Once I finally surrendered fully to my addiction and came to grips with the idea that I had to commit to 100 percent total abstinence, I was finally ready to take real action.
My decision to go into a long term treatment facility
This decision to go to long term treatment was a long time coming.
It actually started back when I first went to a short term rehab center. While I was there I was exposed to someone who was actually in a long term program at that very facility and he was supposed to stay there for 90 days. At the time I remember being in absolute shock at this, that a person could be so screwed up on drugs or alcohol that they would subject themselves to three continuous months of inpatient rehab. Of course at that time I was still quite early in my disease and I had not been through very much pain and misery yet on my own journey. Three months of rehab sounded like a prison sentence. I can remember thinking to myself how amazing that would be if you were so screwed up that you actually wanted to live in rehab for a long time.
Later on I went to another inpatient facility for short term treatment, and this time I was a bit more educated about recovery programs because I had some previous exposure. The therapists and the counselors at this second treatment center were urging me to go to long term rehab, but I was still of the mindset that it was a waste of time and that it was a “punishment.” I could not believe that people would subject themselves to treatment for such long periods of time. My thought was “why not just go to jail or prison? What it the difference? You are giving up your freedom anyway, right?” This was my thinking and my logic. Treatment was something to be avoided, minimized, and kept to the shortest amount of time possible.
So after leaving my second treatment and ignoring all suggestions that I attend long term treatment, I promptly walked back into a lifestyle of pain and misery. For some reason I could not see the benefit that long term rehab might have over continuing to use drugs and alcohol. Looking back now, I can clearly see a strong argument for long term treatment. So what that it lasts for several months or even years? What else are you going to do with your time? Use drugs and alcohol? Exactly. That is exactly what the addict will do with their time and after a year or two or has gone by they will be able to look back (if they are willing to do so and get honest with themselves) and realize that nothing has changed. They are still chasing that same elusive high with their drug of choice and if they are honest with themselves then they will admit that they are still basically miserable with their life. They cannot find the perfect mix of having fun with drugs while also controlling them. The perfect combination of doing so is always right around the corner, but they never quite reach it.
So what if long term rehab is a six month to two year commitment? Who cares? I failed to realize for many years that I was wasting my time anyway. I was just existing, I was not even really living my life. I was not making growth, I was not meeting new challenges or overcoming goals or doing anything productive with my life. I was merely existing to earn money and then spend it on drugs so that I could stay medicated all the time. There was no growth in my life in any dimension. I simply existed to get high, and everything that I did was a means to that end. I had no purpose other than to self medicate. What was the point?
When I was stuck in the denial of my addiction, I could not see the benefits of sobriety and recovery very clearly at all. I could not imagine that it was a worthwhile trade to go to long term rehab for two years just to get off of drugs and alcohol. I just could not see that this made sense to do so. Of course, anyone on the outside looking in can see that the addict or alcoholic would be crazy not to take this path if it would help them.
For any addict or alcoholic who has a life of chaos and misery due to addiction, going to long term rehab for several months or even years should be a no-brainer, provided they are willing to do the work to stay clean and sober. If they knew for certain that they could get clean and sober, start to enjoy life again, and not pick up a drink or drug ever again, then this would be a slam dunk decision, and they would be crazy not to attend treatment. But it can be tough to see these benefits when we are still stuck in our addiction, and the idea of long term treatment can be very intimidating. No matter how you feel about rehab, it can still sound like a prison sentence.
When I finally surrendered to my disease and was attending my third detox, I knew that I needed more help then just short term treatment. I had been to treatment twice before and I knew that if I just stayed in residential for a few weeks and then left that I would end up relapsing again. I had finally accepted the idea that I needed long term care if I was going to recover.
The reason that I made this decision was due to a few factors:
1) Therapists and counselors had now been telling me that I needed long term for a few years now. They all kept telling me that this was the solution for me. Eventually it sank in, even though I resisted the idea at first.
2) I was miserable enough in my addiction that I became willing to try something radical (or something that I considered to be an extreme solution).
