What’s it like signing up to residential rehab and tackling substance use?

What do you do if your substance use is having significant impacts on how you live your life?

Rhys and Jean, who are both peer support workers at Cyrenian House, recently joined Graeme Watson on RTRFM’s weekly radio program All Things Queer to share their personal experiences, and discuss why residential rehab can be a life changing pathway for many people.

Graeme: You’ve very graciously come into the studio today to share your experiences and to pass on some information about points in your lives where you’ve been substance users, and it’s become problematic. I’m just going to open it up to you, tell us about your experience. Where does it begin?

Rhys: Okay, so Well, suppose for the past seven years, I’ve been working at the Serenity Lodge Therapeutic Community, which is down in Rockingham. That’s the residential rehab down there. Prior to that, I needed to seek treatment myself, which sort of put me on the path that I’m on now.

Graeme: What about you, Jean, what brings you here today?

Jean: I suppose my journey is pretty similar to Rhys. You know, I started my journey through treatment probably about three years ago. Which is brought me to work for Cyrenian as well.

Graeme: For many people who have not entered this world, we have ideas about what treatment for substance use looks like, which is probably based on Hollywood films. They probably involve Sandra Bullock or Angelina Jolie. Are they accurate descriptions of what it is like? What is it like when someone says “Okay, I’ve reached a point I need to get a residential treatment program.” What do they experience?

Rhys: I suppose it all depends on the various treatment opportunities that we have, especially with Cyrenian House, the residential treatment facility is a 32-week program, where our residents will come and live with us.

It’s all about behaviors, it’s about addressing behaviors that lead to problematic substance use in the first place. So we actually spent very little time talking about the actual drug itself or the substance itself, more so what that did for you, and what what function that served in your life, and why it no longer serves you – and then focusing on all the behaviors that surround that too.

Graeme: Does it make a difference what kind of substance we’re talking about? Obviously people have problems with alcohol, they have problems with other substances, does it make a difference when you’re on that journey, which substance it’s been?

Jean: It doesn’t really matter what what substance you were using. At the end of the day, it is mainly about our behaviors that lead us to that substance and that’s what treatment is designed to kind of target.

Graeme: I’ve read a lot of books recently which talk about the power of habits. It’s really hard to break any behavior. It’s hard to stop doing something you do in one way and start doing another way. How do you through these programs get to that?

Even small habits are hard to break, I forget to take my Staff ID out the car every morning, so I’m trying to like remember when I get in the car – take it out the glovebox, put it on the passenger seat, and I’ll remember it, so I won’t walk away to work and get to the door and not be able to get in. Even that simple task is a hard habit to break. How do you go about breaking patterns of behavior that you’ve had for a long time?

Rhys: Routine mostly. We have a very structured program. It starts right at the start of the day where they will get up and go for a walk, make their beds, do their chores. Everything in the day, it’s basically time-lined to a certain point, so it’s just redeveloping those routines, personal hygiene, manageability.

Also we’re a complete abstinent program. So people are expected to be free of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, to a certain degree even sugars and junk food as well. It’s quite full on. It’s more more than breaking habits, it’s rewriting new habits.

Graeme: In your experience when people start this journey, how long does it take people to adjust and change, when do they know it’s time?

Jean: There’s this beautiful thing I think in treatment “that you know, when you you know”. The time that you know when you’re ready to leave is that when you feel comfortable, when you’re uncomfortable, then you need to stay.

Generally for a lot of people that can be up to eight or nine months, and that was my experience of treatment. I was in there for, for nine months until I decided it was time.

Graeme: When you’ve been waiting somewhere for nine months and you come back to the rest of the world, that must be quite a coming out experience of rejoining society. What’s that moment like?

Jean: It’s a real shock. Coming back to the greater community and realising how big of an impact the rest of the community has on myself in how I react to that, or respond to situations that I’m faced with. Everything’s easy and accessible through being out in the wider community, as opposed to being in treatment, where you’re kept in a bit of a bubble for a while, which is really safe.

Graeme: In your own experiences, how did you know you reached the point where you said to yourself “Okay, I’ve got to go do something about this?” Were there signs that you felt you saw that made you say “Okay, time to take a change in direction.”?

Jean: I suppose I’d known that it was a problem, I’d like to say that it was like a 20-year problem for me. Everything started started kind of collapsing, my world started collapsing in terms of relationships, my employment, everything else kind of started colliding to the point where I was just in this emotional debt, and I couldn’t see any way out of it, except for seeking support.

Graeme: When you do that, how quickly did things change?

Jean: Very quickly. Cyrenian House has been fantastic in orchestrating that level of support for clients that come through. That was my experience. I was supported right through from the beginning of my treatment, during my training, getting into treatment, during my treatment, as well as, post treatment as well.

They still supported me in amazing way by working there now and working in the space. So it doesn’t stop.

