Dr. John Sharp Discusses Rehab With Dr. Drew Episode 4: “Anything You Put Ahead Of Recovery, You Lose”

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Each week on Rehab With Dr. Drew, we’ll be talking to some of the staff on hand at the Pasadena Recovery Center to find out everything that happened in front of and behind the camera with this season’s group of patients. This week we spoke to Dr. John Sharp, who appeared last season on Celebrity Rehab and was this season’s Associate Medical Director, Psychiatrist on Call, and Director of Aftercare for the program. Dr. Sharp worked closely with the patients to make sure they remained stable and successful throughout the recovery process.

We talked about this a little bit last week about how somebody in Hollywood – it seems like Hollywood could be to blame for their issues or it’s easy to just correlate one to the other, but when you actually get the full story of why somebody – like in this particular episode, Eric, when we find about the trauma of his mom and his brother leaving. Something like that isn’t necessarily on the surface for a celebrity.

Right, and it’s not something that he in any way contributed to or brought about. In contrast say last week, we spent a lot of time looking at Erika and you can say “Well, she’s a young girl who is living in Hollywood, who chose to hang out there, who chose to be with a guy there, you can sort of see some predictable troubles develop.” Not that she wanted all those troubles or deserves them either, but when you focus like we’re about to on Eric and you see someone who is really far removed from anything typical of Hollywood or the things that we’ve dealt with in the past.

You were a part of his story in this episode, where they talked about you kind of bringing him into the facility and getting him from the airport. We learn of the fact that his mom had a child and then moved to Ireland with the baby, so she could be closer to the father, but I was wondering was there any other details to that story you can reveal.


Sure, well you know Eric has a really big heart and he is a likeable guy, who wants to get along and be loved. All of that comes from the pain that he suffered when he saw his family kind of break apart, then when he actually saw his mom and brother take off. So he actually had multiple significant loses at an early age and in the culture he grew up in, South Boston, you can’t show that you’re hurting. So his whole persona developed as a way to kind of protects himself from that pain he was feeling down deep and allow himself to have friends and move along in life and ultimately he was very vulnerable to drug addiction. As a result of his family coming apart, he was left really on his own and does hope one day to reconnect to some really key people in his life, including his father. He’s really been on his own, so what we knew was that he had a big problem with opiates and and that he was flying out in the morning from Boston, so I went to go meet him actually together with a nurse and Bob Forrest in order to greet him, but medically and psychiatrically to make sure that he wasn’t going to be going into withdrawal after such a long flight. He actually took some extra of his own medication before getting on the plane, so he pretty much knocked himself out and was still kind of sleepy when he got off the plane. We were worried about the possibility of physical withdrawal though.

Was it surprising that he opened up so quickly? It seems like as soon as he got off the plane and you guys picked him up that this story came out.

Yeah, we were talking in the car and that was surprising to me, ’cause he has kind of albeit kind of likeable, but tough guy kind of persona and so I wasn’t expecting him to be so forthright, but he just came right out with it very candidly and we wondered together at a very early point in getting to know him about what was making it so hard for him to move on with his life nonetheless. Like in other words it’s true people can have a big hurt in his past and that’s true for all of us to some extent or almost all of us to some extent, but then the real question is “Well how do you move on, how do you carry on with your life?” And we were able to talk him about that, like well what was it that was so particularly devastating about your brother going with your mother? What was it about your relationship with your brother? What’d that mean to you? How were you able to take care of yourself? I mean deep questions that require a lot of contemplation that normally you wouldn’t get into for weeks and weeks. But he was eager to entertain with us, to let us understand as much as he knew, and try to go further. So I found that to be very encouraging, to me it was really reflection of the pain he was in and the gratitude that he had about being able to get care.

At one point, Eric basically is ready give up treatment and wants to leave and he goes through some feelings of just being totally done with it and I just wonder if it’s the irritation and the withdrawal that does that or if the environment was really affecting him?

