The Promising Work of Recovery Communities

Sobriety is not the same as recovery. Similar to referring a cancer-survivor as “in remission” instead of “cancer free,” being “sober” is not the same as being “recovered.” For starters, recovery often takes a long period of sobriety, whereas you become sober as soon as you stop using drugs and alcohol. For this reason, sobriety suggests your addiction is a latent disease, not a cured one. There is always the danger of relapse, and your sobriety bases itself fundamentally on that danger. When you’re recovered from addiction, you’re not only sober, but you’ve dealt with the underlying issue of your addiction. Full recovery from addiction is the ultimate goal of one’s recovery journey, just like becoming entirely cancer free is the ultimate goal of cancer treatment. But the journey to recovery is a long one, fraught with many twists and turns.

Rehabilitation centers try their best to tackle the various issues that crop up in recovery, but it’s not easy to hone in on exactly what works for most people. However, these three different recovery programs with similar approaches have shown high success rates and may be able to clue us all in: San Patrignano in Italy, The Delancey Street Foundation and The Other Side Academy in Utah in the U.S. Let’s analyze three.

1. San Patrignano

San Patrignano was founded by Vincenzo Muccioli in 1978 in response to Europe’s rising drug epidemic and its lack of recovery options. It has a success rate of 72 percent, and this statistic has been followed over a 25-year period and represents long-term recovery.

The first sign that San Patrignano is a pioneer in the field of treatment is its cost: free to anyone who comes to the community sober. Yes, you must be 100 percent clean to enter their recovery program. This program’s emphasis is less focused on basic abstinence and more so on addressing the root cause behind a resident’s addictive behavior. To operate, the program relies on private donations and sustainable practices. One reason this helps residents is that the facility does not limit a resident’s treatment plan based off insurance or government guidelines.

It’s not a short program. Approximately 1500 young adults (some with families) stay for 3 to 4 years and operate as a community with over 750 volunteers.This shared communal experience is what truly sets San Patrignano apart from other rehabilitation facilities. Belonging to a community where others understand and accept you is part of the program’s process and also its high success rate.

Why is community so important in addiction recovery? Many suffering from addiction loose themselves to the disease and in doing so become something society doesn't have a place for. A sick person becomes marginalized and doesn't know where to begin to begin again. San Patrignano reconstructs identities in a few ways. It teaches residents interpersonal skills with their neighbors, and it provides its residents with work opportunities in local sustainable businesses, like farms, flower nurseries, restaurants and wineries. There is even a local radio station. They also have an education center to earn diplomas and degrees as well as 50 vocational training opportunities in specific fields.

2. The Delancey Street Foundation

Delancey Street was first founded in 1971 by four people in an apartment in San Francisco and now serves multiple U.S. cities including San Francisco and Los Angeles, San Juan Pueblo, New Mexico, Greensboro, North Carolina, and Brewster, New York.

Like San Patrignano, Delancey Street is a free program for those already sober that runs off of private donations and sustainable practices. It also gives its residents opportunities to build identity and self esteem by working to contribute to the community, while accumulating skills and experience to fill their future resumes for their lives after Delancey Street.

Also like San Patrignano, Delancey Street model has a high success rate for long-term recovery.

3. The Other Side Academy

TOSA is a newer non-profit rehabilitative community founded in 2015 by Joseph Grenny and his wife who and based off of Delancey Street in California. Following the Delancey Street Foundation rehabilitative community model, it offers the same philosophy, educational and vocational opportunities. And of course, its residents are most often successful in the long-term.

There are multiple options to choose from when looking into starting the rehabilitation process, but these three rehabilitative community models and other communities like these are addressing the whole person and the issues they face in recovery and beyond. When looking for a program to start recovery, consider your life, your path so far and evaluate what your goals are, not just in getting sober, but also in what life should look like afterward. A program like San Patrignano, Delancey Street, or The Other Side Academy might be what you need to build a new identity and achieve long-term recovery, forever.

Colleen Marlett is a fierce advocate for reform in the recovery rehabilitation sector. I reside on the central coast of California and am currently fighting for the life of my adult daughter who is suffering from substance use disorder. I'm also an advocate for adoption rights, women's gynecological cancer and health and publicly speak and write on these subjects as well.

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