High River recovery centre sets women on a new road
This place is not something you would picture as a treatment centre. At 110 years old, the Victorian-style High River house looks peaceful and inviting as we pull up. Across the street, a bell rings from the neighbouring elementary school. It’s 3:10pm, and our first visit is about to begin.
We are welcomed in without knowing the stories the walls have already seen; stories of life and death, of hope and recovery. It served as a boarding house, a bed and breakfast and even a nurse’s residence at one time. Rooms that now hold the lost and the broken were spaces newborns took their first breath, and the ill or elderly their last.
Today, it’s called Narrow Road Home — and its residents refer to it as a place of healing rather than a treatment centre.
It is here that Kim Engbrecht, founder of Narrow Road Home, and Vicki Hooper, a cognitive behaviour therapist, create specialized treatments for women suffering from drug addictions, alcoholism, self-hate and mental health issues.
“I have always had a vision or a passion to help the broken-hearted and the lost,” explains Engbrecht, founder and executive director of Narrow Road Home, “[to help] people that have just really become paralyzed in their life from circumstances often out of their control.”
Engbrecht, who has a Bachelor in Science Psychology, Bachelor of Arts Sociology and is a certified Life Coach Practitioner, has struggled with addiction and self-hate herself.
Therefore it was her personal struggle that pushed her to help women who felt like she once did, who went through treatments that didn’t necessarily get to the core of the problem.
“I have my own life journey of having my life fall apart. I didn’t really know where to go, and had really wished I had people that walked a similar path to reach out to,” remembers Engbrecht. “I needed a place that could envelop me and just have me deal with my stuff on a daily basis, where I couldn’t hide from those things.”
Creating a space for recovery
So she created Narrow Road Home, which aims to envelop its clients in a loving, peaceful and all-inclusive environment.
“We’re not a detox, we’re not a medical facility, and we’re not government run. We do nothing similar to anyone else,” says Engbrecht “We want to get to the root of why we do what we do.”
“Quite honestly, we don’t talk about drugs here or alcohol very much. We’re not an AA program, not that those don’t have any value in the community, but we really believe that the answer is going down to all those wounds where we are either shattered or we were broken as children and then figuring out how to come and bring truth into all those lies that we’re programmed to believe.”
Lies such as “I will never be enough,” “I’m ugly, I will never be as beautiful as her,” “I’m fat,” “I’m stupid,” are just a few that Engbrecht has seen in women from their teens to those in their later years of life.
“I think that encompasses kind of a snapshot of how young women, women in general, really feel like no matter how many masks they have, they are always chasing [that lie]. And that chasing is what leaves us fully depleted,” says Engbrecht.
When a client first arrives at Narrow Road Home, they are separated from the outside world, which means their friends and family — even their children to an extent. Instead, they are asked to write letters. This is the first month.
The second month marks the start of recreational activities.
“We have them do self-portraits. One of my favourite exercises is ‘who am I?’ So someone will come in, say Jane. And I’ll say ‘who are you Jane?’ and I’ll tell you, 100 percent of the time they say ‘I have no idea’,” says Engbrecht.
“Then we want to begin that process of pulling back the layers. We do a life story, a timeline, kind of looking back on events or moments in time where you felt your heart break. What stands out for [them] as defining moments.”
Their days are structured. A curfew is in place. Group walks, or counsellor-client walks are in the mornings no matter the weather. They have a gym program as well as an art program, and even a journalism instructor from SAIT who comes to teach writing classes that focus on nature.
Every second week Bruce Masterman visits the women, offering them a chance to open up about their experiences with depression and the special memories they have of the outdoors. He says that being able to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature allows the women to set their significant challenges aside and take in all that nature has to offer.
“I know that my own personal peaks and valleys become flatter when I spend time in nature: watching wildlife, fly fishing, hiking, snowshoeing or cross country skiing, hunting, camping or just sitting by a river wondering about life and how its various ebbs and flows mirror life as we know it,” explained Masterman, via email.
“It certainly doesn't make [the women’s] problems go away, but I like to think it helps put them in perspective, and gives them hope that there is light and life beyond the darkness their lives have been in because of addiction and depression.”
