Alta Mira 4 stars
This luxe San Francisco rehab remains free-thinking in some ways—see for instance its Native American sweat lodge—while it grows more traditional in others.
Treatment policies at Alta Mira have changed since the rehab first opened its doors in 2007, when residents who weren’t into the whole 12-Step scene were allowed—if begrudgingly—to "opt out" of attending Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings. No longer: As of June 2012, according to Alta Mira CEO Bill Morrison, this Bay Area drug and alcohol treatment center was in the process of making participation in a 12-Step program mandatory, with consequences for those who "just say no."
But that's not to say that residents have no say in how their treatment will be structured. Rather, "Our therapists work with them intensively from day one to craft a recovery plan that is going to offer each individual the best possible chance at long-term recovery," says Morrison. This includes off-site AA or NA meetings five nights a week or so, with in-house meetings and visits to the Zen Center thrown into the mix as well.
For residents—a max of 30 at any one time—other highlights of the Alta Mira experience include the family weekend, with family group therapy, as well as the Native American aspect of treatment. “The [on-site] sweat lodge stands out,” said one Alta Mira grad. And, as one might expect from a West Coast rehab that offers up a sweat lodge, the emphasis is on finding one’s own spiritual path, rather than taking part in that old-time religion.
Alta Mira is situated on a lush hillside parcel of land overlooking the glittering-blue San Francisco Bay, and welcomes a slice of the populace that mirrors the makeup of the city itself, with a diverse array of ages, races, sexual orientations and occupations represented. The only thing residents have in common is income: “Most seemed affluent,” said one resident of his fellows. Less generously, another accused Alta Mira of hosting “lots of rich people’s kids with senses of entitlements.”
But there’s not much time for roommate drama to take root, as days at the rehab are jam-packed with activities, therapy, process groups and more. Breakfast is early, with the first activity at 7:30 am, going straight through (with breaks) until 9:30 pm—so loafers beware. That said, people do seem to appreciate, if not enjoy, the regimented routine, noting that “the rhythm of the days took [away] much of the anxiety of waking up.”
You won’t have to worry about chores or jobs here, as Alta Mira would rather its residents focus wholly on classes and lectures, qigong (reminiscent of t’ai chi), yoga, acupuncture, massage, hitting the gym (a small onsite one, or a larger offsite facility) and more. Twice a week the rehab gets everyone out on field trips to go hiking, visit museums, go kayaking, rock-climbing, see movies—even visit Alcatraz. (Alumni didn’t specify whether this was an anachronistic “scared straight”-type exercise.) The outings were one resident’s favorite thing about Alta Mira: “[They] helped us feel involved in the community, like whole beings—besides just addicts in recovery,” she said. Residents also have great access to Marin’s gorgeous beaches.
Everyone agrees that the staff at Alta Mira are top-notch. “I felt like I got years of therapy in 30 days,” said one former resident, while another cited some life-changing revelations which came as a direct result of one-on-one work. Medical care is adequate, with a licensed nurse on hand 24/7, and a psychiatric nurse practitioner and a doctor who specializes in addiction and pain management trading off three to four hours on a daily basis. Non-medical staff, meanwhile, relate to residents in a respectful, empathetic manner, treating them like adults rather than kids—and reportedly are pretty chill, except when hitting off-site meetings, which “stressed staff out,” said one alumni. “Some people would bolt or try to deviate.”
Nobody tries to bolt at mealtimes, though, which are an unpretentious and healthy mix of steak, chicken, salmon, salads and green vegetables, with a vegetarian option at every meal. If you don’t like one dish in particular, don’t worry: The menu rotates frequently. “We rarely had the same meal in the five weeks I was there,” recalled one stuffed alumni. The breakfast buffet is a favorite, featuring eggs, French toast, fresh fruit, waffles, oatmeal, bacon, sausage and more. Good-quality coffee can be drunk daily until noon, while straight-up sweets only are available on special occasions or Sundays—although healthy nibbles such as fruit, yogurt and nuts are free for the taking around the clock.
One thing not available all the time is the telephone; residents are allowed access to their cell phones only from 5 or 6 to 9 pm nightly—and there’s just a single computer to share for email and Internet. The TV’s not hooked up to cable, either, although Sunday movie nights and the occasional special-event viewing, like for the Oscars or the Super Bowl, are a high point. But despite these deprivations, people who’ve gone through Alta Mira’s program appreciate its innovative, comprehensive approach. “The way they approached me as a whole person ... is why I am able to stay sober in my life,” said one rehab grad.