Bad Rehab: How I Blindly Fell Into Cult-Culture Treatment
For the month of April, Addiction Campuses is exploring faith-based rehab and healing through spirituality. One of our guest bloggers, Rebecca, attended what she thought to be a Christian rehab. With very little research and a lot of desperation, Rebecca ended up in a community that was far from a place of hope and healing – and instead a place of manipulation, abuse and trauma. This is her story.
I had finally reached the end of the line with my drinking. I was an alcoholic, and I knew that I needed to change. After going to a state-funded detox program that was loving and nurturing, I was given county resources to continue my treatment. Even though I was desperate to get sober, I was turned down by the all female program that interviewed me – because of my “bad attitude.” They told me I wasn’t ready to change. So I went home to my family.
Before long, I felt like I was going stir crazy. I couldn’t leave the house; I lived in fear, afraid I’d go out and drink. I didn’t know how to live sober. So, I started searching treatment centers online and found what I thought to be a promising rehab, The House of Grace* – only two hours away from my mother’s house.
I quickly called the number on the page, and to my relief, someone answered. I explained to her that I was an alcoholic looking for help.
“We are a Christ-based treatment program, our clients attend 12 step meetings, see a therapist, and work toward sobriety,” she told me. “The cost of the program is $200 a week and you’re expected to find a job within your first week. We attend service at our church Wednesday and Sunday. We have a bed available, but the group will have to meet with you, and you will have to be voted in.”
Warning Sign #1: Working for Treatment.
A program that requires that you work a full-time job for them while in treatment means that your actual treatment opportunities will be limited: Instead of attending classes, engaging in group activities and meeting with therapists, you’ll be worrying about covering room and board. While in treatment, your only job should be healing.
I quickly agreed to the terms and begged my mother to drive me to The House of Grace. I explained that I needed help – and I made her promise, no matter what happened – no matter how much I cried or pleaded, that she would not pick me up. I was determined to get better.
When we arrived at a small stone church, there were no pews inside – only chairs, a small stage and a pulpit. The chairs were placed in a circle and I was told to sit in the middle. Terrified, I was instructed to tell the group of people my story and why they should help me.
Sobbing, I told them every awful thing that I had ever done while drinking. I told them how desperate I was, and I begged for their help.
And so they voted. They voted if I was worthy of their mercy. They voted if I deserved God’s salvation. Relief flooded over me when was voted in.
Warning Sign #2: The Circle of Judgement.
The is a common tactic used by cults in order to break an individual’s spirit. On my first day at The House of Grace I was in that circle and didn’t know it. Eventually, in this circle you are judged and picked apart by your peers. You are told about what is wrong with your insides, your thoughts, your body, your heart. Credible addiction treatment programs have licensed professionals guiding group sessions. True rehabs have professionals teaching clients how to give healthy peer to peer feedback. A licensed treatment center isn’t a circle of judgement, it’s more like a doctor’s office. There are medical evaluations and assessments. There are therapists and medical doctors. They look you in the eyes. They speak lovingly to your worried family. This was not the case at House of Grace.
I didn’t know what rehab was supposed to look like. So I just followed the rules.
I could not speak to my family for 90 days. At the end of 90 days then it would be determined if it was a good plan. Until then I could write letters, and my family could write me.
I had to get a job and work at least 35 hours a week. The majority of my weekly paycheck went to the church. I was able to keep $60 usually for food and cigarettes.
I had to be available in the evenings for meetings and church activities. I also couldn’t work on Sundays.
There was no end to this program. No graduation day.
These rules were strictly enforced by Pastor Jared*. Jared was going to lead us out of darkness and away from the sin of addiction. If I trusted him and did everything that he said, I would never drink again. He was very charismatic and had a booming laugh, as well as a voice that could scare a lump into your throat. Jared shared that he was a self-proclaimed “rageaholic.” He would often tell stories about how he would beat his wife to a bloody pulp and drag her down the hallway by her hair. He was saved now though and said he was no longer violent. Jared had a vision for House of Grace and Jared had the answers.
