After three days of rehab, I knew I wasn’t going to make it. My hands shook constantly from alcohol withdrawal, I had hourly bouts of deep depression that left me sobbing in despair, and the complete lack of privacy, even while sleeping, was too much to bear.
As a young journalist, excessive alcohol consumption and partying with celebrities had been part of my lifestyle. Having graduated as a crime writer in my 30s, keeping my own schedule made it easier to hide my alcohol addiction.
Now that had come to an end… along with my freedom. For me, minute-by-minute programming is as unbearable as withdrawal.
Having made the decision to leave, I left group therapy and went to the bathrooms to cry. As I entered the bathrooms I heard the noise of a mop. I sighed. Cleaning, done primarily by patients, was a key part of the recovery. Even here, he couldn’t be alone.
A woman came into view and I forced myself not to look twice when, strangely, a soap opera actress I recognized from TV (I’ll call her Emily) was holding up a cleaning spray.
“I’m really struggling with the lack of privacy,” I blurted out. “I don’t know if I can take it anymore.”
She looked at me. “This is normal for me,” she said. “Better than normal.”
He waited for her to understand. My lack of privacy, as harsh as it was, would end in a few weeks. Hers, if she continued her career, would be endless.
Crime novelist Cate Quinn used alcohol to ease the pain after a personal tragedy left her suffering from nightmares and unable to write.
Taking a cloth to polish the mirrors, she recounted how photographers followed her to restaurants and nightclubs. She once lost a relationship in the early stages of it because she checked into a sleepover hotel to recover from a hangover, and stories had emerged suggesting she had met a man there.
‘How do you deal with that?’ I asked her.
“I don’t know,” he said bluntly. ‘That is why I am here.’
Addicts often say that you enter rehab twice: once when you walk in the door and a second time when you really commit to it.
That conversation with Emily was my second check, when I realized I was going to make it.
My first check-in was the lowest point of my life. Sobbing uncontrollably, I couldn’t understand how I, a successful crime novelist, had ended up here; how I had let my alcohol consumption increase so much.
But a year earlier, a horrible personal tragedy had left me stunned. Twelve months later, I was still suffering from nightmares and my creative well had dried up. Desperate and useless, I used alcohol to ease the pain.
Desperate, I searched the Internet for private rehab and signed up with a credit card.
As I navigated the arrivals process, complete with a full body search, the manager explained that I shouldn’t be surprised to see people I recognized. Because of its dedication to privacy, this particular facility attracted celebrities.
Little by little I got into the rhythm of group therapy, counseling, journaling sessions, plus cooking and cleaning duties, and the small group of fellow addicts became like a second family.
I began to realize that the reasons I drank actually went back to my childhood with an alcoholic father. As an overly sensitive child, I had unknowingly internalized a lot of pain, learned to put other people’s feelings first, and, as an adult, drowned my own needs in drink.
The personal insight was fascinating, but so was that of the people who could afford the clinic’s £10,000-a-month fees. My hospitalized companions were disproportionately wealthy and had corresponding demands. Particular brands of water, pet visitation rights, and very specific dietary requirements were standard.
And since rehabilitation was a closely guarded secret for most of them, extravagant requests for deception were also common.
Like the agent who negotiated his own private meeting room so he could hold Zoom calls without anyone knowing where he was. He would come to breakfast drenched in sweat and beg for stronger medication, and then go to his “office” to take work calls. As far as I know, other than his long-suffering wife, no one knew he was in rehab.
Author Cate Quinn was inspired by the famous faces and strange experiences that made up her detox journey when she wrote her ninth novel, The Clinic, a murder mystery with a celebrity cast.
Perhaps surprisingly, celebrities tended to behave better, perhaps because constant programming was normal for them. Take as an example the well-known model who had a reputation for being demanding. She turned out to be the nicest person in the place, she never asked for anything and regularly offered to fetch things for others.
The bravery of those celebrity residents who entered rehab and faced that shame head-on had a profound effect on my recovery. It also made me realize how others might see me: not as a mess, but as a flawed human being doing everything I can to change.
Back in the real world, sober for the first time in 20 years, I worried I wouldn’t be able to write without alcohol. But in reality, the famous faces and strange experiences that made up my detox journey inspired my ninth novel, The Clinic, a murder mystery with a celebrity cast.
The book was another kind of therapy, allowing me to also write about my deeply personal trauma anonymously. For me, that makes the experiences more real, not less. Exactly what I hope my alcohol-free future looks like.
Cate Quinn’s novel The Clinic is now available in hardcover.