With respect to Amy, I had to go (go.. go…)
I realized my bad coping mechanisms had become a problem by the fall of 2020. Besides the trauma I was already dealing with, the COVID pandemic and isolation from staying quarantined had really taken a toll on my mental health. I was sick and tired of waking up miserable, of feeling horrible all the time. I began trying to quit drinking on my own, and failed repeatedly.
That’s when I knew I needed help. But where would I go?
Choosing A Rehab Facility Is Overwhelming
We’ve probably all heard horror stories about bad rehab experiences. Surrendering yourself to the care and control of others for a month or more is scary, and you don’t want to get stuck someplace where you’ll be mistreated.
There are also many different programs and modes of treatment. As someone fighting trauma, you want to make sure the facility you choose not only takes your trauma into account, but gears your treatment towards it. Most likely it is your trauma that has led to your addiction, and you’ll never overcome substance abuse without dealing with those underlying issues. A facility or program that only treats your addiction without addressing your trauma is no better than putting a band aid on a gunshot wound.
When it comes to recovery programs, I wanted something different than AA. I’d had just enough exposure to AA to know that it wasn’t right for me, and I wanted to be in a SMART Recovery program instead. (Learn about the differences here.)
Finally, this shit ain’t cheap. Even if insurance covers your treatment you’ll likely have a significant copay or deductible to meet. For me, my insurance covered 80% of the cost AFTER I met my yearly deductible. All told I had a bill of roughly $2400 after a 3-week stay, and the facility I chose was one of the more affordable options in my state.
Off I Go To Wilmington
After much searching, I discovered Wilmington Treatment Center in Wilmington, NC. I’d scoured their website, and made several calls asking about the program before I was finally ready to commit. According to the website and those calls, I could choose SMART Recovery and not participate in AA. I was also told the program was trauma-focused, and the people I spoke to seemed to understand what that meant and why it mattered.
Finally, on November 9, 2020, my oldest son and I set out for Wilmington, where he was going to drop me off for treatment. The folks on the phone had told me not to try and stop drinking before I came, advice which I happily followed. I also saw on the website that I couldn’t bring my Xanax prescription. So in the week before I set out I had quite the party making sure I’d taken all the pills I had on hand. Yeah, I regretted that.
Did you know that alcohol and benzodiazepines (like Xanax) are the only two substances that quitting can kill you? Well I didn’t. My idea of “medical detox” was that I’d get some kind of medication so I didn’t feel like shit during the process. I learned pretty fast.
I was processed in by very kind and caring people, who took a lot of information before leading me to a room where I could change into a set of scrubs. They then took all my stuff, including my phone, and even took a look at my bra and panties as I was getting dressed. Apparently people will smuggle stuff in there, although I naively had no idea why. Finally I was taken to the “detox” building. I was given a quick tour and gave a urine sample before being shown to my bed. When I got there I curled up into a ball and cried.
Detox is a lot like being in a hospital crossed with a jail. Mostly you just want to sleep, and if you’re needed for anything the staff pages you to go to wherever. I’d barely gotten comfy on my rubber mattress when I was called back to the reception area for my floor. I stumbled down the hall to find the doctor that had taken my urine sample looking at me a bit sternly. “You’ve got benzo’s in your urine,” he said accusingly.
“What’s a benzo?” I replied.
He explained and I realized he meant my Xanax. Until that moment, I didn’t realize it mattered. I didn’t know I’d need a full extra week of detox medications to safely stop taking it. I didn’t know how big of a problem it was for me. I hadn’t meant to hide anything, I said. I didn’t know it mattered, I have a prescription for it.
“Not anymore,” he said and walked away.
Sweaty, Shaky Misery
The first week I slept almost all the time. The detox medication is very strong at first and tapers off over time, and it makes you sleepy. Plus, your body has been through – and is now going through – 8 different levels of hell. Slowly I began to interact with a few people, although as a diehard introvert I didn’t expect to make any friends. But we were all thrown together, and commiserated over how bad we felt and how shitty the food was. (It was truly horrible, in that building at least.)
At the beginning of the second week I graduated from Detox to “Residential.” This building was more like a college campus. We had dorms (I shared mine with the same roommate I’d had in Detox, we bonded right away) and a separate area with classrooms where we’d go for group therapy and various classes and workshops.
My withdrawals hadn’t been very bad the first week, and I assumed they wouldn’t be. But Xanax had other plans for me. I began feeling withdrawals in earnest the second week, and was massively more miserable than I’d been the first. I’d get sudden hot flashes, all-over shakes, and have horrible crampy diarrhea and vomiting. I would sweat so hard big drops would fall off me like rain. Several days that week I was unable to get out of bed to go to classes. When I realized this misery was all down to my Xanax use, I swore I’d never again take a single pill. I still have no desire to.
