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  1. nev il-pinto
    The road to Australia’s most expensive rehabilitation clinic is marked with deep potholes. Here, where the wealthiest souls seek refuge from what bedevils them – drugs, alcohol, world weariness – local wags recently rose before the sun struck Cape Byron to plant pot in the potholes. Greeting tourists is a road sign reading “Cheer up, slow down, chill out”, recently bolted into place by a former builder turned psychic life coach – a career path unthinkable anywhere else.
    “Champagne Buddhists claim Byron”, reads a note on a telegraph pole as we turn towards The Sanctuary, which bills itself as a “luxury rehabilitation centre and therapeutic retreat”. Treatment here costs clients $101,000 for a three-week stay, or $135,000 for four. That’s close to $34,000 per week on average – almost 25 times the national average weekly full-time earnings, or 453 times the cost of a decent bottle of Bollinger. By comparison, California’s Betty Ford Center, guests of which have reportedly included Elizabeth Taylor and Robert Downey Jr, is a piddling $US32,000 a month. Utah’s Cirque Lodge (clients: Lindsay Lohan, Kirsten Dunst) is $US47,850 a month, while Promises, in Malibu (Charlie Sheen, Britney Spears, Lohan – again), costs $US55,000 for 31 days, including “equine therapy”.
    The most expensive rehab clinic in the world, according to The Times newspaper, is the Kusnacht Practice, in Zurich, which costs $A313,825 for four weeks. The Sanctuary is similarly priced to attract an exclusive set. Supermodel Naomi Campbell was snapped by paparazzi on the beach here in 2007. This February, singer George Michael reportedly checked in for two months (The Sanctuary won’t reveal the names of any clients).
    Healing in paradise … Peter Munro gazes from his villa window at The Sanctuary in Byron Bay.
    Healing in paradise … Peter Munro gazes from his villa window at The Sanctuary in Byron Bay. Photo: Janie Barrett
    Since opening in 2004, The Sanctuary has treated European royalty, American record producers and corporate chiefs from Asia, Australia and New Zealand. And, for the next 48 hours, its clientele includes a freeloading newspaper journalist – namely, me.
    While not addicted to any substances, I have in my life enjoyed a few too many drinks, tried a few drugs, punched a few walls, sported a few bruises. I bite my fingernails until they bleed and in 2011, after turning 35 and collapsing in a fun run, I was diagnosed with depression. My malcontent moods are likely not so serious to warrant a formal stay at The Sanctuary – and, at these prices, I can afford to do so only as a (free) guest. But to best understand life inside Australia’s most luxurious rehab clinic, I ask to be treated as any other patient.
    I am given a confidential patient code, a medical check, nutritional assessment, blood tests and a psychiatric assessment. Clinical director Jane Williams conducts my initial one-hour assessment by phone. We discuss my discontent, my sense of a life that is slipping away. She tells me many people feel the same way. “You have all the ingredients of a good and happy life, and something is not being met,” she says. “You should have more joy.”
    Retreat … a naturopathy session in progress.
    Retreat … a naturopathy session in progress. Photo: Janie Barrett
    The “intensive therapeutic retreat” takes no more than six clients at a time. They never meet each other nor have group therapy. Each client stays in a luxury house of their own and is maintained in style by a personal chef and live-in carer.
    Treating them one-on-one is a suite of health professionals who target the mind and body, drawing from Eastern and Western traditions: among them therapists, physiotherapists, yoga instructors, naturopaths, acupuncturists, personal trainers and masseuses.
    Some clients suffer the First World problem of weltschmerz or world weariness, Williams says. “I had one client say to me, ‘I’ve made another million dollars today, Jane, but what does it all mean? I’m successful, I’ve made this money, but I’m not getting any pleasure or joy out of it all.’ They have this existential crisis: ‘Who am I? I’ve made all this money, but I’m still not happy.’ ”
    I wonder about this when I arrive at my beachside Balinese-style villa – one of about 40 properties The Sanctuary hires for clients – feeling very happy indeed. My bathroom is big enough to swing a chandelier in, and has a “soap menu” including a “calming and soothing” chai bar and a love bar. I have never seen a soap menu before. Given the stature of The Sanctuary’s clientele, I am surprised to see a toilet brush in the corner.

