What I Learned in Rehab

For those of you who don’t know, I work full time as a “Recovery Assistant,” in an addiction treatment facility. I work with inpatient residents and “half-way house” residents. Half-way house residents go to work all day, then come back and live/sleep at our facility. They are still required to do random UAs, obtain and hold a job, and attend outpatient programming. The inpatient program is 21 to 28 days, packed full of programming and unstable emotions. During these 28 days, my job is to teach, monitor, and support individuals in the first crucial weeks of recovery. I lead at least one group a shift with topics ranging from budgeting to abuse. Our residents are not locked inside our facility, and they can leave whenever they want. This freedom allows the people who really are ready to get clean, to make the decision to stay inside the building and be serious about their treatment every second of the day.

The first thing I learned in rehab, is that I would make a really, really good criminal. This observation is based on the amount of contraband I have found in taped behind drawers, light sockets, and inside Kleenex boxes. Not to mention the tips and tricks my residents have taught me along the way.

Second, I’ve learned to smile more. I shared the poem “The Dash” with my residents and made almost everyone cry (including myself). One man in particular had, literally, lost his words. This man, still young (mid-40s), burly, with a deep, raspy, unbelievably loud voice had never run out of words a minute in his life. He has more personality inside him than 76 of us put together. We joke about how his whisper is louder than most normal voices. His laugh is contagious, and he will always find something to smile about. He will walk up to my desk and smile at me until I smile back, then say, “There we go,” and carry on with his business. But after reading this poem, eyes filled with tears, he went to move his lips and the sound just wouldn’t come out. His face had gone from looking like a grown man, to the face of a five-year-old who had just heard a monster in their closet. It isn’t often a grown man, in drug rehab, shows such honest, raw fear after reading a few words. When he was able to speak, the tears ran down his cheeks. He said, “I think about this every single day. I was too messed up to go to my own mother’s funeral. Why the hell would anyone want to go to mine? What would they say? ‘Hey, yeah, he was the party guy and was always pretty messed up. I can’t really remember a real, good memory with him because I was always high too.'” Most of his family is dead, his kids have given up on him, and he has spent most of his life drinking and doing whatever drug he can get his hands on to mask the pain he holds daily. When he was in his twenties, he and three buddies were in a motorcycle accident. He was able to put his bike down with few injuries. His best friend flipped over his bike when he tried to put it down. This twenty-some kid went to grab his best friend out of the street so he wouldn’t be run over, except he immediately realized his best friend wasn’t going to get up. His best friend’s neck had snapped, killing him instantly. He proceeded to carry his dead best friend out of the road. That was his first encounter with death. Fast forward ten or so years, in the dead of winter after a massive snow storm. He and some buddies ride snow mobiles to the bar. They are drunk and had done some cocaine by the time the bar closed. They decided to keep drinking at the house. They are all riding back home, jumping of hills and being drunk men on snow mobiles. They get home and one of their buddies isn’t with them. They all assume he snuck off during the ride to go to his girlfriend’s house which was close by, so turning around to search for him wasn’t even a thought in their mind. After passing out drunk for hours, the girlfriend had called several times wanting to know where her boyfriend was. They all went back along the route to search for the friend. My resident, again, found his friend dead. Half of the body was in a very cold stream, crushed by the snow mobile. His friend had been alive, waiting for his friends to come find him, for 12 hours before he actually died. This man went and drank himself stupid for so many days, he missed this funeral too. All of this, is only a part of the death this man has faced and only two of several dead friends and family he has found and held with his own barehands. He estimates losing one person close to him at least every 2 years since his twenties. The thing the gets me- is that fact that this man is still here, still smiling. If anyone has a reason to be angry at the world and hate everything, it would absolutely be him. He had OD’d several times and can’t name a single person he can count on in a time of need. He has moments where he will breakdown and admit the loneliness and pain he feels, which we could both relate to and discuss. However, most of the time, he wears a smile on his face and really has worked his program to change his thinking. Instead of seeing everything in a dark, dim grayish/black light, he has taught himself to see things in a very bright, almost blinding light. The bright, blinding light reminds us that we are headed to greater, better things, but we can’t see them yet. He and I agreed that the best advice we could give to anyone struggling with life, is to always remember that the positives in life will outweigh the negatives. Right now it feels like everything is negative and nothing will ever get better, but that is just because that bright, blinding light is keeping those things a secret until you are ready.

For me personally, I never believed that any good thing in the world could ever outweigh the negative, awful pain I feel from losing Anna. The more times I hear, “Thank you for listening to me,” “I would’ve walked out it if it wasn’t for you,” “I couldn’t have done this if you weren’t here,” and my personal favorite, “Remember when you said you do this to help one person? You did. You really do change people’s lives, you didn’t give up on me like everyone else.” The crazy thing is, I couldn’t have done any of it without Anna. I would help these people with or without a paycheck, but to hear and feel their appreciation of me, just little me and my irrelevant life, is filling a void in my heart I never even knew existed. I never thought I could change the world, but now I do know I have changed more than one individual’s world.  & That is the greatest feeling I have ever felt.

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