Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Speech to the graduates of drug rehab

I have worked in journalism for more than 15 years, and I have learned that there are several “staple” stories in this business.

During good times, the “up from nothing” story usually fills the pages of the paper and its website, with tales of someone who started a business with $15 and now is wealthy. Its counterpart is the “lost everything” story, in which someone who had a business or just a good job lost their livelihood and now is down to their last $10 in the world.

The latter’s efforts to secure employment are usually detailed in such stories, and the humiliating rejections, even for low-paid jobs with no benefits, make heart-breaking reading. Local elected officials love such stories of degradation because they often are on the lookout for nonprofits that are supposed to help such folks, and the politicos like to be associated with “helping” nonprofits, especially if those nonprofits can advance the politicos’ agendas or careers. As for the people who are supposed to be helped, well, maybe a few crumbs will land on their plates.

But there’s one story that has become a standard in many papers over the past few years, especially with the growth in prescription drug abuse: the addiction, rehab and recovery story.

The St. Petersburg Times – otherwise a great newspaper that has done some excellent work on political corruption in Florida – is very susceptible to these stories. Hardly a week goes by without some heartwarming tale of a man or woman who has descended into drug abuse, gone through rehab, relapsed, lost their job, their kids (they always have kids) and their home, but are coming back and are determined that – this time – they won’t relapse.

The recovery story’s main subject invariably blames others for his or her plight (“I fell in with the wrong crowd”) or an old injury that required pain pills, to which the person became addicted and then began to steal to buy more. Pharmacy robberies seem to be becoming more common, but even back when I was at the Vero Beach Press-Journal in the early 2000s people were robbing not only pharmacies but also co-workers’ homes for pain pills.

Invariably, the addict goes through rehab, and expects the government to pay for it, again and again. Invariably, the addict either finds a mate and gets her pregnant or gets pregnant with what I like to call “the rehab child.” Either way, addicts “in recovery” find each other at meetings and get married, then have babies, then get addicted again, etc.

Meanwhile, the rest of us just work our asses off trying to stay ahead in the tough economy. We take responsibility for our actions, pay the price for not abandoning our obligations and do what must be done, and are often on the receiving end of addicts’ crimes. Our reward for a job well-done is to see that job go to Mexico or China, and we go to unemployment, where we have to compete with someone in the “glow” of a pseudo-recovery from drugs or alcohol, whereas all we have is a clean record, which no one considers a major accomplishment today.

We may have high school diplomas, degrees from colleges or trade schools, or years of work behind us, but few are so proud as those who have walked the aisle after a bout of drug addiction and a course of rehab. Indeed, so many of them end up as drug and/or alcohol abuse counselors, landing good-paid jobs with benefits to tell others not to do drugs or alcohol, often while themselves relapsing.

So here is the speech I would give to those graduating rehab:

You are probably sitting here, clutching those certificates with such pride, thinking that here’s another speaker who’ll tell me how I’m so wonderful and have accomplished so much.

Well, you’re wrong. In a word, fuck you.

You haven’t done diddly-squat save mouth the same platitudes at the same encounter groups, sitting in circles, holding hands and talking about your addiction like it’s a person out to get you.

Some of you met mates in rehab, and I can see how the confessional aspect of “talking rehab” can make you attractive to others. While the government footed the bill, you went out and developed relationships, went on dates, planned for your future and probably produced unfortunate children who, when you relapse, will undoubtedly end up in foster care or wards of the state.

You’ve never been responsible. Nothing’s your fault. Not the fact that you took pain pills, crushed them and then mixed them with water and shot the solution into your veins; not the fact that you stole from people; perhaps robbed a pharmacy; screwed over friends, relatives and family; and became a burden on society.

Today is a celebration of your narcissism and new-found self-righteousness, but tomorrow, when your “rehab child” is sitting in a cruddy diaper, the house looks like a whirlwind passed through it and you’re “tweaking” again and telling yourself “I’ve got it under control and can stop when I want this time,” you’ll reassure yourself that you’ll start going to meetings and “get clean.”

And you probably will, because you have a child. That makes you a “wonderful parent” in the delusion of the modern era that sees having children as a fabulous accomplishment, even if you can’t figure out how to pick your nose successfully.

You’ve been fucking around your whole life and laughing at people like me, who obeyed the rules, went to work, went to school, did what was expected and now have to break our asses just to stay in place economically. I didn’t get to go to parties on Friday and Saturday night, because I worked for a living and couldn’t get those nights off.

While you were sitting in a circle and feeling sorry for yourself and “sharing” about your addiction, I was on the night shift. No one cared about my feelings or my loneliness, which I had to ameliorate through non-drug pursuits. You babble about how the love of a mate saved you; well, some of us have had to save ourselves alone because we were too busy working to compensate for your lack of effort at work.

