I wish I knew then what I know now: a journey through primary recovery

When you are ill and in the throes of addiction, disasters seem to follow you around

When you are ill and in the throes of addiction, disasters seem to follow you around while drinking, lying, sleeping, crying, using, shouting or simply blacking out.

 Rehab Costs & Options for Alcohol | Drugs | Other addictions

One thing is certain though: you know absolutely nothing about getting sober. 

Denial is something that therapists frown on, but for the active alcoholic, it can keep you and your addiction alive.

“It’s not too bad, it will get better, she/he will fix me, that car/job/new phone will magically make everything better.”

But it doesn’t, does it?

Eventually, you will go insane, die or enter rehab. The last is normally accompanied by a threat, ‘get help or get out’.

There are no more excuses or no more promises that ‘ I won’t drink anymore’.  Everyone has gone. I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.

It’s time to get professional help.

Typical thoughts that occur on arriving in rehab are:

  1. No one will want to know me, now I’m like this.
  2. No one must know I am at Castle Craig.
  3. Am I safe here?
  4. I will rest for a day or two and then leave.
  5. I want to leave now!
  6. I will detox and then be better.
  7. I have no idea where I am or how I got here.
  8. I’m very, very scared
  9. I am not an alcoholic or addict, why am I here?
  10. They can’t help me. I am too messed up

Medical staff at Castle Craig rehab

Arrival/Week One

OK, you’ve arrived, been dropped off or been carried in, unconscious. There is nothing glamorous about arriving at an acute psychiatric hospital, which is what a ‘rehab’ is.

They search your luggage and remove the strangest things outside of drugs and alcohol.

Books, deodorant, soaps, vitamins, clothes with certain logos or ‘look’ and any valuables all have to be handed in. Phones and laptops are not normally allowed either.

People arrive at Castle Craig at various stages of addiction. Some are yellow from jaundice and shaking, some are loud and drunk, some are timid and shy, we are all from different walks of life, but we are all the same.

Some go straight into detox, some sleep for 24 hours and then join the programme.  The only things patients have in common are that they are ill and use alcohol or drugs to cope with life.

Everyone looks scary, intimidating and far more together than you.

You unpack, you nervously greet some of the other residents.

Someone takes you to one side and shows you where everything is. You gain some of the basic rules of rehab. You look for someone who seems approachable and quickly befriend them. 

You share a room for the first time in 20 years. You have nerves that remind you of your first day at a new school/university/job. You want a drink desperately to cope with all this. Had there been a nearby shop you would have walked.

If you had your phone you would have called a taxi. Luckily, Castle Craig is far from any distractions and temptations, not too remote, but a good 5 miles from the nearest shops.

What I wish I knew:

  1. They have seen it all before
  2. There is always someone worse
  3. Alcoholism is an illness and not a lack of willpower
  4. People are always leaving and arriving
  5. All of the patients feel the same fear, panic, hopelessness
  6. Everyone feels like they have been there ‘forever’, after a week
  7. No-one is scary when you have seen them open their heart and cry on your shoulder
  8. That I would crave a drink or a drug or anything to fix my head
  9. That I would cry and feel relieved

Mistakes I made

  1. Thinking that I am unique
  2. Wasting time talking and gossiping about other patients
  3. Wasting time discussing and evaluating various therapists
  4. Trying to tough it out and pretend nothing was wrong with me
  5. Not speaking to the various nurses and additional therapeutic staff who are always on duty
  6. Not reading the various pieces of literature that were given to me
  7. Chain-smoking outside in the smoking area
  8. Concentrating on other people’s problems and how to fix them
  9. Not being honest and lying to my therapists and other members in the group
  10. Not telling people how bad it is and somehow giving the impression that me being here is all a mistake
  11. Not showering or getting dressed properly
  12. Not being open-minded to therapeutic approaches (I scoffed at CBT)
  13. Mistaking patients further on in treatment for therapists
  14. Being in treatment for my parents, family, brother, partner, girlfriend (and not for me)
  15. Making inappropriate comments in a group
  16. Being disrespectful in the group (unintentionally) and upsetting someone
  17. Being silent in group

Week two in rehab

Week two is less of a blur. You get to know people. Every story is tragic and very sad. You are very tired.

“I do not crave a drink every minute, I am no longer living hour by hour. I have stopped crying all the time. I feel a bit more like me. I am anxious and afraid and, and, and …”

Every day someone says goodbye and leaves. Every day someone arrives at Castle Craig. In your second week, you are no longer the new person. You know where the library is, or where the gym is. Your thinking is a little more logical. You look better.

In some rehabs, you are now allowed to phone home.

Some rehabs have various rules in the first weeks about having visitors. By the second week, you know the rules, you can actually sleep without waking up every hour panicking, you are getting used to the constant bustle of being around people after so many months and years of isolation.

You have been sober for a week. The first week in years. You get your feelings back. The days get a little easier. You still know nothing but you have made a start in ‘recovery.’

