The key to success lies in the willingness to grow
Lake Braaten finds time to reflect on the past eight months living at New Heights Sober House, LLC between a busy schedule of school, homework, running an AA meeting and packing. Now two weeks into his first semester at Augsburg University, he prepares himself for the next step in his recovery, a move into a new house that he will share with four other soon-to-be former New Heights residents.
There’s a lot on his plate, but he feels ready - excited, even - which is far more than he could say a year ago. Moving day happens to fall on his one-year sobriety date, Sept. 2. “I couldn’t even handle day to day things,” he says. “I couldn’t brush my teeth or take a shower, let alone think about school or moving out.”
“I couldn’t even handle day to day things.”
In the midst of withdrawals from opiates and benzodiazepines, frequent panic attacks and severe bouts of depression, not to mention his legal issues, Braaten was losing hope fast. “I wanted to die,” he recalls. “I figured I’d take as many drugs as possible and try not to cross the line, but if I did, whatever.” So when his probation officer offered him the chance to go to treatment, he went along with it. He didn’t see it as any better or any worse than his current situation - it was just another day in the life.
Where recovery begins
Over the course of five months in inpatient treatment he started to stabilize mentally and physically. Until he toured New Heights, though, Braaten hadn’t planned on sober living. Living in a house with dozens of strangers, his anxiety symptoms still present, was a major compromise of his comfort zone. He’d never gone to a sober house after treatment before, and had relapsed every time, so he decided to give it a chance.
“I think treatment got me to clear my mind and look at my problem,” says Braaten, “but when I got [to New Heights] was when my recovery really started.”
“When I got here was when my recovery really started.”
Within the community at New Heights, Braaten built a platform of peer support and spirituality on which he bases his recovery. He was a self-described loner throughout the course of his addiction and rejected anything resembling religion or spirituality. Yet, once again, he changed course and opened up to the people around him.
It seemed to help, so he continued branching out further to nearby 12-step meetings and found one where he fit in. Now Braaten runs that meeting on Thursday nights.
Growth is contagious
Spirituality is settling in with Braaten, who says initially all it took was the “willingness to be open to the idea of it.” He started simple, without expectations, and positioned himself for growth - a philosophy that has caused him to flourish at New Heights and in life. And as he embarks on new opportunities outside of New Heights, Braaten recognizes a cycle of contagious self-improvement in the community where his recovery came to be.
“You’re not here trying to better everybody else around you,” he says, “but that’s just what happens naturally as you’re bettering yourself.”
This article appears in the Fall issue of New Heights quarterly magazine