Jared felt that my mother had written me too many letters and I had to cut her off. He told me she was keeping me sick. He told me my entire family was keeping me sick and they wanted me to drink. He told me that my family really didn’t love me, and that my church family was the only one that did. If I stayed in contact with my family I was going to drink. If I went back home, I was going to drink and I was going to die. There was always a Bible passage to back up his reasoning.
Warning Sign #3: Isolation.
Good, credible addiction treatment programs encourage communication and contact with family members and focus on healing the whole family. Many of the best programs include family therapy and counseling services. Addiction is a disease of isolation, and treatment is built on renewing relationships. Jared’s program, however, was built on tearing individuals and families down.
One afternoon, after a particularly difficult day at work, I was feeling down and depressed. Jared could see that I was down and vulnerable, so he attacked. He told me, “You’re piece of **** in a toilet. Who would save something like you? You’re nothing but a spoiled little girl who drank her way out of college. A ***** that would open her legs to any man that says he loves you.” Through my tears I fought back with everything I had. But arguing with him only led to my demise, he had God and the Bible on his side. I had nothing.
Warning Sign #4: Leading Through Fear and Manipulation.
A reputable rehab center builds their clients up: they encourage them, they walk with them, and them help them find healing from addiction, shame, and guilt. The program the House of Grace, however, fed on my insecurities and used them to manipulate me. No center should ever instill fear on clients, but instead, encourage them and counsel them through past life traumas.
In Jared’s philosophy of addiction and sin, people used drugs and alcohol because they didn’t know how to deal with being violated. When our ideas about life, our beliefs, our bodies, were violated we sought escape. Jared’s plan for recovery was to teach us how to accept being violated. We needed to turn those feelings over to God. I have a sensitive issue with personal space and being touched. Jared decided that all of the men in the church needed to touch my ears without my permission. That was the only way that they could help me, set me free. In reality, he was trying to break my will. He wanted the last ounce of fight taken from me. I spent a week screaming and fighting off men physically.
Warning Sign #5: Violation.
No treatment center program should ever violate an individual – physically, mentally, sexually, or emotionally. Instead, credible programs get to the underlying issues through therapy, and use modalities like Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) skills or adventure therapy to treat the addiction.
When the violations became physical I knew that I needed to get out. I was afraid that I would drink if I came home, but I was going to lose my mind if i stayed there. I wasn’t held hostage and my life wasn’t threatened, but I was being manipulated into thinking that I had no chance of survival without them. One night, my plans for leaving were sniffed out and I was put in the circle of judgement. I told them that I wanted to go home. I wasn’t going to be violated, physically or otherwise. Jared threw his cell phone at me and shouted. “Go home little girl, you’re not ready to recover. I’ll buy you your first to 40 oz.” My hand trembled as I called my mom and begged her to pick me up. In tears she explained that she would not come pick me up.
I have never been more proud of my mother than I was at that moment. She had changed. And I finally felt that maybe I had changed, too. I started laughing, I told her how much I loved her and hung up the phone. That’s when Jared kicked me out. In the middle of nowhere, east of Detroit with nothing but the shoes on my feet and $10 in my pocket. I was completely on my own. I walked to the nearest pay phone, and called a friend.
I will never forget the prayer I said. “God, I don’t know if you’re there or not. I could be making a mistake right now, but if I am we can talk about it later? Please just keep me safe so I can do what I need to do.” I started hitchhiking. Eventually, I made it home.
And I stayed sober – despite the need for professional therapy, and despite a diagnosis of PTSD after my experience at the House of Grace, I got real help for my alcoholism.
I’ve been in recovery for 12 years now. I still have faith in God and I pray daily. I still believe in Christian rehab. I’d better! Because I work for a company that has a Christian rehab campus at Addiction Campuses of Tennessee. People trust me every day to help them find the path to recovery. And I would never, ever, ever put someone into a drug rehab program that I wouldn’t attend myself.
But you can’t trust everyone you speak to, unfortunately. So take heed – do your research. Use this article. Ask the right questions. The wrong rehab can set you back and can even cause relapse. But the right drug rehab? It can change your life.