Tucked away within a 23-acre stand of old-growth Minnesota “Big Woods” 20 minutes west of downtown Minneapolis, in the town of Wayzata, is The Retreat, a 12-step-focused, gender-segregated drug and alcohol rehab.
Most of the people who check in here, for 30 days at a time, are in their late 20s to early 40s, with an average around the mid-30s. Yet, as one former resident said, “It was a mix of ages. I was in treatment with an 18-year-old and a 64-year-old.” One woman reported that her fellow rehabbers hailed from “all walks of life, from student to self-employed to lawyer.” The men and women are kept strictly apart, except for special occasions (for example if a visitor came in to do a comedy act).
The rehab occupies a former Catholic retreat that was run by an order of nuns, lending a meditative, spiritual feel to the grounds and buildings, which are done up in red brick and stone shingles, in the English Tudor style. Some female residents (a max of 21) share a quad room with roommates during their first week, while others enjoy private “cells,” pretty much according to the luck of the draw. Some appreciate bunking with others: “I liked being with roommates when I first got there, because I was afraid to be alone,” said one alumni. All of the men, meanwhile (41 max), enjoy private rooms.
In addition to keeping your room clean, each person has a daily chore, which changes on a weekly basis. And one lucky resident (one man and one woman, that is) will be designated “peer leader” (aka “The Rock”), and charged with taking attendance and making announcements—kind of like a squad leader in the military.
There are other group-led aspects to the place. One alumni said that “residents pretty much run the show, so everyone watches out for one another and reports things to the directors in charge.” Concerns are addressed at a weekly (or as needed) “community meeting,” wherein rule-breakers who aren’t being kicked out have to apologize to the group.
Rehab staff aren’t shy about getting rid of people who are disruptive, either. “Transferred one patient with anger issues to another facility,” related one man, about drama during his stay. He added, “Dismissed and sent home one patient for drinking.” “It was pretty tough but not overly so,” said one woman. “You had to want to be there.”
Days start with a 15-minute meditation at 7:15am, followed by a simple continental breakfast of coffee, fruit, cereal and pastries. “No hot breakfast,” reported one resident. Next up is an 8am volunteer-led “Big Book” study group, followed by a Sober Living study group (which takes its name from the nuts-and-bolts, getting-by-in-early-sobriety volume of the same name), a lecture and lunch at noon.
“Meals were good,” said one alumni (except for the cold breakfast, of course). “We always had salad and a ‘home-cooked meal.’” Favorite dishes include the salmon and homemade pizza, while least favorites included the pasta dishes. There’s not a ton of variety, though, which led one resident to confess, “after three weeks the rotation got a little old.” Coffee, sweets, snacks and “breakfast foods” are available for those in need of a caffeine fix or a nosh outside of mealtimes. Once a week, residents also are taken on a supervised trip to a nearby supermarket to pick up any outside food they might want.
Afternoons are occupied by the community meeting; more meditation; 4th- and 10th-step work; a weekly, somewhat watered-down version of yoga—“basically light stretching”—and personal time, during which you can work out at the small on-site gym (men and women on alternate days), play basketball or walk or run along the less-than-a-mile-long path which winds through the trees around the campus. One woman in particular loved the trail: “It was great for walking after meditation, and the woods had a strange spiritual aspect to them,” she said.
Fittingly, for a former religious retreat, personal electronics are off-limits here. There’s no cell phones, no Internet and no TV except for communal Saturday movie nights, and the occasional big sporting or cultural event that everyone wants to watch. Reading is limited to recovery literature, or books spiritual in nature, with an on-site library full of such tomes. You can call friends and family as much as you want, but this is limited by there being only two house phones (one pay and one free) that are shared by everyone—so really it works out to about 15 minutes of phone time per person in the evenings. Otherwise, nights are for AA meetings, which are brought into the rehab by the very active local recovery community, and a daily 10th-step group at 9pm.