Graeme: The amazing thing about peer based programs is the people you’re working with have been through this journey. They know what you’re talking about, they’ve had those same experiences.

Rhys: I think Cyrenian House has got such a vast range of skills among the people that work there. When our residents that come into treatment, or our consumers that come into outpatient counseling, they know that the person that they’re going to be talking to can really relate and empathise with them. That’s from people right through with, you know, your academic degrees to peer support programs, people that have been through lived experience, our volunteers, it’s just such so well set up.

Graeme: I imagine and tell me if I’m wrong, but when people are on this road of recovery, it’s it’s not always plain sailing. We’re human, we we make mistakes, we have fallbacks, we have to try again. What’s it like for people who are on that journey? What do you say to them to help them keep moving towards that goal?

Rhys: Look, I think if I think if it is plain sailing, you’re not doing it right. To a lot of degree, I think the point, especially in residential treatment, the point is, it being as rough sailing as it can. I know that sounds ominous, but in a sense, you want to learn and be equipped to deal with the stresses of life and when things go wrong, and when things don’t go according to plan. So that you’ve got those tools that you can take outside of residential treatment, back into life.

Graeme: Are they hard programs to get into?

Jean: I wouldn’t say that it’s hard, I think in terms of when people are willing to go into treatment we’re well supported throughout the whole process. At the end of the day though, it is a it’s a voluntary process, that that willingness needs to be there. Otherwise, no matter what the treatment is, it’s never gonna work.

Graeme: Once your in a residential treatment program, what is the routine that you set up. How do people spend their time what makes up the bulk of the program?

Rhys: So on any given day, there’s so many different things that would be happening. We’re a therapeutic community, so residents are split into their work teams. Some of them would manage the kitchen, some of them would manage the gardens, the grounds and those sorts of things.

Down at Serenity Lodge every day would start with a walk on the beach, and that would follow into doing your chores and then doing your work. Because it’s such a behavioral based program, there’s a lot of support groups, there’s a lot of group work, one-on-one counseling, there’s psycho-educational groups in the afternoon where people can learn to deal with grief and loss, inner child, emotional regulation is a big one, learning how to deal when, as we said before, when things go wrong, and then there’s recreation time as well.

So people will do sport play volleyball, watch TV on the weekends only. It’s quite full one, there’s not really any opportunity to be bored.

Graeme: What would you say to someone who’s listening today who’s who’s facing some challenges and thinking, “Okay, I need to do something about this”, the thoughts in their mind, but they’re not quite ready to take the next step, what would be the message for them?

Rhys: Probably, it all just starts with a phone call. Phoning through to our head office, and then just discussing what your treatment options might be. Residential rehab might not necessarily be for everybody, but we do have low medical detoxes within the organisation, we have one on one counseling, we have support groups that they can come on into. So there’s a vast range of treatment options. Residential treatment might not necessarily be for everybody, but it all just starts with a phone call.

Graeme: For members of the LGBTIQA+ communities, obviously there’s always for many of us a level of trepidation.  We ask can I engage with this service? Is it a safe space for queer people? What’s your experience been?

Jean: From my experience, when I went into treatment, I think the biggest fear is having to be confronted again, for that rejection from the community around being LGBTQI. I went in, as what I used to refer to as being ‘non gender specific’ when I went into treatment as a member of the LGBTQI community. And I came out of it identifying as a male.

So it was a, it was an amazing journey that was shaped through the support of not only the service, but the residents in treatment at the time. It was just this beautiful experience of just love really and support.

Graeme: We do have a tendency, I guess, to always put our lives in like little boxes and little sections, but in reality, all parts of our lives have joined together. And it can be quite confronting at times to realise that, you know, my behavior in this area is because of what’s going on in what I felt was a different box in my life. Would that be a fair assumption to say?

Rhys: I think one of the one of the best parts about seeking treatment, however that might look for you is it’s about breaking those boxes. It’s about I suppose, embracing who you really are. Figuring out the things that lead you to be problematic in your life. And then being able to leave, leave treatment or come through the other side of treatment with your head held high and proud of who you are.

If you’d like to find out more about the services at Cyrenian House’s alcohol and other drug treatment services you can find out more at the website cyrenianhouse.com or by calling them on 9328 9200.

This conversation has been edited for clarity. The OUTinPerth team volunteer at RTRFM 92.1 helping with the program All Things Queer. 

Do you need some support?

If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, support and counselling are available from:

QLife: 1800 184 527 / qlife.org.au (Webchat 3pm – midnight)
QLife are a counselling and referral service for LGBTQIA+ people.

DISCHARGED: 9364 6909 / waamh.org.au / [email protected]
Discharged is a trans-led support service with peer support groups for trans and gender diverse folks.

Lifeline: 13 11 14 / lifeline.org.au

Beyondblue: 1300 22 4636 / www.beyondblue.org.au

You can support our work by subscribing to our Patreon
or contributing to our GoFundMe campaign.

Tags: , ,