Canine Therapy Was My Rehab
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Canine Therapy Was My Rehab


This post was originally published on March 20, 2015.

Whenever I find out information about residential rehabs, I get a little envious as if I had missed out on a time share in Maui or never got to experience the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus. How come I didn’t go to rehab? Why did I have to get sober the hard way?

These rehabs offer group therapy, individual therapy and alternatives to AA, like SMART Recovery. I feel like I am looking at online websites for Gucci and Hermes handbags. Out of curiosity, I wonder if any of them are pet friendly? Yes, I find one in San Diego, but dogs can’t weigh more than 35 pounds, and no pit bulls, due to insurance restrictions.

Not that I need to go to rehab now. I have about three-and-a-half years of sobriety, but I know my path here would have surely been easier if I had gotten some dual diagnosis support with some heavy duty CBT. When I got sober, I didn’t have a cotton candy pink cloud hovering over my head. I shuffled around like a vaporized victim from a nuclear bomb attack. Instead of sharing my experience, strength and hope at AA meetings, I shared my misery, instability and gloom. One old-timer pulled me aside during the coffee break, and told me to shut up and be of service. My response? “I can’t transmit something I haven’t got.”

I didn’t go to rehab because I owned about eight dogs right before I got sober. (Other alcoholics I knew lived in fear of DUIs. I lived in fear of animal control.) I lived in some foreclosed house in Palmdale that wasn’t even mine. I think the technical term is “squatter.”

It’s amazing what my career in alcoholism had brought me. From living on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, pursuing my career as an actress and writer, I had becume a pathetic drunk, with a terminated SAG card, barely making ends meet in Palmdale, California.

I knew I had to get help but who would watch Jade, Odin, Dante, Evita, Hercules, Jaden, Persephone and Chloe?

I was a recluse. I didn’t know many people in LA, and the few that I knew? Well, my shepherd mix Odin hated men, my pit bull Jade had anxiety issues, my geriatric Chihuahua Evita had no teeth, Persephone needed to go to Overeaters Anonymous and my chi terrier Hercules was a conniving escape artist. So there you go. No rehab for moi.

How in God’s name did I take care of the dogs, when I couldn’t take care of myself? Good question. I don’t know, but I did. I’m an Alpha and an alcoholic.

By the end of my drinking, I consumed about a gallon of white wine a night, smoked about two packs of cigarettes a day and looked like a freak from a Diane Arbus photograph. I couldn’t imagine life with or without alcohol.

On Thanksgiving weekend of 2011, I drank a gallon of Chablis and popped a few Vicodin. Then I came up with a brilliant idea. I decided to stalk my ex-boyfriend. I found out via Facebook that he was at a hotel in Las Vegas with some chick he had met while working on a film in Mississippi.

I called him 100 times on his cell phone and then called the receptionist at the The Mirage demanding to talk to him, pretending I was his wife and that he was cheating on me.

My ex had left me years ago, and he had treated me like shit. At least Stanley Kowalski called Stella by her first name. My name became the C-word. We had met in 2002 via an online dating site. I am still surprised my SUV didn’t flip over as I drove up the long and winding mountain roads to meet him in his Tujunga cabin, while I slurped my Diet Coke spiked with cheap brandy.

About nine years later and in desperate need of Botox, I stared at my cell phone like that woman in the Dorothy Parker story, “A Telephone Call.” And then my Verizon phone barked (that was my ringtone). He called me back.

“Are you drunk?” he asked.

“You never took me to Vegas. How come you took her?” I asked.

“You need help. You need to go to rehab,” he said.

Then he hung up.

I threw up.

I didn’t see a white shining light but instead a pack of worried canines and behind them, a statue of Buddha on my desk. And then I remembered that my ex had wanted to take me to Vegas many times and I’d always said, “No, some other time.” The thought of hanging out with him in a hotel room while he watched Revenge of the Sith repeatedly on his portable DVD player when we could have been drinking in the casino made my skin crawl.

The next day I went to an AA meeting.

And I haven’t had a drink since.

Today I have six dogs. Well, progress not perfection. I re-homed a few pups, Evita died of old age, and I rescued a blue nosed pit bull that ran into the pet store right near the Palmdale AA meeting hall. The pet store owner was going to call animal control to take him away to certain death when I happened to show up. His name is Zeus.

In short: I might have missed out on rehab, but I’ve gotten more canine therapy than even the ritziest of rehabs could have provided.

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About Author

Sevasti Iyama is a recovering alcoholic, writer and photographer from the Bronx and LA. She has written a novel, From Bel Air to Welfare, and is currently penning her second one, The Holy Face Medal and Other Stories.