1) What does a typical day at Oak Tree Recovery Home look like? What do the guys do all day?
Wake-up is at 8:00, and for most, the next thing is coffee, prayer and fellowship. The first community event is the morning recovery meeting. which occurs Monday – Friday at nine o’clock. After that, everyone goes back to their respective Oak Tree homes, do chores, and get ready for their day in terms of showering and those types of things. We typically go to a 12:30 12-step meeting as a group, and once we return from that, it is lunch and fellowship. There’s also a lot of activity throughout the day in terms of going to the gym. And there’s a park across the street which we use for disc golf and football games. During the evenings, some of the senior residents are getting home from work and there is more fellowship. After dinner many of the guys go back out to another 12-step meeting. There’s always a lot of congregating in the later evening, from nine to whenever they get to bed, usually around 11 or 12. This is a pretty typical day for someone in their first 30 days. This schedule of life soon begins to fill up in terms of school or a job. Each person’s schedule varies to some degree. And sometimes school and jobs override some of the group meetings and events that take place at Oak Tree. On weekends, there are a lot of family visits and activities, such as movies, golf, and whatever else might be going on. So, life at Oak Tree is a pretty structured day, and in particular for the first 30 days.
2) Is there a curfew?
Yes. The curfew for the first 45 days is 10:30 pm, and after that it’s 11 pm during the week and midnight on the weekends. Very rarely do we have guys who have a problem with the curfew times, and if there are special events or other reasons, we frequently do curfew extensions. It’s not out of the ordinary. We try not to be restrictive with the curfews. Our goal is to keep the guys safe.
3) Are overnights allowed?
Yes, most definitely. There is a form for overnight requests. Again, I’m not in the business of saying no to these guys. I want them to begin to experience life. So as long as they have a solid plan, overnights are almost always approved. Overnights during the first 45 days typically happen because of holidays or family events, but after that more leeway is given on overnights because the person has built up more trust.
4) How much freedom is there?
The guys have a tremendous amount of freedom. They have cars, they choose their own meetings, they choose their own jobs or where they’re going to school. Again, I want the responsibility of feeling that their life is based on their new recovery-based decision making skills.
5) What’s the average length of stay?
Nothing is contractual. I do ask for 90-day commitment because I feel that’s the minimum amount of time it takes to get a better understanding of the 12-step program, and begin to incorporate it into a lifestyle. I also believe that a resident will have reached a maximum benefit at 6 months at the Oak Tree. Typically anything beyond that results in enabling the resident to become complacent. This also prevents families from spending excessive amounts of money to just “house” their son, with no or little clinical benefit.
6) Is it a 12-step or Christian-based program?
It’s primarily a 12-step program, but the 12-step program is a spiritual path to help the guys gain an understanding of a God of their own understanding or a higher power as they say in the rooms of Alcohol Anonymous. Many of the guys do attend church. And some go to a spiritual center. It is a personal choice, so nothing is discouraged and nothing is promoted other than trying to live by a set of spiritual principles. It is essential to treat those around you as you want to be treated. One of the prayers we use is “Let me harm no one today, including myself.” Typically, most of the guys at Oak Tree have come from an in-patient facility. And these facilities have a 12-step foundation. What that means is the guys have become familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotic Anonymous. The guys attend meetings, usually one or two a day initially, where they gather with other addicts and alcoholics to process and gain experience, strength and hope. Everyone must have a sponsor, someone who will mentor them and serve as a kind of coach who will take them through the literature that goes along with the 12-step program and the specific steps. They guide them through what we call a “surrender” process, and then proceed to cleaning house emotionally. The ultimate goal is to live sober for the long term. A sponsor kind of holds their hand and guides them through literature and written assignments.
7) Can I have a car?
Yes. A lot of guys at Oak Tree have cars. Some of them bring them from day one. Typically if a guy has a car and does not bring it on day one, it’s not a decision made by the Oak Tree. It’s usually that the family wants to hold back the car until they are able to see their family member do well for a few weeks. All that we ask with vehicles is that the guys drive safe and that they are good at communicating where they’re going and when they’ll be back. Transportation is actually encouraged. It promotes the ability to get to meetings and it’s a huge asset in the employment area, both in finding a job and then getting back and forth to work on time. I want the Oak Tree experience to be as reflective as possible of the life they are going to have when they leave. Most of the guys intend to have a car in the future, so I want them to experience this while they are with me.
