The good life is not merely a life free from addictions, physical and/or psychological—addictions that usually are the outward manifestations of deeper problems—but a life lived in harmonious balance, free from disorderly attachments and dedicated to the good, the beautiful and the true. But the good, the beautiful and the true can only be realized if one strives to live a good, beautiful and true life, in thought, word, and deed.
Essential to the good life—indeed, essential to being fully human, virtue deriving from the Latin vir, meaning “man”—are the cardinal virtues. The word “cardinal” derives from the Latin word for “hinge,” cardinal virtues being those upon which all other virtues hinge: prudence, justice, fortitude (or courage), and temperance (or restraint). Every week, St. Gregory’s focuses on one of these four virtues in seminars, lectures and small-group discussions.
And yet, one of these hinge virtues is not only officially taught one week at St. Gregory’s, but sorely tested all the time: temperance. This is ironic, or perhaps fitting, because intemperate use of certain substances got the guests in the door in the first place. Yet, guests’ temperance is continuously challenged by the ever-near occasion of over-indulgence in another substance, albeit one good and natural in and of itself: food. Toothsome, nutritious food, and enough of it keep a small army on the march, although St. Gregory’s men are mostly confined to barracks.
The food at St. Gregory’s screams out for self-restraint because, although consciously made nutritious—a healthy diet is an integral part of St. Gregory’s program, which stresses health and wellness—the food cooked up in the galley kitchen is delicious and served up hot-and-ready three times a day. Or else guests dish it up cold and zap it in the microwave, the refrigerator spilling over with a veritable cornucopia of leftovers. Or maybe they just eat them cold.
Sometimes dishes taste just as fine that way, like the pizzas Executive Chef Jordan Plumadore made one night from scratch: the New York-styles rightly light and floppy, while the pastry-crust pies were so filling that the square slices felt like cannonballs sliding down the hatch and into the gullet. On the produce front, the salad bar is available at all times and the cabinets are stocked with enough high-fiber cereals, yogurts and Nutrigrain bars to make a senior subdivision run like clockwork—in Switzerland.
Unsurprisingly, many men report gaining weight at St. Gregory’s, despite the near-daily exercise regimen at the nearby gym and the workout equipment available in the Center’s recreation room. This goes for staff as well as guests.
Fresh from tucking away a succulent, two-fingers-thick Iowa pork chop, encrusted with herbs and spices and served with sides of pasta and steamed vegetables, a guest named John had this to say about the wonder-working cuisine of St. Gregory: “I have not eaten healthy food this consistently for as long as I can remember. I can honestly say I am meeting my five-a-day of the recommended fruits and vegetable servings. The food is consistently tasty and nutritious,” said the pleasantly stuffed guest, who works out on the elliptical machine twice daily to keep all those full calories from brimming over.
But gaining girth in the process of learning how to eat well is a big bonus for guests not used to eating regularly, or if regularly, healthily. Some guests have reported putting on as much twenty pounds or more, which, given their still fibrous frames, can come as a shock.
On a lighter note, the temptation to gustatory intemperance should be tempered when guests graduate back into an everyday life—a life where Chef Jordan and his staff will not be in their private service. Yet “bon” always should be married to “appetit,” so long as they exist temperately to ensure a harmonious union: another lesson from St. Gregory’s!Matt,
Reviews and Testimonials
The experience at the St. Gregory Retreat Centers is extremely positive and engaging. Learning new tools and skills for life doesn’t truly take hold until you can experience the rewards that come with them. As the saying goes, “practice makes perfect”! Throughout the stay at St. Gregory’s, clients are able to get involved in our local communities allowing for numerous positive interactions between our guests and the surrounding community. These interactions allow our guests to begin to truly understand how much value they each have and that they are NOT just clients in a substance abuse facility! But don’t just take our word for it, read on to see what they have to say…
When first arriving at St. Gregory I had mixed feelings about the health and wellness workouts. I came in at 136 lbs and didn’t think it was possible to reach my goal of weighing 150 lbs. After 6 weeks of working out with the fitness center manager, I now weigh 158 lbs. I have had huge strength gains and built up my endurance like I never have before.Chris,
I came to St. Gregory’s at my all-time worst—physically, emotionally, and mentally. Having gone through a bad rehab experience once before, I had been very reluctant in succumbing to that option again. As my options began to diminish, though, I began an internet search for a different rehab program. As my faith was very important to me, I decided to look for a faith-based program rather than a 12-step. I had been involved with 12-step programs and groups for years with temporary, limited success.CJ,
From the internet search for the right facility through the end of the stay at St. Gregory’s, I felt quite certain God was orchestrating everything.
