A Recipe for Clean Man Days

Captured by Andre James: Recollections of Ted Dibble Veteran Game Player 1962 – 1987

Before we were vogue, a beacon of light for addicts, we were just a group of misfits who were fortunate to wash up on that Santa Monica Beach in the sixties. We survived on coffee, cigarettes, and the goodwill of local grocers. As survivors of overdoses, prison, and a variety of self-inflicted setbacks, all newcomers first identified Synanon as an island of safety. A place to kick your habit and fight for a new start.

But this was no halfway house. The requirements for membership explained in every intake interview, proved to be a rude awakening to all beggars at the door. A con knows a con. So, every potential residence was disabused of any notion that we were a charity, running a flophouse for junkies. The price of admission was the commitment to creating clean man days. “Pull your weight. Stay clean. Or, leave and don’t let the door hit you in the ass.”

There was a core group that locked arms with Dederich to make this idea a reality. I joined Reid Kimball, Candy Latson, Jack, and Terry Hurst, Oscar and Jeanie Camano, Franky Lago, Ray Dibble, and a few others in a boss contract to keep our ragtag group on the right track. One day at a time.

One vehicle that kept this band of brothers and sisters on track was the game.

In those days the game was not a public spectacle. You gathered for two hours in a circle of chairs with a dozen people to pursue a line of no line. Indict and defend. Equal opportunity verbal abuse. In the game, you were always wrong. You could swear, lie, exaggerate and attempt to humiliate anyone. Just no violence or threat of violence.

In addition to verbal wrestling, the game provided an outlet for frustration, pouting, self-pity and disappointment. From time to time it became a confessional.

Leaders emerged as black-belt gamers. They, like me, became consistently effective at using humor, ridicule and self-deprecation for exposing the faulty logic and ridiculous, self-destructive behavior exhibited by struggling newcomers. At our best, we practiced a form of verbal jujitsu that left fools lying flat on their backs, laughing, crying or both. First games for most newcomers were a shocking, trial-by-fire that served as a right-of-passage into our community.

After a rough session, a humiliated newbie spotted wandering toward the coffee earn would be intercepted by a veteran. He would be invited to join the vets for coffee and light-hearted conversation. “You survived that game. Welcome to the club.”

That was a practice of love I had never seen. It was a practice I embraced throughout my 25-year Synanon career.

To read more stories by Andre James go to https://www.tota.world/profile/andrejames

Categories: The Early Days

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11 replies »

  1. Why couldn’t the Game in its original form work today?
    I’m a recovering heroin addict ( 20 years clean) and I don’t see too many of the new generation addicts getting and staying clean.
    Why not bring back the Game?

    • Guy, congratulations on being clean for 20 years and thank you for your comment. I recently read something that, in effect, said – The opposite of addiction is not sobriety but rather it is connection. Kind of an interesting thought as most junkies refer to their source of drugs as their connection. But, of course, what I mean by connection, is community and that was what Synanon at its best was. The community helped those who chose to stay get clean (most people didn’t stay). So, if it is community that counteracts addiction, the important thing is how to keep the community healthy? The answer in the early days was the game. I think that the game, can’t work without being part of a community. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a 24-hour community but there has to be a form of unification between the people involved. More importantly the game must feel safe. In the early days this idea of “in the game” and “out of the game” There was a strong ethic that what was said in a game was not “The Truth” outside of the game. You could yell at your boss and call her all kinds of assholes and your boss could tell you that you are just a lazy motherfucker…but when the game was over, and you got together over a cup of coffee, and it was all water under the bridge. You and your boss would show up for work the next day and carry on and over time you might find that your boss and you were communicating a little better. Maybe your boss would realize he or she was taking out some of their frustrations on you and might realize that your boss was under a lot of pressure. The game reinforced connection by allowing people to safely express their anger and frustration. So, I don’t know can the game cure heroin addiction? I think it can be a tool, for sure, but where it is played has to be a key factor in making a positive difference in people’s lives. After Synanon, I’ve wished many times that I could play the game with family members, co-workers, and colleagues, but I could never figure out a way to make that happen.

      • Yes, I’ve been trying to reply back let’s see if this works.

        I understand what you mean, it’s the community that made Synanon so successful.
        It sounds like such an amazing program/lifestyle. I have this fascination with the program and Chuck. I have a pipe dream of recreating it ( or aspects of it) for the new generation of addicts.
        I work in recovery and I see them two years into their addiction and they’re where I was at 10 years. The fentanyl takes them down fast.
        I know the 12 steps doesn’t seem to work. This new group needs tough love I believe.

        From the outside looking in it seems Synanon starting to go south when they let the “squares” in.
        Things definitely changed after Betty died.

        I still appreciate your applies Cory, any other information I would love to receive from you.


    • Hello Guy. Congrats on 20 years clean and thanks for your interest in the Game and visiting this site. Cory and I would enjoy Zooming with you and perhaps another person who ran our newcomer program for a time. We would like to learn about your program and if there are ways you could use Synanon tools. Worth a discussion….

  2. That was an excellent little snippet by Ted. Andre, I am deeply gratified to to be able to read and recall the details that made up 6 of the most impactful years of my life. I have looked at the people of Synanon as the bricks that were the face of a grand idea and the Game as the mortar. Ted’s simple depiction is elegant.

  3. It’s good to be hearing your voice, Andre. I remember your kindness toward others at Tomales Bay all those decades back. I am looking forward to reading your other postings and your stories at Tota (and to eventually replying to your question “was Synanon a cult?”)

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