290 Days – What is Rehab Like?

Ten months ago I decided that I was going to kill myself. Right away or over the course of several years through alcohol abuse, it didn’t matter. My life was meaningless. You’ll often hear alcoholics and addicts in A.A. or N.A. say that their best friend and only lover was their addiction and it’s logical to ask: “what about your friends, family, and significant others? Didn’t you love them?”. At the risk of making spouses and loved ones of addicts more unhappy than they already are I will simply say that an addict does not care about any of those people. They’re tools we use to get what we want. Who could possibly lie that often and that well to people they love? Who could steal from their parents or hit their spouse if they loved them? No, it’s not love. It’s one of the strongest expressions of Machiavellianism you’ll find.

People, especially addicts, ask me what rehab is like. Reflecting back on those days when I was seeking help I must say I’d never had an inkling of what it was going to be like either. Pop culture displays inpatient treatment as a lot of sitting in circles and sleeping in bunk beds with 40 other people who twitch and talk to imaginary people; walking around in bathrobes and slippers and smoking lots of cigarettes. I never made an actual decision to go to rehab, I don’t think. It wasn’t bravery or courage, it was desperation. One day I called in to work hungover (again) but instead of sleeping until four and buying another case of Corona I called Brighton Center for Recovery just to ask some questions. I’d bet that’s what most of their patients do because they very quickly flipped the conversation into me coming in the next day by 11 a.m. with a rather short list of things that I was allowed to bring. The actual courage came the next day when I asked my mother to drive me two hours to Brighton’s campus and I walked through the front door to turn myself over to their care.

After signing in and filling out the intake paperwork, I was led to a large waiting room with a TV that was playing the most boring AM talk show drivel they could find and a coffee machine. A couple other people came in and out as they were processed but I was stuck there for two hours as the treatment center tried to get a hold of my insurance company. As you can imagine, my anxiety peaked during that time. Why was I here? Was this even going to work or am I just taking the most boring 3-week vacation of my life?  Will my insurance even cover this or are they about to send me home? Will I have to pay all this back? Oh God did I just spend thousands of dollars on rehab? All of these questions wandered in and out of my head several times as I tried in vain to read some of the four-year old magazines on one of the coffee tables.

Toward the end of my wait another patient-to-be and the greatest enabler I had ever seen up to that point in my life strode in… Well I say “strode” but it was more of a shuffle. The patient: a man who could barely stand and who stared slack jawed at the walls and the enabler: his father who had stopped on their way to Brighton to buy his son a pint of vodka so he could chug it before coming in. The patient kept whining that he was hungry over and over and over ad infinitum while the nurses and his father repeatedly told him he couldn’t eat until his blood work was done. Fortunately it wasn’t much longer until I was given word that my insurance company had graciously agreed to cover my treatment (no sarcasm there; a lot of insurance companies don’t cover 100% of treatment like mine did).

A nurse showed me around the campus which ended up being radically different from the image I had in my head. It would have been well furnished in 1972 with those thin hospital carpets and chairs that were probably donated from the lobby of a doctors office. There were two units that patients could stay in depending on how far gone they were. Most people had to go through the main unit first where they were hooked up to an IV of drugs intended to wean them off of whatever drug they were on. This unit was more or less a hospital complete with nurses stations and hospital beds. The second unit, which I was assigned to, was either for people who didn’t need medical help to detox or who had already been through the detox process and were deemed to not need constant supervision. A lot of my companions in that unit cynically said it was because our insurance wasn’t good enough for the hospital complex but after seeing the way the people who stayed in that unit looked and behaved I’m pretty sure my impression is correct.

While I did have a brief fling with vodka in the mid-00’s, beer was always my drink of choice. With that and the fact that I hadn’t had a drink the day before I “turned myself in”, I didn’t need to detox. After a brief check-up with one of the facility’s doctors I was shown my room. Also unlike the television portrayals I had seen, the rooms had three beds and were well furnished. I had just enough time to put my bag on the floor before I was whisked away to the first “class”. You don’t start the program at Brighton on day one with a group of people, you start in the middle of whatever they’re already doing. This was jarring at first because everybody else knew each other and the cultural cues of the place. In the end that was good, though. It snapped me out of my social fear and forced me to start trusting people again. Trusting anyone was difficult for me; imagine how hard it was to trust a bunch of drug addicts and alcoholics! Some of them were sent there by the court as a hail mary before their final court date in the hopes that a judge would see that they were trying and wouldn’t send them to prison. Others were there because their parents forced them. People like me who were there of our own free will were a depressingly tiny minority. So, no. I didn’t trust most of them on my first day. Or third.

Changes weren’t quick or dramatic. I was still quiet and introspective most of the time. It’s difficult for me to spear myself in to an already established social group and probably always will be. I feel like jumping into the middle of people’s conversations is rude and awkward even if it’s what most people do. Over time, though, I started to form a bond with the people there. First it was with the people who were in my group therapy sessions… our unit was further split up by therapist so there would be groups of 6-8 of us in the morning for therapy and then we would all come back together for classes and meals. A strange thing started to happen. My perception of other people was beginning to change for the better without any effort on my part. I was with hardened criminals, mothers who had their children taken away, and abject losers like me who had never amounted to anything. I started seeing them all as people though. Even the guys who came in “tough” on their first day started to let their guard down mid way through the first week and by week two were just normal people like the rest of us. I think that the most valuable lesson I learned at Brighton is that we are all just as scared of life as everybody else. People may make bad, even terrible choices but they weren’t born thinking it would be a fantastic idea to rob people for drug money. Life happens to all of us and I was lucky to be an alcoholic son of a reasonably good family instead of some of those other people. I would like to believe that we all changed there and the hardened criminals I met left to pursue an altruistic life of happiness but that isn’t how our society works. We won’t get into that though.

It was a bit like school from how I remembered it. There were cliques and hierarchies but unlike high school I was near the top of the ladder for a change! It felt good to know I was succeeding at at least something. There were still the groups who screwed around and didn’t take anything seriously. There were two groups of people in particular who were sneaking into each others rooms and doing what boys and girls do. Obviously they’ve relapsed by now. But the bulk of us paid attention and did the work. They kept us pretty busy. We had the aforementioned group therapy in the morning after breakfast and a class before we left to go to the hospital unit for lunch as that was where the main cafeteria was. After that we came back to our unit and had two more classes and then left yet again to have dinner. After dinner we stayed at the main building for an AA meeting and then came back for essentially two hours of free time. Even given that rigorous schedule I was starting to get severely stir crazy by my last week. One of the counselors would occasionally take us on walks through the property (they had at least a hundred acres of forest and lakes on their campus) but other than that the only outdoor area we were allowed to use wasn’t even the size of my back yard. It helped to have made some friends but those of us who were more serious about the process took a lot of “me” time to do the assignments and reflect on our lives. We still played board games and tried to play sports in our 20 yard garden but I spent a lot of time thinking about my past.

In the end, I walked out on May 16, 2018 with more sober time then I’d ever had since I was 21. Life hasn’t been a pleasant little picnic since then but one thing I can say is I basically do not think about alcohol anymore. I don’t know why. Whether it was the classes telling me the scientific explanation of how my brain works or the time I burst into tears when a woman in group told me after going through a laundry list of all of the horrible things I’d done in my that life she still loved me as a person. No clue. But for some reason I got away scott-free while thousands of other addicts go to AA meetings two or three times a day and clutch their heads in agony as they try to resist the temptation to drink. It’s not a thought for me.

I just don’t drink anymore.

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