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Finding the Path to Serenity

Local treatment facility provides hope for addicts

By Adam Sievering · July 19th, 2011 · News
Much like the self-induced punishment of Sisyphus in Greek mythology, an addict’s lifelong struggle to resist the immense weight of his compulsions is like the never-ending task of pushing a boulder uphill, knowing that the slightest misstep or falter in spirit along the way could result in a complete loss of control that ultimately subjects him to the devastating laws of nature —fundamentally those of his personal nature.

In this moment of folly, known as a relapse, the metaphorical boulder tumbles over him and rolls back to ground zero, where the addict remains until he musters the strength to ascend once again.

“This process never stops,” says Ivan Faske, executive director of Serenity House.

The unassuming facility, located in a converted home on Elberon Avenue in East Price Hill, is a residential recovery center for men struggling with addiction and substance abuse. Since Serenity's opening five years ago, it has served addicts from all walks of life, from the homeless to people successful in their careers but who see their life falling apart around them.

Serenity is designed to offer treatment and services at the lowest possible cost to the addict and his or her family. In fact, many of the clients have no health insurance and Serenity helps devise a plan based on individual circumstance.

The center's name is taken from the Serenity Prayer, the name for an originally untitled prayer by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. The invocation, which has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 Step programs, is:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Faske is certified by the National Association of Forensic Counselors as a pastoral addictions counselor and holds a degree in health recovery services. An ordained minister and recovering heroin addict, he is committed to helping other recovering addicts find a healthier, more fulfilling way of life.

“I remember sitting in a locked bathroom, again, saying to myself, again, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’ as I was pushing the plunger of the needle into my vein,” he says. “I was powerless.”

Alcohol and other drugs are naturally associated with addiction. Limiting the definition to drugs and alcohol in a society driven by competition, however, is both inappropriate and shortsighted.

Although a universally accepted clinical definition doesn't exist, addiction generally is recognized as a persistent, compulsive dependence on a substance or behavior. Beyond this definition are varying schools of thought. Some researchers emphasize that addiction is a human response to pain that is self-perpetuating. Many others, like Faske, believe addiction is a genetic disease that is triggered by environmental factors and manifests itself in a multitude of destructive behaviors.

“There are many addictive behaviors, but there’s only one disease called addiction,” Faske says. “It really doesn’t have any real reliance on any specific drug, including alcohol, which is by far the No. 1 drug problem that we have in this country today.”

The National Association for Children of Alcoholics reports that roughly one in eight American adult drinkers is an alcoholic or experiences problems due to the use of alcohol.

Other addictive behaviors include, but are not limited to, gambling, eating, having sex, spending money, working, religious engagements, computer use, exercising and watching TV if indulged to excess.

“There are many more addicted individuals than we think,” Faske adds, although he carefully distinguishes addicts from abusers.

According to Faske, once an abuser realizes that a behavior is causing harm, they decide to either cut it down or stop doing it entirely. On the other hand, addicts are often unable to do this on their own accord, requiring support and structure to accomplish tasks that most people can accomplish on their own.

In an effort to provide this structure, Faske and Fred Fago collaboratively founded Serenity Consultants Inc. in March 2006. Less than three months later, they officially opened Serenity House.

“This disease, called addiction, is way too powerful to beat,” Faske says. Like Sisyphus having to accept his burden, “The key to addiction is not beating it, but surrendering to it.”

The Costs of Addiction

As noted on Serenity’s website (http://serenityconsultants.cfsites.org/), the economic burden of addiction in the United States is estimated at $414 billion annually. As a result, the costs of emergency room visits and health insurance, in addition to prison populations, have soared.

“Our society is affected in every way by addiction,” Faske says. “County, state and federal correctional facilities are overcrowded with addicts, as are hospital emergency rooms and court rooms. Insurance companies are overwrought with claims caused by addictive behaviors. Our higher premium rates are a result of this.”

