Thai rehab clinic that saved my life

 

Keith* started drinking alcohol at an early age.

At 13 or 14, he started smoking dope which he says went hand-in-hand with the surfing culture on Sydney's northern beaches in the 1990s.

As he got older, he began to experiment with ecstasy, speed and LSD but says at that stage, it was never an issue - he was always able to perform academically, on the sports field and in the surf.

When he was 18 and started working, drinking and drug-taking became more regular and while he often saw his family and friends, over time Keith's life began to spiral out of control.

Keith, of Manly, was working in the media earning big bucks and with that high-flying lifestyle came a "work hard, play hard" mentality that saw him abusing alcohol and cocaine as part of his fast-paced existence - which eventually, all came crashing down.

"Financially, I lost everything," he says.

"I had a house, I had a job - a very good paying job - I was married, I have a daughter. All my friends left me even when I needed support. I'd ring, email, whatever and no one got back to me anymore.

Keith nearly lost everything after struggling for almost two decades with addiction.
Keith nearly lost everything after struggling for almost two decades with addiction.

"I ended up living in youth hostels or renting a room from some strangers that I didn't know.

"Day by day it was Centrelink payments coming through - 270 bucks a week to pay for rent, food, everything to make sure that I could have 50 bucks to see my daughter on weekends, and even then my ex-wife would make sure I did a breathalyser test to actually spend four hours with my kid to make sure it was OK.

"Then, you know, I'd have my stints in hospital or in rehab when I couldn't go see her or I couldn't work or do anything like that, so I was losing everything but, you know, not the will to stop using and drinking, that stuck with me …

"So to lose family, friends, house, car, my daughter, all that kind of stuff - I lost everything, I was about two days away from living on the streets."

Keith started to experience regular seizures, would wake up in psych wards with no memory of how he got there and everything he had worked hard for was gone. He had little else to lose - except his life.

In his darkest days of alcohol and cocaine addiction, the 42-year-old, who is now sober after completing a three-month program at the Aussie-run treatment centre Lanna Rehab in Chiang Mai, Thailand, said he did things he'd never have done if not under the influence.

"Lying - like, outright lying to cover my addiction; be it be to myself, be it to my family, be it to my friends. I was verbally abusive to people that loved me because I had no control," he says.

 

Keith finally got clean thanks to treatment at Lanna Rehab, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Keith finally got clean thanks to treatment at Lanna Rehab, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

"The hospital stays and even when I had some psychotic breaks because of the using as well, I'd end up in psych wards not knowing how or why I got there, the seizures. Things like that.

"I was on a plane going to LA in business class - this is in my heavy, got loads of money days and so I spent stupid amounts of money.

"Before getting to LA, I had a seizure on the plane and didn't know I'd had a seizure because nothing came on beforehand, it was I was just there and then next thing I know I'm waking up and there's a neurosurgeon … and a nurse on board and they hooked me up to an IV from the overhead luggage compartment.

"Then I got taken off the plane on a gurney and was whisked through immigration, and ambulance sirens all that kind of stuff to get me from the airport to the hospital. Spent three or four days there.

"When I felt OK, I went back out and then started using and drinking again as soon as I got out of hospital."

Another time, Keith had just dropped off his then seven-year-old daughter after their "daddy-daughter day" and went to pick up some groceries when he had another seizure at the checkout and woke up on the supermarket floor with a cut on the back of his head.

"All I could think was 15 minutes ago I was with my daughter, a seven-year-old. I couldn't imagine the impact it would have had on her, the poor thing would have just been there with Daddy lying on the floor having a seizure.

"It would have ruined any chance of me seeing her again had that happened with her around. I would have damaged her mentally, emotionally, she would have been scared - scared of her own father - and that just absolutely terrified me.

"It was one of the most harrowing experiences just knowing that 15 or 20 minutes beforehand she would have been with me."

