05/05/2005 AT 9:00 AM ET
Pat O’Brien spent years covering the stories behind Hollywood’s stories for Access Hollywood and The Insider, before his behavior became a story itself. Last month, O’Brien checked himself in for a 40-day stint an alcohol rehabilitation facility in Los Angeles, after it was revealed that the celebrity host had left obscene voicemails that were then distributed on the Internet.
In an interview with PEOPLE, O’Brien, 57, insists that he didn’t enter treatment to escape the fallout from the messages, but rather that he did so because he realized he had a problem. . “When you hit the bottom with this disease, it’s a real bottom, like being in a grave that hasn’t been covered yet,” he said.
O’Brien, who is scheduled to return as host to The Insider on Thursday, said that his break from drinking had allowed him to see that “on the other side of that door is hell. And I’m not ready to see that again.”
Regarding the obscene voice messages that had started his descent, O’Brien admits that it is his voice on the tape, but says that he does not remember making the calls, following a drunken and cocaine-fueled afternoon.
Still, he is able to maintain some degree of humor regarding his recovery. “There was one morning in rehab,” O’Brien tells PEOPLE. “We listened to Howard Stern on the way to the gym, and he was going crazy with the tape, mixing it with the Pope. I actually started laughing at one point. I thought, ‘This would be funny if it wasn’t me.’ Maybe someday I’ll laugh at it, like in 2012.”