Byron Bay | health & wellbeing | Sanctuary

Brainy and cheeky. Witty and inventive. Always smoking hot.

So discreet it doesn’t even have an address, this Byron Bay retreat offers intensive tailored programs to help beat addictions.

The Sanctuary Byron Bay is an enigma. Locals will tell you they’ve heard of it, those working in drug and alcohol fields talk about it with respect, but no-one can quite locate it or explain what it does. Which suits the Sanctuary team just fine. With a clientele including actors, musicians, aristocracy, captains of industry, sportspeople, entrepreneurs and everyone in between, anonymity and confidentiality are imperative.

Not just one centralised resort, this therapeutic retreat is a portfolio of houses and villas dotted along the Byron coast and through to the hinterland in northern NSW. Each patient is assigned his or her own house or villa, and neither sees nor knows about any other client.

The treatment team comes to them – a revolving door of healthcare: doctor, nurse, live-in carer, and a calendar of appointments with psychotherapist, personal trainer, naturopath, yoga and meditation expert, physiotherapist, shiatsu practitioner, personal chef and others.

Byron Detox | Overcoming drug abuse

But it’s not a pamper package. It’s a lifeline. For many, The Sanctuary is a last resort to get back on track after serious addiction to everything from alcohol, methamphetamine (ice) and MDMA (ecstasy) to cannabis, heroin and prescription drugs. Or to deal with anxiety and depression, eating disorders, and other issues that can lead to substance abuse.

Michael Goldberg, a former builder from Melbourne, set up The Sanctuary 10 years ago after seeking help, in his early 30s, for his own drug addictions. He recovered with the help of the Byron community and then spent years giving back however he could.
“I saw people weren’t just addicts; some people had serious psychological issues, which they dealt with by taking drugs. But unless you deal with the trauma you are never going to be well,” he says.

With prices starting at $25,000 a week for, ideally, a minimum of four weeks, The Sanctuary is top-drawer rehab, up there with the Kusnacht Practice in Zurich, the Betty Ford Center and Promises in California, and Cirque Lodge in Utah. Rehab is a long journey, Goldberg says.

There is generally no one thing that gets you over the line. And every step is an important part of the end result. Some people have been to 10 rehab centres before they come to The Sanctuary. Goldberg estimates he tried to detox “about 40 times” before suddenly saying to himself at 34, “OK, let’s do this!”


Guests are invited to soak up the serenity by the pool

The anxiety epidemic

Anxiety, says The Sanctuary’s senior psychotherapist, Greg McHale, “is the epidemic of the modern world, and depression, too. They are two sides of the same coin.” The increase of both, he believes, derives from the breakdown of the extended family – children feeling insecure, unloved or bullied, plus pressures on women to be beautiful and on men to be financially successful.

“Our culture has disowned vulnerability – expressing tender feelings, being fragile, showing hurt,” he says. “There is a spiritual anorexia going on and it’s the spiritual side of things that provides meaning and purpose. For many who come here, life has been about optimising and maximising; [patients] have strong internal drivers that have cost them dearly. Many feel utterly bereft when they imagined they would feel on top of the world.”

Treatment at The Sanctuary, McHale says, is about getting people to see the influence of these drivers and to learn to disengage from them. “They need to question the story and find access to alternative stories. We feed them, work on teaching them to relax and enjoy relaxation, to appreciate the aesthetics of life – all the things that get lost in the pursuit of empire and career. Many patients are intense workaholics not listening to their children or partners, working 12 to 15 hour days. And if they are not at work they are working in their heads. Then they need alcohol to put the brakes on, cocaine to keep up the intensity. ”

In recent years, concedes McHale, we have glamorised a life of excess. It’s the groovy way that stars live. “It might look like a glamorous story, but their stories are so often tragic, painful and ugly.”

Sanctuary naturopath Sarita Merlo believes passionately in food as medicine, in the “energetics of food”. She’s a walking encyclopaedia on glycaemic indexes, cruciferous vegetables, carotenoids, bitter greens, and the herbs that mimic damaging prescription drugs.

Healing with nutrition

You can use nutrition, she maintains, to rebuild neurotransmitters that have been damaged by substance abuse, to regenerate the liver, adrenal glands, kidneys. Stimulants such as nicotine, coffee, sugar, amphetamines fatigue the adrenals and kidneys. Alcohol and prescription drugs wreak havoc with the liver.

Personal chefs come each day to implement menus designed by Merlo. For addicts who have been existing on next to nothing but alcohol or drugs and maybe the odd meat pie, a proper diet is an unusual experience. But one that is embraced.

Guests open their fridge to myriad enticements: carrots poached in low-fat organic milk reduced to a thick “cream”; zucchini frittata; bowls of fruit chunks ready for the juicer; poached pears; muesli and summer berries; figs. “I don’t believe you can get well and address the cause of your problems if you are not eating well,” Merlo says.

When he started The Sanctuary, Michael Goldberg knew people would laugh when they heard what he was planning to charge. But he had faith in a concept that would bring everyone that was needed to those who truly needed them and have those experts on tap until the patient felt ready to resume a more healthy, rewarding life.

Ongoing support and communication are part of the package once they leave. The minimum stay is a way of ensuring that new habits take root. “We are the most integrated group of clinicians anywhere in the world,” says Goldberg. “We are not here just to give you a luxury holiday.”

What The Sanctuary does supply is a sense of abundance: an abundance of both nurturing and hope.

Source Qantas The Australian Way December 2013 – Images supplied from The Sanctuary

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