    Chef Scott Foster plates a Thai salad and cured ocean trout, prepared with a dash of xylitol, a natural sugar alternative. Sugar is banned, along with alcohol, illicit drugs and gambling. Clients are asked to limit themselves to one coffee a day. Clients check in voluntarily but must agree to a list of conditions: their belongings are searched on arrival and they must take random drug tests; telephone or internet use is limited to two hours a night; and they are advised to abstain from sex during their stay.
    In the zone … Munro has a one-on-one with a health professional at The Sanctuary.
    In the zone … journalist Peter Munro has a one-on-one with a health professional at The Sanctuary. Photo: Janie Barrett
    After I check in, a doctor checks my blood pressure and diet, and advises me to cut back on alcohol and carbohydrates. In a small, white, on-site treatment room, naturopath Sarita Merlo quizzes me about the consistency of my stools. Do I dream in colour or black-and-white? Do I sweat a lot? I confess that once, while wearing tan slacks, my knees sweated so much I looked like I had been wading in a kiddies’ pool. She studies the yellow fuzz on my tongue and spies deep concentric rings in my eyes, which, she says, indicates “someone who has a tendency to hold on to nervous tension and finds it hard to relax”.
    My liver is also in need of support – something I am told regularly during my stay. Physiotherapist Claudia Mirdita presses my flesh and suggests I am holding on to stress “deep down”. “You look vibrant but you lack vitality,” she says.
    Psychotherapist Greg McHale asks me about my childhood and how often I was hugged. At night, my assigned personal carer Jan Wilde keeps me company. Over a dinner of Moroccan lamb with spinach and, inevitably, quinoa, Wilde says she has been in recovery from alcohol addiction for about 15 years. “We try to help people find something to be passionate about other than alcohol or drugs,” she says.
    The Sanctuary’s founder, Michael Goldberg, who has a drowsy voice and lavish eyebrows, is a former builder and drug addict from Melbourne who came to Byron Bay for treatment and never left. “You can only party so much. It became soulless,” he says. He started The Sanctuary to provide an exclusive, intensive treatment program tailored to each individual. Clients can claim about 5 per cent of their bill through private health insurance. “We don’t take people who have to mortgage their house,” he says.
    “The hardest thing for someone who is very famous is to have people be real with them. People who are really famous don’t have people saying to them, ‘You hurt me’ or ‘Don’t be rude’ or ‘You can wait in line like everybody else’. ”
    He tells me about the young European drug addict who had been going to rehab only so that she could repair her veins enough to shoot up again. “A hugely wealthy person, you know, paintings in her house for $50 million. She came to us and stayed for three months. She said, ‘Michael, I am your miracle.’ ”
    The Sanctuary has a success rate of 89.6 per cent, according to Goldberg, and success occurs, he says, when people overcome their harmful addictions, depression or anxiety. He contacts former clients regularly over several years to check on their progress.
    Addiction specialist and psychiatrist Michael Baigent, who is on the board of Beyond Blue, cautions that The Sanctuary’s success rate has not been scientifically verified. Private psychiatric clinics often deliver a high standard of care, he says. Then I tell him how much it costs to stay at The Sanctuary. “Oh my godfather!” he says. “People shouldn’t feel they have to go to a clinic that costs $100,000, because most treatments are available for the majority of Australians at a much reduced cost.”
    While enjoying my fourth massage in two days I wonder how much of The Sanctuary’s program is treatment and how much is simply pampering. But then, I feel good and that’s no bad thing. Of course, if I was footing the bill I might simultaneously feel very sorry.
    I fall asleep during acupuncture and start snoring. Later, masseuse Anna Doble tells me I have a stagnant liver and cold hands and feet. I don’t know why, but I ask her if an enema would help matters. She doubts it. “It is kind of abnormal to stick a hose up your arse, really,” she says.
    Yoga instructor Consta Georgoussis has me lay on the grass and listen for the sound of the ocean, the birds, the wind in the leaves. We busy our lives with so many distractions, he says. Or at least I think he says so. I am too busy thinking of the times I have tweeted while on the toilet.

