Nick Reiner, grandson/son of Hollywood Royalty Carl Reiner and Rob Reiner, was in an out of rehabs from the age of 15, he’s now 22. After living homeless across the US and 17 different rehab stays, he decided to stop heroin. Part of his therapy, co-writing the film ‘Being Charlie’ with his famous dad Rob Reiner, who also directed the film. Today, he joins Chris and Dave of Dopey Podcast in a fascinating dialogue about the pros and cons of the 12 step program, finding (or not finding God) some tricks for getting sober and important nonjudgmental insight into the different reasons and forms of addiction.
Here’s a little write up by Dopey Founders followed by the podcast links,
Nick Reiner Joins Drug Podcast as Regular Guest
In March of 2011 I entered my 14th treatment center for heroin, cocaine, and alcohol abuse. A week before “checking in,” my brother and sister had picked me up in Harlem. In a blackout I had boarded a bus from Boston and decided to reinvent my life in New York City. Within days my money had gone into my arm, I was homeless, and trying to sell my last possession: a dead cell phone that I had found on the street. This falls on the mild end of the spectrum of disasters I had been responsible for over the years.
At the new rehab, I left my unopened Dollar Store packages of white t-shirts, boxers, and sweatpants on my bed and immediately went outside for a cigarette. The most authentic and genuine expressions of rehab patients can be found in the designated smoking area. Nearly a decade of shuffling around the country at a wide range of treatment centers had taught me this.
There is the mother who extravagantly laments losing custody of her child due to drug charges during group, who then asks a client to cheek his or her meds for her that night. Or there is the husband who cherishes the unconditional love of his wife, and then brushes arms and bats eyes with females in between puffs of his cigarette. And then there are those whose behavior is consistent. They seem to do better.
I smoked off to the side and silently judged my peers for the roles they were playing, many of which I had engaged in at some point. I spoke when spoken to and never volunteered much. “ What’s the point?” I figured. “ No one will keep in touch, most will relapse, and a few will die.” I wore a smile, but behind it was a bitter contempt for the life I had been living, and for the people who reminded me of myself.
In steps Dave with his Marlboro Reds, big Jew nose, ear-to-ear smile, and general likability. It was the worst. He puked the details of his life upon me, unaware that I had established myself as the silent observer. Or maybe I was the only one who would listen to him. As he cycled between stories of his daughter, his daughter’s mother, rehab exploits, and heroin addiction, I started to enjoy our conversations. Dave could look at his life with an ironic sense of humor, smile upon his idiocy, but not lose sight of the gravitas of addiction. I reciprocated with my own stories, and we enjoyed long belly laughs over topics that would repulse the average person. I felt better. I got better.
One might say Dopey was born in those conversations, however they have been happening for decades in the common areas outside of 12 step meetings, in the smoking pits of rehab, or in chance encounters between two like-minded people. As the saying goes, the therapeutic value of one addict helping another is unparalleled, and for many of us the means to that therapy is comedy and identification.
Five years after meeting Dave, I brought my laptop over to his Lower East Side apartment in Manhattan and pushed record. Preparation was nil. What came out was a typical no-holds-barred smoking pit conversation: dialogue rife with using stories, open-ended drug discussion, and debate over addiction philosophy. Even with minimal promotion and personal anonymity, we started to get emails from a diverse group of people, from convicted bank robbers to people in long-term recovery. Everyone had a story to tell, and the uniting theme was humor. We realized that our darkly comedic and non-judgmental format held a space that other recovery-centric shows couldn’t fill.
Then Dave called me and said, “ We have to get Nick Reiner on the show. He was just on Howard Stern with his dad discussing his new movie about addiction. Also he bashed AA.” I’m an idiot and had no clue who Rob Reiner was, or Nick for that matter. But I liked that he bashed AA, even though I’m an active member of a 12-step fellowship. Controversy makes for good shtick. Four months later Nick was on our couch, shooting the shit with a cigarette in hand, and letting it rip with total authenticity.
