The Truth about What My Stint in Drug Rehab Was Really Like

“I understood, through rehab, things about creating characters. I understood that creating whole people means knowing where we come from, how we can make a mistake, and how we overcome things to make ourselves stronger.”

~ Samuel L. Jackson

I am living proof that recovery works.

Because of my own genetic predisposition and my own personal trauma, I did what millions of damaged people around the world do – I tried to cope in my own way. In my case, I tried to self-medicate with drugs.

Obviously, that wasn’t the best idea, because before I knew it, I was addicted. I said and did things that I never thought myself capable of, all in the name of chasing my next high.

Because of my own stubbornness, I lived in denial for far too long a time. “I don’t have a problem” and “I can stop anytime I want to” were the lies I told myself and everyone around me. Sound familiar?

But, thanks to a heart-wrenching intervention from my family members and the true friends that I had somehow not managed to alienate, and through the grace of my Higher Power (or the Universe, or sheer dumb luck, or any other name) I checked into a rehab program and took the first steps toward my current destination – Sobriety.

This is my story and my journey. It will almost certainly not be identical to your story and your journey. But, maybe in the telling you can see enough similarities between my situation and yours to inspire you to take your own first steps.

First Things First

When my circle of loved ones held their intervention and let me know how my drug-addicted behaviors were affecting their lives, I am ashamed to say that it did not have as much as in effect upon me as they might’ve hoped. I was that far gone – that selfish.

I wasn’t too far gone for what they told me next – the consequences that would ensue if I refused the help that they were offering. When they told me, basically, that they would write me off – no contact, no support, no welcome – THAT got to me. There was some small part of my brain that realized that I was incapable of surviving on my own.

So I agreed.

Surprisingly to me, I didn’t go straight to a drug rehab facility and immediately enroll in a recovery program. No, first, I had to go to a drug detox and get physically clean.

My Experience with Cocaine Detox

My drug of choice was cocaine, and in that respect, I was actually fortunate. I don’t want to minimize how hard it was to go through withdrawal, but at least my life wasn’t in danger, like it could’ve been if I was addicted to alcohol or benzodiazepines.

I only felt like I was dying.

What were some of my symptoms during cocaine withdrawal?

  • Agitation, irritability, and restlessness
  • Exhaustion
  • Nightmares
  • Depression
  • Inability to concentrate
  • An intense craving for even just a little cocaine
  • Strangely enough, ravenous hunger

These feelings started the first day in detox. The worst of it was sometime between Days 2 and 3. It was a strange sensation, being unable to sit still, yet at the same time, being too tired to move. Sleep would offer me extremely brief relief, but my nightmares would wake me up before I could get any real rest.

Towards the end of Day 3, I started to feel a bit better, like I could handle this. But then for the next couple of days, I felt like I was on a roller-coaster – hope and optimism one moment, and bitter despair the next.

All in all, it took about 10 days before I started feeling like some semblance of my old self. In other words, I was now physically clean enough to wear my mind could be clear enough to receive the message of recovery.

Now, my journey of recovery was ready to begin in earnest.

The Next Step in the Drug Rehab Process – Checking In

When I checked into the detox facility, the initial intake was pretty perfunctory. It was less about the how and the why of my cocaine use, and more about the how much and how often.

The rehab intake was much more involved. I talked with an intake specialist about my goals – what I hoped to get from inpatient drug rehab. They asked about my living situation, my circle of support, my medical and psychiatric history, and an entire host of other subjects. They even had me complete a psychological survey, just so they could gauge my current state of mind.

I found out later that all of this was necessary, so they could better tailor my treatment plan to me as an individual. There is no “one-size-fits-all” treatment solution that will work for 100% of people 100% of the time.

For me to have the best chance of success, I was going to have to be treated as an individual – not as an addict, but as a person with the disease of addiction.

Daily Life in the Inpatient Drug Rehab Facility

The biggest thing that the drug rehab program gave me immediately was structure. Having a daily purpose beyond my next high was not something that I had been accustomed to in a long while.

