From recovery to redemption: former patient leads renowned addiction treatment center

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - 9:46pm

St. Christopher's Addiction Wellness Center is nationally-known for helping people get clean from an alcohol or drugs. And much of its success is because of a man who knows how difficult recovery can be, and wanted to give others the same chance he got.

"It's funny, cause I went from not wanting to be there, to like, 'what do you mean, you're not going to let me be in this,'" Dwayne Beason recalled.

Dwayne sits confidently in an office at the treatment center he now runs. But back up approximately 25 years, and his life would look much different. At the age of 21, he was an alcoholic and an occasional drug user. He entered treatment, and was sent from a primary facility to St. Christopher's.

"I stayed there, in, as a patient, for six months," he said. "And immediately afterwards, I knew that I wanted to work in the industry."

St. Christopher's closed in 1994. But at a friend's wedding a few years later, Dwayne saw an opportunity to give it the same second chance it gave him.

"As we were sitting in the wedding, I started counting the guys that I had gone through the program with," he stated. "There was 10 of us still clean and sober nine years. And I was like, 'wow!'"

Dwayne reopened St. Christopher's in '98, at a different location off Florida Blvd., near Cortana Mall.

"The name was still out there," he said, "so when I started marketing, people, 'oh yeah, I heard of that, I heard of that. I didn't know y'all were still around.' And so I had to kind of re-share the story." 

It offers intensive outpatient care for men and women, but its specialty is its inpatient program for men. St. Christopher's has a national reputation for taking on patients who were unable to get clean at other facilities. It houses up to 72 men at a time, and they typically stay for six months, mostly in a private setting in a quiet, Mid-City neighborhood. But the thing that makes the program special, as Dwayne found out at age 21, is that patients have to earn the care they receive.

"The guys, we consider ourselves the brotherhood of St. Christopher's," he said, "and so part of that process is for them to meet with the other guys, and they have to go in and tell their story. And the other guys actually do a screening to see if they're going to fit into the group."

The memory is still vivid for Dwayne as he sits in the office. The questions from the other patients shocked him, but he understood their value quickly.

"We know that we want to help them, and we want them to see that we want to help them," he explained. "And when they go through that process, there's a little bit of a bonding thing that happens.

"And it really, it was a turning point, even on the very front end, first day." 

While the men inspire each other in their treatment, St. Christopher's helps them go back to school or try to find a job.

"It's easier to stay clean and sober in treatment," Dwayne claimed. "But once you get out, and life starts coming at you, how do you deal with it then? And so that what we're here for."

In the fall of 2012, Dwayne created Recovery First Tailgaters. He set up his first tailgate party at the LSU-Alabama football game, and hundreds of people stopped by for an alcohol-free game day experience. He cooks and provides soft drinks under a flag with a tree on it.

"And when people see this tree," he said, "they know that this is a safe place to come and hang out." 

Dwayne said that five other universities have asked him to teach them how to launch their own Recovery First Tailgate parties. But they are not limited to football games: there have also been parties at JazzFest and the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival. 

"Any opportunity for to teach, especially people early in recovery, that you can do all this stuff, you can have a good life, you can have a fun life, without alcohol and drugs," Dwayne said. "And you can have people there to support you, even at those events."

St. Christopher's uses the 12-step model in its treatment. The first step, talking about your problem, is one Dwayne says gets easier as time goes by.

"My job is to continue to tell my story," he stated. "And when I tell my story, and I talk about all the bad things that happened to me, all the bad decisions I made, all the people I hurt, what happens is that, whoever I'm sharing that story with, a little bit of the shame goes away in me, a little bit of a bond happens there, and that's where the healing is."

Dwayne does not frequently speak with patients about his own struggles with addiction, but he often travels to speak at other facilities.

"It's my pleasure to talk about it," he said. "I can really look people in the eye and talk about who I was, what happened, and what I am today. And it's a very big change."

Sitting in the office chair, Dwayne sees a different person in his memory: one without direction or a sense of what was possible.

"If I'd have wrote down everything I wanted to get out of my life, out of recovery, when I went to treatment and I was in St. Christopher's, and even the first 3-5 years, if I'd have wrote down everything I wanted to get, I would've fell so short of what I've gotten," he said. "I've really had an amazing life." 

Dwayne keeps in touch with lots of the men who went through treatment with him all those years ago, or who he helped over the years. They are people he did not realize he wanted to impress until he first walked through the doors to St. Christopher's.

"We don't get to pick the family we're born into, but once we get recovery, we get to pick the family that we're going to work with to help us and support us in our recovery," he mentioned, "and that's pretty neat."

And because of him, hundreds of people over the years have picked the family Dwayne created at St. Christopher's.

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