Whole Recovery 3 stars
This holistic Costa Rica rehab is great for addicts and drunks who want to get their mind, body and diet put right at the same time as they do their addiction—but those wanting to do a “90 in 90” might want to look elsewhere.
Peeking out from a jungly mountaintop overlooking Costa Rica’s Pacific shoreline is the luxury villa of Whole Recovery, a holistic drug and alcohol rehab run by an international staff and started by Russian ex-pats including Dr. Jacob Marshak. Evidently they decided that these verdant tropical environs were more conducive to recovery than frigid Mother Russia.
Others seem to agree that Costa Rica is a great place to get sober: Whole Recovery attracts many different ethnic groups and ages of people, the majority of whom hail from North America (although some Latin Americans and Russian-speakers check in as well). The residents are mostly high earners (or their offspring), who come to Whole Recovery for a month-long stay to free themselves from addictions to stimulants, Oxycontin, heroin and good old vodka.
Besides the tropical setting, the big draw for Whole Recovery is its clear emphasis on holistic recovery, with a treatment program that is heavy on yoga and therapy, both one-on-one and group (including EMDR trauma resolution and psychodrama), alongside a healthful, regenerative diet.
One resident described meals as gourmet-leaning, “Food Network–type of stuff,” while another said she learned not only to break her drug addiction while in treatment, but also her junk-food habit. Sweets other than fruit are outlawed, yet good-quality coffee can be drunk whenever—just don’t think about stirring any white sugar into it. As you might imagine, a lot of seafood gets served—including the occasional local Pacific lobster—and fave dishes include the quinoa, various eggplant creations, vegetarian soup and sea bass with mango salsa. Of the latter, one foodie alum boldly declared, “I would gladly check into rehab again just to eat this.”
Daily life at Whole Recovery sounds idyllic, with residents bunking in spa-like accommodations, all with roommates, unless you pay extra for a private room. Much of your time will be devoted to yoga and t’ai chi, swimming in the ocean, massages (thrice weekly), acupuncture, sunset meditation sessions and more, including weekly all-day outings to nearby waterfalls, or even a volcano. One resident said that being able to paint as part of her therapy really helped.
If you’re looking to hit a lot of meetings while in treatment, the facility’s secluded location is a stumbling block. The rehab organizes two AA meetings a week, inviting locals to join in (about five to seven typically do), and these are held about five minutes’ drive away. Instead, the staff and patients rely on group therapy, which takes place five times a week, and individual psychotherapy sessions, which happen three times weekly. Yoga also is treated like another form of therapy. (If you couldn’t tell, you’re going to be doing a lot of yoga here.) Whole Recovery also educates its residents about the inner workings of the brain as they relate to addiction, including strategies to avoid relapse triggers. A medical doctor and a psychiatrist are present seven days a week (although not 24 hours a day), the former mostly for new arrivals who are detoxing, as well as minor incidents like cutting one’s foot on a broken shell on the beach, as happened to one individual.
Polite but firm is the best way to describe how staff deals with residents—although at least one alum found the place too strict, citing a case in which one guy “who was doing his own thing and did not seem to take some of their activities too seriously” was given the boot. Doing your own thing is further discouraged by disallowing phone and Internet usage during the first 10 days of your stay, after which you’re granted 20 minutes a day. If you can’t possibly miss the latest episode of Mad Men, Whole Recovery probably isn’t the place for you, because there’s no cable TV—which of course can be a good thing: One young resident reportedly read more books than he ever had in his entire life during his stay at Whole Recovery. That said, the rehab has a 400-movie library, which residents can watch at any time.
If all that sounds like a fitting environment, Whole Recovery could be a great place to start your recovery, with big helpings of general spirituality and a desire to instill a personal understanding of a higher power. And after leaving treatment, staff stay in touch, to check in on how their former charges are faring in the world. “I didn’t feel like I was just another junkie,” said one former resident. “I really liked the guys working there,” said another: “They are like friends."
Summing up the situation nicely, one alum describes Whole Recovery in relaxed, balmy tones: “No stress, great country, fresh air, great food.”
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