Behind the Scenes at Malibu's Most Exclusive Rehab - Page 2

By Nic Sheff 02/27/12

What kind of treatment do rich and famous addicts receive for $100,000 a month? A rare look behind the gates of one of the country's ritziest rehabs.

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A luxury rehab Photo via

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Of course, we all tried to play down our own envy, going on and on to each other about how hard it must be for the clients, never knowing whether people actually liked them for who they were or because of their famous names and their money. We pitied the trust fund kids because they’d never be able to emerge from the shadows of their more successful parents. We told ourselves they’d never get sober, being pampered the way we were instructed to pamper them. We laughed when they complained about the food the five star chef had prepared for them (we were more than happy to eat the leftovers), and we traded stories about the awful steamed hospital mush we’d had to eat in our county detoxes and sober livings. 

And we, the techs, did try to band together. We used to secretly trade the expensive coffee we were supposed to serve the clients with the cheap Folgers in a can coffee we were supposed to brew ourselves in the staff room. So we’d be drinking high-end coffee from some small batch roaster in Venice, while they drank bulk supermarket coffee and, more often than not, would compliment us on how good it tasted. 

At night, when we were alone in the office, we’d read the clients’ different case files—especially the six-page questionnaire they had to fill out when they arrived. We’d laugh at how out of touch their answers were. Like when the trust fund kids would write that they “identified their main problem as being” that the executers of their family’s estate were too uptight and wouldn’t give tem enough money. I remember one woman (who wasn’t a kid anymore, by any means, but was, nonetheless, still a trust fund kid) who insisted her lawyers and executers came to the family group on Sunday so we could convince them to give her more money.

There was something glamorous about their self-destructiveness—something far more glamorous than what I’d thought would be my glamorous job working there. 

Oh, man...those Sunday family groups really were something else. It was like a who’s who of Hollywood elite all sitting around in plastic folding chairs trying to figure out why it was that their son or daughter or brother or sister or husband or wife had been throwing away their lives on drugs and alcohol. And we all laughed at that, too. Because it seemed so obvious. They were these huge celebrities who’d all had their fucked up personal lives splashed across the pages of those glossy grocery store gossip magazines. We knew that the couple there with the teenage daughter in rehab were both on their third marriage and both probably so preoccupied with their own careers that their poor daughter never had a chance. We told ourselves that we pitied her. 

We told ourselves that we pitied them all.

But secretly, I mean, deep down, I’m pretty sure we all would have given just about anything to trade places with them. That HBO actor guy who stole all the meds was so sick during his opiate detox we had to hold him sitting up just so he could go to the bathroom. In a delirium, he broke into one of the “druggie buggies” (a fleet of Yukon XLs) and attempted to drive it through the locked gates. He was sick and rambling incoherently. But, still, it’s not like he ever faced any real consequences for his behavior. If anything, we just had to coddle him more after a scene like that—they hired a bunch of us to stay at his side literally 24 hours a day. And when his girlfriend (another famous actor) came to visit him, the staff was more concerned with asking her to reenact a scene from her famous movie than in telling her the details of her boyfriend’s destructive behavior.  

So, yeah, not only did I watch them let him get away with absolutely anything, but I also knew damn well that at the end of the 30 days, he had his hot celebrity girlfriend to go back to, as well as a mansion in Malibu and a million-dollar action movie to promote that spring. And me? Well, I had my Mazda 323, a $400-a-month room in an apartment with an old man permanently fixed to a caving-in chair in front of a boxy old TV set that only got around 30-something channels. I was living paycheck to paycheck, working over 40 hours a week, and having to pick out cigarette butts from the planters around the main house of the rehab. 

Honestly, however bad these rich folk had it, I gotta say, they didn’t really seem to have it that bad. And, besides, there was something glamorous about their self-destructiveness—something far more glamorous than what I’d thought would be my glamorous job working there. And, anyway, I hadn’t signed on to be the personal assistant to 20 or more spoiled rich people in the throws of chemical dependency. I’d thought I’d be working to help them, but after a few months, I was beginning to feel like we were just making things worse—both for ourselves and for the clients. What they needed from us was to tell them, “No.” But, as it turned out, our jobs were just to add to their entourage of servile, sycophantic flatters. We were like those plastic surgeons who continued to operate on Michael Jackson when it was obvious he’d already gone way too far.

I don’t have the figures or expertise to say if a glitzy treatment center is more successful at rehabbing clients than a more modest one. All I know is that, for me, the environment started to seem as toxic as they come. Living in L.A. is already a slippery enough slope to be negotiating for anyone trying to retain some form of sanity. But working there definitely pushed me right over the edge. Our collective idol worship brought me to dating an actress—the closest thing to a celebrity I could find. The two of us spent about six months shooting dope in her one-bedroom apartment in the Hollywood Hills. I lost my job, of course—actually, I just stopped showing up completely—and found myself back in rehab again, but this time as a patient. And though the place I checked into wasn’t anything fancy, they definitely told me “No” a whole lot. They broke me down to build me up. And, honestly, I was grateful. Because I’d seen the other side up close. And what can I say? It just didn’t work.

Nic Sheff is a columnist for The Fix and the author of two memoirs about his struggles with addiction, the New York Times-bestselling Tweak, and We All Fall Down. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, two hound dogs, and a cat and has previously written about selling himself for sex and his father David Sheff's book Beautiful Boy, among many other topics.

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Nic Sheff is the author of two memoirs about his struggles with addiction: the New York Times bestselling Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines and We All Fall Down: Living with Addiction. Nic lives in Los Angeles, California where he writes for film and television. Find Nic on Twitter.