There’s only one thing that will change when you go to rehab and that one thing is everything- life, as you knew it, prior to rehab, must change. If your life doesn’t change when you leave rehab, the life that you knew prior to rehab will come back around and bite you again.
When an individual says they’re going to rehab they have to think about the fact that this new life is going to cost them their old life, and if they’re willing to pay that price. Some people are willing to let go and embrace a new opportunity and experience, while some people just cling to the past. We continue to deliver the same message consistently over a period of time – some people take it and some people don’t.
When you go to rehab you better expect that everything’s going to change. Not just for the individual who is going to rehab but for the family members too. If you’re a family member, your whole experience with your loved one prior to them going to rehab was about rescuing, saving, enabling, cleaning up, figuring out, lying about their addiction. Now that they’re no longer drinking and using all of that energy, all of their focus and attention to whatever you were doing is suddenly no longer there, and you’re left with yourself.
We’ve had so many family members at our center who had this role of a caretaker and savior, and when their loved one went to rehab all of a sudden they experience something similar to the empty nest syndrome, like when their adult children go off to college. For the past 18 years of their life they had no other identity besides being a parent to their child and now that the kid is gone they don’t know what to do. Rehab is similar – all of a sudden the pattern is broken so when you go to rehab you should expect to experience a lot of stuff that’s been suppressed and bottled down for a long period of time.
A great analogy for addiction is like driving a sports car. Addiction is like driving a car as fast as you can down the highway, and as you’re driving so for 1-2-5-10-15 years, you’re accumulating a bunch of stuff inside this car – consequences, events, memories, stories (mostly negative) into this car, and all of a sudden you go to rehab.
So what to expect when you slam the brakes? Everything that’s inside your car that’s been suppressed and thrown in the back for years all of a sudden flies to the front and covers up the window. You can’t see, you get overwhelmed, you get anxious, scared because you can’t continue driving forward. You’re just stuck. For some people that feeling is so overwhelming that they just want to grab everything from the car and throw it back and they floor it again as fast as they can, when in reality what you need to do in that moment is to grab one of these items, just to give a little bit of clear way, so that you can see through the windshield.
And then you look at the item – when did you throw this object in your car? When and why did you accumulate it? How has this impacted your life? You start to go through the therapeutic process of what happens inside rehab. You start looking at it from different perspectives and eventually, the goal is to be able to make the item a little bit smaller and smaller, because when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. Eventually you throw the little item back in your car – you can’t throw it out of the car because it happened to you, and it’s part of your story. It’s part of your life journey. You can’t just throw away stuff but you could change the size or weight of it and throw it back in the car and drive slower through that little opening in the windshield.
Eventually you grab all of the items one by one, look at them from different perspectives, make them smaller, throw them back in the car and then you don’t just floor it in the same direction, but make a soft little turn and find a new direction and drive just the speed limit. Just drive the way you’re supposed to drive, enjoy the journey, look outside, look at what you’d been missing when you were flooring it like a lunatic.
The whole point of this analogy is to say what to expect when you go to rehab – in the beginning it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Because the solution to all of your problems, which was the drugs and the alcohol, has been taken away. And until you find a new solution it’s going to be a rocky road. That’s why it’s a very high risk time frame for people in relapse.