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The Farm – Maine’s oldest co-ed treatment center
Aroostook Mental Health Center
Written by Amy Paradyz

Licensed alcohol and drug counselor (LADC) Michael Yerema is celebrating his 25th year at Aroostook Mental Health Center’s co-ed Residential Treatment Facility (RTF) in Limestone, commonly called “The Farm.”
“I’ve seen hope,” Michael says. “There’s a need for this kind of care. There aren’t a lot of voluntary 28-day programs around anymore. It’s something in between IOP [individual out-patient] and long-term care or hospitalization. It reminds me of a mini college, but they’re learning life skills, recovery concepts and relapse prevention. When else do you get an opportunity to take a month to really reflect on your life?”

Whether you go as the bird flies or by car, The Farm is less than five minutes from Canada. Mainers come here from detox, from jails, from emergency rooms and—most importantly—of their own free will. This is how it has been for 45 years. Most residents spend 28 days at this level 3 treatment facility, where the intense program is built around seven hours a day of group therapeutic sessions.

“If we can get them to accept that they have a problem and inspire hope that things can be different for them, that’s the biggest battle,” says Site Coordinator Rebecca Fournier, who commutes over the international border.

The Farm is Maine’s oldest and longest-running co-ed Residential Treatment Facility.

“The group is much more dynamic with both genders and you get to hear a lot of perspectives,” says Shawn Morin, adding that being co-ed gives staff an opportunity to coach residents “through the challenges of forming boundaries.”

Other taboos here include outside electronics and caffeine. Payphone use is limited, and the only television viewing is of content related to recovery. In addition to group sessions, residents spend time in bibliotherapy—diving into books about recovery and wellness—as well as using the weight set, going for walks, enjoying meals together in the dining room, doing chores with partners and journaling daily.

“At first we really structure the journal with an emphasis on feelings,” Rebecca says. “We’re hoping journaling is a tool that they can use at once to gain insight for themselves, because, when they leave here they won’t have a person who is available 24 hours a day 7 days a week.”

But, while at “The Farm,” they do. Usually a 12-bed facility, The Farm is limited to six due to COVID-19 precautions. There are 8 full-time and two part-time staff members.

“It’s a big farmhouse, not a clinical setting, so it feels like a home away from home,” says Henry Ward, a Clinical Alcohol & Drug Counselor (CADC). “People let their guard down rather quickly, which allows the opportunity to dig into why addiction has stayed in their lives as long as it has. You see the most hardened, traumatized people relax and be able to process and talk openly. That’s what this place affords. It’s a safe harbor, and the people here make it so.”

Henry, a member of the Mi’kmaq tribe, leads Wellbriety groups, a 12-step program reframed in a Native American context. “Most Native people look at life in circles rather than a list,” he says. “We see 12 steps and we see a big ‘to do’ list. But when we break it down in our medicine wheel, we’re continuously moving forward.”

One of The Farm’s longtime program features—family visits on Sundays—has been scaled back to letter writing due to COVID-19. Family members send letters responding to questions like, “How have I enabled my loved one’s use?” and “What are my expectations for my loved one while they are in treatment, and when they return home?”

Meanwhile, residents send letters reflecting on how their addiction has affected the people they love. Some clients have written letters saying goodbye to their addiction.
“Some have divorced their addiction, fired them or broke up with them,” Rebecca says. “When Sunday comes, it’s time to process that experience. It brings the outside world inside here. There tends to be a lot of tears.”

The emotions surrounding addiction are universal enough that the residents learn not only from each other but from each other’s family members.

“Even people who didn’t have a visitor would get to see these interactions and learn from them,” Shawn says. “They see their mother in that individual and they see healing happening and think ‘maybe that can happen for me too.’”

If you’re seeking treatment, call 207-325-4727 or the AMCH access center at 800-244-6481.

Amy Paradyz

Amy Paradyz

Amy Paradysz writes for Journey, Maine Women Magazine, Green & Healthy Maine Homes and the Portland Press Herald. She has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She lives in Scarborough.