Flash forward to Drew perching on the edge of a plush sectional couch in his den, DVD remote control in hand, the rough edit of episode one in the machine. Just this afternoon, the show's producers sent it over to him, the first hint of what they've done with three weeks' worth of filming. "Do you mind if we take a look at this?" Drew asks earnestly. "I'm dying to see."
Is that a rhetorical question? Watching Drew watch Celebrity Rehab is its own entertaining show. His eyes track the screen as the nine celebs, some of them in varying degrees of intoxication, walk through the doors of the Pasadena Recovery Center for the first time. "That was one of the biggest challenges initially. Most of them arrived supersick, and they all arrived at once. That's not how it usually happens."
Another big difference between these TV patients and his normal charges was the motivation: "All I normally have is a stick, the threat of: 'You're out of here if you step out of line,' as opposed to, 'Hey, we are going to pay you and put you on TV!' That carrot just changed the rules of the game, and I almost want to do it a couple more times so I can figure it out better. I spent a lot of time getting them into the fear of their disease, but fear wasn't as effective for this group as the carrot. I always had to stay on my toes and figure out how I could pull and build their motivation. I am not used to that at all."
Treatment included medical monitoring, group and individual counseling, yoga, lectures, journal work, and video diaries that were added in for TV. Drew tried, he says, to tread a line of doing very confrontational, "evocative" work while not retraumatizing this group of people who had each experienced some level of suffering in their formative years. Among the discoveries viewers will make (without revealing too much of the action) are that Jeff Conaway was sexually abused as a child, and that Mary Carey had a schizophrenic mother who was not able to care for her. And then there is Jessica Sierra, the daughter of a prostitute who died of a drug overdose when Jessica was a teenager, her body discovered in the backyard of "some random person," as she puts it.
Drew still worries he went too far in trying to get Jessica to stare down the pain of her youth by bringing in a couple of recovering prostitute mothers to talk with her. "Thirty seconds in I knew it was totally wrong," he confesses. "I should have immediately said, 'Excuse me, ladies, I need some time with Jessica, please leave right now.'" Instead, the results were "shattering."
By then the nonstop filming and the demands of the program may have taken their toll on Drew. (He freely admits that the stress of trying to get everyone sober and responsibly portray the nitty-gritty of the rehab process turned him into a nervous wreck.) "It was so intense and anxiety producing, by the end of the show my radar was just not working well. It was like a fuse was blown. Which was okay for the patients, because the lion's share was done and I was able to let [the other counselors] come in more, but it was disconcerting for me because I am used to knowing what's going on with everybody instinctively.
"Of course, I retreated into my idealization," he adds, referring to his penchant for eternal optimism. "I thought everyone would get sober—you know what I mean? That's my little fantasy world, where everybody gets well."
The screen goes blank as the footage of episode one ends. Drew's initial reaction seems to be guardedly hopeful. Yes, there are fancy jump cuts and the usual music-television editing, but so far the show doesn't seem overly sensationalized. Stay tuned.
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