Burning Tree 3 stars
This no-nonsense Texas rehab gives relapsing hard cases another shot at sobriety with clear rules, tough love and long-term, 12-step-focused treatment.
With two Lone Star State locations—the Ranch, 45 minutes east of Dallas in Kaufman, Texas, and the Lodge, a half-hour east of Austin in Elgin, Texas—Burning Tree drug and alcohol rehab specializes in treating chronic relapsers, and treating them for a good long while: Former residents, including one self-described hopeless alcoholic and addict who’d been to nine “regular” treatment centers, reported staying at Burning Tree for up to 15 months (although the typical length of stay is more like eight months to a year). Another man, charged with his fourth DWI, said he came here because he wanted to stay out of prison.
As you might expect from a rehab whose stock in trade is individuals who can’t seem to keep on the straight and narrow, Burning Tree is serious as a hanging judge about law and order. (Click here to read The Fix's investigative report that was launched by a serious complaint against the rehab that we received.) “Staff had a very low tolerance for not following the rules,” said one resident. Consequences might include taking away coffee privileges for two days from the whole community, if, say, the coffeemaker has been repeatedly left switched on. Another former resident testified to the camaraderie-building aspect of this approach: “Being ‘on a contract’ where … your whole house couldn’t watch TV on the weekend kept everyone looking out for each other.”
Who is everyone? Men and women ages 18–60 or 65, with mid-30s being the average age range, and straight white people predominating. The Ranch can accommodate up to 36 individuals at once, while the Lodge houses 30, but there usually are only around 25 people in treatment in each place at any one time. Resident occupations run the gamut from student to CEO, although most hail from wealthy families, with quite a few upper-management-types—or children and spouses of same—in treatment.
It’s good that Burning Tree’s rules-enforcement policies help bind people together, because the rehab does not make meals for its charges. “We made our own breakfast and lunch,” said one former client, while “dinner was cooked by the assigned daily cooking crew.” (Everyone takes shifts on this rotating crew.) That said, the rehab’s nutritionist does put together a decent menu for residents to follow, resulting in a tastier and more healthful spread than you might imagine.
Meals tend toward uncomplicated home-cooking, with favorite dishes including Salisbury steak, fajitas and tacos, BLTs and pork roast on Sundays. At the regular Wednesday-night speaker dinners, “We cooked out hamburgers and hot dogs and had pies and a guest speaker,” said one resident, who also noted that alumni and sponsors were welcome at these weekly get-togethers. To drink there’s Kool-Aid and coffee (the latter available daily until noon), while sweets are mostly reserved for dessert; healthy snacks and fruit are always available.
Burning Tree runs a tight ship, schedule-wise, with the kitchen opening up at 6 am, chores at 7 am, first daily group at 9:30 am—and so on, until lights-out at 11 pm during the week. Everyone has at least one roommate, and each resident is furthermore assigned a “buddy” for their first two weeks, in order to smooth the transition into community living. In their spare time, residents can take weekly yoga classes, go swimming (in the summer) and hit the gym, or work jigsaw puzzles or play cards and board games. Off-campus Saturday outings include varieties both service-oriented (nursing-home bingo) and just-for-fun (Six Flags, bowling, movies). Five-minute phone calls are allowed twice a week—to sponsors on Wednesdays and family on Sundays—and you can forget about surfing the Web; there’s no Internet at Burning Tree, while TV is a weekend-only indulgence.
Treatment has a strong non-religious 12-step focus (although you can attend worship services if you want), and includes an intensive three-day family program, cited by more than one grad as one of the most memorable parts of their stay. “There is psychotherapy available as well,” noted another former resident, “but the majority of the work I did was in the 12 Steps.” And the length of time most people are at Burning Tree is judged a positive, in that it allows residents to work through all 12 Steps with a sponsor while “safe in treatment,” as one put it. If working the steps and relying upon one’s own “Higher Power” doesn’t heal all your ailments, off-site doctors are available by appointment, while psychiatrists and certified nurses work at the rehab.
What it all comes down to, though, is keeping clean—and Burning Tree seems to deliver. Doing a year or more here is in some ways “hard time,” but it works for those who can see the value in the rehab’s no-nonsense, high-accountability approach: “The place didn’t sell out on me and let me run the show or my treatment,” said one. Another noted, “I absolutely believe that Burning Tree is the perfect place for the chronic relapser who has had multiple failed attempts at sobriety and is looking for a different experience.”
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