After reading an article in The New York Times about the various cushy rehabilitation facilities where celebrities dry out, I got curious about just how many ”celebs” we were talking about. So I cued up my current favorite song, which just happens to be Amy Winehouse’s ”Rehab,” and made a list. The song’s only 3:33, but I had a pretty good roster before it was done: Eddie Van Halen, Jesse Metcalfe, Marc Jacobs, Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Keith Urban, Mel Gibson, Robbie Williams, Courtney Love, Kate Moss, and Colin Farrell. I don’t doubt there are many more.
The Times article suggests that, in spite of Ms. Winehouse’s defensiveness (which those in recovery bluntly call ”denial”), rehab has become a kind of hood ornament for famous folks who like to get high. And why not? The rooms are private, tasteful, and in some places include beds with 600-thread-count sheets. There are pools and gyms, the grounds are peaceful, you can get naturally high with a massage. Of course the price is also high, but you can afford it if you’re a movie star. And golly, you might even get a movie out of the experience, or at least a book (Rummies, for instance, by the late Peter Benchley).
So what’s to No No No about?
Judging by my experience, quite a lot — but of course, I went through rehab 20 years ago, before rehab was cool. At that time, recovering alkies called finding oneself in such a situation being in a jackpot. The word, I assure you, was used ironically.
And no star-time for me. The place where they took away my keys, sharp objects, and credit cards upon admission wasn’t Promises or even the Betty Ford Center, but a place called Brookside, in scenic Nashua, New Hampshire (not). In her song, Ms. Winehouse says she doesn’t want to be jugged for 70 days. Maybe they keep ‘em that long in California, but at Brookside it was 28. I don’t know what the thread count of the sheets was, but some of them had some mighty interesting stains on them.
My first roommate was cool. The second, a suspended transport driver with a maniacal grin, tried to smuggle in roughly 50 airline nips by burying them at the bottom of his suitcase. Staff removed them over his loud protestations that someone had confiscated his personal property. The guy across the hall had spent the previous five years designing weapons guidance systems while ingesting coke eight-balls (so relax, you Enemies of Freedom). He agreed to go for treatment when his girlfriend discovered that the smell of freebase was not mildew on the bathroom shower curtain, as he had been assuring her.
Our bathrooms were done in that classic style known as ”Early YMCA.” The showerheads didn’t move; the temperature setting was Eternal Lukewarm. There was a horrid tiny smoking room that filled up with roughly 50 people during free periods. This was at the height of the summer, and the air conditioner wheezed a gruesome sludge comprising water, nicotine, and exhausted coolant. It probably could have been freebased, and I’m sure some of the inmates thought of it.
Rehab didn’t sober me up. The well-known recovery program founded by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith managed that trick (at least for today). Yet it was Brookside that introduced me to the program, and it was Brookside where I first heard a counselor who looked like a Hell’s Angel say, ”I got tired of being in jackpots, that’s all. I finally just got tired.”
Plain or fancy, I doubt if Mel and Britney and Lindsay really wanted to go to rehab, in spite of the new cachet; I imagine they went yelling, No No No. The demands of loved ones that you change your whole way of living is never comfortable to contemplate. Six-hundred-thread-count sheets probably aren’t much consolation.
The great thing about Brookside, with its lukewarm showers and nicotine-poisoned air conditioner, was that it took away all the props I had depended on to keep killing myself. It also took away the idea that because I’d been born with a little talent and parlayed it into a fair amount of cash, I was different somehow.
Most sobering up — almost any recovering-drunk-on-the-street will tell you this — starts with a merciless ego-stripping. You’ve got to find out you’re no better than anyone else drowning in booze or lost in a cocaine snowstorm. I remember, near the end of my stay, that a gas station manager who’d ”graduated” came back to speak. I asked him the question that gnawed at me: How do you fill the hours knowing that when 5 o’clock comes, you still can’t get high?
”Steve,” he said, ”I don’t even think about it. I’m so busy there aren’t enough hours in the day now.”
And about those amenities. New York Times reporter Ruth La Ferla, in her piece on substance-abuse resorts, quotes Chris Prentiss (the cofounder of Passages Malibu) as saying, ”After all, Britney Spears isn’t going to stay in a shack.” Maybe she should. Maybe it would be better. After all, look at Anna Nicole Smith. She’s staying in a box these days.