Sunday, January 23, 2005

I think that center was a racket: Mike on his stay at an adolescent treatment center

Mike (not his real name) was a self-identified "weed smoker" at 15. When his mother was busted for heroin possession, he was sent to his grandparents who quickly sent him to an adolescent treatment center.

Now a college junior, Mike agreed to talk to us about his experiences in rehab.

So did they tell you where they were taking you or was it "let's go for a drive?"

Mike: They told me after we were on the plane. They chose a program out of state and far from their home. It wasn't presented as an option but it also wasn't presented to them or me in the admissions process as a ten month stay. They kept saying that I'd spend a week, maybe two, on the orientation team and then, depending on my issues, transfer to another team which would probably last four more weeks. They implied it was a five to six weeks stay.

How long were you on the orientation team?

Three weeks. I threw a chair my first week in and that resulted in a longer stay. Then they tell me that they're putting me on this team where I'll be able to deal with my issues. As soon as I transfer to that team at dinner, everyone on the team fills me in that I've been placed on the "long term team." There was a 14 year old on the team who'd been there for over a year.

How many teams were there?

Four. There was the team everyone entered, the orientation one, when they came in. Then you were transferred to what was the short term team and that basically meant you had one drug of choice and no other issues. Or that's what it was supposed to mean. If that team's counselors liked you, they pulled you onto their team even if you were supposed to go another one. The third team was for people who were bipolar or on medication. Then there was the long term team and you were supposed to go there if you had a lot of issues. If you were bulimic or if you were raped or if you were abused by your family or any other complex issue that tied in with your drug use -- or they thought tied in -- would land you on the long term team.

Did you have other issues?

My mother was a heroin user and possibly they thought that made me a long termer but I'd never used heroin or any other drug except pot. I'd never been raped, I didn't have an eating disorder, no family member had ever beaten me. I wasn't court ordered the way a lot of the kids on the long term team were. I had no idea why I was on the team. The worse that can be said about my childhood before I went to live with my grandparents was that I was ignored.

Was it part of the treatment to identify why you were assigned to a team?

I got no treatment. I was basically kept for ten months with no real treatment. There were some assistant counselors that ran an evening group session that were helpful. Every now and then a group from outside would come in to run the evening AA or NA meeting and they were usually helpful but if they were too honest, they were gone and not invited back.

Too honest?

A Christian psycho ran this treatment center. If an adult came in they were gay or lesbian or if a client spoke at a meeting about an abortion she had and the adults running the meeting didn't rush in to scream "sinner!" the group wasn't invited back. It didn't even take something like that though. All it took sometimes was an adult asking why we weren't allowed to speak freely and you knew right then that this was the last you were seeing of that group.

Speak freely?

AA and NA are twelve step groups and they're based on "rigorous honesty." The treatment center I went to supposedly worked the twelve step program. But with exceptions. Rigorous honesty had a stopping point. If a client expressed a fear that he or she might have AIDS, the meeting was stopped right there. If a male client spoke of being raped by a male or having consentual sex with a male, the meeting was stopped right there. Anything to do with our sexual histories was off limits. And if anyone attempted to share their frustrations over their treatment, they were taken out of the meeting immediately with the excuse that "he needs to focus on his recovery."

Now sometimes somebody might say something that was bullshit. But in AA and NA when you do that, you're called on it in the meeting. Your held accountable. That's how it works. But we never got to take part in that because the staff at the treatment center would always pull you out of the meeting. And if you swore while you were speaking, even "damn," you were pulled out.

They wanted you to be rigorously honest in a G-rated manner with all these topics that were off limits. That's not what AA or NA is about. My grandparents would fly down on family weekends and if I got a pass, part of my pass would be attending an AA or NA meeting while I was away. I'd go to those meetings and realize how much we were being short changed back at the treatment center.

What was the worst part of your treatment stay?

You got an hour?

