Life's building blocks

From tragedy, BrookHaven Retreat founder develops plan to rebuild women's lives

Photo with no caption
By Lance Coleman
Senior reporter
Blount Today

Ask Jacqueline Dawes what she knows best, and she’s quick to answer. She knows buildings and people. It might be more accurate to say she specializes in building -- rehabilitating buildings and people.

Dawes, owner of BrookHaven Retreat, a privately-owned, voluntary residential treatment facility for women only, says she takes ugly buildings and makes them pretty.

"I do the same with people," she said.

Dawes, 46, is doing her rebuilding of lives at the 16,000 square-foot rehabilitation center in Seymour. BrookHaven is for women facing emotional or drug addiction challenges, including alcohol, chemical, anabolic steroid dependency and compulsive gambling.

When Dawes first saw the farm, which has been everything from a family farm to a treatment center owned by Child & Family Tennessee, she says the surroundings were beautiful but the buildings were not.

"I just knew what it could be," she said of her first impression of the facility, especially the smokehouse or ham building that is now the centerpiece of the main structure of BrookHaven Retreat.

Dawes’ vision for a residential treatment facility for women was born out of her own experiences.

"My life was very, very good," she said of her life in England, where she was married and the mother of two. Then, eight years ago, her teenage daughter Julia took an Ecstacy pill at a party - the first time she had taken one, her mother said - had a reaction and died. Dawes refused to talk about it for five years, drowning her grief in alcohol.

"I couldn’t discuss it," she said. Then her husband of 24 years left. "My marriage was the victim of losing my child," she said. "I was so lost."

Dawes and her then 16-year-old son left Great Britian. "I ran away, came to America and went to Florida - that’s where the British go."

She kept going to doctors who wanted to prescribe medication. "I wouldn’t put a pill in my mouth. I kept trying and trying. I kept praying to die. I didn’t want to be dead. I just didn’t want to wake up," she said.

When her son told her he would kill himself if she died, Dawes realized she didn’t want him to hurt himself, so she needed to get help herself.

"He said, ‘I want you to get professional treatment as to why you won’t get back on track,’" Dawes said. "I didn’t want to go, but I was afraid I had put a seed (of suicide) in his mind."

Counseling was for "street people" she said. "I thought, ‘I’m cultured, wealthy and educated. I don’t need that.’ "

But she knew she wanted her life back, so she entered a residential treatment program in Florida. While undergoing therapy, she realized what the administrators at the facility were doing wrong. "It was hard for me," she said. Dawes had left behind in Great Britain a chain of assisted-living facilities that she managed. "I could have run that actual facility better," she said.

She spent four months working for closure. "When I got through that, what I decided was my life has so many issues. I was rebuilding my life, career and who I was," she said. "In writing the plan to rebuild myself, I was writing the program for BrookHaven."

Her faith and advice from a therapist brought her to East Tennessee. "I had been praying on where to root down and make a home," she said. "A therapist said I should look at East Tennessee."

After she drove up, she said East Tennesseans reminded her of people in Scotland. The values of the people and the way they made decisions and their kindness impressed her. "I just felt I had found a Celtic state."

The journey to the property that would become BrookHaven Retreat was one of faith, also. "I was praying again, and I found this property - in October of 2004," she said.

And her vision for the property began.

Dawes said she had a vision for creating a facility just for women. The Seymour location just inside Blount County was convenient, yet secluded, and the atmosphere and views were therapeutic because they could allow the clients to be close to nature, she said.

While others told her she would have to tear down the original smokehouse, she knew she could rehabilitate it. "Because I’m English, I’m used to renovating," she said.

The effort to open the 52-bed retreat culminated in their grand opening earlier this year.

"I don’t call it rehab, I call it retreat. People have to retreat to find out where brokenness has happened," she said. "Once they find that, the rebuilding starts."

Getting the right professionals was a challenge. "It was the most difficult part. Making good hiring decisions are very, very difficult," she said. "All our staff have masters degrees, and they still need to operate to my standards. It’s not just treatment, it is how it is delivered."

