Open Door Recovery Center staff gather in Ellsworth in early April for a regular staff meeting. They discussed challenges to their work, as well as the reasons they prefer a non-medical approach to addiction treatment. The team has been awarded a handful of grants and private support in recent months, allowing them to expand their work. PHOTO BY JACK DODSON

Open Door uses donations to expand staff, programs

ELLSWORTH — Rosamond McLean has seen a lot of men — many of them lobstermen and clammers — who will scoff at the idea of spirituality.

In her work as a substance abuse counselor at Open Door Recovery Center, she said some men can be reluctant to get in touch with their emotional lives because of their definition of masculinity.

“And then they talk about what it’s like out on the boat,” she said. They’ll describe how beautiful it is, and say there’s nowhere they’d rather be.

“And you think you’re not spiritual?” she’ll ask them.

For McLean and other staff members at Open Door, the spiritual element is a key part of their work. The organization has been around since 1984, originally run for 15 years out of the basement of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

In recent years, the work of recovery has taken on a key role in Maine — and national — politics, as opiate addiction has become a fixture in many communities. While many treatment programs offer medically assisted help to patients addicted to opiates, Open Door offers a holistic path, rather than using one drug to help clients step away from another drug.

That’s because the staff believes it can send mixed messages to an addict’s system when he or she is weaned off one substance, only to depend on another. Staff members, interviewed during their weekly meeting, explained that they aren’t antagonistic toward medical treatment; it’s just not how they approach the work.

Their philosophy is in contrast to the idea that replacing illicit drugs with more controlled ones — like substituting suboxone for heroin, for example — can help combat addiction. That more medical approach can be referred to commonly as “replacement therapy.”

Like many nonprofits, Open Door has faced inconsistent funding. As of last fall, the nonprofit was in danger of shutting down, according to Barbara Royal, Open Door’s executive director. But an anonymous donor stepped forward in November and provided enough money to hire more staff, expand programs and sustain the organization.

A spate of grant awards followed.

From the Sunshine Lady Foundation, $30,000 went to Open Door’s program at the Hancock County Jail, working with incarcerated addicts to provide treatment and support.

From the Castine Unitarian Church, $20,000 went to Hills House, the live-in treatment program for mothers of young children and pregnant women fighting addiction.

First National Bank donated $10,000 and Bar Harbor Bank and Trust donated $250 to Hills House.

And the Mary Dexter Chafee Fund donated $4,000 for a playground Open Door will build on Route 1A in Ellsworth.

With the renewed support, Open Door has been able to expand its programs and hire new staff. The new staff members include overnight workers, Hills House employees and counselors.

One of the new projects is a re-entry program for people transitioning out of jail and back into the community. Mike Bibro, a counselor at the organization, has been working with incarcerated patients for years.

“Working at the jail since 2010, I’ve gotten to know a few of the people and the challenges they face,” Bibro said. “Very often it has to do with not adjusting very well to the community.”

They become “institutionalized,” he said, meaning they’re trapped within a mentality that they’ll always be interacting with the criminal justice system.

“When the person leaves, they feel as though they’re a convict — and an addict to boot. Basically, they feel like they don’t belong,” Bibro said.

McLean jumped in to explain that a key part of the staff’s philosophy is built around connections.

“There has to be a connection to other human beings,” she said.

“The opposite of addiction,” another staff member added during the meeting, underscoring that connection to others and communities is imperative for success in treating addiction.

Another new program is for family members of people facing addiction, as well as “affected others.”

“If the family unit isn’t also recovering, the chances of recovery dropped,” Royal said of a study that supported the thinking for the new program. “We know for a fact that when families join in the process of recovery together, the success rate goes up considerably.”

Royal explained that for family members of those battling addiction, the pain can be multifaceted and right answers are not always clear. The support group would seek to support those people in the recovery process.

“I think it’s important to the community to acknowledge the kind of pain they’re going through,” Royal said. “The sleepless nights. Waiting for the call.”

“Should I bail them out?” another staff member contributed, referencing a question faced by family and friends of incarcerated people.

Yet another group focuses on mindfulness for patients.

“It’s kind of helping clients be more aware of thoughts and aware of triggers,” said substance abuse counselor Jessica Oakes.

“I kind of think about it like really learning to live in the moment,” McLean said. “If addicts can do that, it can really help with the choice of whether to use or not use.”

The staff pointed out that the spirituality component isn’t necessarily religious. It could be any number of things, according to Royal: a parent holding his or her infant child, walking on the beach.

“My sense of spirituality is that it’s a very intimate process within myself,” Royal said.

Religion is about helping people connect, she elaborated, but it happens outside, it’s an external and social connection.

On the morning of the staff meeting, Desiree Magoon had just finished her first night shift at Hills House. She told her co-workers that her mother had passed away from an overdose when Desiree was 10 years old. At the time, there wasn’t anything like Open Door in the Belfast area, where her family lived.

“My mom was prescribed things,” she said. “It just made it worse. She went to rehab and came back with stronger medicine.”

Jack Dodson
Jack Dodson began working for The Ellsworth American in mid-2017, and covers eastern Hancock and western Washington counties. He grew up in the Mid-coast region before living in New York City for five years, where he freelanced in documentary filmmaking and journalism. He is particularly interested in criminal justice, environment and immigration reporting.

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