8) Can I go to school?
Most definitely. I’ve had guys in all aspects of school. Some are trying to finish up their high school diploma, as well as pursuing a GED. Others have come to me and they are college graduates who have pursued a higher level of education such as a master’s degree. So it’s encouraged. Since a school environment can sometimes be somewhat high risk, we work to identify the risks and develop a plan of action to minimize possible chances of relapse.
9) Am I allowed to work?
Yes. A lot of guys are really anxious to work when they first arrive, but typically I hold them back for 30 days. This is due to the fact that I want them to build relationships within the fellowship of the Oak Tree. This is essential. I build these relationships first, so that when they begin to work they are less likely to be negatively influenced by their co-workers. I think part time employment is probably the best way to go initially – 20 to 30 hours a week. And a third shift job is not allowed. It just takes them too far away from the security and support offered at the Oak Tree.
10) Can you help me find work when they are ready for it?
Yes. We assist residents in building resumes and other professional documents to be used in the employment search. We also have many existing relationships with local employers accross a range of fields.
11) Are you allowed to have a girlfriend while at Oak Tree?
This is always an important aspect, especially for people in early recovery. We look at this very carefully. We do have a rule that there is no dating for the first 45 days. Dating creates more feelings and emotions than the guys can handle during the early recovery process. But after the 45 days, a lot of the guys do start dating. They can have girlfriends. Most definitely they do date. The girls are allowed to come visit the property on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, but rarely do the guys want to bring their girls to the Oak Tree. I find that inevitably the guys who really want a girlfriend will have one, but most are very cooperative in waiting at least 45 days.
12) Can I have a girlfriend visit?
Absolutely when girls come to property they’re only allowed to be in the common areas, the living rooms or the patios or garage lounges. They are never allowed in the bedrooms. And there is absolutely no sexual activity allowed on property. It just causes too much conflict and stress within the house, so no girls overnight and no girls in the bedrooms.
13) How many men to a room?
There are two residents to a room, never more than that. The houses are set up so they don’t feel overcrowded. There are never more than six people sharing a kitchen or living room. And the bathroom situation is the same way. I don’t want guys standing in line to cook or standing in line to use the shower. And most definitely I want everyone to have a bedroom they feel they can go to if they need some peace and quiet. This is essential.
14) What do I bring?
Most importantly, bring clothes suitable for the time of year. Bring at least a week or two worth of clothes. Bring a variety and we do have storage space if someone needs it. Obviously toiletries and a cell phone are most definitely needed. A cell phone is a requirement if one has an auto. I’ve had some guys that come and don’t have a cell phone for the first week or two, but it’s essential to build the recovery network as well as employment. Laptops are good too. We have high-speed internet and wireless in all the houses. Guys often bring bikes and sporting equipment. And I’ve had guys bring musical instruments. I want them to make it their home. And if what they bring is too much for their bedroom, then we’ll put some in the basement or the attic and they can get it as they need it.
15) Do you provide any meals or is food included?
The house supplies all the cleaning supplies, laundry detergents, toilet paper, paper towels and other household items. Coffee, cream and sugar is offered because most of the guys like to drink coffee in the morning. But the food essentials they purchase on their own. In terms of community meals, we probably eat together as a whole group once a week. The guys eat together in smaller groups daily, and no one eats alone unless by choice. These guys eat very well. Since most of the guys come to me unemployed, about 90% of them within the first couple of days go to the food stamp office and get a debit card for $200 a month for their first six months at Oak Tree. So the financial burden of food is very quickly taken off of the family.
16) Do you recommend a weekly spending budget?
Typically $200 will get people started. After that, usually $75-$100 a week is sufficient.
17) Are men who have pending legal issues, a conviction, or are on probation, still eligible to be accepted at Oak Tree?
People who have been convicted or have pending violent crimes, any charges of arson or any sort of sexual offenses, are eliminated from the Oak Tree. But I do have guys with legal issues. It just goes with the population we are working with. These guys have drug and alcohol problems. There are residents who have either pending or been convicted of drug charges or the things that go along with that, like larceny, public intoxication, and DUI’s. It’s unfortunate, but a lot of the guys do come to me with legal charges pending or convictions, as well as being on probation. One of the advantages at the Oak Tree are my credentials as a licensed clinician in North Carolina. Very frequently I get involved in writing legal documentation for the guys to take to court. As a result, most get favorable outcomes in their legal charges.
