I wake up in a twin bed. My mouth is dry and my institution-issued cotton pants are vacuum wrapped to my legs with sweat. The wall clock, illuminated from the light bleeding in from the hallway, reads 3:14am. I'm withdrawing, scared, tired, hopeless. I look toward the opposing end of the room and see my roommate Jeff.
Jeff is a homeless man in his mid 50's, fat, bearded, and bedecked in his institutional scrubs, sitting up in his twin-sized bed holding a handful of mayonnaise packets, emptying them into his mouth one by one. He looks like Santa Claus would look if left to his own mind in solitary confinement for 25 years: insane, broken, murderous, jolly.
But I guess he's technically not homeless—he is living here, in rehab. At least until his government assistance runs out. Then again, I'm in rehab too and I have nowhere to go when I get out of here. I guess I'm homeless too. God…I don't even like mayonnaise. I'll be lost….
* * *
Rehab is essentially summer camp for the broken. Your family has to drag you there kicking and screaming, you cry the first night, everyone hates the counselors, a few people get kicked out early, and you meet someone you think you will love forever. Oh yeah, also, arts and crafts.
Dairy condiments aside, I would go back in an instant. Miami might have beautiful women, and Rome may have the Colosseum, but the Malvern Institute has what no geography can offer: 50 people on the brink of self-annihilation. Say what you want about the good or bad of it, I'm just saying as far as unique life experiences go, there is nothing richer.
"Wheat bread? Really? It's a wonder you know anything about bread at all."It's interesting how these personalities would remove themselves from what was actually happening. I would hear things in the dining room like, "This white bread is disgusting and I'm not eating this garbage. This is all empty calories!" Really? Because two weeks ago you were blowing a fat Serbian guy in the backseat of an El Dorado for meth. But the grilled cheese in rehab—you know, the place you're at because you couldn't stop blowing fat Serbians for meth?—isn't made with wheat bread? Yes, that is the precipice you refuse to cross in regard to health, the fucking Wonder Bread. You shot at a cop car and landed in rehab on a technicality but the fact that this place doesn't have a vegan menu, well that is just unacceptable.
Regardless of what your notion is of people who have been in rehab, there is one truth that is undeniable: they are the most interesting people you know. They are the ones you talk about, the ones who crossed the line, the ones with stories that end in, "…so I woke up on the roof of my old high school and it took me a week to wash all of the blood and semen out of my hair." They are the ones eating mayonnaise packets because they find comfort in doing something they have done for years in order to subsist on the street, an old survival tactic passed down from one addict to another. They are the ones who survived hell and are trying to crawl out.
The odds of abusing a substance again after leaving rehab is astronomical. The success rate of staying clean for one year is about 2%. I haven't had a drink in over two years and I still hate mayonnaise.