April 30, 2021
Chevy Chase, Maryland
If you’ve been following the blog-version story of Emmett Wilson, I broke down his career/life into a series of mulligans, or do-overs. It isn’t my trying to be dismissive of his efforts (after all, all of us, especially in early adulthood, try on different jobs, or careers, while trying to figure out what it is we want to do with our lives). Many of us find our niche after a few successful or unsuccessful tries.
With Emmett, we know he loved law and its logic. It appealed to his sense of order, or a need for reliability, steadfastness, without the distraction of messy things, like relationships. Or emotions. He was a loner for all that he craved success and plaudits; his ultimate role model was his grandfather Augustus Emmett Maxwell, you recall, who was popular, wealthy, and prominent. Maxwell’s kind of success meant being in the public eye, politicking, and such. Like his grandfather, I’m convinced Emmett didn’t like that kind of public schmoozing because it seemed disingenuous, but he understood it came with the territory. Remember: His ultimate goal was to be like Maxwell — a respected member of the Florida judiciary. The way there was via a public, political venue.
As noted, Emmett had a series of do-overs. To illustrate my point, I share one of the tools I use to manage the data collection. So as not to jump too far ahead, the chart is current up to this point in Emmett’s story.
As I go back over the chapters, I realize that Emmett was already experiencing a variety of small-scale interventions (i.e., siblings, family members, friends) offering him advice for his career and the like, but, when it came to his alcohol intake, or what I’d consider an ‘official’ intervention about Emmett’s chemical dependence, Van Sant’s intervention was likely Emmett’s that first official intervention.
- It was very unlikely Emmett went to rehab or any other facility as recommended by Van Sant.
- Emmett left Sterling only about six months after moving there; probably thought it was a geographic cure that was needed (after all, in his mind, all of the drinking ‘problem’ started when he moved). Also, we have a brief notation in one of the Wilson genealogies that ‘blamed’ his alcoholism on Nick indirectly. (notation here). Leads me to the next point:
- Prideful family. No way Emmett would have gone into rehab, esp in a small town like Sterling (would be all over the place, even though Nick would have been discreet or insisted on discretion. The other option was for him to leave, and in his mind, hopefully, that is what would resolve most of the problem. The whole admitting he made a mistake somewhere (not by acknowledging the alcoholism, but more that he didn’t need to move across the country to realize he needed to stay in Florida, but away from the watchful eye of his big brother) is less damaging, and that he was homesick (also acceptable).
For all that Van Sant was very likely conducting it with the best intentions for Emmett, we can imagine how difficult it might have been to be on the receiving end of that confrontation. Despite what we know about how alcoholism was viewed by society-in-general in 1906 (the attitudes haven’t changed all that much even in the 21st century), I still think Van Sant didn’t take an offensive, shaming approach when he confronted Emmett.
Not to accuse anyone of mistreating Emmett, or misdiagnosing him, but there was nothing in 1906 similar to AA, and true professional treatment of the disease was hit-or-miss (and mostly miss). There were lots of hucksters, ‘miracle cures’ and other things to help people with addiction — we even see that today, in our ‘evolved’ 21st century thinking — but those who beat addiction in Emmett’s time had to do it cold turkey — and the success stories were few and far between.
I have to give Van Sant a lot of credit for wanting to help Emmett. The only thing about trying to help someone in addiction is that the addict has to want to be helped, and to be willing to do what it takes, whatever that is, to stop.
At this point in Emmett’s life, he wasn’t there yet.
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