You’re 21 years old, and the last three years have not been very kind to you, not to mention that the numbing agent you’ve been using all this time is starting to lose its affect. You’re out of money, and even worse, you’re extremely low on OxyContin, in fact you only have half of an 80 milligram pill remaining. In years past, 40 milligrams would have done the trick. Heck, for the first few months, all you needed was 5 milligrams to feel good and forget about your problems.
“Damn it!” you say to yourself, your mind snaps back to the present… You’ve been focusing on the past quite a bit lately, but right now you have a real problem.
You see, you only have about 6 hours worth of “medicine” left. You know that as soon as you snort that last line of Oxycontin, that you’ll have six hours until you start feeling the onset of acute opiate withdrawal syndrome. You’ve experienced it a few times before, it’s unlike any sickness, unlike any pain that you’ve ever been through, and once that kicks in, you’re fucked. That scam you’ve been running to support your $500 a day OxyContin habit, it hasn’t worked in a few days, and you definitely won’t have the energy to try it while you’re in withdrawal, you’ll hardly be able to get out of bed for the next week. You decide you’ll do the last of what you have, and you’ll come up with some way to get out of this jam, you always do.
Six hours pass by, you tried to beg, borrow, and steal, but you’re all tapped out. You sit down in the hotel room you’ve been living in for the last 6 months, and you realize that not only are you starting to feel the sickness come about, but you are also out of money to pay for another night at a hotel. Like most opiate addicts, you’ve burnt a lot of bridges, you haven’t talked to your dad for months now, and you begin to accept the inevitable. You’re going to have to tell your mom that you need a place to stay, it’s your only option at this point, even though you know that you won’t be able to hide the withdrawals. You begin to feel an array of emotions, the feelings you’ve numbed for the last three years are beginning to surface, and the tears begin streaming down your face as you make that phone call.
This isn’t the first time you’ve been through this, your parents know that you’ve had a past encounter with “pain pills”, but they thought it was just a phase, a string of poor choices that you learned from and moved on. Only now will they realize that you have a much bigger problem than they thought. Only now do they begin to comprehend that their first born child is an addict. She picks you up from the hotel that night, and though the withdrawals are now in full affect, you feel a combination of gratitude and shame. You arrive at your mother’s house, and for the first time in a long time, you feel the love that you’ve rejected for so long now. Yes, pain is the primary feeling, but you can’t help but feel loved when you see that your mom already put sheets on the futon for you, and when she asks if there is anything she can make you to eat, you graciously decline. The only appetite you have, is for the one thing that’ll instantly make you feel better, but you know that’s not going to be on the menu.
After spending the night tossing and turning, never really getting more than 20 minutes of continuous sleep, you hear some conversation downstairs. You can tell that it’s not just your mom and step-dad downstairs, and just as you try to gather the strength to stand up and take a peek at what’s going on, your Mom slowly opens your door.
“Morning” she says, “Why don’t you come downstairs, there are some people here to see you.”
Whatever is about to happen, you know you’re not going to like it. You stumble your way to the bathroom to try and make yourself look somewhat presentable, and then you hear the voice of your Dad speaking to your step-father. Yep, you know exactly what’s happening now, as you slowly walk downstairs you see your parents, all 4 of them, sitting on the couch in the living room.
Your Dad, who you haven’t spoken to in months, begins the conversation.
“We’re all here this morning because we love you”
More tears begin to flow, because you’re an emotional wreck. You can’t really tell if your happy or sad, in reality you’re a combination of both, also overcome with embarrassment for the situation you find yourself in.
Your step-father then begins to speak… “We’ve decided that you need help, help that we aren’t able to provide you with, so we have come up with two choices for you.”
Once more, you already know what’s going on. It’s rehab or the highway. You plead, you try to bargain, you’ve even convinced yourself that you’ll stay sober if you can just get one more chance. But to your dismay, they don’t give you the option to stay at their house to get through the withdrawals.
“Ok, I’ll go check it out” you say, with a sense of entitlement that is nothing short of pure ignorance. After all, these places aren’t cheap, and even after all the pain you’ve put your family through, they are still supporting you, trying to do the best they can to help you overcome this addiction.
