Groundhog Day in Rehab

Groundhog Day in Rehab - Page 2

By Christopher O'Connor 11/21/12

One addict's journey through more than a dozen rehabs has taught him more than he needs to know about those shaky first days of treatment.

Here's what I learned: shut up and listen Danny Jock

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Fast-forward yet again. After another year, I was still a teenager and the consensus was that I wasn't an addict, I was crazy. I remember my attorney telling me with absolute conviction that there was no way someone would do what I did without a serious mental disorder. Constantly running away from rehab while out on bail and facing decades in prison were not the actions of a sane person. It was sound logic, I suppose. The rehab du jour was essentially a psych ward for people with a serious dual-diagnosis. I hoped this was the answer. Getting lots of medication jived with my mental state. The more pills the merrier.

My earliest memory this time around was certainly not day one. It was close to a week before the benzodiazepine haze lifted (I was known to wash handfuls of Xanax down with vodka). What I recall, with perfect recall, is this: the med line, and it was straight out of Cuckoo's Nest. Instead of “maintenance,” it was medication (we met four times per day instead of three). The metal window would roll up and we would line up to receive our Dixie cup full of pills. Depending on the line, the process could take upwards of an hour. An eclectic mash of personalities met to receive their daily dosages. There was the guy who was always first and stood patiently waiting for the window to open. He rarely spoke, stared at his feet, and kept his hands in his pockets. Then there was the woman who always disappointed. Her prescription was always wrong. Something was always missing. There were those who were restless and couldn't bear to wait. They seemed to find each other and would spend the duration of the med line asking each other, “How could they take so long?” And then there was the rowdy bunch. This became my crew. We’d spend the time loudly reminiscing and fooling around. To the outsider, our demeanor would have closely resembled friends knocking back shots at a bar.

Towards the end of my stay I was prescribed a large dose of an anti-psychotic. The psychiatrist mentioned it was available as a pill or an injection. I opted for the injection. He told me that in his twenty years of service he’d never had a patient ask for the injection. This angered the other clients. Now when it was my turn during the med line the nurse had to lock up the window and retire to the bathroom to inject medicine into my butt-cheek. At one point she remarked that my ass looked like a pin-cushion.

I finally had the solution I desperately wanted back when I first read the Twelve Steps: the pill, the shot, the fix. Of course, my faith was misplaced; these new legal substances didn't cure my ailment. What they got me was six months of the worst depression I’ve known and a fifty-pound spare tire around my midsection. I could barely make it up the stairs without gasping for air.

Fast-forward four more years, many more treatment centers, jail sentences, and overdoses. It was rehab number thirteen. My final stay. Three of us were admitted that day. I remember because my intake took twice as long as the other two clients combined. I had amassed a considerable treatment history, which they always insist upon poring over. I remember at one point the admissions woman asked if I was a heroin addict to which I replied “no.” Then I mentioned that I shot heroin everyday. She laughed and told me that I was heroin addict. Oh yeah. Right.

Once admitted, I was brought the lobby and introduced to a young man who had been a patient for some time. She told me he’d give me a tour and show me to my room. I thanked her and turned around to find that my escort had vanished. I stood there clueless and alone. I shivered as the Suboxone left my system.

Eventually, after an hour or so I found a hot shower and a Robin Cook book. He is an excellent “rehab author”: a light and easy read that brought me out of myself. As I settled in to do my usual bid I sensed something was amiss. For a fraction of a second, the notion surfaced that I had no fucking clue what I was doing with my life. I snuffed that scary thought out quickly, but it lingered just long enough to have a profound effect. I decided that just this once I was going to be honest. For the first time in my life, I felt tired. 

Over the following days, people pointed to the overwhelming evidence of my life’s unmanageability. It was the same unmanageability people had been pointing at for a decade, but I was committed to honesty now. There was no retort. My life was in shambles because I’d been running the show. I became willing to listen to others; I became willing to not listen to myself.

I listened. This was the crucial lesson that I learned at my final treatment center. It wasn't the yoga, meditation, the jail, the humiliation or even the Twelve Steps—although all of these things keep my sober today. I listened. Again, this was the key that opened the door to my recovery.

A wise man once told me that if a treatment center is open it is working for someone. Although there was a wide spectrum in quality among the places I attended, I firmly believe I could have gotten clean and sober at any of them had I only listened. Another wise man broke it down further for me. He said the journey one needs for effective treatment is a matter of four words: “ Oh, Shit!” to “Oh Boy!”

Christopher O’Connor is a freelance addiction writer. He works for Family Healing Strategies providing counsel to families of those in treatment.