Sober Home Operators Frustrated By Lack Of Opportunity On East End

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May 14, 2018 9:20 AM

By Frank S. Costanza

Elizabeth cannot recall exactly when she first realized she was an alcoholic—denial, as it often does, has muddled that memory—but the 33-year-old knows when she finally made a real commitment to overcoming the disease.

Her parents, weary from the many years they had witnessed her steady decline—it began with the sneaking of drinks as a teenager growing up in rural New England, before devolving into weekend binge drinking during her college days, and, later, as an adult, into full-blown alcoholism—and worn down by their daughter's past broken promises to come clean, made a confession last year that still chills Elizabeth to the bone.

"My mother said they decided that morning, over coffee, what they were going to do for me when I died," said Elizabeth, who was living in Miami, Florida, at the time and working as a teacher. "That was the catalyst that pushed me."

But alcoholism would continue to prove to be a slippery slope. A short time later, she was hospitalized for two days. Elizabeth's blood-alcohol level at the time of her emergency room check-in was 0.41 percent; alcohol poisoning can often prove fatal for those in a range of 0.35 to 0.4 percent.

The two-day stay at a Miami hospital led to her enrollment in a seven-day detox program, followed by a 21-day inpatient stay at another rehabilitation facility in Florida. She was on the road to sobriety though the same familiar temptations—namely, the liquor store located in her Miami apartment building—would again prove to be too much for her to completely turn her back on her old habits, which had included drinking alcohol every single day for nearly five years, usually at home alone.

Frustrated by her inability to change, Elizabeth—her name has been changed to protect her identity—turned to the friends she had made at the local Alcoholics Anonymous chapter. There, she met a woman originally from Sag Harbor who convinced her that the best way she could break the destructive cycle of alcoholism was to, at least temporarily, sever all ties with her prior life.

"If I had stayed there, there would be nothing left," Elizabeth said, matter-of-factly.

She arrived in Sag Harbor at the start of last summer, her first-ever trip to Long Island, and took a part-time job in catering—a decision that would derail her sobriety once more. Elizabeth admits that she began drinking again while working at swank summer parties in the Hamptons.

But this time there was a noticeable and debilitating difference. Displeased with her decision to reintroduce vodka into her bloodstream, Elizabeth's body began to fail her.

"I would lose consciousness or faint," she recalled during a recent interview. "The tremors then came back tenfold. It was my body's way of telling me that it could no longer take it."

She immediately enrolled at Alternatives Counseling Services in Southampton, a nonprofit alcohol and substance abuse prevention program licensed by the State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, or OASAS. She completed an intense 28-day inpatient program at the Seafield Center's rehabilitation facility in Westhampton Beach, another OASAS-licensed operation.

While she says both rehabilitation facilities are responsible for helping her turn her life around for good this time—she has been sober since August 23, 2017—Elizabeth explains that another local organization deserves the credit for ensuring that she won't fall back into her old and destructive habits.

New Hope Rising

Counselors recommended at the time of Elizabeth's discharge from the Seafield Center late last summer that she temporarily move into a recovery home—a suggestion that she balked at, as do many in her position. But the reasoning of those in charge of her recovery was inarguable: She was more likely to undo all of their work if she returned home and went back to her normal daily routine.

Aware of her repeated setbacks, Elizabeth quickly agreed, though finding a place to land proved to be a tad tricky due to a lack of recovery homes—typically referred to as "sober homes" even though those residing in them are often recovering from drug addiction—in Southampton Town and on the South Fork in general. Many blame the shortage on the area's high cost of real estate and astronomical rent, though the unfair stigma oftentimes associated with facilities dedicated to treating those trying to overcome addiction remains a steadfast obstacle in certain well-heeled communities.

Elizabeth was eventually placed in an all-women recovery home in Mastic that opened in 2014, a year after longtime friends Lauren McNamara of Southampton and Danielle Bruschi of Hampton Bays founded their nonprofit, New Hope Rising Inc. Though they have different reasons for getting involved, both recognized the shortage of recovery homes in eastern Suffolk County, most notably in their shared hometown.

"We have been searching for affordable properties out east for several years and have not been able to locate a property that would be suitable for the needs of our program (i.e. cost, size, location)," Ms. McNamara wrote in an email. "We continue to diligently look for potential program locations out east, but it has been one of the greatest challenges our organization has faced, as we know that the need for housing services is there.

"We absolutely support the creation of more recovery housing on the East End," she continued, pointing to the expected increase in their demand once those addicted to opioids aspire to kick their habits.

Ms. McNamara, who notes that several people close to her have suffered from addiction, said she and her nonprofit partner remain "very passionate" and committed to eventually offering their services on the South Fork ...

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After earning his master’s degree in print journalism from Boston University in 1996, Frank landed his first reporting job at The Advance, a weekly newspaper covering Brookhaven Town. Drawn by a desire to work in nearby New York City, Frank next accepted an assistant editor position with National Jeweler, a trade magazine that covers the international jewelry industry. Though he enjoyed the work, and was promoted to associate editor, Frank was offered a job that he could not decline: editor of The Advance. Though only 25, Frank embraced his new responsibility and, over the next five years, helped transform a struggling weekly into an award-winning newspaper. That success drew the attention of The Press News Group, his future employer. Frank was handed the reins to one of the chain's three flagship newspapers, The Southampton Press Wes...

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