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800 Words

Little Miss Rehab

February 25, 2007|Dan Neil

Lindsay Lohan, Kate Moss, Miss USA Tara Conner? When I went to rehab (on June 29, 1989) there weren't nearly so many hot women. Or any. Actually, my roommate in rehab was a 6-foot-7 African American crackhead with cystic acne who slept with Noxzema on his face and--I kid you not --a Confederate flag do-rag wrapped around his head. It pleased me no end that this should be the fate of the sacred standard of the South's secret society. Emmett, by the way, was absolutely the nicest guy to have ever sold his plasma for a rock of cocaine.

In those days, residential drug rehabilitation therapy was reserved for people who had real problems. Like the yellow-faced 50-year-old alcoholic with pancreatitis so bad his organs bulged out from under his rib cage. I remember sitting in group with him. The counselor told him if he didn't quit drinking he was going to die. He responded with something like "Yup."

Not to be melodramatic about it, but rehab, and a certain anonymous program I'm not at liberty to mention, saved my life. No, that's too much. I wasn't smoking crack or shooting heroin between my toes. It's nearer the mark to say rehab saved me from a life of diminished expectations and downwardly spiraling returns, a life that would have almost certainly ended in a stoned tragic-comic misadventure--say, being electrocuted while trying to hook up my hi-fi to a ceiling fan.

In any event, I feel something like proprietary outrage when I see rehab and the larger ambit of recovery so cynically exploited by celebs and their damage-controlling publicists. Most recently, Lohan has been pioneering the field of drive-by rehab, coming and going from the ostensibly residential Wonderland Center facility in Laurel Canyon for trips home, shopping and partying. It was reported that LiLo's peripatetic ways severely chapped the hides of fellow Wonderland clients. "I'm trying to save my life," tmz.com quoted an anonymous source, "she's trying to save her face."

Anyone who has ever walked the walk of addiction and recovery can instantly spot the problem. It's hard to convince a young, beautiful person with a publicist, an agent, two personal assistants and seven figures in the bank that they are powerless. Your life has not become unmanageable if you've hired people to manage it. This was not a contingency Dr. Bob and Bill W., the founders of AA, could have anticipated.

Oil and water: Celebrity and anonymity. Celebrity is a state of existential otherness, while recovery as it's generally practiced is based on the fact that everyone's addiction is essentially the same, though differing in the circumstantial details. The idea that we're all the same is why recovery groups have fellowship meetings. It damn sure isn't for the cookies.

I also question the luxing up of rehab. According to the Wonderland Center's website, in the residential programs "our clients live in beautiful homes on a 3-acre private gated estate and enjoy the services of a gourmet chef, nutritionist, fitness trainers, yoga instructors and spiritual guides." This is hitting bottom? Please. Rehab should be a cold, linoleum-lined institution, a place of thin mattresses, instant decaf coffee and veal cutlets that aren't exactly veal. I'm not suggesting rehab should be Devil's Island, but it should be alien, uncomfortable and a little humiliating. How did I wind up in such a place? Oh yeah, that's right. I wrecked my car and made a pass at my brother's wife.

I also resent the trivializing of rehab. Not every every public gaffe merits such a step. Michael Richards went to "rehab" after he had a racist meltdown at the Laugh Factory. Actor Isaiah Washington ("Grey's Anatomy") took in some rehab for allegedly referring to a coworker on the show as a "faggot," then attempting to deny the use of the word at the Golden Globes by . . . using the word. You could practically hear the klaxons sounding and the publicist's voice on the squawk box. "Damage control parties, report to rehab!" If incredibly stupid speech requires rehab, then when does Joe Biden check in?

Tara Conner--Miss Rehab USA--was packed off by Donald Trump after allegations of hard partying and sexual misbehavior, which of course is unprecedented behavior for a 21-year-old beauty queen. When she emerged from rehab a month later she cheerfully declared herself an alcoholic. Perhaps so. Only she can truly say. But if she is an alcoholic, she's a stupendously high-functioning one. Maybe she's just, you know, 21? The worst thing that could possibly befall recovery as an institution is for it to become chic.

Say what you want about Rush Limbaugh--no, really, I'll wait--at least when he went into rehab he had a bona fide drug problem.

By now everybody understands that the entering-rehab-please-respect-my-privacy gambit is pure media positioning. America loves nothing so much as sinner redeemed--it's a script that comes to us from the Good Book. But somewhere out there somebody is hanging by his or her fingernails, wondering if rehab is all just a scam. And that's too bad.

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