Sobriety House, based in Detroit, is more than a treatment center for clients like Martie Lewis, it’s a refuge.
“I go there every day,” says Lewis. “For these last five months, it’s where I hang out.” Currently a client in the outpatient program, Lewis says that coming to Sobriety House was the best thing that could have happened to him, even though at the time it represented little more than a better alternative to the psych ward. In fact, Lewis planned to stay for just two weeks – enough time to stabilize physically – then return to the streets and pick back up on his addiction. But something he heard at Sobriety House changed the way he approached recovery.
“There was a speaker, and he said, ‘if you want to stay clean, all you have to do is follow directions,’” Lewis recalls. And while the suggestion may sound simple, it came as a revelation to Lewis. He swore at himself, wondering why it took so long to grasp the concept, and put his trust in the staff and peers at Sobriety House with hope that it could be his final treatment.
After all, life on the streets was familiar, but the lifestyle was getting harder to maintain as time went on. “It got to the point where I was so homeless, the streets didn’t want me,” says Lewis. For someone who started living under a bridge at 13, Lewis was truly out of options.
Lewis had spent most of his time since 1991 cycling between treatment centers, hospitals and homelessness and had become familiar, even comfortable, with the process. It was all he knew since early adolescence, when his parents divorced and Lewis opted to live with his father under a bridge. “That’s where my addiction really took off,” Lewis recalls.
His father, an alcoholic, took care of him, but refrained from any form of discipline when Lewis was a teenager. The lack of guidance made it easy for Lewis to follow his curiosity from drinking, to selling drugs, to using drugs, until he became his “own best customer.” Following directions wasn’t something he had much experience with, in large part because he hadn’t been given any.
When he watched the peers and staff he admired at Sobriety House, they all seemed to follow directions and do the right thing, and they all embodied the happiness in sobriety that Lewis was striving for. So he emulated what he saw, and it hasn’t led him astray yet. “I do what they tell me to do, period,” he says.
Since graduating the residential program, Lewis has found purpose in helping people the same way people helped him. As a youth minister, he speaks to children on their level, leading them through the Bible and life lessons. He says he’s starting up a place where people in recovery can enjoy themselves together, a social club he calls Gatekeepers.
One of the biggest challenges he sees occurs when people leave treatment and enter back into their old lives, so Lewis wants to make it a more gradual process. And in the meantime, he’s happy to spend most of his free time being of service to the organization that changed his life. “I never learned anything until I got to Sobriety House,” he says. “After all these years it’s the only place that taught me how to live clean.”