As a progressive disease — one that increases in severity over time unless it is treated — addiction is characterized by frequent relapses, resulting in repeated incarceration and hospitalization expenses.

Even on a grassroots level, the costs of feeding an addiction are staggering.

Someone who purchases three six-packs of Budweiser every week will spend upwards of $900 each year on beer alone, not including bar tabs, binges and taxes.

An individual with a hardcore heroin habit might spend $150–$200 per day ($10-$25 per dose), totaling nearly $55,000 in the course of a year. These expenses will vary depending on quality, region and frequency of use.

The costs of feeding addiction transcend the purchase price alone for the individual. Substance abuse is linked with increased absenteeism from work, fewer promotions and greater risk of unemployment. Along these lines, substance abuse is strongly correlated with dropping out of school, creating a loss of job opportunities and earned income. Moreover, substance abusers will pay more for almost every type of insurance due to increased liability.

Once every compounding expense is taken into consideration, addiction might lead to homelessness, theft and prostitution in the course of long-term practice, not to mention loss of family ties.

“Families are virtually destroyed by addiction,” Faske says. “I swore that I would never take pills, drop LSD, use a needle, beat up my brothers or curse out my mom. One by one, I did everything I said I would never do.”

Perhaps worst of all, addiction costs individuals their free will, trapping them in a perpetual cycle of frustration and self-loathing.

Taking One Step at a Time

Doing business as Serenity Recovery Network, Faske and Fago operate two residential recovery programs — Serenity House for men and the House of Freedom and Miracles for women — as a private, nonprofit organization funded primarily by grants, contributions and fundraisers.

As part of the Greater Cincinnati Recovery Resource Collaborative, Serenity House contributes 16 beds to a collective pool of nearly 300 beds among five facilities, including the House of Freedom and Miracles (1053 Rosemont Ave., West Price Hill), Prospect House (682 Hawthorne Ave., East Price Hill), Charlie’s House (2121 Vine St., Walnut Hills), Sober Living (several locations) and Gateway House (2232 Vine St., Mount Auburn).

“Every house in the collaborative is separately funded and alternative in policy, but they’re all 12 Steps-based,” Faske says.

First used by Alcoholics Anonymous founders Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith in Akron in 1935, the 12 Step process is a set of guiding principles outlining a course of action for recovery from addiction, compulsion or other behavioral problems.

The process involves admitting that one cannot control one's addiction or compulsion; recognizing a higher power that can provide strength; examining past errors with the help of a “sponsor” or experienced member; making amends for these errors, when possible; learning to live a new life with a new code of behavior; and helping others who suffer from the same addictions or compulsions.

Although Serenity House is based on the philosophy of the 12 Step process that serves as the cornerstone of both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, it isn't similar in structure to either program.

“Serenity is a faith-based program, but not religious in any way,” Faske says. “We’re faith-based in that we believe in a higher power and each person finding his own connection to that. We are totally in the grip of a destructive force that is more powerful than we are. The only thing I’m aware of that is more powerful than this disease is the belief in a power greater than ourselves that can restore us to sanity.”

The Serenity House is a 3,525 square-foot facility, composed of 10 bedrooms (six double rooms and four singles), a shared kitchen and dining room. It houses a total of 16 men.

Faske estimates that 60 to 70 percent of residents at Serenity House are Caucasian, between the ages of 20 and 30, with an addiction to heroin. Over 60 percent are homeless when they arrive.

Comprised of less than 3,000 square feet, the House of Freedom and Miracles is a three-family house located a few blocks away.. The property was originally rented by Angie Edwards, executive director of the House of Freedom and Miracles, prior to her becoming a part of Serenity Recovery Network.

“Angie was working a full-time job while serving as director, utilizing her own income to help support the continuation of her dream of (operating) a women’s recovery home,” Faske says. “She was living in one of the apartments in the house and paying her own rent and utilities on top of everything else.”