18) Do you allow residents on medication of any kind?
Medication is allowed, as long as it’s non-narcotic and it’s something taken as ordered. Typically when someone initially gets to Oak Tree, their medication is secured in the house managers room and given out daily. Once we get a better feel for the resident and trust has been established, the medication is given to the resident and they take it as prescribed. I’m not restrictive on medications as long as they are non-narcotic. If someone wants to try to adjust their medications while they’re living at Oak Tree, they must obtain a doctor who will oversee that process.
19) What’s the typical age range of your residents?
We are not age restrictive. Anyone who shows willingness, that we think we can help, and is a good match for the house will be brought in. I do not have age restrictions.
20) Do you have a minimum age?
Eighteen years old.
21) How much does Oak Tree cost?
The monthly fee for an Oak Tree resident is $3000. Depending on their preference, some people pay the $3000 every month or others pay $750 a week. There is also a one-time $2000 initial administration fee.
22) Is there a minimum of clean time required?
Yes, a minimum of 30 days. There have been exceptions, very rare though.
23) What kind of activities do you offer?
All the guys are provided a gym membership to a fitness center which has a sauna, cardio equipment and free weights. The guys use this extensively as well as there’s a park literally right across the street from the main house where the guys play basketball and football outdoors. The park also has all sorts of ball fields and walking trails. Oak Tree also offers formal group activities which include hiking, camping, tubing and golf, etc. We will have group dinners where we’ll go out to restaurants and to AA or 12-step picnics. So there is quite a bit of activity. Some of it is done as a whole group and sometimes it’s broken down by the house or there may just be five or six guys who want to do something. Activities take place everyday; some of them organized by the Oak Tree, some of them not. Today there was a golf outing, last night there was a movie outing. It’s non-stop. Everyday there is something available if you want to participate.
1) Is Oak Tree a zero tolerance house? What’s your policy on relapse?
The Oak Tree is a zero tolerance house which means if someone is under the influence of drugs or alcohol or is pursuing obtaining drugs or alcohol, they would be immediately discharged from the Oak Tree. We do have a re-entry policy where some people can earn their way back into the Oak Tree after a minimum of 30 days. The majority of houses in Asheville are zero tolerance, although there are houses in North Carolina as well as in Asheville that only have certain consequences administered or an extra restriction is given if somebody relapses. Typically people in early recovery, if they know they get a free strike to relapse they will usually take advantage of it because without zero tolerance the consequences are not serious enough to deter one from using their drug of choice. The integrity and the safety of the house have to be prominent in all policies and procedures.
2) Am I required to go to 12-step meetings and have a sponsor?
Yes, it is required by the Oak Tree. Most guys who are coming out of an in-patient facility already have set up a discharge plan with the aftercare team. Typically in a discharge plan they have already committed to going to 90 meetings in 90 days, as well as to get a sponsor. So that’s usually already in place and I want them to honor what they said leaving in-patient. However, in reality, when they get to Oak Tree it’s not quite as stringent as that. At the Oak Tree in the first 30 days you go to 30 meetings and obtain a sponsor in that first 30 days. After that it’s mandatory you continue with your sponsor. But if your life begins to fill up with school and employment, the requirement drops to only five meetings a week.
3) Why do you feel a 12-step program is so important?
Number one – it has worked for millions of people over the last 80 years. So it’s proven. It works. It also is readily available in the community. You can easily tap into a program that already works. We don’t have to redesign the wheel. A 12-step program is a design for life and it’s essential to engage in it. It doesn’t just apply to put down the drugs and alcohol. It begins to give them a life of freedom and choice and basically a life meaning. I can’t say enough about it. There are other programs out there, harm reduction and things like that. But it’s proven that 12-step program works and it works for as long as somebody continues to go to meetings and help others. And that’s the beauty of it is the 12-step program; the foundation of it once somebody begins to have understanding is to begin to help others. So it contributes to so much of the environment at the Oak Tree when you have 27 guys all trying to help one another. It truly is an amazing thing to watch and be a part of.
