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Committing to a non-toxic environment

November 11, 2013
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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Environments for Recovery
Click to view photos of Five Sisters Ranch

When founder Nancie Brown at Five Sisters Ranch (Petaluma, Calif.) says that the residential program’s environment is “non-toxic,” she means it in a few different ways. Lori Jean Glass, program director, says while treating relationship challenges for women and helping them to be as honest and authentic with themselves as possible, it only made sense to do it in the most honest and authentic environment possible. 

In order to accomplish that, the facility’s energy is produced via solar panels, well water is used instead of tap water, and much of the facility’s structure was made from recycled materials. The decision to implement solar panels was made after leaders of the facility decided to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification. Now that they are implemented and generating electricity for the facility, there’s no additional work for the staff to do relating to the panels.

Not only did the facility achieve the LEED certification that managers had been striving for, it received the highest rating possible—LEED Platinum. Another way staff shows its commitment to a non-toxic environment is through the food served in the facility. Glass says most of the food is organic, and the majority of the food is grown on-site in a full vegetable garden and on fruit trees. She says, “Whatever is in season is what we cook.”

A large emphasis is placed on the food in terms of curriculum also. Glass says the kitchen is oversized for two reasons: one, because people tend to gravitate toward a kitchen; and two, so staff can use it as a teaching facility to assist women with self-care skills.

Intimate environment

There is a maximum of six women at Five Sisters Ranch at any given time. Glass explains that this is to “create an intimate environment to ensure safety for the women so they feel comfortable dropping down and talking about the core issues.”

Women who participate in the program typically have experienced relationship challenges, difficult divorces, death of a loved one, a relationship with an addict, love addiction, and/or co-dependency. Some women who are sober come to Five Sisters Ranch to work on a deeper level of recovery.

Five Sisters Ranch is a 12-day intensive program, in which the first week involves “deconstruction” and the second “restore and repair,” according to Glass. She says the program is two weeks in duration because many clients are professionals and/or mothers who cannot get away from their responsibilities for 30 days and/or do not want people to know that they are in a treatment-type environment. With a two-week vacation or sick leave that most people have, they can attend Five Sisters Ranch without having to alarm the people around whom they need to have anonymity.

The name of the facility was chosen because founder Nancie Brown was one of five sisters. In a statement on the organization’s website, Brown says, “Recognizing the strength, power and support that women can offer one another, Five Sisters Ranch honors my sisters, who were so instrumental in my recovery journey.”

There is also a double meaning behind the facility name, because when the six women residing there are in treatment, they have five “sisters.”

The bedrooms display empty walls and neutral paint colors, but this wasn’t done by mistake. Glass says the decision was made not to use artwork because “everyone has a different relationship to art.” Since the facility treats women with complex trauma, staff believes it’s crucial that there are not things in the room that could activate a pain body.

For example, Glass says, “Oftentimes I’ll go into treatment centers and there will be pink walls and sometimes pink will be a trigger for someone who grew up in a pink bedroom. Or there might be a big picture of a dog on the wall and someone might have a fear of dogs.”

Instead, each bedroom is equipped with a bulletin board and the women are encouraged to pin and display their own materials – photos from home or art made while in treatment.

The facility is open with high ceilings. Beams that are over 100 years old hold the house up and give it a certain strength, Glass explains. Because of the age of the beams, she says that most people look at them as containing much old wisdom and they give the home a good energy.

The wood used upstairs was repurposed from a recycled tobacco barn. “So we’ve taken what we believe to be toxic—cigarettes—and we took all the wood, repurposed it, and used it in our home,” Glass says. Similarly, the kitchen table was recycled from a beer distillery.