In Treatment 2 -- Walter, week 5

Paul is at a hospital to visit Walter. He runs into Natalie who tells him Walter is not there for food poisoning as Walter's wife had said.

Walter is in bed, very still, very much as Paul's father was when he went to see him. Paul touches Walter's hand to wake him. Walter wonders why he is there. Paul said he was concerned that Walter missed his session. He suggests they talk. Walter says they are treating him well and he will be glad to get home. Paul tries to help Walter see that food poisoning is not the issue as Natalie and Connie ate the same food he ate. They found him only because Natalie's flight was cancelled and they returned home. Paul asks him what really happened. Walter says he caught a chill, went to bed and then woke up in the hospital. Natalie has been in New York for around a week, since Connie told her that Walter had been fired and summoned her home; his sons also flew home from California. Walter thinks Natalie only came because his wife made her feel guilty. She had wanted to talk about what happened when he visited her and she made him get out of bed and do things with her. 

Paul continues to press Walter on what happened. What did he take for the chills, Paul asks and lets him know he knows they pumped his stomach and it wasn't aspirin. Walter tells Paul he needn't be concerned, that his family won't sue like Alex's did. Walter reveals he had run a background check on Paul which he didn't look at until the previous week when Paul had cancelled. He said he was relieved when the cancellation happened because all he did was go through the motions anyway. Walter says he read the background and that like him, Paul has blood on his hands. Walter refuses to acknowledge he made a suicide attempt. Paul presses. He suggests Walter had held on until Natalie was gone. Walter bursts out that he made himself act like he was better so  his wife and daughter didn't hover and would leave him alone. He knew he would have enough time while they were at the airport. He had hoarded meds and hoped they would come home and find he had died in his sleep. He just wanted it all to be over and he couldn't even do that, he says. News of the real nature of his problem has been kept quiet. Walter says he didn't leave a note and tried to make it look like he just fell asleep. He sees himself as a disgraced basket case and can't imagine his wife can take it. He believes he deserves what has happened and that the people who care about him would be better without him.  Paul tells him that Natalie is in a terrible place right now because if he had died, she would never have forgiven herself, just as Walter has blamed himself for his brother's death and everything that has happened. Paul tells him he attempted to impose the death penalty on himself. 

Walter comes back at him by asking if this is what Paul does with his guilt. Paul says no, he always wonders what else he might have done but that all he can do is try to understand what happened and to learn from it. Walter dismisses that as possible for him because he is too old. Then he thinks that Paul wants to leave. Paul says Natalie is outside the door because she is on watch and so she looks in on him every 15 minutes. Walter says Paul should tell her he is fine. Paul says he needs to stay there longer. Paul says he won't tell them he is better, that he needs to be in the hospital longer. Walter gets angry and says he will call his lawyer. Paul says if he wants to sue him, get in line. Paul says he should stay there until he is better. Paul says he doesn't want anything to happen to him. Walter tells him to get out.

In the hall, Paul sits down next to Natalie. Paul tells her he plans to tell Walter's doctor that he is still at risk to himself. He says he is sorry that so much has fallen on her. She reveals to Paul that Connie is not good under stress, that she has been in rehab many times for alcohol and other substance abuse. 

This session is the most interesting of the ones with Walter that we have seen so far. We knew, and Paul knew when Walter left last week that he was at risk. He has absorbed a blow that is the one too many for him. Having carried the burden of responsibility for his brother's death, his parents' grief, his boss's son, this final blow -- the death of children from contaminated food -- is more than he can bear. But notice how he refuses to consider at any point along the way that he is not the person solely responsible. There is an inflation here that makes him far more powerful and important than he could possibly be. This kind of inflation also contains its opposite which shows up in the feelings of worthlessness that Walter now feels -- that he is such a failure that he couldn't even succeed in killing himself. Walter needs to feel this powerful in order to escape his powerlessness, because it allows him to hold on to the belief that if he can do everything just right, nothing bad will happen, This is a good example of Guntrip's observation that most people would rather be bad than weak.

So we must wonder what it means that Walter has not succeeded in keeping his wife sober -- as Natalie tells Paul her mother has been in rehab multiple times. And it remains for Paul and Walter to consider why Walter needs to hide his wife's problems and what they mean for him.

Paul handles Walter's attempts to jab at him -- when he tells him about the background check and when he threatens to sue him and when he says Paul has blood on his hands too -- by not getting rattled or defensive which deflects the attempted blows and keeps the session going. He directs his efforts at seeing if Walter will own that he attempted suicide and acknowledge his severe depression, but with little effect. Walter, we can guess, wants to get out of the hospital so that he can try again as soon as he can be alone long enough. 

© Cheryl Fuller, 2018. All  rights reserved.