Reporter: Ellie Mahan
February 16, 2022
According to the CDC, there were approximately 100,306 drug overdose deaths in the United States during a 12-month period in 2021, which is a 28.5% increase from the 78,056 deaths during the same period the year before. Brazos Recovery, a male-only drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Morgan, has a mission of preventing loss of life from drug overdoses by leading people to recovery. Brazos Recovery has grown over the last decade from a small rehab center into a new facility that was built in 2016. The center can take about 40 men at a time, and leaders of the organization are making efforts to raise awareness for the resources that are available to addicts and alcoholics.
Bryan Hill, director of operations at Brazos Recovery, said, “These small communities are no stranger to the plague of drugs and alcohol. We want people to know that we’re here. We want people to know that we’re a resource. Above all, we want to help. Even if we can’t figure out a way to get you in here, we will find a place for you to go.”
A quarter-mile from Lake Whitney and 90 miles south of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, the location of Brazos Recovery is close enough to the city to allow easy access for people who travel from outside of the area, but it is also far away enough from the city to provide a distraction-free environment, where clients can connect with nature. The proximity to the lake gives the men in the program the opportunity to go kayaking, hiking and camping.
Currently the director of operations, Bryan Hill has worked at the center for about seven years. When he started, he didn’t have aspirations of taking on a leadership role. He felt that his sole purpose there was to help people who are battling the same war he fought for 12 years, addiction. Although he was nine months sober when he was hired, he had not gone through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. He completed the steps and studied the book as part of his training. The majority of the staff members at Brazos Recovery have first-hand experience with addiction, and they use their story to relate to clients. The original owner and founder, Ben Patterson, battled addiction and then lost his daughter to addiction in 2013. He made it his mission to prevent other parents from feeling the pain that he felt.
Hill said he could see how rehab would be a frustrating environment if the staff members could not bond with patients over shared experiences. Hill said, “When you have every desire and reason in the world to not do it and you’re not able to stop yourself, someone telling me to change my people, places and things when they don’t have any idea what they’re talking about, that is going to do nothing but just annoy me.”
Brazos Recovery has been known in the past to take in people who have been to multiple other rehab centers. They embrace the hard cases and the patients who want to get better but are struggling with the process. Hill said, “We made our reputation in the industry as being the last house on the block. When we first got started, we were the place that you came to when you’ve gone to 15 or 20 different rehabs and weren’t able to get well. We were the place where you were able to come and get that solution and stay sober.”
Another element of Brazos Recovery that Hill appreciates is the practical application of step 12 of Alcoholics Anonymous, which is to pass on the message of the 12 steps and help others on the road to recovery. When someone finishes the program, he becomes a mentor to the next new person who enrolls in the center.
Some Brazos Recovery alumni even end up working at other treatment centers or leading their local chapter of AA. Hill said, “That’s one of Brazos’ claim to fame is that we produce treatment center professionals. In the industry, if you go to most of the major league, well-known, 12-step rehabilitation centers in the state of Texas, you’ll find somebody who went through Brazos working there, from top to bottom. You’re going to find at least one person who came through Brazos or knows somebody who did.”
Hill said that the CEO of Brazos Recovery, Joe Roller, is a licensed clinician who is known in the treatment industry for creating balanced programs for treating mental health and addiction simultaneously. To assist in balancing the therapeutic delivery of these services, Julie Merriman, PhD, LPC-S joined the Brazos team serving as the Clinical Director. Doctor Merriman has a longstanding reputation in the Central Texas area in the academic and private practice sectors of counseling.
For some people, recovery can be a long process with relapses. Addicts go through the 12 steps and make a promise to themselves that they will stop consuming drugs or alcohol. Only some are able to follow through with that promise the first time. Hill said personally, he made that promise multiple times, and each time, he meant the words that he was saying in the moment.
Recovering from addiction can be challenging for the body as well as the mind. Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol and drugs can be mild in some cases, but in others, it can be life threatening if the person’s health is not being monitored.
Hill said, “What Brazos did for me is the same thing we do for so many men. It opened my eyes to the reality of what I’m actually dealing with, that the depths of my illness go a lot deeper than just making bad decisions. It’s coming to the understanding that I don’t really have the power to control my usage. Even when I’m not using, if I don’t figure out a new way of life and find some spiritual awakening, I don’t have a choice on whether or not I’m going to use again. As terrifying as it was, it was exciting to finally figure out that I’m not inherently broken. I’m not so far beyond God’s reach that I can’t get better.”
For Hill, the moment he turned away from addiction for good was when he was in jail and was potentially going to serve time in a federal penitentiary. He said, “There was a moment when I looked around and said, ‘This is as good as it ever gets for me, if I don’t figure something out.’ Then I had my moment with God, where he showed up, and I felt his presence, and things were just different.”
He said that the only way he can make sense of the 12 years he spent feeling trapped in addiction is to help a client transform from someone who is hopeless, broken and resistant to someone who is fighting to take back their liberty through empowerment, resilience and action.
Hill said, “I remember when I picked this guy up in Lampasas, and the whole way from Lampasas to Brazos, he kept asking me to pull over and let him out because he didn’t want to go get well. He would rather die. He did 90 days with us. When I went to say bye to him, with tears in his eyes, he looked at me and said, ‘You saved my life.’”
Hill and other Brazos leaders have traveled across the state to places like Happy and Galveston to pick people up and bring them to the center, sometimes at 1 a.m. He said true treatment professionals, who are in the field for more than the paycheck, are constantly thinking about the people they serve and how they can help them.
Hill said, “You couldn’t work at Brazos and not have a passion to see people recover. You wouldn’t make it. The demand is too strong. The emotional, spiritual toll that it takes on you is too high. It’s not a 9 to 5. That’s for sure. We take this stuff home with us.”
Brazos Recovery lost patients during the beginning of the pandemic when AA meetings were shut down. People were missing the fellowship and support they drew from those meetings. Hill said, “In almost seven years, I’ve lost probably around 200 men that I worked closely with myself.” He said that when the pandemic hit, it seemed like 20 men from Brazos passed away within a six-month period. In addition to the patients they lost, Brazos Recovery staff also lost Ben Patterson, the owner and founder. His death was not related to drugs or alcohol, and it was sudden.
Hill said, “That shook us. That was really difficult. Every one of us looked at each other and knew we were going through this grief, but we still had a job to do. We still had a mission. We looked at it as the best way we could honor his memory is to go out there and fulfill the mission.”
Then about four months later, Brazos Recovery’s CEO also passed away. Hill said, “On top of the pandemic, we took two devastating losses. I think our saving grace was the men that we served because at the end of it all when we wanted to feel sorry for ourselves, when we wanted to not go in because we saw an empty office or the devastation…We still had those men who were sitting there under our care, depending on us.”
The leaders at the center persevered as they healed from the loss of two of the organization’s leaders. They marched on and continued to work to prevent loss of life in the patients and in the alumni of the program. The team makes phone calls to alumni daily to check in on them, and Brazos also stays in touch by communicating with alumni on social media. Hill noticed that if someone posts on the alumni page asking for help, the comments section will quickly fill up with phone numbers of fellow alumni from across the country who are willing to help.
Brazos Recovery is working to get more involved in the community in 2022. They plan to do Narcan induction training with law enforcement in McLennan County, which will provide free education on how to save a life in the event of an overdose. They’re hoping to work with Bosque and Hill County sheriff’s offices in the future for similar training.
For more information, visit brazosrecovery.com or call 254- 232-1550. Representatives are available 24 hours a day, ready to connect people to resources that will play a part in their journey to recovery.