I could not get sober through Carlton House. I remember when I was in Carlton that the counselors told us only one out of twenty clients get sober. What a low proportion! They told us that was the devastating truth of our “disease.” They blamed their low success rate on our denial and unwillingness to just do what we were told. Their entire approach uses a directing style of communication with a spirit of authoritarianism. They held all the knowledge about our conditions and they positioned themselves as the experts. It was impossible to question their authority. They told us that we were in denial. Their favorite saying was “you’re resisting the change agent.” It was a tactic used to gain immunity against critical thinking. People who abuse substances need compassion, understanding and love. They do not need more shame. It doesn’t work, but they continue to put people down and assert their authority. Some of the guys even preferred to return to prison than to deal with their barrage of insults.
If you are a person that critically examines Alcoholics Anonymous, this is not the rehab for you. I like to joke that the Oregon Health Plan paid $20,000 for a Big Book. When I was in Carlton, most of the staff were members of AA. They infiltrated this organization and use it to pass on their propaganda. It’s clearly a conflict of interest. Attendance at 12-Step is mandatory and it is completely unacceptable to challenge AA dogma. Like I said, you cannot question their authority; it is absolute.
The worst thing about Carlton is that they are not trauma-informed. After a few years of therapy, I began to understand how early childhood trauma heavily contributed to my drinking. My brain was in constant fear—stuck in flight-or-fight. I needed to quiet it down by drinking enough alcohol to blackout. Carlton missed this critical element. They were too busy telling me to shut-up and stop being so oppositional. They failed to realize I was in trauma mode. These counselors are doing some seriously harmful things. I worked through my trauma by attending regular therapy. Sadly, someone in my group overdosed on heroin shortly after graduating from their program. Carlton would never claim responsibility. I can see them saying, “Only if he listened to us. He resisted the change agent. This is the sad truth of the disease.” They gain immunity because they have authority. This guy, who overdosed, had lost his wife through a fatal accident. He was grieving and traumatized. They told him he had some cockamamie disease rather than recognizing he was simply a man in heartache. Trauma contributes to addictive behavior. Happy, well-adjusted people don’t use heroin.
Today (no thanks to them), I am a social work student at Portland State. I used to be a homeless, suicidal drunk. I hope that you, too, may find solace and heal what is causing you to use. It sucks we must stumble through an incompetent treatment system in the US, but it can be done.