The local newspaper probably documented your latest rehab stint, with uplifting stories in its religion section like “Faith helps local mom rise above drug addiction” and “Local dad says he’s clean for life this time, with God’s help.”

And after you relapse, they’ll do the story again. It’s an old game. Addiction, rehab, recovery, relapse; second verse, same as the first.

So-called experts even say relapses are normal. That’s really good to know. So we in the real world can look forward to paying for your bullshit again. Lovely. I’ll think about that on Friday night, when I’m breaking my ass while you’re screwing up your life and expecting the government to bail you out.

Oh, you complain, I expected an uplifting speech and not criticism. Well, tough shit. You’re back in the real world and not everyone buys your line of crap. Call someone who gives a crap, and save the complaints for your sponsor.

To quote Alec Baldwin in the great film “Glengarry Glen Ross”: “I’d wish you good luck, but you wouldn’t know what to do with it.”

You lazy, no good, low-life bums.


July 18, 2011 - Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , ,


  1. Mr. Safuto,
    I am sure there there are many grains of truth in what you have written. However, I would like to congratulate you on your ability to have made it to this point in life that you have not given in to your demon’s. I am sure an educated man like you knows all the sociological blah-blah behind drug addiction. Hence, your very much to the right of right point of view.

    You have the joy of being a reporter and I am sure able to figure things out..I suggest you see the bigger picture and connect the dots. A drug addicts life does not -exist in a bubble, things happen to set the wheels in motion. Drugs and wrong crowds are not a figment of the imagination. I had a co-worker, who after many years of trying to deal with the “low-life’s” addiction and issues, lost that person in the worst possible way.

    The story did not end there, no release was given, only guilt, remorse so deep, that my co-worker had to take family medical leave and for many months after their break it was touch and go.
    I do not know the outcome, but I would like to believe they are finally on their road to life again.

    I do know that if the “low life” as you so put it, had a choice, death would not have been an option. Perhaps, if possible they would have chosen a better path, and in some sort of alternate universe ended up being someone you might want to know.
    Dig a little deeper, not just at the level of your disgust, apply your skills and see the whole playing field.

    Comment by MIke | July 29, 2011 | Reply

  2. I agree with Safuto. I use to be one of the low lifes. But when I decided to quit blaming everyone else for my issues and looked in the mirror things changed. Bottom line if one truly wants to change for the better and quit wallowing in self pity it is possible.

    Comment by Fred | September 20, 2014 | Reply

  3. I’m a drug addict. I’m also a tax attorney with three graduate degrees and I run mergers and acquisitions for some of the world’s largest companies out of silicon valley. I can assure you, I’m not lazy. I’m responsible and have accomplished much more professionally and academically than this author ever will. My addict friends are some of the most compassionate and wonderful people I’ve ever met – from those that work blue collar jobs to those that are silicon valley executives. I feel sorry for this author – perhaps he should spend 30 days in an inpatient program before writing an opinion piece on what he’d say to rehab graduates. Mr. Safuto, you missed it on so many levels.

    Comment by thewrestler007 | March 13, 2015 | Reply

  4. You’re an asshole. Plain and simple.

    Comment by Shanna | April 3, 2015 | Reply

  5. I have read this and I can hear the bitterness did someone in addiction hurt you ? your mom ? dad? maybe your wife? I am in recovery and the road was not paved well it was bumpy as hell and I earned my place. the disease of addiction kicked my ass I can sit here ad tell my story,but im not what I will tell you is passing judgement will get you into trouble.

    Comment by tekeyia fraling | May 31, 2015 | Reply

  6. Your ignorance is astounding! YOU don’t pay for anyone to rehab nor does the government. As a matter of fact most insurances (paid for by the addict) does not cover but a few days. I was looking for your references for the information presented here but shockingly there are none. You have zero understanding of addiction and rehabilitation. Perhaps a good look at self would benefit you as you obviously have some irrational emotions surrounding addiction. I appreciate the good laugh however.

    Comment by Jessica | February 16, 2017 | Reply

  7. I came to this blog thinking that it was going to be a speech to help me, or give me ideas on what to say at my graduation for Drug Court. A very successful program that has helped me work on myself to become a better person. I have worked hard over the past year. Over 100 drug test, over 48 weeks of groups, 12 one on ones with my counselor, probation fees, fines, restitution, support group meetings, check ins twice a month with the probation officer and I had to attend drug court every week to check in with the Judge. I worked hard! I struggled, but one thing I never did was give up. No matter how much I wanted or how strong the feeling was I never gave up. There are some people who don’t take it seriously and do it because they have to, but there are those that actually do want to change and have the willingness to want to change. There is a success rate. People do change. Have a better day Vincent and try to have a little compassion for the people who are suffering over this sick disease.

    Comment by Cece | May 11, 2017 | Reply

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