Healing at your own pace
Perhaps the biggest thing that makes Narrow Road Home different from other treatment centres is that there are no time restrictions on a client’s stay. There are women that have been at Narrow Road Home since it began and others that have been there for two months.
“Whether it’s abusing alcohol, or relationships, or eating disorders, the longer you’ve been stuck there, the harder the job is digging yourself out. So we put no timelines on recovery, we’re just going to walk with you and customize each person’s program, because nobody is the same,” says Engbrecht.
Not only does the centre welcome women from all backgrounds, but women of all ages. From young girls in their 20's to women in their 70's, Narrow Road Home has seen it all.
Dixie Leptich, 51, has been at Narrow Road Home since 2015. She was one of the hardest clients for Engbrecht and the staff to work with.
“I lost it a couple times. It wasn’t even anger, it was more of an ultimate rage,” reflects Leptich, “I wanted to run quite a few times, and then when I didn’t want to run, I had to be removed. I had to be removed a couple times.”
At these times when she was removed, Leptich explains that though she left the house, she was not abandoned — which helped her come back every time she left.
“[Kim] does stay in contact, and she did. I was more than dedicated to healing. I think it comes with the dedication, a commitment, to know that you want to heal. I had a lot of crap [that I was dealing with].”
Now, over a year later, she works in the house as what Engbrecht calls a House Mother, aka House Manager. She often cooks for the girls, and even takes them on shopping dates. The day we interviewed her, they were going to go see Miracles from Heaven — a movie they were all excited to watch.
“I try to keep them inspired, to keep [them] looking forward, not to shut down and run,” explains Leptich, “I have a lot of compassion. I feel for each lady that comes through. A lot of their struggles are the same that I had, and now I’m just really happy to be a part of it.”
To stay at Narrow Road Home, it costs about 5,000 dollars a month per woman, which includes housing and living expenses.
Opening unlikely doors
The house itself has an interesting story. Engbrecht had been driving through High River when she had come across the house, and thought to phone the owners, who said that the house was for sale — that in fact it had been on the market for nearly seven years.
“I looked at this house, and I felt it was a God moment. I’ve only had three of those in my life before, very profound,” remembers Engbrecht.
“Every door that should have been slammed came open, even the mortgage broker said this should not be happening, I don’t know how you got approved.”
It is almost two years now since the 2013 floods devastated the town of High River. This house at the time was Engbrecht's family home. They left after it had been submerged in nearly eight feet of water and were prepared to put the home back on the market, but Engbrecht had a sudden awakening.
“It was actually after the flood that I really had a vision, seeing with the loss that people were experiencing, and people that were damaged by that overwhelming feeling of chaos that was around here. They needed a soft place to land so I just really felt a nudge to open this place. I had always done interventions over the years and thought there needs to be a place for women where they can come and just heal, to come undone in a safe place and feel no judgment for doing that.”
Six months later they acquired a second house just down the street. It now serves as a transition house for the girls. This house came to them with just as much ease as the first.
“It just evolved into a great story of women over there being able to go on and rent after they leave the program, or for women who are on the tail end of the program are working now but still coming to group. It’s just a perfect model of transitioning.”
As for the name, well, that has a story too.
“Funnily enough, it was street signs,” laughs Engbrecht, “I’d always loved the verse ‘narrow's the gate’, but everywhere I went said ‘Road Narrows’, ‘Narrow Road’ for like three days. I was kind of like ‘okay, God, if I see another one of those signs, I get it.’”
“It seems like the wide highway of life leaves room for compromise, I should know because I was a professional compromiser, where I tried to cut corners while trying to look good on the outside. The narrow road, we believe, is where we are going to be held accountable, where you are going to be under a microscope of accountability, not to punish you, but to actually rise you above and to promote you on this journey.”
At the end of the day, it’s this narrow road that has created not only a place of healing for women dealing with addictions, self-hate and mental health, but also a place where a family has been created.
Calgary Journal reporters Justina Deardoff and Karina Yaceyko provide an inside look into the healing going on at the Narrow Road Home, click play below to view.
Thumbnail image by Justina Deardoff
- By Justina Deardoff and Karina Yaceyko