The idea of going to rehab scares you to death. You haven’t experienced life without oxycontin in over 3 years, and now you’re about to be dropped off at an unfamiliar place, with people you don’t know, and without that crutch you’ve used for so long to get through life.
Rehab is a weird place. You arrive at a house, it’s a residential rehab, from the outside it looks like a normal single family home, but as soon as you reach the front door, you realize that you’re in unfamiliar territory. There is an intercom on the front door, your Mom gives it a buzz, and an overly friendly intern lets you and your family in. You wait in the lobby, which looks like it must have been some families dining room in decades past. Still in the first 24 hours of withdrawal, sitting on a chair waiting for a counselor to show up is a chore in itself. After about 10 minutes, you are greeted by a counselor with a clip-board, he introduces himself to you and your family, and he gives you a brief tour of the treatment facility. The rehab facility is actually a block of four different houses, that have been converted into a treatment facility. He explains that there are 18 beds, there’s a house for the women, two for the men, and one which acts as a admin office/meeting area for the actual program.
As your being led from one house to another, you see a group of a dozen or so “residents” standing next to a pool that was clearly designed in the seventies. You see them from a distance, but their clearly recognizable by the fact that they are standing beneath a plume of cigarette smoke. Most of them seem cheerful, you’re confused as to how a group of “addicts” our smiling and laughing while sober, living at a rehab.
The tour winds down, and you get one more sit down with your family, as you fill out paper work and go over the rules of the land. You find it odd that there’s no sugar or caffeine allowed during your 28 day stay, but that cigarettes are just fine. Hey, they need clients to stay in business after all. In addition to the nutritional bans, there are no cell phones or electronics allowed, you’re allowed to use their pay phone during your two hours of “free time” each week day.
It’s been a long morning to say the least, you look up at the clock and see that it’s already 2pm, and all you want to do is lay down on a bed, you’re amazed at the fact that you’ve been able to stand up for as long as you have, all the while going through severe opiate withdrawal. Once the admissions process is done, your parents finally stand up and give you a hug and kiss goodbye. You won’t be able to see them for a week; Sunday’s are the only day for visitors.
“I’m I able to lay down now?” you ask the counselor.
“I know you feel like shit” he responds “but, we’ve got to do a quick assessment with the doctor and then you’ll be good to lay down”.
You are guided to the doctor’s office, which is attached to one of the houses. The doctor seems very kind, and empathetic toward your current state of pain. It’s a nice feeling for you to deal with someone that understands the amount of pain you’re in from the opiate withdrawal. After he takes your vitals, he explains that you will spend the first 5 or 6 days in the “detox” portion of the treatment facility, which is located in the house with the pool in the backyard. He also sends you off with a prescription of valium for anxiety, and trazedone to help you sleep. Of course he hands the bottles over to the nurse, who immediately dispenses two pills of Valium and says “this will help you get some sleep”.
Finally, after what seems like a week, but was really just a few hours, you fall onto your bed, which is in a dark room shared by another stranger going through the same withdrawals that you are feeling, he’s just a day or two ahead of you.
The next few days are a complete blur, as they keep you heavily sedated with anti-anxiety and sleeping pills. It definitely makes the withdrawal seem a little easier. Although you spend the majority of your detox in bed, sometimes you’re able to shuffle your way out to the patio to have a cigarette. They actually have a woman who cooks meals for the 4 or 5 of you that are in the detox section of the rehab.
At day 3, you are at the peak of your withdrawal, it’s been 72 hours of intense hot and cold flashes. You are never the right temperature, and usually find yourself sweating under a blanket. Day 3 is also the worse as far as muscle pain goes, your entire body aches worse than it’s ached before, but the pain in your legs definitely stand out the most. Days 4 and 5 are bad, but you begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel. By day 6 you begin to feel better, and you find yourself spending more of your time in the common room of the detox, getting to know some of the other residents who pass through once or twice a day to get their medication.
As day 6 winds to an end, your counselor gives you a knock on the door.
“How are you feeling?” he asks “Are you ready to move out of detox?”
