The Drunken Martyr


She’s driving home from a bar at 2 a.m. and you see her crash into a clothing store, breaking the glass on a mean street. She flies through the window, hitting somebody on the sidewalk. A 38-year old mom with four kids.

Rewind to three years earlier. Nancy, a 40-year old convert to Judaism who’d inherited a fortune, was brought to my office. They plopped her down on the couch. Ten minutes before the close of our session.

I thought she was a no-show but she finally got there. She was barely conscious. She’d been partying all night. Somebody was worried about her and brought her to my office. She was barely coherent but made another appointment and there began the relationship.

Her father was a classic narcissist. Her mother was a classic borderline. They began their lives with little and built it into a mega conglomerate. A lot of attention was paid to her older brother. Little attention was paid to her. She was always the victim. She hoarded and used and used and hoarded and felt entitled.

Upon learning about her hoarding behaviors (eight months into therapy), I asked her if she would let me into her home. She said fine. When I came to her house, it was a collection of disgust and waste, tampons mixed with hair, clothing mixed with unfinished meals, cat food, litter, ashtrays filled with cigarettes. Piles of clothing. Closets filled with clothing with tags on them.

She wears the same outfit every day – black leggings with an oversized t-shirt or sweater depending on the weather. She blames the world for her broken heart, for a man she loved who did not love her back. She pays for sex. She pays for weed. She pulls her hair out. She over-eats. Her father would fly in regularly for our sessions and would say if she only took zinc, she’d be fine. He’d march in like a Napoleon, often on somebody else’s session. I had to tell him to wait in the waiting room. It was intolerable for him.

Dad and mom divorced. Neither had anyone in their life. A lot of their attention was paid to their misery instead of their fortune.

As Nancy grew up, she depended on her parents. They provided protection at every angle. She never had to take responsibility. Her father put her in several rehabs, including Passages and Malibu, Betty Ford, UCLA. Money was no object. She did not want to get clean. She saw 12-step programs as a waste of time.

I saw her three times a week. I felt like I could not contain her. I suggested she go to an out-patient program. She said she did not want to be a loser like everyone else there. She would not go.

We started to bag the trash in her apartment. When the day came we could see carpet, it was a celebration. She hadn’t seen carpet in years. She wasn’t ready to let go of the bags of garbage. We piled them on the terrace with garbage bags filled with trash. The inside of her house became livable and she became scared. There was too much space. It was too reminiscent of the hole inside of her so she filled it and filled it with junk.

There isn’t a happy ending. She never got well. On her first car accident, her father bought off the police department so she could maintain her license. I begged him not to because she was a danger to herself and others. He did it anyway and bought her a new car.

The second accident was a tragedy. She hit a woman, a mother of four, crossing the sidewalk at night and put her in a coma. I never found out if the woman lived or died.

It was only then that the father decided to have her driver’s license revoked. He said he would send cars for her. He’d have a limo take her anywhere. She decided to buy herself a car and drive without a license.

I didn’t feel like I could help her. She didn’t want insight and growth. She didn’t want to change.

She returned home to their mansion. I haven’t heard from her since. It’s been over ten years. I think about her and the woman she hit while wasted. I think about her father who kept supplying her so she could keep using.

I spend a lot of time wondering if I would do anything different. Would I have taken the case knowing how it would turn out? It’s painful when one goes in with an open heart and feels the lack of receptivity.

Now I would’ve discontinued therapy. I was working harder than she was. That’s not a symbiotic relationship. I was babysitting her. I was her only friend.

I was bought for someone to talk to. I’d like to think that today she reflects on her responsibility but I doubt it.

These children with tremendous narcissistic injuries grow entitled to be different than others because their family’s wealth buys them this opportunity to treat others poorly. That never flew well with me.

I learned she was a classic borderline. These are the most difficult patients. They get you before you get yourself. They hook you in and keep you there and know your weak spots. To walk in the room with a borderline patient is like no other experience. They suck the air out of the room.

My office is in Beverly Hills. One day she decided to pull her pants down and put her bare butt out of the window and farted. “That’s what I think of the people of Beverly Hills,” she said.

She often talked to me with her dirty feet on my table. I’d have to remove her feet.

When she walked into the office, she wanted to claim it like a dog yearning to leave its mark. She wouldn’t sit in chairs that were warm because she said it bothered her that I saw other patients.

How could one envy that this woman could have anything she wants? It was mystifying that she chose her grandiosity. She had no charity, no love, no contribution. It was me, me, me.

This is a personality type that either I am attracted to or they attract me. I’m working through this so that I don’t get stuck with legal, ethical and boundary issues. These people get creative and seductive and it is hard to say no.

Usually we go down a list and if a person has a certain number of items on the list, we diagnose the person with a certain diagnosis and their prognosis is XYZ. With a borderline, it almost doesn’t matter what it says on the page because you feel them when they come in the room. You feel dirty and empty and drained. You feel scared. There’s no you. Just them. Lots of lies and manipulation and fear and vulnerability. Years would have to be spent to gain their trust to begin the work.

God bless those who do this work.

Who knew that it would be one of those days that would forever change your life? Dodging the bullet but always remembering the war. The day destiny would have me crawled up in its arms. Unthinkable traveling but that’s life. And here we go.

This book is dedicated to those out there who are not getting help and are still suffering. What would have to happen for you to hit bottom? What crime would you have to commit? What community would you have to lose? What parent would you have to bury? What shame would you have to experience? What wedding would you not be invited to? Or can you not get married? Are you unmarriable? Too difficult?

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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