Underlying each one of the 12 steps is the spiritual principle in fact more than one spiritual principle. So as they move out into life and they don’t have the obsession to drink or drug anymore they still carry these spiritual principles into all facets of their life and become people of character and integrity which is our positive attributes no matter what age and what time in your life or what situation. So it guides these people with character.
4) What recovery support services do you make available on site?
On site, I think the number one thing is that there is live-in house managers that are in recovery, working a 12-step program, that you have constant availability of someone to go to no matter what time of day, what situation. That is an invaluable highlight of the Oak Tree, you will never be stuck in a situation or in emotion that’s triggering you to possibly use that you don’t have somebody within hands reach to talk with and process it. Not all recovery houses offer a 24/7 support system. I’m also available. I actually live 2 miles down the road. It’s not unusual for me to jump in my car in the evening to go down there if somebody needs my help. That’s probably the biggest thing outside of the meetings, is the individual attention. The ongoing support through positive relationships that are built by people who have leadership roles.
There’s also a 45-day contract signed upon entry, which establishes supportive guidelines immediately. Then we establish recovery goals and life goals, life problems, recovery problems and that type of stuff. The recovery goals are reviewed with them every three weeks so they can track their progress. It’s amazing to watch what a guy wrote in his first week, and how that will change after 60 days. The light bulb will go off and they see their growth. Some of the guys will access outside clinical services. Residents can have outside therapist or go to an IOP program. It is especially encouraged to get an outside therapist if a resident appears to be struggling with core issues that may interfere with the recovery process.
5) Is there individual attention provided?
Oh most definitely. Both by myself my staff. There is always someone available. These guys know me and they know that I’ve been through it both personally as well as professionally and that I’ll sit with them. There’s not one guy in the house that I don’t have relationship with. As well as, the house managers, who are also living a 12-Step program. They’re highly skilled at helping young men, so there’s all sorts of individual attention.
6) Will my family get any education and support through Oak Tree?
The families will get as much support and education as they ask for. I have some families that will reach out and will do conference calls if they’re out of state or can’t get to the properties. Very often they will call and schedule a family conference call; sometimes with the resident, sometimes without. I very often will text or email families progress of their child. The family component is highly emphasized. I do have some families that won’t access that for whatever reason but it’s as much as they want will be provided. We definitely believe in a family system and think the family dynamic can be healed through the 12-step process as well. We encourage family members to go to Al-Anon.
7) What does Oak Tree Recovery Homes offer the most halfway houses don’t?
A lot of things that we’ve just talked about are the things that I would say set me apart in terms of the individual attention that is provided on an ongoing 24/7 basis. The 12-step meetings on property, the family support, the fellowship. It’s hard for me to describe the spirit of the community. I think a huge part of the Oak Tree is the closeness and the fellowship that is within the guys that live there. These guys look forward to coming home. There is never any sort of hostile environment. The guys love it there. They truly do. They call it their home. And I think most of the other houses probably have an environment that’s probably a little bit less-loving and the guys are left more to fend for themselves. We very much will hold the hand of these guys until they get their feet on the ground. Coming out of in-patient is difficult and if there’s not a lot of support on the frontend the whole recovery process will just be too overwhelming. I think that’s one of the reasons we have so few relapses. I know statistically we are probably in the top one or two percentile nationwide. That’s a reflection of the accountability and the communication and the support that’s given. I can’t speak for other recovery residences but I’ve been in the field for a long time, and I know the environment that’s been created at the Oak Tree is very special.
8) What’s that community like? Can you describe it?
I guess a good way to describe it is in a lot of ways, is that it is like a sober fraternity house. It will have that feel sometimes. The guys all have a common goal of staying clean and sober but also on the flipside of that, is they have a common goal of enjoying life. To have fun, to laugh, to do things, to go out, to be young and adventurous. They’ll go downtown Asheville, go to movies, hiking, sporting events, etc. together. It’s like a brotherhood almost. These guys I’ve seen them stand up for one another. I’ve seen them cry for one another. A lot of the support comes from the fellowship there. You never see guys that are left off to themselves. These guys are very welcoming, very loving and very attentive to one another’s needs. There has never been any sort of hostile environment. Definitely no threatening behavior or any sort of aggression that ever takes place at the Oak Tree. There is no stealing or things like that. We have the common goal of recovery and staying sober and learning how to live by spiritual principles. That’s a wonderful environment.
9) How well do the guys get along on a daily basis?
