Getting Sober without Rehab

Getting Sober without Rehab

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Beautiful young woman sitting on a chair looking down alone in an empty room

This post was originally published on November 5, 2014.

A little over two years ago—without insurance, much money or a green card—I admitted I was powerless over alcohol and drugs. My life had clearly become unmanageable, but I couldn’t afford rehab. So I detoxed and got sober from home.

Since my late teens, when I had to admit my powerlessness over another drug of mine—food—my attitude toward hospitals and rehabs has always been ambivalent. The compulsion and need for purity had degenerated into a severe eating disorder that had quickly damaged my body and wore out my psyche like a cleaning rag; I was often depressed and confused about my psychological health. In fact, part of me had long romanticized the idea of being hospitalized and treated like a mental patient; it felt like it would be somewhat safe. But another side of me was so afraid of existing without the disease that I did everything and beyond to keep hiding the proof of what I had become. Bloody lies became a routine—one that I am still recovering from.

At the age 21, after passing a few exams, I dropped out off college. At that time I was enrolled in the faculty of clinical psychology even though I knew that I was too much of a patient to be able to helps others (I would have made a terrible therapist). Plus, I was still in the dark about the implications of my disease. Movies and books like Girl, Interrupted gave me solace with the message they carried, but every time my parents suggested medical help, I would reject it with an endless array of excuses.

I visited dozens of treatment facilities but, when one in Florence seemed to be the perfect fit for both cost and program offered, I ran as fast as I could and gave way to the downward spiral.

Like many alcoholics and addicts in early recovery, when I bottomed out and finally asked for help, my financial situation didn’t allow me to go to rehab and take a break from that same everyday life I hated. On top of that, as an Italian living in the US, I didn’t have a green card, only a visa that required me to get out of the country every six months.

I was exhausted; I felt helpless and I resented all those people who could afford the “luxury” of a 30-day to one-year break, a healing process I was convinced would be my only chance for sobriety. I blamed my immigration status, my unpleasant workplace and my lack of money for my inability to stay sober.

“Life is never on my side,” I remember whining. Then I’d ask God, “Why don’t you do something?” I was angry like I’d never been before. “Where’s the goddamn miracle?”

“When I am disturbed,” one of the most quoted stories in the Big Book goes, “it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation—some fact of my life —unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.”

The above passage (page 417), is well known in the recovery world for a reason—it essentially reveals the key to serenity. It is actually a pretty simple concept one that, in the fairly short length of my sobriety, has been relevant more than once.

After approximately a month-long relapse, with enough AA in my head to make it ineffective and dreadful, someone suggested that I read the paragraph on acceptance every day before starting my morning routine, and then again before going to bed.

I never had a good relationship with the concepts of compromise and acceptance—living life on life’s terms. But I knew that if I truly wanted to see a change I had for once to take the high road and trust the process, regardless of what my will and ego demanded, wished for or assumed had to be granted to me.

So not only I religiously read (and still do) the page suggested by my sober friend, but I also began to embrace the Serenity Prayer, as opposed to simply reciting its verses like a third-grader learning a nursery rhyme.

My inability to go to rehab was a fact, something I could not change. I could keep fighting the obvious or have the wisdom to make peace with it—and what a relief I felt the day I went for the acceptance option. A weight was lifted off my shoulders, and all it took was willingness and humility.

It is a little over two years since my last drink, line of blow, pill or massive dose of Xanax. With the help of friends, professionals and AA, I was able to detox and—one day at the time—change my attitude toward life, the world and a Higher Power who, as it turned out, did not hate me.

At times, when the road gets steeper, I still go back to those early days. I’m inclined to wish for what I don’t have—materially, professionally and emotionally. But I don’t feel envy any more. I recognize the pattern of an obsolete blaming game and make the decision to not compete; I’d lose anyway. Today I choose my wellbeing instead.

I’m certainly not saying that rehab isn’t useful or necessary. For those who can afford it, I’d always tell them to go. I just know that there are plenty of other alcoholics out there that have to find another way. You don’t need a facility to find our that you don’t have to do it alone.

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About Author

Alice Carbone Tench is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles. A former translator and interpreter from Turin, Italy, Alice moved to Los Angeles in 2010 and worked as a journalist and foreign correspondent for several Italian magazines, among which Vanity Fair, the Italian news agency ANSA and the online magazine Fine Dining Lovers. In 2011 she started a blog, Wonderland Mag, to share the American experience with her Italian friends, but the blog soon became something more, the source material for a book. Her debut novel, The Sex Girl, was published by Rare Bird Books in July, 2015. The book is currently out of print. From 2013 to 2015 she hosted the interview podcast Coffee with Alice. Today, Wonderland Mag has evolved into a candid portrait of Alice’s life: Stories of healing, of being a woman in today’s America, stories of food, love, and of how to dust off after a storm, to move forward stronger than before. Alice is currently working on her second book, a collection of essays from this blog titled Making Sense of Reality. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, keyboard player Benmont Tench and their daughter, Catherine Gabriella Winter.