Saint Jude Retreats

By The Fix staff 07/24/12

Think AA is a sham, but still need to get sober? Try Saint Jude Retreats, a non-12-step program which encourages residents—through classes, workbooks and volunteering—to get their lives back on track by making more productive choices.

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The Twin Rivers Retreat, in Hagaman, NY. Photo via
Location : Upstate New York
Phone : (888) 424-2626
Price : $12,900–$30,000 for six weeks
Overall :
Accommodations :
Treatment :
Food :
Insurance : No
Detox : No

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People from all walks of life, from truck-drivers to medical doctors, enroll at Saint Jude Retreats’ three locations in upstate New York: the 24-person Twin Rivers Retreat, in Hagaman; the 22-person Mountain Retreat, in Wells; and the six-person Executive Retreat, in Florida, NY. The one thing these individuals have in common is that they’ve all decided that the 12 steps are not for them, as Saint Jude Retreats (SJR), which does not subscribe to the “disease model” of addiction, offers a non-12-step-based program.

So how does SJR help people find a way out of addiction? It follows the so-called “freedom model,” believing that alcoholics and addicts have, “based on a lack of more productive options, made counterproductive choices.” The whole thrust of the program, then, is about opening hearts and minds to new goals, activities or things that will bring a person greater happiness—since, according to a central tenet of Saint Jude Retreats, “All people always move in the direction of what they believe will bring them the most happiness.”

For many, the No. 1 highlight of the Saint Jude program is “learning that I was in control of my life and no one or nothing was ‘making’ me do anything,” as one grad observed. Of course, ideology often takes a backseat to more readily tangible stuff, such as the other people who are going through the program with you. “I chose this facility because it was anti-AA and 12-step,” said one former resident. “But the most memorable aspect for me was just my peers that I became friendly with. I met some really awesome people there.”

Who are these peers? A large number of them are young people, with a particularly strong showing in the 18–22 age range, although SJR residents do include older individuals, in their late 40s and beyond. Slightly more men than women come here, and white people predominate, although other ethnicities, nationalities and sexual orientations are welcomed. Most who enroll at SJR aren’t hurting, money-wise, although the availability of financing and a small number of scholarships mitigates the high-net-worth factor to some extent.

Apart from those who pay extra for a private room—or, at the Executive Retreat, a single suite—SJR residents all live with one or more roommates, “in cramped quarters but not a problem,” said one graduate. Another alumni, who said he bunked in a room with six other guys, noted that, “It was not so bad as long as you didn’t have a heavy snorer!” (Due to recent renovations, the max number of people in one of the dorm-style rooms at Hagaman is now four.) There aren’t many chores to speak of, other than making your bed, keeping your personal space tidy and helping out in the kitchen by washing dishes and cleaning the dining room. If you get sick or need meds adjusted, you’ll have to catch a scheduled ride off-site, as there are no medical doctors or psychiatrists on staff at the retreat.

Days at SJR are occupied by hefty chunks of class time (with its attendant textbook, accompanying workbooks and homework) and physical exercise in the form of volleyball and softball games, and trips to the gym. In the evenings, you can make phone calls or surf the web as much as you want, within reason (residents are allowed to bring their own phones and laptops), or hang out with one’s fellow residents, watching cable TV and movies or playing Nintendo Wii. “Naps,” noted another alumni somberly, “are discouraged but possible.” What is encouraged, during free time—of which some felt there was a little too much—is giving back by volunteering. This push led one SJR grad to pitch in with Meals on Wheels and the local VFW chapter.

Other special activities on offer include hiking along nearby nature trails, movies, bowling, pool tournaments and more. SJR doesn’t keep its residents on lockdown in the way that some rehabs do, which people appreciate. “Being able to leave the property and run to the store or go on a walk, run, jog or bike ride made life at the house much easier,” said one woman. “Knowing that you are not trapped in the house for every waking moment was a big weight off our shoulders.” 

Another relief is that meals are tasty, home-cooked comfort food. The buffet-style dishes are usually very “hearty,” as one graduate put it, but you can make choices to eat more or less healthy. The kitchen never closes, with coffee, sweets, fruit drinks, snacks, sandwiches and the like available 24/7—an arrangement with which some former SJR residents had a love–hate relationship: “As far as the coffee, sweets and snacks are concerned, they flowed like water,” said one alumnus. “Especially the ice cream.” Foodie residents also enjoy getting to help SJR chefs prepare their meals.

Favorite dinner entrees run the gamut from king crab legs and prime rib to ahi tuna and chicken parmesan. Despite the centrality of protein on the menu, “There was always a healthy selection of vegetables and fruits and salads”—including a well-stocked salad bar—“to go along with the meats as well,” said one resident. The big Sunday brunch spread also is a high point, which SJR invites family members of residents to attend, both to visit their loved ones and to meet the retreat's instructors.

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