Well the best way to handle conflict is to address it immediately. Either myself or a house manager will step in to resolve it at once. If there is anything that’s going on we will bring it out individually with whoever is in conflict. And very often we’ll take it to the group and let the guys process it in group. Inevitably there will be some personality conflicts that occur. Most people are afraid of conflict, because they think that means they have done something wrong. I teach these guys to embrace it. We don’t have good days and bad days, we have good day and learning days at the Oak Tree. So these are all life experiences that are embraced and very openly communicated on, and they’re quickly resolved. So it’s not something we fear as long as they talk about it.
10) Is there any emphasis placed on a skill-set for successful independent living?
That is from day one. We have guys in all different phases of developing independent living skills. Our house managers go in and help guys learn how to make their bed , clean their room or learn how to run a dishwasher. I’ve had guys that never had done laundry before. So it is very hands-on in the daily maintenance type stuff. We’ve worked with guys on personal hygiene before. As they move along, there is help in terms of what it is like to balance a checkbook or write a check, have an ATM card. Obviously some of the guys are better cooks than others. So there is a lot of cooking skills that are traded amongst the guys as well as we’ve had a couple of elderly ladies come in to the house and help the guys with the cooking. The guys are responsible for the lawn care such as trimming bushes and planting flowers and those types of things. So every aspect of taking care of a home is incorporated in the Oak Tree environment. Job skills, seeking employment, interviewing, keeping a job, etc. are taught. How to get a driver’s license? How to present yourself in an interview? The importance of being on time, how to answer the phone. Many, many life skills are acquired at the Oak Tree. It’s not something I spend a lot of time focusing on, it just happens. That’s what we are here for, it is just done on a 24/7 basis. So there are all sorts of life skills. Above and beyond everything, is how to handle feelings and how to not manage our feeling through drugs and alcohol. It’s to begin to base your decisions more on spiritual principles and doing the next right thing. Life skills are inevitable gifts of the Oak Tree. I don’t know how to say it, It’s all day everyday.
11) What should I expect on my first day at the Oak Tree?
When a new guy gets to the property, number one, I am there. I always make it a point when a new resident arrives to be on property to meet him and his family. I’ve had residents come on their own but typically a family member or friend is with them. Typically, most of the house managers are also there to welcome the new guy. I also announce the arrival of any new resident in the morning groups, so the guys are aware when someone is coming. So if they’re not property when that person arrives, almost everyone will come by and welcome that person. They can expect to have their luggage carried from the car and welcomed in by all residents in a short time. I then sit down with the new resident for as long as it takes to go over some of the basics of the Oak Tree. Usually somebody will then takes them to the grocery. Within the first four, five hours they’re in a car going to a meeting or going to an on-property group of some kind. If they get there in the afternoon, they’re in a meeting that night and that following morning you’re in a group. The guys love when a newcomer comes in because it gives them an opportunity to give back. But that person should definitely not expect to come to the Oak Tree and sit in their room by themselves. They will be overwhelmed with welcoming hands and people that are there to reach out to him. Everybody is nervous when they first get to a recovery house. They don’t know anyone but I’ve never seen anyone not get through that initial nervousness usually within the first few hours. Sometimes it will take 24-48 hours but they acclimate into the population very, very quickly.
Hopefully we’ve answered the questions that you most have in mind. Even more so I hoped we’ve touched on some things that you haven’t thought of. It is a big decision, it’s not a decision that should be made randomly. I encourage everyone to call the Oak Tree. I’ll stay on the phone as long as needed. I will answer any question and kind of guide you whether I think the Oak Tree is a good match or not. I’ll be more than happy to provide other avenues that might be more appropriate. But the most important thing is the phone call to get things started.
Another thing that I’ll say is the odds of someone coming out of in-patient treatment without going into a recovery house and staying clean is slim. Without a strong aftercare program, you’re betting on a horse that wins maybe one out of 20 times. The odds go to more like one out of two will be successful if they go into a recovery residence, the Oak Tree in particular. It’s a big decision, but literally can be life saving. If you live locally, I would encourage anybody to visit the property before you make a decision. Talk to the people that live there. The current residents will give you the best indication of what’s really going on. I very often have potential residents talk to our current residents. That’s who they want to hear it from, and is the best source, people who are living it.
Jon B. Clarke