Only Lockdown Rehab Worked

By Maria Weeks 06/25/14

Cravings are nothing but extremely powerful memories of pleasure (euphoric recall) brought on by drug use.


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Not proud to say it, but in the last few years of my alcoholism, I could be found in only a few key spots: in bed, at the liquor store, or in hospitals (mental and emergency rooms).

But there was this faint albeit persistent voice inside me that kept saying: “Don’t give up” - even after countless suicide attempts. Too much of a pussy to jump off a bridge, I’d down enough pills to put a herd of elephants to sleep.

On one attempt, I awoke in the emergency room with a priest standing over me.

“God has other plans for you; that is why you didn’t die,” he said. But, I don’t believe in Personal Gods and did not believe one would save me, especially when there were more deserving candidates - like the innocent cancer-ridden children down the hall from me.

I’d been to Rancho L’ Bri, a spa-like rehab, four times. I loved it and was dead certain every time I was released that my drinking days were over. I’d be riding the pink cloud, feeling reborn, ready to start my new life over.

Do you know what it feels like to think you have finally surrendered: you’re working the program, doing the steps, made the decision to turn your will over to the care of God (as you understand him). . . only to do the unfathomable, pick up again?

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says: Rarely have we seen a person fail that has thoroughly followed our path, and you think, “Yep that’s right, that’s what it says and that is what I’m doing and I’m not failing” and then, bam! You walk across the street and an environmental cue - in the form of a liquor store - sets off that craving switch in your brain and it’s relentlessly powerful and it won’t leave you alone until you give in to it. So you get the booze, drink it, just to shut the damn switch off. And it works. For about ten minutes. Then it comes back on and stays on for the duration.

My last stint at County Mental Health, an unlikely angel in the guise of an overworked, irritated doctor came to my rescue. She looked at my chart and said: “Man, what is up with you? You have been here so many times and you know what? You don’t belong here.”

“What?” I replied. “I sure do belong here - look how many times I’ve tried to kill myself.”

She acknowledged that part of the problem was genetic depression, but made it clear the alcohol was making it exponentially worse.

“I’m not so sure you would’ve tried to kill yourself had you not been drinking. There is only one solution to your problem. Treatment.” She put a list down in front of me and said: “Here you go, take your pick. Most of them are county and free so you can’t use the excuse they’re too expensive.”

“But, but,” I wailed, “I’ve tried treatment so many times! Besides, my AA buddies say I don’t need treatment - all I need to do is surrender to the program. And I love the program; I just can’t stop drinking.”

“Okay,” she said plainly, “how long did you spend in treatment each time?” Before I could say anything she said, “What? A month?” I nodded.

Then she said: “There are no 30 day miracles. You should know that by now. Don’t come back here again until you’ve done at least six months of treatment.”

Since I had no money, and nowhere else to go, I agreed to enter long term treatment.

I ended up at a “last house on the block” type of rehab, run by an evangelical ex-junkie named Richard. His rehab, the Ethridge Center, had become an icon, known for taking the worst of addicts and turning them into sober productive members of society.

He believed the only way to get clean initially was not through God, a higher power, or AA meetings, but to be quarantined. This entailed not being able to leave the premises for the first three months except to exercise in the yard. After that you could leave, but always in the company of staff.

Lockdown rehab does not deal with the moral or spiritual aspect of abstaining, using, or relapsing; its one and only goal is to alleviate cravings through non-exposure to drugs and alcohol.

Cravings are nothing but extremely powerful memories of pleasure (euphoric recall) brought on by drug use. It’s also estimated that “euphoric recall” registers two to ten times stronger in the hippocampus than any other pleasurable activity - even sex! So if someone has told you in your first few days of sobriety the best way to deal with cravings is to play the tape back by remembering how bad things got the last time you used, you may not have much success, because euphoric recall is so powerful, it overrides negative memories.

So what is the solution? The solution is to rid oneself of euphoric recall! And it’s a lot easier than you might think and here’s why: if euphoric recall is nothing but a memory, don’t most memories fade in time? For example, I’ve forgotten how to speak Japanese, only because I no longer use it living in California.

It’s estimated that cravings begin to attenuate in about three months, and by the sixth month they are usually gone. Of course there are some exceptions to the rule, for some people cravings may never go away completely. However, they will be a lot fainter and easier to manage than they were in early sobriety.

Personally, I knew this approach to be the most effective, only because I’d been down this road before. While living in L.A. 20 years ago, I had a “once a month” crack addiction. Like clockwork, the cravings would be so powerful, I felt the only way to alleviate them was to use crack. Then I heard on the radio one day that the only way a person could conquer crack was to be in an environment where it wasn’t available. So I decided to move back to Japan where crack wasn’t available. I was there as an English teacher before, so I put on my teacher hat again and headed for Japan. And it was the smartest thing I ever did. After about six months of no exposure to crack, the short term memories of how fantastic that first hit felt were impossible to recall. Instead, they were replaced by memories of bleeding burnt fingers and the awful black shit I’d cough up.

When I got out of Richard’s rehab, six months later, I did the test: I walked past my liquor store - the one I always relapsed in. Instead of thinking how soothing just one beer would feel - the urge I’d always get after being released from a one-month rehab - a revolting memory hit me of the time I threw up all over the counter. I staggered out of there, gasping for breath. But I was delighted! My cravings were gone, and I can say to this day, have never re-emerged.

Listen, if you’ve tried everything except jail and still can’t get sober, try lockdown rehab. Don’t use the excuse you can’t afford it; there are state-run rehabs everywhere. Don’t say you don’t have the time, either. That is an excuse solely reserved for people that did make it in one-month rehabs, or were helped by AA, or were able to quit on their own.

Maria lived in Japan for 12 years, and upon returning, worked at Sony Electronics in San Diego as a translator.  She’s now attending college to be a AOD counselor and does volunteer work at the Ethridge center teaching aerobics and counseling clients.

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Maria Weeks lived in Japan for 12 years, worked as a translator for Sony in San Diego, then sold Jaguars (though her sales license was revoked due to a DUI). She got sober by going to a great rehab, and is now stocking shelves. She is happily married and thoroughly enjoying recovery!