No matter how long the “bottom” has been coming, when the time finally arrives to choose a treatment center—either as an addict, an alcoholic or a person trying to help one—it feels frightening and sudden. The fabled “moment of clarity” hits, and decisions need to be made. Anxiety mounts as you consider financial, family, and health issues. How much will rehab cost? Will the family come apart? Is detox needed? Should I do a getaway or outpatient program?
We would like to be able to give you a simple guideline. But the truth is, there are no hard and fast rules to choosing between a treatment center, hospital stay, retreat, or outpatient program. Circumstances and needs will vary. For instance, we know people who have been sober for years who made their start with “90 in 90” (90 12-step meetings in 90 days with a group such as Alcoholics Anonymous). And though we are a retreat for addicts and alcoholics, we do not believe there is only one road to recovery. We do, however, know that the journey cannot be made alone. So when it comes time to choose between recovery options, one cannot overestimate the power of fellowship. That’s why support getting away for a month or longer with others in recovery as a great beginning.
For those needing detox
Certainly the first consideration is always physical health. If someone needs detox, or medical treatment for serious illnesses associated with alcoholism or addiction, this clearly supersedes some options. As we say, “first things first”. Physical withdrawal from opioids can be life-threatening, and “cold turkey” reactions for those with alcohol and other drug addictions can be grave.
“Easier, Softer Ways”
For those who are ready to get help and do not require detox or medical care, the choice between a getaway or outpatient program is next. Here is where the alcoholic or addict almost always leans in the outpatient direction, toward what one might call an “easier, softer way.” Going away for a month or more sounds so drastic. It makes one face once and for all the hopeless nature of his addiction. What will people say? Going to therapy and attending a few Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings suddenly sounds so much more sensible. Not that any addict is ever much for sensible behavior. It is amazing how a person who has turned excess into a lifestyle can suddenly be all about restraint when choosing how to become sober.
In most cases, the addict or alcoholic who resists the idea of going away for a while maintains the false hope he can still control his disease. We have never met a happily recovered person who can control his using through sheer willpower, nor do we know anyone who has gotten well by going it alone. You can’t get drunk or high without help—someone, after all, has to sell you or give you the fix—and you can’t learn how to get whole without help, either.
A getaway to a reputable retreat, 100% away from the environment of active addiction, is always a good thing. Our sober alumni credit their time “unplugged” from old environments and “plugged in” at Discovery Place as turning points in their lives. We are particularly happy to say that DP alums have sobriety rates after a year much higher than larger, for-profit establishments.
The Myth of the Geographic Fix
While we advocate dedicated getaways of at least a month, we want to emphasize that there is no geographic fix for addiction and alcoholism. It doesn’t matter whether an alcoholic or addict goes 1,000 miles away or 10. What is critical is focus and the quality of guidance from people who have been there and who truly want to help others find their way out. This can happen on Caribbean island and on a farm in Burns, Tennessee.
Today, there are more places than ever offering help, blanketing TV, billboards, and websites with advertising. We applaud their work, even those with principles and methods different than ours. But we will say that recovery is one area where “location, location, location” means less than “association, association, association”—with people who have been down, and who have learned how to get back up.
A Better Committee
Here’s another reason a 30-day or longer getaway gives so many the life-saving jump-start they need: it removes them from people and situations fraught with trouble—”good-time” friends, old haunts, toxic family circumstances, negative behaviors. It also helps them stop listening to what some of us call “The Committee.”
You may know The Committee. Even non-addicts attend its meetings, which tend to convene when we are alone with uncomfortable thoughts and emotions. For addicts and alcoholics, The Committee is a particularly toxic group, with seemingly endless ways of making the craziest recommendations look sensible. It’s also noisy. Often, the only way to get it to be quiet and adjourn is to heed its recommendations, which invariably involve substances or decisions like walking out a second-story plate-glass window. Page 33 of the book “Alcoholics Anonymous” describes this type of thinking as a “peculiar mental twist” that leads to the first drink.
A retreat introduces the newcomer to a better Committee: men who have recovered, and are recovering.
A retreat also removes pressures which are hard to escape, familiar devils: pressure to earn a living, support a family, keep up appearances, have nice cars, houses, or girlfriends. Perhaps there is family who will be devastated to learn of addiction. (Spoiler alert: they already know.) It’s amazing how many manage some sort of “functioning” addiction or alcoholism while grinding out days, weeks, and sometimes years of work and family responsibilities while dope sick, hungover, or just plain hollowed-out. These pressures are killers, yet to let them go feels like failure. A twisted sort of self-esteem comes from juggling all the things, until all the things begin to crash and burn.
Letting it all go is drastic. Believe it or not, it is also a relief. It may sound crazy to one who is not yet there, but many guys in long-term recovery look back fondly on their early days in a retreat, when all they had to do was focus on living moment-to-moment. Some have come for 30 days and ended up staying six months, living in halfway houses even longer. Says one alcoholic: “All I wanted was to stop using and drinking and get my stuff back. And I did get most of it back, but the stuff isn’t the thing. I have something better. I can live ‘life on life’s terms.’”
