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Under the Tucson Sun

Sierra Tucson has a reputation as the cushiest rehab on earth, and now I understood why. When the health insurance companies stopped reimbursing the $1,000-a-day cost of rehab, the real Sierra Tucson moved across the dirt road, and Miraval, which caters to a less anxious clientele for whom repeated visits imply no failure, was born.

I signed up for the most redemptive treatment on offer, the Equine Experience, in which a man named Wyatt Webb, with a gravelly past (music, drugs, alcohol) and an interesting voice, teaches you that "It's not the horse, it's your own fear and self-doubt."

Out under a tent in a field, with horses looking on, the charismatic Mr. Webb, impeccable in denims, announced: "The language of the horse is the language of energy, which is the language of all living things. That connection to present-moment time is what we long for. Pay attention to what you're thinking and feeling."

We stood in the paddock looking at the backsides of horses, each trying to choose which one would be our nemesis. We had to clean out four hooves, groom and brush a coat. I figured that Bo, a large chestnut gelding, would be a rewarding task: he already had a thick winter coat, caked with dried mud. I marched over to him, and then froze.

"What are you afraid of?" asked Mr. Webb.

"Basically," I said, "that I will hurt the horse and then it will kill me."

The articulation of this belief, common sense to me but neurosis in the view of Mr. Webb, freed me to pick up Bo's hooves and scratch away at them much as if they were dirty dishes. A victory.

At breakfast on the last morning at Miraval, it appeared that Deny, Absorb, or Purge was everywhere. It couldn't be food deprivation; the food was the best in Tucson, and the night before we'd had sake to go with our ahi tuna. But a blonde, clutching her sweater and handbag, announced to a table as she approached: "We're going to stay separated when we get home, but work toward a recovery." The table nodded approvingly.

Two women at a table eating cereal, one very worried: "Some of my fundamentalist friends say be careful, it could be a cult."

"This place certainly doesn't look like a cult," said her friend. "If it's a cult, it's a pretty expensive one."

"You've got to be careful of those places that focus on You, you know?" said the worried woman.

In the spa, a young woman came out of the beauty salon and introduced herself to a man in a polo shirt:

"I'm Kim, I'll be doing your pedicure for you."

"Don't hurt me," said the man.

I wondered if Sierra Tucson had moved back across the road during the night, but finally understood: when family members visit their loved ones at Sierra Tucson, they often stay at Miraval, so as to take care of themselves while enduring the confrontations and psychodramas necessary for the recovery of the person in the rehab. In Tucson, even the healthy can be cured, and the size of the skies and the green gods in the hills will help.


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