Recovery at Spring Lake Ranch

Cynthia Hanson, LADC and Recovery Manager

orchids sit in a swatch of sunlight on a coffee table in a meeting space

Recovery is a life-long journey. Residents who begin this journey at SLR join a supportive, like-minded community grounded in meaningful work and shared experiences. Recovery is traditionally applied to folks working on being abstinent from substances such as drugs and alcohol, but also applies to any journey away from behaviors, habits or an environment that has had adverse impact on the ability to make healthy choices and be present and empowered in one’s life.

Our recovery program offers a variety of approaches in addition to the traditional 12-step/NA/AA model which comprises 5 weekly groups. We also have Smart Recovery, Refuge Recovery, and Writers for Recovery as well as a Skills group and ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) group. Today in our Smart Recovery process group, we explored recovery through challenges, strengths that support it, who or what can be counted on, who or what can’t be counted on, and our greatest motivation to keep choosing the recovery journey each day.

I am always struck by how willing folks are to share thoughtfully and honestly and how each group member can spark a new level of insight with a heartfelt comment that moves the group deeper. We mined shared experiences from the time before recovery for the wisdom that continues to drive a commitment to sobriety. We uncovered how using both helped and hindered the underlying quest for identity and how to bring positive effects forward into the spaciousness of a life without addiction. Some examples: “using brought peace but it also turned my brain off,” “it helped until it hurt,” “it took away things I didn’t even know I could lose.”

In Dr. Gabor Maté’s book “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts,” he describes addiction as a place where “we constantly seek something outside ourselves to curb an insatiable yearning for relief or fulfillment. The aching emptiness is perpetual because the substances, objects, or pursuits we hope will soothe it are not what we really need. We don’t know what we need, and so long as we stay in the hungry ghost mode, we’ll never know. We haunt our lives without fully being present.” (Maté, 2008, 2009, 2010)

This sense of being hungry and not finding what is needed is what moves me about working with folks in recovery. Exploring “what is the hunger behind addiction” in a different group, residents came up with: “to be sane, to be comfortable in our own skin, to belong, to feel connected, to express ourselves safely, to feel safe, to experience healing, to gain understanding.” One person shared that they used to think smoking weed brought “righteous freedom” but that now it comes through recovery.

About 84% of residents are dual diagnosis, coming in with both substance use and mental health diagnoses. The substances have changed over the 8.5 years I’ve been at the Ranch. When I started, I saw a lot of opiate and benzodiazapene addiction most often in adults mid-30s and up. Alcohol addiction was commonly coupled with residents struggling with chronic depression, I see it more now as an adjunct to other substances. Psychedelics are still prevalent but in a different way, now folks are practicing microdosing and trying to be just a little bit high all the time.

The most notable shift in my time here has been toward a consistent population in their early 20s who have been smoking today’s high-potency weed (with percentages of THC as high as the 90s depending on the administration method) since adolescence. This makes their developmental age out of sync with chronological age, in essence they are adult teenagers. These young people have been casualties of the “it’s just weed” messaging that has made it difficult for them to notice how adversely it is affecting their brains and by extension their overall functioning. Some experience extreme anxiety and paranoia that becomes crippling and many tip all the way over into psychosis. Weed can also have amotivational effects over the long term and promotes a passive state that becomes the preferred norm. The idea of expending effort on their own behalf is alien but the idea of “never smoking weed again” is unfathomable.

Working in recovery from weed is not just about learning to live life without it, it means tackling issues of personal identity and working on how to build autonomy and independence—issues that begin in adolescence and ideally come to a foundation for adulthood by the mid-20s. When that whole period is spent using weed, the healthy trajectory is arrested. Many residents in this situation play catch-up and the SLR program/community supports that very well. Staff become surrogate family members, role-modeling healthy adult behaviors and meeting residents adult to adult. Because we are not actually family, we have the right degree of separation for that kind of guiding/trusting relationship to blossom.

Many residents do the work of growing up here and then practice from that place as they get more comfortable with following a schedule, working within a structure, sharing and collaborating on work crews, meeting responsibilities and learning to socialize in a healthy manner. They also learn to support and appreciate each other, being especially kind when someone is struggling from knowing what it’s like to have bad days.

At SLR we have found that giving folks a weekly meeting requirement that is tied to the ability to go off-site on the weekends works well. When I do the tally on Fridays, I generally approach someone who is 1 meeting short and offer a homework assignment to make it up. Today I spoke to someone in the living room and 3 of her peers immediately spoke up and said, “I’ll do a meeting with [resident] right now.” That’s an example of the “we’ve got your back” sentiment that arises in the resident community from the shared experience of recovery. As they work on being present in the program and present with each other, they renew/rebuild their sense of self and activate their ability to be fully present in their own lives.

CARF Accredited: Spring Lake Ranch programs are CARF accredited. The CARF accreditation signals our commitment to continually improving services, encouraging feedback, and serving the community.

Spring Lake Ranch is a member of the American Residential Treatment Association (ARTA). ARTA members are dedicated to providing extraordinary care to adults with mental illness.