By Caroline McGraw
“They tried to make you go to rehab, and you said yes, yes, yes. I’m so proud of you for saying yes to life … to this opportunity to find healing, peace, and adventure.”
Sitting on my bed reading those words out of a close friend’s card, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. My friend’s paraphrase of Amy Winehouse’s famous lyrics made me smile even as her encouraging words made me choke up. The card arrived just when I needed it most. I’d already traveled from my home in Alabama to Washington State’s San Juan Island. I’d also spent several days as a full-fledged Participant in The Clearing’s residential rehab Program.
Anyone who’s made a giant leap into the unknown knows that the hardest part isn’t necessarily the first step into unfamiliar territory, but rather when you look around and realize that you’ve come too far to turn back. When I received that card, I’d been wrestling with doubt and loneliness. Though I’d been warmly welcomed to The Clearing, those first few days were daunting. The card reminded me of the reasons why I’d said yes to treatment in the first place.
What Led Me to Residential Rehab
When people asked why I was going to spend a month in rehab, I said that I’d be there in a journalistic capacity. Since I’d been working as a copywriter for The Clearing, going through the Program would empower me to write about it. Plus, I loved the idea of spending 28 days learning about growth, recovery, and healing. As a writer and speaker in the personal development sphere, that sounded like heaven to me. The Clearing’s Program is based in Spiritual Psychology, and the fusion of timeless principles with modern psychological techniques intrigued me.
All of these things were true enough, but they weren’t the deepest truth. An unexpected blizzard had hit my life several months prior. Simply put, it was the most difficult personal challenge I’d ever faced. In the aftermath of that crisis, I struggled with depression, anxiety, debilitating fatigue, and thoughts of self-harm. Most days I managed to push through my responsibilities, but on other days I could barely get out bed.
On one hand, I knew that the depression was situational. On the other hand, I also knew that the crisis had brought up unhealed emotional wounds from the past. Everything came to a head during a session with my counsellor, when I burst out with these words: “Do you know what my fantasy is these days? To go to rehab. Seriously. That’s what I really want. I want to drop everything and heal from all of this s&^*. I want to work on my core issues. I want … ”
The lightning bolt of illumination hit: I want to go to The Clearing. After all, I knew that they offered dual diagnosis treatment (that is, treatment for a substance addiction combined with a mental health issue). Their approach to addiction treatment focused on healing mental health concerns, which was exactly what I wanted to do.
So I took a risk and pitched the idea, and The Clearing’s CEO said yes. Soon I was packing my bags to spend a month healing my core issues in the company of my fellow Participants.
Different Coping Strategies for the Same Pain
On the surface, my life path looked different from that of the other Participants in the program. I’d never smoked, taken pills, or gone through detox. Instead I’d been the good girl, the straight-A student, the high achiever. All of those things were true about me.
Yet there were other truths running alongside them. There was the truth of my perfectionism, how I couldn’t bear to make mistakes. There was the addictive quality of my people-pleasing. There was the deep-seated sense of shame that dogged my heels. These issues had been my companions for years, long before the “blizzard” hit.
In one of our workshops, the instructor drew a diagram that I’ll never forget. In the center were the issues that had plagued my life and the lives of my fellow Participants: self-hatred, fear, emotional pain. Two arrows extended out from that center. The first arrow pointed toward substance use: drinking, drugging, and numbing out with chemicals. The second arrow pointed toward more socially acceptable behaviours: overworking, over-committing, and numbing out through frantic busyness.
In that instant, I understood: I really do belong here. We may cope with our issues in different ways, but we are all dealing with the same stuff!
Learning to Stop the Hate … Together
Ironically enough, I went into the Program thinking, “I’m here to work hard! I’m not here to make friends!” Yet the experience of living with my fellow Participants was the highlight of the session. Our group was diverse, but we bonded quickly as every one of us opened our hearts and gave our best efforts. We worked to heal our issues all day, then at night we played board games and sang karaoke and laughed so much that the tone of my abdominal muscles visibly improved.
Watching my new friends complete their counselling exercises and deal with their emotional issues made me want to stand up and cheer. Witnessing their tremendous courage was an honour, and it inspired me to dive headfirst into my own emotional work. And gradually, I started to feel a real difference in my thoughts and my emotions. I stopped pushing so hard to achieve and practiced being kind to myself. I began to relax and feel on a visceral level that I was safe, accepted, and loved.
In an unguarded moment, I summed up the Program this way: “It’s really cool. We’re all learning how not to hate ourselves anymore.”
A Life-Changing Experience
At the final banquet, each of the Participants had a chance to stand up and say a few words about their experience. I had nothing planned, but I stood up anyway. I looked at the faces of the people around me, the strangers who had become true friends. I thought about the twists and turns that had brought me there. I said, “This year, I went through a really hard time. It was awful, and I never would have chosen it. But I also know that it was the catalyst that helped to get me here. And if that was the price of admission – if that was what I had to pay to learn how to open my heart – then I would pay it again.”
Follow the Breadcrumb Trail
If you’re reading this post during a time when it feels as though there is no meaning or hope within your suffering … I have been there, and I’m so sorry. I will not cheapen your experience by trying to make sense of it. That’s not my place, and never will be. I will only say that once upon a time, I was crying on the floor every day too. But gradually I started following a breadcrumb trail. I started picking up little bits of sustenance, little pieces of my own deepest longing. Honestly, for a long time it didn’t feel like enough. But in the end those tiny pieces led me to a place that felt like home … and more importantly, a place that taught me how to find peace within myself.
So I hope that when you see a chance for change, you’ll close your eyes, summon your courage, and say yes, yes, yes.
Caroline Garnet McGraw is the creator of A Wish Come Clear, a personal development blog that gives you carte blanche to change your life. Visit and receive free copies of her three digital books, designed to support you as you make mistakes, fall down, and dare to rise again.