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Honoring 'The Process'

St. Joseph’s Rehabilitation Center may be tucked away in Saranac Lake, but its impact

November 22, 2008
By EMILY HUNKLER, Enterprise Staff Writer

SARANAC LAKE - By the time he arrived at St. Joseph's Rehabilitation Center, 22-year-old Jared M. had been through three month-long rehabilitation programs and two outpatient programs in his half-hearted attempts to kick his crack cocaine addiction. Although he may have been ill-prepared, his story of recovery is among thousands of testaments to why the center is known by many as "the last house on the hill."

For nearly four decades, St. Joseph's has been assisting those who are battling drug and alcohol addictions. Often, the residents in treatment there have been to multiple rehabilitation centers before ending up at St. Joe's.

Jared M., 22, said he knew the reputation of St. Joseph's well before finally breaking his addiction to crack cocaine there this summer.

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In its heyday before the Great Depression, the Rumsey Cottage sheltered the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and several up-and-coming authors. John W. Rumsey was a successful literary agent who had sold the motion picture rights for more than 1,300 plays.
(Photo provided)

"I ended up getting arrested on the first of July, I sat in jail for a week and somehow my lawyer got me into St. Joe's in a week," said Jared, whose name has been changed to protect his identity. However, he was not as optimistic as his lawyer. "I really didn't want to go. I had heard about it and how tough it was."

"I've been told we have a reputation for dismantling people," said Danny Ryan, a primary counselor at St. Joseph's.

This may be the key to what is referred to as "The Process" at St. Joseph's. The process is what works to get people sober, helping people face their addictions and eradicate them - it's neither the counselors nor the administrators nor the supervisors. The gestalt process comprises all these people and more, and neither the counselors nor former residents are able to define it.

"There's something about this process that I can't articulate or explain - but it works," Ryan said. "It's my job to stay in alignment with it or just get out of the way and just let it happen."

The basics

St. Joseph's was opened as a rehabilitation center in 1971 by Father Carmen Giuliano of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement. The initial residents at St. Joseph's were referred from St. Christopher's Inn, another treatment facility operated by the Friars in Garrison. The inpatient facilities, which are located at 159 Glenwood in Saranac Lake , have the capacity for 46 men and 12 women. Women were admitted into the program for the first time in 1984.

While many rehabilitation programs operate on a 28-day schedule due to limitations in insurance coverage, on average, a resident at St. Joseph's stays for 90 days, which many of the counselors, staff and residents at St. Joseph's think is a necessary time frame.

"The only correlation there is between being in treatment and being able to stay sober is the length of your treatment," Ryan said. "If you stay in treatment for a longer period of time, your chance of relapsing becomes smaller."

Jared M., who had been in three 28-day programs and two outpatient programs before being admitted to St. Joseph's, agrees that those struggling with substance abuse need more than a month in treatment to be successful.

"You know, it's just a spin cycle," Jared said of his previous treatments. "You get in there, you get some meals and then you're out. Nothing really changes."


When Jared M. arrived at St. Joseph's on July 8, he said he was overwhelmed by all the rules that were immediately imposed on him.

"I was living on the streets and had just gotten out of jail, and I was like, 'You're telling me to wear a button-down shirt every day?'" he said.

When they arrive at St. Joseph's, residents are given a rule book nearly an inch thick; it seems that a major part of "The Process" is daily regiment and forcing order and routine into a life that previously had little.

"Structuralizing, that's a big part of it," Ryan said. "These are people that are very familiar with chaos - creating chaos and maintaining chaos."

Jared M. said that the group counseling sessions were where he surprised himself the most.

"It was only a month-and-a-half into St. Joe's and I had told 12 or 13 grown men these secrets about me that I never thought I would tell anyone," he said. "A big part of the treatment is just becoming aware of yourself, and by sharing your thoughts and feelings with people, you realize that your issues aren't unique, which makes them a lot easier to confront."

The minds behind St. Joseph's realized the importance this ability to connect and identify with others has in continued sobriety, and for this reason, a fellowship of more than 4,000 St. Joseph's graduates exists. Each year a reunion is held for the fellowship to reconvene and celebrate their successes and to hopefully inspire those who are still in treatment there. This year, more than 300 men and women showed up for that October weekend.

"At the reunion, I had only been out of there for a week or two and that was a really big deal because I felt like I was part of something bigger than just myself," Jared M. said.

