Last September, on the first day of class at the Eliot Pearson School for Child Development at Tufts University, we were told by the president of Tufts that anyone who had also attended Tufts University for undergraduate studies (like I did) could now be considered a “Double Jumbo”. The Tufts sports teams are called “The Jumbos”, hence anyone who has gone to Tufts twice is apparently a “Double Jumbo”. Double Jumbo. Now, this term is so horrible that I almost walked right out of the auditorium, got in a taxi to the nearest beach, and walked right into the ocean Kate Chopin style. Thankfully I resisted the urge, and just successfully completed my first semester at Eliot Pearson. I bring up this anecdote as, if we apply Tufts’ President’s logic to my recent past, I could be called a “Double Rancher.” I first stayed at the Ranch over several months from 2014 to 2015 and then found myself returning for almost all of 2016. But while the term “Double Jumbo” makes me ill, I am very proud to be a “Double Rancher”.
When I first visited Spring Lake Ranch, following an extended relapse and suicide attempt, I had already been to three different rehabs. The highly respected hospital in Belmont Massachusetts had been impressive, well intentioned, but shallow and the famous rehab/youth prison in Houston had been a nightmare, so I must admit I did not have much faith that Spring Lake Ranch (SLR) could help me. A farm? In Vermont? And there’s no internet in our rooms? And I may have to weave? Or chop trees? Or build chairs? Or feed goats? You want me to work with freaking goats? How in the world could that help me not want to die? Or not to drink? Or not drink until I die? Still, I was not left with much of a choice – oh the plight of the privileged and parent dependent twenty-something – and I watched my parents drive down the hill back towards New York. Towards home.
Those first months of my first stay at Spring Lake Ranch were hard.
I arrived just as winter was coming in and it was a particularly brutal season. We had thirty straight days where Vermont set a new record for frigid temperatures. I responded to my internet deprivation by overspending on DVDs and graphic novels, anything to escape the boredom and monotony of living Vermont. Because of my alcoholism I was fairly asked to attend several AA meetings a week. Unfortunately, AA has never been easy for me to invest in, and my frustration with AA made me lash out at other people trying to help me.
Still, the staff let me come to terms with my new environment, and I found some peers I had shared interests with. Probably as quickly as my sixth week I got into a groove working on the Farm crew and bonding with a small group of fellow clients. While I think the cliché that you cannot tell the clients from the staff is a bit silly, the staff did a great job relating to me and meeting me where I was at. Meanwhile, the Ranch had set me up with a therapist in town and he was a great match. I finally began to address the link events from my past might be having on my present self.
When it came time to leave the Ranch, I knew I was going to Boston to have a major medical operation. In the hard recovery time after the procedure, I relapsed, and the Ranch was kind of enough to welcome me back. I was very nervous to return, even though I was so familiar and fond of SLR, because I was embarrassed that I had relapsed. Amazingly, I did not receive an ounce of shaming or disappointment from any of the staff. It was fantastic to see everyone again, many of my friends from my first stay had stayed in the Rutland area, and I eased right back into the SLR community. That second stay I had multiple health scares related to the procedure and SLR stuck by me. It would have been very easy for them to say I was too sick to be there, but they trusted me, and I can never thank them enough.
I was able to reunite with my previous therapist and build on the work we had done together. I reached, and I cannot believe I am saying this, a breakthrough of sorts on reconciling my past.
My last achievement at the Ranch was after years of running away from thinking about graduate school, I managed to take my GRE, and begin the application process. I am now living in Boston, attending graduate school, and approaching three years sober. I know that every place that tried to help me, even the ones I hated, all contributed something to my well-being. But it is at Spring Lake Ranch that the idea that I really could get better and stay on track was made possible. The work program made me actually want to grow up, break the cycle I was in, and find work that made me happy. After years of losing friendships and relationships, socializing with like-minded peers made me confident I could do it in the “real world” when I left the Ranch. And while AA never clicked, the Ranch and my therapist worked with me to have plans and strategies to handle cravings. I know I would not be where I am if not for Spring Lake Ranch. It is a special place. And you get to work with goats!