What I wish I known

  1. I’m only here for 35 days, it passes quickly, sometimes slowly
  2. Rehab is extremely expensive and although I’ve earned my seat here with my substance abuse or behaviour I won’t be able to live here permanently or keep coming back
  3. Feelings come back hard and fast, they are meant to be felt!
  4. The Big Book is written mostly by men!
  5. A therapist has already taken me to one side and commented on my behaviour and how I interact with other patients. “I’d be much better off focusing on my recovery, not on other people’s problems.”
  6. It is unhelpful to get angry with the therapist when they suggest or comment on something I’ve said, we are all on the same team and in the same boat. They are trying to help
  7. Therapists are much more experienced and knowledgeable than I am
  8. I cannot con drugs out of my consultant psychiatrist
  9. Not everyone in rehab wants to get better
  10. Rehab does not work for everyone
  11. That the 12 steps are not religious
  12. That I can challenge how I am being treated here
  13. Begging for drugs with the nurse will not work
  14. Threatening to leave rehab or storming out of groups is not helpful
  15. Everyone in my group doesn’t hate me
  16. Everything I have done when drinking or drugging has been done by someone else
  17. Every feeling and thought I have ever had, someone else has experienced
  18. Depression, anxiety, anger, rage, and shame makes me human
  19. That horrible secret I was never going to tell anyone – I told someone, and the world didn’t end

Week three

“I have been sober for over 14 days, I am laughing more, I am still stressed but less anxious. Some days are harder. I feel some hope that just maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel.

This is an inside job, no Gucci is going to keep me sober.”

Weekends in rehab can be much quieter, less distractions, more time to reflect on yourself and how you have behaved towards the important people in your life. Getting through the first couple and sticking with the treatment programme is an important milestone.

By now you have individual therapy experience and begin to see that your using or other addictive behaviours are merely symptoms.

The real problems lie within you, not within the bottle.

Week three is often accompanied by the first chink of light that just maybe I can stop drinking. Just maybe I won’t live the life I lived before I came. Just maybe if I’m extremely careful, I can live without a drink or drug for another week.

“I got the hang of group, I got to know my therapist and the staff at Castle Craig. I know the scary people who are not to be challenged regardless of what the therapists say and I know the people who really want to get better.”

You don’t feel the need to joke around and try and show off. You’ve seen a whole number of newcomers arrive and go. You have worked out that you are not the worst, you are not the best, you are neither special nor different.

You are a bog-standard alcoholic, drug addict, or gambling addict. Many people have recovered.

“In the third week, you may notice that your vocabulary changes. This is rehab; I am not bad, I am ill. I am now in recovery.  Easy does it.  I’m beginning to learn about triggers, sobriety, the 12 steps, a higher power, toxic shame, honesty, respect, relapse, overdose, dishonesty and relationships.”

Possibly one of the most important things is to have gained some understanding that your addiction, your feelings and your recovery are your responsibility. Nobody else can fix you.

Blaming others is very very easy and understandable but what also has to be added to the mix is that your own behaviour or reactions contributed to exactly where you are now. It’s hazy, you don’t let people off the hook but just possibly, the door opens a tiny bit wider.

Is there room for self-forgiveness?

Mistakes I made

  1. I spent far too much time fantasising about what would fix me
  2. In group I allowed other people to stop me from sharing by imagining what they think
  3. I told war stories about how funny/tragic my drinking behaviour was
  4. I couldn’t trust, I’ve been hurt and let down so many times that trusting other people in the group not to laugh at me or shame me was extremely hard. In hindsight I wish I had been a bit braver or perhaps a little more honest about my difficulties
  5. Parroting ‘therapy-speak’ or recovery clichés to sound clever
  6. Not fully working my recovery programme that the rehab set out. This included writing life stories, filling in various bits of paperwork, working relapse prevention, all sorts of stuff that if you go to rehab, you become familiar with
  7. Mistaking rehab for a holiday, spending more time smoking, drinking tea and gossiping about nothing important


Week four

“My time is nearly up; I feel panicky about what  can happen post-rehab.  I am sober. I have been to AA meetings, I have shared, I am an old-timer (in rehab). I look better, I feel better, I can comfort others.”

Things that went through my mind

  1. Once I leave, can I cope?
  2. Should I stay longer or go into secondary treatment?
  3. How do I get a sponsor?
  4. I don’t want togo to AA, I do want to go to AA.
  5. Can I ever drink again?
  6. When I go back to my flat in London and I feel alone, what do I do?
  7. What am I going to do when it all gets too much?
  8. Can I come back here?
  9. Will everyone be disappointed and ashamed of me if I relapse?
  10. Will work understand or judge me, can I work?
  11. I should have worked harder on my recovery work
  12. My Higher Power is sort of an idea and not that solid yet
  13. I will be absolutely fine
  14. I did not need to go to Castle Craig again
  15. I would like to stay here for the rest of my life
  16. I am sober, I am alive
  17. I can do this
  18. I can’t do this
  19. Can I be happy sober? What about dating, dancing ugh!