The second point is probably more important than the first one. I had to surrender on a very deep level such that I became willing to do anything in order to recover. If you talk with other people in recovery they will express much the same idea–that they had to become willing to go to nearly any length in order to get and stay sober. For me, that meant living in long term treatment. It was just what I had to do in order to break free from a life built up around drug and alcohol use.
Finally became willing to go to 12 step meetings
Part of this transition into recovery also involved another major hurdle for me, and that was exposure to 12 step meetings. I had been to them before by going to two previous rehabs, and I knew right from the start that I did not generally like these meetings and that I was pretty much terrified of speaking at them.
I disliked the idea of speaking in front of others so much that I vowed never to get clean and sober simply in the interest of avoiding 12 step meetings. Really what it was is that I was just scared to speak in front of others, and I dreaded the idea of being put on the spot. I hated the attention of everyone in the room looking at me. This is exactly what happens in an AA meeting, of course.
But I had become willing to attend long term rehab and with that decision I also became willing to attend 12 step meetings again. The two were inseparable anyway because the long term rehab that I lived at required us to attend a 12 step meeting every day. It is much the same throughout the entire treatment industry as most of it relies on the 12 step model anyway. This is not necessarily good or bad, it simply is. The industry is mostly based on the 12 step program at this point, for better or for worse.
So while I was in my third treatment I transitioned right into long term treatment and started living at a program called New Beginnings. It had 12 guys living there total and one therapist. We had two therapy groups each week and if you missed one you were kicked out of the program. We were also randomly drug tested and given breathalyzers quite frequently.
This setup seemed to work for me. I was in a controlled environment where no drugs or alcohol could really be brought in (they were at times but the people were always caught right away and kicked out instantly). It was a supportive environment in that we were all trying to stay clean and sober together and to help each other out and be supportive.
And of course, I was attending 12 step meetings each and every day.
At first they were mostly terrifying for me, and then they became slightly less so, but I was still scared of them and did not really like going to them. I even spoke at many of them though I would not really “share” in the way that you are supposed to. Instead I would plan what I was going to say in my head first so that I did not say anything stupid or stumble over my words. I was later told that in doing so I was pretty much removing any therapeutic element that “sharing” would have got for me anyway. Instead I was supposed to just talk and shoot from the hip so to speak so that I could share freely what was really on my mind, and this would be more beneficial. I was never really able to do that in a meeting even though I did share at many of them. I even went on to chair one weekly meeting for over a year and was supposed to share a “message of hope” with newcomers who were in detox at a rehab. I did this even while I was still living in long term rehab because I had been sober for over a year at that time. It got a little easier to share in meetings but ultimately I was still planning out my thoughts in advance and I never really came to get much benefit from it.
The point here is that I had to become willing to do this in order to get clean and sober. Going to tons of AA meetings was part of the package deal. I could not very well attend a long term rehab unless I was willing to endure lots and lots of 12 step meetings. And so luckily I was just willing enough to be able to overcome this fear of meetings and the anxiety of speaking in front of others, even though it is still there to a large extent and never really went away completely. Later on in my recovery I would discover a different approach to sobriety that did not depend on meetings at all, and I continue with that approach to this day after over ten years.
But I think the critical point here is that you have to become willing. “Become” is key here. In other words, you were not originally willing. Instead, you “become” willing over time to do the things that you NEED to do in order to get clean and sober. I had to become willing to go to long term rehab, and I had to become willing to attend 12 step meetings. If I had not become willing to do either of those two things I do not believe I would be sober today.
Long term treatment allowed me to use an holistic approach to recovery
Early recovery was a bit confusing.
I am a fairly quick and thorough study when it comes to something that I really want to learn. I am a good student. If you give me a textbook and tell me that my life depends on learning the material, I can learn it very quickly. If I have to memorize formulas or vocabulary terms I can do that quite easily.
It almost seemed like I was getting mixed messages in recovery. I am not sure exactly why this is but I think it has to do with my rate of learning.
