Odyssey House’s Circuit Breaker drug rehab program will be doubling its capacity to 30 people in the next few months — an urgent and long overdue expansion.
The six-week Circuit Breaker program has 80 people on the waiting list; a number that hovers between 80 and 150.
Priority to this voluntary program was given to those in the North East rural region.
The program also has the support of the legal system, with courts occasionally sending drug offenders to rehab instead of jail.
But none of that impacts the principles and environment of the highly organised and efficient rehab, with no incidents occurring in six years — and the one that was written up then had no impact on fighting a war.
So you can see why people might be happy to wander into one of Victoria’s premier destinations — on the property there are beautiful gardens, chicken shed, separate boys’ and girls’ dormitory and a pool with a basketball court next to it.
I arrived for the daily morning meeting at nine and sat and observed as the day’s tasks and quotes were read out by the residents.
It felt as though I was interrupting an intimate moment with the group, but almost immediately also felt a part of it as some of the residents flashed me a smile and seemed fine with me being included.
I sat in the group as they each said their name and how long they had been with the program, with most of them being in week five and a few of them only having just arrived days earlier.
Each resident was given a daily task that included a rotation of cleaning, cooking or gardening.
The staff member then opened the floor to the group to voice any concerns they had, with the only problem being the use of the wrong mop in the toilets.
A quote from Muhammed Ali was then read out and the behaviour and mentality of the residents was reiterated by the staff.
The message was clear. Be accountable for your actions, treat everybody including yourself with respect and remain as positive as you possibly can.
The principles seemed simple yet effective with the residents, and are really the principals everyone should have in everyday life.
I noticed a few people in the room shaking with anxiety during the meeting, which I felt responsible for, being a new face in a closed-off community.
The residents did not look, or seem, any different to you or me.
They were all friendly and polite and seemed happy to see a new face in the facility.
During their six weeks there are only a few visits allowed on the site; although you are allowed two to three calls a week (the rules are different if you have children, with calls allowed every day).
I was taken on a tour by a male and female resident, who had a strict timeline of 20 minutes to give me the tour, due to the fact they had to get back to their daily tasks and they didn’t want to let the team down.
They both seemed excited to meet me and show me around and we got along instantly.
With obvious pride and sense of achievement they showed me the garden they manage and the condition it is in.
The area included multiple vegetables and herbs, and seemed beautifully maintained although the woman showing me around was still pretty angry about then mess ‘‘her’’ garden was left in after Christmas.
Odyssey was only funded by the government for 48 weeks of the year, with the gardens and shrubs being left to grow out of control — meaning more hard work for the residents.
We stood by the gardens for a few moments as I asked both of them about their time here and they seemed to be motivated and understanding of why they were here and what they needed to do to get better.
The female was a repeat customer at the facility before.
She was in her fifth week this time, but had applied for an extension of two weeks to feel more content with her mindset and her own behaviour.
She didn’t think six weeks was long enough for a full recovery, but felt she learnt some extremely valuable lessons her first time around and just slipped back into old habits.
The man had been on the waiting list for six months to get his six weeks.
He claimed he was sober in that waiting period, but admitted still struggling with urges and temptations of his past.
He seemed to be motivated to be there and wanted to change his life and mindset for the better.
He was open about his past behaviour, stating he needed to be accountable for his past actions. He was proud of his progress, but admitted to a long road ahead.
Also in his fifth week, he has applied for an extension and aimed for a long-term facility.
Accountability was a main principle at the facility, and he seemed to be ensuring that principle in every aspect.
He was left frustrated by the fact that there were not any facilities like this in his area, which caused the long waiting time, but reflected on a self-imposed sober time and was proud of the progress he made.
I took some time to walk around the facility, not only to see everything the complex had, but to also hide my emotions.
I couldn’t stop thinking about my half-brother, who has been an addict as long as I’d known him and who may have had the chance to avoid prison if he had a program like this available to him in the past.
The biggest problems with rehab facilities that I noticed while trying to get help for my half-bother was either the cost or the waiting time.
The Circuit Breaker program was on average about $150 a week and was worked around the amount of money the residents were earning through Centrelink or work, and gave everyone the equal opportunity to improve their lives and overcome their addictions.
Andy, who ran the facility, was a true inspiration to not only the residents, but also to me.
He had a professionally calm demeanour and easy-going personality and you could see the passion and motivation in his eyes.
He has been a fixture there since 2007, and was seen as the mastermind behind the improvement in past residents.
Realistic in his views, he understood some patients returned for another residency and some needed a long-term facility, but was adamant this program was the best way to overcome addiction.
He wanted to help as many people as he possibly could and thought the doubling in beds was just the beginning in the expansion, because he also believed the waiting lists were far too long and gave a perfect example of why more facilities were needed.
The current statistics show NSW has 800 to 1000 residents in rehab programs, while Victoria only has 200 to 300.
The number of people who need a rehab facility is quite similar in the two states and the availability in Victoria is simply not enough.
About 90 per cent of the residents had experienced some kind of extreme trauma in their life and used drugs or alcohol to escape it.
Andy said it was not an excuse for the behaviour of the residents, just simply a reason behind it and a way to understand it.
We spoke about what is was like for me growing up with a half-brother with addictions and he spoke of his own problems many years ago.
It was emotional speaking about some memories that were close to our hearts, but I felt an instant connection and understanding for one another.
I couldn’t help but feel inspired by his willingness to help people and his gritty determination at getting people on the right track.
I noticed the residents treated him with the utmost respect, and could feel the emotions in the way he spoke about the program.
He was humble and approachable and made everyone feel welcomed, including myself.
He receives a few hundred calls a year from concerned parents calling about their children’s ice use and wished he could help every one of them in that situation.
The Odyssey House program provides a doctor and psychiatrist for a weekly check-up and Milieu therapy is used to treat the residents.
The success rate is high for such a short program, and it could be the first step in a positive road to recovery.
●Anyone who is experiencing addiction or substance abuse problems or is concerned for a loved one, phone Odyssey House on (03)57666399.