House – “Broken” (Part II)

(continued from Part I of An End of Self Confession aka “Physician Heal Thyself”)

“I’m out of plans.” –House

Only after a terrible tragedy, House begins to realize how much deeper his emotional problems lie than a Vicodin addiction. This marked his final stage of fully bottoming out. To finally reach a place where he is tired of fighting, worn out by the struggle to do better, losing hope that you’ll ever find wholeness or the light. Feeling broken, beyond repair, as if something is fundamentally wrong with you and you don’t know if you’ll ever be fixed. Afraid to be around others for fear of saddling them with all of your baggage; or worse, letting your disgust and anger with yourself pour out over them. You’re not where you wish to be, realizing the clash between what you believe and say you are about versus how you are living. Your life and circumstances not playing out the way you had imagined. Hitting bottom means we would rather die that continue to live the way we’ve been living. Reaches the end of his self, sense of independence and need to control when he admits that “I need help.”

“I want to get better. Whatever the hell that means. I’m sick of being miserable.” –House

Only from this place could he face his demons, or put another way, sometimes you have to lose everything to find the “ground of your being.” For one thing, he had walled himself off from everyone one around him. The thing about walls is that you can’t live behind walls and love as you should. Feel loved like we should. People can’t experience you loving them from inside your walls. You can’t living behind them grow closer to God. But you have to come to that conclusion on your own and decide that you want to risk living life in a broken and fallen world that could hurt you. You have to risk experiencing the pain that comes with that world. And that’s a scary proposition. You have to risk knowing and being known. And the more you experience someone who knows you, especially in your sinfulness, it exposes the lie. And that’s a scary proposition.

There is also the core belief that we can’t live without the self-medication. Life shifts. Gaining and losing people, places, and things leaving feelings of resentment, anger, self-protection, and abandonment in its wake, losses remind us that all isn’t as it should be. They remind us that life is painful. How do we experience and react to that pain? Sometimes we numb ourselves, medicate, act out sexually. Old wounds, be they lies we’ve come to believe about ourselves or quietly trying to please a distant father (because his opinion of you has shaped who you are and how you are) need to be confronted. Expecting something from certain relationships that never materialized, disillusioned with losses. Each loss presents a choice: passage to anger, blame, depression, resentment or passage to a greater life and freedom. Growing in love.

“You need to get better.” –Dr. Nolan

The thing is, brokenness can be redeemed. Real love risks and offers redemption and when loved well, we’re taught about God. In all of our brokenness and (self-) deception, in all of our brokenness and desperation, we can come before the Lord and be fully accepted. Fellow writer, Carole McDonnell, said this about laying things at the cross of Christ: “I’ve learned to not ask God to make me what I would’ve been if life hadn’t gone as badly as it has. In Christ, we are restored from whatever pain we had…but the restoration is not to bring us back to the great might-have-been self. True restoration carries the pain and brokenness still, but also Christ’s light. For those in dark to know that we understand some of their pain, and that God-with-us.”

There is a power to putting our feelings to words through prayer, sharing our stories of woundedness, and finding healing as we push one another forward. Moving forward is the key. As Dr. Nolan reminds him, “You’re not God, House. You’re just another screwed up human being.” Apology and confession allows him to acknowledge his failure, move on, and maybe begin feel better about himself.

So he sets out on the path of figuring out how to get from the place where he is to where he wants to be. It’s like starting life all over again: learning how to trust people, how to open up to people; trying to make connections rather than deflecting. Because as House raps (yeah, you read that correctly) “if you don’t make connections, then your whole life is a mess.” Because he can’t do it alone. Eventually he will need the support of others to walk alongside him along the path (not the false piety that comes from an inability to let go of past griefs and hurts).

And even as he goes through the process of shedding the lies he’d wrapped himself in and other people’s expectations of him; at the same time, he (re-)discovers who he is and what he was meant to be: a healer. The thing about wounded healers, is that they understand the pain so intimately. They know what to ask and they know when the “pain meds” aren’t working. They are living reminders to not let the past define you, but to always be working toward who you were meant to be. And that there is hope of becoming whole.

“We’re proud of him, we wish him well, and we hope to never see him again.”–Dr. Nolan

In short, “Broken”, which feels a lot like House M.D.: the movie, may be the best episode in the show’s five-plus season run. And that’s quite a bar that it’s clearing.

House – “Broken” (Part I)

An End of Self Confession aka “Physician Heal Thyself”

From its debut, House M.D. has been a great show. It’s medical mystery plays as in as formulaic a way as any episode of Law & Order or C.S.I. and on that level of procedural, it’s been fine. But it has always been the character of Dr. Gregory House himself, played by Hugh Laurie (Black Adder) who makes the show remarkable. He’s been a fascinating character study, a blend of arrogance, brilliance, charm, wit, and selfishness; a man in pain, who heals others pain.