The reality is that the last week is all about creating the beginnings of a support network that will replace the rehab and more importantly, will replace the previous coping mechanisms patients were using in their life, namely drugs and alcohol.

“If you don’t replace the addictions or behaviours you are giving up, it will be much harder to stay sober and well.”

The final week is all about relapse prevention, it is all about triggers and cravings. In therapy, you may have covered how you are going to be with your wife/husband and children.

You will have covered what to tell your boss, the next-door neighbour and how to go to AA/NA and get support.

The fourth and fifth week is all about paying more attention to what’s going on in the group. It’s about taking the time to present perhaps your 1st 2nd or 3rd steps. It’s about jumping in and discussing what you need to talk about instead of waiting and sitting in silence praying that no one confronts you. Week four feels more like a few days.

Often in the last weeks, patients are introduced to family therapy. Family therapy unfortunately involves the family.

Fathers,  brothers, sisters wives and older children are invited to attend group and speak to the patient and tell them how it’s been, how they were hurt, their hopes and fears for the future etc.

“Now isn’t really the time to go into the ins and outs of family therapy; however, for me, it was the cornerstone of my recovery.

I knew their pain and their love. It helped that I’d shared my fears and my worries and showed them my tears and my regret. It helped that I said sorry.”

(Please note this is only my experience of family therapy and the last few days of rehab. It is not the same for everyone).

What I wish I had known:

  1. More about how to get a sponsor, how to approach someone appropriate and to know who to avoid
  2. I wish I had been more honest with my partner and had them more involved with my recovery
  3. I wish I knew more about prayer and meditation and a daily toolbox to keep me sane
  4. I wish I had known that recovery is a journey not a destination
  5. I wish I had spoken to the consultant psychiatrist more and arranged a handover with medical people in my area
  6. I wish I’d asked more information about after-care and all support groups in my area other than the normal fellowships
  7. I wish I’d stopped talking and listened a lot more
  8. That I will always have addiction issues that have be to managed one day at a time
  9. I wish I’d known that through insurance you can apply for another two weeks or if you are self-funding you can ask to stay a little longer if you’re feeling unsure
  10. I wish I’d known that some of the people here won’t be alive next year
  11. I wish I’d known the seriousness of my illness and predicament before I began my 28 days. Perhaps then I would have taken it more seriously
  12. I wish I paid more attention in group to the therapist
  13. I wish that when doing my written assignments in the hospital I’d been more honest
  14. My lungs ache – I wish I’d smoked less
  15. That I had been more self-aware and thoughtful when I stepped on toes and people retaliated
  16. That I was more prepared for family therapy both its wonderful pluses and its incredible painful parts

Day 35 Leaving rehab

“It’s scary leaving Castle Craig.”

It was a shock after being cooped up for 35 days in all, with the only experience of the outside world being an AA meeting, to suddenly be faced with cars, traffic, people, all completely unaware that I’ve been in hospital for four weeks dealing with a whole load of feelings and emotions.”

Leaving rehab is a milestone. It is a colossal achievement. Are people cured? No, but the person can hold the illness in remission and lead a perfectly happy life, providing  they practice complete abstinence.

The substances have been removed, the patient has begun therapy and been introduced to recovery. Perhaps rehab has ruined an addict’s using or drinking as it has lessened the power of denial. Only time will tell.

What I wish I’d known:

  1. Many people after rehab sleep 48-hours
  2. Connecting with an AA or NA meeting within a few days is a lifesaver
  3. Learning that I can ask someone to be a temporary sponsor to widen the net who I should choose my sponsor
  4. I can be honest in the first meeting and say ‘I’m just out of rehab and I am 29 days sober’
  5. Calling another person who I know who has left rehab and asking how they are
  6. Calling the next person on my list to a no now has left rehab and asking how they are
  7. Driving all the way to the rehab to attend after-care is a good idea, this is just to connect to the rehab and know that it’s there
  8. That the rehab can recommend a good therapist or a way of finding a good therapist in my area
  9. Practically all the therapists I have been speaking to have a past history of addiction and know exactly how leaving rehab feels and instead of worrying and trying to think my way through it, I could have just asked their advice
  10. I wish I had concentrated more on relapse prevention
  11. That I will re-read a lot of the literature given to me in rehab during the moments when all I want to do is use
  12. That I can phone the rehab and talk to someone in times of emergency
  13. That I can speak to the consultant psychiatrist and arrange an appointment with him should I need to have my medication reviewed after a few months
  14. I can ask my consultant psychiatrist to arrange another psychiatrist in my area. I can ask to be referred and my notes to be forwarded

There are lots of things I wish I’d known on my journey through Castle Craig.

To be honest, if I’d known the number of surrenders I would have to make, the number of days I would have to restart, the number of people I would have to drop out of my life, I’m not sure I would ever have started recovery.

It’s a journey, and what I picked up along the way has helped me keep sober. It would have been easier had I known all of the above!

Rehab is simply the first step on a long journey. It separated me from alcohol and gave me the knowledge and tools to begin life on life’s terms.

If you are on your journey, may I wish you good luck.

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