A Blog by Sam Quinlan,
Founder & Conference Director, iCAAD
My experience of High Watch Recovery Centre began long before my visit. I had been given an information booklet on the history of High Watch, by a fellow associate from The Guest House Ocala - Co-Founder and Managing Partner John West, said directly, if you need an excellent abstinence based 12 step foundation treatment programme, with good mental health specialists at an affordable price near New York - look no further (please allow for a certain degree of my own artistic writing license as the conversation and content was much longer in all honesty but those are the focused facts!)
High Watch Recovery Centre began life as Joy Farm in 1926. It was opened and lovingly developed by Sister Francis who had dedicated her life to healing and it was a divine moment in 1939 that Marty Mann was introduced to the farm and Sister Francis and in turn, both Bill Wilson and Lois.
“AA members fell in love with the Farm and Sister Francis fell in love with AA. She thought AA members “were living the way she believed.” What she understood of AA clearly resonated with the traditions and principles of the Ministry of the High Watch.
High Watch Farm Is Born – there is an excellent historical video on their website
By 1939, AA Members began to stay at the Farm.
Bill and Lois W. spent six weekends at the farm that first summer, when Joy Farm officially became High Watch Farm. A Not-for Profit 501(c)(3) Organization was formed and AA members were asked to serve on the Board of Directors. Marty Mann, Walter W. and Ray Campbell were elected to the first board in October 1940.
Indeed from what I can gather this is ‘IT’.. the original and the bedrock in the development of residential therapeutic 12 step recovery.
Marty Mann gave a great description of High watch at their 25th anniversary:
“It’s a very great gift that was given to us, I think. I know of no one who was happier at the way that gift was being used than Sister Francis herself. Her only unhappiness was when she was in a place that was too far away for her to get to the farm as often as she wanted to in her last few years. Many of us who have known it and loved it will always feel that it’s ours too. I suspect that anyone that’s been up there gets that feeling. You can’t help feeling a little proprietary about it. It enters your heart in such a way that it does become a part of you. It is a great healing force. It is a very wonderful thing that has been made available to us.
I have visited a great many places that have indeed sprung up in its image and others that sprang up not knowing anything about it. Many of them are very good, and many of them are doing a good job, and helping a lot of people. But I have never been anywhere in the world that has the thing I’m talking about that exists at the farm. It’s a feeble word, atmosphere. I don’t quite know how to describe it. There is something in the air.” Click here for full link
In January 2019 it will be their 80th year.
I’ve always wanted to visit, and when I finally did I really couldn’t have felt more welcomed by the present CEO Jerry Schwab. He helped me with the A to B of getting to the town of Kent from New York as though I was a old friend, so helpful and kind. When I arrived I was met by a man called Bill W, I kid you not. He was my driver and he had been through High Watch himself. It was almost as though I was in the presence of the original Bill W as he had stories that span over 5 previous Directors, and told of a time when it was all run by volunteers. To me it sounded familiar and much like todays coaches and mentors. However these days, due to state regulations, many of the volunteers are now paid professionals. Still, what is blindingly obvious at High Watch is the number of alumni that keep rooted in the tradition of keeping what they have by giving back and the bustling community of 78 residents really benefit from this motto across all departments of High Watch.
As I left New York City and headed North, the landscape turned from the passionate and motivating hustle and bustle of the heady heights of Manhattan, to the hint of autumnal hues of the vast woodland and skies of Connecticut. The present day Bill W, summed it up perfectly when I was WOWing the landscape - “this is my chapel of spirituality” and he isn’t wrong, the environment I was headed into was inspiring, vast and breathtakingly peaceful.
As someone who’s recovery has benefited from connecting with the land, Connecticut made me recall the following passage:
“We passed under one of the last remaining covered bridges Bulls Bridge and we slowed to a mindful pace as we passed by the Schaghticoke Indian tribe reservation, mountainous and vast.” This sentence was particularly powerful for me as in early treatment. It’s from the writing of Jamie Sams - a member of the Wolf Clan Teaching Lodge and author of Earth Medicine: The true spirit of Native American ways of knowing shines through in these heartfelt meditations, poems, and stories. In 364 daily offerings.
That book and her writing helped me to find a way to peacefully mediate and it opened up my heart to gratitude in early recovery.
So as we drove up the drive, Bill pointed out the farms and the equine therapy, (for those that didn’t know my early forays in this field were hugely involved with equine assisted psychotherapy - I set up a charity called LEAP developing many programmes that were specifically for addiction and relational trauma - somatic work can so often be the gateway towards healing. Bessel A. van der Kolk has written that sometimes words are not enough and that models such as equine assisted psychotherapy, mindfulness and more traditional models including art and music are the gateway therapies towards self-awareness and authenticity.
