I went to a long term addiction treatment center and this turned out to be one of the best decisions that I ever made.
Let me tell you the story. I am sure that long term rehab is not for everyone, but there are still some concepts and ideas behind the story that most likely apply to everyone in recovery.
My story and why I never wanted to go to long term treatment
Way back when I first started using drugs and alcohol my family discovered that I had a problem. They encouraged me to go to counseling at that time so I started to see a counselor on a weekly basis.
This did not work well at all because I was not even close to the point of true surrender. I was actually just getting started with my addiction and in fact it was still a lot of fun at this point. I was not experiencing heavy consequences yet and so there was absolutely no incentive for me to change. My friends and family could tell that I was headed down the wrong road but at that time it was not a bad road at all (from my perspective).
The counselor that I was seeing was encouraging me to go check into a short term rehab, the kind that you stay at for 28 days. I did not want to go to rehab and I honestly did not have even a little hint that I might one day need that sort of help. So I tried to evade at that point and did everything that I could to avoid rehab.
Later on I started drinking even more heavily and I was starting to get a taste of consequences. I was not crashing cars or anything but in reality I was just lucky in that regard. In fact I was blacking out and having some pretty dangerous episodes with alcohol. So at one point I got so scared that I drove myself to a rehab. At that time my friends and family had been encouraging me to seek help, and the counselor I was seeing of course wanted me to go to rehab as well.
So I drove to treatment and they checked me in and I went through detox. Then I went to short term residential treatment where you go to groups and AA meetings throughout the day. During that time I was exposed to the concept of long term rehab. There was a guy in the place who was scheduled to be there for 90 days, and I was honestly shocked by this. I could not believe that he was even willing to stay in a facility for that long. His alcoholism was very advanced and he was facing legal problems as well. He said that if he took a single drink he would black out. This sort of scared me a bit. I still had to take several drinks in order to black out.
This rehab let me go and I don’t believe that they ever recommended that I go to long term rehab. The reason for this is because I was not entirely honest with them about my situation. My plan at that time was to leave residential treatment and to go smoke marijuana, but stay off the booze. I figured that alcohol was my real problem and that I could continue to self medicate using weed.
As you can easily predict, I was wrong. Smoking marijuana was a poor substitute for my real drug of choice (alcohol) and it just led me back to the chaos. I could not smoke enough weed to properly medicate my fears and my feelings. So eventually I had a really emotional day and I went back to drinking again. My experiment had failed.
Some time later my family and friends organized an intervention because my drinking was so heavy and out of control. Again, I was not exactly crashing cars or anything but this was just dumb luck. I easily could have been crashing cars at that point and in fact I was doing quite a bit of drinking and driving. I was also blacking out more than once per week from heavy drinking. My life was a total mess of chaos and misery. I was also using any drugs other than alcohol that I could get my hands on.
So after this intervention I went to another treatment center. This time I was more honest with the rehab and the therapists. I told them exactly what my issues were and how I felt and how I self medicated.
This rehab was terrified. It was actually a rehab set up for teens and young adults and I was at the upper age range. They told me that I was an extreme case of someone who needs help. They told me to take a look around at my peers in that rehab and listen to their stories and notice that most of them were not nearly as bad off as I was. That I was in a rehab with kids who were not that advanced in their disease, and here I was drinking a half gallon of vodka each day and blacking out 3 to 5 times per week. They said I should be terrified.
So this second rehab center urged me to go to long term treatment. Their long term program was only 90 days. Looking back now that is not all that long actually, but at the time it felt like a lifetime to me.
I was horrified at the idea of long term treatment. To me it was like a prison sentence.
The problem was that my attitude was all wrong. I felt like I would be sacrificing far too much of my life if I went into rehab for several months. I said “why not just go to prison? It’s the same idea! Being locked up just for the sake of being locked up, etc.”