The care the staff gives isn’t learned in school. "They learn their manner and style from me," she said.

The way clients are treated, as if they are no trouble, helps the clients heal. "It builds their self-esteem and confidence," she said.

Dawes said that just because someone has taken a wrong turn and fallen into addiction doesn’t mean they have to stay that way. Those caught in addiction get there through a variety of ways, but often don’t choose to do anything about it until they have lost a job or wrecked a relationship and often the entire family is affected, she said.

"Then they come to the realization that they are all going to lose everything if they don’t get well," she said of those caught in addiction.

The center has three courses of assistance to help the client. The first is detox, then self-care and medical maintenance and the third is a "Poncho" program. The retreat also offers ongoing aftercare that meets for at least two years after the residential stay is completed.

"You have to have all three at the same time, and that’s what we provide," she said.

The programs focus on a woman’s physical health and emotional health and provides life skills coaching. "Most places don’t do the last component," she said.

One aspect of the rehabilitation is simply helping the person to heal emotionally. One way to perceive what issue a client is dealing with is whether or not the woman will even look another person in the eye.

"This is how we start the process of healing," she said. The counselors try to help the clients seek closure in a circumstance or relationship. "You make a choice to forgive, and you’re making a positive choice," she said.

Dawes said her staff teaches clients about healthy relationships and about boundaries. "Over the years, its affected their self-confidence or self-esteem," she said of bad relationships. "This process builds up self-esteem. That itself is a massive gift," she said.

Dawes said the dual diagnosis they are pursuing and hope to receive soon from the state will be important. Currently the staff has a drug and alcohol rehabilitation certification and a residential medical detox certification, and they hope soon to be given the residential mental health certification.

"Almost always those who come for rehabilitation have dual diagnosis. When they come in and are treated for detox, if they have a mental health problem, I have to discharge them," she said.

Dawes said now the staff will be allowed to treat them for their addiction and serve their mental health needs. She said that with the dual certification, clients will know Dawes has qualified staff on hand.

The equine program is one of the special facets of the center. The horse barn and facility is being built. When it is completed, clients will undergo rehabilitation using the horses, she said.

"The reason you work with horses is because of size," Dawes said. "When you work with a large animal, they can sense whether you like them or don’t like them," she said. "Because it’s such a large animal, you have no choice. With a small dog, you’re in charge, and with a large animal, there’s equality."

Dawes said how a person leads a horse tells a lot about how the person relates to others. "How the horse responds to you is how people respond to you. We translate that into human relationships."

The Poncho program is the aspect of the therapy that prepares the clients for life outside the grounds of BrookHaven Retreat. The training is ongoing throughout their usual 90-day stay, she said.

The inspiration for the Poncho program walked out of a federal prison after serving time in a white-collar stock scandal - Martha Stewart. When Stewart walked out of a federal penitentiary, she wore a poncho, Dawes said, and the BrookHaven founder remembered that image and used it as inspiration for the final aspect of her treatment program.

"It’s absolutely vital and critical," she said.

The Poncho program is a 30-part program that deals with every aspect of life outside BrookHaven, including legal, economic, relational and transportation issues. "They have to think about each aspect of their life. At each level, there is a question about how that part of their life has been handled," she said.

Each person actually gets a poncho to symbolize they are equipped to survive in the world. The design the ponchos was inspired by her own poncho, Dawes said.

"I built it for myself before I built this building, because I was not going to go back to that black place again," she said of depression. "I have all sorts of safety nets to keep me safe."

BrookHaven has a medical director, a psychiatrist, a part-time female psychologist, part-time female psychiatrist, a program director, four therapists, a discharge and Poncho director, six full-time registered nurses and a full team of close care providers who look after clients day-to-day needs.

To contact Dawes or the retreat staff, call 865-573-3656 or 1-877-81-REHAB (73422). On the web:

© 2006 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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