Much of the criticism I have read about Bitter Pillbox deals with the culture allowing the need for such a company to arise–the need for a middle man to handle confrontation when you can’t bear it. I’ve read comments about “PC” culture and the fear of conflict, or the inability to clearly and directly communicate during tense situations. With some of them, I agree: problem management is a skill that we should strive to develop, without needing to resort to a middle man. And yet, such middle men already exist. We call the police when we feel threatened, a marriage councillor when we need a mediator, and most large companies have some manner of human resources staff devoted simply to weeding through formal complaints. Somewhere far below that tier of support is the close friend one might send to an ex-partner’s house to collect their things, or the uncle you wrangle into helping convince your dependent mother that she will be much happier in a retirement home. We have these support systems in place because conflict is hard and damaging for everyone involved, and everyone, sometimes, needs a little support.
But what of the problems too small or sensitive for police involvement, but too large or messy for loyal friends? That is the need Bitter Pillbox is meant to meet.
For example: a number of years ago, I dated an alcoholic. We’ll call him John. John was your run-of-the-mill alcoholic–he wasn’t abusive, I never feared for my safety, but he lied, often, and constantly manipulated situations in his favor. One weekend while he was visiting from out of town, things felt…wrong. His behaviour was erratic: desperate attempts to keep me from going to work followed by accusations about why I hadn’t come home when he expected me. I found him passed out sleeping at various points during the day, and then incoherent and belligerent when he was awake. Later that week I would find a three-quarter drained fifth of whiskey hiding in a lower bathroom cabinet. We’d talked it out, and I simply couldn’t have him over anymore. I would drop him off at the station before going to work.
If only things could be that easy. When we arrived at the station, John realized he’d lost his ID, and was refused admittance on the train. I work in a public school where 90 kids depend on me every day–I do not get to call in sick twenty minutes before school starts. So I took him home with the intention of buying him a bus ticket for use later that day. I drove off to work with the expectation that when I came home, he would be gone.
Except that by the time I’d bought the ticket, John was no longer answering my phone or responding to messages. My roommate was out of town and I didn’t know who to call to check on a man who, frankly, could have been violently drunk, in need of medical attention, or possibly not even home. I could not be in a house with this man any longer. I’d contributed $200 already to get rid of him, and I needed him on that bus.
So I called Chris.
The scene, as Chris painted it, was one of a naked man passed out drunk in my bed. If you’ve ever met Chris, you know that he is always in control of the image he presents to the world. He can be tender and kind, offering contemplative advice; jubilant and enthused, exciting people to volunteer; or ruthless and cold, confronting a situation with calculated judgment. His voice can carry across a room either to motivate or to tear apart, and when raised above a conversational tone, people listen. I wasn’t in that room when Chris stormed in and aroused John, but I can well imagine his booming voice firmly ordering John to get up and gather his things. Chris took the job one step further by personally driving him to the station. Between the time that I first reached out to Chris and John boarded a bus, two hours had transpired. Chris respected the urgency of the situation, and the delicate position I was in.
What impressed me most was that Chris didn’t present himself as an enforcer or even an angry friend; rather, he made John believe that he was doing him a favor. When I spoke with John afterwards, he was embarrassed, apologetic, and thankful for Chris’ kindness. He told me Chris even offered him twenty dollars to buy breakfast before his commute. My biggest fear about bringing someone else into the situation had been the fallout. That John would be angry. That his erratic behaviour would be overshadowed by how I responded to it. As alcoholics go, this one was manipulative, and knew how to spin a situation so that I was always on the defensive. Instead, the observation and kindness of a sober man was something of an awakening for John, and we were later able to discuss his drinking productively, something that I don’t believe would have happened had I been forced to leave work, angry and yelling, to force this man out of my house.
I think it’s important to mention that such drama happens in many different sorts of relationships, personal and professional. Not everyone is so privileged to have friends, coworkers, or bosses who can stomach those conversations. The, “your drinking is ruining your relationship and you need to leave this house,” conversations; or, in another situation Chris has helped me with, the “you need to stop getting your employees drunk and hitting on them,” conversations. Those situations aren’t police worthy. They often occur two or three steps before the police step in. Or they persist, the police are never called, and someone ends up beaten, fired, or on the receiving end of a sexual harassment lawsuit. In a perfect relationship, business, neighborhood, we would all feel comfortable and safe confronting the people in our lives with uncomfortable truths. But I think it’s time to admit that isn’t always a possibility, that in fact, confrontation can sometimes backfire and leave you worse off than you were before. I’m thankful that during my times of crisis, Chris has been able to step in and provide a clear path out of the chaos. I see Bitter Pillbox as a natural extension of the services he already provides to so many people. Hopefully the company will extend his reach, allowing him to provide those same services to so many more.