    It strikes me that you need not look too deep to discover a person’s potholes. My two-day stay leaves me feeling simultaneously worse about my current state and better about my capacity to change. Jane Williams recommends I see a therapist and go easier on myself. “There is an expectation we should be happy all the time,” she says.
    I leave as happy and content as I may, like a first-class passenger finishing a long-haul flight. But if I had a spare $135,000 (and I am not someone who has a spare $135,000), I reckon I would rather book myself a ticket to some sunny island, or pay a deposit on a home, or buy a flash car, or a spaceflight simulator, or a giraffe. But then, if I had a spare few million dollars, I could think of worse ways to spend it than being prodded, probed and pampered by the beach in Byron Bay. If money can’t buy happiness, it might at least cover the cost of contentment.


  1. BitterSweet
    I am confused; the first part of this sounds like an article, but the end half sounds like a personal account told from you - if that is the case, you are not supposed to include your own commentary in the actual post, but do so in a new post underneath it.

    Anyway, this is just another example of how people are profiting from the "War on drugs". At these prices, I am sure those who are profiting (just like any business would strive to do) would not want an end to addiction. But it is hard to see that at first as you think treatment centers that have created facilities and hired specialists to help all the patients is for the good of the fight against addiction.

    In a sense it is similar to how clothing lines work, restaurants, etc. For example, in the food industry, there are your fast food chains, then restaurant chains for the average person, and restaurants where prices aren't even provided on the menu. These expensive rehabs are like these luxurious, wealthy restaurants. They have their target audience in mind, and are taking a differentiation approach to business strategy (in general, in business strategy teaching, companies/businesses can compete on cost, can use differentiation, and I forget the third - I think a mixed approach).

    If you are the type of person who wants luxury but think the prices are astronomical, trade offs need to be made. Your average addict is usually scrounging to get money for their next hit, next pill, next bottle of alcohol; they can only dream of getting into these types of rehabs. Besides all the glitz and glam, is the professional help all that much better? I am most sure that each patient gets much more resources, different types of therapy, etc., which a lot of these kind of treatments aren't offered at your typical rehab.

    I wonder what the relapse rates of these rich rehab patients are compared to the lower end rehabs. Even "regular" rehabs are pricey (especially in the States). I tried to go inpatient once, in 2010, and went to apparently one of the more upper end ones around (in Canada) - and if that place was upper end, I'd hate to see ones that are lower end. That place was suited for addicts at their rock bottom, and many happy just to have a place to sleep at night. I wasn't at that point - I'm used to having many ammenities, gadgets, freedom, etc. So it is easy to see how people look for a rehab that can somewhat meet their standard of living (hence celebrities going to these places).

    I maybe could have stuck out my inpatient nightmare for more than three days if there was actual therapy and progressive help that is not readily accessible with outpatient recovery, but that was not the case. I was in a comorbid program, for mental illness and addiction, yet it seemed exactly the same as the regular addiction program (I am assuming it probably was the same program because we were all grouped together, whether or not a person signed up for the concurrent program that looked so appealing in the brochure).

    We were herded around like sheep or nine graders just entering high school. The only thing people had to do was gossip about the other residents, and with a mixed gender facility, it was a case of the guys grouping together, and the girls grouping together, with half the people flirting with each other. We were given timetables of when therapy groups would be running and we needed to go to at least 3 (each session lasting about one hour). But they forced us to walk across town in the blistering heat to attend an AA meeting, even if you only had a problem with drugs. Half the "therapy" provided at the center was AA and NA meetings. I went to a youth/young adult group session, located in the basement in a small room with five or six of us sitting on folded chairs with some bimbo woman leading the conversation. This type of "therapy" consisted of each person just talking about their problems, only to get generic advice from the leader. It was basically structured like AA and NA meetings.

    I wanted individual therapy mostly, yet that was not offered. Pfft, I'd rather do outpatient since I can attend 12 step programs for free anyway, and then pay a good psychiatrist for a few hours of counseling a week.

    At this rehab, there was a gym, but only open 7 hours a day with equipment so ill-equipped (and with like one treadmill), it seemed like an aged basement gym in someone's house. The only nice thing about this place was the beautiful backyard area, which consisted of grass and a rusty tennis course that you had to sign up for in advanced to use it. I mostly enjoyed the bench, but sitting outside doesn't eat up much time.