 

Keith with Lanna CEO Darren Lockie, sitting next to the centre’s outdoor swimming pool.
Keith with Lanna CEO Darren Lockie, sitting next to the centre’s outdoor swimming pool.

Keith said he attended four different privately-run rehab centres multiple times for quite "clinical" four to five-week programs. He says they had hospital beds, the staff took mobile phones off clients at the door, the program was "quite structured" with groups in place run by "suit-wearing professor types" and there was little "human connection".

"The environment was kind of 'hospital', the food was quite 'hospital', the communal area was a tiny courtyard, you weren't really allowed out for free time, there were no excursions," Keith says.

"You were forced to go to a meeting every night even if you didn't want to or didn't believe in the (12) step program - so 'suck it up, you're going', even if the anxiety was there or you were feeling unwell, you were forced to follow their instructions.

"Mentally I was rebelling. I was taking notes in the class I was attending, but I wasn't taking any of it in because I thought, 'This is all bulls**t' and, 'They don't know who I am'."

For Keith, every four to five-week stint in rehab was just "having a break" from using and drinking. He emerged feeling better, looking healthier and went straight back to boozing.

"I was given no tools after leaving. That was the biggest thing. There was nothing that would change after I left these places and nothing was hammered into me that it's not just stopping, it's actually changing your entire life when you leave this place," he says.

"And that's what I found. There was no 'going forward' except go to meetings, that's all you need to do. Go to meetings, be accountable and then you should be right. And I tried and I failed on more than one occasion."

 

No ‘hospital’ beds here. One of the 24 luxury bedrooms.
No ‘hospital’ beds here. One of the 24 luxury bedrooms.

KEITH FUNDED REHAB USING SUPERANNUATION

Nothing really stuck until he checked into Lanna Rehab, a boutique 24-bed treatment centre set in a tranquil spot surrounded by rice fields in Chiang Mai, Thailand, founded four years ago by Aussie CEO Darren Lockie.

Like many addicts, Keith desperately needed treatment quickly but didn't have the cash to pay for it so applied to get early access to his superannuation which he used to fully fund his three-month stay.

Under new rules brought in by the Federal Government, Aussies can now apply to access their superannuation early to pay for drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

"The biggest thing that's different for me this time is I've committed to three months, straight off the bat," Keith says. "I wasn't going to back out of it.

"I didn't know what the program was going to be but it was a different environment, different people, I knew that the structure of the program was going to be very different to what I'm used to.

"It was focusing not only on my addiction problem but also the physical health, how I would eat, regular exercise, free time, keeping in contact with my family, being accountable for my own actions but having a strict schedule and routine - things I was not able to do myself."

He also said he made the firm decision that, "I'm done with going to rehabs, I'm done with that way of life." Seeing Lanna, Keith's first impression was, "This is the right place.

"The absolute vibe and feeling of this place was, 'This isn't a hospital. This is a place where you're going to get well'. Physically, mentally healthier, it's an environment that nurtures you.

"It was an absolute relief, and I was overwhelmed but in a really positive way. I knew I was in the right place."

 

A large focus of the rehab experience is on health, mindfulness and wellness.
A large focus of the rehab experience is on health, mindfulness and wellness.

 

Looking at pictures of Lanna, it could easily be mistaken for a luxury holiday resort - a far cry from clinical rehab centres - with immaculate airconditioned rooms featuring king-size beds, badminton and basketball courts, a 25-metre outdoor swimming pool, meditation sessions, massage, reiki and a gym.

The food, which is specially prepared daily by a resident chef, looks delicious. Clients are taken out on weekend excursions to temples in Chiang Mai and water parks, they meet local wildlife such as majestic elephants, take early morning bike rides and go kayaking.

With just 24 rooms, Lanna is a five-star holistic treatment centre and accepts clients who are determined to beat their addictions, take part in daily personal training sessions, boxing, yoga, bike rides and kayaking, in addition to individualised and group therapy.

