?
Ms. Lough: I've done something so fundamentally wrong, something universally regarded as immoral.
Dr. Balis: Do you mean having an affair with a married man?
Ms. Lough: Yes. Though I don't think of him as married really. He's been separated for a long time.
Dr. Balis: Have you had any interaction with his wife?
Ms. Lough: No, thank God. Rob mentioned wanting to file divorce papers, but I don't think he means it. I don't think he'll ever leave Charlotte, at least not in the legal sense.
Dr. Balis: Hmm. Do you enjoy spending time with Rob?
Ms. Lough: I have mixed feelings about him. I've always thought that having an affair like this--with someone who is married--would be torrid and passionate. But there's no passion at all, just perfunctory sex and endless household chores. He's getting a really good deal, I think. I wonder how much it would cost him to hire a maid he could fuck? That's what all men want, you know.
Dr. Balis: Hmm.
Ms. Lough: And sometimes...well, this is a terrible thing to say.
Dr. Balis: You may always speak freely here.
Ms. Lough: I have a hard time not making value judgments based on appearance. And that's not very fair, because of what I look like. I'm not what anyone would call a great beauty.
Dr. Balis: You don't find Rob physically attractive?
Ms. Lough: Rob really likes hippopotamuses. What is the plural of hippopotamus? It can't be hippopotami, can it?
Dr. Balis: I'm not sure.
Ms. Lough: He has a hippopotamus calendar on the wall in his bedroom. They are really repulsive, grotesque animals. Did you know that the social status of a hippo is determined by how far he can spray his dung? They spray their feces by wiggling their tails around, and the one who can spray the most and the farthest is held in high esteem by the other hippos.
Dr. Balis: I think you've been watching too much Discovery Channel. But we're getting off the subject.
Ms. Lough: I thought the subject was hippos.
Dr. Balis: Very funny. We were discussing your feelings about Rob.
Ms. Lough: Hippos are much more interesting.
Dr. Balis: Are you dissatisfied with Rob as a partner because he likes hippos?
Ms. Lough: That seems like a good reason, doesn't it? I sense Rob's sense of kinship with large, dirty, smelly, mud-wallowing mammals is related to their common physical traits.
Dr. Balis: Such as?
Ms. Lough: Immense girth and poor hygiene.
Dr. Balis: Are you sure you're not exaggerating a bit?
Ms. Lough: He's at a physical extreme. If it weren't so extreme, I wouldn't be bothered by it. But his stomach is so distended that his bellybutton is stretched out like a pregnant woman's. It's hard to have sex because of it. When he gets on top, I can't breathe.
Dr. Balis: You might try different positions.
Ms. Lough: That's too disgusting to even consider.
Dr. Balis: Hmm.
Ms. Lough: And anyway, all these new doors are opened when you have sex with someone. And it's really weird having sex when you're not stoned.
Dr. Balis: Have you spoken to Rob about this?
Ms. Lough: No, I don't want to hurt his feelings.
Dr. Balis: There are ways you can broach the subject and still be tactful.
Ms. Lough: Yeah, right. "Hey, fat ass, you stink. And you're a lousy lay, too."
Dr. Balis: I'm sure if you work on it, you can find something less caustic than that.
Ms. Lough: I can't complain. He's giving me a place to stay.
Dr. Balis: Hmm.
Ms. Lough: I met this very attractive man at the substance abuse group. We were walking into the building at the same time, and he asked me where the meeting was being held. It made me very uncomfortable. I stammered and felt my face get hot. I rode with him in the elevator--I couldn't think of an excuse to get away. He made small talk, and I felt so awkward. If I was more self confident, maybe I would have flirted or at least been more forthcoming. But all I could do was give monosyllabic answers like a brain-damaged teenager.
Dr. Balis: I see.
Ms. Lough: Pretty silly, isn't it? I'm thirty years old, and I don't have the social graces to handle even the simplest of human interactions.
Dr. Balis: Were you attracted to him?
Ms. Lough: I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but yes. I haven't really noticed people around me, probably because I've been in a drug-induced daze for the past few months.
Dr. Balis: Most of us have little control over whom we find physically attractive. The feelings of nervousness or uneasiness you described are completely normal. It's also normal for people to be somewhat "lookist" if you will. Few people can avoid being swayed by appearances. Have you given any thought to dating?
Ms. Lough: Well, no. Maybe in theory, but not in practice. The thought of social interaction of any kind is almost enough to make me break out in hives. It's all too intimidating. And I don't think Rob would like it.
Dr. Balis: I see.
Ms. Lough: I feel that I owe Rob a lot for taking me in. But at the same time, I resent him because there's so much about our relationship--or whatever you want to call it--that isn't very satisfying. Did you see the movie, "Wild Man Blues?"
Dr. Balis: The documentary about Woody Allen? No, I haven't seen it yet.
Ms. Lough: There's a scene where Woody Allen refers to Soon-Yi as a "kid who ate out of garbage cans." I found that remark disturbing, especially since he said it in an offhanded way. It seems to me that he'll always see her as a street urchin, a charity case, no matter how old she is or what she accomplishes. He seems to be implying that she is somehow beneath him, a substandard woman or something. He isn't capable of seeing her as an equal or a partner. And I think Rob sees me the same way.
Dr. Balis: What makes you think that?
Ms. Lough: Because of the circumstances that brought us together. If it weren't for his good graces, I'd probably be living in my car or in some squalid residential hotel in the Tenderloin. I'm indebted to Rob, and I can't see anyone else, not that I would want to or could. I'm sure the incredibly good-looking guy I met at the group would never be interested in someone like me. But I keep thinking: if Rob isn't in the picture, maybe it can happen. I'm not really single, but not really attached in any formal, meaningful way. I'm caught in a strange sort of limbo.
Dr. Balis: Hmm.
Ms. Lough: I can't even talk to anyone about it. I would never mention it to women at work. Some of them are married, and I don't want to be labeled a home wrecker.
Dr. Balis: I can understand your desire to want to keep your private life to yourself, but people aren't always judgmental.
Ms. Lough: Yeah, I've heard rumors about some of the people at SII and...I guess my situation wouldn't shock them. But women can be extremely critical of other women.
Dr. Balis: What's it like to be back at work?
Ms. Lough: Boring. Dull. Tedious. I asked Godzilla how she knew about the detox. She said she "heard it from someone in the office," but I don't believe that. She's in management, maybe she has access to confidential personnel files.
Dr. Balis: I wouldn't worry about it.
Ms. Lough: She's asking me all these questions. I think she's up to something.
Dr. Balis: She might just be expressing interest in you out of concern.
Ms. Lough: Yeah, well...
Dr. Balis: We're almost out of time.
Ms. Lough: Wow, I didn't realize I've been rambling on so long.
Dr. Balis: We've covered a lot of ground in this session. How does it feel to be back?
Ms. Lough: I hate that "how does it feel" question. Okay, I guess.
Dr. Balis: All right, Sharon, I'll see you next week.
Ms. Lough: Thanks, Doctor Balis.
Dr. Balis: Goodbye.
Arrow, Straight, Left, Earlier Arrow, Straight, Right, Later

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