This Is What It’s Really Like to Enter Rehab for Substance Abuse

I started calling around to treatment centers, sometimes while I was drinking, and quickly realized rehab is all about insurance. These places are insanely expensive—we’re talking $ 40,000 a month without coverage. I literally don’t know what people do who don’t have good coverage (or parents willing to cover high deductibles). I was privileged to have both and was accepted into a clinic in St. Paul, Minnesota. I packed up a few things from my apartment in Chicago, got on a plane, had one last night of getting trashed in a hotel room alone, and then a van picked me up to take me in. I entered the first phase of rehab, which is the medical unit where I detoxed. For three days, I wore a location monitor that beeped if I left the center. I was given detox drugs to make me more comfortable, and I was monitored for seizures (a side effect of alcohol withdrawal). It was absolutely brutal.

Once my system was clean, I was moved into a living unit with 10 to 20 other women. It’s pretty much like a sorority—it’s nice and clean, and you eat in a cafeteria where the food is actually pretty good. (I even worked with a dietitian who would plan my meals for the week ahead because I have a severe gluten allergy.) One of the things I realized quickly is that mood disorders and addiction issues truly don’t discriminate. I was with doctors, lawyers, bartenders…women from every walk of life. We had three counselors who led group discussions all day long on subjects like dealing with trauma, having healthy relationships, and tackling triggers. And then I’d meet one-on-one with a counselor daily who would assign me mini projects, like a written journal about how anxiety affects me or a painting based off of something I’d read about addiction. I also saw a psychiatrist for medication management—some of my depression drugs finally started working because I was off the alcohol, so I saw some of my symptoms abate quickly.

At times, I won’t lie: Rehab was kind of a blast. You’re hanging out with your new friends, playing games, shooting the shit, smoking cigarettes, laying in the sun, laughing…everyone is just in a horrible weird place in life and all you can do sometimes is joke and dance around. Your phone is taken away at the beginning (you earn it back over time with progress), but there are computers and landlines if you want to connect with people back home. I made amazing friends. At other times, rehab was incredibly sad—somebody would be crying, and you circle around that person and support them. There were lots of mothers there, which was never easy to watch—and people who were back in for their sixth stay.

I did well in rehab—so well that my insurance wanted to cut me off before I was ready to leave. That’s the rough part about rehab—insurance decides when you’re done—not the doctors or therapists. I was cut off around 45 days, but I wish I had been able to stay the full 60. And it’s not like you leave and all of a sudden everything is better. Life hits you in the face hard when you’re done, and you have to work your ass off every day to avoid relapsing. Some of my friends, months later, are already back in rehab. And you can’t hang out with all the amazing people you met because some of them quickly fall back into bad habits.

I’m now in outpatient therapy for two hours a day, I have a sponsor, and I see a therapist two days a week. I’m working on getting a job in the area while doing everything I can to stay healthy. I feel so much better but this is a work in progress. Here’s what I want other women knew: Rehab is not scary. It can be life changing. I almost wish everybody could take 30 days off of their life to dig deep into their issues, because let’s be honest—we all cope with our emotions in some way, and it’s not always the healthiest. It’s expensive and a major commitment, but you learn to live a more peaceful life and accept obstacles as they come, day by day.