Nick Alquiza, 23, was drawn to the fact that addiction recovery could be physical.
Alquiza, who had struggled with drug use, was never into the usual 12-step programs or 30- to 60-day inpatient rehab centers, but with Tree House Recovery PDX in North Portland, the Portland resident discovered a unique approach to tackling addiction.
In addition to the general counseling and group therapy that might be offered with addiction recovery programs, Tree House also focuses on repairing the body through workouts such as yoga, mixed martial arts, boxing, kickboxing and wrestling.
“I’ve been to treatment before, and I’ve never seen a curriculum like this,” said Alquiza, who graduated from the recovery program in January 2018, and has been sober since July 2017. “It was extremely appealing. A different approach. It’s not like the usual standard 12 steps. It was exciting.”
Tree House Recovery’s different approach has been crafted by three Battle Ground natives and brothers: Justin, Brandon and Clayton McMillen. Justin and Clayton started the program about six years ago, after Justin’s own struggles with substance use.
Before Tree House began, Justin would provide short-term housing for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction while they could explore longer treatment options. It was then that Justin started to notice many people had already tried some of these longer-term options without luck, so he decided to start Tree House Recovery with the goal of making a more effective and comprehensive treatment program.
Tree House was officially founded six years ago, and Justin brought on Clayton, who was an engineer in Hawaii at the time, to help him run Tree House, since he has a more logistical mind, Justin said. Brandon was added in late 2016 and works as the admissions director.
People generally stay in the program for five months, where they’ll undergo various therapy sessions and groups that work to repair the body and mind, Justin said. These include the physical workouts and addiction education classes, writing therapy and more. They all live in a house together, and the Portland program has room for 12 people in the program at a time, which keeps the patient-to-therapist ratio lower.
“Our overall goal is to change the way addiction is thought about, talked about and treated on a national level,” Justin said.
The program is geared toward men, but there are plans to create similar speciality care for women. Tree House accepts most major insurance plans with out-of-network benefits.
Nearly all of the staff that runs Tree House PDX have struggled with addiction and graduated from Tree House’s program. They then went to school and got licensed for their therapy specialty.
Billy Grande is the clinical director for Tree House PDX, and a graduate of the California program. Grande said that underneath the substance use most recovery participants also struggle with anxiety, depression, stress, low self-esteem, body dysmorphia and eating disorders.
The physical component to the recovery program isn’t just to get clients in shape, but is also a way to build camaraderie and see how the men react in certain situations. The therapists can watch reactions during a boxing exercise, for instance, and use that information later in therapy sessions, said Eric Buttner, an applied behavioral interventions therapist with Tree House.
“A lot of these guys have cut themselves off from family and friends and they don’t have that connection, that team, that human chemistry you need,” Buttner said.
Ted, a 45-year-old Portland resident and Tree House graduate who requested anonymity, said he entered the program after he struggled with alcoholism for about 30 years. Ted said the addiction didn’t get in the way of his work, but he and his wife agreed that he needed to seek treatment.
It wasn’t until about a month into the program that Ted started believing it could work. Grande asked Ted to write a letter to his wife about how he didn’t want to be at Tree House, and once he was finished, Grande said: “Great, we’ve got that out of the way. Now you’re ready to be here.” It was an aha moment for Ted, who graduated from the program in November and has been sober since August.
“I don’t wake up hung over anymore, and that’s a phenomenal feeling,” he said.
Ted still attends Tree House’s general support meetings, and text messages with friends he’s made through the program. Alquiza is working in construction and attending classes at Clackamas Community College in Oregon, and his roommate is a man he met in the program. They both said triggers such as drinking and drugs return once you leave the program, but they feel like they have the proper tools to cope with addiction now.
“I realized I’m not going to be able to figure everything out within this five months that I need to, but I did take in a lot of useful tools and knowledge and approaches to continue this on my own or with friends or people in my circle I trust,” Alquiza said.