On a personal note, I was put into L.T.U. That's locked treatment unit. They had this little building where they locked you up and they slid your meals in through this slot in the wall. You were only supposed to go in, according to them, if you were a threat to yourself or others in the community. Want to know what I got sent in for?


Telling this woman I didn't trust her. This little pig faced woman shows up on a Saturday, she's some sort of big wig who hid out in her office most of the week because she didn't have any real training of any sort and didn't deal with clients. She shows up on a Saturday when we're supposed to be having our family day later that afternoon and says that if whoever busted the basketball doesn't confess, we're not going to have family day. Now my grandparents have flown in for this monthly thing. And she's up there acting high and mighty and this one girl, Erica, says, "Why should anyone tell you anything?" And the snout nosed woman goes crazy. She starts saying that she is someone everyone trusts and ask anyone in the room. No one in the room, no client anyway, even knows her.

So she turns to the boy sitting next to me and asks, "You trust me, right?" and he says, "Yes" real nervous like. Then she moves to me and asks me. I say, "Lady, I don't even know you."

"Take him to L.T.U.!" she screams. And they open the locked treatment unit just for me. I'm kept in all weekend because I said, "Lady, I don't even know you." I don't get to see my grandparents and, get this, snout nose tells them I got into a fight with another kid and that's why they had to put me into L.T.U.

Which ties into my big issue which is I didn't have a counselor to defend me at this point because I didn't have any counselor. I was there ten months and after I left the orientation team, I was put on the long term team. I had a counselor for two weeks. Then she quit or got fired. This happened over and over. I had four different counselors while I was on the long term team and there were weeks when my team had no counselor at all.

No one was overseeing our treatment. Sometimes the clinical director would step in with the assistant counselors who were just basic workers with no training. I'm not trying to insult them. Some of them were working their own recoveries and knew what was going on. Some of them were nice people. But some of them had no clue about anything. And the clinical director would pop in once a week on our two hour sessions that were supposed to be with our counselors. Monday through Friday, your group was supposed to have a two hour a day session with your counselor. You were also supposed to meet individually with your counselor once a week. But we had no counselor most of the time, so that never happened. But the clinical director would dash in once a week and hand out some packets for the next week to whichever assistant counselor was trying to run our group and then the clinical director would split.

You were supposed to have a licensed counselor overseeing your treatment. I went weeks with no one at all. How they got away with that, I don't know.

And then we'd get our new counselor and it would be like starting from scratch all over again as he or she tried to learn our issues and tailor a treatment program for us.

When I was put in L.T.U., I didn't have a counselor. There was an assistant counselor who was pretty fair but remember these guys weren't trained, they weren't licensed. They were hired off the street with no training. But this guy was pretty cool. He didn't baby anyone, but he was someone who called it like it was. And my grandparents trusted him so they stopped to ask him about me on Sunday because they stayed the weekend doing family therapy with my team -- without me. So they asked him if I was hurt or if I'd hurt the kid I was in a fight with. And he asks them when did I get into a fight? He says he knows nothing about this.

Then he comes over to the L.T.U. and tells me my grandparents brought me some stuff like shirts and some books and all. And he's asking me why I'm in L.T.U. I tell him because I told snout nose that I didn't know her. He's looking at me like, "Yeah, sure." And I'm looking through the glass as he pulls my chart out and opens it and starts reading.

He's closed the slot they slide your meals through so I'm not supposed to be able to hear what's going on. But I see him pick up the phone and I press my ear against that metal slot. He is ticked off and saying that there's no reason at all for me to be in the L.T.U. and asking the person on the other end to let me out.

When he gets off the phone, he slides the metal slot open and tells me that he just called and that no one's going to come out to do an assessment tonight but that if I will make sure I have my teeth brushed, I've taken my shower, I've eaten my breakfast, and done the basic requirements on Monday morning, I'll be out by eight a.m.

