Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew is back for a fifth season, and we’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to talk about the show with Dr. Drew and some of the other staff at the Pasadena Recovery Center to get an inside look at the rehabilitation process. This week, we spoke with Jenn Gimenez and Dr. John Sharp about the energy of the cast on graduation day, and they also address critics of the show now that season five has come to a close.
First up, Dr. Sharp.
Is writing a goodbye letter like the ones the group read aloud a typical thing that most patients do to complete their rehab process?
Not necessarily, but journaling is usually something people include in their treatment in one way or another. This was a particular journaling exercise, this writing the letter at the end of the process and you do see that sometimes.
Is there anything that went on behind the scenes at graduation that you can share?
I wasn’t expected to be on camera for their graduation ceremony so personally, it wasn’t a day I needed to be there for the shoot, but I felt very strongly that I needed to be there to participate in a sense of closure. So when I got there and found the cast, the feeling in the room was very strong. A lot of excitement but a lot of nervous energy and worry and “Now what?” I think people were very fond of one another at that point and were saying their goodbyes in many ways and that had a lot of emotion in it. I was overtaken by that and we all talked together and I told everyone I was looking forward to seeing them again because I was going to be seeing some of them literally in two days [for after-care]. But it was an intense experience of acknowledging all that had happened. A very strong feeling that I wasn’t expecting, how intense it would be. That wasn’t on-camera, this was just what everyone was really feeling like nobody’s was looking.
It seems like, and maybe this was the weather and the fact that you can tell on the show that it was kind of a miserable day in L.A. when it was shot, that the tone was very dreary and sad.
You know, they came in the rain and they left in the rain and that’s very unusual in Los Angeles. It was unbelievable how hard it was raining outside, and maybe that was sobering. But there is a lot of sober reality to be dealt with at the end of treatment and that can seem heavy or a downer. One of the things that addicts in early recovery dread is the thought that they’ll never be happy again, and that in fact is something they have to go through to get to the other side and realize they can be genuinely happy and have real relationships and not be involved in destructive activities and relationships. The setting and the weather really were pretty appropriate when you think about what everyone was facing, but actually, the energy when everyone was all together and saying goodbyes was upbeat and respectful of what had just occurred. It’s been wonderful that VH1 supported after-care and extended it and Bob and I really took the lead to maintain ties with everyone and give them additional support and guidance and it’s been so wonderful and an example of how Celebrity Rehab is very different from so much other reality TV. It’s not forced or exploitative, it is real after-care.
There is a lot of criticism aimed at the show and its participants, saying that the people cast are just trying to get into the spotlight or that the treatment itself is exploiting them. Since this was your first season on the show and you lived through it, can you dispel those theories?
It’s a lingering criticism that people make without understanding what the show is all about. When you see it on TV it’s pretty clear that people are getting meaningful care, but if you got a real sense of what the day-to-day treatment is like, you’d realize there’s nothing exploitative about it, it’s a very enriched treatment center. On the first day, one of the executive producers said to me “Some people are here because they are getting paid, others are here because they think it helps their career, and others are here because they know they really want help.” I found that even those who had motivations having to do with money or career were still engaged in treatment. They got a lot of exposure to real treatment in a way that perhaps they didn’t expect.
In my opinion, people always have mixed motivations that may not be completely pure. Not just in Celebrity Rehab but in private practice psychiatry and psychology, people come in with some secondary gain attached, we live a multi-faceted life, so what was nice about the show was that at least that was clear. It was like “Well, that person wants to be on camera to help their career” and it wasn’t something that was lost on me, but it wasn’t a secret. I just don’t see that it’s a problem as long as you deal with your issues. It’s only a problem when you don’t know it or you’re trying to hide it.
Next up, we chatted with Jenn Gimenez.
On the show this week, a couple of people said that the hardest hurdle to get past is the first thirty days. Is that usually when people get over their most difficult urges, in thirty or forty days?
No. Normally we say give it ninety days. It’s ninety meetings in ninety days and you get chips and you’re rewarded for staying sober, but it’s like, after ninety days, welcome to the world of feeling. Your feelings really start to kick in after ninety days. The haze starts lifting after thirty days if it’s your first time in recovery and you start getting out of the fog.
A lot of people don’t fully surrender and realize that this is gonna kill them and that they may die, we start feeling better physically and all of a sudden the disease starts telling you you can drink, you can use. This disease is serious as a heart attack. My disease centers from the neck up, it’s in my brain. Dr. Drew says “Your brain is telling you if you do not use you will die” and that’s why detox is so critical. You’re obsessing with using and drinking. Eventually that obsession lifts. That’s why we say just focus on today. For me, I’m the type of person who, if I told you I never thought about using, I’d be lying. I do think about using, it comes to mind, but I have the tools to work through it. BUT, I do think about it. I hear people say “It’ll completely go away” and it doesn’t, not for most people.
Most treatment will have you do the first three steps, recognizing that you’re powerless against the disease and everything, and writing a goodbye letter. And only by writing that goodbye letter could I see that drugs and alcohol were the loves of my life. But what happened is it stopped working and it betrayed me and it failed me. Doing that letter, saying these things, I mean, I called my goodbye letter “To the love of my life, mental madness” because it drove me insane. You say goodbye to it, and it’s so hard because you’re looking at the thing that you need and use to exist and to breathe. Some people can’t get out of bed without a drink, they can’t function. And it’s very therapeutic to say goodbye.
I was there the night before while they wrote their letters and some of them read them to me and I found it very powerful. They were very melancholy. There was some quiet time going on there.
The episode felt like quiet time, there were no real outbursts, it was just a look back on the season and it was a different tone.
It was, because reality hit. In treatment, people tell you what to do, where to be, when to poop, when to wake up, and you’re taken care of while you’re detoxing. You are not left alone. When I was in treatment I felt safe for the first time. And when it’s time to go, the real world and all its pressures come. The reality of it hits and it’s scary going back out there. The real work starts when you leave treatment. Getting sober is not an easy thing, but I’ll tell you, it’s sure as hell worth it.