Sober Thanksgiving a reason to celebrate | AspenTimes.com

Sober Thanksgiving a reason to celebrate

Charles Agar
Aspen, CO Colorado

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” With two turkeys in the oven and a kitchen bustling with volunteers, Thanksgiving at the new sober living house near Glenwood Springs looked like any other.

But for the six residents learning to live a sober life, Thanksgiving gratitude has a very special meaning.

“It’s a supportive environment with people who are on the same journey as I am,” said Kevin. (The residents wished to refer to themselves by first names only.) “I just try to be thankful for the good people I have in my life.”

Some six bedrooms in the 4,500-square-foot home can accommodate as many as 10 residents, and the house at Elk Springs near the Colorado Mountain College campus boasts two TV rooms, an outdoor Jacuzzi, and stunning views of Mt. Sopris.

Chris Edrington is director of St. Paul Sober Living in Minnesota, where he runs nine similar facilities. In 2005, he opened a sober living house in Carbondale that raised the hackles of some neighbors.

But, with the remote location of the Glenwood Springs house, he doesn’t anticipate any issues, he said.

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Edrington was in a halfway house himself in 1997, and said it was a miserable experience, and that’s what got him into the business.

Residents at the Elk Springs house have to follow strict rules and hold each other accountable, Edrington said.

Most of the men are about six months sober and have graduated from other treatment centers, such as Jaywalker Lodge in Carbondale.

Edrington asks for a six-month commitment and the men are told to stay out of dating relationships for the first three months they’re there.

“No sex, no violence, and no smoking,” Edrington said. Those are the hard-and-fast rules.

And men must do chores and pitch in.

House staff perform random drug-tests on clients or test a resident suspected of using drugs or alcohol, Edrington said.

“If there’s any suspicion, they’re tested,” Edrington said.

But the key is putting responsibility in resident’s hands.

A new lease on life

“Life is good,” said Don. “It’s all working out.”

A carpenter and native of the Chicago area, he’s been through a number of treatment centers and lived in the sober house in Carbondale before moving to Elk Springs.

“I might be able to help the guys and help the place get started,” he said.

And living in the house is an opportunity to learn how to live without drugs and alcohol.

“I think it’s about the friendships, sharing our experiences,” Don said.

Living with so many people can be trying, but arguments are an opportunity for self-examination.

“Why is he affecting me so much?” Don asks when he has an altercation with someone. “I try to learn from that.”

“It’s all about having the willingness to do the next best thing,” said Aaron Casoli, Edrington’s program director and himself a graduate of a sober living house in Minnesota.

“I shouldn’t be here,” Casoli said, citing his own experience with addiction.

And working with guys at the sober house is a chance to give back what was given to him, he said. “That’s why I have this job.”

Kea Hause of Carbondale has been a house manager for Edrington for just over one year, and said life in the house is a chance for residents to become responsible for their lives.

Cleaning up after themselves, being self-supporting and staying active is the way to make it work, and there’s an informal “buddy system” to the place.

“We really encourage people to hang out together and do stuff together,” Hause said.

Many graduates make the sober house in Carbondale part of their social scene, he said.

“Having had that hard, miserable life, you really appreciate the everyday simple things,” Hause said. “That attitude is essential to staying sober.”

“My wall is full of thank you cards,” Edrington said. “But there’s a lot of guys who have a hard time being transparent.”

A major component of living with other sober men is living with “integrity, honesty and transparency,” Edrington said.

“The house is a place to put your feet on the ground and really start doing it,” Edrington said.

And many alcoholics and drug addicts suffer terribly from isolation, Edrington said.

But living at the house and sharing everything from problems and frustrations to a Thanksgiving turkey is a way to make long-term friendships.

“It’s a family atmosphere,” Edrington said. “If you’ve got this disease, alone will kill you.”

Charles Agar’s e-mail address is cagar@aspentimes.com.