The Florida House Experience 3 stars
Just north of Fort Lauderdale, a place legendary for Spring Break debauchery and drunkenness, is a decidedly more sober destination: a "non-enabling" rehab known as The Florida House Experience.
Location: Deerfield Beach, Fla.
Phone: (866) 421-6242
Price: $17,500 for 30 days
Overall: 3 stars
Accommodations: 4 stars
Treatment: 3 stars
If the name of this Florida drug and alcohol rehab conjures images of a Real World–style reality TV show, where strangers live together to find out what it’s like when they stop being wasted and start getting sober—well, you wouldn’t be far off. One of the more unique aspects of treatment at The Florida House Experience (FHE) is that everyone shares a self-contained two-bedroom apartment in a renovated former resort with one to three roommates (there are two beds in each bedroom).
The accommodations, however, are where the reality TV similarities end. For the most part, your fellow residents are going to be other young white and straight men and women, although there are a handful of other races, ages and sexual orientations in the mix as well. The income level is fairly solidly middle-class, with everyone from pilots and cops to janitors and lawyers in treatment. Usually the rehab hosts about 35 females and 55–60 males at any one time.
FHE seeks to mitigate any potential roommate drama by mandating strict standards of apartment cleanliness, with room checks morning, noon and night to make sure everyone is pulling their weight. “My apartment was really nice, and we were expected to keep them that way,” said one former resident. “It meant less chaos for everybody, especially since we were all from different homes and families.”
That said, it’s not like residents are down on their hands and knees scouring tile and groutwork on a daily basis; you are basically just required to make your bed, keep your common area orderly and the like. “Residents were responsible for weekly surface-cleaning of the apartment,” reported one FHE grad, while the facility’s own housekeeping staff provides deep-cleaning service once a week.
Not only do residents live together, they also cook together. FHE gives each person a $70 gift card to the local Publix supermarket on a weekly basis, and staff takes everyone there to purchase food, including coffee and snacks, for the week. But residents aren’t totally on their own: “We were given the benefit of a nutritionist’s class that helped with our choices if desired,” said one woman who prior to treatment had been a novice in terms of feeding herself. Another resident found the arrangement edifying as well, noting, “You can get a lot of food and cook with your roommates or you can buy yourself soda and chips and that’s what you’re gonna have to eat all week—so you learn to shop smarter and healthier.”
Of course, everyone wants a break from cooking at some point, so there’s also an on-site restaurant, JoJo’s Café, where residents are given $50 per week to spend on meals—the patty melt, Cuban sandwich and BLT are popular choices—or just to grab an afternoon snack or an iced coffee. (Residents also can top up their Café cards with their own funds—up to a maximum of $50 at any one time—although no one is allowed to have cash on hand while in treatment.) Finally, FHE throws a barbecue every Sunday, serving up hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken—and even an occasional killer pulled pork—prior to an AA meeting brought in by local alumni.
Days at The Florida House Experience are pretty busy. A typical 24 hours, reported one alumnus who described the schedule as “rigidly controlled and structured,” is wake-up at 7 am, followed by morning meditation, study/miscellanous time and first group meeting at 9:30 am; then a break for lunch; afternoon group, more study/misc. time, a community meeting and dinner break; followed by a mandatory AA, NA or CA meeting until 9 pm, with curfew at 10 pm. In the spaces between activities, residents can take a dip in the pool (the men and women each have their own) or work out or take a yoga class at the on-site Wellness Center, where you can also get acupuncture or a massage. On Sundays, FHE takes everyone one mile east to the beach—if your apartment passed inspection during the week prior, that is.
Whenever you have free time—which won’t be all that often—you can veg out in front of the flatsceen TV (with premium cable, including HBO) in your apartment. But you’ll have somewhat of a harder time chatting on the phone, as you have to be cleared for each call by your therapist. “Phone requests submitted on Tuesday, approved by Thursday,” said one resident, who seemed weary of the bureaucracy. “They made it so hard to use the phone that it wasn’t worth it,” said another. The Internet also is disallowed, unless it’s for doing research about rehab aftercare.
Medical issues are fielded by two on-site RNs, one of whom is a nurse practitioner. Should the need arise, a hospital is nearby. Other than its two psychiatrists, FHE does not have a full-time on-site MD, although Medical Director Dr. Albert Castellon visits the rehab three times a week to see patients.
Recovery-wise, FHE absolutely introduces its residents to the 12 steps—but, given that the rehab is more clinically focused, no one is actually required to work the steps while in treatment. (Regardless, the nightly 12-step meetings still are mandatory.) Other treatment high points include the group sessions, wherein counselors with significant portions of clean time share their experiences with their newly sober charges, as well as classes on general spirituality (not religion) and about personality traits and character defects, and how these interact with alcoholism and addiction. The rehab’s philosophical core is “tough love all the way,” said one grad. Noted another, “If you don’t want to talk about yourself—too bad.”