From the Saint Jude Retreats to The Freedom Model Retreats - Why the Name Change?

by Mark Scheeren, Chairman

In 1992, when we founded Baldwin Research Institute (BRI) with the mission to transform the drug and alcohol treatment industry to an effective model, we needed a facility, a laboratory of sorts to build a viable alternative to the failing industry that was the 12 steps and treatment. The facility that acted in this capacity was The Hagaman Guest House in Hagaman, NY. In 2000 the name of the facility was changed to The Saint Jude Retreats. In order to understand why that first name change occurred, and also why we have now decided to change it for a second time (to The Freedom Model Retreats) we will need to explain some history.

During the late 80's and early 90's when Jerry Brown (the other co-founder of BRI) and I started conducting research on Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and the treatment industry as a whole, we spent years working with the desperate population of what the treatment industry calls "chronic relapsers." While this degrading label still exists to describe heavy substance users in treatment circles, we saw these people as simply misinformed and following a model in the 12 steps that made little sense. We did not see these people as the label suggests, but rather, as victims of misguided treatment industry propaganda, including negative 12 step indoctrination. From 1989 through 1992 we studied AA in depth and decided to create a retreat environment where people could learn a modified version of the 12 steps; one that did not include the disease rhetoric and hopelessness mantras. We acquired a rundown old Victorian mansion in Hagaman, NY and began teaching this updated version we had created. To even get this facility was a miracle in itself given our financial situation and prospects for staying afloat at the time.

Part of the research in those days was simply taking what existed (AA and treatment), and then making modifications to any part of that model that we found would not hold up to scientific scrutiny and practical application. By 2000, what we had developed was so far from the original AA and treatment models that there was nothing left to do but break free from it entirely. We had also survived a drawn out attack from the recovery society (the addiction treatment system and 12 step recovery movement) for daring to try to improve conventional recovery methods and thus break with what were considered sacred, even if ineffective. We had learned that not only were others in the field not interested in improving their methods, they also actively fought others who dared to offer an alternative. It was clear we'd have to be on our own in this field. In the spring of that year, we signified a clean break from the harmful treatment industry standards with the name change from The Hagaman Guest House to The Saint Jude Retreats.

The name has caused some confusion and misperception over the past 18 years. Catholic organizations are some of the largest providers of addiction treatment in the country, and so the name still sounds like a rehab to some people, even as we explain that we offer education rather than treatment. Many people also thought we were offering a religious program because of the Saint Jude moniker. Earlier versions did have spiritual elements, but imparting religion was not our goal or agenda. In fact those elements were gradually removed because they impeded communication of our information with some guests and also, we found the spiritual component to be unnecessary to overcome the addiction and recovery constructs. The St. Jude name simply came from my personal relationship as a Catholic to St. Jude and how that played a role in my personal desire to help people overcome their drug and alcohol struggles.

When I began this project with Jerry Brown nearly 30 years ago, the entire process of taking on the treatment industry seemed almost futile at times. Also, we were working with what was considered a "hopeless" population making the job an enormously difficult one at times. These two factors motivated me to build a personal relationship to my patron saint, St. Jude - he is the patron of hopeless cases and hopeless causes after all. Since I had both situations going on, I made the decision to have his name grace the project during the toughest years. In the darker times where the research hit dead-ends, or where funding was low, or where the pressures of the job seemed too much to bear, St. Jude was my quiet personal helper. I needed his help to carry me when I wanted to quit, and I received it. Part of my repayment to him was for our retreats to bear his name.

In addition to the changes in facility names, the name of our program has also gone through some changes over the years as it has been in constant development. Some of the most dramatic changes have been implemented over the past 10 years as we solidified the core philosophy of The Freedom Model System we have today. We've always been the only true alternative to treatment in the world, but with the implementation of The Freedom Model for Addictions text in late 2017, we also became an alternative to recovery. This is so forward thinking that it's hard for many to understand. We don't rehabilitate people, we don't treat them, we don't give them "a plan of recovery," nor do we teach them a recovery lifestyle. We demonstrate to them how both addiction and recovery are constructs; we show them that they have always been free to change; we illuminate the making and unmaking of personal preferences and the choices that follow from these preferences; we provide the truth about substances and their use; we show people the unique human attributes of free will, mental autonomy, and positive drive that put them in the driver's seat of their own lives. Then we send them on their way as more informed decision makers, fully empowered to live as they see fit, not with a lifelong disease/disorder of addiction to fight or recover from, but with choices to be made in pursuit of happiness.

This approach is the antithesis of treatment and recovery, which at this point, just seeks to institutionalize people with substance use problems in controlling arrangements of meetings and aftercare; to choose their goals for them (lifelong abstinence or harm reduction); and to designate plans of behavior for them. We know that people can and do most often outgrow destructive styles of substance use (well over 90% will, with or without treatment).

Thirty years ago, my personal battle seemed a hopeless cause to me. But like our guests I learned in the early years to implement the precepts of The Freedom Model and I was able to move on from both "addiction" and "recovery." In this same vein, we do not view those who attend our retreats as helpless or hopeless causes. I am no longer the main driver of the program materials, as The Freedom Model for Addictions was also developed in large part with my colleagues Michelle Dunbar and Steven Slate. The reaction to the new approach has exceeded all of our expectations. Our guests now understand quicker and better than ever that they are really free to change, and that this can be an easy and joyous process, rather than a burden of lifelong "recovery" efforts and painful resistance of the desire to use substances. They are excitedly making choices that will enhance their lives rather than begrudgingly trying to stay sober. Unfortunately, "Saint Jude Retreats" still also sounds like a rehab and treatment to many people looking for help.

We don't offer rehabilitation or treatment. We don't want to be confused with those services. We don't view substance users as hopeless. We aren't offering religion, and we don't wish to turn off people we could've helped by giving the impression that we'd interfere with their personal religious/spiritual beliefs or values. It is for all these reasons that we have now decided to change the name. There comes a time when you know you got it right. There also comes a time when a method or product needs to outgrow the person/s that created it. That time has come. The Freedom Model stands on its own and my personal relationship with my patron saint now needs to be brought more into the background where it belongs in the current scenario. The Freedom Model is the answer to moving past the construct of addiction, moving past the construct of needing treatment, and moving past the construct of needing a recovery lifestyle. It replaces all of them with complete and total freedom. So today the definitive answer to all of this is here in one place, in one book, for anyone on earth to read and then change their life.

My relationship with Saint Jude continues today - but it's a personal one that needs to remain there. This article is the first chapter in recognizing his role in providing me the strength to keep at the research and complete The Freedom Model. It is also my way of letting those who ask, know that St. Jude held a personal role in keeping me going when I wanted to quit. But The Freedom Model is independent of that experience now. So while the backdrop of our organization has always been rooted in us as the founders and our personal experience; on March 1st, 2018 that era is now replaced with The Freedom Model for Addictions as the official replacement for treatment and recovery. Everyone who desires true freedom now has a method to do so.


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