Luckily Nick wasn’t offended by my lack of knowledge about the comedic geniuses that precede him. Indeed, my ignorance was pleasing. Having spent a significant part of his life in and out of rehab, Nick was educated at the school of hard knocks. He understood the frustration I once felt, and what it was like to be the silent observer in the smoking pit. This was the basis of our connection, not the typical aphorisms he was used to such as “ The Princess Bride was awesome.” (The Princess Bride was awesome though).
The first thing Nick revealed was that he still smokes pot and drinks occasionally, although he hasn’t used heroin in almost four years. After his recent movie about drug addiction, “Being Charlie,” he explained that he had a hard time being a guest on radio shows, particularly ones that focus on sobriety. The abstinence-only thinking that pervades the recovery community made it difficult for him to be genuine. However, after listening to Dopey, Nick thought that the tolerant nature of the show would permit him to share his story and perspective.
In Part Two of Nick’s episodes he rolled up his sleeves and got down and dirty in true Dopey fashion. Here we learn about Nick’s extensive journey through 17 treatment centers across the country, a few of which Dave and I have been to ourselves. One such rehab was Little Hill Alina Lodge in Blairstown, NJ. This well-established and ancient facility is the last stop on the block for many addicts. Its no-nonsense approach to treatment has earned it the slogan “ Dodge the Lodge” among frequent rehab goers. Amenities are lacking, and the average length of stay is one year or more. Clients can’t communicate with the opposite sex, use the phone, or consume nicotine or caffeine. The men must wear a coat and tie to dinner and everyone is required to hand in reports about what they learned after lectures. Nick lasted six months, twice the duration I made it, before the staff booted him for having a snarky attitude. With his meager belongings, they dropped him off at the nearest Salvation Army. A few month later, Nick met up with a woman he had made eyes with at the Lodge from across the room. They had never spoken. Their rendezvous quickly devolved into chaos. Nick recounts watching her blow lines of cocaine, and then mistakenly fingering her butthole. A few months later he found out she had died.
Later, Nick recounts another rehab experience that terminated with a stay in a homeless shelter. While in an extended care facility in Maine, he confided in a friend that he had been using heroin. His peer threatened to tell the staff, so Nick volunteered the information. In Nick’s words, “ I get the ultimatum that it is back to another rehab, and I’ve just been to three back-to-back stints in all these different states, and I was like no I’m doing the homeless thing. On the road, Jack Kerouac, Here we go.” Nick continues and tells us that after meeting someone in a homeless shelter, he injected crack mixed with lemon juice in a McDonalds bathroom. “I wasn’t questioning anything. I was going with the flow. So I went into the McDonalds bathroom. It was the most incredible feeling I ever felt. And like I didn’t realize how long I was in that bathroom. And so when I open the door there is all these people waiting to use the bathroom, like a Starbucks line.”
Nick’s funny demeanor and ability to laugh at himself was interspersed with wisdom. For example, he explained that his induction into the world of heroin happened after an unmotivated treatment stay. While shirking treatment principles, he gravitated towards people who had a similar mindset. These people told Nick about heroin, and his only take away was a curiosity for the drug everyone was raving about. He left treatment and shortly thereafter tried heroin for the first time – a cautionary tale for people going to rehab who may not be ready.
Nick’s self-deprecating nature meshed well with Dave and I. For many addicts, this style of relating deflates the egoic defense mechanism that keeps people separate and sick. Although Dave and I have different recovery trajectories than Nick, we all got along well, were able to speak candidly about addiction, and laugh. To quote my co-host, “ This isn’t a hysterical podcast about addiction, it’s a chill podcast.” In two hours, Nick barely touched upon the tip of the iceberg that is his story, and he wants to be a regular on the show. So expect to hear more from Nick, provided he isn’t sitting around all day and smoking weed while watching the Simpsons.