THE BLOG
09/18/2013 11:50 am ET Updated Nov 18, 2013

My Journey to Hazelden: 50 Days That Changed Everything

I flew to Minneapolis airport in 1989 preparing to check into Hazelden Drug and Alcohol Rehab Center. I was told that some representatives from the rehab would be at baggage claim to pick me up. I was overcome with anxiety when I got to the busy baggage claim area. I headed over to a pay phone, picked up the receiver, pretended to put a quarter into the phone, dialed a few numbers and started to speak as if someone was on the other line. I looked around nonchalantly as if I were engaged in a lovely, meaningful conversation. I imagined that if you were watching me, you'd think I was completely at ease, on top of my game and attractive in just about every way. I certainly did not believe I looked like someone who was headed to rehab. So you can imagine my surprise when, in the midst of this frenetic, hectic busy baggage claim area, this guy taps me on my shoulder and says, "You MUST be heading to Hazelden. Is your name Tommy Rosen?"

When I arrived in rehab, I was acutely aware that all my thoughts, words and actions up to that point in my life had led me to this place. This was the result of the sum total of all my activities. I felt like a failure. I had failed at life. What I could not realize was that I had hit the jackpot. My authentic self was awakening.

I was about to get an opportunity to review my entire life. I was going to be able to see where things had gotten so off track. I was going to learn how to be honest and what to do about the fact that I had not been for so long. I would get to review my family history, my drug history, my relationship/sexual history and my financial history. Every cranny of my existence would be put under a microscope. Counselors and peers would help me to look at my life and make sense of it.

I would get turned onto the 12-steps while at Hazelden, and I would actually do steps one through five during my stay. Both my mom and dad would come separately to spend a week learning about the dis-ease of addiction and their part in our family's dynamic and challenges. The week they each spent at Hazelden would impact both of them in powerful ways. In my mom's case, she would end up attending a family's anonymous group every week up until her death a few years later. Bridges were built between us.

I had a personal counselor named Pat Mitchell. She used to call me curly top because of my curly hair, which is now long gone. She had been through a lot in her life. I never learned any of the details. She had a kind of wisdom that a person only gets from the experience of hardship. She was super loving, kind and warm, but she was no pushover. God, I needed someone like that. I met with her privately in her office two times a week. In one of our sessions she asked me to tell her about Rene, my beloved English nanny who had basically raised me from about 3 to 8 years old. Six years after Rene had left our employ, my mom told me that Rene had called her to tell her that she was sick. She had brain cancer and was heading back to England to settle her affairs. After not seeing her for six years, I ran into Rene "randomly" that next day in the middle of New York City. I knew she was dying, but she did not know that I knew. I had an opportunity to tell her how much she had meant to me. I really let her know how special she was.

As I recounted this story to Pat in rehab, my heart cracked open and the tears began. So much grief poured out of me. I could not pull it back together. I kept crying and crying for about a half hour. These were the only tears i would shed at Hazelden, but the depth of the release and healing in that moment was enough to open me up to Grace and to begin to recover from my dis-ease. Pat Mitchell was an angel in my life. I have never spoken to her since then. I hope she is alive and that she reads this piece and realizes that not a day goes by when I don't think of her and the space she held for me.

I had a monumental healing at Hazelden. I remember the day I left. I was not sure what was going to happen. I truly needed a one-day-at-a-time approach to living if I were going to get through in one piece. I had come a long way in 50 days, as long perhaps as one could come in such a short amount of time. The thought i had upon leaving was that this experience I've just had is a gift that every human being should experience at the age of 22 before they go out into the world to live their life. The tools I learned there are with me to this day. It was an invaluable experience.

It is therefore beyond my wildest dreams that Hazelden has stepped up as the lead sponsor for my upcoming Recovery 2.0 Online Conference on Sept. 28 - Oct. 2, which is dedicated to helping people thrive in recovery from addiction. If you had told me 24 years ago that I would be creating an addiction and recovery conference and that Hazelden would be partnering with me on that, I'd have thought you were the one who belonged in rehab instead of me.

There is an old saying. If you want to make God laugh, tell God your plans. I'm so amazed and grateful at how things have turned out. I really couldn't have seen this all coming.

-- Tommy Rosen

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.

P.S. If you or anyone you know has been touched by addiction, sign up for the FREE online Recovery 2.0 Conference. Thrive in your Recovery!

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For more on addiction and recovery, click here.

For more by Tommy Rosen, click here.

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