Benchmark Recovery Center 3 stars
In old-school AA, the men stick with the men, and the women with the women—and that’s just what this rigorous, gender-segregated and Big Book–focused Texas rehab does.
Fifteen minutes’ drive northeast of Austin, in tiny Manor, Texas, Benchmark Recovery Center drug and alcohol rehab has a reputation that fits the swaggering, tough-as-nails image of the Lone Star State. This isn’t just another glorified day spa, where celebrities go to recover from “exhaustion.” No, it’s a dead-serious, deeply committed place where a number of chronic relapsers—screwed up on everything from pills, crack, alcohol, heroin, methadone and more—finally seem to “get it.”
Why does this Texas rehab succeed where others fail? According to former residents, what makes the difference is “the complete knowledge of the 12-step program you are given.” This is a nuts-and-bolts place where the staff lead residents in “line-by-line, word-by-word analyses” of the Big Book, AA’s central text. But there’s no insinuation that a mere book can save you; instead emphasis is placed on general spirituality and reliance upon a Higher Power, as well as being accountable to one’s peers. As one Benchmark grad put it, “God works through skin,” aka other people.
So who are these peers? A diverse, colorful crew, according to one woman, who described them as “young, old, gay, married, single mothers—you name it.” The age range runs anywhere from 18 to 60, albeit weighted somewhat toward the late 20s to early 30s demo. On the male side, one former resident memorably catalogued his recovering-addicts-in-arms: “a couple of felons, construction workers, three rich kids, a cook, an airline pilot and a banker.” The rehab can accommodate a max of 38 men and 20 women at any one time.
Believe it or not, this disparate group of people comes together daily to cook their own meals—with surprisingly decent results. That said, dishes are mostly standard treatment fare, including all-American staples like chicken Caesar salads, steaks, cornbread and chili, grilled salmon, pork tenderloin and lasagna. Coffee is available until noon daily (no soda, due to sugar concerns), and sweets are seriously limited, with ice cream just once a month. Fruit and healthy snacks are always on offer.
Residents at Benchmark bunk with multiple roommates. Most people share sleeping quarters with two other people, although men in the bunkhouse could have as many as five roommates (four on average). If that sounds like a martial kind of life, you’re right: “Bed and room checks were mandatory, much like the military,” said one former resident. And daily life here is similarly rigorous, with chores in the morning and group sessions and mandatory gym time after lunch, with moments of free time scattered here and there.
As you might expect, restrictions are placed on TV (a half-hour on weekdays, with up to four hours on weekends), and phone usage is limited to one weekly 10-minute phone call—“and a timer is used,” added one resident. Except in an emergency, Benchmark essentially exists in an era before Al Gore invented the Internet.
Most people find this highly structured, busy agenda to be beneficial and therapeutic, with one grad granting that life at Benchmark was “pretty thorough, but it helped me get a grasp on how to actually be a human.” Said another, “It was perfect for someone who has had no order in her life.”
It’s also perfect for those who need to get in shape, as Benchmark requires a high level of physical activity. A little softball gets played occasionally, and both the men’s and women’s facilities have swimming pools and good-quality, clean gyms on site. Residents are required to practice yoga or work out with a personal trainer every weekday. Occasionally, outings are organized to movies, bowling and Austin’s sprawling, 350-acre Zilker Park, home to the spring-fed Barton Springs Pool. In the evenings, at least three times a week residents are taken to offsite AA or CA meetings.
If the need arises—say, from an unfortunate run-in with a rattlesnake, which have been spotted slithering around the grounds—residents must be taken to an offsite doctor. For other medical or mental-health needs, a nurse practitioner visits twice a week, while psychiatrists stop by on a weekly basis.
If you are ready to get sober—and we mean really ready—and won’t object to doing the heavy lifting that will be required of you, this no-nonsense rehab might be a good fit. “I believe Benchmark has what it takes for many, but those who go have to be ready and want it,” advised one worn-out—but sober—grad. Quoting a tried-and-true piece of AA wisdom, another said, “You just have to be willing to be willing.”
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