Looking at the $500 paycheck he just received, John knows that he needs to use it for rent, reliable transportation to work and a healthy meal. However, his mind is clouded with the desire to go back to the streets of Denver and spend the money on what he now believes he cannot live without: meth.
Sure, life wasn’t always this way — he had a wife he adored and even a high-paying job — but that’s the way it is now, and he is struggling to make it through. He isn’t even sure he truly wants to make it through. After all, his addiction began because his wife left him, tearing apart his heart and his attitude toward life in the process. To cope with the pain of feeling alone and unloved, he turned to this numbing drug. People keep urging him to seek help, but he knows what that would entail. His job would never allow him extended time away for rehab, and once-a-week detoxification programs could never begin to address the root of the problem. He’s in too deep. Besides, what would people around him think? What would his family think? What would his friends think? What would future employers think? In the end, his feelings of isolation and the chemical nature of his addiction prevails, and he hopelessly surrenders to this unforgiving cycle.
John is just one of many men we met while on our Alternative Break trip to Colorado’s Harvest Farm, a 209-acre farm and rehabilitation center for men seeking to break the cycle of addiction and homelessness through the center’s New Life Program. Because of the social stigma surrounding substance abuse — from the general public and from within — it’s difficult to convince oneself, much less someone else, to enter a rehabilitation facility. When someone finds the courage to take that next step, society falls short in terms of what it can offer this person who genuinely wants to turn his or her life around. Options are limited, and very few facilities encompass all that is needed for change. However, Harvest Farm seems to rise above other programs by acting from four foundational pillars:
Harvest Farm is a residential treatment program that requires all 72 participants to be enrolled in the New Life Program for at least 13 months before they can graduate. As they move up the ranks, they take classes in life skills and seek out job opportunities. All in all, the men are always in a sober environment; therefore, they are not as tempted to seek out their substance of choice.
However, almost 80% of treatment programs in the U.S. are outpatient, meaning they occur on a periodic basis. They are meant to accommodate those with jobs or other responsibilities that would preclude a leave of absence for recovery purposes. Most of the time, these programs focus solely on detoxification or even just drug education. Overall, the success rate of these programs tends to be low because patients are not able to faithfully continue sobriety between sessions.
Ian, one of the men to whom I grew pretty close, shared how his addiction occurred as a result of isolation — isolation from his support system that gave his life purpose. Harvest Farm constantly fosters a sense of community among all of the participants. Every day, almost all 72 men attend devotions in the morning together, share meals together and work on the farm together. In fact, all of the men begin their time at Harvest Farm living in a dorm building in close quarters with around 24 other guys. It’s almost impossible to escape everyone else on the farm, but that’s what many of the guys cited as their favorite part about being there: growing closer with and confiding in other guys who are struggling with similar issues. Conversely, the majority of rehab programs in the country operate from an individualistic standpoint, which oftentimes perpetuates these feelings of isolation. Although beneficial for some individuals, it continues to leave many addicts feeling alone, triggering the substance abuse.
Money is always an issue. It is a deciding factor in a plethora of circumstances, and entering into rehabilitation is certainly one of them. Harvest Farm combats this problem by offering treatment to participants at absolutely no cost. They are able to afford this seismic policy due to their partnership with the Denver Rescue Mission, a non-profit organization in Colorado that works to end homelessness. For participants, their time at Harvest Farm is all-expenses-paid. An extremely low number of treatment programs are free to patients. As seen in John’s life, addiction influences individuals to spend most, if not all, of their income on their substance of choice. Financially, they lose everything, and the high cost of rehab stifles any hope of recovery.
This pillar is the most abnormal yet influential of them all. Harvest Farm is a Christian-based facility that encourages members to seek out God for love and support in overcoming addiction. Through Bible study, spiritual devotions and sermon-like talks, the notion that anything is possible with God’s help is reinforced every day. Even for those who do not necessarily believe in the Christian God, journeying toward recovery while enlisting the help of a higher power relieves some of the overwhelming stress on each participant. Recovery is a difficult road, and walking it alone is daunting. That being said, the vast majority of rehab centers in the country do not address spirituality or faith, causing many men and women to give up soon after starting.
Thus, I believe rehabilitation programs across the country should model their programs after Harvest Farm and adopt these four pillars. It is important to note that although all four of these pillars are not necessary in every individual’s road to recovery, they allow Harvest Farm to cultivate the most success among a diverse group of addicts. Even with the absence of just one pillar, various groups of addicts are marginalized and unable to effectively utilize treatment. Without long-term residency, individuals who struggle to hold themselves accountable fall short. Without community, relationship-oriented individuals in need of a support system that understands them do not prosper. Without accessibility, those who are not well-off financially or who have lost everything cannot afford treatment. Without spirituality, those who rely on faith to overcome near-impossible challenges are excluded.
This is where rehabilitation systems are broken. My final Alternative Breaks experience here at Xavier was able to shed light on this. Some may argue that we need to focus on reforming preventative as opposed to treatment programs. I certainly agree with this notion, but it cannot stop there. Sure, prevention is a vital aspect of the solution to substance abuse, but it will not realistically stop each individual. There needs to be effective rehabilitation programs available to those who slip through the cracks of prevention and are looking to return to sobriety. Until more attention and governmental funding is allocated toward all treatment programs, individuals like John, Ian and the other courageous men at Harvest Farm will struggle to overcome their addictions.