The House of Freedom and Miracles offers 10 beds exclusively for women. Unlike Serenity House, it has three separate kitchens and dining rooms.

“There are some minor differences in the programs, but they’re structured the same,” says Edwards, who still lives in house with the residents.

Individuals who seek help from either facility are required to have some background in the recovery process, either having been in a treatment program or 12 Steps-based program.

“We’re very selective with who comes and who stays,” Faske says.

Also, unlike many other recovery programs, Serenity focuses on the destroyed relationships that typically surround an addict. It uses special weekend sessions dedicated to family reunification. Family support is critical to recovery and healing, and the sessions aim to provide families with a deeper understanding of addiction as a family disease and a forum for airing their concerns.

Shelter from the Storm

When clients first arrive at Serenity House, they are required to take part in a four-week intensive program called Shelter from the Storm, implemented to provide individuals with a safe, insular environment where they can work through their compulsions.

During these first few weeks, clients aren't permitted to leave the facility or use the Internet. Instead, they are encouraged to network with others in the recovery program, look for jobs and take care of chores around the house when they are not participating in group meetings scheduled throughout the day.

If clients make it through Shelter from the Storm and choose to stay in the long-term program, they are granted more leeway.

“This place provides you with structure and freedom,” says Andrew, who arrived at Serenity House on June 16. “It gives you the chance to meet people who have been through what you’ve been through to help build the support network that’s instrumental (to recovery).”

Prior to his arrival, Andrew spent 28 days in short-term recovery for abuse of opiates, alcohol and marijuana at the Center for Chemical Addictions Treatment on Ezzard Charles Drive, also known as the CCAT House. He plans to continue in the long-term program for a minimum of five months.

Greg is another resident who recently completed Shelter from the Storm.

“I’m feeding myself, which is something new to me,” he says, after being in the grip of heroin addiction for more than seven years. “Narcotics Anonymous and Ivan specifically haven’t given me my life back; they’ve actually given me a life. I didn’t have one before.”

Serenity House’s long-term program lasts six months to one year, during which time residents will participate in daily meetings, find and work jobs outside of the house, reconnect with family members and engage in various community services, all of which are part of the recovery process.

“I can have conversations with my mother now instead of just asking for things,” Andrew says.

Chris, also a recovering heroin addict, was able to see his daughter after two-and-a-half months in the program. “It’s a great, healthy place,” he says.” I’m grateful to be here.”

As for the important role of community service, Faske says, “The more you give, the more you get and you can only keep what you have by giving it away. Most people who have addiction are takers. They take money that they don’t pay back, they steal, they take and take and take, but now they have the opportunity to give back.”

Roughly 20 percent of residents don't complete Shelter from the Storm. The other 80 percent are considered successful, although this percentage is divided between “complete successes,” defined by two years of sobriety and still attending meetings, and those who complete the program but leave prior to recommendation.

Individuals who complete the program have the option to move into one of two “independent living” houses, called Basset House and Victory House. Both houses are exclusively for men, although Serenity plans to create one for women when funding is available, according to Connie Pitts, development co-director.

Pitts says, “We are in the process of developing and implementing a volunteer-driven development program that will focus on friend raising as well as fundraising.”

The next fundraiser, in October, will feature Dr. O'dell Owens, the ex-Hamilton County coroner and current president of Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, as the keynote speaker.

For many clients, the facility offers a refuge where they learn how to trust other people and themselves once again.

As one recovering addict says, “That was the first time I had experienced since I'd been in Cincinnati where people were open and honest to me and kind to me without an ulterior motive of what's in it for them.”

Although Serenity can give addicts the tools to forge a better life, ultimately the success rests with each individual.

“The drugs are not the problem, they're only a symptom of the problem,” Faske says. “Once we put the drugs down, we can begin to work on the solutions.”

For more information about SERENITY HOUSE and its related programs, call the development office at 513-417-8651.



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