This is a question that I fought with for years and years.
To me, the idea of staying in an inpatient facility for 28 days seemed ridiculous. It sounded like a jail sentence.
I thought: “Why should I go stay in a treatment center for 28 days and waste all of that time in my life? Why would anyone ever do that voluntarily?”
Of course at that time I was still in serious denial, even though I would probably admit to anyone that I had a problem with alcohol and drugs. I was still in denial though because I did not believe that being clean and sober could ever make me happier. I really believed that the only way that I could find happiness in my life was to be drunk or high on drugs. This was really the root of my denial. Therefore I saw going to treatment as a form of punishment, rather than as something that might help me in the long run.
There was really another layer of denial in there as well. I think it was sort of my brain saying to myself: “Hey, if I really wanted to get sober, then I would just quit drinking on my own…..and I would not have to voluntarily lock myself up in rehab for 28 days in order to do it!”
So even though I could admit that I had a serious problem, I believe that deep down I was still in denial because I was holding on to the idea that I could heal myself without any help if I so desired. I just did not desire to be sober though! This was my rationale and I believe it is a classic form of denial. Essentially you are arguing that you could get sober if only you wanted to….but you just don’t want to.
As a matter of fact I went to rehab on three different occasions. The first time was a short term rehab that lasted about ten days. I had no idea how long I would be there when I went.
The second rehab I attended was a full 28 days. They tried to get me to stay longer in a long term program. My reaction to long term treatment was the same as what your reaction probably is to the idea of 28 days, which is to say that I thought it was rather ridiculous. One to two years in treatment? Are you crazy? Why not just go to prison? That was my reaction to the suggestion of long term rehab. I was arguing that they wanted to take away my “freedom,” not able to see the fact that I was enslaved to alcohol anyway. It is much harder to see the prison cell that you make for yourself. If others put you there, it is easy to see the lack of freedom.
So I reluctantly did the 28 days on my second trip to rehab but I was outraged at the fact that the counselors and therapists were trying to convince me to go to long term rehab. I was so outraged in fact that I relapsed immediately upon leaving treatment.
It took me another year of chaos and misery before I got to the point of true surrender. And at that time I knew what I needed in order to get help.
I needed to do what the professionals had been telling me to do all along. They were telling me to go to long term treatment. And so when I reached a point of true surrender, I told the therapists at the next rehab that this is what I needed: long term rehab. They complied and placed me in one. I am sure after talking with me enough they would have recommended that anyway. But I already knew that I needed long term because so many therapists had told me that in the past already.
In the beginning, I was incredulous that I might have to go to treatment for 28 days and “waste all of that time.” In the end, I was begging a rehab to place me in a 1 to 2 year program so that I might be able to live sober one day.
My how the tables turned. This was all due to surrender, which was brought on by going through all sorts of pain and chaos and misery.
Now, everyone’s story will be different. For example, I know of alcoholics who skipped rehab altogether and just started going to AA meetings every day. Maybe the detoxed themselves on someone’s couch (generally dangerous). And on the other hand I know people who went to a 28 day program and they are sober to this day. And I also know of people who have been to treatment over 20 times in their life. Seriously, I am not making that number up, I have met people in recovery who are on their 23rd rehab. And they are still struggling to this day.
So you may need 28 days in rehab. You may need less than that. And in fact you may need a lot more (like I did).
In reality I believe that you are asking the wrong question. I can’t blame you for that though, because I was originally outraged at the idea of “wasting time in rehab” and I equated it with being in prison. Of course this was ridiculous and I was in denial. But it was still the wrong attitude to take and therefore the question is flawed to begin with (that question being, is 28 days what I really need?)
The question instead should have been: “What do I have to do in order to achieve long term sobriety?”
The answer to that question should be sought earnestly with all of your heart, and then followed through on with great diligence.
The problem is that most alcoholics do not have any idea how great the rewards are in recovery. Or, they don’t believe that those rewards of sobriety are even possible for them. They think that they are different and that traditional recovery cannot work for them, or that it does not apply to them.
