What to Look for in a Sober House or an Oxford House

When I was leaving rehab my counselor, among others, recommended that I move into a sober house or an oxford house. I didn’t take his advice. Instead I moved back into my apartment, where I lived alone. Within a couple of months I had relapsed.

I ended up back in a treatment center and once again I was strongly advised to move into a sober/oxford house. This time I took the suggestion and made arrangements to tour a house as soon as I was discharged.

I was nervous about living in a sober house for I liked my privacy and also, suffering from a social anxiety disorder, wasn’t sure how comfortable I’d be living with a bunch of total strangers. Still, I figured I had not done too well right out of treatment the last time and I figured I needed to change it up.

The appointment was booked for a Monday afternoon. I arrived to tour the property feeling a bit nervous and not at all looking forward to the prospect of sharing a bathroom with eight guys. I had heard several things about sober houses. And not all of them were good.

The first thing I had heard was that they were dangerous places to be since everyone was new in sobriety. I figured I didn’t want to be taken down in my weakened state when one of my roommates, as was sure to happen, brought drugs or alcohol back to the house.

I also had heard that sober houses were without exception dirty and, in addition, they were breeding grounds for all kinds of sicknesses since the people were living in such close quarters. Among the more interesting things that I had heard was that people who ran sober houses were generally insane and/or had little going for them in life other than sobriety.

I was curious to find out if these things were true.

Anyway, after the tour, I had an interview with the sober house manager to see if I would be suitable for the house. He asked me some of the expected questions — what were my drugs of choice, where did I go to rehab, etc — and a few others I wasn’t prepared for — would I move out immediately if I relapsed even if it was 3 AM, was I a good Christian, and if I’d ever been married.

I did well enough on the interview that the house manager invited me to move in that day assuming that I could come up with $600. In this case there wasn’t any food provided and the $600 covered a $150 deposit and a nonrefundable $450 for the first month’s rent. Seeing as cable, internet and utilities were provided it seemed reasonable.

However, remember this, I had certain unspoken expectations for what I expected for $450 a month — and most of these were not met. I shared a bedroom with one other guy and shared a bathroom with eight. I rarely got to watch the television program of my choice and there was only one internet ready computer.

I moved in and lived there for six months. This house was a sober house, not an oxford house so there was a house manager who was, for all intents and purposes, “in charge.” He turned out to be, not surprisingly, completely insane.

At first I enjoyed the fact that the house was clean and tidy. However, within a few days I realized why that was the case. The house manager had a pretty solid (and untreated) case of obsessive compulsive disorder.  Dealing with this man became completely ridiculous and guys would often move in and move out on the same day because he was so unreasonable.

On the plus side, while several of my housemates relapsed on drugs and alcohol, none of them ever brought any drugs or alcohol back to the house. So it was a pretty safe environment. After nearly six months I decided to leave. I had enough of the house manager and needed a new place to stay.

Looking to be rid of insane house managers, I interviewed at an oxford house where there are no house managers. In this setting the house is democratically run, unlike a sober living house which is monarchical. There were fewer guys living in the oxford house, however there was less law and order.

After the interview, I decided an oxford house wasn’t for me. I went looking for another sober house. I found a well regarded house on the opposite side of town and moved in. This house was in many ways the opposite of the previous sober house.

This sober house was $875 a month and included food. I was going to be sharing a room with 5 other guys and a bathroom with 7. There were more computers and television, however I wasn’t sure about the house manager.

Within a few weeks my suspicions were confirmed; he was insane also. This particular house manager was older and went into fits of rage on occasion. He also clearly suffered from mental illness. In this house, everyone was always getting sick and the place was dirty. I can not tell you how this experience ended, however, because I am writing this from my sober living house right now.

So, we’ll just see. Now what should you take from this? Several things. When looking for a sober house or an oxford house play close attention to the following:

1. How many guys (or girls) are in each room? You’ll find that cramped living can have a distinctly negative effect on your attitude.

2. Do you have your own closet space and space in the bathroom? This is key and often you’re just left to fend for yourself.

3. For sober houses: What’s your read on the house manager? Does he seem insane? Remember, he probably is.

4. Is the house clean?

5. What is the food situation? If you have to provide your own food do you have room to store it?

6. Can you smoke outside the house?

7. What chores will you have to do, at what frequency, and what is the penalty if you forget to do them?

8. How frequently and how long are the house meetings, aka the house manager’s opportunity to rant for 3 hours?

9. What’s the internet situation? Does the house have wireless?

10. What’s your work obligation? Can you work at night or do you have to have a day job? Also, can you work at a restaurant where alcohol is served?

Those are the key questions I would need answered if I was going to move into a sober house or oxford house.

UPDATE: I am now out of the sober house and living on my own. Things did not end well, though I did not relapse with drugs or alcohol. The house manager was completely nuts however and it has left me with a bad taste in my mouth. After asking around (and my own personal experiences) I have discovered that every sober house manager that I’ve ever heard of has been pretty crazy and as a result of this can make things a living hell for you if you don’t conform.

I will not be living in a sober house or oxford at any point again in my life. I would prefer homelessness to the unpleasantness that I have experienced in the last 18 months. Now, believe me when I say, I am being extremely kind on this site and am not going to out the individual sober house managers I have lived with. Let’s just say that I witnessed some many atrocities (some of which were felonies) I could have litigation to deal with if I published their names and attempted to “smear” their businesses with the truth.

If I had one piece of advice however it would be to do your homework on the house manager before forking over your nonrefundable deposit. If you get a “Creepy” feeling you’re better off on your own. Otherwise, good luck living in sober house!

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