In Recovery: Part 4 – VA Program
From jail, to the end of my treatment in 3 different V.A. Treatment Centers, this part of My Story uncovers the journey of my recovery. I vividly, and candidly chronicled my day to day struggles with recovery, mental health, amends, and dealing with the V.A. empire on my blog from October of 2016, to the end of 2017. You can find these musings in the Archives. However, in the coming weeks, I look back at those experiences and give you a more coherent story of my life In Recovery. I look back on that year with more insight as to what was happening, and share with you the principles and actions that built the foundation for my ongoing recovery.
VA Treatment Begins
On October 17th 2016, I was released from jail and brought directly to a VA Treatment Program called Sarrtp. It stands for Substance Abuse Recovery and Rehabilitation Program, in Jamaica Plain Massachusetts. SARRTP is just one of the many Mental Health Recovery and Rehabilitation Programs the VA offers. It is the first time that I had entered any real recovery program of substance in my entire life.
SARRTP set up in a double-wide trailer across from the VA hospital you see in the above picture. It was intimidating to me; the tight quarters were uncomfortable to me. Spending time in my room was really the only solace I had early on in this program.
I’ve always been kind of a loner, contrary to the drunk Rob who is loud and aggressive. I certainly am not accustomed to this type of fairly restrictive environment as it seemed like many of the residents were. The program requires that you stay on the campus for the first 30 days, and then you are only allowed to venture off campus on a few hours pass.
The Rigors of Group Therapy
The rigors of this group-intensive program were apparent from the jump. There would be no hiding in the corner, no one-sentence responses; they expected you to participate early and often. Our days were chock-full of classes, health appointments–as many of you who were addicts of one substance or another can attest, our health is usually ignored for long periods of time–meetings with social workers and therapists, and the like.
And so, I was also not prepared for group therapy. Having been to many therapists over my lifetime, but I had never been involved in such intensive group therapy. And, quite frankly, listening to some of my fellow Veterans in this VA Treatment Program droned on about their woes was sometimes difficult for me to engage in regularly. More than a few seemed to have difficulty expressing just what the hell was going on. I worked on my patience for them as much as I could muster.
I know that sounds terrible, but I am a fish out of water when it comes to close social combat; at getting to know people. In between classes, and in the evening downtime at the trailer, I keep to myself.
With no money and no phone until November, I began justruminating.blog, a blog which I decided early on to be about VA Recovery Treatment, and to feature the poetry I had been writing off and on since 1983.
VA Treatment Is Unsettling
As is usual in my life, folks early on passed judgement on me before I had a chance to get comfortable enough to be who I truly am. More than one resident (and staff member) related that I was abrasive and self-centered, and thought I was too good for the group on the whole, just because I didn’t want to hang around the t.v. room all night, sharing war stories and wasting time. Or not.
But, and interestingly, I will note that early on I decided that I would not watch t.v. at all. Except for the Presidential Debate in 2016 and football, I successfully avoided t.v. right up until I actually moved to Colorado in early 2018. Small talk is nothing I hate, and there is no shortage of that in VA treatment. Socializing about the good ole days of drinking was not my bag.
As a result, I made no friends for the entire three months I was there. And I was ok with that. As a matter of fact, I did not make any close friends for the entire time I was in VA Treatment, from October 2016, until November of 2017. Without booze to amplify my attitude, I was fairly inept socially.
Writing To The Rescue
However, in my defense, I was there to work on my recovery, not spend time wasting away in the social milieu that seemed to exist in the halls of recovery at all the VAs. In retrospect, I did a lot of isolating and social distancing before it became the 2020 norm!
Right from day one I started a journal, but only kept at it for about 10 days. That was typical of me: I would begin projects with vim-and-vigor, but usually I would abandon such projects out of boredom, or the fortitude they required to sustain them; however, I did plug into blogging as a way of journaling, so there’s that.
The First Days In VA Treatment
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I started this blog exactly 7 days after I arrived at SARRTP. Here is my very first post on my recovery! I decided very early on that I would chronicle my recovery journey-and the life that led me there-in brutally honest fashion. And I did just that, quite intensely, until around March of 2017.
So, I pretty much walked away from blogging full-time in March, as I had tried to do too much, and my purpose for the blog got inadvertently shifted to being more worried about how many likes and comments I was getting, than my original purpose. Although I wrote a few scattered posts in 2017 and 2018, I would not return to daily writing until September of this year.
And the same thing happened after my dedication to fitness, which lasted until the November cold crept it’s way into New England. After that, I wouldn’t work out again, ever. When I finally was able to buy a phone in November, I also got caught up in photography, and I spent countless hours manipulating media and posting the end results on my blog and social media.
Recovery Floodgates Open Wide
I did, however, embrace my new found freedom, and many of the concepts that SARRTP was introducing to me. I realized very early, that to make the most of the opportunity I was given by the VA, I had to take recovery seriously.
Also, I recognized very early, that participating in all the classes and therapy, everyone trying to figure out a proper diagnosis for me, was taking an emotional toll; especially when some of my fellow Veterans in VA treatment, would really go deep on what their issues were, and how they used to overcome tremendous emotional hardships. I had to try everything in my power to make difficult changes to the ways I acted and thought. And I had to immerse myself fully in the experience if I was to stay sober and grow as an individual.
But, dear reader, it ends up being much more difficult than I had ever imagined. For, it was one thing to be sober in jail, and a far different story when interacting with so many different types of folks, and on so many levels so often. My main issues would prove to be my emotions, my impulsivity, and my lack of social awareness. I needed to get my priorities straight if I wanted to “graduate” to the next program that the VA offered. Not only did I want this, I needed it!