Zemeckis, of course, was not alone. In fact, it turns out, he was merely one in a sea of statistics that all point to the undeniable fact that teens and young adults are the prime targets of addictive substances.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, young adults ages 18-25 are the biggest abusers of prescription opioids (as well as other substances). What all this means is that there is a sizable population of those in their late teens and 20s that have already been through the cycle of abuse, addiction and detox — and who are all looking to start over.
It is for this reason that Zemeckis, now 27, founded The Grounds, a transitional recovery program for young men between the ages of 18 and 30. Unlike a typical sober-living environment, The Grounds, which opened in May, is focused on a curriculum of personal mentoring and discipline, providing an environment designed to help members acquire life skills and self esteem.
“What we’re focused on is these guys’ integration back into a real-world setting,” Zemeckis said. “The goal is to transition them to independence. We take a unique approach that’s almost unheard of in the recovery industry in California.”
Zemeckis and program director Cannon Kristofferson run their program out of an elegant home on Mount Soledad. Under the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, six unrelated adults can share a single residence, making The Grounds, which is licensed, insured and operating at a six-person maximum, a legal facility. That doesn’t mean, of course, that neighbors don’t have their concerns. But Zemeckis assures that those he accepts as members are carefully vetted and are held to the highest behavioral standards (they are not allowed to smoke cigarettes out front of the house, and they’re not permitted to talk about addiction or “war stories” outside of the home or within earshot of neighbors).
“We do thorough interviews, and these are not people that are coming out of the penal system,” Zemeckis said. “Because this is not the type of facility that [personal health] insurance typically covers, most of these guys are coming from middle- to upper-class families, and they’ve experienced some kind of failure to launch. Many of them have simply grown up in a way that they didn’t have to be held responsible, so we kind of feel like their parents, teaching them simple things like cooking and how to do laundry.”
Members must go through a 30-day minimum primary treatment program before coming to The Grounds. For the duration of their stay — which generally runs three to six months — members must undergo therapy off site and must either attend school or work part time. During their time in the house, they learn basic life skills, like how to cook, clean and how to deal with social situations they might encounter with a roommate or coworker.
Zemeckis and Kristofferson keep members on a tight schedule. Morning meditation starts promptly at 7:30 a.m., and members must learn how to schedule chores, work, school and recreation into their day.
In addition to learning how to function in society, Zemeckis and Kristofferson hope to impart some sense of public service, as well. They are getting members involved in projects like helping neighbors with landscaping and offering to hang outside lights during the holiday season. The hope, Zemeckis said, is that The Grounds and its members will start to be seen as assets, rather than a neighborhood burden.
“We have gone door to door, taking the approach of being transparent from the start,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are those places that don’t do good work and aren’t transparent, but we’re trying to dispel the misconceptions those places have built. We want neighbors to be stoked we’re here. We can make a huge impact on the community.”
As for what happens when members make it through The Grounds’ program, Zemeckis and Kristofferson said they see their guys through to the end — and beyond. There is an exit plan for each member to integrate back into society, but more than that, Zemeckis and Kristofferson track their progress and hope that former members can come back and act as mentors to newer members.
“We’re not done with them when they leave,” Kristofferson said. “We’re trying to plant a seed that shows them they have a choice. All they’ve known is getting loaded. We’re showing them different avenues, and that there’s another way.”
For more information about The Grounds, visit thegroundsrecovery.com.