ROCKLAND, Maine — Rob Patterson and Carolyn Ahlstrand said they knew there was a great unmet need for support of women who are trying to stay sober.
The couple decided to do something to bridge that gap and purchased a house in Rockland that now is being rented out to women who are in recovery from addiction to alcohol or other substances.
Ahlstrand said she was attending a Nar-Anon meeting for people who have someone in their lives with an addiction.
“I heard stories of how lives were being torn apart,” she said.
She said she heard parents say that when their child is arrested for a drug offense they are often relieved because it is the only way they know their child is alive.
“Something had to be done. People are dying and no one is doing anything,” she said.
Patterson, a lawyer, said he had a sibling who died of the disease.
The couple had been tossing around the idea for a sober house for the past few years, she said.
“Last year we said we were going to do it,” Ahlstrand said.
They submitted questionnaires at Nar-Anon and AA meetings to gauge the interest.
Ahlstrand said they initially considered starting a sober house for men, but after talking with the director of the psychiatric and addiction recovery center at Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport, they did an about-face, realizing there was a much greater need for one for women.
No licensing is required, they said.
The couple purchased a house on Masonic Street in August 2012 under the name Bridges Property LLC.
Patterson and Ahlstrand made considerable renovations to the house. Ahlstrand said she added the feminine touches to the decor of the home.
The house opened in late January, and has a capacity for seven residents and a house manager.
The sober house is the only facility of its kind in Maine north of Portland, they said.
The house has two current residents along with the manager.
The house is called the Virginia House after a cousin of Ahlstrand who, while she did not suffer from alcoholism, had a mental disorder and lived in squalor. When she died, however, it turned out she had a large amount of money. Ahlstrand used the $20,000 she received from her cousin as seed money for the sober house.
The couple stressed that the sober house is not a rehabilitation center but lends reinforcement for people to stay clean.
There is also a lack of rehabilitation facilities for women, they said. There are less than 30 beds in the state and there are scores more women in Rockland alone who need that type of care.
The residents are asked to outline their plan for recovery. They need to be dedicated and willing to follow the house rules, the couple stressed.
There are support group meetings at two local churches — the Rockland Congregational Church and St. Bernard’s Catholic Church — as well as at the Rockland Public Library. All of these places are within walking distance of the Virginia House. Residents are required to attend 90 support meetings in 90 days.
Residents are not allowed to have a car for the first 30 days.
They also are required to look for work within 30 days of arriving at the house. They are required to perform 20 hours of community service if they do not have a job.
There is a chore board for the residents that arranges for rotating responsibilities.
“By the time they hit bottom they often have lost everything,” Ahlstrand said
“We hold the door, you hold the key,” is the motto for the Virginia House, Patterson and Ahlstrand noted.
The majority of people with addiction relapse, Ahlstrand said. The goal of Virginia House is to provide a supportive environment to reduce relapses.
Residents are charged $525 per month to live in the house in semi-private rooms. The rent includes everything but food. There are wireless Internet, cable television, shared kitchen facilities and laundry facilities.
Ahlstrand, who ran a business in southern California for 30 years, said the goal is not to make money. The house is running about $1,500 in the red each month but would be closer to breaking even with a full house.
“The reward is that if we help one person turn it around, it will have a ripple effect,” Patterson said.
People who want to be considered for admittance to the Virginia House can call 593-8008 or 624-1975.
Those who would be a good fit for the Virginia House are women who have completed a 28-day or longer rehabilitation program, who want to build upon those skills and who recognize the benefits of such communal living.
There is zero tolerance for drug or alcohol use. The Virginia House does not allow certain prescription drugs such as suboxone and methadone.