But if the typical alcoholic really understood the transformation that lays in front of them, that the possibility exists for true happiness in sobriety, they would become motivated to work that much harder for it.
My problem was that I never believed it. Someone told me once how awesome their life was in sobriety, and I was genuinely excited for this guy, but I still did not think it was possible for me to achieve that. Because I really thought that I was different. I thought that I was unique, and that I was the only person in the world who really loved alcohol. So this other guy who had a great story and who sobered up and found a better life–I did not believe that his story could apply to me. I was different. This is what I told myself at the time and why I stayed stuck in denial.
At this point in my life I have found sobriety. I have been sober for 12 years continuous now. And I have received tons of benefits and happiness by finding this path. But in the beginning I really thought that I would be miserable forever.
Knowing what I know now, I would pay nearly any price to get clean and sober.
28 days? Pffft! That’s nothing. I lived in rehab for almost 2 full years and I would have gladly stayed for 2 more if that is what it would have took. You cannot put a price on the freedom and happiness that I enjoy today.
But I never knew that at the time. I was stuck in denial and I thought that if I gave up alcohol that I would be sad forever. So I had to get to the point of surrender before I could take that risk. And that meant that I had to exhaust all of my options first. I had to really try to climb out of the misery by using alcohol. I had to try several times. And finally I “got it.” Finally I realized that I was never going to escape the misery through drinking. So I gave up, I surrendered, and I became willing to ask for help. That is when my life finally changed–when I got so miserable that I no longer cared what happened to me.
What are the odds that you can stay sober without any professional help at all?
If you are anything like the typical struggling alcoholic then you should already have a pretty good idea of what the answer to this question is.
Whether you have been to treatment before or not is not relevant. Are you still struggling with alcohol? If so, then you probably have enough evidence to convince you that you cannot quit drinking on your own.
Lord knows that every alcoholic tries to control it. We realize that we get out of control and experience consequences, so we decide that we will try to calm it down a little so that we can avoid such problems. But when we try to control our drinking, we realize that we are not really enjoying ourselves. Most alcoholics will not admit this at first, but in the end they usually realize that this trade off exists. That is why so many alcoholics end up being so isolated. They are merely avoiding consequences. They choose to drink heavily and they want to avoid getting in trouble. They have reached a choice: They can either enjoy their drinking and lose control, or they can control their drinking and be miserable. So they choose to isolate so that they can let loose and drink as they please.
Now there are several problems with this. The biggest problem is that the alcoholic will be miserable in isolation anyway. At some point the alcohol will not keep them “happy” for very long at all. Eventually it will stop working entirely. Their tolerance will shift to the point where they are either sober, or they are blacked out drunk. There will be no in-between, no happy buzz.
Most alcoholics have struggled to control their drinking for a long time. But not all of them have actually tried to quit entirely. If you are leery of going to rehab, then you might give this an honest effort. Try to quit on your own. Of course if your detox process is too intense and you are shaking visibly then you probably need medical supervision (alcohol detox can be dangerous and even fatal). So you might consider going to rehab anyway at that point if your hands are shaking. This is a clear sign that your physical dependence on alcohol has become very severe.
If you can quit drinking without any physical withdrawal symptoms then you are on the right path. Now the question is: “Can you learn to live and enjoy your life without alcohol?” If you don’t have a clue as to how to go about doing this and you are just white-knuckling it, then it is very likely that you will not last long and you will eventually relapse.
There was a time in my life when I had quit drinking but I was still abusing other drugs. As such, I was not really “in recovery” at all and even though I did not drink for a few months you would not have labeled me as being “sober” by any means. But it was still a useful lesson for me because I was still trying very hard to avoid alcohol at all costs, and I was essentially white-knuckling it. And eventually I could not medicate myself enough with drugs alone and I went back to drinking.
