10 Things You Don’t Know About Rehab

By Brian Whitney 04/20/16

The anxiety of going to rehab was always bigger than the anxiety of not going, but maybe knowing what to expect can alleviate some of that terror.

11 Things You Don’t Know About Rehab

No one wants to go to rehab. Of course most, but not all, people who go to rehab want to stop using. They want to stop the cycle of insanity and pain, they want control of their lives again, they want to regain the trust of their loved ones, they don’t want to be scared anymore, and they don’t want to die.

But none of that means they want to go to rehab. They want to do all that without going to rehab. Of course, there are some people who have been to rehab numerous times. For them, going back to rehab, while not pleasant, is not something that they may actively dread, or even fear.

But if you are like me, and for your sake I truly hope that you are not, the thought of going to rehab is somewhat terrifying. I have been to a few rehabs in my time—and at this point in my life, I am fairly sure I will not be going to one again—but I can still remember how afraid I was of going the first time. The anxiety of going to rehab was always bigger than the anxiety of not going. Until one day it wasn’t anymore, and I went.

The fear of the unknown is always greater than the fear of what is known. So if you have never been, here are 10 things you don't know about rehab. While all of these are not true for every rehab, I have talked to enough rehab veterans to know that most of them are. 

10. They are going to go through your stuff

This is how it begins. You get to the rehab and you wait somewhere for a bit, your mind filled with anxiety and dread. Just when you think you might still be able to change your mind and bail, someone empties out your bag in front of you to make sure you don’t have any contraband. This is where it really clicks in. In just a few moments, you have gone from someone who thought he was totally cool to someone who is having his bag dumped out on a table while some guy you just met pats down all of your clothes, and confiscates your cellphone and your nail clippers. While I have not experienced this, some places make you strip down for a search as well.

9. Any sort of freedom takes time

For the first week, you have no freedom at all. You aren’t going to be able to make or receive phone calls for a while. That comes later. In fact, for the first week you are going to be pretty much restricted in everything. After a week or two, you can make calls; guys that have been around longer might be able to roam around the grounds or even walk to a local store in a group, but you are going to have to stay on the porch or some other restricted area. One step in the wrong direction and you become even more restricted. Many of us addicts are the consummate rule breakers, and all of a sudden you are in an environment where rules are everywhere. When you look at it from the outside it makes sense, but when it's happening to you in the moment it's a total drag, to say the least.

8. Who you hang out with is important

As a newbie, you can usually see right away that there are a few distinct groups of people that you are going to rehab with. One group is going to remind you of the people you hung out with on the outside, while the other group is going to remind you of people you used to make fun of. It is tempting to hang out with the dudes that make you laugh, that know the ropes a bit, and that get away with things. But try to remember something. You aren’t here to look cool. You are here to get yourself together. Who you hang out with matters.

7. The food will be better than you think

This all depends on where you go, of course. But one of the big surprises to me and others I talked to was that the food was actually pretty decent. When you are in rehab, small pleasures mean a lot. The food, while not fine dining quality, was still good enough that meals were something I looked forward to.

6. You aren’t going to have much alone time

While I am comfortable in social situations, as most good addicts are, by nature I am an introvert. Time by myself is extremely important to me. If you are like this too, guess what? You are screwed. Most places, other than the most exclusive, bunk you with a roomie, even ones that don’t discourage time alone. What you might consider healthy time by yourself is going to be considered isolating by the staff. Going and chilling in your room during free time is discouraged, to say the least. For the entire time you are at rehab, you will rarely be alone.

5. Weekends blow

Weekends are the time when all the true professional staff go home and chill out with their families. This leaves you, the client, roughly 48 hours to kill with less structure than normal. This might sound good but believe me, it isn’t. A busy day goes by quickly, while a slow day feels like impending doom. You might have an occasional group that doesn’t fit during the week, like art therapy or something like that, and there will be pointless groups with the weekend staff from time to time. Worst of all are the dreaded field trips. While some guys I was at rehab with seemed to look forward to these, I was mortified. There is nothing like going to get ice cream while jammed in a van with 13 other addicts to really drive home how far you have truly sunk.

4. You won't get away with much

Who knows what life was like for you outside of here, but in here, the people who are in charge have seen it all. It isn’t that the staff is mean to you, they just know what you're about and it's their job to let you know. In my life outside rehab, I was manipulating every single person in my life, so it stood to reason that I would be able to manipulate everyone in rehab too. Imagine my surprise when instead of being treated like the incredibly cool charming man that I perceived myself to be, I was called on my bullshit and had to get honest.

3. Get used to role-plays

At times, you may feel less that you are in rehab and more that you're at a theater camp. Role-plays happen, and they happen a lot. While it does pay to be reasonably good at this, just to support your fellow group members, don’t be too good. One guy in my rehab was so good at playing people's mothers and girlfriends that he was picked to do so constantly. Don’t be that guy.

2. You are going to spend a lot of time in meetings

There are, of course, many rehabs that are not 12-step based, but most rehabs are. While there are some meetings at the rehab, you'll often be piled into the same van that you went to get ice cream in and do the tour of local 12-step meetings. Whether you like 12-step meetings or not, this is a good exercise in staying clean. The humility of being one of the dudes piling out of the rehab van, while uncomfortable, is also somewhat invaluable.

1. It will help you

This is a fact. Going to rehab will help you. How it will help you, how much it will help you, all of that remains to be seen. While the quality of the facility is important of course, what really matters is you. It doesn’t matter whether you are into the 12 steps or harm reduction, what matters is that you want to change your life and you are someplace working hard on that. Or maybe you are someplace just working kind of hard on that. That's cool too. At the time, I thought rehab helped me a little. Eight years later, I can see it helped me enormously.

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Brian Whitney has been a prisoner advocate, a landscaper, and a homeless outreach worker. He has written or coauthored numerous books in addition to writing for AlterNetTheFixPacific Standard MagazinePaste Magazine, and many other publications. He has appeared or been featured in Inside Edition, Fox News, People.com, Cracked.com, True Murder, Savage Love and True Crime Garage. He is appearing at CrimeCon in 2019. You can find Brian on Facebook or at Brianwhitneyauthor.com.