He turns on the radio and leaves the slot open which was nice of him because this is an isolation ward and you're not supposed to hear music or anything. I do what I'm supposed to and on Monday the clinical director comes in and speaks to me for about two minutes before he says I can have my clothes back and be discharged from L.T.U. I change from my scrubs and he's walking me back to my team when snout nose comes charging up and starts screaming that she hasn't given permission for me to be released.

I wanted to say, "Bitch, you locked me away for a whole weekend and made me miss visiting with my grandparents just because I said I didn't trust you!" But I know now that whoever she is, she's vindictive, so I just keep my mouth shut and listen as the clinical director tries to get her to calm down. She huffs off after cussing him out and then he takes me back to my team.

Everything there was based on your level. And if you went to L.T.U. you automatically dropped to 1.0 and had to work your way back up. You had to be at 3-point-something to make a phone call. So it took about two weeks before I could get back up to the level to make a phone call. Then I call my grandparents and try to explain to them what happened. But it took weeks to straighten it out. And they were really upset because they really thought that I got into a fight the morning they had flown all this way to see me. Snout nosed had told them I was irresponsible and that they needed to set some boundaries and suggested that they skip the next family day.

The whole thing was so petty and that's what I think the most damaging thing about it was. After I was finally discharged, I went back to the first Alumni Day because my grandparents really wanted them to know I'd stayed clean and sober. And I'm there and not a client so the staff feels like they can be more open with me now. And I'm asking about snout nose and trying to figure out what her qualifications are. She has none. She graduated high school. She married a friend of the family that owned the treatment center. She almost got fired at one point for cheating on her husband with a counselor at the treatment center, her husband and the counselor started exchanging blows right in front of clients. But she pleaded "sex addiction" and checked herself into a clinic for a four week stay and came out "cured." That's all she knew about addiction. But they gave that woman the power to say who went into L.T.U. and who didn't. I heard she got jumped by clients and beat up a few months after I left. That doesn't surprise me at all. She didn't follow any rules and probably pissed off the wrong person finally.

She sounds like a nightmare.

She was. And she's just the worst example. I mean, you had the nurses who were always acting like they were concerned when people's family was around. But the second family day was over, it was "don't bother me" over the radio. Like if you had a cut and needed a band aid, your a.c. [assistant counselor] would radio the nurses' station and say, "Hey, he needs a band aid." And you'd hear the nurse radio back, "Don't bother me." A girl could be having cramps from her period and want some Midol and they'd radio back, "Oh, she pulls that every month." Well, duh, she gets her period every month.

But when your parents or your guardians were around, they'd come up all smiles and maybe ruffle your hair and act like they were seeing you all the time and just so close to you. They were so phoney.

And cheap too. When you came back from a pass, you had to go the nurses station and you'd have to strip and then fill a cup with urine. Then a few days later, they'd call you in and say, "We got the test back. Why did you use?" The first time they did that on me, I was about to laugh out loud. I'd been with my grandparents the whole time except for an AA meeting that they dropped me off at and picked me up from. I didn't have any money on me and I didn't know anyone in this state. If I'd wanted to score, I couldn't have.

So we go back and forth for about ten minutes before the nurse says, "Oh, well, it must have been a mistake at the lab. Don't discuss this with anyone." After it happened the third time, I did discuss it with two guys on my team and they were being put through the same nonsense. We figured out real quick that they weren't sending the urine off to be tested or not all of it.
They were too cheap. And when word got out that I'd discussed this, I was busted down from 4.0 which was the highest level down to 1.0 and lost my phone calls and my outside trips and everything. They were just so full of shit.

So how did you demonstrate that you were ready to be released?

I didn't. I had my fourth counselor and he was talking to my grandparents about how it was time for me to go home. Then he quit or got fired. And no one brought it up again. I was there two more months. The insurance finally had run out and they wanted my grandparents to pay out of their pocket. They said they didn't think they could afford it but would see what they could do. Two days after that conversation, I'm told that I've successfully completed my treatment and am going to be discharged.