The two hour opener of season six makes for an interesting departure episode for the show. Other than a brief appearance by Robert Sean Leonard as Wilson, Laurie is the only regular cast member to appear. There isn’t a medical mystery, per se, to solve. There’s just two hours of watching one of television’s most fascinating characters at his most vulnerable and finally facing up to his brokenness.

It’s easy to play armchair psychologist as his wounds keep piling up. He has long term unresolved issues with his father. He’s in constant pain due to his leg and has been self-medicating (drugs, porn, and prostitutes) for years. He’s lost the love of his life and hasn’t figured out how to open himself up enough to love. Broken mind, broken heart, broken body, broken spirit, broken sense of self … sometimes you have to realize the level and depth of your brokenness before you can begin to heal.

At the close of season five, we see House bottoming out. It had been coming for years: the Vicodin abuse, risking jail, his license, a downward spiral of self-destructive behavior. By the time he checks into the Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital, he was suffering delusions (including a sexual encounter with his boss, Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein)). As the season opens, House is going through drug withdrawal. Once the meds have cleared his system, and the accompanying hallucinations gone, House is ready to check out. However, despite his voluntary commitment, it isn’t as easy for him to leave as he thought.

As the episode is directed by longtime “House” producer Katie Jacobs, she brings in the star of her previous medical drama Gideon’s Crossing, the great Andre Braugher (Homicide: Life on the Streets), as Dr. Darryl Nolan, the head shrink at Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital. House needs Nolan’s support to get his medical license reinstated and Nolan wants House to get truly well. The two begin a spectacular game of cat and mouse–that much greater with two powerhouse actors going up against one another–with House plotting con after manipulation while Nolan lets him know that he can’t con a con man.

“You need to stop fighting the system. You need to let me do my job.” –Dr. Nolan

“Broken” is a journey towards redemption: the first step in a very long and non-linear path. It’s a risky gambit because part of the appeal of House has been all of the things that make him so dysfunctional, his woundedness is part of what makes him tick: his emotional unavailability, his inability to love and the denial of his own problems, all of which his colleagues put up with or gave him a pass on because he did such good work.

A lot of folks don’t know what to do with folks who are truly hurting. They are quick to label them crazy or drama queens, accuse them of self-aggrandizing behavior. To be fair, condition not always easily recognized, hidden behind walls, and people who are hurting aren’t always the most cooperative of “patients.” Often scared or indifferent and stubborn, or whatever else their posture of woundedness, they are unable to give voice or words to their state of despair or hopelessness. Burdened with the weight of guilt and shame, and self-contempt, they might pull away from people, not wanting to let others see our wounds believing them to be too ugly.

“They didn’t break me. I am broken.” –House

House needed to bottom out in order to get to a place of true, restorative healing. However, this came in stages (and throughout the series his friends often wondered “is this is? Have you finally hit rock bottom?”). When he first arrived at the Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital and even after he had kicked the drugs, he hadn’t reached his bottoming out point. He was still an open wound spewing wherever he went. An uncooperative patient more content to scheme and get out on his terms in his way, constantly alienating people with his arrogant behavior and pushing them away before they could abandon him (not trusting them to be there because that’s what his father and life had taught him).

This is where House had found himself. Narcissism and anti-social behavior were just a few of his self-destructive behaviors, often screwing up relationships as if that was the goal. That’s the thing about addicts and addictive behavior: they scheme, lie, and take others down. They take advantage of their friends, seemingly valuing failures more than his successes, not quite being able to get out of their own (self-destructive) way, and never quite being honest to those around them. And in House’s case, he trusts in his intellect and ability to read people over making actual connections with them; using his intellect as a defense as he pulls away from people.

So House keeps trying to do things his way, finding a measure of healing in dealing with his own pain by helping others … as he schemes. He develops a close relationship with his new roommate, Alvie (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and a frequent visitor, Lydia (Franka Potente). Alvie helps him uncover incriminating information about Dr. Nolan for a blackmail scheme and convinces Lydia to loan him her car to sneak out a delusional patient, Freedom Master, in an attempt to undermine Dr. Nolan’s course of treatment.

Easy to wallow in lostness, trying to fix rather than move on; or become caught up in machinations and manipulations, creating scenarios of crisis so that one can swoop in and play the hero. It’s still about trying to maintain a sense of control, to manage something in order to create the illusion that things are still okay.

to be continued …