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Maine treatment program gives couples a chance to recover together

El Rancho De La Vida is Maine's only substance use recovery treatment program where couples can be in rehabilitation together.

FAIRFIELD, Maine — There has been continued debate about whether or not it's a good idea for couples to attend rehab together. Some experts and studies say unhealthy relationships can hinder recovery, and the risk of relapse during treatment is often high.

El Rancho De La Vida, which means "ranch of life" in Spanish, offers a unique approach to recovery. It's the only co-ed residential treatment center in Maine, and it accepts couples committed to getting sober together. The program hopes to soon expand its vision to help more couples.

The substance use recovery residence, located in a former cottage for underprivileged boys on the Good Will-Hinckley campus in Fairfield, has nine beds. Residents practice meditation, attend meetings and life skills classes, and eat together. The program which opened in 2020, is also open to couples who can live in the same bedroom if space is available.

Program director Carrie Stackpole knows firsthand what partners go through trying to break the cycle. She and her boyfriend John struggled with addiction on and off for years. After they lost custody of their three children, they were the first couple to enter the six-month program.

"I couldn't give up on them. It was so hard just to find help. We really just focused on what we had to do to get our kids back," Stackpole explained with tears in her eyes. 

But it's a path that is often discouraged by experts who say treatment should be focused on the individual. It is also not advised when one person is not committed to treatment or when there is a history of domestic violence. 

"If they had a chance to recover together, especially with families and children, it would negate a lot of problems, and people would get better faster," Jaime Lebish, co-founder of El Rancho De La Vida, said.

The treatment center is Lebish's vision. He co-founded the program with Katherine Caldwell. Lebish, who is also in recovery, turned his life around and became a certified substance use counselor. He and Caldwell started the nonprofit, which has a clinical staff and is state licensed for resident treatment, because of the tremendous need to give couples a chance to heal together. The program also accepts MaineCare. Couples are first screened to make sure they are a good fit before they are required to attend individual therapy, couples counseling, and meetings. 

"We don't expect people to get better all the time. You have to really want it. But if two people are doing it together, the chances of them getting better go up after that," Lebish explained.

When residents graduate from the program, they can move into the Schiller Ranch, a step-down co-ed program also open to couples. The historic home has 11 beds and is also located on the 600-acre campus. Sarah Williams, the house manager, said residents pay rent, work, and are allowed to have overnight visits from family and friends.

"It kind of gives them the in-between before going completely out on their own," Williams explained.

Residents of both programs also have access to other opportunities to help them live more independently, including taking classes at Kennebec Valley Community College, also located on the Good Will-Hinckley campus.

Four couples have successfully completed the program. Carrie and John reunited with their kids, moved into a new home, and have a relapse prevention plan. Part of her healing process, Stackpole said, is seeing lives transformed.

"I love coming to work. I love seeing the miracles that happen here," she said.

The nonprofit also hopes to build an intensive outpatient program on the Good Will-Hinckley campus, as well as a 28-day detox program.

For information and resources for substance use disorder, dial 2-1-1 or 1-877-463-6207.

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