When I was at the height of my drinking and using, I had a long-standing joke with my friend Paul that one of these days, Betty Ford is coming to get you in that white stretch limousine… Watch yourself! As if she was out driving around in her car, stalking unsuspecting drunks, and kidnapping them into a life of deadly boredom. A sober Shanghai surprise. Then, after I got sober in AA and figured out what it’s really like to be sober, I was a little envious of people who got to take a month off and go to a swank rehab, talk about themselves all day, do a lot of yoga and ride horses on the beach. So my ideas about treatment have certainly changed over the years, and now, after having been to a couple myself, I am redefining some of those concepts again. I am also enrolled in the UCLA Alcohol & Drug counseling program, so I am reading a ton of great new material on this topic, all of which is more factual than my preconceptions… And I’m learning that it’s not all about how long you’ve been sober. Of course the optimal plan is to get sober and stay sober, and learn how to be happy (which is a lot easier sober, much to my surprise!). But the bottom line is, it’s about the quality of your life. And that any time spent sober is an improvement over sitting in your bed drinking beer and smoking meth. This quote from my textbook on Pharmacology was so powerful, I wanted to post it immediately:
“Treatment is effective. Scientifically based drug addiction treatments typically reduce drug abuse by 40% to 60%. These rates are not ideal, of course, but they are comparable with compliance rates seen with treatment for other chronic diseases, such as asthma, hypertension, and diabetes. Moreover, treatment markedly reduces undesirable consequences of drug abuse and addiction, such as unemployment, criminal activity, and HIV/AIDS or other infectious diseases, whether or not patients achieve complete abstinence.” –Alan I Leshner, Ph.D., former director, National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The text goes on to state, “Some treatment outcome studies targeted for methamphetamine addiction (e.g., the Matrix Model) as well as those for other drugs of choice demonstrate up to 80% to 87% one-year continuous sobriety rates. Such positive treatment outcome rates compare favorably with treatment rates obtained from treating most other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, asthma, and hypertension. Another indicator is the percentage of days abstinent (PDA) from alcohol during a period of time following treatment to gauge treatment outcomes. In 2011 the Butler Research Group found a 95.33% PDA twelve months following treatment at Hazelden compared with 37.91% baseline before treatment.” —Uppers, Downers, and All-Arounders, Inaba and Cohen, 2014, p. 9.2.
I think the interesting point here is that we must consider our definition of success. If a person stays sober for 11 months in a year with a relapse in the middle, that is a vast improvement over one month of abstinence and 11 months using. Before I actually went to treatment, I had the impression it was a 30-day out-of-the-box situation, where you just commit to the time, and they get you sober, and you’re done. And that if you end up having to go back, that’s a failure. It’s embarrassing enough to have to go once, but when you have to go BACK, it’s not really fun to tell your family and friends. The fact is, most folks end up going more than once. And that’s not a bad thing.
I have always known that recovery is a PROCESS. Like they say in AA, “Progress, not perfection…” I got something different out of each experience in treatment, all cumulative, and what worked in the end probably wouldn’t have worked if that had been my first stop. I am now grateful for the way things went down – in retrospect, it all had to happen exactly the way it did to get me where I am. And that’s a good place. I have a new peace and happiness in my life that is priceless. So in the end, I’m glad I was able to go in the first place, and I’m glad I went back when I needed to. I found amazing help there. I eventually came to understand myself a whole lot better, and gained the confidence to make some necessary changes in my life to get where I want to be. But I had to get over my shame about relapsing yet again to access a new level of recovery. It was NOT helpful to get linger in the shame I initially felt about walking away from 10 years of consecutive sobriety. And nothing happens by accident.