No, it’s not in this case, it could be – you kind of came off what I said about how the irritation and withdrawal makes everybody kind of short, so in addition to that what I see and we see this consistently including today with Eric is that he gets overwhelmed and frustrated very quickly, there’s just something about him that makes him get to that place like we see with him and his mom routinely and not just in the bigger circumstances or not just when he’s with his mom talking. You know a lot of us get frustrated with our moms who don’t who have the same frustration tolerance we do with our families as we do for other people. But he talks about throwing in the towel commonly, like “Well forget it, well this isn’t going to work, well…” He kind of needs to learn to take direction better and to realize that he can work collaboratively. You know part of is trauma based, like he had to learn the hard how to survive on his own, so when his ideas aren’t working he gets really frustrated, when someone else says “Listen, you oughtta do this,” or “Listen to me,” he doesn’t really want to hear it he doesn’t really want to hear it. I mean as much as he knows he needs to he has a hard time. A lot of the decisions he’s been trying to make in terms of progressing in his aftercare have reflected this, where he’s all in with regard to how he sees something and then the idea of maybe looking at it a different way or making a different decision he initially reacts in that same way like “Well, forget it then!” kind of mode. It’s a habit really that he’s gotta break and he’s working on that.

When Jasmen talks to her mother on the phone this week, her mother surprisingly really opposed to her continuing treatment and aftercare at least at this stage. Jasmen tells her that she thinks that she needs more than three weeks of treatment and she wants to go into sober living and her mother basically tells her she needs to come back and care for her family more than anything and she’s being selfish for choosing to get more treatment. So I’m wondering how you as a therapist deal with family who – it’s not that she’s not supportive, but she’s also not supporting her daughter’s choice in that moment.

Right, good point. So that’s really important to not only take into consideration, but understand more about. Just like last week or yesterday we saw Dr. Drew trying to take into consideration and understand more about Drewbee’s father, what which kind of seemed actually urgent, which is why it happened first ’cause he was still hanging around and obviously very influential and through moment to moment experience, when we learned that Jasmen’s mom was giving her this kind of feedback we wanted to understand more about that and as it turned out with Jasmen’s mom she’s a mature person who had a perspective to share, which wasn’t entirely wrong and Jasmen knew this too that she has responsibilities that she really wants to live up to as a wife. Her husband was working full-time having a hard time taking care of their son and working and missed her and wanted her to come back and also wanted her to be able to look at getting a job that she could continue with in sobriety and make money to the family, so I think her mom was pointing out some realities that Jasmen actually understood herself. Jasmen was saying “I need to put my recovery first, that’s going to take longer” and her mom was saying “Well, there’s things that are just as important,” and what we know is in treatment anything you put ahead of recovery, you lose. That if she’d come back really too soon she would have lost those things.

There’s also a lot of interpersonal aggression and irritation between everybody this week, and I was curious if that’s something that happens regularly or if it’s just the personalities in this group that kind of force them all to be a little snippy with each other?

Oh it’s a good question! That really is primarily attributable to the detox and even as they emerge towards the very end of that detox, what you see is the difficulty people have and suddenly now not having their most familiar, most useful coping mechanism, mainly their substance of choice. So people deal with life’s anxiety in lots of different ways and addicts overdo it tremendously, because of their disease with their substance, so that becomes their primary coping method, so if someone’s frustrated they’ll have a drink or a line or take a pill or shoot up and without that their abilities to cope with life’s frustrations are limited. They have to kind of exercise those abilities, kind of like working out at the gym and grow stronger in their ability to deal with frustration. So you’re seeing people who are kind of like babies in a way, just not able to tolerate much and they reach the sort of snapping point very quickly.

Since you mentioned the gym, do many addicts turn to something else besides a substance to kind of focus their energy and to channel their feeling into that might be a little bit more healthy, typically?

Yeah, yeah! Well some people say that you can trade a worse problem for a better problem and you’re going in the right direction and you can keep trading worse for better and eventually you wind up in a pretty good place. A lot of times addicts in recovery smoke a lot of cigarettes, which obviously isn’t so healthy, but if they didn’t already it’s sort of like trading a problem that’s immediately worse for a problem that’s bad over time, but it isn’t as immediately bad. Or trading for coffee — AA meetings are famous for serving a lot of coffee — and you can say “That’s an addictive substance, caffeine, isn’t it?” but it’s not in the same way that cocaine was or alcohol was, so we already see how people do trade and try to find a substitute, which is ultimately in the end going to be healthy, exercise certainly being one. A passion for some kind of vocational training and work or some kind of education is another one. People can get really intensely, enthusiastic about something that can turn out to be a direction to proceed in in life or a healthy past time along the way. The problem is that like all of us addicts want something that’s going to be kind of a quick fix that they can feel right away. The idea of deferred gratification and the idea of long term goals and working towards them as being a superior kind of pleasure; anything anyone wants to hear about, they want something now!