So my attitude was all wrong. I equated long term rehab with prison. And I was not willing to take their suggestions. In fact, I was not willing to do anything at all for my recovery. I had come to another short term rehab, but I was not willing to take any action or follow through in any way. I was not done drinking yet. I had not had enough. I was not 100 percent miserable yet.
And so I left my second rehab and relapsed immediately. I was actually angry at the thought that everyone wanted me to go to long term rehab. I was in deep denial. I was actually outraged and embarrassed that anyone would think that I needed to be locked up to control myself. I hated the idea of long term rehab. I though it was a waste of life.
My turning point and moment of surrender. Or, what changed for me and why
So exactly one year later I reached a turning point.
This is the moment of surrender.
One of my biggest enablers had left on vacation for a while. Many of my other friends were gone as well due to a holiday. I was all alone, and I had plenty of money for booze and other drugs.
So I was trying to self medicate. And I was in a position that I wanted to be in. Everyone was out of my way and I could finally drink and use drugs to my heart’s content. I was finally free!
The problem, of course, was that I was miserable.
And because everyone was gone and I was isolated for the first time, I could not escape the misery. I drank as much as I could and it did not help. I even had some very strong liquor on hand and it did not seem to matter. I could not get to that “happy place” for some reason. I added in drugs to the mix and it seemed to have no effect. I was lightly buzzed but definitely not happy. And I wanted to get smashed so that I could medicate away the fact that I was isolated and bored. I imagined all of the people out there who were probably interacting with others and having fun. And that was when I realized that my alcoholism had led me to this point. For the first time I was able to point squarely at my drinking and realize that it led me to this misery.
This was new. I had never done that before. In the past, I always defended alcohol and drugs. I always defended the idea that they could make me happy any time that I wanted, even if life had got me down. They were my miracle cure for the blues.
Expect that it no longer worked. Alcohol had stopped doing what I wanted it to do. It no longer worked. I could not get happy.
And so I surrendered. I asked for help. I said “yes, it is time to go to rehab, and try something different.”
This was real surrender. In the past I had agreed to go to rehab, but only for the sake of others. Now I was going to rehab because I was miserable and I wanted to escape the misery.
This is the turning point. This is where it all changed.
So I went to long term treatment. I knew that this was the solution for me because therapists and counselors had been telling me this for years now.
So I went to detox and short term. Then I spoke with the counselors in rehab and told them that I needed to go to long term. They helped me get placement in one.
So I had finally surrendered and moved past my fear of long term treatment.
The thing that did the trick was misery. I had to be so miserable that I was willing to go to long term anyway.
I still had much the same opinion about it. I still believed that it might be like prison or jail. But I was willing to try it anyway, because I was so sick and tired of being miserable.
I lived there for 20 months. It was the best decision I ever made.
Was I happy while living in long term treatment?
I was definitely happy while living in long term rehab.
For the first few weeks my happiness was not very stable. I had some rough moments. I have to admit that I was frustrated and miserable a few days in there. I thought that I might eventually relapse at one point, because I just wasn’t very happy. I left a girlfriend at this time that was no good for me. That was really hard, to say goodbye to one of your enablers. I also felt like I was mourning the loss of a friend by saying goodbye to alcohol.
After a few weeks though, maybe around the 60 day point, I had an epiphany. I realized that I had made it through a whole day without even thinking about drinking or using drugs.
What?! How was this possible? I went through a whole day without even thinking of drinking or getting high? How did that happen?
Based on my beliefs this was an impossibility. I had said that this day would never come, and here it was only 60 days sober and I was already set free (in a way).
That was really the first miracle, and I acknowledged it as such. And after that it just kept getting better and better.
I had been afraid that I would have no freedom at all while living in long term treatment, but this turned out to be false.
I had plenty of freedom. I was able to get a job. I was able to leave the rehab every day and go into the outside world, to go to outside meetings, or just to go out and do whatever I pleased. I still had to come home at night and I was still held accountable, but I was basically free.
