Skippy: We graduated four months ago. What can you possibly be nostalgic for?
Max: I'm nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday. I've begun reminiscing events before they even occur. I'm reminiscing this right now. I can't go to the bar because I've already looked back on it in my memory...and I didn't have a good time.
From Kicking and Screaming, 1995
I miss rehab.
It's hard to explain, unless you've been, what I'd miss about it. From the outside, it probably doesn't seem like all that much fun. For one, you're locked down, as in "can't leave unless someone let's you out." You bunk in these cramped little rooms, like extra small dormitories at a really shitty school with smelly carpeting. The food stinks. The company ain't so hot. Unless you consider being surrounded by twitching junkies, rummy alkies, and blister-lipped crackheads the In Crowd. You're treated like a child; you have to ask permission to do most everything. Each morning you get woken up at 5 a.m. to have your vitals taken. There are timers on the showers. You spend 10 hours a day in groups about proper nutrition and relapse prevention, as if the Hobo Grille takes reservations and your chances of success are better than 1 in a 100 (they don't, and they're not). Yet, I really miss it sometimes.
It'd be nice not to have to do anything again, y'know? Just wake up, hit the smoking porch, mack on the pretty girls. No future. No worries. Lighting up cigarette after cigarette, watching time methodically evaporate with the carcinogenic fumes...
It's strange the things we can get nostalgic for. I was running with Rich on Saturday, talking about when we lived with George Murphy in this dumpy little apartment on Fair Oaks back in 19aught92. Rich said, "We didn't know how good we had it." And there was something to being 23 and free; being able to do whatever the fuck you wanted, no mortgage, no divorces, no time-sucking jobs or relationships, no nagging age-related issues like swelling prostates, hair in unwanted places, or busted hips. Never mind that nothing much ever happened; that George and I hated each other; that Rich was stuck working a shit job at Guitar Center; that no one was getting laid with any regularity except me, and the girl I was sleeping with was an ex from hell who wouldn't go away, like a case of the herpes or a particularly stubborn foot fungus. Forget that I was drinking too much, doing too many drugs, lost in a big city, lacking any semblance of direction. It was a good time. Because it wasn't now, and "not now" somehow always manages to produce favorable review.
How can it not? In addiction they call it "euphoric recall." Which is the way an addict mollies the unpleasant parts. A dangerous proposition for anyone trying to get straight. Hence the reason relapse rates are so high. Sitting in a church basement, nursing tepid, stale coffee with powdered creamer that won't sink no matter how hard you push, you don't remember what it actually felt like having the cops pick you up or the time your baby girl saw you led out in handcuffs in the middle of the night; you don't remember fishing the cigarette butts from the bottom of the beer bottles in the morning or shitting yourself trying to make it back up the hill for your wake-up fix or any of the other dehumanizing, disgusting, despicable, deplorable alliterative actions. Or maybe yourememberthe bad parts. You just can't feel them. And so when they roll around your head, they tumble out, lighter and less significant than the rest, those "good times," which your conscious gloms onto like sticky sweet candy, because, hey, everyone likes to feel good. So you're back out the door running.
Working on resending this memoir, I've been rereading it (obviously), and the parts about rehab stand out. There's a fondness there, a warm, summer-y nostalgia. Christ, spent enough time in them. 20 at last count.
In a lot of ways, rehab is like Club Med. Minus the goofy synchronized dance numbers. You have to appreciate where I was coming from, the life I was leaving behind (temporarily). Yeah, the food stinks in rehab--compared to what I'm eating today (freshly grilled hanger steak on my indoor BBQ)--but back then, I was eating from vats of oatmeal at the soup kitchen, the soupy bits of discarded gutter burrito bottoms. And those were on the good days. Plenty of meals were skipped. You're not walking across town just to eat. You'll walk 87 blocks in the snow for dope. But food? Meh.*
(* A good analogy I once heard about the lengths required to get clean.
Counselor: "You know how you'll trudge for six hours, through three towns, in the middle of a monsoon, without shoes, sick, hungry, tired, to get your dope?
Group: [Nodding enthusiastically]
Counselor: "Well, you have to be willing to go to those same lengths for your sobriety."
Group: [Staring silently]
Fat Bob: "What the fuck is he talking about?")
Rehab was a safe haven, a respite, a time out from the daily grief. It was never intended to be a permanent solution (at least not in the beginning). You went from freezing your ass off during rainy season, fishing through the garbage for a piece of pie crust, to being indoors, warm and having a fresh pair of socks. You had your own room and access to a shower (albeit timed to discourage suicide and/or incessant masturbation), a TV, friends who weren't going to jump you in the middle of the night and steal your stash (at least most of the rehabs I was in; the ones in Boston got pretty rough). It was almost worth the trade-off.
It was a big fucking trade-off. Namely, not having any drugs. I shouldn't say "any," because most--though not all--rehabs usually gave you a little something to take the edge off. Methadone. Buprenorphine. Something.
Some places, however, were hard-asses. Withdrawing from alcohol can kill you, so they'll always make sure you're medicated. You won't die from withdrawing from opiates. You just wish you would.
Rehab was a vacation from your real life. Like addiction itself, it created strange bedfellows (often quite literally). You spend most of your days on the inside in groups. And you make fun of them on the smoking porch, the touchy feely-ness of it all (yet another run-through of the food pyramid and the importance of whole grains and fiber in your diet!), because being a goofball, mocking the sincerity of others is always an easy mark. Like the smart ass in high school biology staging fake fights with the dissected frogs. The burnouts sit in the back and make fun of anyone taking it seriously; it's what they do. But it's all a process.
Each time I returned, I sat closer to the front. Each time I went back, I learned better the jokers to avoid, to take it a little more to heart. I can see now that each trip was a vital step toward getting well, how they were helping me before I even knew it, finding a way to penetrate this thick skull of mine, getting me to this place I am today. Even in the beginning when I was treating it like a joke, there was that little part of me, the part that was still good, honest, decent, that saw a light, a way out. And later, when I dug in my heels, it was still without real-world consequence. A state of suspension. Just 24 hours a day where you got to work on...you. When else do you get months, uninterrupted, to do that?
Then again, I sometimes think I even miss high school, even though I know for a fact that it sucked balls. Maybe I could just look up some former rehab mates on Facebook, rehash the past, post some goofy videos.
None of which would change anything. Like any reminiscing, it isn't the moment you really miss; it's the time, a longing to get back and visit that younger you. Which is never possible. Thankfully. Since there is no way reality could stand up the to recollection.