BANGOR, Maine — Ron Robinson was sober for almost two years before he relapsed, disappearing into the obliterating mists of his lifelong drinking habit and the antisocial behavior it fueled.
But for the past two months Robinson has been sober again, living in a clean, sparsely furnished room at the Acadia Recovery Community, attending 12-step meetings, learning and relearning about his insidious disease. Robinson is 51 years old.
“I started drinking when I was 16 years old,” he said in a recent interview. “When I went into the service it escalated. It took away my fear. Alcohol was my best buddy at first, but then it turned against me. I drank alcoholically from the very beginning.”
This is Robinson’s second time through the “Bridge” program at the Acadia Recovery Community, a shelter and graduated substance abuse treatment facility located on Indiana Avenue.
Next week, the ARC will celebrate 10 years of serving the Bangor area and will host an open house and launch a campaign to raise public awareness of the work it does.
Robinson’s repeat status at the center is not unusual, according to supervisor Ann Giggey.
“We try to look at it as the person who is relapsing needs more help, not less help,” she said. That compassionate philosophy extends to the other parts of the ARC program, which includes a 44-bed emergency shelter for men and women with no place to sleep, the 10-bed “extended shelter” program that offers 12-step meetings and group therapy sessions, the 10-bed Home Base program that provides affordable rooms for single adults making the transition to independent living, and the Bridge program, where people like Robinson find the support they need to get and stay sober, regroup and rebuild their lives.
In 1998, The Acadia Hospital took over the old Hope House shelter on the grounds near the airport, beefed up the treatment options and transition services and renamed it the Acadia Recovery Community. The facility still houses one of just two “wet” shelters in the state, where “public inebriates” can walk in and find a hot meal and a place to sleep. That sets it apart from other shelters and soup kitchens in the area, which require their clients to be at least marginally sober before they come in.
It also means the clients at ARC tend to have more firmly entrenched drinking or drug habits than those who frequent the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter on Cedar Street. Brent Scobie, director of substance abuse services at The Acadia Hospital, said the two shelters work together to meet the needs of the Bangor area.
“We try to address it as a partnership,” he said. “We work closely to keep people off the streets, out of jail and in a safe place. This is not something any one agency can manage.”
Scobie said the graduated programs at the ARC allow clients with substance abuse problems to move toward sobriety at their own pace, linking them with appropriate treatment, housing and other support services as they make progress. And while the population served at the ARC is hard to track, Scobie said that in 2007, more than two-thirds of Bridge program clients moved into subsidized transitional housing managed by the hospital, a significant step toward independence.
Giggey defines success by a different measure. She sees individuals who attended their first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous as shelter clients returning to those meetings, building sober lifestyles and supporting others who are less far along. At Christmas, she said, former clients sometimes contact her asking what they can do to brighten the holidays at the shelter. And at least one former client, now established in his own contracting business, sometimes drops by to offer an honest day’s wages to others who are struggling to get on their feet.
“There’s just something about this place,” she said. “For some people, it’s a connection that defies statistics or logic.”