My Family Rehab Trauma

Amanda Eversmann By: Amanda Eversmann
Reviewed By: Dr Stanton Peele

Posted on June 28th, 2024
This content was written in accordance with our Editorial Guidelines.

How my family and I rejected AA, the disease theory of addiction, and oppressive rehabs to embrace harm reduction, personal agency in recovery and belief in ourselves.


Three years ago, my older sister (actually my half sister— 14 years older — we have the same father) Jessica, invited me to attend family week at her daughter’s (Anna) alcohol inpatient rehab. Also in attendance: my sister’s husband, her mother (my dad’s ex-wife), and Megan, Anna’s younger sister.

It might seem surprising that I — the half sister — was included rather than other relations. But it’s been important to my father and his ex-wife that the family be close. And I have always been particularly close to Anna.

There was another reason I was included. I had only gotten out of rehab and been “sober” — a term I no longer use to describe myself — two years earlier.

But even then, calling myself sober, I wasn’t a good fit with rehab. I had broken up with AA primarily because I didn’t need to abstain from all substances. I had been drinking in moderation and occasionally smoking marijuana.  For me — who had been addicted to pain pills and cocaine — the decisive factor was whether or not I used a substance to hide from my feelings.

The Rehab

The rehab already made me nervous because their philosophy was that AA was the only viable recovery support group. At the time I was attending Recovery Dharma and SMART Recovery meetings.

Moreover, the rehab doubled down on abstinence. It made clients abstain from all “harmful substances,” including nicotine, caffeine, gluten, and sugar.

You could say I was on edge from the get go.  But I set aside my personal beliefs (and my gut feelings) and went in with an open mind and promised myself to trust the “experts.”

At this point, despite being uncomfortable with AA, I still subscribed to the accepted belief that addiction was disease. And I still introduced myself as an addict.

In other words, I was in a kind of no (wo)mans land, halfway between the disease theory and harm reduction.

The Trauma Begins

The night before the family was to show up, the owner of the rehab called to tell us that Anna was in the ER. Despite the abstinence philosophy of the rehab, she had access to hand sanitizer, whose primary ingredient is alcohol.

My sister was understandably angry. But the owner shrugged off her concern and discounted any responsibility on the part of the rehab. What made me especially angry was that they laid all the responsibility on Anna.  Even I (who didn’t have an alcohol problem) knew that rehabs removed all access to products that contain alcohol. We decided to set aside the hand sanitizer incident because we were committed to the goals of family week.

But, after we arrived, the superciliousness of the owner continued.

First I noticed that the owner lost patience every time that Anna spoke about the father of her son. Whenever Anna would say anything positive about her fiancée (her baby daddy), the owner, annoyed, would tell Anna that her fiancé couldn’t be a good person since he “decided” not to attend family week. (Reality check: her fiancé was concerned that taking time off would endanger a new job he has just taken.)

Me and the Owner

The owner’s criticism of Anna troubled me. Why would the owner insist on setting Anna against her baby’s father?

I have strong opinions and have a tendency to speak my mind. I began getting uncomfortable with things the owner would say to Anna regarding trauma. The owner insisted that Anna must have suffered a major trauma as a child in her family’s home. Anna said that wasn’t true. The owner insisted that “no one” with substance use disorder has such a happy life.

I started speaking up and at one point the owner stopped me and asked me about my credentials. She made it clear that she was the professional and I was not. It was a very demeaning interaction.

Amidst these hard conversations, my family has a tendency to resort to humor. At the beginning of the second day, my family and I showed up a little early and we were sitting around joking and laughing. The owner came in and sat down. I noticed right away she was annoyed. But my family continued to joke around. Eventually the owner said loudly, “I notice there’s a lot of laughing and joking going on. What do you think that means?”

My sister answered, “It means we’re a close-knit family and we like to have fun.”

“No,” the owner said, “it means you’re all traumatized.”

Throughout the process the owner would find ways that each of us suffered from different addictions and that we all needed treatment. The owner told me that I needed to attend OA (Overeaters Anonymous) and that I had substituted sugar for drugs. She spent quite a bit of time letting me know I was overweight and refused to accept that I was comfortable in my own body.

When my sister spoke up in my defense the owner told her that she talked too much and that she should consider seeking treatment for a talking addiction! (Is that even a thing?) My dad’s ex-wife was told she had an addiction to her work and possibly alcohol.

On the last day the owner solemnly looked at us and said, “I am very worried about Anna, but the person I am most concerned about is Megan (Anna’s younger sister).” She then went on to tell us that Megan was clearly a “love addict” and needed to begin treatment immediately.

The Present

Because of the incident with the hand sanitizer, my sister will be filing a complaint with the state licensing board. She is also considering filing a lawsuit (all names in this story have been changed because of this).

My family removed Anna from this facility and immediately had her placed in a new 30 day in-patient program. This new program gave her access to emotional support animals, EMDR, let her smoke, and didn’t restrict her diet. I’m not necessarily recommending these techniques. But what the new program DID do was focus on her alcohol use and mental health.

And respect her and her personal autonomy.

When Anna left the second facility she came home to her loving family and to be with her son. She and her fiancé got married soon after and made a plan for Anna to start working and go back to school. It is my opinion that she outgrew her alcohol problem, which she no longer displays.

I have changed a lot too. I very much regret that I so forcefully recommended my niece attend an in-patient disease-oriented facility. I have decisively rejected the disease view of addiction. I now place the primary emphasis in recovery on self-development and maturity.

Taking responsibility for your life is the key element in recovery. In fact I no longer call the process “recovery,” but rather living your life.

 Final Reflections

 When I now look back on my family’s experience I am shocked by how much we endured at the hands of a rehab facility.

Aside from endangering my niece’s life by allowing her access to alcohol in hand sanitizer, she and her opinions — her whole life — were minimized and demeaned. As were those of her entire family.



I also have obviously become a more decisive exponent of harm reduction.

And I see the key ingredients to “recovery” — further life development — as being to:

  1. Resolve emotional issues.
  2. Engage with family.
  3. Commit to work and other life engagements.
  4. Achieve personal maturity.
  5. Believe in yourself.

None of which is encouraged by 12-step disease rehabs.



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