BY EVA LIAO This Christmas, my friend Emma got the new MacBook Pro, Adam scored a new skateboard, Nicole took a ski trip to Colorado and I got an enema. It’s not what you think, you perv. You see, this year I decided to forego the holidays, which was the easy part, and join my mom in holistic rehab, which was the difficult part. You see, my severely bi-polar mother has suffered from ever-worsening alcoholism for about 10 years now and so, oddly enough, rehabs hold a special place in my heart. For years they served as the backdrop for some of our key mother-daughter bonding moments. Plus, you meet the most interesting people in rehabs.
Then again, everybody seems interesting when you’re 12.
Anyway, when my mother asked me if I would attend this family rehab program with her over the holidays, I wasn’t exactly thrilled — what 22 year old wants to NOT party around the holidays? — but I knew she needed me. And so I jumped on the next plane back home to California, San Diego to be exact, land of high colonics and raw foodists. My mother was checking in for a few months, but I was only signing on for the first three weeks. Truth be told, even though I wasn’t the patient, I was afraid what detoxing would do for my poor, overworked liver and hard-won tolerance. I mean, it wasn’t exactly like I was the poster child for sobriety considering that most mornings I woke up on three pills of Ibuprofen and a cigarette. Not to mention I never, ever left my house without my flask.
All told, as anyone who has ever been to rehab will tell you, it was the very best of times, it was the absolute shittiest of times. But in the end, it was time worthwhile.
THE FIVE BEST THINGS ABOUT REHAB:
1. Rehab romance! During my stay, I secretly rendezvoused with a very distinguished-looking older man. This charming gentleman is an ex-New York model turned small-time L.A. actor who, at heart, was born and raised a Santa Monica surf bum. Despite the age gap, he rendered me smitten with his shameless confidence, sharp blue-eyed stare and mysteriously calm machismo. He shared with me delicious stories of his five-year stint of homelessness in Europe while drawing a portrait of me in black and red. He showed me an old photo of himself in an issue of National Geographic catching waves at Venice beach and reminisced about working with Will Ferrell on Talladega Nights. I can’t deny that I fell half in love with him during the time we spent together — until I came home and made the mistake of looking him up on IMDB. Turns out, dude was 56, a number so high I had to retract my invitation for him to visit me in Philadelphia. But in my defense, I’ll be damned if any 56-year-old man ever looked so good.
2. Romance aside, I befriended the most fascinating group of too-smart-and-addicted for-their own-good whack jobs: A well-known Canadian pianist; an eccentric 40-year-old genius (who behaved more like a 12-year-old prodigy on crack), a Rastafarian Peace Corps dropout and a college professor who dazzled me with stories about growing up in Harlem and jazz in the ’70s.
3. A rediscovery of health and THE WILL TO LIVE! You really never know how great health is until you lose it and miraculously get it back. Not only was I fully enjoying the benefits of being sober (the added energy, the vivid thoughts, the hand-eye coordination), but I was in California, which meant substituting breakfast cart bacon breakfast sandwiches smothered in cheese with fresh, plump fruits and vivid green vegetables every day. And like I said, this joint was holistic, which meant yoga in the mornings and meditation in the evenings. If it weren’t for all the people suffering from withdrawal and dealing with neurotic emotional issues, you’d think it was Canyon Ranch.
4. I wasn’t allowed to smoke, so I quit. And now — guess what? — I don’t smoke. No matter what I tell you later at the bar, always remember and never forget: I DO NOT SMOKE.
5. And of course, spending time with the mother proved to be good for the both of us. This Christmas, instead of wanting to throw her out the window or simply feeling helpless and anxiety-ridden around a mom pumped full of meds and her daily intake of 30 cans of beer — I sympathized with her. And I was pleasantly reminded that when sober, my mother was a rather enchanting person. In fact, during the three weeks we spent together, not once did we pull each others’ hair or throw glassware at each other, as we tend to do when together for more than 48 hours. And who knew? Without all the screaming and airborne objects, it was a lot easier to actually have a conversation.
But alas, while those things were great and all, I can’t go on pretending like it was all sunshine and lollipops. It was rehab for God’s sake, which in many ways means it sucked. Which brings us to…
THE FIVE WORST THINGS ABOUT HOLISTIC REHAB:
1. Wheat grass juice — twice a day. And I’m not talking about the sissy, overpriced stuff you get at Jamba Juice. It was the real deal: The grass grown in its own greenhouse, we had to cut it, then take it to the ‘juicing room’ in which we mushed out 2 oz of pungent, nauseating green goop. This thick, pasty liquid tasted worse than the cheapest rotgut I’ve ever had, and yet they say the health benefits are unlimited. Helping the cleansing process along, I forced myself to drink up twice a day, as recommended, because I figured my liver needed the help. And my headaches, itchy skin and chronic fatigue were all sure signs that my own personal detoxing was coming along just fine.
2. Wheat Grass Enemas. Some people (read: coke heads) were advised to snort the wheat grass goop up their nose to clear and heal the nasal passages (burns like hell I hear). I, on the other hand, had it rectally administered during a regularly scheduled colonic. I’ve already made the mistake of explaining this awkward process to friends who will now crudely make fun of me for months, so I’ll just leave the details to your imagination.
3. The Talent Show. Like I said, rehabs like this are basically summer camp for the problem kids. So of course we had to have a talent show, a concept that baffles me to this day because I can’t imagine why anyone would want to see middle-aged, burned-out addicts perform Rod Stewart covers on a 5′x 10′ stage. The images of the 60-year-old contortionist and the goofy Russian kid doing victory jumps on stage still prove painful to remember. But nothing hurt more than watching the skinny, bouncy blond girl sing an off-key version of Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle.” At one point, my “movie star” boyfriend looked at me, flabbergasted, and whispered, “This must be where Christopher Guest gets his material.”
4. Assholes. To state the obvious, living with the sick isn’t easy. It’s an experience that readily tests anybody’s nerves, stomach, compassion and resolve. Watching my mother wither and moan, and then dry heave into a toilet for two hours a day was by far more difficult than weathering my own withdrawal symptoms. Needless to say, detox makes for a lot of unhappy campers, all those raw nerves no longer protected by the numbing balm of Chivas and Xanax, and many of them were straight up dicks. Understandably so, but capital-D Dicks nonetheless.
5. Circle Time. I saved the worst for last: “circle time,” “testimonial time” or any other one of those cheesy group times really, really made me want to shoot myself in the head. Sure, the 12-step classroom time made me cringe as well (classes with titles like “You Validation” and “Discovering Communication”) but nothing was worse than the sessions where people revealed the most personally unflattering, self-pitying stories about drunken sharts (yes, a shart is exactly what you think it is) and the like. It was like passing around your dirty underwear for everyone to laugh at privately while they gave that I understand look. And at the end, we all had to hold hands or even more embarrassingly, hug ourselves — I remember thinking: I’d rather have the enema.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Eva Liao is 23 years old and from Los Angeles. Her favorite band is the Velvet Underground. That’s why we hired her. Eva goes to Temple. Some would call her an intern, but we call her Assistant Editor because we believe the media should empower young people, not belittle and exploit them. But that’s just us.