You’re the co-founder of The Bridge, a luxury recovery centre in Marbella. How did the idea come about and what was its journey from then on?
The idea came about from my own personal experience when I left a rehab centre at the age of 42. I left on a ‘pink cloud’, having not used any drugs or alcohol for 2 ½ months and I was looking forward to going back to my life in London. On my return, I understood that I was not going to be seen as a hero having done rehab, but nothing could have prepared me for how hard it was. Just because I was clean, it did not mean that life was going to be smooth sailing. For the past 10 years, I wanted to set up a rehab which would help clients prepare to return to the life which they wanted, rather than the one they left behind. It is my personal experience that no matter how awful the addiction is, anybody can get clean and sober. However, I also believe that if we don’t change, it will be almost impossible to remain clean and sober – and/or enjoy life. Therefore, my first objective is to get people clean and sober, but my second and this is something which I feel has really driven me, is to help prepare them for and anticipate the problems they will face when they leave rehab and live in recovery.
Who is The Bridge for?
I believe The Bridge can help anyone of any age and background, irrespective of their journey, to recover from drug and alcohol addiction. We truly feel we can help anyone who has courage, honesty and a desire to change. Having said that, as a small, very discreet centre, we appeal to high achievers who value privacy and appreciate our experienced teams’ understanding of the particular pressures they face on return to their lives and commitments.
Tell us a bit about the setting…
Two years ago, when my family and I wanted to commit to this project, everything was going to be dependent on us finding the right premises, in the right area with the right feel. The Bridge is in a secluded mountainous area, yet only eight minutes drive from the beaches of Marbella. When our clients wake up in the morning, they have a view of the mountains, the sea and the surrounding countryside – natural beauty as far as the eye can see. The house itself has beautiful gardens, indoor and outdoor pools, an exercise space and bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms.
You’re very open about your personal story; do you find being totally honest helps others who may have experienced something similar?
When I got clean and sober, I did not want my persona to be ‘Howard the Recovering Addict’. There were many things I wanted to do with my life and for me personally, I needed to remain anonymous. However, it was also important for me to pass my message of recovery and hope to those who were still suffering. I am proud that I have passed my message to young addicts on both sides of the pond, in prisons, in self-help groups and many times within the community in which I lived. Now, I remain the same; although in some sense I have ‘outed’ myself because I think it benefits our work and philosophy at The Bridge.
Do you think people with platforms have a responsibility to share their experiences in order to spread mental health awareness?
I believe that it is courageous of people with a platform to share their experiences, especially when it comes to mental health. However, when it comes to sharing experiences of recovering from drug addiction and alcoholism, I think that timing is important, along with the message itself. In my opinion, sharing that you have come out rehab is not inspirational on its own. However, sharing that you are in recovery and are taking that recovery one day at a time over a period of many years and all the benefits which go with that recovery, is truly inspirational.
What makes the Bridge different from other recovery centres?
Ever since I was 16, I have been in business. For many years it was in fashion and for some years in retail. Of course, I was competitive and wanted to be the best. However, I feel to stipulate why we are different from other recovery centres could be seen as critical of them, which I certainly am not. We call ourselves The Bridge because we see ourselves as the bridge to normal living. There is absolutely no point in getting clean and staying abstinent, unless you can trust us that you will have a happier life. We concentrate on dealing with the past, communication, families, work and finances. If you are a client of The Bridge, you are a client for life. There is no charge for the support we offer when clients leave and no time limit. If you have become part of our family, it is everlasting.
The centre provides a range of complementary therapies, from cognitive behavioural therapy to yoga, and to equine therapy. What was your process in selecting these and which do you find are most effective?
When my family and I decided to open The Bridge, we knew we had to develop a programme to help people in every way possible. Some of our clients have literally lost everything; some still have their families and their jobs. We asked for advice from therapists, counsellors and rehabs around the world to help us devise a programme which was not only based on personal experience, but also addressed the very real issues which people experience in their life.
We have put together a qualified, experienced and accredited team. On the therapeutic side, we have specific counsellors and therapists. We also look at the physical side of client’s health. Our wellness team includes a coach, yoga teacher and masseuse. Our coach works with each client individually on their sleep, fitness and nutrition. We have also used acupuncture and equine therapy to help with the treatment of anxiety.
Which therapy is the most effective?
I strongly believe that identification and a feeling of belonging is the most powerful part of The Bridge. A huge part of our programme is spiritual – finding a power greater than oneself. I believed that I was the only parent in the world who loved his children, but not enough to stop using and drinking for them. It was a major part of my recovery to discover that I was not a bad person. I suffered from the disease of addiction and have been able to recover one day at a time and will continue to do so.
Do you think it’s important to tackle recovery from multiple angles?
There is no one-size fits all when it comes to any addiction and recovery, but one thing is for sure, you need to stay abstinent. If we stop drinking and using, we have choices. If we have choices and continue to ask for help, we can make good decisions for ourselves and those we love. The obsession with any addiction is all-consuming. Once the fog begins to lift, we introduce our clients to the therapy which is right for them, enabling to them to re-enter society. Where possible, we also work closely with family members who are often intrinsically linked to an addicts’ condition and mental strength.
As someone who has lived it, what do you do to stay mentally well post recovery?
Recovery is not a destination, nor is it a race. I have never believed I have recovered. That would be dangerous for me. A huge part of my recovery is spending time with others who are also in recovery. Sometimes I need to ask for help; other times I need to give help. When I left my treatment centre, I thanked them. They asked me only one thing: to pass my message to the addict/alcoholic who still suffers. This is how I have kept what I have – by giving it away.
Lockdown has been hard for everyone, what advice do you have for anyone who might be struggling particularly badly during this time, but can’t get to a recovery centre?
I would suggest that they look for professional help, if they truly have a desire to change. You don’t have to be a client of The Bridge to call us and talk about your problem with addiction.
What’s next for The Bridge?
That’s a really good question! At The Bridge we specialise in addiction, alcoholism and related behaviours. We stick to what we know. However, the area of disordered eating and body image is close to our hearts and we hope that one day we might open a specialised centre – with experts who work specifically in that field. These disorders are complex and need to be dealt with by the right professionals at the right time. We do not believe in one-size fits all. Nearer to the present time, we are opening an outpatient facility. This is to support people who have been clean for a period of time – whether they are our clients or not. Support is key to recovery and we will always be here to offer that support to those in recovery.