    It was sooo boring; and my problematic drug use is related to boredom. And you are stuck around people 24/7. The cafeteria and cafeteria food was as crappy as the dirty washroom facilities. We couldn't even eat food in our rooms. There was one main entertainment room with an old school TV and a bunch of ripped couches and chairs scattered around the room. Oh, and we had morning exercise routines, which I had been looking forward to, until I saw that all we did was go down to the gym area (smaller than a high school gym) and do 15 minutes of stretching.

    The intake doctor was ancient and not someone who should be dealing with addicts trying to get help. And finally when I decided I'd rather save my mom $6000 for four weeks of unfulfiling treatment, the nurse yelled at me that I only wanted to leave to do drugs. And when my mom picked me up, the nurse yelled at her and said "Your daughter is a drug addict!", so loud that everyone heard. She then said my mom wanted me to leave because she is lonely and has her own addiction, which couldn't have been further from the truth.

    I was happy to leave. And my room mate there had given me this sobriety/recovery bracelet and when I left she rudely said to give it back. I understood when the other patients told me to stay and stick to the process, but when they finally realized I had made up my mind, they acted as if I had already left, probably dismissing my importance as I was no longer striving for the goal they were.

    That experienced truly soured my taste of inpatient rehab, and last year I had a detox center experience that was equally a big joke. It helped me realize a lot about myself and what things work for me in the recovery process. Inpatient seemed like the most hardcore treatment and thus the best, and when it doesn't go right, people feel hopeless. Yet even for people who finish the program have a huge relapse rate. And a stay of 28 days - what is so special about 28 days? I'd rather take the $6,000 investment and spend money on a gym membership, healthy foods when I go grocery shopping, money for days when I am most bored to take a small trip to the beach or do something fun with friends. I'd rather use that money on an intensive outpatient program. I'd rather use that money to buy self-help books, or books to educate myself on various things. I'd rather spend that money making a monetary contribution to DF so that I can help this community - posting in this community has been more beneficial than those half assed group therapy groups were.

    I think this has gone quite off track, but when I think about the high relapse rate of rehabs like this, it is almost as if they want to decrease the chances of addicts staying sober because without clients, they have no business. It was clear at the center I was at that they were cutting many corners and filling our days with a bunch of fluff that may sound helpful on the surface but really aren't. It was more depressing being in there, as it was almost like a hospital layout. When you don't even want to use the showers at the facility, you begin to miss the things you are accustomed to at home. Using the washroom was like using the bathroom at a Burger King. The beds were not comfortable, and like I said, the food was crap. All this "downgrading" of my lifestyle was not welcome and made me realize how much more that place was a waste of money - paying money to live in considerably worse conditions that I have at home. So different rehabs are suited to different people - unfortunately, to find a rehab center that is much more to my standards is too expensive.

    Like the prices these rich people are paying for rehab is enough money to buy a home. They are more like getaway resorts. I suppose that those addicts on the show Intervention really do have a great opportunity when they are able to go to these nice facilities for free and are able to stay for 90 days.
  2. Cash.Nexus
    BitterSweet: Interesting to read your experiences.^ My only experience of rehab was a brief tour of The Priory (not the original establishment but one of a spin-off national UK chain set up by Priory Group.) I'd been dragged there by family desperate to detox me. I'd agreed to check it out if we could score heroin afterward.

    I don't have the brochures anymore and don't want to check online for details (cookies etc) but I recall two things. One was that according to the brochure, pharmaceutical treatment options could be tailored to patient's need etc etc. But I was told only Subutex was available, that's it. But the other thing was how much they went on about the food provision. The quality of food, the standards in dining etc. I was shown an extensive menu, as well as some nice little bedrooms.

    Far as I recall it was then approx £10,000 (US$15,000) for 28 days. They provide a load of therapy and activities etc but I wasn't interested. So it would be a waste of money since I wasn't ready. The family found that hard to comprehend though; I think in their opinion if it was expensive then it would work. IDK, but furthermore I don't like Subutex. For that money I should get a choice of meds.

    Like you say BitterSweet those large amounts of money could be much better spent. I'm pretty skeptical of the whole industry although no doubt some people get helped.
  3. nev il-pinto
    sorry for posting in incorrect format (1st time ive posted in news forum)

    story is by peter munro, from the good weekend section of the sydney morning herald 13th July 2013 edition

    original post contains no comments or opinions from myself
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