Rehab Rules of Attraction

By Nick Dothée 04/20/17

Attractions will come and go, but for my sobriety’s sake, there need to be some ground rules when it comes to rehab romance.

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Heart in chains with padlock

1. Ring the bell and get honest about who you’re attracted to at a Group level.

“Hola Papi.”

That’s all I heard as he seductively leaned against the doorframe of Swamp, where the doors are locked open. “Swamp” was the name of my room with six other guys in a government run residential treatment program for the LGBT community in Hollywood. The other rooms were Betty Ford, Madonna, and Aquarium. I quickly understood the reason my room didn’t have a cute name like the others. It was summertime and there wasn’t enough airflow for cute.

When he arrived at the Recovery House, Eduardo wore a close-to-see-through white cut off T and short short gym shorts. Or rather when he showed up. You don’t arrive at this particular Recovery House, you end up there. His West Hollywood outfit was not part of our dress code, but it was his first day and from what I could tell he wasn’t just rehab hot.

  1. Do not be alone with said attraction.

“I miss you,” he would mouth in passing once we were sentenced to “rules of attraction,” a set of restrictions which are initiated when an attraction to one or multiple parties is revealed and made public. He was referring to the day before, when we could speak freely with one another. We kissed once in the telephone booth between the foyer and the kitchen. There were two pay phones that we were allowed to talk on from 4:00pm to 5:30pm if we weren’t in Group. But we were always in Group. And we were usually talking about my inability to tell the truth. I thought I was telling the truth. I felt like I had been blindfolded and spun around ten times and then discouraged from finding the candy.

Meth and GHB are highly sexual. Bathhouses and bareback gang bangs are almost always the end result of the drugs unless you are a “project tweaker” who spends the endless hours tinkering and rewiring electrical crap that never worked and never will. My sexual identity was intertwined with heavy meth use and ever since a pseudo-drug dealer slash makeshift boyfriend taught me to smoke it rather than snort it, something in me that had been dead or sleeping was now awake and very much alive and well. The thought of sober sex was not only totally foreign to me, but vastly terrifying.

Linda runs all aspects of the house. In fact, she's a sober living legend of sorts. The issue that kept coming up (besides an inability to tell the entire truth about everything) was fixing my outsides and not my insides. I want everything to look good quick so nobody knows what’s really going on. I learned this is beyond a bad habit. It’s the kind of thinking that will kill me.

We had eight hour Groups on me most days, but perhaps my perception is slightly skewed. I’ll cop to being self-centered in the extreme. I have to own it for my recovery. Self-obsession and all the warped thinking that goes with it is what got me here.

This was Group: Linda sat (center) with Moira (right) and Bob (left) in front of the fireplace framed by a mantel housing ashes and other items to honor those who had gone through the house, but died from the disease of alcoholism. The three of them would sit in pre-set chairs that looked Victorian and somehow royal. Moira is a counselor and Linda’s sidekick, keeping that place going. Saving lives. Bob is a therapist and a “normie.” He doesn’t have the ism in alcoholism. Watching his reactions to some of the stuff we addicts got up to was one way to pass the time. The clients sat in a horseshoe formation facing the staff. When Linda quietly motioned for someone to approach, I knew Group was nowhere near over. She’d serenely whisper in this person’s ear. FUCK. She just ordered lunch. That means we’ll sit there up until dinner at best.

I didn’t need to worry about how to pass the time since most of the time I was sitting in that living room for Group or step study I was being confronted about my truth and why I wasn’t telling it. All of it. Honestly, my go to excuse was always my brain. I still don’t feel quite back to the self that could multi-task and problem-solve or successfully get out of my sober living without forgetting five things. I know everybody feels this way, but I can actually feel the chunks of my brain that hold memory and comprehension missing. Truly. I work through it, but it’s a thing. So I would try to explain to these ladies that have seen every color of addict. Linda is not afraid to raise her voice or launch an arsenal of F bombs at you. Again, we need that. If you end up in this recovery house you need your ass kicked so that relapse is not an option.

Linda would look at me on one side of the room and then at Eduardo on the opposite couch and bluntly ask: “What could you possibly offer each other?”

I said it wasn’t like that.

  1. Only speak with an attraction if a third party is present and the topic is recovery.

The notes being passed that said “I miss you” were brought up again. I dunno why I had such a boner for this kid. Oh wait. Yes I do. It’s because I had been doing meth and GHB for eighteen months, having tons of anonymous, long, intense, group sex and now I was stone cold sober in a rehab where nobody could touch me. After my first 30 days of thawing out and feeling a little bit better than disgusting, “horny” didn’t even begin to cover it. My hormones came back full force. I was a 12-year-old boy again. The staff forbade me from wearing a certain pair of tiny grey gym shorts presumably because they were too suggestive. I had to own that it was a calculated choice. Eduardo told me I was “fuckable” the first day he saw me in those shorts. He didn’t know very much English so this was him being genuinely sweet.

Linda came for Eduardo in Group one day about “deviating” while he was being taken to a doctor’s appointment. If you are able to leave the house with an approved chaperone for any appointment, you can’t go anywhere other than the destination. Anything besides going from the house to the appointment and back is considered “deviating.” The point is as alcoholics and addicts our thinking is fucked and when we deviate from where we want to go in our thinking we end up at the drug dealer's. So yeah, no Starbucks. And that is where Eduardo went and Linda wasn’t pleased. He had been on thin ice so I wasn’t surprised when I heard it.

“Pack your shit and get out.”

  1. Share feelings every hour on the hour using the feelings list.

The Feelings List is a mandatory tool given to all the clients in the house immediately and we are to have it on us at all times. It has 750 feeling words in alphabetical order. Sometimes we can only communicate using this list. When he left I was asked how I felt. Honestly…?

“Relieved.” I just wanted all the nonsense to be over. It was clearly a huge distraction that I was welcoming.

“With the fucking Feelings List,” they yelled.

“Anxious, argumentative, aloof…”

  1. Both parties are to adhere to the rules whether or not the feelings are mutual.

The house is a bubble and we are all looking for anything to fix feelings we haven’t felt since adolescence... if ever. Most of us have been numb from a very early age, of course the house and it’s contents have a middle school vibe. I was passing notes for fuck’s sake.

I see Eduardo from time to time. I feel close to nothing besides recognition of our time in rehab together and a certain level of respect for his sporadic attendance at AA meetings. Linda was right, we have nothing to offer each other right now. And that’s okay. Love and other games of the heart are a luxury that I can’t currently afford. My life depends on me developing and maintaining a connection with a power greater than myself. That’s all the love I need at the moment. Attractions will come and go, but for my sobriety’s sake, there need to be some ground rules. These are the rules to be followed if love finds you in rehab. And it did find me. Sort of.

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Nick Dothée was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and currently lives in Hollywood, CA. He has been published in OUT magazine and had a successful podcast, Dirty 30 Somethingthat iTunes named new and noteworthy while he was living in NYC as an actor slash singer slash singing waiter in Times Square. Nick still writes and performs, but now his recovery has become number one because his life depends on it. You can follow Nick on Twitter.

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