“In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past.” Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
Seeing the horses and the beautiful countryside, I felt even more at home at High Watch. This place was truly a bedrock in 12 step therapy, complimented by therapeutic programmes including equine assisted therapy, and a countryside to calm the most chaotic of minds.
I was warmly welcomed by Cindy, Jeff and Ted. Ted is one of High Watch’s 1st sober mentors who graduated from the extended programme through the sober living farms and is now proudly employed. He told me how his is now managing to experience life on life’s terms, is paying his rent, earning a salary and is attending meetings. He has become a valued member of the community. We talked about how, from a psychosocial perspective, although he felt strong in his recovery, had he not been offered this position he had no idea how he would have managed and that this opportunity meant that he had a real chance at long term recovery.
After exploring the extensive woodland and the newly developed equine facility, I was asked if I would like to join chapel, why not! I love to embrace a spiritual opportunity and one of hope. So in I went. I could feel the energy radiating around this small cosy chapel and felt immediately at ease. This was so much more than a chapel though, this was the home of Sister Francis. There in that place, in a small room accessorised by the oldest of pews, I found many of the residents being hosted by Lori. Lori is a force of all that is genuine, powerful and gentle all in one immensely welcoming package, and she is now someone who I can gratefully say, has also changed my life. Today she is a counsellor and an alumni of 1989. Lori explains that much has changed architecturally but the foundation is the same and the treatment has just got better, “back then it was a visit to the local doctor in the town, today they have in permanent residence; 2 Doctors 2 Consultant Psychiatrists, a medical director and a clinical director who heads up a team of counsellors, step coaches of which they have between 5 to 12 at any given time - with some extra help, these guys all co-ordinate the therapeutic, educational and family groups and the one2one counselling, group therapy, nutritional education, yoga, mindfulness and equine assisted therapy that the centre has to offer.
For half an hour, Lori takes the patients through a really powerful 21st century gratitude share, she pretty much raises the roof with her total love of music and laughter and as I look round not one person doesn’t appreciate the value of this moment. As the residents leave I steal a few moments with Lori, I did threaten to bring her back in my suitcase but her value here is priceless, so a few moments in this historical place where personal photos and messages from Bill Wilson, Lois, and Marty Mann fill the walls, where the 12 little chairs in the corner represent the 12 steps, theses walls hold so much and the place vibrates with recovery and hope.
The investment architecturally in High Watch for the benefit of the patients is obvious, the huge tythe barn where every day as someone arrives or as someone leaves there is a heart stopping tear evoking huge rappturous applause, it got me.., I met all walks of life, all genders, all ages and all were embracing the chance they have been offered at High Watch.
There is something about the power of the group whether in the wider treatment community or in group therapy sessions that works. When I did my 1st placement as a trainee therapist at Broadway lodge, a residential 12 step treatment centre opened in the 70s, I knew then I would be a true advocate of the group process. I then went on to study with Clouds House and the university of Bath, on the Addiction Counselling Degree, under Dr Tim Leighton. One particular highlight was the module on Interpersonal group therapy and the text book bible, that I still cherish today is The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy authored by Irvin Yalom.
“Members of a cohesive group feel warmth and comfort in the group and a sense of belongingness; they value the group and feel in turn that they are valued, accepted, and supported by other members.” ― Irvin D. Yalom
Im pretty sure he would be hugely appreciative of the group process at High Watch.
I went around all the purpose built conference spaces, the accommodation wings, the gym, the clinical offices and gate crashed a multi-disciplinary directors meeting, clinical, medical, board and financial directors all together… this was a good POW WOW with Dr. David Hendricks, Dr. Gregory Boris, Alessandra Buonopane
I met Dana Pollack the Lead Clinician and Janet Prindle, several of the admissions staff; all alumni and fully supported by; programme manager Brendan Miller, Melanie on front desk and the aftercare staff.
What an experience, I finally flopped into a sofa in the office of the CEO Jerry Schwab. As he showed me the plans of the next developmental stage of High Watch - the new Detoxification Wing and the additional developments for the extended care. I can’t help but be somewhat in awe of how he is carrying High Watch forward and how appreciated he is by all the staff. I get it, he is a family man and gushes when talking about his children. Yet he has that same sentiment, about his role (he once turned down a job at High Watch). I’m left feeling I want to be part of this, so to make myself useful, I chose to write about my experience, I can tell as many as will read this about High Watch, its easy to get there, it has a Train Station with direct trains in from New York, by all means it’s affordable and they do have a beautiful policy that for those that need, but truly can’t afford they will try to help.
Thank you High Watch and see you soon.