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All Together Now

With coed living options, residents practice relationships for lasting recovery

Separating men and women is a norm of chemical dependency treatment, at least in residential settings. While there are plenty of reasons for that to be the case, a sober house is meant to be a transitional step toward independence. Thus, it can be an opportunity to develop life skills that apply to the world at large, while developing a support network of men and women alike.

Since society isn’t gender-segregated, neither should a sober house be, says New Heights Owner Greg McFarlane. “Addiction is a great equalizer, so [the difference between] men and women really is insignificant at one level,” he says, and explains that living together allows for new shared perspectives and a chance to build skills in healthy relationships.

“Addiction is a great equalizer"

McFarlane continues, “Whatever situation comes up is another opportunity to practice recovery, and the more we practice recovery the stronger we’ll get for living in the outside world.” So in one sense, the coed aspect of New Heights is merely incidental to the overall idea of strengthening relationships - “relationships are all about how we are relating to people, period,” explains McFarlane.

Simple standards

The reasoning is logical - idealistic, sure, but not far-fetched. That being said, the potential complications of coed living are not lost on McFarlane. Before a potential resident moves in, McFarlane takes the opportunity to discuss his vision for the house with him or her. Along with the standard rules and regulations common to any sober house, they go into their thoughts and feelings toward interpersonal relationships, and if a coed environment is a good fit for their recovery.

“relationships are all about how we are relating to people, period.”

A simple set of guidelines emerges from the conversation: “don’t use, go to meetings, get a sponsor, and treat the opposite sex like your brother or sister,” says McFarlane. McFarlane also makes it a point to keep an open line of communication with all residents so that if situations do arise, “we can approach it and make solutions on how to re-evaluate our thinking and redirect it.”

Practice makes perfect

Before McFarlane converted the bed and breakfast on the corner of 5th St. and 40th Ave. into a sober house, practicing relationships had formed a cornerstone of his recovery. The two most recent treatment centers he attended on his own path to recovery featured coed components in their services. So when he decided to open a sober house, it seemed like the only natural format.

He says the living situation allowed him to practice rebuilding relationships with family members in a low-risk environment, an asset he sees repeated on a daily basis at New Heights. “You get to practice assertiveness with somebody who’s closer to you than a stranger on the street, but is not your family member,” says McFarlane. “You get to practice apologizing, asking for forgiveness, making amends...”

“What we hear throughout New Heights is a story about family, about relationships. It was always meant to be that way.”

The concept has been effective so far, as McFarlane has observed many individuals come into the house, work on their recovery, and re-establish strained connections with family members after developing the necessary skills with peers in the house. “What we hear throughout New Heights is a story about family, about relationships,” says McFarlane. “It was always meant to be that way.”


This story appears in the Fall issue of New Heights quarterly magazine.

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