Going to a rehab center was the most important experience of my life. Some people think that rehabilitation programs are a sign that you’ve hit “rock bottom,” but that wasn’t what I experienced. Instead, rehab was like a new beginning. I had struggled with drug addiction since I was a teenager, but I could pinpoint mental health issues dating all the way back to when I was a child. These are four of the lessons I learned that shaped my recovery.
1. Blame doesn’t solve anything.
This lesson applies to two important blame-related things: blaming others and blaming yourself. I was tortured by self-blame and guilt for any number of things that had happened in the past. At the same time, I wanted someone to blame for my addiction. I lashed out at my parents, who I thought had done this to me by giving me a less-than-perfect childhood. I sank into self-pity regarding exes and bad past relationships.
But I learned in rehab that all of that blame was pointless. It didn’t accomplish anything. The past only mattered as far as I could use it to change the present. That meant that I should make the amends I could make and let go of the pain that was keeping me from moving forward.
2. Addiction is like an abusive relationship.
Having navigated my fair share of toxic relationships, I don’t say this lightly. But it’s true. Addiction is like an abusive relationship. You constantly crave a high and a sense of peace that you can’t achieve. And you have the same voice in your head, telling you that you might as well give in and settle because you’ll never be good enough anyway. Once I learned to visualize my addiction as a monster holding me back, I had an easier time telling it “no.”
3. You can always make a positive choice.
When I was in rehab, most of the people there hadn’t made the greatest choices. Many of them said they were trying to learn how to be better people. In group therapy one day, our group leader challenged us to think of choices like the flip of a coin. When you flip a coin, there’s an equal chance of it coming up heads or tails. Even if you flipped it ten times before, and it came up heads every time, you still have a 50/50 chance of tails on the next flip.
We were challenged to think about our present choices like that. Even if we’d made the wrong choice a million times before, we had the opportunity now to make the right one. We have more power than we give ourselves credit for.
4. You are the only person who can save you.
The will to recover needs to come from you. When people talked about their reasons for coming to rehab, they’d usually couch it in terms of other people. “I don’t want my best friend to find my body,” and, “I need to be there for my son. He deserves a better mom.” Very rarely did anyone say that they were recovering for themselves. But I learned that I needed to believe in my own future and embrace myself to have a chance at recovery. I needed to prioritize my future self, and for that, I needed to care about that future self.
Support networks and therapists and medication are all necessary for me, and they’re necessary for most addicts who struggle with mental illness. But your real weapon against addiction is your will to live for and love yourself.
What Was Rehab Like?
A detailed account of my entire experience in rehab would take too long to write. I enrolled in an eight-week program in Pennsylvania following a series of events that forced me to admit I had a problem. I was very anxious about rehab, mostly because my mental images were of prisons and 1800s insane asylums.
I could not have been further from the truth. The best way I can describe it is that, in a weird way, it was like going to summer camp. There was the same sense of packing for an adventure by using a pre-made list, although admittedly this was an adventure I dreaded more. The days were scheduled wall-to-wall with rehabilitative activities. By the time it was time to sleep, I was so tired that I didn’t have time to lay awake craving drugs.
The grounds of the treatment center seemed more like a high-end boarding school or retreat than a hospital or prison. In fact, the most important thing to me was that the doors weren’t locked at night. We were also free to exit the program early if we so desired. I didn’t take this option because I didn’t want to face my family and tell them I couldn’t do it. But I will admit, some nights I was tempted.
I met other people who struggled with substance abuse problems. Some of them had been to rehab multiple times before. Some of them were trying really, really hard to get better. Some of them didn’t want to be there at all. We would trade stories during group therapy and free time. Sometimes we’d compare backstories and addictions, but to be honest, we were more likely to talk about the television shows and movies we liked. People in rehab are just like people everywhere else. In a way, it’s freeing that you know everyone has an addiction. You don’t have to hide anything when you go to rehab.
All in all, the experience was far more positive than I anticipated. I’m also far happier living a sober life than I was when I was mired in my addiction. Drugs changed the way I thought on such a fundamental level that I’m still working on untangling unhealthy coping mechanisms. But I have the tools to do so because of rehab. You can, too. If you have questions about treatment programs, you can call 888-380-0342 to talk to a trained counselor.