You answer with a resounding “Yes, please!”. As nice as it was not to have any responsibilities while having your meals cooked for you and your bed turned over by a maid, there is something missing from your newly sober life… It’s a craving you vaguely remember from your days in high school, a feeling you haven’t experienced for years, it’s the desire for human connectivity.
Later in life you’ll realize just how crucial community is to your sobriety, but for the time being, it’s a newly found novelty. It’s not just new to you, in fact, over the next 20 or so days, you learn that you share a lot more in common with your fellow residents than you first thought. You learn that you weren’t the only one who started using drugs socially to later find yourself in isolation. You meet people that have very similar stories to your own, and you talk about you common experiences, you talk about them a lot!
The bottom line is that you still don’t know who you are, neither do many of your peers in rehab. Just like everyone else, your identity for the last 3 years was defined by the selfishness that is inherently connected to substance abuse.
There are parts of rehab that start to really grow on you, you become best friends with a few of your resident peers, and you become offended when in the middle of a counselor meeting, your counselor tells you to “look to your left, now look to your right, statistically speaking, only one of you three will be sober a year from now”. You think to yourself that your group of friends at rehab are different from times past. You just know that you and your new best friends are going to make it out together.
Then comes the unavoidable “rehab romance”. You never believed in fate, but now, all of this talk of God or a higher power has you thinking you were wrong the whole time. After all, you and your new “friend” share so much in common, you’ve both been through so much, you stay up late and talk about how crazy the odds that even one of you (let alone both of you) made it here alive. Unfortunately the rehab facility has strict rules about “fraternization”, but you guys find ways to cheat the system, after all, your addicts, you are master manipulators.
In fact, breaking the rules that seem so arbitrary to begin with, that’s half the fun. You think back to the time you just needed some caffeine, so you and two of your residents ran across the street at 9am, told the neighbor that you were on a friendly “church scavenger hunt” and needed columbian coffee grinds to check off of your list. To this day, you still can’t figure out how Dr. Stone was able to detect the smell of caffeinated coffee, from it’s decaffeinated package that you put it in. You still think it was worth the punishment of having to clean all of the rehab facility’s bathrooms, for that one cup of Joe.
Of course there was a lot more to rehab than breaking rules. At the end of the day, you were learning how to have fun in sobriety, you were given tools to use to help combat the urge to relapse, and most of all, you were shown that sobriety was indeed achievable, and even though life wasn’t always easy, you learned how to cope with life’s problems without having to reach for that green little pill that ruled your world for so long.
You came into rehab a physical and emotional wreck, afraid to feel and afraid to heal. As the final days counted down toward that magic number 28, you’re taken over by emotions that are bitter sweet. Of course, you are looking forward to moving into that sober living home, where you’ll have more freedom, but you’ll miss the people, even the counselors who you despised at times, but who you give credit toward helping save your life. You tell yourself that you’ll be back often, and that you’ll remain good friends with the people you’ve learned to do life with.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t all work out the way you thought it would. Over the months to come, you would hear about a former resident falling off the wagon, and over the years which followed, you even had to attend a few funerals. You quickly realize that your rehab romance was nothing more than two people with low self esteem, helping each other feel better about themselves. Within a year of leaving rehab, you realize that your therapist was right that day you became so offended at the statistics. You realize that you are the fortunate one, out of the 20 or some odd people you met in rehab, only one or two are still sober.
Finally, it didn’t take long for you to become yet another statistic. Without much thought, you find yourself relapsing with an old friend, and it only takes a few weeks to become a slave once more to that little green pill. You come to find out, that you still hadn’t hit “rock bottom”. Still, not all was lost. There were seeds planted at that first rehab experience, lessons that would come in handy after a few more years of pain. Three more years of “research and development” would land you in Federal Prison, and after your 3rd or 4th stay in treatment, you realize what they tried to tell you at your first rehab, that you can only stay sober one day at a time.
Today you realize that tomorrow is never promised, but by the grace of a power greater than yourself, today you are going to bed clean from narcotics, having stayed away from that tiny green pill (and all of its friends) for the 2,522nd night in a row.