The hardest four days

in treatment

Among the major aspects of treatment is the four-day-long family session each resident participates in, which Jared M. said was the most draining four days of his stay there.

"At the family program you have to sit there, a foot away from the person telling you all these horrible things you've done in your life, and you just have to listen," he explained. "I cried like a baby. It was torture."

Bernadette Burns, director of the family program, said that those four days are vital, not just to bring a new dimension to the residents rehabilitation but to help family members see their role in the recovery process.

"A lot of times family members will come to the session with a lot of skepticism, but they begin to trust us because they can see the changes in their resident and they don't want to mess it up," Burns said. "I think after the session, some honest-to-God hope comes that things are really going to change this time."

One parent of a resident who had been through eight treatment facilities before and participated in two separate family sessions wrote, "We came away with a renewed hope for mankind, and filled with wonder and hope regarding your facility. We have never had an experience such as this, even though we have been to so many treatment centers over the past six years ... Our son appears to have made some significant strides, which have not been possible up to this point."

Although she said it is difficult to be a part of such emotionally charged situations on a regular basis, Burns wouldn't have it any other way.

"I absolutely believe in what we do, and by fostering and supporting this communication, there's healing that happens," she said. "I love being a part of it, even though it is painful."

St. Joseph's family program, which started in 1981, was the first in the state and provides a model that countless other facilities worldwide have looked to for guidance.

Bob Ross, CEO of St. Joseph's, noted that the House of Hope on the Hill in St. Petersburg, Russia has sent counselors to St. Joseph's for training in the family program and general treatment and hopes that in the future St. Joseph's counselors will be able to travel there to help establish a similar family program.

The House of Hope on the Hill is the only free alcoholism treatment facility in Russia, a country whose infamous alcoholism rate has been found to have a significant effect on its declining mortality rate in recent years, according to studies in the Oxford Journal.

St. Joseph's effects on

the local community

St. Joseph's is not only the estate tucked away on the hill, the treatment center also consists of outpatient centers in Saranac Lake, opened in 1987, Malone, Elizabethtown, Ticonderoga and Lake Placid.

Ross said that since his hiring in 2007, he has tried to help St. Joseph's play a more prominent role in the community.

According to Ross, St. Joseph's employs 127 people, making it one of the largest employers in the area.

Among the projects St. Joseph's has in the works, Ross said they also hope to collaborate with Camp Gabriels to start a substance-abuse treatment program at the detention center to help reduce recidivism. The majority of inmates at Camp Gabriels are non-violent offenders, many of whom struggle with substance abuse.

"The criminal justice area is of increasing importance because some of the opportunities we have are to allow for more of the individuals who are serving time to be diverted into a program," Ross said.

Ross said the advantages of such a program are numerous, including saving taxpayers money by improving inmates' chances of recovery and decreasing their chances of becoming recidivistic. He added that while he hopes this program comes to fruition, it is still in the discussion phase.

St. Joseph's also uses their vans to provide safe and sober rides during Winter Carnival.

"It's an opportunity for us to do two things - provide assistance, and it's also a great opportunity for providing education on drinking and driving," Ross said.

The benefits outweigh

the difficulties

"Everyday, I get to witness alchemy," Ryan said when asked why he chose this career path. "I get to watch lead turn into gold. To be able to watch a broken human being walk down the hallway like they matter, like they're important."

Ryan said his job is most difficult when residents quit without realizing how close they are to recovery.

"There's been times I've had to shut that door and cry because he didn't just drop it - he threw it. And it breaks my heart every time."

For the most part though, it's for Jared M. and the thousands before him and the thousands that follow him that St. Joseph's continues to be such a renowned treatment center.

"St. Joseph's changes people," Jared M. said. "I really learned so much there."

Currently, he is living in one of St. Joseph's guest houses along with other former residents, where he has to find his own employment and pay his own living expenses.

"I'm enjoying it now. Before I got here, I was beyond nervous," he said. "The first person I met at the bus station was a heroine addict - I must have said the serenity prayer like a thousand times on my way there."The typical length of stay at a guest house is three months, but Jared said he plans to ask for an extension after recently losing his construction job after cutbacks had to be made because of a lull in business. But he said he has been applying for more jobs and has had some positive feedback.

"My life is just completely different, nothing like it used to be," he said. "I heard this so many times while I was there, but it's hard to explain any other way; you just have to trust the process."



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