Rural Recovery

Rural Recovery

By The Fix staff 08/30/17

How getting away from it all can set you on the path to success.

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Heartland dining room overlooking a lake
The Heartland dining area overlooks a lake.

Where do you feel most at peace?

For many people, calm and serenity comes when they are outside, whether watching the ocean waves, hiking a mountain or lying in the sun. No matter where we are in life, getting outside often gives us perspective and helps us connect with our true selves.

It’s no surprise then, that a rural environment can help people find the calm they need to transition from a life ruled by addiction to one ruled by recovery. Tom Delegatto, the executive director of Sunspire Health Heartland, a treatment facility in Gilman, Ill., says that clients often comment on the sense of serenity that they have as soon as they arrive at the rural campus.

“There’s not a lot of distractions,” he says. “This environment allows people to be more centered and focused on themselves, and be less focused on things clamoring for their attention. ”

About 80 percent of clients come from urban and suburban environments, where there is constant noise and always something going on to divert attention from personal problems. Being out in the country surrounded only by nature strips away those distractions and excuses, Delegatto says, providing the perfect starting block for sobriety.

“I think the atmosphere here is conducive to people feeling safe and more at peace,” he says. “When our patients first get here they’re upset, worried, concerned, and afraid to interact with the clinical team and their peers. But those fears soon begin to dissipate.”

The Heartland property was once a thriving dairy farm and more recently was a spa and wellness center before Sunspire Health, a nationwide network of treatment centers, bought the property.

“It has this history of healing, caring and nurturing before we got here,” Delegatto says.

The property has a three-acre pond that clients can walk around and the agrarian setting is perfect for personal reflection, no matter what time of year.

“There’s a calming and peaceful presence whether its spring, summer, fall or winter,” Delegatto says. “That feeling of serenity isn’t based on the season, it’s based on nature and beauty that each season brings.”

Sometimes clinicians at Heartland will take clients outside for therapy sessions, which tends to set people at ease even during tougher sessions like family work.

“A session outside on a nice day helps people feel more at ease and more comfortable,” Delegatto says.

One of the most popular spots on the Heartland property is the community garden, which was started this year. As clients have come through Heartland, new people have taken over the garden, giving the whole production a feeling of continuity and community that ties in well with recovery.

“The patients are there in the evenings gardening, seeing the fruits of the people who have been there in the past,” says Mary Shaver, clinical director at Heartland.

Delegatto says that while clients like having another hobby, gardening also makes them feel connected.

“They see it as productive and beneficial not only for themselves, but also as a way to give back to people they don’t even know,” he says. “And that’s the whole idea of recovery too. We’re working to plant those seeds, get them sprouted and send back to grow in recovery.”

Shaver says that when clients return to their normal lives, even in the busiest of environments like nearby Chicago, they can use the techniques they learned at Heartland to support their recovery.

“Taking time to view nature, taking long walks, walking around a lake: these are things you can do in an urban setting and you really have to find the time to do them,” Shaver says. “People can take the techniques and therapies that we use here and bring back into their own communities.”

Delegatto encourages clients who leave Heartland to integrate the slower pace of life and connection with the outdoors into their continuing care plans at home.

“Even in the most urban environment, clients can take the tools that they learn here and be able to center selves,” he says. “They’ve learned how to focus back in on themselves and make sure their priorities are still in line and that the focus is still managing this disease and taking care of themselves.”

Sunspire Health is a network of addiction treatment centers. Learn more at www.sunspirehealth.com.

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