Who Are You Really? How Long-term Rehabilitation Can Turn Your Life Around
Education and Advocacy Question: After years of struggling with addiction, how did one man finally find sobriety? Answer: He enrolled in a theraputic community, in an effort to help himself — and others.
Nick Runowski used to live multiple lives. At work, he was a crane operator. At home, he was a family man. And the rest of the time, he was an addict. But after 15 years of cocaine use and prescription pills, those three lives started to catch up to him.
“It got really messy,” he says. “The addict would show up at the job sight and vice versa. I started to lose family, I started to lose my career.”
After struggling in secret, Runowski finally came forward and at the encouragement of his family, sought help.
Seeking the best option
He did some research and became discouraged with the options available. Most of the facilities were short-term and structured in classroom settings. Then discovered therapeutic communities, which followed a format that appealed to him.
“The thing that stuck out to me was that it was a long-term program,” he says. “Everything else I was looking at was three months, six months. I thought man, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it right. How am I going to turn around 15 years of addiction in three months?”
The unique concept
Therapeutic communities are unique, long-term rehabilitation programs that incorporate group sessions, personal development and career preparation over the years that a person lives within the community. It also follows an “each one, teach one” philosophy, so that everyone in the program is required to help one another, as well as themselves.
"Idle time for an addict is the devil’s time. You’re thinking about why you shouldn’t be there. Having the regiment, the structure and the daily routine really built me back up to the person I once was and pointed me in the right direction.”
“The treatment is conducted by the community, as opposed to the top down, councilor, person-served kind of level,” Says Nikki Migas, with CARF International, a private non-profit that does accreditation of rehabilitation providers.
“It’s not the councilor who spends the majority of the time trying to help the person understand their addiction or their illness. It is other people within the residential setting, the community, which works with the people who are moving towards recovery.”
The term “community” refers to the group structure of the facility, and the fact that everything – from training to group sessions - is done on site.
Another unique aspect of therapeutic communities is the skill training received in the program, usually at an on-site facility. For Runowski, that meant working at a non-profit grocery store, which employed and was run by members of his community. He appreciated the experience, since it was a safe place to make mistakes.
“If someone told me to sit in a class, read a book about my addictions, I would have told them they were crazy,” he says. “The store makes you feel fulfilled, to do things throughout the day, to learn a skill, a trade.”
He adds that many of the patients who enter the program don’t have skills aside from drug dealing. The employment aspect of therapeutic community is hugely successful, as it provides members with skills like baking and butchering, that they can take with them for life.
Runowski has certainly learned valuable skills since entering treatment nearly three years ago. He’s now a program director at a therapeutic community in Vancouver.
“The structure there was exactly what I needed. My life was upside down,” Runowski says. “Idle time for an addict is the devil’s time. You’re thinking about why you shouldn’t be there. Having the regiment, the structure and the daily routine really built me back up to the person I once was and pointed me in the right direction.”