WHAT MAKES REHAB WORK?

There is a lie which, if swallowed whole, will hijack a person’s time in rehab. 

It’s the lie that simply being there will change you, that attendance is sufficient for success, that ticking off days and passing through stages will bring lasting freedom from addiction.

If only.

But rehab doesn’t work that way. Nor does any kind of process of change, development or learning. Standing around in the gym with a protein shake doesn’t get you ripped. Sitting in a library with a laptop doesn’t result in learning. I know. I’ve tried.

That’s not to say that time and place aren’t important. 

A wise recovery veteran once told me that “there’s no substitute for time on the programme”. He was right. But time in rehab only matters because rehab, like a plant incubator, creates favourable conditions for the processes which produce growth.

Three complimentary processes need to take place for time in rehab to translate into long-term recovery.

THE BATMAN PROCESS

According to those who concern themselves with such matters, Batman isn’t a superhero. Why? Because he wants for superpowers. The Caped Crusader is, in fact, a mere ‘costumed crime-fighter’, American industrialist and playboy Bruce Wayne in fancy dress.

Batman does what Batman does not because he has superpowers but because he has developed the skills and created the tools needed to fight crime. Much of what goes on in rehab is about developing the skills and mastering the tools needed to win the daily battle against addiction – the Batman process. 

Some, like learning to use the FASTER scale and the wider business of relapse prevention planning, relate very directly to addiction. Others, like learning life skills or enhancing employability, relate less directly to addiction but build important foundations for life in recovery. Establishing positive habits, like prayer and meditation, taking Daily Moral Inventory and doing exercise, keep the mind, body and spirit healthy. 

THE SPIDER-MAN PROCESS

Spider-Man is a true superhero. You know the story. Peter Parker is a twisted-up American teenager, struggling with feelings of rejection and inadequacy, who gets bitten by a radioactive spider. What follows is a rapid internal process of change which transforms Peter Parker into Spider-Man, a proper superhero.

Batman does what Batman does because he has learnt skills and mastered tools. Spider-Man does what Spider-Man does because of this radical internal change.

A process of deep inner transformation is at the heart of rehab – this is the Spider-Man process. Something is wrong on the inside, not just the outside, and so rehab needs to be a time of rebirth, a chrysalis from which one emerges being, not just feeling or looking, different.

Counselling is all about facilitating this inner transformation. It’s what much of what goes on in therapeutic groups is directed towards. It’s why in Christian rehab we create spaces to explore faith and grow in a natural and honest relationship with God who we believe can transform us from the inside out, soothing us with His peace, fortifying us with His strength, and animating us with His joy. 

THE D’ARTAGNAN PROCESS

Batman and Spider-Man are the product of an individualist culture, heroes who fly solo and save the day alone. In contrast, the exploits of D’Artagnan, Alexandre Dumas’s hero of 17thcentury France, are those of D’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers. They are the heroics of a brotherhood fighting a common enemy with the battle-cry, “all for one and one for all!”

Batman does what Batman does because he has learnt skills and mastered tools. Spider-Man does what Spider-Man does because he has undergone a deep inner transformation. D’Artagnan does what D’Artagnan does because of the community to which he belongs.

Recovery from addiction is more Band of Brothers than Rambo. It’s a journey perfectly expressed by the maxim, “no-one can do it for you, but you can’t do it alone.” Rehab must, therefore, be directed towards the D’Artagnan process – the formation of true friendship and quality community.

The tragic irony of addiction is that a journey which so often begins with a hurting adolescent’s yearning for belonging ends in utter isolation – often physical isolation, always psychological and spiritual isolation. This process is therefore a slow and difficult one, often requiring greater commitment and discomfort than detox or counselling. Walls come down one brick at a time, ‘masks’ are removed tentatively, only slowly are old ways of relating replaced by new ones.

The D’Artagnan process moves along in a multiplicity of ways. The sharing of your autobiography fosters healthy vulnerability and stirs empathy, counselling addresses those internals that prevent depth in relationships, therapeutic groups explore specific dynamics of healthy relationships and quality community whilst nurturing an ability to relate in a group setting. 

Some of the more prosaic aspects of life in rehab are equally important. Work builds camaraderie and provides a low-pressure space in which alliances can develop naturally. Mealtimes, sports, reading the newspaper together, even the simple business of washing-up or driving to the shops, all help to create the many and varied moments of connection needed to bind people together in relationship.

CONCLUSION

Success in long-term recovery is the product of three complimentary processes: the Batman process of developing skills and mastering tools, the Spider-Man process of inner transformation, and the D’Artagnan process of building true friendships and quality community.

Rehab ‘works’ (i.e. translates into long-term recovery) to the extent that, by active engagement with each and every aspect of a programme, all three of these processes occur. There are no shortcuts, no work-arounds, and no ‘three-for-the-price-of-two’ offers.