Susie Engle was physically dragged out of a bar and into alcohol rehabilitation four years ago.

Engle's bags were packed for her: Her loved ones weren't about to witness her drinking herself to death following her retirement from Ford Motor Co.

This month she's celebrating four years of sobriety, and said she owes it all to Brighton Hospital — the Brighton Township drug and alcohol rehabilitation center that has led everyone from top-level executives to nine-to-fivers onto the path of sobriety.

Engle has never left the hospital: Today, she works as director of volunteer services and oversees the hospital gift shop. She's at the facility about five days each week, both working and sharing her story with those in crisis.

"It gave me my life back. This is my life now," Engle said.

"That's what keeps me sober," she added.

The Grand River Avenue hospital, part of the St. John Health System, is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

Any hospital staff member will tell you privacy is the program's cornerstone of success.  Maintaining that privacy became somewhat of a challenge for hospital staff the day of the Daily Press & Argus tour, which coincided with family and friends day.

Newspaper staff were required not only to sign in and wear visitors' badges, but to sign a non-disclosure statement for sensitive information that may have been overheard.  That day's gathering of mostly family around patients was representative of the Brighton Hospital philosophy, which integrates family with recovery, said Richard Kramer, the hospital's vice president of development.

While a simple concept, family visitation is a way to strengthen families' role in the process and help mend fences, Kramer said.   The hospital has also begun a program for children with loved ones who have chemical dependencies.
Kramer said that program, in particular, is crucial because children of addicts are four times more likely to become addicts themselves than children with parents who are not addicts.

"This is a family disease. Everybody is affected," he said.

A history of treatment

Brighton Hospital was founded by Harry Henderson, a former member of the Michigan Liquor Control Commission. In January 1950, he and 12 other community leaders formed the Michigan Alcoholic Rehabilitation Foundation and launched a fundraising campaign to open a clinic.

Henderson was aided by Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, in the three-year effort to get the project off the ground.  The fundraising campaign's theme was "The Price of a Drink for a Fellow Who Can't Drink," according to newspaper reports at the time.

The group briefly operated a treatment facility in Pontiac before purchasing Glen Lore Manor, a women's retirement home in a converted farmhouse in Brighton Township.

In those days, many rehabilitation centers were built on inexpensive land in the country, far away from the hustle and bustle of big cities, Kramer said.  Patients were made to feel ashamed of their addictions during this period, both at home and in their communities, he added.

In the beginning, the hospital treated many Ford Motor Co. executives.

"Substance abuse was much more stigmatized in those days. We want to make people not ashamed of being alcoholic or addict," Kramer said.

Brighton Hospital, located on 92 acres in a semirural area off Interstate 96 east of Brighton, is the second-oldest drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in the United States. It was the first addiction center to be licensed in Michigan.  Just over half of the hospital's inpatients have alcohol addictions. The number of patients with prescription drug addictions is growing the fastest of all chemical addictions, Kramer said.  Brighton Hospital, like most substance abuse rehab programs, is based on the renowned 12 Steps to Sobriety program.

Those steps include admitting being powerless over addiction; believing a higher power can guide one toward sobriety; admitting to a higher power, one's self and another person the nature of wrongs committed; and making a list of all those who have been harmed due to a patient's addiction and making amends.

Brighton Hospital strives to avoid images of doctors in white coats roaming the halls of rehab facilities. Inpatients who arrive receive a medical evaluation upon admission and in many cases are placed in a detoxification unit.  Patients are often able to begin focusing on the 12-step process within a matter of days. The inpatient program is structured to last 30 days.

More than 60 percent of its staff are recovering drug or alcohol addicts, and the others are family members of those who suffer from addiction — possible the most crucial element to the program's success, Kramer said.

Kramer and Engle, now colleagues, have numerous stories about patients on the verge of giving up on the 12 steps only to encounter staff who have experienced the same thing.  In one such instance, a maintenance worker ran into a man about to give up hope and soon convinced him to return to the hospital.  Years later, the man on the verge of giving up embraced the maintenance worker and credited him for his new-found sobriety.  "It's nice to know you're not the only one," Engle said.

The hospital hosts patient alumni reunions and post-treatment meetings with families, and have hosted a "recovery market" to sell wares during hospital events.  The program advocates a recovery online networking Web site called OneRecovery, which is much like a MySpace page for recovering addicts, Kramer said.

"We don't just work here. This is a real mission," Kramer said.  "We stay with them."

The hospital has grown to offer a variety of programs and services, including a transitional living facility for women. Nearly half of all patients at Brighton Hospital are women.  The hospital also provides outpatient treatment services.

Brighton Hospital recently became a certified training center for auricular acupuncture — a form of acupuncture in the ear known to treat drug and alcohol withdraw symptoms.  Outpatient auricular acupuncture is now offered at the hospital.

Contact Daily Press & Argus reporter Christopher Behnan at (517) 548-7108 or at [email protected]

From the January 19, 2010, Daily Press & Argus©

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