Our founder and executive director explains his roots in recovery and how he became committed to facilitating transitional sober living for young men.
My name is Al Samaras; before founding Westport House, I spent five years as vice president of Turnbridge (formerly Turning Point), an adolescent and young adult addiction treatment program located in New Haven, CT, and prior to that, fifteen years in executive management and business development positions with HealthSouth Corporation and SourceMed, Inc. But the concept for Westport House truly evolved from my own personal experience with addiction, treatment programs, and sober living.
My Story Is Not Unique
It was easy for me to slip into addiction. It started in 2005 with a routine prescription for painkillers after a medical procedure. Soon, I was buying Oxycontin and heroin on the streets. I was arrested. I lost my wife, my children, my career, my self-respect. And I found myself in an inpatient treatment program.
I left treatment with a month’s worth of lectures and therapy sessions in my head, but completing a 28-day program didn’t mean that I was ready to go on with life. I didn’t know how to apply my new knowledge to the real world, and I soon relapsed. Ignoring the recommendations of my treatment providers and others to move into a sober living environment, the following months brought more arrests, eventually landing me in the Hartford Correctional Center. After three weeks in that 6×10 ft. jail cell – with no idea of when or how I would get out – I got down on my knees and humbly and honestly asked God to give me the strength to work a program of recovery. I had surrendered.
A Path to Sober Living
With surrender, my life changed instantly; and within days I was bailed out of jail. Desperately needing a place to stay, I stumbled upon the website for a sober living organization in North Haven, Connecticut. It wasn’t much to look at, but it had an open bed and was close to my kids and soon-to-be ex-wife.
Four months after I arrived at the sober house, the out-of-state owner asked me to take over management of the 18-bed facility. With just a few months of sobriety under my belt and no experience whatsoever, I made it work: keeping the books, working with residents and their families, and enforcing house rules. Most importantly, I got an AA sponsor, called him every day, did as he instructed, and worked the 12-Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous to the best of my ability.
A Turning Point: Redefining Drug Treatment
After managing the sober house for over a year and completing the 12-Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, I began looking for an opportunity to develop a sober living program of my own. That’s when I knocked on the door of a sober house with a “For Sale” sign in the front yard. The home was owned by a non-profit sober living organization based in New Haven and, as luck would have it, the president and founder opened the door.
It was shortly thereafter that I joined the Turning Point Foundation as its vice president and worked with the president to develop a new model for drug treatment for adolescent and young men. Over the course of my five years with the organization, it grew into a licensed treatment program with multiple locations, and more than 100 employees. By then it was time to get back to my real passion – a new model of sober living for young men. That’s when Westport House was born.
Giving It Away
Today, I’m most grateful to have my family again. I’m grateful for my wife, Cecelia, who remarried me and is learning to trust again. I’m grateful for my kids, who know I’ll be home every night and in the front row at every event. And I’m grateful for my new, extended family — the people, in the program and out, who call me a friend, mentor, boss, and colleague.
There’s a saying in recovery, “We can’t keep it unless we give it away.” I choose to do that by sharing my experience and helping others on their path to recovery. I’ve been where you are. I’m glad you are here, and I look forward to your success in recovery.
Al Samaras, Founder & Executive Director