I was sober for 18 years before Phoenix House. It was at Phoenix House I found recovery.
I went into treatment for the first time at a different program, when I was 33. I’d smoked pot since high school, and after a few years of just marijuana, I thought to myself, “If this drug is so good, why don’t I try others?” I was living in New York City, working as a hairdresser for Frederic Fekkai, and became immersed in the cocaine and champagne life. I was using and drinking every day but was in denial about my addiction.
Other people weren’t so easily fooled. One day Frederick Fekkai himself pulled me aside and said, “I’m worried you might have a problem.” Of course I told him I didn’t, but there was no hiding from it. It eventually all caught up with me when I got in trouble with the law and the courts ordered me to attend an in-patient addiction recovery program.
What I learned at that program helped me stay sober for a long time. But I found out the hard way that what was missing was a long-term maintenance program. There was no after-care—just 90 days of treatment, and I was out of there. So when life hit me in the face later, I didn’t have a home group or any real support system to help me through it, and I relapsed. That’s when I went to Phoenix House Residential Program at Santa Ana.
I’ve never seen a facility like it. Phoenix House has everything you need to stay sober: After residential treatment, you have options like intensive outpatient treatment, recovery maintenance services, ongoing support groups, and job placement. But I didn’t realize how important all that was until after I completed my 90 days.
During treatment, the important things were the unbelievable support I got from both staff and other clients, and the emphasis on overall wellness. People find their path to wellness in different ways. Some people find it through working out with weights or rediscovering their passion for art, or whatever else they were passionate about before addiction took over—because when you’re in active addiction, you forget that there are things you can take pleasure in besides drugs. In recovery, you have to learn how to do that all over again.
I found it in yoga, meditation, and gardening.
Santa Ana has a wonderful yoga and meditation program, led by this great instructor who donates his time. His classes are always full. With the soft music, the calm voice of the instructor, and the stretching of both mind and body, even people who least expect it find relaxation and a sense of calm. You’d walk into the class and there would be these big guys there, all looking forward to it! And it’s something you can take with you, because you learn how to do it on your own.
I had always loved growing my own food and creating things, so when I saw the beautiful backyard at Santa Ana, the staff encouraged me to get right out there. I started cleaning up the rosebushes, planting things, digging mulch pits…. It really helped me out of my depression and got me plugged into something positive.
The staff really care and help you find your niche, whatever that may be. They teach you that out in the real world, trouble happens when you have idle time. All the activities that are available at Phoenix House are just wonderful and help you discover what makes you happy so that you can fill that idle time with something that makes you feel good.
They also help you understand the mechanism for cravings, the brain-body connection, how to deal with triggers, and how to handle negative thoughts and emotions that give rise to cravings and using. This new knowledge about the brain on drugs gave me skills to remain sober and it is a great asset of the Phoenix House program, something that was not available in other programs.
I graduated a year and a half ago, but I go back on almost a daily basis. Alumni can attend classes for free, and there are classes on just about any topic—reuniting with family, parenting, alcohol and depression—that can help you live a fulfilling life in recovery.
I also love to go back and visit the garden. Today there’s a huge rose garden out there, with 45 rosebushes. I help other clients get interested in it. Now those clients are doing the caretaking, finding in it the peace and passion that I had. I’m glad I was able to give back in that way.
I want people reading this page to know that at Phoenix House, you will learn again how to take pleasure in everyday life. You will get the education you need, and the after-care to help you stay sober. I can’t talk more highly about it. I’m the person I am because of Phoenix House.