By Jeanie Gschweng, General Manager, Clean & Sober Transitional Living

One of our residents wrote, “CSTL has afforded me the ability to immerse myself in recovery even when I don’t want to,” and I can totally relate to that experience. Years ago, I lived in “Mad House” (CSTL, located on Madison Avenue) for a month, and then left for three months of residential treatment. When I returned to Mad House, I wasn’t in fear because this was where I wanted to be. I had been immersed in residential treatment and had a good foundation of recovery. I had willingness and I had desperation. Still, I was apprehensive. I had all the incentives to change – homelessness and the loss of my kids, among others – but sober living looked too hard, and I didn’t trust people. So, while I was willing and unafraid, at the same time, I was apprehensive.

For example, I wasn’t somebody who was on fire for recovery. I’d seen a lot of recovery, knew all about sponsors, and saw people right and left who were immersed in working the steps and making amends by Week Three. They seemed to be happy, or at least it looked that way. And I was happy to be here and grateful that my boyfriend had paid my first month’s rent. But I was struggling with issues that made it hard for me to be “all in,” like untreated depression and years of trauma. The bandage had been peeled back during treatment, but healing doesn’t happen overnight for someone who has used for over 20 years.

The structure of Mad House supported and guided me, even when I wasn’t totally compliant. It put some “guard rails” into my program. Attending 12-step meetings – a condition of tenancy – got me out of the house and into a large meeting room where I could listen and learn from others in recovery. I barely made it to those meetings during the first year, even thought they were mandatory and right outside my door.

Some people need very little structure. Others, like me, need all of it because it doesn’t come naturally. I needed rules and requirements. I needed people to call me out on my behavior. Looking back with grace, I know that years of addiction, trauma and blame made it hard for me to comply with the structure. I wanted to live here badly enough that I stretched to make it happen, even when I didn’t want to. As they say, recovery is about growing, or going.

The structure worked for me. I loved our communal dinners where we could learn from each other. I loved preparing other meals with my roommates in the woman’s house as I learned about camaraderie and trust. I loved our big gatherings in the small meeting room where emotions ran so high. We cheered on our housemates as we acknowledged their various accomplishments. And we had a wall where we honored everyone who had come through our doors and then passed away, from one illness or another. We were family.

And that wasn’t an accident: Mad House was intentionally designed to support, reign in and inspire us all in our recovery, even when we didn’t want to or like it. It gave me the boundaries I lacked, the boosts I needed, the reasons to get up and show up, and the structure that continues to support my recovery, day in and day out, one day at a time.

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