St. Paul a great place to get clean and sober. And stay.

To readers: Some people in this report have requested their full names not be used.

kat-recoveryOut-of-state alcoholics and drug addicts agree: St. Paul is a great place to move in, get settled and stay sober.

The city is wrapped in a web of support services for what’s called the recovery community — people who’ve had severe problems with alcohol or drugs and who are trying to build lives that don’t involve drinking or using.

For example, five years ago, Kat M., a longtime Manhattanite, decided to give alcohol-addiction treatment another try — this time at Hazelden in Minnesota, partly because her brother lives in the state.

“My plan was to come to Minnesota for 28 days, spend a week with my brother for vacation, and then go home,” she said.

“I never went home.”

Now, she lives and owns a business in St. Paul. She said she decided to stay because she appreciates the manageable size of the city and how it caters to both practical and spiritual needs.

There’s recovery all over town: The big deal is the Big Book, with more than 300 traditional Alcoholics Anonymous meetings each week in locations ranging from repurposed houses to church basements to a Summit Avenue mansion. In a Macalester-Groveland meditation center are 12-step meetings with a Buddhist bent; downtown, there’s the Alltyr Clinic, founded by an alcohol-abuse expert formerly at the National Institutes of Health; in Merriam Park are a range of services provided by Transitions, which refers to St. Paul as “the recovery capital of the world”; and in the West Seventh neighborhood, you can even find something called “recovery yoga.”

St. Paul has a lively cottage industry of “sober houses,” where people live after completing treatment programs. There’s a job network for the newly sober and strong contacts with big corporations. There’s inpatient and outpatient treatment, with specialties for senior citizens, teenagers, gays and lesbians, and people who have mental health diagnoses.

And there’s a social scene. Up and down Grand Avenue are coffeehouses whose most loyal patrons are in recovery. There’s a St. Paul sober softball league, and there’s the annual Dry Bones Blues Festival, this year in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood.

William C. Moyers is a former cocaine addict from the East Coast who for the past 20 (sober) years has resided in St. Paul’s Crocus Hill neighborhood.

Moyers, who now works at the newly merged Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, foresees the city will gain even greater nationwide prominence as “the heart of the heart of recovery in the country” as Hazelden, headquartered in Center City, Minn., begins a dramatic expansion of its outpatient presence in St. Paul this summer.

As any AA member can point out, the 12 Steps mention alcohol only once, in the first step. The goal is to figure out how to live happily and productively without abusing alcohol or drugs. For many people, it takes more than simply quitting to prompt this metamorphosis.

That’s why, more and more, organizations and people in recovery are taking the long view.

“We used to see recovery as an acute episode. People would go to Hazelden for 28 days and we would expect them to be cured. There is the beginning of a shift … to help people after they get treatment,” said Judson “Kim” Bemis, board chairman of the Minnesota Recovery Connection, which recently moved from St. Paul to Minneapolis. Its program is based on providing peer support, including a 40-hour academy to train “recovery coaches.”

Through the Minnesota Recovery Connection, people can sign up to get a weekly phone call or have a face-to-face meeting to talk about the practical issues of recovery, such as finding a place to live, a job and day care. Read more…

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