Michael dreams of owning a small farm in upstate New York, where he can grow his own food and live a self-sufficient life.
But before that can happen, he must overcome his drug addiction, get a job, and save money—goals that he has been working toward for a year now at an addiction recovery center in rural Deerpark in Orange County.
He declined to disclose his last name to The Epoch Times.
A longtime Westchester County resident, Michael had worked as a professional occupational therapist for more than 20 years when he started to turn to drugs to cope with depression.
First, it was powder cocaine, then it quickly progressed to the more potent crack cocaine. As the addiction got the better of him, he lost his job and the support of family members.
He tried to seek help, including a $50,000 six-week rehabilitation program in the Arizona desert and several outpatient programs, but they only slowed down the addiction, which would quickly come back again.
Then he found Sober Village, a recovery community nestled along the woods by the Neversink River.
“For me, this is the nicest place,” Michael said. “I like being in nature and closer to God’s creations. I need that connection.”
He gardens in the summer and cooks for himself almost daily.
Plus, the place offers a support system formed by addicts and former addicts, who understand why one falls for addictions and the difficult journey of getting clean.
“I trust Bob completely,” he said of the center’s founder, Robert Sullivan. “When you meet people who have faith and who want to help you, it is just uplifting. In order to survive, you need real people around you.”
Michael has only a few online classes left before he can regain the license to return to his previous profession.
Sullivan, founder and president of Sober Village, was addicted to alcohol as a kid, and the addiction got worse when he was a police officer in a high-crime area in New York City.
At one time, he felt so powerless over his addictions that he tried to understand them by studying for a substance abuse counseling degree at Empire State College.
“What I found out is that it takes more than knowledge to stop drinking,” 80-year-old Sullivan said.
Then he got to know people at a local Alcoholics Anonymous group, which was a fellowship of men and women helping each other recover from alcoholism, with the belief in a higher power being an essential step.
As Sullivan gained strength in the fight against addiction, he helped other addicts by sharing his journey and understanding, which would further empower him to avoid relapse.
“I didn’t get sober right away. I would stop drinking for three months, six months, and then one day, with the grace of God, I stayed stopped. The key to staying stopped for me was helping other people,” he said.
“You help other people. As they grow, you grow, too.”
After Sullivan left the police job, he moved up to Sullivan County. He got involved in various addiction treatment programs until 1985, when he opened his own center Sponsor Corners, also known as Sober Village, based on the fellowship model and 12-step system of Alcoholics Anonymous.
It was the height of the crack epidemic, and addicts from New York City, Long Island, and Rockland County came here to get help.
Over the years, thousands of addicts have come through the center, some being able to fully recover from addictions, he said.
A Change in Mindset
Sullivan said genuine recovery came from a change of mindset, especially in the face of tribulations in life.
“Sometimes, troubles in life are not really troubles; they are created by God for you to make changes and turns,” he said, adding that a positive view of troubles enables ones to stay sober in the long run.
This is the kind of mindset that Rush is working on at the Sober Village.
He declined to disclose his last name to The Epoch Times.
A New Jersey resident, Rush got addicted to alcohol at the age of 14 because he believed it liberated him from shyness and made him an outgoing and likable person.
He drank almost daily until the age of 39, when he finally got clean through the help of people at local Alcoholics Anonymous groups.
However, 10 years later, a work-related accident rendered him disabled and cost him the job of water treatment plant operator, which he had held for 30 years.
Soon, he sank into depression and returned to alcohol as a coping mechanism. Consequently, he was hospitalized two months ago, and a health worker recommended Sober Village.
“It is great here. I can talk to Bob and Mike about things that are bothering me and just get guidance again,” Rush said. “I want to get back into a positive lifestyle, and I’m taking it one day at a time.”
By Mike, he refers to the center’s night manager, Mike Bushey.
Rush pointed to his head and said: “The big thing would be in here. If I can take care of that, everything else falls in place.”
Rush and Michael are the only two clients at Sober Village now.
Enrollment at the center plummeted following the COVID-19 pandemic, prior to which it had between 10 and 15 clients at any given time; participation at local Alcoholics Anonymous groups dropped, too.
It costs about $2,500 a month for a client to live at the center; lower rates are granted on a case-by-case basis.
Sullivan had taken the opportunity of the pandemic shutdown to remodel the center, adding in new insulations, windows, a furnace, and an air conditioner.
Even as it gets difficult sometimes, Sullivan refuses to seek state accreditation or governmental funding.
“What works is one person reaching out and helping another person. I don’t want to sit down with a client for an hour and spend 45 minutes of their time writing paperwork,” he said.
“I had people say, ‘What you are going to do?’ I said, ‘God will tell me what to do.’”