What does it take to get through to someone deep in the throes of addiction? With our country now facing a national crisis of epidemic proportions, finding an answer to that question is now more urgent than ever. Walt Ybarra and Tim Storey have at least found a seminal starting point – love and encouragement – and they’ve infused that throughout their programs at Imagine Recovery Group and Melrose Recovery Group.
Imagine and Melrose deal with some of the most difficult cases you can imagine. Many of their patients come in straight from living on the streets, often strung out on either heroin or crystal meth, and increasingly addicted to both. Some kids grow up in households where parents use and sell dope. These children develop a habit while out running deliveries, sometimes getting abused by clients in the process. “We once treated three siblings from an entire family addicted to heroin,” Ybarra noted. “That’s what we’re up against in today’s battle against addiction.”
“We purposely keep our program small,” he continued, “so Tim and I can attend to and touch each patient on a personal level. We sit with them, talk to them and encourage them. It’s about really believing in these kids and listening. We always remember where they came from. We love them, understand them and care for them because most of our staff is in long term recovery themselves. We are sympathetic when they’re cranky because they’re detoxing. We demonstrate through our actions how much we care.”
“We focus on building these patients back up,” Storey adds. “Many of our patients have had their confidence shattered, and don’t know which way is up. We need to re-build their sense of self and help them understand they are truly competent individuals because addiction impacts their entire life. I focus on seven critical areas: (i) physical life, (ii) mental wellbeing, (iii) spiritual life, (iv) family life, (v) job, (vi) financial wellbeing, and (vii) social life. These are all areas in which patients require solid skills to succeed in both life and recovery.”
If Tim Storey’s name sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve likely already heard of him. He is a celebrity life coach to the stars, who travels the world, but still makes time for what he makes clear is “most important.” He began his adult life in the seminary and graduated with a doctorate in religion and a specialty in family counseling. From there he founded a program called Comeback Kids to inspire youth around the world to follow their dreams. He chose to apply this formula to people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction “because so many are just looking to check out and avoid. Addiction really beats people down. That’s why our program is about recovery AND discovery. What is your purpose? We all need a reason to get out of bed in the morning and be excited about this incredible life.”
“We need to provide unconditional support, particularly at the beginning,” Ybarra concurred. “They’ve lost their self-confidence to the haze of addiction and whatever trauma led them there. I train the staff to be seed planters. We plant seeds in the kids and water them. You’d be amazed at how quickly we see dramatic results.” Walt Ybarra made helping substance abusers his mantra, around the time most people would be considering retirement. After 35 years of owning and operating a successful industrial packaging company, he grew tired and disillusioned. He found inspiration counseling young men and realized there was a lot more to life than material wealth. That dedication shines through to the very way he runs Imagine and Melrose. “I take every call and screen every patient to determine if they really want help. We are investing our blood, sweat and tears into aiding our patients. We need them to be as focused and dedicated to recovery as we are to helping. This way, more patients get their lives firmly back on track.”
In addition to traditional treatment, Imagine and Melrose offer both art and music therapy run by a well-known artist named Crista Hope, and a recording artist named Chill Aguilar. A huge variety of options outside of treatment can be distracting to the types of patients that attend these programs, so they prefer focusing on just two, providing each patient with special attention to foster success.
These dedicated programs also take patients on excursions to expose them to the outside world, together as a group. The zoo might be a typical example. “Some of my clients are shocked when I make such a recommendation,” Storey mused. “They say ‘what does a zoo have to do with my treatment?’ Then they go and enjoy the experience, sober and reliving innocent memories from when they were a kid. Something so simple can be so profound.” Attending religious services is another option provided by staff and management, to assist patients in connecting with their Higher Power. “Spiritual awareness can be a huge motivator in treatment and in life. Many patients are experiencing this for the first time, giving them greater understanding of their sense of purpose.”
Imagine and Melrose pay great attention to detail as well. They only provide detox, residential and PHP (partial hospitalization) treatment because that’s when it’s most difficult. Storey and Ybarra select some of the most challenging cases because those are the patients most urgently in need. That explains their 2-to-1 patient to therapist ratio and the fact that Ashley Furniture sees fit to generously donate furniture in support of the cause. Eighty-percent of the patients successfully complete the programs, which is highly reputable in of itself, but all the more impressive considering that the majority of patients have failed to complete treatment numerous times before.
So, what is it exactly that makes Storey and Ybarra so effective at reaching their patients? The 2016 US Surgeon General Report on Addiction noted that the single most determinative factor for shepherding a patient through treatment, is how the patient relates with his or her therapist. It seems obvious that the warm, non-judgmental ambience combined with unbounded encouragement play a huge role. “We want to be that facility that touches patients’ hearts in a way that nobody else does,” added Ybarra. “We want this to be their last time in treatment and we want it to be memorable.”