My first year of recovery appeared to most people in the outside world as me sitting around a rehab, going to meetings and not making any “progress.” Looking from the outside in, through the eyes of a “normal” person, getting clean looks like sitting around, drinking coffee and not doing much else. From the inside, it feels like a daily battle, literally “a battle with yourself.” My thoughts and feelings were on a roller coaster for that first year. The outside world did not understand the transformation or the characteristics of early recovery. How do “normal” people judge success? How much do you make? Where do you live? What clothes are you wearing? Where do you work? Where did you go to school?
Here is how I would answer those questions while I was in rehab.
How much do you make?
I don’t make any money; I’m unemployed. In fact, I can’t get a bank account. The bank banned me. Before I got to rehab, I made a deposit at the atm without placing a check or cash into the atm, and then I took the money out. Back in the 1980’s, this scam was very common. Today, banks won’t let that happen.
Where do you live?
I live in a rehab in Pasadena, CA, with 150 others. I share a pay phone and sleep in a bunk bed, I take a shower down the hall and sign the door. Why do I sign the door, the rehab wants to know I take showers everyday. 🙂
What clothes are you wearing? My clothes are from the donation pile at the rehab. Residents that leave the rehab in a hurry don’t bother taking their clothes. If the resident doesn’t claim them, they end up in the clothes pile for us to take.
Where do you work? I work at odd jobs around the rehab. Sometimes I wash dishes, cook, clean bathrooms or sweep leaves in the courtyard. There is a joke that we learn to sweep imaginary leaves because you’re required to keep sweeping until the supervisor tells you to stop, even if the courtyard is perfectly clean.
Where did you go to school? I went to UCLA but never graduated. I looked at UCLA as a way to get student loans. I used the loans to buy drugs to sell. The goal was to sell enough to use as much and as often as I wanted. You’d think if I was an entrepreneur I’d be a good drug dealer, nope. I couldn’t stop using long enough to sell. The empire crumbled. In the end, I had a habit and debt.
Cut to 54, I’m not Bill Gates, but I am a productive member of society. I started three technology companies, two rehabs and a nonprofit. The question is – how many addicts with the right kind of support could generate a positive return on investment for the people willing to invest in them? People will say not every addict is an entrepreneur, I agree.
Yes, Bill Gates and I both dropped out of college. Outside of that similarity, I don’t think Bill was sweeping imaginary leaves at 27. I’d guess most VC’s I’d call would have their assistant take a message. If I read this blog, and I was a traditional Angel Investor or VC, I’d laugh. Then after the laugh, I’d ask myself why not? As Albert Einstein says “in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
How about this for a theory – the same way Silicon Valley became a Mecca for technology, income, jobs etc. What could a great business like Facebook or Google do for a rehab? Does opportunity breed hope” Can hope fuel recovery”
It sounds a little crazy to look at rehab as fertile ground for entrepreneurship, but I have been lucky enough to spend two quality years in rehab. That gave me enough time to see the possibilities. If you doubt this – take a look at the Salvation Army and Delancey Street. They have been doing it for years. What we need now is an entrepreneur, a business plan, a few great mentors, a couple of Angel investors and one VC. You know where to reach me!