Gate House conversations

By on October 4, 2017

Powerful stories from men in recovery

(Part 2 in a series)

Gate House in Lititz is a halfway house for men who are working to recover from drug and/or alcohol addiction. They come to the 649 E. Main St. facility after completing 21-to-28-day detox and rehabilitation programs. The usual stay is 90 days. The residents’ goals are to stretch those 90 days into a lifetime of normalcy, free of the demons that have ruled their lives, sometimes for decades.

To enter Gate House, each resident must convince the staff that he is motivated to change his life. He cannot have a record of sex offenses or violent criminal acts. Almost all the residents are indigent. Medicaid pays Gate House $123 for each day of their stay.

Recovering drug addicts and alcoholics are never considered “cured.” Successful recovery is a lifelong process. Two people in successful recovery are Jodi Holland, Gate House executive director, and Scott Althouse, director of development and administration for Gate House.

Two weeks ago in the Record Express, reporter Dick Wanner recounted the conversation he had recently with Holland and Althouse.

Following that conversation in Lititz, Wanner sat down individually with three Gate House residents to talk to them about their addictions, their journeys to recovery, and their hopes for the future. Their stories follow. For the sake of their privacy, their names and some details of their stories have been changed.

Roland’s story

In April of this year, Roland overdosed on heroin three days in a row. Narcan saved his life each time, and on the third day, the EMT team that administered Narcan also had to shock his heart back to life.

Roland is 26 years old. Although he started using when he was 19, he managed to earn two-year degrees in business and applied sciences. He also had a daughter, who’s now three years old.

When he hit bottom, when they had to use paddles to slap him back to life, he said, “My life was 100 percent unmanageable. I lost my family, my kid, my job, almost my life. I was the epitome of a junkie. That’s when I decided to get help.”

He found help at the Bradford Recovery Center in Bradford County. He detoxed in Bradford and was clean and sober for 34 days when he left that facility to move to a recovery house in Lancaster.

A recovery house provides a clean and sober environment. Ideally, residents help each other over the recovery rough spots. They are free to come and go, to work, to look for work, to attend NA and AA meetings, to do the things they need to do to achieve drug- and alcohol-free lives. Although each resident generally meets regularly with a counselor, there is no professional staff on site.

A halfway house, like Gate House, provides a higher level of support, with more programs, more meetings, more monitoring. A halfway house typically has at least one professional staffer on site 24 hours a day.

Roland believed that, for him, a recovery house and regular visits with a counselor would provide all the help he would need to put his life back together. But a week after moving to a recovery house in Lancaster, he relapsed. A fix was easy to find. “There were drug dealers to the left, drug dealers to the right,” he said.

His relapse scared him.

“I told my counselor right away what I’d done,” he said.

He confessed, he said, because “…the guilt set in. I just didn’t want to live like this anymore. I knew where it would lead me, and I’d ultimately live my life in institutions.”

His counselor suggested Gate House in Lititz. Roland talked to other people in recovery about their Gate House experience.

“I heard absolutely no negative comments,” he said. “And I heard a lot of people say how awesome the Gate House staff is and how Gate House had saved their lives.”

Still, he was skeptical. He wasn’t comfortable with the halfway house model, with its rules, monitoring, curfew and supervision. He agreed to sit down with Gate House staff for an interview. Because he was highly motivated to work on recovery, and because he had no record of violent crimes or sexual offenses, he was accepted to the Lititz facility.

“I wasn’t a happy camper the first few days,” Roland said, “but they are so open here, so willing to take me in and to help me live a new way of life.”

When we talked to Roland he had been at Gate House for 38 days. He had only a bag of clothing when he moved to Gate House — no other possessions and no money. Medicaid pays for his stay there. Commercial insurance doesn’t pay for long-term recovery programs, but it does pay up to $600 a day for short-term 14- to 21-day rehab programs. Scott Althouse sees value in the shorter rehab programs, but firmly believes that longer-term programs are much more effective in starting addicts on a lifetime road to recovery.

Roland agrees.

“There’s so much they can teach you here,” he said. “If you’re willing to learn, and use the tools they give you, you can get better. Without this place, I’d probably be back out living on the streets. I can truly see how Gate House is saving my life.”

Daniel’s story

Daniel is in his 50s. He’s an alcoholic. In spite of his disease, he’s worked his whole life, mostly as a warehouse forklift operator. He entered a rehab facility for the first time in 2013. When he came out of rehab, he stayed sober for two-and-a-half years. It was a good time in his life. He was clean, he had no cravings, and even being around alcohol didn’t bother him.