Hell Is Other People (Except For These)
The first day in Residential was like the first day of high school. You had no idea where you were going or who to talk to. For an introvert like me it was a special form of hell. Then in “recreational therapy” we played a game called “Butt Ball.” (yes, really.) It was indoor volleyball with a giant beach ball, the twist being your butt had to touch the seat of your chair at all times. Introverted me discovered I have a mean Butt Ball serve, and my team trounced the other. Suddenly I felt accepted. For the next week I absolutely blossomed – I don’t recall a time in my life where I’ve ever had so much fun just being with and getting to know a group of people.
My counselor even began calling bullshit when I’d claim to be an introvert. She said she just didn’t believe I was anymore. For a brief, shining moment I thought this might be true. But as more time passed, people I had bonded with began moving on to the final phase of treatment (called “PHP”) and new people began taking their place. The new people seemed nice enough for the most part, but they just didn’t have the same energy as our group had. I felt just like I did at the end of High School when the guys I’d partied with began to grow up and move away. And the idea of learning new people and opening up all over again was just too much to bear.
Everything Is Magnified
After years of numbing my emotions, the biggest adjustment was having to feel feelings again. This is a major reason why it’s so important that people with trauma find treatment that takes this into consideration, because everything is super intense and raw and just a huge emotional mess.
I had panic attacks galore, and for the first time in forever had no pill or glass to soothe them. I had to just feel them. It was exhausting and my nerves and emotions were raw and bleeding all over the place.
The biggest problem I had was with the program itself. Yes, the facility technically offered SMART Recovery, but it was one class one day a week. There was another single class, one day a week, dedicated to trauma therapy. The rest of the time was wall-to-wall AA programming, all day every day, and up into the evening.
AA, for me, is massively triggering. (I explain further here.) In a nutshell, the church I belonged to is a big part of my trauma. I was told how to dress, how to wear my hair, what to listen to, and more. Self-expression was frowned upon, everything was about surrendering our ALL to the Christian god. This particular church also has a different method of achieving salvation – which became a huge, painful problem for me when my grandfather died and was, according to their teachings, “lost” and suffering in Hell.
So here I was, stuck in this place away from my family, being told over and over and over that I needed to surrender my will to God. The way they phrased it sounded JUST like the “plan of salvation” in my former church. For a few days I was able to look past this, but every time it came up it was like a blow to my soul. Before long I was worn down and began having panic attacks.
I explained to my counselor how AA affected me and what had happened in my past that made it so triggering. It took her some time to understand. As the end of my 3rd week was approaching, I’d become so frustrated with the constant triggers that I’d begun skipping certain classes and walking out of others the minute certain topics came up. Which felt like a waste of time and money.
Thanksgiving Day, Another Weekend Coming
As Thanksgiving day arrived, most of the people I’d bonded with had already moved over to the other building. The remaining few (including my roommate) were scheduled to leave that afternoon. The feeling of loneliness was overwhelming.
I was looking at my 3rd weekend, and the first two had been full of bad experiences. A patient that snuck off campus and came back only to start having seizures, then wander the grounds for 90 minutes while other patients tried in vain to get staff to help. Another patient unable to get all of her prescriptions finally breaking down and being carried out on a gurney after saying it made her suicidal. A teacher twisting statistics to tell the class most of us would die of an overdose. And more – all in all, bad stuff happened on the weekends when the main staff wasn’t there.
Besides this, my husband works overseas in Kuwait, and because of COVID travel restrictions had not been home at all in 2020. He’d finally gotten a vacation, and we scheduled it for the time I’d be in rehab to minimize the time our sons would be home alone. But that also meant that I wouldn’t get home before he left, and it could easily be another 6 or 8 months before I’d have another chance to see him.
All of this became just too much for me, and I decided I had to go. We had extra phone time that day, and I asked my husband to come and get me. He said he’d leave right then. When my counselor found out, she (as I’d expected) flipped the script and came down HARD on me. She tried to tell my husband I would definitely relapse if he came and got me. She told me she’d never have let me call home if she’d known I was going to ask him to come. She tried to get me to leave her office so she could speak to my husband without me, and I refused. It was not pretty.
But within a couple hours my husband had arrived and I was checked out. Did I make the right decision? I do wish I had completed the program. I had to leave “against medical advice,” and I realize it was risky to leave early. BUT… I spent the next week with my husband, and we had time to have many good, important discussions. He sat in for some SMART meetings online with me. I really don’t think I would have gotten anything from the program at that point that I couldn’t get at home. But ONLY because my husband was there all the time.
All in all, it has worked out. Hopefully, my story helps if you’re struggling and thinking of getting help. Even with the downsides, I’d do it again in a heartbeat – I truly believe it saved my life. And in the end, what more can you ask for?