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Building a sober community

October 5, 2011
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Jeff iverson
Jeff Iverson

Jeff Iverson's community of sober residences sits just a mile east of the bustle and clang of the Las Vegas Strip. It might as well be situated in another galaxy.

“When you're ready to recover, you're ready,” remarks Iverson, 37. “It doesn't matter what's going on outside these walls, that there's a casino down the road and there's gambling and drinking.”

Few distractions interrupt Iverson's life these days, unless you count the so-welcome distraction of his bouncing 19-month-old son. He is committed to establishing his friendly, active community of apartments for persons in recovery-a site with a more relaxed, home-like atmosphere than many of the sober residences that he has come across elsewhere.

“Some people are coming right here from detox, rehab, or specialty court programs,” Iverson says of Freedom House, a complex of apartment buildings and courtyards that opened last October with the help of a wealthy recovering person who financed the building acquisition. “The people love the community; we have weekly barbecues here.”

Residents, most of whom are paying their own rent and are staying an average of six months, also have standard rules to follow amid the neighborly surroundings. They abide by a curfew, submit to random drug screens and attend mandatory 12-Step meetings. “We're really focused on the recovery part of it,” Iverson says.

Meth's destruction

The final eight years of Iverson's substance-using period led him down a road of despair and into the justice system and mandated treatment. “When I became an IV [methamphetamine] user, I crossed the line,” he says. It would damage his career in selling securities and insurance, as he eventually would get involved in manufacturing meth.

“Every bottom I hit became acceptable,” Iverson recalls.

In 2002 he agreed to enter a treatment center on family members' urging, but after completing the program he relapsed at home the following day. He would be arrested two years later and ordered to outpatient treatment, where he would not progress. He later would proceed to a seven-month Salvation Army treatment program, but he would relapse again eight months later. Finally, Iverson was re-arrested and mandated to the drug court program in Clark County.

During this lengthy period of progress and setbacks, Iverson would be hospitalized for septic shock twice, and he withered to 140 pounds on a 6-foot frame.

“I know what it's like to be the guy in the corner of the room-I had nobody,” he says, although he adds that his mother never stopped offering her words of encouragement, telling him there was hope when he had stopped believing it.

As part of the drug court program in 2007, Iverson would participate in intensive outpatient treatment that required three treatment sessions a week, three drug tests a week and one 12-Step meeting a week (“I actually went to one meeting a day,” he says). He describes the treatment experience that drug court presented to him as “life-changing,” adding, “It introduced me to a way of life that I didn't even know I wanted.”

Las Vegas community

Many outsiders wouldn't guess that the Las Vegas area hosts about 700 meetings a week. Iverson's slice of the area's active recovery community is somewhat unusual for the region in its scope, and also in its effort to avoid simply dumping too large a number of recovering people into one tight living space.

“Here we're talking about three personalities working their recovery under one roof, not 12,” he says.

Those who successfully complete their stay in sober living can graduate to their own apartments, with their own name on the utility bills. Iverson says the entire Freedom House community has capacity for about 120 residents. The sober-living component has been operating nearly at full capacity in recent months.

Freedom House is staffed with a site director, a house manager for men and a house manager for women. Each house manager has two support staff members. “We're in the process of getting a halfway house license,” Iverson says.

He believes he can make this living arrangement possible for others because of the new life that a drug court program made available to him. “I'm really grateful for those types of programs,” he says. “There was enough structure, and enough consequences over my head, that I did it.”

Addiction Professional 2011 September-October;9(5):40