Inside Australia’s luxurious $130k rehab clinic
BYRON Bay has always been a little loose for me.
It's as if stepping on to the tarmac at Ballina airport in northern NSW opens the gates to indulgence. The belt loosens, the weight lifts and the bottles flow.
I've spent countless weekends here. Lapping up the sun, sleeping in until late and kick starting the afternoon with a healthy serving of cheese and champagne.
I've stopped for coffee and a croissant while window shopping along the main drag in town, and hiked up the Cape Byron track more times this year than my bank account can handle.
It's a place of calm. A quick fix to collect my thoughts, unwind, and - guilty - work on my tan.
But my most recent visit was going to be a little different from previous trips.
As I boarded my flight in Sydney, I wasn't headed for a beachside resort or lush AirBnB apartment in town.
Instead, I was en route to rehab. An isolated sanctuary in the Byron Hinterland which would play as my home for the next 24 hours.
As I followed my GPS further and further away from the familiar features of the coastline and township, I found myself cruising into unknown territory.
Winding into bushland and battling poor phone signal, I reached my destination.
"There's nothing quite like The Bay," head of marketing and my host, Mairead Cleary explained as we made our way through the glass front doors and into the foyer of the two-storey home.
As we walked into the gardens and around the private pool, I started to get a sense of how The Bay worked.
Operating for just over 10 years, this $30,000 a week retreat takes a "holistic, trauma approach" to healing clients with an addiction.
"The most common way of treating addiction is the Twelve Step AA method, and we don't use that here," Ms Clearly explained.
"We focus purely on one-on-one rehabilitation, so it's quite intensive therapy."
For between four and six weeks, a client is the soul focus of up to 20 doctors, therapists and other holistic practitioners.
"We have a mixture of celebrities, professionals, housewives and students come to The Bay," senior therapist Michelle Walter said.
"We have quite a few doctors and lawyers come through, all with different addictions.
"A lot of high profile business come here," managing director John Dass added.
"They want to be able to get themselves well without there being a big splash or the public knowing about it.
"We sometimes get people who have hit rock bottom ... and they are tricky clients because their health is usually really bad, but most people who come here recognise a problem or someone in the family has recognised a problem and they want help."
"It's not unusual for people's trauma to be triggered later in life," consulting psychologist Judy Rankin explained.
"The model we have here is called trauma-informed care, and in that model of care all people within the organisation are working with the assumption that the client has some trauma."
Walking into the home, The Bay isn't set up to feel like a clinic.
Clients have access to their phones, internet, TV and can even take themselves to the shops or the beach as long as they're accompanied by a carer.
Throughout the grand tour of the home, which consists of a bedroom and adjoining ensuite, kitchen, loungeroom, pool area, gardens, massage room and two carers' quarters - I couldn't help but feel like I was being watched.
And that's because, when you're paying big bucks to stay at The Bay - you're never alone.
From a 24-hour carer, personal chef, masseuse, yoga instructor, personal trainer, naturopath and a group of clinical therapists - The Bay is one of Australia's most exclusive rehabilitation clinics.
"A four week program with us depending on the detox would be about $130,000," Mr Dass said.
"Sometimes if younger people come, their parents will pay for it. But a client has to be able to afford it."
41-year-old Michael* decided to travel halfway around the world to get help.
Leaving his young family and life as a project developer behind in Arizona in 2012, he was desperate to treat his longstanding alcohol and opiate addiction.
"I was in a permanent thick haze," Michael said of his addiction.
"It wasn't uncommon for me to have 10 beers in an evening with whisky. I loved whisky.
"And whatever Opiate based drugs were available. I didn't really have a moment of clarity in about two years."
Michael had tried every self-help method imaginable. From yoga, meditation and exercise to talking to other people who had become clean - his addiction prevailed.
"It was a huge decision for me to go to Australia," Michael said.
"When I arrived I was a mess. I was scared and unsure.
"I'm a very shy person, so I didn't know how to take it all in.
"It was frightening and I was terrified."
Michael, who stayed at The Bay for four weeks, came out the other end clean - and has remained that way for more than five years.
His story is one that mimics the course of many clients who fork out for a stay at The Bay.
Ms Walter, who has spent the past four years treating clients at The Bay, said that most people check into the clinic because their addiction "has reached some kind of havoc in their life".
Citing alcoholism as the worst addiction to treat, Ms Walter says the detox phase is often the hardest aspect of the retreat.
"It's very easy for people to die when they are detoxing, particularly from alcohol," she explained.
"In terms of threat to life, alcohol is the worst.
"The body can go into shock if you just take away the alcohol," Ms Cleary added.
"An alcohol is a relaxant and so the body gets used to having this particular relaxant all the time. If you take that away, the body can go in to shock and so that's why cold turkey isn't a good idea with alcohol."
After being assessed by a team of doctors upon arrival, and having their bags checked by a carer for any substances - a client is usually put on a small course of Valium - particularly during an alcohol detox.
It wasn't until nightfall that I was given downtime at The Bay. They say silence is golden, and I was getting that in spades.
It was hard to switch off. The quiet was deafening.
But that's the way Mr Dass envisioned The Bay - which he started after seeing a niche in the market.
He wanted a place for one to retreat, immerse in the peace and not be distracted or triggered by other people in a similar state of addiction.
"The methodology of how The Bay would run has always been the same," he said.
"We have chosen to take a path which is trauma informed and evidence based.
"The 12 step program is a great treatment, and it does work for some people ... but we have found that the psychology and psychotherapy that we use has a clear evidence to support the effect that it has on people."
"We try and get people in to mindfulness here. We don't make a spiritual thing about it, but the bottom line is if you can relax - you're not going to take drugs.
"Some people won't go there, but most do. Sometimes there can be boredom here, but sometimes that's exactly what they need and to learn how to slow down."
The reporter travelled to the rehabilitation clinic in Byron Bay as a guest of The Bay.