John Waters took his first drink of alcohol when he was 9 years old. Dan Bell was drunk and smoked marijuana when he was 12. Kyle Ruona grew up in an alcoholic family.

All three men have one thing in common — they are on the path to recovery.

Waters, 60, Bell, 27 and Ruona, 41, live with 29 other men who are chemically dependent. “These are men in the prime of their lives with a disease that could care less,” said Stacy Morris, clinical supervisor at St. Francis Recovery Center in Auburn.

St. Francis offers a residential program that serves chemically dependent men older than 18. “We are dealing with a deadly disease, but we can stop it,” said JR Pelletier, a licensed substance-abuse counselor.

Pelletier leads a combined group gathering two times per week. Sixteen men are in the early stages of recovery and 16 have been accepted into an extended care program. All 32 men live under one roof. They share chores, have meals together and sleep three to a bedroom. Men who have reached the third phase of recovery head to work each day and are getting ready to transition back into the community.

“I jumped at the chance to come here,” said Ryan Moon, 25, of Topsham.  Moon mixed fruit punch with alcohol and smoked marijuana when he was 12 to cover up the pain of a harsh childhood. “I had a lot of pain inside. Speed, pills, LSD, mushrooms — anything I could take to take myself out of who I was,”Moon said. “When I felt good, I wanted to feel better and when I felt better, I wanted to feel better than that.”

As a new father, Moon was thrown out of high school at age 16. Trouble followed as Moon’s drug use expanded to heroin and cocaine. He became unemployable, but needed to support his habit. Moon relied on stealing and ended up in jail. A judge gave Moon the option of extended incarceration or St. Francis.

The recovery center has seen a steady transition from alcoholics in their 40s and 50s to young men in their 20s addicted to opiate-related drugs, Morris said.  She explained that a wife of an alcoholic may live with that person for 15 to 20 years before demading that he get help. On the other hand, according to Moris, someone using opiate-based prescription drugs often needs help within a year. Users feel sick if they do not feed their addiction. Prescription drugs are expensive on the street and heroin is relatively cheep compared to pills, she said. And as a result, the use of pills such as OxyContin often leads to heroin.

“This program has been a godsend,” said Ruona, who had a promising career as an engineer before alcohol got the best of him. “I would work all day and head to the bar. Work and drinking was my life.”

Ruona fell into a relationship because of drinking and had a daughter. His recovery effort is the foundation for a new relationship. “I consider these guys friends and brothers,” Ruona said. He and his housemates attend Maineiacs games, go bowling and had Thanksgiving dinner together. Ruona sat around the Christmas tree, shared gifts and talked about what he was thankful for.

“This is their home and it’s a good place to be,” Morris said. 

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