But his sobriety, he now realizes, was on shaky ground.

“I went to no meetings,” he said. “I had no sponsor, no 12 steps. If you’re not going to do those things, you may as well not even bother with rehab, in my opinion.”

In the spring of last year, he was going through a trying time. He was missing work because his vehicle wasn’t working and he felt stranded. At a family gathering, he was offered a seven-ounce pony bottle of beer. He turned it down, once, twice, three times … and then he took a swig.

“I figured it’s been two-and-a-half years. I got this,” he said. “One led to three that day, and a week later I was right back to where I’d been.”

He went back to rehab for the second time in September of 2016 and completed the 28-day program. He went back to rehab for the third time in October of 2016 — just a month later — completed that program and, with no after care plans and no support groups or sponsors, he started drinking again around the Christmas holidays. Through his rehab stints, Daniel began working with a counselor who strongly encouraged him to get involved with after care programs. He sloughed off her suggestions. He continued to drink.

He hit bottom on February 7 of this year.

“I had never really been there before,” he said. “I was standing on a street corner with a cardboard sign, begging for food.”

February 7 was the day he called his counselor, “…in tears. I was drunk as hell. I told her she was right. I couldn’t do it on my own. Within three hours, she had somebody pick me up.”

He met with his counselor, and this time was different.

“Before, when she’d start talking about after care, I’d listen but I’d be thinking, we’re going through this again and we’re going to fight about this again. But this time I decided whatever she says, I’m gonna do.

“The neat thing about this time was that I surrendered. I didn’t even try to surrender, I just did. I had nothing left. It felt good not to fight.”

His counselor got him into detox and rehab, then suggested he apply to Gate House. He was motivated. He had no history of violence or sexual offenses. He needed help. He was an excellent candidate.

“Before, I would have laughed at her,” Daniel said. “Gate House? A three-month program? Are you kidding me?

“But I was beat down. Whatever she said, I would do. So here I am. And thank God. I can only say I wish I had done it before, a long time ago.”

Alcohol ruled Daniel for most of his life. He was normal on the outside, but alcohol — beer — was his driving force. He was married at one time and has three sons. He went to his sons’ ball games and Cub Scout outings, he coached T-ball and soccer. He played the role. But he’s an alcoholic.

“My one son has a picture of him and me at a Cub Scout pinewood derby. He’s holding the car we built together, and we’re both smiling. That son is 26 now. He found that picture a couple of years ago and showed it to me,” Daniel said. “He treasures it. I remember the day vividly. I looked at myself in the picture and I remember all I was thinking about was when the hell is this over so I can get back to the beer.

“My heart wasn’t in it. I’ve always had a good relationship with my sons. I participated. I paid the bills. I was there, but I wasn’t there,” he continued. “Nobody in my family will ever know what was going through my head when that picture was taken. I will take that secret to my grave.”

Daniel had been at Gate House for a couple of months when we talked to him. He’s learning new life skills and relearning old ones. The program goal for all Gate House residents is independent living and a job. Daniel had a job lined up when we talked to him. The very next day, in fact, he was due to start work at a county manufacturer. He had applied for a forklift job, but had been hired to help out in the research lab. He was excited.

He credited Gate House with helping him get back on his feet and beginning to walk a new path in life. A path he does not plan to walk alone.

Daniel has accepted that, for him, a 12-step program with its definite goals, sponsors and meetings is a necessary part of his life from now on.

And his faith plays a bigger role now.

“I have always been faithful to God, but even that has changed a little bit,” he said. “Before, I thought I’m good with God, I’m close with God, but I dealt with alcohol on my own.

“Now I’m seeing that God will help me if I’m willing to help myself. He will make things happen, and I’ve seen it,” he said. “The step work is really an eye-opener. I’m on the fourth step now, taking a moral inventory of myself. It will take me awhile, this step will, because I have a lifetime of regret.”

Conor’s story

Conor is a big guy who, at 32 years old, looks fit enough to suit up for a football game. A couple of colleges were looking at him while he was in high school, in fact, and the Penn State coaches wanted him to try out as a walk-on. Smaller schools were talking scholarship money.

But then, during a high school game in his senior year, he destroyed his knee. He blew out all his ligaments, his ACL, and his meniscus. The pain was awful. Excruciating. Percocet offered relief from the pain.

So a football scholarship was out, but he went to Penn State anyway and earned a four-year business degree. Tuition wasn’t a problem because Conor had money. He’d been a drug dealer since the age of 13. He had more than enough money.

