SOBA Recovery Center

By The Fix staff 03/08/12

This laid-back Malibu beachfront rehab charts a holistic path to recovery, which suits the twenty- and thirtysomethings who come here—you just might have to clock a few extra miles on the sand to burn off Chef Monte’s hearty home-cooking.

SOBA Recovery residents relaxing on the front porch of a "Sobana." Photo via
Location : Malibu, Calif.
Phone : (866) 547-6451
Price : $28,000/first mo.; $14,000/mo. thereafter (90-day program)
Overall :
Accommodations :
Treatment :
Food :
Insurance : Yes
Detox : Yes

Checking into Malibu’s SOBA Recovery Center, you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve wandered into a recovery-themed beach movie. This chilled-out oceanfront rehab follows a somewhat holistic, surfer-cool philosophy—backed up by sound neuroscience—to care for its clientele, which skews a bit younger and wealthier than other places. Most of the people living in one of the cleverly named “Sobanas” are in their 20s to early 30s, some of whom are supported by their well-to-do families, while others are more solidly middle-class.

But residents of this California drug-and-alcohol treatment facility who don’t fit that profile say it’s not a bad thing, citing the therapeutic value of being able to give back to young people who have great potential, despite whatever addiction-related setbacks they may have suffered. The place isn’t all kids, though: SOBA residents have included a stuntwoman for TV and film; a rare female New York firefighter, who’d been through 9/11; a reclusive Londoner; and a young man who hit it big in business before going back to college. While the majority of SOBA residents are white and straight, non-whites and gay people aren’t uncommon.

SOBA’s “we’re-all-in-this-together” approach is reinforced when residents—of whom there's a max of nine at any one time—sit down to pleasant buffet-style meals on the back porch overlooking the ocean. The well-loved Chef Monte serves down-home, motherly cooking, including all-American staples such as meat loaf, mac 'n' cheese, broccoli casserole with melted cheese, stuffed peppers and the like. (Those with an interest in the culinary arts can even volunteer to help out in his kitchen.) Yet, while comfort food might be exactly what one person in early recovery wants to eat, it’s not for everyone: “I wish they had been a bit more organic/calorie-conscious,” said one former resident. Nevertheless, Chef Monte does always offer a salad to accompany the meal, and kitchen staff are cool with special requests, allergies, and etc. And unlike some ascetic rehabs, at SOBA you won’t need to worry about the supply of coffee, sweets and snacks running dry.

You also won’t need to worry about having a comfortable place to bed down at night. The Sobanas, pet-friendly beach cottages just across the Pacific Coast Highway from the Malibu shore, have a high-end Venice-Beach vibe to them, with wood paneling on the walls and ceilings, cream-colored large-tile floors and ocean-green-painted bathrooms. Although most of those who bunk in a Sobana do so with roommates, people of course come and go from treatment at different times, which means that residents can on occasion have a cabana to themselves.

That might sound like a serious production in terms of housework, but chores—demeaning or otherwise—aren’t a big part of daily life at SOBA. That said, everyone is expected to keep their living area and bedroom clean, including making their bed. Everyone also is required to take part in daily morning meditations, and to attend a combination of group and one-on-one therapy sessions, 12-step meetings and other healing activities. Reportedly a pretty good balance between scheduled and free time holds sway at the rehab; and, during the latter, there’s always a lot to choose from, recreation-wise. You can stroll or jog along the beach, go sea-kayaking, work out at the off-site gym (about six miles away; SOBA provides gym memberships to reisdents), shoot pool on the outdoor pool table, or play tennis or swim at SOBA's nearby sister sober-living facility, Villa Malibu. For the more serenely inclined, SOBA offers weekly yoga classes, acupuncture, equine therapy and (paid) massages. On Thursday nights, Villa Malibu hosts a big alumni meeting and dinner that's attended by about 40 to 50 people.

Weekends are just as active. Rather than letting everyone lie around watching Law & Order reruns, SOBA puts together outings to a robust roster of museums, bowling alleys, amusement parks (such as Six Flags), movie theaters and hiking trails. If you want to share with the outside world how your program is coming along, you’ll have no problem—so long as you don’t get pinched for a rule infraction. If you do, you could lose phone, TV or Internet privileges. Phones also are reportedly restricted during the first week of treatment, or during any detox period. After that, so long as you’re not isolating, SOBA trusts its residents to regulate their own viewing, browsing and calling habits.

That attitude—“not terribly strict, but highly structured”—extends to the rehab’s treatment program, which is a forward-thinking blend of 12-step fundamentals and other creative therapeutic activities. Support and personal knowledge of sobriety from the staff (the vast majority of whom are in recovery themselves) really seals the deal; the MD in charge, Dr. Lisa Benya, was praised in particular for her kind and compassionate approach. And when it comes to religion, SOBA keeps firing on its laid-back, inclusive cylinders, helping residents to construct a real and authentic spiritual framework wherein “faith or a belief in a power greater than yourself was recommended, but you could opt for alternatives.”

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