I think that center was a racket. They weren't treating anyone. Not even for cramps. They just took your guardian's money and when the money stopped coming in, they discharged you.

Are you "clean and sober" today?

I'm 21 and I'll drink every now and then. But I went in for pot and if you're asking if I've done pot since, no. But not because of the treatment center. I did pot because I was bored, I was always by myself at home and the only kids I knew were smoking it. It was something to do to pass the afternoon and evening instead of going home and wondering if this was a night my mother would come home or not.

There were people with serious addictions to things like cocaine and heroin and alcohol or meth or whatever. And I don't think any of those kids learned anything in treatment. This one guy who was on my team, I've stayed in contact with him through e-mail. He went right back into treatment a month after he got discharged but this time he went to a real treatment center and learned some things. He's still off and on with his recovery but he learned the tools to work his recovery if he wants to do that.

I think places like the one I was at just take people's money. They do a nice con job on your parents or guardians and then you're basically in day care the whole time you're there. They aren't giving you any tools. Like, I was in there for new year's eve, okay? Now an addict on new year's eve trying to work their recovery must be a hard thing. But they didn't use that opportunity. I mean, they didn't stage a clean and sober new year's eve so you could experience at least one where you were interacting with your peers without the use of drugs. They just treated it like any other night that you had to be in bed by nine-thirty. But when it was Superbowl time, they wheeled in the TV and you were expected to stay in this room watching the Superbowl until it was over. Then you broke back up into teams and went back to your living areas.

Most of the kids were stoners who couldn't care less about sports. I doubt many of them have watched a Superbowl since. I don't think that had anything to do with treatment. It was just that the Bible thumper family running the camp, and I call it a camp and not a treatment center, were big into football. New Year's Eve effects everyone. Whether you're alone or at a party with friends, you know it's New Year's Eve. They blew a big opportunity to educate by ignoring it but I guess it wasn't as important to them as the Superbowl.

Are your grandparents more positive than you about that treatment center?

At first they were. They knew there were problems but they were just glad that when I got back, I wasn't using. They didn't care if that was because of the treatment center or not, they were just happy. But then a man who knows my grandad had a daughter who was hooked on meth and my grandfather suggested the place to him. If you think my story is bad, you should hear their's. And the man says the place is the biggest con job in the world. He pulled his daughter out after one month and got her into a real treatment center. But, you know, most parents are freaking out and they care about their kid so they just want to get them help and get it for them right now. So they're not looking into this as carefully as they should. It's like, "Oh God, he's cut and bleeding, stop the bleeding!" I understand that. But since you're going to putting your trust in these people who will provide the only supervision your child will get, I really think they need to do a little more research before choosing a treatment center. You shouldn't be making this decision on some pamphlet that you see.

If I had a child with an addicition, I'd go straight to the nearest AA or NA or a similar meeting and ask people there to recommend a treatment center. I don't do a twelve step program but I have a lot of respect for the work those two groups do. There was this one girl on my team, and remember it was a long term team, who was in because she smoked pot once. She went home and told her parents because she felt guilty. They freaked and put her into that treatment center. If she'd lie and say, "I have an addiction to pot" she probably would have gotten out after six weeks instead she was there for seven months because she refused to lie and say she'd smoked pot more than once. Now if her parents had gone to talk to someone in NA or AA, they would have told the parents, "Look, you need to watch and make sure this isn't ongoing. But right now, she did a dumb thing and that's part of growing up so she doesn't need to go to a treatment center." But the treatment center I went to didn't tell the parents that. They told them that she was probably lying about her drug use. They did an admission with just her and then came out and told the parents, "It's a lot worse than she's told you. She's used coke and she's getting stoned several times a week." That never happened and she never said it did. They just wanted the parents money (and probably wanted a non-court ordered client because the bulk of them were court ordered).

So if your parent out there with a teenager with a problem or one you think might have a problem, you need to look into these things before you admit your child to one.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Poll1 { display:none; }