Full Speed Ahead

Lindsay Lohan is back in rehab. Back? Wasn't she just there? Fellow bad girl Britney Spears wasn't in long enough for her hair to grow back. Meanwhile, Paris Hilton zipped right by rehab and picked up the GO DIRECTLY TO JAIL card.

In the last year or so, rehab has become the ultimate publicity tool, a brief break from the glitzy life, a chance to burnish one's reputation. (The bad girls aren't alone in this regard; see Mel Gibson, Isaiah Washington.) What we've forgotten is that rehab is supposed to result in rehabilitation. Hence the name. Rehabilitating one's life, when it's broken and damaged, is not just a weekend stay.

I never went to rehab. I should have. I plunged willingly, desperately, into addiction at the pliable age of 15. My poison, my love, was speed. It came in pretty colored tablets called amphetamines. Over the years it changed to capsules--some clear with orange and black granules inside, some pure black. Like the devil. Like hell.

Like the hell I lived in well into my 20s. Cocaine replaced pills at some point. But that wasn't a big change. I was on the same rushing road--the road that too often leads to a fiery blinding end, way before your years would justify death by anything other than a speeding car or a bullet.

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I quit because I decided not to die. I quit all alone--the same way I started. I quit in spite of long nights when the taste of cocaine would come up in my throat--drifting up out of my cells, I guess--and I wanted it so badly my nails dug into my palms until they drew blood. I quit by trying to live inside a body that was so much older than my years--I could actually feel my blood, my organs lurching along, almost like they were asking what they were supposed to do without the jacked up jolt of the drugs they'd gotten used to for so many years. My thoughts, my head, my dreams … black doesn't even begin to describe that territory. For over a decade, I'd only known the world through the blur of speed.

It was the late '70s. There probably was rehab in some form, but I didn't know, and I didn't search. I wish so badly now that I had been able to go into a facility like the ones that abound now. An environment dedicated to pushing me into wellness. An environment with people who had already stumbled down the road that was before me, people who could teach me, console me, shake me up. People who knew my excuses, my rationalizations, my manipulations even before they came out of my mouth.

It makes me angry when I see how the opportunity of being in rehab can be abused as nothing more than a slick PR move. A brief retreat from the paparazzi. How lucky these celebrities are to be able to go to one of these facilities (which are not cheap) and to benefit from the wisdom and help that waits behind the gates.

I struggled for years to learn on my own what someone like Lohan could learn in months, if she were willing to do so. Of course, that learning also has to be followed by practice. Every day. Forever. But it can start in rehab.

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Abusing ourselves with any kind of substance abuse is a violation of the gift of life--it isn't what any of us were put here for. And treating rehab like it's just a strategic career move is practically blasphemous.

I imagine the other people in these rehab facilities, watching a celebrity breeze in for a week or so, then leave. I imagine their anger--actually, I don't have to imagine it, I feel it, too. It's hard to fix the places where you're broken, hard to wrestle with your demons. If you don't take the help that's available along the way, there will come a day when you are left all alone with demons that have grown so big and so vicious that you can't defeat them. A lot of people know that and commit themselves to the hard and serious work of rehab. They're the ones who won't face the bleak, dark road that waits beyond the bright lights they think define them.

Full Speed Ahead | U.S.