So this helped me to understand that I could not overcome alcohol by myself. I did everything that I could in order to avoid drinking and yet it still lured me back in eventually. My life became overwhelming to the point that I decided that I just had to take a drink.
There are two ways that a person might quit drinking:
1) With help.
2) Completely by themselves, in isolation.
I have never met a recovering alcoholic who did not have any help.
Being desperate enough to not care how long you are in rehab may be the whole key!
As I mentioned before, asking how long you are going to be in rehab is really the wrong question.
If you are so desperate that you don’t know or care how long you are going to rehab for, then you are probably in a state of real surrender and your odds of staying sober are greatly increased.
On the other hand, if someone is so concerned about every little detail regarding their treatment and they are trying to micro-manage everything, then that is not a good sign.
I worked in a rehab center for over 5 years and I was able to watch thousands of people come through treatment. In doing so, I learned to watch how people were acting and what their attitude was, and then I was able to see their results later on to know if they stayed clean and sober or not. Many people who relapsed later came back for more treatment.
This caused me to become quite the cynic, much as I tried to prevent that. I became sensitive to the fact that some people were clearly in a state of surrender, while others were not. People who were in a state of surrender were willing. They were willing to let go of things. They were willing to be led, to be told what to do. They were not trying to control the situation. These were the people who ended up with the best chances at sobriety.
The other group of people were trying to control things. They were worried about the details. They were all worked up about what was going to happen and who was in charge and all of that stuff. They wanted to micro-manage their own treatment process and be in control. They were not letting go of everything. They had to know when they were getting out of rehab, down to the day and the hour of release. These are not the people that generally stayed sober in the long run. They had not yet surrendered fully.
So if you are truly desperate for sobriety and you have truly hit bottom, then I don’t think you will be asking the 28 day question. You have to not even care about such details if you want to have a real shot at healing.
If nothing has worked so far, consider trying even more treatment in the future
Many alcoholics go to rehab multiple times, but continue to struggle.
If this is the case then I have two suggestions:
1) First is that you surrender more deeply. I don’t know if you can force this. But I do believe that you can lead yourself closer to it by focusing on how miserable you are in your drinking. This is the only way that I was able to break through my own denial. I had to really accept how miserable I was before I could try to change it. So if you are stuck in denial then start focusing on your misery. Embrace the misery. Stop trying to minimize it or cover it up. That will just keep you trapped in denial.
2) If you have failed at treatment multiple times, then consider increasing the intensity and duration of that treatment. If you are going to try again, then try harder. For me, that meant going to long term treatment. I had been to 28 day programs before and they had not worked for me. So I decided (and was told) that I needed more help than that.
Long term rehab is eventually what turned my life around. Your story may be different. But if you go to rehab multiple times and fail, then you may consider seeking out longer treatment in the future.
A 28 day rehab program is not a cure, but it is probably your best bet in most cases
Residential treatment is not a cure for alcoholism. It does not “fix” you forever.
It is merely a starting point.
That said, it is still the best tool that we have right now for the struggling alcoholic.
You could do worse than going to a 28 day program. But you could never do much better than this.
Some people think about treatment in the wrong way. They have an expectation that it should cure a person forever. It doesn’t work that way, unfortunately.
If you are clean and sober for ten years then a 28 day program represents about 1 percent of that effort. Just think about that for a moment! Ten years is a long time. “The rest of your life” is even longer than that. So believing that a 28 day program can cure you is ridiculous. The threat of alcohol never goes away entirely.
Recovery is a process, not an event.
What is really holding you back?
If someone is asking this question about 28 days in rehab (and whether they really need it), then that is a clear sign that they are standing near the turning point.
When you are actually AT the turning point, that is when you surrender fully and ask for help.
You ask for help with complete abandon. You hold nothing back. You become willing to follow through, regardless of what is recommended to you.
Your escape from denial is almost complete at this point. All you have to do now is realize that more drinking will only lead to more misery. Really see this and look into the future and realize that drinking is a dead end path for you. That is the leap that you have to make in order to surrender fully and ask for help.