When we talked to him at the Lititz Gate House, Conor’s money was gone, his house was gone, his car was gone, his $3,000 weekends in Atlantic City casinos, the women — also gone. Dealing drugs, he now says, “was a bad business decision.”

Conor’s life story is really complicated and colorful, as complicated and colorful as the man himself. His father died when he was nine, leaving his mother alone to raise Conor, his sister, and his autistic brother. Although it took a wrecked knee to introduce him to Percocet and Vicodin, his drug of choice throughout high school was alcohol. He hung out with the jocks. They drank. One day the police pulled him out of class for a breathalyzer test.

He continued to drink.

Money from drug sales helped out with the bills at home. His mother never asked questions. He continued to deal, covering expenses at home, giving money to his mom until he got his third DUI conviction in his mid-20s. That resulted in his first prison sentence, which began at Graterford and ended at State Correctional Institution Chester, which Conor called a “program jail.”

He was released from SCI Chester on July 2, 2014. The therapy programs there had an impact on Conor.

“They kind of actually sobered me up,” he said. “When I got out, I got high a few times, but it was nothing like it had been. I had every intention of doing what I was supposed to do, I was working at a regular job…doing well.”

Four months after his release, his mother died, the day after Thanksgiving.

“That really screwed me up,” Conor said. “I was on parole and my parole officer knew I was getting high. He didn’t care. He let me slide. He said as long as I wasn’t getting charged he was okay with it.

“Then, because I was getting high, I lost custody of my brother. He was the only thing keeping me from saying ‘just screw the whole thing.’”

He was soon back on drugs, prescription painkillers. He never did heroin, he said, and never plans to. And he was selling drugs.

His supply chain consisted of welfare recipients. He recruited them to visit doctors who would write prescriptions for popular drugs like Percocet and Vicodin. Conor would send half-a-dozen people to a doctor — there were several doctors in his supply chain — and pay for the $150 office visit. The doctor would make $1,000 an hour, or more.

Conor’s “patients” filled their prescriptions. They used Medicaid or county insurance programs to pay for the pills. He described the process:

“They go to the doctor, get a prescription for 120 Percocet 30s. I pay them $500 or $600 for the pills, then I sell them on the street, a pill at a time, for three grand. And I did that with multiple people and multiple doctors.”

His distribution channel was anybody with his cell phone number.

“I’d be getting ready to go to Harrah’s Casino on a Friday or Saturday night. I used to love getting out of the shower and there would be 40 or 50 missed calls from people who needed to get high. All those people who needed me,” he said. “It made me feel like somebody. Like a big guy. Yeah. People needed me.”

It wasn’t long before Conor found himself back at SCI Chester. He smuggled Suboxone into jail. Suboxone is a low-level narcotic that is used to wean addicts off more serious drugs. It comes in a strip, like a mouthwash breath strip. On the street, a Suboxone strip can bring $10. In jail, Conor could sell individual strips for $80. He smuggled them into jail in packets disguised as legal documents, because legal documents are exempt from close examination.

But Conor saw familiar faces at SCI Chester, people who were in and out of jail, who joked about their latest convictions, people who’d accepted a life of dealing, using, and jail.

Conor hated jail.

“You might as well be dead,” he said.

His biggest fear was that he’d go to jail for 10 or more years and that he’d end up dying in jail.

“No ifs, ands, or buts about it,” he said. “If I didn’t try to do something with my life, I was going to be involved with crazy people, mob people. I was going to jail, and I was going to die.”

It would be an understatement to say that a lot went on in Conor’s life between that moment of realization and his arrival at Gate House. But a lot went on. When we talked to him, he had been a resident for about two months. He’s working as a cook, sometimes 60 hours a week. He’s clean and sober for the first time in many years, and hopeful about his future.

Is he clean for life? Will he go back to using?

“I can’t really say,” Conor said. “Drinking, drugging and selling drugs was a stupid decision. If I want to get high, I can get high. But I really don’t want to. And with the people I’ve met here, Narcotics Anonymous, programs, people I can continue to talk to…I’m hopeful.”

There’s lots more to Conor’s story, as there is lots more to Roland’s story and Daniel’s story. They are all in the early stages of recovery, they’ll move on to middle stages and late stages, but there’s no end stage in recovery.

As long as they live, as long as they continue on the path they began at Gate House, they’ll be in recovery.

Dick Wanner is a staff writer for the Record Express. He welcomes reader feedback at rwanner.eph@lnpnews.com.

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