Returning to the real world
At some point in recovery, the time will come to be a “civilian” again. There are a couple of ways to go about it: one is to head straight back home, wherever home is, and start “living your life.” The other is a transitional period in some type of extended stay or halfway house. Situations and people vary, but one thing is consistent: a recovering person, no matter how long he has, benefits from a continuing program to maintain sobriety.
Jumping back in is risky
We have seen many say after 30 days, “I’ll just head back home and pick up where I left off.” And some do return to their lives successfully, provided they continue to participate in their own recovery. Others face steep challenges: financial problems, damaged relationships, amends to make, looking for employment and a place to live. All this and sobriety, too! Instead of jumping back in, some stay longer than a month—up to 60, 90, and even 120 days, maybe a halfway house after.
Discovery Place has an Extended Stay residence in nearby Dickson, Tennessee, and a Step-Down Program which helps give life-structure and guidance during the shaky time after the initial stay. We keep in touch with via our Continuing Care Program, and show guys how to help each other in the days ahead. We also hold well-attended alumni events, workshops, and speaker events. Alums return from around the country for our monthly Friday night fellowship gatherings, where messages of life in recovery renew the spirit of sober living.
A word on halfway houses
A “halfway house” is a transitional living arrangement after a paid stay. Residents pay a modest rent, agree to find employment, and participate in programs of sobriety. Good halfway houses encourage accountability, self-discipline, and service to others while helping a man get on firmer financial footing. Most encourage or require responsibilities with roommates and the maintenance of the living space. We are well-connected in the Dickson, Burns, and Nashville recovery communities and can make recommendations. As with all things, some are better than others.
AA, NA, and Sponsorship
In either scenario—back home again or into a transitional living arrangement—the value of joining a 12-step group such as AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous) cannot be overstated. A person newly “free” from his time in residential recovery is not cured. Relapse can, and does happen. This is why groups like AA and NA suggest that members have sponsors.
A “sponsor” is a guide: a guide to the maintenance of not just abstinence, but emotional and spiritual sobriety. A sponsor has a sponsor. They bring valuable perspective on life in recovery and help avoid poor decisions in emotional or stressful situations. Sponsored participation in a group brings much-needed fellowship, camaraderie, and belonging. Groups also serve as sounding boards for the suggestions of The Committee, which can reconvene at any moment.
The 12 Steps
First and foremost, Discovery Place teaches recovery based on the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. We are not affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. or its General Services Office. (AA, as a non-profit organization, has no “professional class” nor endorses any particular establishment or group.) Discovery Place is a nonprofit founded by members of AA and various 12-Step fellowships. Our staff and volunteers receive no compensation or operational governance from AA in any way.
Now that you have read that we base our methods on the 12 Steps, you may be doubtful. Many addicts, alcoholics, and their loved ones have preconceived notions based on hearsay, articles, advertising, or, most often, the hope there must be something less drastic than joining a group of such odd people.
We respect and understand this. While we are not shy about our use of AA steps and principles, we do not require membership. This is consistent with one of AA’s central tenets: the 12 Steps are suggestions, not rules. We show guys how to work the steps. In the end, it is up to each to use them, or not.
This may sound like we’re splitting hairs, but we know from experience that no addict likes to be told what to do. Defiance and denial are part of the disease (if not the human condition). We simply demonstrate the use of the tools of recovery that work for others, including admission of addiction, reflection, moral housecleaning, amends, fellowship, and helping others.
If you are squeamish about AA, we understand. Almost every recovered person we know was just like that. There is a saying in AA’s Big Book: “resign from the debating society.” The acceptance of powerlessness over substances and willingness to act on a few suggestions brings about miraculous results.
About the Countryside in Burns
Once a farm, now a quiet retreat for 24 guests on a pond in Burns, Tennessee, Discovery Place is intentionally non-institutional. There are no gates, walls, or fences. The countryside is quiet. There are plenty of outdoor activities, including fishing, sports, exercise, and yoga classes. We regularly head to Dickson and Nashville to participate in meetings and activities in their recovery communities.
We believe one of the things that has made Discovery Place special is its size. We intentionally stay small. The main campus has a maximum of 24 guests, and we room six in our Extended Care facility. Those new to recovery are less overwhelmed in a setting small enough to learn the names of their mates. They receive individual mentorship and make friendships that last. There is a special amount of love and volunteerism among our alumni, who regularly return to help newcomers. Many become sponsors, who also become sponsors.
We know it would be disingenuous to say, “You can’t put a price on recovery.” In the real world, cost is a factor. We are painfully aware that many do not get life-saving help because of financial considerations. Our size, along with the fact we are not a detox or healthcare facility, helps us keep costs lower. And as a non-profit gifts and contributions enable to fund “scholarships” for many guys who lack other means.
Mark Twain famously said, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Anyone can use numbers to illustrate a point. We will say this. An important part of our responsibility to our alumni is to provide support. We regularly check in with guys to see how they’re doing in “the real world.” Over half are still sober a year later.