I thought that I was going to have to study the mysteries of recovery for several months. I thought that I was going to have to dive into step work and meticulously work through the steps over a long period of time, being as thorough as possible.
People in the AA meetings were confusing me a bit. Why? Because they talked about “studying the big book” like it was the greatest scholarly challenge in the world. They stressed the importance of reading the book, of writing in the steps, and so on.
Well, that stuff was easy for me. I was extremely good at reading and writing and digesting concepts. This was child’s play for me. And therefore it did not really help me all that much.
My therapist in long term recovery understood this better than I did, and without really putting it into words, he started to direct me in a more holistic direction.
My sponsor at the time took the same approach. They were both trying to get me to do things that seemed to fall outside of traditional recovery, such as:
* Go back to college and get a degree.
* Start exercising.
* Start a new relationship.
And so on.
This was the confusing part, at least for me anyway. I was confused because all I heard in the AA meetings was how we had to focus on the steps, focus on the big book, and focus our entire life and efforts on this recovery stuff. And then my therapist and my sponsor seemed to be saying to me:
“Just forget all of that step work and meeting stuff for now, and start living your life and seeking some real growth instead! Go back to school, get into shape, find a relationship, etc.”
So I sort of resisted this more “holistic” path at first, because I was so scared that I was going to relapse.
Everyone in the meetings who seemed to “talk a good game of recovery” was cautioning people against deviating from the 12 step path. They harped on the idea that we had to make AA our whole life, that we had to dedicate our lives to the steps, that we had to really focus and concentrate if we were going to stay sober and make this thing work.
And so I got nervous at the idea of deviating from this “hard core AA mindset” and venturing out to do other things with my time–to go back to school, to start exercising, and so on.
Now I realize that a person can still do both–that they can still attend AA while doing these other things. But there was a split here because the people who were successful in 12 step recovery seemed to be saying that you had to focus more heavily on it than what I was being told to do. I was being encouraged to use a more holistic approach, and this is what made me nervous. I was afraid that if I deviated away from AA that I would relapse and die. That is what people in AA told me would happen.
What I learned while watching others relapse
I honestly cannot understand how a person would fail to stay clean and sober WHILE they are living in long term treatment. You have to really be screwing around to not be able to hold it together while living in rehab.
I can tell you what the problem is when someone relapses who is living in long term treatment. The phrase is “just not ready.” They are just not ready to get sober yet, period. Because that is the only possible explanation. They have all of the resources right there at their disposal. They are living in rehab, they have 24/7 support, they are (hopefully) in a controlled and drug free environment, and they have been given every advantage possible.
If they relapse at this point, it is their own darn fault, and they simply were not ready yet to get clean and sober. Period.
So I was amazed to live in long term rehab and watch about 20 to 30 guys relapse while living there with me over the course of almost two years. The relapse rate was quite ridiculous. A handful stayed clean and sober along with me but most relapsed. And what I learned is that MOST people just aren’t ready yet.
The other thing I learned is that going through the motions does not get you ready or allow you to be sober necessarily. People attending meetings, working the steps, working with a sponsor–they relapse all the time. There is no magic plan that produces sobriety without fail. The problem always goes back to the individual level of surrender. Are they truly ready to go to any length? If not, all the song and dance and all the meetings and all the rehabs won’t make a bit of difference.
And you can say that you understand this concept of having to be fully ready to recover, but I never really understood it until I lived in long term rehab for almost two full years. It was then that I got to see dozens of people relapse who were “just not ready yet.” And further, I actually got to know each and every one of these people before they relapsed.
So this experience really taught me that the 12 step program was one possible framework, but it certainly was not a magic cure, because so many people who were going through the motions failed to remain sober. And that is just it–the level of surrender and commitment to personal growth is what really speaks volumes when it comes to long term recovery.
But when you first get clean and sober and you land in detox, it is tough to decipher what is truly important. Living in rehab for 20 months opened my eyes to a lot of things. There is no magic bullet in recovery.