What I Learned During My First Stay in Rehab

Why Advocating Your Own Recovery Is Key

Alyssa Sprague
Sep 21, 2020 · 5 min read
Woman sitting on balcony with legs up next to tropical drink
Woman sitting on balcony with legs up next to tropical drink
Photo courtesy of Unsplash

It wasn’t until hitting what I considered to be rock bottom in 2005 that I finally accepted a very hard truth — I needed professional help dealing with my drug addiction and unmanaged bipolar disorder.

It was a very hard pill for me to swallow. I had been successful at living a double life and hiding the extent of my problems for a long time. But behind closed doors, I was a train-wreck. I was a college drop-out with $70,000 in debt — caused by mania-fueled shopping sprees and my expensive addiction to opiates.

I honestly believed, however, that if I could only put the dope down long enough to walk into a rehab facility, that I could finally manage my mental illness and be free of my addiction, once and for all.

How I Pictured It

My only frame of reference in regards to rehab at this point in time was a Sandra Bullock movie I’d seen, and maybe a few books. In my mind, I imagined 28 days of sleeping in and writing. Perhaps I would develop a semi-flirtatious relationship with a cute, misunderstood, emo-looking counselor. Ultimately, I would hug everyone before walking back out into the world, refreshed and recovered.

I was a tad nieve. I get that now. But in my defense, I didn’t know anyone then who had actually been to rehab, and most of my fantasy had been conjured up while heavily under the influence of sedating narcotics.

A Dose of Reality

I received my first lesson in rehab for the real world from an “intake specialist” at my first choice in treatment programs. Unfortunately, my insurance plan was not accepted at their facility, but perhaps a parent or loved one could assist me with putting up a $5,000 deposit?

By that point, I had burned my parents so badly financially as a result of my addiction, that I doubted if they would let me borrow $20, let alone $5,000.

There had to be other options.

About ten calls later, I successfully found the only facility in a 3-hour radius that accepted my insurance. It also had a waiting list several weeks long. I had to call back every single day to check for available beds — which I did for the next 34 days.

On the Unit

The experience didn’t get any easier once I finally managed to get admitted. I had barely checked in before I was stripped of all my clothes and personal belongings. I was then subjected to a humiliating body search and instructed to pee in a cup, which I did while a sweaty nurse’s aid stood and watched me from about 3 feet away.

She then handed me an oversized hospital gown and faded slipper socks, and left me to sit alone in a dimly lit room with a clipboard full of paperwork to sign.

It seemed like hours went by before a nurse finally came in and began walking me through a long and incredibly thorough intake questionnaire. The questions ranged in topic from my drug of choice and last use to the highest level of education completed by my parents.

Her last words to me sounded vaguely like a threat — if I wanted to get on the waiting list for a sober living facility, I had better decide which one quickly and tell my counselor at our first meeting.

What I Didn’t Know To Ask

That first meeting didn’t happen until two days later, and by that time I was in withdrawal so badly that I barely knew up from down. I failed to remember to ask about the sober-living, and she never mentioned it.

I was viciously sick from days without any opiates. The comfort meds I was receiving — ibuprofen and an anti-diarrhea med — weren’t keeping me comfortable in the least. My roommate, a veteran rehabber, was also kicking a habit but seemed to be in far better shape. When I mention this to her, she asked me how many milligrams of methadone I had received that day.

Zero.

Apparently, I had the option of reducing my withdrawal using a methadone taper — if I had only known to ask for one during my admission.

It was the same in regards to my aftercare. I heard two veteran women discussing a program that sounded perfect for my situation. But upon questioning my counselor, I was told that I should have expressed interest on my first day. The waiting list was now closed.

I learned the hard way during that rehab stay that you must advocate for your best interests when it comes to your recovery and mental health. However, the kicker is that without at least a little insider knowledge into how the system works, you have no way of knowing what to advocate for.

I ended up staying in treatment for only ten days, as that’s all my insurance would cover. The most helpful thing I got out of the entire ordeal was a list of phone numbers from the Narcotics Anonymous members who had come in and held a meeting at the facility.

After Discharge

I was out in the real world for about two days before relapsing.

But looking back now, I can appreciate the things I learned from that initial time in treatment — what to expect, what to do and what not to do, and most importantly, the importance of self-advocating my aftercare needs.

I went on to go into treatment a handful more times. Each time to different programs, taking what I needed from each and leaving the rest. On each subsequent admission, I would utilize what I’d learned during my previous trips.

I ultimately got into a longer residential program upon my final discharge in late 2oo6 and began methadone maintenance. I was able to get help with my finances, transportation to and from all my mental health appointments, and a paid scholarship for a vocational nursing program.

I’ve worked as a licensed nurse for over ten years now. I also re-enrolled at the university I’d dropped out of after my sophomore year as a result of my addiction, and obtained my B.S. in Public Health.

I’m on the other side now, working to help change the American drug rehabilitation system which chewed me up and spit me out not long ago. In my free time, I blog about my experiences in addiction and recovery.

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A primer on becoming a more resilient person, stories of…

Alyssa Sprague

Written by

Freelance writer, nurse, and grateful recovering addict. Read more at modernjunkieprincess.com

Real Life Resilience

A primer on becoming a more resilient person, stories of recovery and resilience, and resources for living a more joy-filled life.

Alyssa Sprague

Written by

Freelance writer, nurse, and grateful recovering addict. Read more at modernjunkieprincess.com

Real Life Resilience

A primer on becoming a more resilient person, stories of recovery and resilience, and resources for living a more joy-filled life.

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