It took a second video of Rob Ford allegedly smoking crack to get the mayor of Toronto to finally decide it's time to go to rehab. As an addict, I sympathize with Rob Ford, but I also resent the idea of him using a stint in rehab as a possible grand gesture of an apology.
Celebrities do it all the time when they get caught doing anything the general public deems immoral, from cheating (think Tiger Woods and Tori Spelling's husband Dean McDermott, for instance) to drug use and alcohol binges. It gives rehab a bad name for those of us who've actually benefited from seeking treatment to have people who don't really want help using it as a retreat to hide from the spotlight while they put on a show of remorse.
Don't get me wrong -- rehab works. I've been to rehab, but not the same kind of rehab Rob Ford will be going to. I didn't have a minimum of $8,000 in the bank at the time I wanted treatment, after I suffered from a withdrawal-induced seizure (from alcohol and Ativan). My only option was to put my name on a wait list for government-funded rehab here in Canada after spending a week in the hospital recovering from my seizure.
I met a counselor who assessed me, agreed I needed in-patient care and told me to go home and wait for a phone call, which would come in about two to four months when my name would likely make it to the top of the wait list.
If you're middle or lower class in Canada -- the very group of people Rob Ford has always professed to represent -- you can't just go to rehab when you want to go. If you can't afford private treatment, you have to get in line. You will likely spend months before your name makes it to the top of the list, and hopefully when your turn arrives you'll still be willing to go and will still be alive. I ended up getting fast-tracked to my government rehab after I overdosed while on the wait list. It's easy to give up when the pain is unbearable, even when help is just weeks away.
Waiting might not seem like a big deal to a non-addict, but when addicts reach out for help, it's because we've hit a breaking point. We are often grabbing hold of a moment -- what is usually a very small window of time -- in which we feel we can tear ourselves away from our drug of choice, the one thing that, up until that moment, had always saved us from suffering.
If addicts can't get help the moment they finally beg for it, we often end up back in the arms of our drug of choice to make the pain stop. That's how many addicts die in Canada -- after they've asked for help and couldn't get it.
I have a friend on a wait list for rehab right now who is drinking and using drugs until he has access to treatment because he just doesn't think he can do it on his own. He needs to work to pay his bills until treatment is available, and he doesn't know how to make it to work without chemical help.
I check in with my friend as often as I can, scared I might lose him before he gets the help he needs. It's hard to stomach that fear knowing Rob Ford can just go to rehab tomorrow and my friend can't. I'm not mad at Ford his privileged position -- I'm mad at our government for making addiction treatment seem like a privilege and not a necessity.
"People are literally dying to be in your place," I remember one of the female rehab counselors yelling one night in rehab. She'd finally had enough of a recent bickering session between a few of my fellow patients. She called a group meeting to remind us how lucky we were to have made it in there. "If you don't want to be here, by all means, give up your bed to somebody who does. People are literally dying waiting to get here."
I can still picture her face in that moment. She was emotional, on the brink of tears. Anyone who dedicates her life to rehabilitating alcoholics and drug addicts has an extraordinary capacity for compassion. We're not the most lovable people, in fairness. Right before we're ready to reach out for help, that's generally when we're at our worst with our illness, and that's when we tend to be the most destructive, selfish, deceitful and unlikable. We're loathsome often repulsive characters right when we're about to hit rock bottom, much like Rob Ford appears now.
My eyes welled up looking at the counselor, in part because I had almost died waiting to get in, and in part because I thought about all the other people who might be dying right then, either from suicide or accidental overdoses or that blurred mix of the two that almost killed me. When you're mentally ill, it's sometimes hard to tell if you're just trying to kill the pain temporarily or forever.
Canadians seem relieved that Rob Ford is finally seeking treatment. I'm not sure how I feel, mainly because I don't know Rob Ford. Rehab only works for those who want to get well. I'm not sure if Rob Ford genuinely wants help, but I know my friend desperately wants to get treatment.
Every time the phone rings my heart jumps. I know how easy it is to dance with death while you wait for your name to make it to the top of the government wait list. I can only hope it's good news on the other end -- that he's calling to tell me that his name has finally made it to the top. The thought of the other kind of phone call, though, is what keeps me awake at night. Only one phone call should have ever been made, and that's the one where he reached out for help.
Follow Vicki Hogarth on Twitter at @vicki_hogarth
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