There is nothing easy about withdrawal, and the symptoms I experienced were slow to leave, due to the particular substance I had been taking. Compared to my previous rehab experience, however, my physical symptoms lasted about one-half as long, and I am now at a point after seven weeks that took me four months to reach following the last rehab program. I am not certain what part of St. Gregory’s program was responsible for the quicker recovery time, or if it was a combination of things that were not found in the previous program (and certainly not typical of any rehab facility that I know). The nursing staff was very caring and attentive, which helped to ease concerns. In addition to that, though, there was a strong emphasis on nutrition, vitamins and plenty of water, exercise, cognitive skills, and spirituality.
I had never exercised or paid attention to my nutrition before, and almost never drank water. My spirituality, although at one time strong, was waning too and I still had issues needing addressed, which have now been resolved. Cognitive skills were something never worked on before. All these areas have dramatically changed for me for the good.
I gave my best effort to these new things in my life, as I saw hope in this complete approach. I am at the point now that I feel my strongest and best ever physically, mentally, and emotionally.
I can’t say enough about the staff in every area, who seem especially gifted to work in this field. So many of them were so helpful and encouraging, and they will always have my gratitude. The group of women I shared my stay with were wonderful. I made some very good new friends, a couple of whom I probably would not have made it through those beginning days without. Everyone, and the programs at St. Gregory’s, seemed to be designed and placed in my life by God’s perfect design.
Perhaps the most important facet of the program was in helping me to prepare for returning home, and integrating my new habits and goals into my daily life. This involved a good deal of time and preparation to help ensure a successful and happy life, free from substances.
I have gone from my worst ever to my best ever, and I’ve gone from dread to excitement about the future. I am sure I will never forget what allowed that future to be possible.
No matter where I start my thought process when reflecting upon my time before, during and after St. Gregory’s, I always seem to end up in the same place in my mind, thinking about how powerful and wonderful individual choice is. Realizing and recognizing not only that we have the power to choose how we want to live our lives, and embracing this incredible gift that’s bestowed upon us as humans is far and away the most important lesson I took away from St. Gregory’s. I think about it every single day, and it’s been the driving force behind which I’ve built a life of purpose, meaning and positivity, one that I am grateful for and proud of.Kaele,
All of this is not to say, however, that all that goes on at St. Gregory’s is philosophical musing about the human capacity for choice—far from it. The nearly two months I spent there was full of hard and emotional work. There was intense introspection in many settings—by myself, one-on-one with counselors, and in groups—spiritual exploration and a great deal of education. Working with residents to help increase understanding of how and why our brains work the way they do is one of the best and most differentiating aspects of St. Gregory’s, I believe. We were all also expected to build and maintain a strong sense of personal responsibility and accountability—showing up to sessions on time and actively participating, keeping private as well as shared spaces tidy and pitching in with chores around the house were not options.
That said, while St. Gregory’s is certainly not a vacation or a resort (and I believe that most people there wouldn’t want it to be), it is an incredibly supportive, warm and welcoming community. I personally checked in on Christmas Eve, and in spite of my extremely fragile and distressed condition, was immediately made to feel as much at home and at ease as could be hoped for. On Christmas Day, many members of the tight-knit Adair community stopped in to spread holiday cheer, and in the seven weeks that followed, I learned that wasn’t an unusual occurrence. One particular part of Christmas Day still stands out in my memory—I had a very heavy heart and didn’t even feel like leaving my room, but one of the nurses brought her small children by the house, and the sound of their genuine and heartfelt laughter couldn’t help but lift my spirits a bit. I got out of my pajamas, got dressed, put on a brave face, and let the childrens’ uninhibited joy make my own energy more positive.
Now that I think of it, that instance on Christmas Day epitomizes what the overall culture of St. Gregory’s is about: It’s not always easy, but the entire community is there to help lift you up and empower you to recognize the beauty and positivity in life and all that it has to offer. I came away from Adair not in perfect condition (who ever really is, though?), but with the knowledge and tools to help me manage negative influences across the board (including, but not limited to, chemical abuse), truly believe in myself and the value that I have to offer the world, and most importantly, make choices that reflect this self-worth and give rise to my self-envisioned ideal life of purpose, meaning and positivity.
