I needed all the help I could get. And I got it.
On a cool February night, about a month after my twenty-third birthday, I drove my truck into oncoming traffic. I had lost my job that day for getting loaded at work, and proceeded to spend my evening seeking oblivion. I was on my way home from a gas station, eating an ice cream sandwich when I veered into a car head on. I will always be grateful that the only casualty was my ice cream sandwich, which ended up plastered to my face after the airbag deployed. I was subsequently offered one year of rehab in lieu of jail time.
My family was eager to get me back into rehab, still holding false hope that another expensive treatment center would be the one to finally “fix” me. I was anything but excited. It was my fifth time in rehab, and I didn’t know what was more depressing: the fact that I was going to rehab again, or the fact that I knew exactly what to expect when I got there. “Normal young adults aren’t so familiar with treatment centers,” I thought to myself, but I knew I wasn’t normal. I could have written a book on surviving rehab without having to change. I knew how to talk to the counselors so they would be confident in my recovery, but not make me the center of attention. I was good at doing my time and staying out of the spotlight. I would enter slightly depressed, leave slightly optimistic, and though everyone I met was confident in my progress, I relapsed every time.
This trip to treatment was no different. I went in to the program somber, disparaging, and hopeless as I usually did when I got to a rehab or detox. I was already used to articulating canned responses like: “Yes, I am in rehab again.” “Yes, I’m taking it seriously this time.” “No, I don’t feel like killing myself. Thank you for your concern,” and “I’m working very hard on myself.”
I had seen people in my position finally get sober after similarly discouraging experiences and copious trips to rehab with no avail, but I couldn’t fathom myself “getting it.” Still, I had to believe something. I dug for any last vestige of hope I could muster. One thing was clear, I would be in rehab for a year, and if there was ever an opportunity to take a break from my routine of self-destructive narcissism and focus on trying to clean up my act, now was that time. I decided rather early in my residency that I would make a sincere effort to attain long-term sobriety.
The first thing I realized was that for my life to improve, it would require complete abstinence from drugs and alcohol. There would be no exceptions. I felt very certain that each and every time I took just one pill, had just one drink, or took just one hit, it ended with inevitable despair. I also knew that the best chance I had at attaining sobriety would be through participating in a 12-step program with a certain level of fidelity. These were not difficult conclusions to arrive at, I had seen it work many times; applying these principles in my daily life, however, was where I struggled and failed so many times before. I was well aware of what I needed to do in order to get sober long before I began doing it. Taking action was a concept that evaded me for years. Likewise, for me to be completely certain at 23-years-old that I had a psychological disease from which there was no cure, but that I could put into remission by practicing spiritual principles was easily the most vexing task I’ve ever been faced with.
Watching me struggle so much despite all the treatment I had received was nothing less than puzzling to my family. I felt guilty that they had spent so much money trying to help me, but who am I to tell my family how to spend their money? After all, I am their legacy, and if they thought they could save my life by sending me to pricey treatment centers, I couldn’t tell them they were wrong. I began viewing rehab centers in a similar fashion to the way I viewed colleges. Rehabs don’t get you sober just like college doesn’t get you a career. If you apply yourself while you’re there, then you should be able to attain tools that will be useful for the rest of your life. If you stay persistent after you graduate, you have the best chance at success. It’s not the rehab or the college that changes you, it’s what you do while you’re there that determines whether or not any change will occur. Most rehabs function as segues into a 12-step program just as a college functions to assure a student’s potential to be employed. For this reason, a “career” of sobriety attained in sequence to completion of a treatment program typically relies on participation in 12-step meetings. Read more…