I'm always hearing people go on and on about how American rehab clinics are the best in the world. You gotta be kidding me! Sure, the U.S. has a few decent clinics, but after being in and out of rehab for three years on the other side of the pond, I think I'm qualified to say that rehab clinics are way cooler in Europe.
I was in a 35-day program in Austria, trying to kick heroin, and my roommate was this 74-year-old Viennese guy named Jorg. Every morning, he'd boil up a pot of coffee, take a deep breath, and stick his hand in it. In the middle of the night, he'd be up with the shakes, sweating profusely and screaming all this crazy shit in German. I swear, man, it was like something out of a Burroughs novel. How fucking cool is that? You're not going to see shit like that in some lame clinic in Sacramento.
One of the patients on my floor, a guy who'd been there for 35 years, told me all about the history of the place, how it once survived a World War II looting when doctors told the Nazi SS that beloved opera singer Ernestine Schumann-Heink was near death and recuperating there. His stories about the clinic were so fascinating, I nearly forgot about my convulsions. Meanwhile, the only good story I've ever heard in an American rehab clinic was when some guy freaked out on PCP and lit the drapes on fire. I think it was at Horizon House in Atlanta.
I don't see how anybody could check into an American clinic when they could be rehabbing overseas. It's just so much cooler and grittier to take your methadone standing in front of a window overlooking the Rhone. You know, more... authentic. Over there, you're surrounded by all these colorful characters named Per and Gianfredo who'd be perfect for your movie script. I mean, who wants to detox with some guy named Brad from Cleveland Heights?
Another thing that's way cooler about the European clinics is the architecture. This one clinic I was in last summer in Rotterdam was in this building that had been there since, like, the early 1600s. I can't name one American rehab clinic that's been around since 1950—not even Hazelden. It was a beautiful building, too, full of old wood detailing and intricate stonework. After a week of shitting myself because I was too wracked with withdrawal pain to get up, I was finally able to check out the gargoyles on the entryway's stone façade, and I was totally blown away. Here in America, there's just no sense of culture or history like that.
It's going to be hard to go back to rehab in the U.S. and choke down the swill they call food: scrambled eggs or oatmeal for breakfast, a sandwich and chips for lunch, a dinner of meatloaf or, if the cooks are feeling wild, cheese pizza. Pitiful. Over in Europe, though, it's a whole different story. Those people know how to eat. From the golumkis in Warsaw to the pork loin smothered in locally grown olives in Madrid, Europeans know the perfect way to end a day of group therapy. The food was so good, I would do everything in my power to keep from puking all over myself during withdrawal.
One rehab center I especially enjoyed was in Nice, in the south of France. I woke up on a cot with blood pouring out of my mouth and nose, but after the bleeding stopped and I got my DTs under control, I got a chance to poke around a bit. The grounds were beautiful and, provided you weren't deemed suicidal, you could spend the day looking at the scenery or checking out the elaborate fountains that dotted the courtyard. Nice is near the sea, and if the wind is just right you can smell the salty air, which really helps you forget that all you want to do is jam needle after needle of smack into your veins.
The first time I checked into a European rehab clinic—I believe it was Prague—I thought I'd have a hard time communicating. But most of the nurses over there speak great English, or at least enough to warn you to stop trying to claw your eyes out during those first few weeks without heroin. Many of the patients spoke English and were fluent in other languages, as well. I can't tell you how many fascinating people I met while cleaning up. They all had these amazing stories about overdosing in the Czech countryside or in the Greek Isles. It was such a broadening experience, it made me want to get a Eurail pass and OD all across Europe.
Best of all, I made some great friends during my detox experiences overseas. I've even invited some of them to crash at my pad in Miami. I don't think I ever met anyone in a U.S. rehab clinic that I'd ever want to see on the outside. But that's the great thing about traveling abroad and experiencing new drug cultures. It can't help but open you up to new things.