As I Arrived. I had a lot of emotions going on coming here: anger (getting “help”─again─but this time out-of-state), and fear (first time on a plane, going to the middle of nowhere). So I arrived very angry not understanding what I’m doing here. Burnt out: physically, mentally, and emotionally. It took me every ounce of energy to get up and start the program. I didn’t want to, but I knew if I didn’t I’d be dwelling in my room and not achieving anything. I’d be even more angry about the situation that I caused myself if I just sat here twiddling my thumbs. I’d be locking myself back up again, like being back home. I don’t know how to put it. I was angry going to the classes. I wasn’t understanding the whole concept of how they looked at it versus the disease model. I felt like it was a punishment. I kept wanting to try. I was mad about community service and other things, but I just started to do it.Shari,
Beginning the Journey. I started to participate more, and understand what I was learning about me. I enjoyed bowling, movies, community service, and just hanging out with other women. I started to figure out why I did things.
I had an emotional breakdown, but it made me feel better afterward. It made me see things differently. Everything wasn’t always everybody else’s fault. I came to understand that this was the place I needed to be right now. As the weeks went on, I started to want to take initiative around the house. I tried to help others get organized, try new things, and feel at home as a family. For now this is my family. This is their family. These are the cards you’ve got to play right now, so play ‘em right.
Continuing the Journey Every class has a meaning here, so go to them. The things I’ve learned here, I never learned anywhere else. Hearing and sharing stories of our past brought insight to me about what I wanted to start to do when I leave. It made me think clearly. I started to be able to put together the puzzle pieces of my life. Even with other staff joining in during seminars, teaching and sharing their own experiences was great for me. It made me want to be here. It wasn’t just people reading from a textbook. It was hands on. We shared common experiences. Conversations were deep and more meaningful.
As the End Approaches As I look back on the days I began here, I’m so pleased with my own accomplishments. I had low self-esteem, and this program has helped me become the person I know that I am. I do have fears about going back to where I was: same streets, but now with a different direction. But I’ve got the tools. Tools I never knew I had before.
I came to St. Gregory Retreat Center with a certain mind-set I did not think any amount of therapy would change: “community service was pointless and why should I give my precious time away.” When I read then, that I would be required to participate in community service to successfully graduate, I groaned and whined to my husband. I pictured myself picking up trash, getting muddy, and breaking my nails. (Yes, I know that sounds princess-like.) Those images made me pretty sick to my stomach and I was really panicking over them.Sarah,
So on my third day at the center I was expected to choose a location for my service. I chose playing cards with the elderly because I love playing cards, and honestly, it seemed like it would require the least amount of effort.
When we arrived at the nursing home, I actually found myself anxious in a positive way. As soon as I had seen the nursing home residents’ eyes light up when we walked in, I completely changed my perspective and opened my mind. We gathered around the table drinking ice tea, laughing, and having a great time.
I believe I went there for a reason, I left grateful for my youth, and my loved ones. Now I believe that community service isn’t a waste of time and I am getting paid, with something so much more valuable than money. Love.
Oftentimes, it takes more time than we originally think to form a proper opinion on a particular subject. It takes time to get past the initial emotional responses to new people, places, and things. Before we are able to formulate an accurate understanding of an entirely unfamiliar place, we first must recognize all the pieces. The activity staff at St. Gregory’s Retreat Center handles this transition period beautifully. Think of starting a new job where every one of your clients had very legitimate reasons to be angry, frustrated, depressed, judgmental, and short-tempered. Now imagine that you must indefinitely embrace all of those things as part of your job description and expect them on an hourly basis. Despite being surrounded by all those negative emotions, you must keep a smile on your face, never overreact, never lash out, and never lose sight of treating others with the utmost respect. This grueling process is simply another day at the office for the activity staff at St. Gregory’s Retreat Center.
Coming from a slightly altered perspective from that of many of the guests at St. Gregory’s, it was easier for me to recognize the struggles that come with the job. After four months of living in the sprawling metropolis of Bayard, Iowa, it became clear working activities at St. Greg’s was not simply fun and games like some guests may believe. The position includes cleaning up after grown men, resolving disputes over unimaginable trivialities, keeping the television off of one-hundred and forty-seven volume, and attempting to tell men that it is three minutes past their bedtime. It includes multiple trips to the gas station to supervise the purchase of perhaps unnecessary, to put it lightly, energy drinks. There are pranks to be resolved, and arguments over sports controlled, roommate problems, and enlarged egos to be navigated. The activity staff certainly has their work cut out for them. However, I trust I can speak for them all when I say that without a doubt, it’s all worth it.
I was lucky enough to get to know each of the guys on the activity staff fairly well, and I will never forget a single one of them. They are a unique blend of personalities that work together to create an atmosphere of encouragement, brotherhood, understanding, and most of all patience. Each member brings their own personal talents, skills and traits to the table and is more than willing to offer advice or simply offer to listen.
