The Vineyard House

By Erich Luening

(Listen to an audio version of this story).

For people struggling with alcohol or drug abuse, or both, the slow road to recovery can start with a safe and sober place where they can help themselves. Over the past eight years, The Vineyard House has provided just that - a place where sobriety is mandatory, necessary and encouraged. The organization provides residential support to men and women of Martha's Vineyard, who need a safe living environment while they are in the early stages of recovery, and who need support while renewing their responsibilities to themselves, their families and the community.

Martha's Vineyard Hospital officials say substance abuse cases coming into the ER have increased over the years. During 2002, some 200 cases entered the ER. By 2005, that number had increased to 750.

Debbie R., 43, was one of those island residents struggling with addiction. She was a longtime abuser of heroine and prescription opiate-based painkillers. She is a single mother and has lived on the island most of her life. She is a former resident of The Vineyard House and has been clean now for more than a year.

Debbie R.: My addiction started with alcohol it started at about fifteen. I drank addictivelly alcoholically from the beginning. Marijuana, cocaine and then heroin was the last drug to bring to my knees and opiates. If you mentioned it had opiates in it, I took it. It didn't matter what it was. It was five years of heavy using that brought me to my knees really fast.

Debbie R. had spotty attempts at recovery over the years, but in March 2004 she entered the doors of the female residence of The Vineyard House looking for change and a new beginning. The Vineyard House consists of three houses - two for men and one for women. Brian Mackey, the executive director of The Vineyard House, says the organization will expand with the completion of the new campus expected in 2007, but the requirements for residences will stay the same.

Brian Mackey: We do encourage people to in fact follow a twelve step curriculum. We require individuals for instance to attend a certain number of twelve step meetings. They must have a sponsor in either Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous. There are other rules and requirements just in terms of maintaining the house they live in, like chores and a curfew.

Mackey says there is also random alcohol and drug testing and residents have to go to ninety Alcoholics, or Narcotics Anonymous meetings in ninety days. It is rules like these that Debbie R. says helped her get clean and sober.

Debbie R.: It is a very big part of early recovery. That wasn't going to happen if I was by myself. It's cold It's rainy. I'm tired. The sober house requires that the first ninety days you are there you go to ninety meetings. That taught me a lot about getting involved in the meetings, finding the ones that I like. Being consistent. That was good.

Keeping the residents in line at each house is a house manager. Some of them are former successful residents, or people who are sober that want to help those in the program.

Charlie Tucy is manager for Vineyard House #1, one of the male residences. He has been there for six months. Prior to that he was manager for Vineyard House #2, the other male residence.

CharlieTucy: It provides a safe place, and a little buffer from the outside world and maybe if there is a little temptation there because of some of the rules we have they would be able to get by those few moments and thereby makes there sobriety a little bit easier. We have curfews and they range between individuals and how much time they have in sobriety little by little they can stay out later.

The Vineyard House runs on donations and money raised by rental fees. Mackey says the cost of providing housing and programs for twenty-four men and women in three houses for one-year runs to $350,000. Residents are required to pay a modest rent, which combined with grants, raises about $100,000 a year. The rest comes from donations. These funds go to support residents working to recover from alcohol and substance addiction. Debbie remembers all to well how hard it was on the bottom and how the services provided by The Vineyard House helped her get up and out of her addictions.

Debbie R.:They taught me to be responsible and reliable. To have the rules to follow was very important. Drug testing was very powerful because when you do a drug testing and get clean urine it's a phenomenal feeling. It's like, "I actually stayed clean and I'm actually clean. I'm actually free, for this day, just one day, - because it's one day at a time. Free of that burden of like 'oh I can't stay clean.'

Organizers are not fools. They know that it takes more than just sober living conditions to lead to an addiction free life. It has to come from the individual's desire to be clean and sober. But the Vineyard House provides a place where people with the common goal of getting their clean and sober lives on track can share a safe place and do it together. They are confident that with a clean and sober foundation established at the homes, addicts can begin their own paths to sobriety and a better life.

Broadcast February 23, 2006

Erich Luening reports for the Cape and Islands NPR Stations.

Vineyard House is a 501 (c) (3) charitable organization, registered in Massachusetts and with the Federal Government. The organization does not solicit grants from state or federal agencies as this would require that it open its programs to non-Island residents. The organization decided early on that it wanted to focus on the specific needs of Martha's Vineyard. For further information, contact Brian Mackey at 508-693-8580, or online at