The Post-Rehab Blues: When the Absence of Failure No Longer Feels Like Success

It probably isn’t news to most of you, but I was in rehab this fall, after I finally realized I was at a point where I could not attend to even my most basic needs.

From June to late August of 2015, I was barely eating or bathing, living in filth, and doing sex work in a self-destructive capacity [it is important that I make this distinction, because I do not want to add to a canon of uninformed bullshit about sex work being necessarily, inherently self-destructive. I have done sex work under conditions that did not have an adverse effect on my mental health, but this period was different. I was doing it solely to get money for drugs, which I would then use during sessions, creating a crippling ouroboros]. During this Summer of Squalor, I did everything I could to just barely get by so that I could keep the severity of my near-catatonic depression and debilitating drug use to myself and not worry anyone. I had — or so I thought at the time — successfully whittled my support system down to a group as skeletal as my hunched, wearied body.

In the months before this, I had been consumed by a long-distance relationship with someone who I thought was the love of my life, but turned out to be “just” a beautiful sociopath. My obsession with this person caused me to focus on our manipulative dynamic to the exclusion of everything and everyone else. So when he abandoned me — literally drove off and never spoke to me again — I felt an overwhelming guilt that I now needed these people who I had eschewed during our brief but catastrophic relationship. (It turned out that most of them could not be gotten rid of that easily, which I am more grateful for than I can express.) Then there was the feeling of being a burden on my parents; I felt overwhelmingly guilty since I had been doing nothing with the college degree they had spent an ungodly amount of money furnishing.

One day in late summer, I made an attempt to dodge this emotionally devastating flotsam and jetsam by actually venturing out of the room in my sublet apartment I had been holed up in (the fact that it came with its own bathroom ensured I barely left; no need to go down to the kitchen when you’re not eating at all). My friend convinced me to go to Coney Island with him. It seemed like the thing farthest removed from the bleakness of our respective rooms (each its own contained chaos, unbearable but familiar) as possible. When I think about this day now, I can’t help but cry. I weighed well under 100 pounds at that point, and I remember bringing this new tiny bright yellow bikini because I thought it would cheer me up to wear something ridiculous. Instead, seeing people’s reactions (and the pictures we took for Instagram) to my emaciated body made me so distraught and confused and helpless. The other thing that sticks out the most — besides my ribs, har har — was the seemingly insurmountable task of consuming an entire Nathan’s hot dog. I watched my friend scarf down two, while I struggled to nibble my own, ketamine-nauseous the whole time. When I returned home to my apartment that night, I felt so unbelievably drained — like I had tried to muster up any bit of positivity I hadn’t lost with all the fat and muscle mass, and there was officially nothing left.


It was shortly after this that I figured it was about fucking time I do something about clawing my way out of the hellhole I’d fallen into. My psychiatrist had been recommending DBT to me for years, so I finally made an appointment for an intake evaluation at a DBT-based outpatient program. Once I spilled my guts to them about my substance abuse, though, they told me that they couldn’t admit me until I was sober. But instead of taking any steps toward at least cutting down my use, I instead took that stipulation as the green light for me to completely give up and devote myself entirely to my addiction.

That didn’t last long, luckily. I don’t remember exactly what happened that made me call my mom and tell her I needed to go to a full-fledged rehab facility. But I do remember the state I was in right before I was taken there, because I have video footage of it. I put on my red latex mask for no reason, snorted all of my K, and filmed myself incoherently babbling and crying. This was the most “creative,” “productive” thing I had done in months.

Shortly thereafter, I was in the Acute Care Unit for a week before being transferred to the four-week inpatient program. I met a new best friend, I made everyone uncomfortable by discussing sex work, and I played a lot of tennis.

But this isn’t about what rehab was like, how difficult it was, or if I fucked anyone there (I didn’t). It’s about the surreality of getting out and realizing that everything still exists, but you don’t — at least, not in the way you did before.

— — — — — —

The first hardest thing once I got out was looking at my phone. I had been in a social network-free zone for a while, and now I was being confronted with the fact that all of these characters had continued to live and progress and — so it seemed — succeed in their own individual productions. I’ve always been prone to compulsively comparing myself to others’ curated lives; when I was in the throes of my addiction, I could spend a full day doing lines and falling into an Instagram black hole, wondering how I could ever catch up to these impressive strangers. So after spending five weeks in a bubble in which the only other people were ones with similarly crumbling personal infrastructures, that feeling of having fallen too far behind — even newly sober with an aftercare plan and “on the right track” — immediately knocked me on my ass.

The second hardest thing after rehab was having to reassess just about all of my relationships. I knew that a substantial amount of people had to go — that they were either a risk to my sobriety and mental health, or had very little interest in my new incarnation, or both. The knowledge that I was doing what was best for myself was tainted with almost unbearable loneliness (which I’m still grappling with).

The third hardest thing was that I was still in denial about being an addict. While in rehab, I was in the program for “mental illness,” meaning I wasn’t technically required to attend the nightly NA/AA meetings. But I went to them all anyway, mainly because there was so little to do there; the twice-a-week “open” meetings also allowed a brief glance into the outside world, as members of the local community would attend. So even though by all appearances I was coming to terms with being an addict, I was actually constantly going through a list of excuses in my head as to why I had been using so much. The #1 method of denial came in the form of blaming it all on my trauma and the consequent, demolishing depression. My use was simply a side-effect of my being so miserable, I told myself over and over and fucking over again. It wasn’t until I completed my outpatient program (which came with built-in drug testing) and relapsed a countless number of times did I decide: “oh fuck, they were right. I’m an addict.” I thought I would just test myself, see if I could use a little, here and there, now that I was “all better.” It turned out that every relapse story you hear in NA is true; it’s virtually impossible for an addict to recreationally use.

But what has been — by far — the most difficult for me in this strange in-between realm of early sobriety has been that I have convinced myself I cannot afford to waste any more time, period. I’m so terrified of making the wrong decision — in virtually any area, but especially career and education — that I find myself consistently paralyzed and instead make no decision whatsoever. When I was using, I had such tunnel vision that the only path I could see was to continue to get more and more fucked up, and scrounge for the money to do so. Now that I can see how many options actually exist, I don’t see how I can possibly select one.

The other day, my DBT therapist had me look at my resume for the first time since August (when I had desperately applied to a host of positions in a frenzy of anxiety, only got one interview, and showed up so physically and emotionally shattered that I left sobbing). All those feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and hopelessness came surging back, and this time I didn’t have an instant escape to line up and snort. I was sitting next to my old dying cat — who I’ve had since childhood — and just totally fucking lost it.

How can I make myself commit to something if it turns out to be the wrong thing? It doesn’t feel like an accomplishment anymore to “just” be sober.

Stay tuned, I guess...