In memorium

Bruce died within the past couple of days I don’t yet know the date nor the circumstances, but I can guess.  Bruce was a patient at Beech Hill Hospital around 1982.  He was a young attractive guy, intelligent, with a history of some college and a lot of sports and outdoor experience.  At that time I was developing an adolescent treatment program that involved working with the Hurricane Island Outward Bound Program in Rockland, Maine.  I wanted to combine adolescent alcohol and drug treatment within the context of a thirty day, wilderness based, Outward Bound program.  No one was doing that at the time and Bruce seemed like an ideal person to join the project.

I really liked Bruce, had a lot of confidence in him, and thought with some sobriety he had a real professional future and could help himself and a lot of other people.  I was right.  Bruce got sober, we gave him an internship in the clinical department, a place to live on campus, and he became an outstanding therapist among the adolescents.  We went to meetings together, lifted weights, ran and generally hung out together.  A chance came for him to go to Antioch NE and get his Master’s in a program for alcohol and other drug treatment professionals and he did that and did well.  I helped him write his first journal article and I let him be first author.  We brought him into the adult program and because of his intelligence and interest in statistics created a position in evaluation and outcome.  Some others saw him as a bit arrogant, somewhat thoughtless of others, but he was a pretty talented person.  As long as he stuck close to the A.A. program he seemed to be able to maximize his potential and tamp down most of his dysfunctional behaviors.  In that way the A.A. program did for Bruce what it has done for so many people.  Often it seems that A.A. while promoting positive change also restrains our less desirable characteristics.  Eventually I met his family, there was a Hx of mood disorder there, his brother came to treatment, as well as, his father and they both got sober.

There was an opportunity to get Bruce into a doctoral program at Harvard School of Education and we sent him off.  He based his dissertation on research he did in Korea, he liked Korea and developed some language facility.   We remained friends and we met in Boston when the chance presented itself.  He did well and found his way to the Harvard School of Public Health.  We collaborated a little around some impaired driving research, we had some data his boss at HSPH wanted and so encouraged him, and he began to encounter the kind of politics a that characterizes such schools.  He slid over into another department and did some pretty interesting writing on social inequality and health and distinguished himself by writing a number of articles and then coauthored a book on this politically important topic.  He began to speak nationally and I don’t know whether he got away from A.A. or whether a bi-polar disorder emerged that got him drinking.  I believe the former came first and then the latter emerged.

Things pretty much got out of control.  He ended up missing important scheduled speaking events.  He was drunk in distant cities and ended up in psychiatry units drunk and manic.  He made a couple of suicide attempts and we talked about how depressed he had felt.  HSPH put up with it for quite a while and then he didn’t have a job and played a lot of chess in the courtyard in front of the Holyoke Center across Mass Avenue from the Yard.  He drove a taxi for a while.  He felt strongly that his professional friends abandoned him.  I’d meet him there from time to time.  He had any number of messed up relationships with women.  Sometimes he seemed to get back to recovery and/or get the bipolar under control.  I remember he called me during the first year of my son David’s recovery from brain surgery and he was surprised and concerned.

I’m pretty sure, even without data, that it was suicide.  I’ll revise this if that’s not the case.  I’ve got to go to a meeting.  I won’t forget him.
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