All in all, it seems the perfect way to recover from years of emotional pain caused by an uncontrollable, destructive addiction. This is rehab done right.

"I know every single client who walks through the door," says Mr Lockie, who has decades of experience in treating mental health and addiction and also runs Dara Rehab in Chiang Mai.

"This is a community of supportive, positive people. People are not punished for being addicts.

"A lot of people have been struggling for a long, long time … they cannot keep going on this way and their addiction is leading their life into a bad place.

"If people are in a position, if they cannot get help today or next week, they will give up. What we offer is rehab at a reasonable, affordable price."

 

Weekend activities include kayaking …
Weekend activities include kayaking …

 

People travel from all over the world to get to Lanna, including from Europe, the UK, Hong Kong, New Zealand, America, Singapore and of course Australia where 35 per cent of clients are from. Most of them have been abusing drugs or alcohol due to underlying mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, stress or trauma.

Some like Keith had high-powered jobs that led to addiction and burnout; others are stressed-out mums struggling to cope with juggling full-time work, young children and running a household; some work in Hong Kong's notoriously demanding finance markets and its around-the-clock office culture.

They may have suffered a trauma, the death of a loved one, lost a job, had a relationship breakdown or got into trouble with the law - everyone has their own story but elements are often very similar.

 

 

 

"There may be a lot of stress in their job and life in general," Mr Lockie says. "They use drugs or alcohol to help them deal with that. We help them to get clean and focus on why they are doing what they're doing."

Lanna treats people addicted to a range of substances, including alcohol, cocaine, heroin, opiates, meth, marijuana and prescription drugs. After the initial detox, all clients attend group therapy, classes and excursions, and unlike other centres, they are not forced to give up their mobile phone so they can keep in touch with loved ones.

The average all-inclusive stay at Lanna costs around $11,000 - a third of the price it would cost to provide the same rehab experience in Australia, according to Mr Lockie.

Clients are also taken to temples where they can be blessed by a Buddhist monk.
Clients are also taken to temples where they can be blessed by a Buddhist monk.

 

Lanna uses a blend of psychological techniques, including cognitive behavioural therapy, has therapists trained in specialised areas such as sexual abuse or post-traumatic stress disorder and holds two 12-step program meetings - used by Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous - as an introduction for those who wish to attend AA or NA after leaving the centre.

All clients are offered face-to-face therapy sessions over Skype once they return home and yearly return visits to Thailand for a refresher.

"While I'm not a big believer in the 12-steps program, it's a good support network," Mr Lockie says.

He said Lanna's tranquil location helped in the healing process, while being emersed in Thai and Buddhist culture made some people reassess their life. Some clients even decided to stay in Chiang Mai after their treatment was over.

"You see people walking through the rice fields, these are people who have nothing. They are certainly not poor but they work very hard for what they have," Mr Lockie says.

"For some (clients), their home would not have been healthy for them to go back to. A good number of people end up staying in Chiang Mai."

 

*Name has been changed

For further information about Lanna Rehab or Dara Rehab visit lannarehab.com or dararehab.com. For help with alcohol and drug problems visit DrinkWise for a list of support services.

 

Aussie Darren Lockie is CEO of two Thai rehab centres, Lanna and Dara.
Aussie Darren Lockie is CEO of two Thai rehab centres, Lanna and Dara.
Chefs prepare delicious and healthy food for Lanna clients.
Chefs prepare delicious and healthy food for Lanna clients.
All of these plush rooms have king-sized beds and are airconditioned.
All of these plush rooms have king-sized beds and are airconditioned.
The tranquil setting of Lanna, Chiang Mai, which is surrounded by rice fields.
The tranquil setting of Lanna, Chiang Mai, which is surrounded by rice fields.
… and meeting elephants in Chiang Mai.
… and meeting elephants in Chiang Mai.
Bike riding is an important part of the exercise regimen that clients go through.
Bike riding is an important part of the exercise regimen that clients go through.

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