My Trip To Rehab
It was in late March of 1971. My then current girlfriend, a Preacher's Kid, was attending one of the higher-ranked Liberal Arts Colleges in Saint Paul, Minnesota. PK called me up one day, and asked if I could do her a favor. One of her fellow dorm residents had undergone some kind of nervous breakdown and was institutionalized. The task of cleaning up his room had, for some reason unknown to me, fallen to her and she needed help in collecting his things; she had access to a car; we could bring him a few clothes and the cash that was buried in the things that had been strewn across the room. The room was a disaster (I had not yet experienced the joys of dorm life, my neat little room at home was atypical for most males my age.) We managed to get most of it put into bags for storage, found about $20 in loose change, and took it and a few things he could use with us.
The drive to Center City was awkward. The young man had made a quite an impression on PK, and when he broke down a bit of her youthful optimism was shattered as well. PK wasn't the kind of girl to get into trouble (excepting me, of course) and wasn't experienced in any of the antisocial and reckless behaviors that seem to be the norm of the post-high school years. PK couldn't understand what had gone wrong, how someone so promising had turned so self-destructive. I spoke of my similar problems the previous year, and how it was just dumb luck that I hadn't ended up in the same fix, or worse.
We were expected at the Center, they chatted us up a bit, then we were shown into a room outfitted with two-way mirrors- I suppose we were watched to make sure we wouldn't import any contraband. After a short interval the committed one was brought in, looking ill-at-ease, but glad to see his classmate nonetheless. PK asked him how it was going, he said it was hard, the program was really oriented toward older alcoholics; he knew he had serious problems, but most of the people in his groups were coming from a different place, and had a different "dynamic" in the way their disease expressed itself. He thought there were some good things about treatment, but he had doubts about its effectiveness.
We left him, and on the drive home PK was visibly upset. I asked her to pull over for a bit, to get a chance to gather her composure. When we had come to a stop on the shoulder she broke down in tears. I drove her back to the dorm. We split up (I told you I was trouble) soon after.
Hazelden, the grand-daddy of modern intensive care addiction and alcohol treatment facilities, started in 1949 in a farm house in Center City, Minnesota. Many many people- the famous, the not-so famous, and the not famous at all- have gone through treatment there over the last half-century. The "Minnesota Model"- approaching the problems of addiction and alcoholism with a disease model has been widely emulated. I never found out if PK's classmate successfully overcame his problems, a lot of people I knew developed the same ones. The programs at Hazelden have changed- there are special groups for young people- and while the initial success rate still isn't very high it does start a process- a process that, over time, manages to help most people. The most important lesson of all this is, of course, to start.