13 years-ago this month I arrived at LAX where my best partner in crime had agreed to scoop me, drive me up the coast and deposit me at a drug and alcohol rehab center. Before leaving we swung by his house for provisions. Like I said, he’s THE BEST partner in crime. That day I’d hit the jackpot because Michelle, his older sister, was visiting. Michelle was an icon of my childhood and adolescence. She’s several years older than us, but those years might as well have been decades. She lived on a different stratosphere than we did; mature, exotic, Hollywood, inaccessible. She was my Marlene Dietrich. She was also 12 years clean and sober. Let’s talk a bit about my experience and also about the cost of rehab (financially and emotionally).
“So, you’re off to rehab huh Tony? ‘Bout time! What’s that gonna cost ya?”
“$12,800!” Chest puffed out, trying dreadfully to impress her with my access to cash…that wasn’t mine.
She responded, “Pay me half that, stay on my couch for 28 days. I’ll teach you everything you need to know.”
Certainly 28 days on Michelle’s couch would have exposed me to abstinence. She undoubtedly would have had me reading the Big Book, attending meetings, praying and who knows, maybe I’d have gotten it.
But something happens to me every year around my anniversary. I retrace my path to recovery and it always, always starts with Laura, David, Cris, Matthew, Linda, Taylor, Joanne, Breanna, Jennifer, and Sammy just to name a few. The other “broken toys” I attended rehab with. The handful of tiny, yet infinitely meaningful connections I made with other human beings during those 28 days that provided the initial ingredients to the recipe that produced the life I live today.
What did those connections do to that version of me? They held up a mirror for me to gain a more accurate perspective of myself. They ripped through my delusional denial and helped me see what works and more importantly, what doesn’t work for me. They made me laugh uncontrollably and cry, finally really cry. They asked me to be honest and more importantly told me when I wasn’t. They held me accountable for the things I said I would do. They helped me see my truth.
It was like 28 days of bumper cars.
On day 3 I was released from detox and given a room for 2. Having a roommate was required. I was assigned a skinny, inner city kid who prostituted himself as my roommate. My overblown sense of self-importance was intrigued by the selection. “What were they thinking putting me in here with this kid?” ricocheted around in my head, along with several other less than flattering versions of that statement.
That night, as we both lie awake in the sweltering July heat, we had the first of many late-night conversations.
“Tony, do you know how to pray?”
“Will you show me?”
That night and for the next 20 + nights, that young man and I got on our knees and prayed together. He told me it helped him feel safe and sleep better. I believe it did more for me.
While Michelle’s offer was noble in nature, what she couldn’t provide or replicate in her apartment was the bonding that took place in that old abandoned whore house in Northern California. More so than the counselors, life coaches, psychologists and other specialists on the staff, I bonded with those beautiful, broken souls. I got over myself – learning alongside them.
Over the next 5 years I took what I learned through those initial bonding experiences to the rooms of NA and began the next phase of learning to connect with the addicts and alcoholics where I lived. Through the help of Shane, Roger, Mike, Dino, Laine, Val, Jeff, Omar, Mario and hundreds of others, we, together overcame our bonding issues. Night after night they helped me see what was wrong with my approach to life and relationships with other people. They helped me define what I wanted with my life and more importantly and frankly more often, what I didn’t want with my life.
No one person could have done that for me. It was the collective; a million different interactions and conversations It was more of them than me. They were a power greater than me shinning a light down into my cellar, offering me a hand-out.
Somewhere along the line the 12 Steps stopped being about drugs and alcohol. Thankfully, staying clean had become relatively easy. Connecting with addicts seeking recovery became easier. My challenges became and remain today; how do I recognize, cultivate and deepen the connections that are of value to me? How do I continue to broaden the number of connections I have to the outside world? How successfully do I relate to and bond with others? Am I capable of being in a loving, intimate relationship?
Today marriage and fatherhood challenge my “connection issues” in every way imaginable. Nurturing those fragile relationships most days takes a skill set beyond my capacities. I fail often. I work to foster the handful of incredible, decades-long friendships I have with men in my life who challenge me to be a better version of myself. I seek to deepen the quality of the culture in the places I work and play and sometimes, 13 years later, I still have to force myself to say ‘yes’ to a simple invite to coffee and conversation.
Do the think the cost of rehab was worth it?
by Tony Feeney