A huge part of the recovery program at St. Gregory’s is laughter. It helps guests to relax, bond, and rediscover that there is always going to be joy and happiness in this world. It is amazing to see guests turn the corner around the end of their second week and move out of frustration and negativity and into laughter, friendship, and optimism. Without this transition, many guests would not be able to engage fully in the program and would simply be going through the motions, waiting to go home.
Guys like Nick, Bryan, Josh, Andrew, Shawn, Lee, and Kelby play a huge role in making the program not only successful, but quite enjoyable. Whether it’s Nick’s high pitch Taylor Swift covers or formulating proper protein intake, or Bryan butchering an attempt at a backwards spike on the volleyball court, or Kelby encouraging his sand volleyball team while rocking a tank top, these guys give it their all. It could be Shawn throwing a behind the back pass straight out of bounds, or telling a Chuck Norris Joke, or Josh making a quiet, but hysterical comment about his perfect hair, or Lee simply bringing a smile to someone’s face with a story about his 1985 Volkswagen van. It could be typically reserved Andrew unloading on the volleyball from the back row and nearly taking the net down or laughing until he turns red. What really matters is not what these guys do for the guests, it is that they choose to do it. Even more, the choice is an easy one. By bringing joy to men who are going through a very tough time in their lives, the activity staff gets to take something equally important home with them. They can take home and cherish the fact that they make people’s lives better every single day.
Could the guests at St. Gregory’s rediscover themselves, be successful in the program, and create a wonderful new life without the environment created by these men? Maybe, but I for one, think not. For this, I will never be able to thank them enough. Keep doing what you are doing guys, I can promise you it means more than you can ever imagine!Sam,
The alarm buzzes. He awakes from his slumber, stumbles to the bathroom and prepares his fix. Hands trembling, eyes still clouded with sleep, he races through his morning ritual. A sense of relief found nowhere else courses through him. Now he is animated. Now he is ready for the day.Gary,
He slams through the motions at his office job, viewing each one as a stepping stone to the last tick of the clock at 5:00 pm. Around 3:00, the sickness knocks on his door. At 4:00, a thin layer of sweat covers him. At 4:45, he can’t bear to sit still. He punches out at 5:00 and races home. He prepares another fix, and sure enough, he gets right. He can’t help but to wonder what other “normal” people are doing. He thinks about his family, his friends, the relationships he once had. He recalls a time where he was in good health. He seems to remember being “happy,” at least at some point, though he can’t quite pin down when that was. It all seems so pointless to him now. He comforts himself philosophically, prepares a small meal, and turns on the television. An hour later, he falls asleep. And this goes on, ad infinitum.
Before my arrival at St. Gregory’s, this was my everyday. Sure, circumstances could change occasionally, and once in a while I experienced a genuine emotion, but those situations were few and far between. I had convinced myself that my lifestyle was truly the one most befitting to my person, and that the rest of the saps that had found meaning or purpose were seriously deluding themselves. Had they never felt the torment of the soul in anguish? I separated myself from everyone. I had never felt so truly alone.
On the flipside, some small part of me must have had hope. I had gone through another treatment center before, and while I had been able to achieve some success with sobriety in times past, it seemed to me that hypocrisy ran rampant in all types of self-help networks. I was supposed to accept an ideology that contradicted many of my core beliefs. It was something I could not abide for any extended period of time.
I chose St. Gregory’s because I knew it would be a different approach than I had seen in the past. There were doubts to be had, of course. My realism (or skepticism, as some like to call it) remained for a brief stretch, but I quickly realized something: no one was forcing anything down my throat. The main goal is to understand the inner workings of oneself, and how to maximize the potential that’s there. There are no codes, no false pyramid of beliefs, no overwrought clichés. There is only truth. And if truth is what you seek, then truth is what you’ll find. There is a heavy philosophical bent, one that prompts you to examine the ideas, beliefs, values, and morals that you hold so dear. This is the part of the program that resonates most deeply with me. It has pulled me back to earth from my secluded intellectual mountaintop and grounded me firmly in the here and now.
To he who is caught in the muck and the mire, steeped in the machinations of his self, unable to pull himself from quicksand guilt and self-pity, I can only offer what I find to be the most resonant of all platitudes: There is hope. It comes from the most unexpected of places, and is not always on our own time, but it comes to those who earnestly embark on “the search.” It would be foolish to say that I’ve even got the smallest portion of life’s journey figured out, but I can say that St. Gregory’s has put me in the best possible position to continue my odyssey, eyes clear and heart full.