My fear had always been that long term rehab would be too much like jail. But would I really have stayed there for 20 months if it was like jail? Of course not. The fact is that I stayed there for 20 months because it was really easy to be living there, and it was not bad at all. The experience was one that I would definitely repeat if I had a problem. I highly recommend it to others at this point. Long term treatment is not the jail that you may think it is. You really get a lot of freedom.
What are you willing to do in order to recover and build a new life?
Perhaps the biggest lesson hidden in my story here is this:
What are you willing to do in order to recover?
I had to face a really hard truth. Everyone in my life had been pushing me for a long time to get the help that I needed. Short term treatment was not doing it for me. I went to 2 short term rehab centers and relapsed immediately. Obviously I needed more help than what short term treatment could provide. But I was not willing to accept that I fought against it for many years.
Finally in the end I surrendered. I realized that short term treatment was not enough to help me, and that I needed something more. So I had to get past my fear of long term rehab. I had to do the one thing that I had been resisting all along.
I think that most struggling addicts and alcoholics are probably in a similar position. They are probably avoiding the solution even though it is eventually staring them in the face. They know that they need to get professional help but they resist it because they are stuck in denial.
In order to move past your denial I have a suggestion for you.
It is going to sound like a negative suggestion, but in reality this is what actually works.
Focus on your misery.
If you are struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction then you need to focus on just how miserable you truly are.
Most of us do the exact opposite. We try to focus on the positive. We try to minimize the fear, the chaos, and the pain of our addiction.
This is a mistake. The solution is to embrace the pain and the fear and the misery. You must accept it and own it. You must realize that your addiction is fueling your misery. And then at some point your brain will be forced to make a conscious decision: Do I want to keep inviting this misery into my life? Or do I want to give freedom a try instead?
My turning point came when I finally embraced my misery to the point where I could no longer ignore it. I could no longer point the finger at others and blame them for my unhappiness. I was left all alone with my drug of choice and I found myself to still be miserable. So there was no one to blame but myself. I had to accept the fact that my drinking had created my unhappiness.
Now the trap of denial states that I would be unhappy if I became sober, too. But this was largely untested. I was only assuming that I would be miserable forever if I gave up alcohol and drugs. But I could no longer make assumptions about my drinking. I had reached a point where I knew….I really knew, deep down….that alcohol was making me miserable. This was the point of true surrender. I could no longer lie to myself about this. I accepted the fact that drinking was the cause of my unhappiness.
If you lack the willingness to recover, to do the thing that you are afraid to do (for me it was long term rehab), then your problem is not really one of willingness. It is a problem of surrender. You are stuck in denial. Once you move past your denial then willingness will flow freely into your life. The stumbling block is your denial. You must focus on your misery until you realize that there is no more happiness to be found in your addiction.
Why long term rehab is not for everyone
For a long time after I became clean and sober I really believed that long term rehab was the solution for everyone.
Obviously it is not though. Many, many people get clean and sober without living in a long term treatment center.
So long term rehab may or may not be the solution for you. I am not pushing here. I am not suggesting that everyone go find long term treatment.
However, my story should reveal a few key lessons for you:
1) It is all about surrender and willingness. You must find a way to work through your denial. Embrace the negative and own it. Focus on the misery. It will set you free in the end.
2) If everyone in your life is telling you something, then guess what? They are not all wrong. I had to accept the fact that everyone in my life was probably correct when they told me I was out of control. At first I thought everyone else was simply being unreasonable. What are the odds of everyone in your life being wrong, and you being right?
3) Treatment is not a punishment. It is a gift. If you have not yet reached a state of full surrender then you will likely view treatment (all treatment) as a punishment. But if you reach a state of total surrender then you will see treatment as being an opportunity.
Long term treatment is not for everyone. But whatever you are resisting (while you are in denial) is quite possibly the beginning of your solution.