When Joshua (not his real name as he chose to remain anonymous for privacy), made his way to the Bay Ridge Resource Training and Counseling Center last year, he had been drinking since he was 14. Drinking led to cocaine, and a back surgery led to pills. He had relapsed several times and strained his relationships with his family.
Now 16 months later, he makes his way to class. For the first time, he is completely sober, rebuilding his relationships, and sees a future for himself.
His recovery and the first time he was completely sober began with Max Schwartzberg, substance abuse therapist at the Resource Center, offering him a cup of coffee and grew into an individualized path for trust, discussion and care.
Joshua said he put recovery in “terms [he] could understand.
“This is the real deal,” he said. “I’m either going to keep putting my hand in the pudding and squishing, or I am going to put my hand around the rough end of a baseball bat and hit that home run and go for it.”
The Bay Ridge Resource Training and Counseling Center is a branch of the Sunset Park-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation center founded by Donna Mae DePola. While the original location has been operating for two decades, the Bay Ridge location has only been open for three and a half years.
The center has its doors open to all those struggling with addiction and those who know someone who is. The center serves a majority of individuals there of their own accord and a few court-ordered individuals, and provides substance abuse assessments, outpatient chemical dependency treatment and detox in partnership with NYU, as well as medication management, and several forms of counseling for addicts and their families.
Despite its young age, the center has helped hundreds. Being one of the only addiction centers in a community with a growing addiction problem, the center arrived at a crucial time.
In Brooklyn, among the neighborhoods with the highest levels of both smoking and binge drinking are those in the Bensonhurst/Bay Ridge area, according to the Brooklyn Community Health report from SUNY Downstate Medical Center.
Brooklyn also has a growing opioid and drug problem, and while not at the level of Staten Island or the Bronx, heroin, opioids and other controlled substances have taken lives. In 2015, 223 deaths of Brooklyn residents due to unintended drug overdose were reported, 136 of which were due to opioids or heroin. These numbers are up from the prior year which saw 195 drug overdose deaths, 116 of which were caused by opioids or heroin, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene report on overdoses in the city.
Schwartzberg said the center serves anywhere between 70 and 90 individuals a week. He said while in recent years it has been handling more and more people struggling with opioid addiction, according to Schwartzburg, most individuals that come to center struggle with an opioid addiction and then alcoholism.
Within seconds of calling or buzzing the resource center, potential patients are answered.
From the moment they enter the small waiting room, their comfort is the counselors’ goal. Despite the fluorescent lights, the center’s lobby is structured for hospitality. Large posters with inspirational quotes cover the walls, and coffee and tea are offered.
“That’s the sweet spot,” said Schwartzberg, explaining why hospitality is the first concern. “Because when a person has walked through that door, they’ve already gone through emotional turmoil, struggle and conflict just getting to that door. So when the doorbell first rings, it’s answered as immediately as possible. We try to eliminate as many reasons as possible for that person to turn around.”
From there, confidentiality and basics of care are explained and then an individual’s needs are assessed. Whether the plan of treatment involves medical detox, personal counseling, group counseling or medication, the counselor at the center designs a path to a personal set of goals. This individualized care is key, said Schwartzberg.
“You bring your car to the mechanic, every car is going to need something different,” he said. “The diagnostic part is the same but the treatment, the service is very different. To generalize and generically care for somebody is not in anybody’s best interest. If everyone is getting the same care, then that means there’s a lot of people that are going to miss out on what they really need.”
Schwartzberg said the goals for each patient are different and their struggles, especially with opioid addiction, do not just go away overnight — it is painful, physically and mentally. That, he said, is the hardest part for a patient to realize and accept. He said patients may use the center for a couple months, some may visit several times, before they are ready to follow through with their goal, and some may need constant assistance and years of support.
“It’s a very very insidious experience for a person,” Schwartzberg stressed. “And it’s going to take a lot of time because just because a person isn’t using, it doesn’t mean they’re better… A person needs to be cared for in a non-judgmental way, a non-moralistic way, a non-punitive way,” he said. “I do believe that part of this job is, that it needs to be, that you care, and to understand what the person that’s coming to see you needs.”
This care — the open discussion, the advice when he needed it, the friendship that developed — is what got Joshua to sobriety today.
“There’s love that’s given. It’s not just somebody coming to a job to talk with a bunch of addicts about getting clean,” said Joshua. “There’s love behind it.”