Santé Center for Healing 3 stars
Community ties are strong at this raucous Texas rehab, where residents bond quickly on the ropes course and over fried chicken and sweet tea.
Santé Center for Healing, in little Argyle, Texas, is a rollicking, roiling place, a rehab with the feel of a summer camp, where individuals struggle to overcome chemical, sex and food addictions. In the process, the residents—a mixed lot of up to 46 middle- to upper-class men and women—also have to contend with a seasoned staff of 150 who’ve seen it all when it comes to the many ways in which addiction wreaks havoc.
The demographic at Santé is open-ended, though it serves a primarily white and upper-middle-class segment, balanced out by small numbers of Hispanics and African-Americans. The facility also tends to attract more than its share of doctors who are struggling with substance-abuse issues, and it’s emphatically gay-friendly. Beyond that, according to interviews with Santé alums, there are handfuls of millionaires paying out of pocket, wayward kids of wealthy parents, blue-collar types on charity grants and even addicts who’ve been on the popular A&E show Intervention. The one thing everyone has in common? In the words of one former resident, “most people there had hit a pretty serious bottom.”
One of the pillars of any 12-step program is “fellowship”—and that’s just what you’ll get in terms of day-to-day life in this regimented, highly communal environment. Everyone rooms with one other person, and weekly jobs are selected from a “chore board” of mostly simple tasks like vacuuming one’s group-session room or wiping down tables in the cafeteria after meals.
Mornings come early, with breakfast served promptly at 7 am, followed by classes, group sessions and, depending on the day, music therapy, meditation, “psychodrama”—aka role-playing—and more until lunch. In the afternoon, campers—er, residents—head outdoors for time on Santé’s ropes course, followed by group sessions on specific addictions, weekly one-on-one therapy and, after dinner, AA, NA or SAA meetings and therapeutic “homework.”
During free time in the evenings, some people organize volleyball games, work out at the small on-site gym or stroll the one-mile walking trail which threads its way through Santé’s grounds. Residents can use the phone during certain hours of the day and night, for 15–30 minutes, and there’s no TV or Internet allowed, save for occasional weekend movies and the odd sports game, such as the Super Bowl and the 2011 World Series (which featured the Texas Rangers). Other diversions include twice-a-week yoga classes, a rarely-used indoor swimming pool, a blacktop basketball hoop and a ping-pong table.
All that activity works up an appetite in rehabbers, which gets sated with “cafeteria-style [food]—and lots of it,” said one alum. Hot breakfasts are served twice to three times a week, while filling lunches and dinners are middle-of-the-road American, featuring fried chicken, mashed potatoes, barbecue brisket, steaks, pasta and ribs, with a salad bar and delicious rolls. And we hope you like chicken, as you’re going to be eating a lot of it at Santé: “They must own stock in Tyson,” quipped one resident. If you can believe it, another reported that “someone raised emus, and so once or twice we had emu meat.” She added, perhaps unnecessarily, “That was my least favorite.” In general, non-meat-eaters might have a hard time of it. “I had to remind the cooks about my needs and sometimes I had to fend for myself,” said one vegetarian. Full-strength coffee can be drunk until 11 am, with decaf and herbal teas throughout the rest of the day, while vending machines dispense snacks and a small amount of sweets.
Law and order is kept by both the staff and by “elected officials” among residents—“We had a sheriff and a mayor,” said one—while a lot of emphasis is placed on residents policing themselves, with lengthy “come to Jesus” meetings held if the community becomes too unruly or fractured. Individuals, meanwhile, risk getting “de-leveled” (reduced privileges) for infractions like straying from an outing. It’s not a permissive place: Tough love is the order of the day, with addicts held accountable for their behavior. “They were very firm about addiction-related boundaries,” said one grad, “but very loving and gentle in the approach to healing.” On the medical-staff side, competent nurses and mental-health techs are in residence 24/7, while either a general practitioner who specializes in addiction or a psychiatrist cover between them most of each week.
Santé handles spirituality in a democratic manner, with no religious path elevated above others—just an emphasis on finding a higher power. Non-Christians won’t feel like they don’t belong, as it’s “definitely not a Bible-thumping place, even though many clients come from Baptist backgrounds,” said one Santé grad. Other alumni cited well-received talks given by Father Leo Booth, “the Recovery Reverend,” while another said he had a counselor who was a member of the Native American Lakota tribe, who held a small ceremony meant to release old ideas and bad spirits. “I thought it was wonderful, and I am by birth a Catholic,” the resident said.
If you don’t mind being part of a crowd, and the focus being more on the group than the individual, Santé Center might be a great fit. “Months and months later, I still turn to the long-term treatment skills they taught me, and to the community of Santé at large,” testified one happily sober grad. Another shrewdly observed, “You’re going to hate any treatment center you go to. [Santé] was the worst experience I had that saved my life—so therefore it became my best life experience.”
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