Watching Santé’s alumni program grow has been such a great experience, as I imagine it would be for most treatment centers. As much as I’d like to take all of the credit, I can’t. I have found that the self-started and self-sustaining alumni groups that our alumni have started around the country, primarily on Facebook, have really set a standard and been a way for alumni to constantly stay involved with their peers. When I say self-started and self-sustaining I mean that a few dedicated alumni started a group on their own accord which officially has no Santé involvement, although I encourage every patient to become involved in these groups when they leave and will provide them the contact information to do so.
Since alumni are encouraged to join these groups after they discharge, the groups are comprised of folks who were in treatment several years ago up to last week. One of my favorite parts has been watching alumni who speak almost daily (online, by phone, etc.) come back to the Annual Retreat and meet face to face for the first time. I have been lucky enough to be able to host at least one large event each year on the Santé campus where those alumni who talk quite often, sometimes daily, can come visit each other, Santé staff members who helped them heal, and the grounds where many of them buried burdens of their past. I say lucky, because although I cannot put the alumni up or help with any travel costs they may have, I offer a weekend refresher and retreat at essentially no charge ($100, which covers the cost of meals, which we provide). During this weekend, alumni come back to attend lectures, 12-step meetings with the current patient community, participate on our ropes course, music therapy, psychodrama along with other experiential therapies that they experienced as a resident of the Hill in Argyle, TX.
My primary focus is to ensure that our alumni understand the benefit of staying connected post treatment. In my experience the self-sustaining groups that our alumni have formed function as more than a 12-step support group, but an extension of Santé. Alumni from various backgrounds, geographic areas, socio economic standing and most importantly those recovering from all types of addictions make up these groups; no two are the same. I hear time and time again that the power is in the group, and that is what they are continuing on their own once they leave treatment. Each of the members in these self-sustaining groups had an experience at Santé; no matter how different, they are all Santé alumni.
Even if a patient decides to leave us earlier than may be ideal, most are able to recognize the uniqueness of the bonds that they have formed while in a residential treatment setting. More often than not they have shared secrets that they have never said out loud, and while expecting rejection and judgment, their peers embrace and love them for their authenticity. For some this is the first time they feel that they are not alone. For others it is the first time they feel worthy of love and compassion. Whatever their story may be, Santé remains a common denominator.