Most of us are familiar with the sad saga of Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto. The story has all the hallmarks of alcoholism, such as denial, enabling family members and friends, and destructive and sometimes criminal behaviour as a result of “drunken stupors.”
However, this article is re-posted not so much because of Rob Ford but because of its insightful portrayal of the challenges and the potential benefits of rehab. It can be an encouragement to those considering taking that first step towards sobriety, and it will evoke memories – some fond and some less so – for those of us who are ourselves graduates of rehab centres.
By Jim Coyle
Originally published on Saturday, Nov 09, 2013, in the Toronto Star
If all went well, and if only he could see it, his story would be as old as man. It would be a tale of redemption, make him champion of second chances, delight his followers, confound his foes. And maybe just save his life.
Even so, it remains a hard sell. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s mother doesn’t want him “away in some rehab.” His brother, Doug, allows that the mayor just needs a week or two down south to clear his head.
On Friday, there were murmurings that Ford himself was considering treatment for drug and alcohol problems that have made him one of the most infamous men on Earth. But when he left City Hall after another hellish week, he said only that he had “serious personal issues” to address.
If Rob Ford did agree to go to rehab, as so many of his friends have advised, what might it look like?
Most likely, he would choose a rehab centre in the U.S., the better to maintain a semblance of anonymity. Though it’s difficult to know where he could go now without notoriety.
But that’s fine. Most treatment facilities have seen their share of the infamous – athletes, politicians, entertainers, along with bus drivers, bikers and folks of more modest station.
On the day of admission, he would likely spruce up a bit. Most middle-class men and women entering rehab prefer to give the impression they are not like the grubby down-and-outers they imagine real alcoholics or druggies to be.
He might be trembling just a bit. He would be wary. He would be ashamed. He would be terribly lonely. He would, down deep, be frightened.
He would have had to accept the proposition, as those who have abused both alcohol and street drugs do, that treatment would be a matter of months, not weeks. He would be told it’s probably the most difficult thing he will ever do. Even then, he would be informed, it is no panacea. The odds are against his remaining clean and sober.
As he registered, clients who are about to become his social world might offer handshakes (the drunks) or a hug (the druggers). They would tell him he’ll be okay. If he’s typical, he will hate them for it.
At check-in, payment would be discreetly dealt with. Treatment doesn’t come cheap. Happily, for him money is not an issue.
He would be examined by a nurse, perhaps a staff doctor. He would be escorted to his room. There, a staffer would inspect his luggage, empty his toilet kit, remove any aftershave, mouthwash — anything containing alcohol.
This would be the first rude shock as to just how much control he had ceded. But let’s be honest. He had been out of control for a while.
He would find that he is required to give urine for drug tests. He would require a pass to leave the premises — a privilege granted only after weeks. He would be told he has to fly right or be kicked out.
After the shame of all this, he would likely sit on the bed in the institutional room that will for many weeks be his home. Part of him would scream that this has been a ghastly mistake. He’s fine. He doesn’t need this. He should leave. He’s the goddamn mayor of Toronto, after all. How could he possibly be an addict or alcoholic?
But part of him will know, if only a tiny part, that as much as he tried he could not stop; as much as he agonized he could not explain why he did the things he did.
It’s a humbling place to reach. But humility, the willingness to face his own reality and to accept the help of others, is the starting point.
In the first days, efforts would be made to relieve his shame. Addiction, he will be told, is a most democratic enemy. Both sexes. All ages, colours, classes, creeds. He might soon find himself playing Scrabble in the evening with a First Nations woman, riding a stationary bike alongside a professional ballplayer, or musician, or salesman.
From his first morning of treatment, his days will have structure and discipline – something his life has lacked.
He, and all other clients, will awaken early. There might be light exercises. There will be breakfast, then regular snacks. Nutrition is not something addicts tend to heed. Just as regular hours and sleep are usually strangers to them.
There will be classes on relaxation and ways to manage stress. As his own mother says, he can’t sit still — which suggests an unease in his own skin, a discomfort with those around him and the world as he finds it.
Soon enough, the hard part will begin. Treatment centres are in the business of smashing delusions.
He will be told addiction is known by many names. The disease of perception. The disease of feelings. A family disease. He will find that it’s all those things and more.
He will learn that the genius of the addict is for self-deception. How could it be otherwise? How, in the face of repeated and escalating humiliation, loss, disgrace, could the addict carry on unless able to convince himself he didn’t have the problem all the world could see?
Social drinkers, recreational drinkers, do not find themselves in serial, public “drunken stupors” that lead to crack cocaine use.
He will learn that one doesn’t have to drink daily to be alcoholic. The criterion is control. When, having taken a drink, the drinker can no longer guarantee his actions, when every time you touch it – as Ford’s sister says of him – you “go full tilt,” you qualify for the club no one ever wants to join.
The client will be confronted with a terrible fact. He will be told that the mind that brought him to this state will hardly be the tool to get him out. He will have to follow instruction.
He will come to see, painfully, that his ability to build and sustain healthy relationships has been poor, that the blaming of others and rationalization of his own part in things ensured his own emotional isolation.
He will have to accept propositions that seem to him perverse. He will be expected to talk intimately with strangers, when the rule of his family was to take nothing outside their own four walls.
In his world, men didn’t show weakness. They didn’t talk. They didn’t explain. They pulled up their socks, dug in, worked harder. But in this fight, that didn’t work.
The good news is that if he must now depend on the help of others, he will find it to be abundant. The better news is that if he takes this voyage of personal discovery seriously, it will be the most rewarding trip he ever makes.
There will be daily classes on the complicated nature of addiction, its neurological, physiological, emotional and spiritual aspects. There will be daily sessions of group and individual therapy. In them, he will be called to account by others who know the game, the con, the emotional immaturity that is inherent to the ailment, the monumental selfishness that goes with the territory.
What he will learn is that millions know how he feels, have done what he has done, have broken the hearts of those who love and support them. This is not a journey he will have to make alone.
He will be asked to take steps that require him to come to terms with the things he’s done and the man he’s become. Those steps will demand an honest investigation of his heart and soul, the impact of his family of origin, all the factors that made him the man – usually the wounded man-child – he is.
Not much of this will be pleasant. All of it will be necessary.
Over these weeks, if he is like others who have walked this road, he will come – as the ancient oracle at Delphi instructs – to know himself, perhaps for the first time.
He will learn that his disease, condition – whatever one wants to call it – does not make him bad, just sick. He will learn that dealing with it will be a lifelong undertaking and will require vigilance and change in his routines, activities, social circle.
What would probably astonish the mayor, as he began the process, is how much goodwill he will receive, even from those he thinks of as enemies. He will come to understand that you can’t have relationships in an imperfect species such as ours without the capacity to forgive.
He might be astonished, if a city sees him sustaining his side of the bargain, at the forgiveness that flowed his way.
Jim Coyle is a sober graduate of Bellwood Health Services. He is a feature writer at the Toronto Star. This article is re-posted with permission.