In the drug rehab facility, almost every waking hour and every movement within those hours was accounted for. At specified times during the days, weeks, and months I was there, my routine might include –

  • Individual counseling – This was an attempt to get at the root of my problem – specifically, to address any trauma that might be a contributing cause to my disease.
  • Group meetings – During this part of treatment, the focus was less on the specifics of my particular case, and more on the challenges faced by all people struggling with addiction. As a group, we could all be educated about our disease and collectively asked the questions about the issues that affected us all.
  • Family therapy – Obviously, my addiction wreak havoc upon everyone around me, and caused significant harm to each and every one of my relationships. I would attend these sessions with my family members, and the goal was to open better lines of understanding and communication, so we could begin to repair the damage that I had done.
  • 12-step fellowship support – As treatment progressed, I began attending at least one 12-step meeting a day. Even though those types of meetings are nonprofessional in nature, sharing our mutual experiences allowed us to gain both inspiration and strength from the others in the group. I heard stories that were far more horrific than my own, and I talked with people who were more lost than I ever was and who still somehow managed to recover.
  • Regular visits with psychiatrists and medical doctors – The staff at the rehab facility were extremely diligent about ensuring our constant safety. We met with licensed physicians who monitored our physical health and mental health professionals who made sure that our psychiatric and emotional needs were met.

Around this time, I learned how common co-occurring mental disorders are among addicts and alcoholics. For example, I learned that I was bipolar – who knew?

From the moment my diagnosis was concerned, my treatment plan was adjusted, so both my bipolar disorder and my substance abuse problem could be simultaneously addressed.

  • Meal-planning with a nutritionist – Like a lot of addicts, I had abused my body physically while I was actively addicted. The nutritionist’s role was to ensure that I was eating and drinking the right foods, so I could more easily return to good physical health. I learned to never let myself get too hungry, because to a person new to recovery, hunger pangs and drug cravings are almost indistinguishable. Once I got my diet and schedule adjusted correctly, rehab actually became easier.
  • “Scheduled” fun – Even our “free” time was largely accounted for. Boredom is the enemy of sobriety, so great efforts were made to make sure that we always were positively engaged. As corny as it sounds, we exercised together, did arts and crafts, played games, and kept busy with positive activities that had absolutely nothing to do with drinking or using. In other words, we were shown that it was possible to have a good time without being drunk or high.
  • Non-traditional therapy – Because different strokes work for different folks, we were exposed to other treatment methods, in the hope that they might positively impact the recovery of those of us who were still struggling.
  • Yoga classes, to help us reduce stress and improve the quality of our sleep
  • Massage therapy, as a relaxation technique
  • Pet therapy, with the goal of learning to reconnect with others through interaction with specially-trained therapeutic animals

I stayed in residential drug rehab for the full recommended 90 days. Several of my fellow clients were there for much shorter periods of time, but I don’t know if I support that approach, because I saw a couple of the “short-timers” come back to rehab when they almost immediately relapsed.

I found out later that experts always recommend at least 90 days of treatment.

Back in the Real World – Outpatient Drug Rehabilitation

Eventually, I “graduated” and was released back into my natural environment. I was strongly encouraged to continue my treatment via an outpatient program, and by doing a little homework beforehand, I was able to find one that fit my schedule.

Outpatient drug rehab is nowhere near as intense as residential treatment, but it is just as necessary. Back in the real world, I was once again faced with temptation and the possibility of starting the whole horrid process all over again. Until I learned how to handle myself, I needed continued support.

For the next nine months, I attended three therapy/counseling sessions a week, addressing the same sort of topics that I did when I was in residential treatment. I was also required to submit to random drug tests as a condition of participation. The education and accountability that I experienced helped keep me on the right path.

I also committed to attending at least 3 12-Step meetings a week, more if I felt especially tempted. I cannot overstate how much those meetings made a difference in my life.

If it sounds like I was filling up my days with recovery-related activities, I was. But it was a much more positive experience than when I filled up my days with drug-seeking behaviors.

Eventually, I completed my outpatient program, as well.

Just for Today, I Choose to Be Sober

I still attend 12-step meetings, and, as an alumnus of the drug rehab programs, I occasionally go to functions they sponsor. Speaking of that, I have started to “give back” by sponsoring other people who are just starting out on their own journeys. In a strange way, helping their recovery supports my own.

My recovery process was long, and along the way there were struggles, tears, and sleepless nights. I put in a lot of effort to get where I am just for today. I know that I have to continue that effort if I want to be sober for one more day. It was and is worth it.

If there’s one thing I want to leave you with, it is this – if I could do it, so can you. Do what I did – get out of your own way and out of your own head. Listen to the experts and trust that the process works, because it does.

If you are a Colorado resident and you want to start your own journey of recovery, contact AspenRidge Recovery today.

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