Learning love and self-worth at Ashley Treatment center marks 10 years

July 18, 1993|By Aminah Franklin | Aminah Franklin,Staff Writer

In a darkened room in Guatemala in November 1991, Alejandro Castaneda clutched .45-caliber pistols in each hand and pointed them at his temples. Tired of living in terror, worrying about whether the FBI and the CIA had been spying on him, longing to lock himself in closets to do drugs, he decided to end his suffering.

Then he started hallucinating, for the first time. He saw shadowy figures coming out of the walls, talking and moving, and he turned the guns on them.

Then he dropped to his knees and asked God to help him.

Yesterday, at 27, he gave thanks for answered prayers, at the place this Prodigal calls "home" -- Father Martin's Ashley, a nationally recognized alcohol and drug rehabilitation center near Havre de Grace that is celebrating its 10th anniversary this weekend.

"I had to be here for Ashley's 10th," said Mr. Castaneda, who started raiding his parents' liquor cabinet at 6 and was consuming huge quantities of cocaine, marijuana and alcohol daily before he sought treatment.

"Ashley is my home; it's where I was 'born.' If not for the founding of Ashley, I would not have gotten a second chance."

At Ashley, he said, he learned about love and respect and self-worth.

He learned that he could share his addiction with people who cared about him, people who wouldn't reject him and write him off as hopeless, people who would view him not as evil, but as a victim of sickness.

The Rev. Joseph C. Martin, a Catholic priest and himself a recovering alcoholic, sees a vague reflection of the man he used to be in Mr. Castaneda and other recovering addicts among the 650 people who turned out for the celebration, featuring a Tammy Wynette concert.

"At the center I can say, 'Hey, come here, I used to be where you are right now, and I can help you,' " said Father Martin, who co-founded the center with Mae Abraham in 1983.

Memories of the struggles it took to get Ashley off the ground, including raising the initial $5 million, make the anniversary even more precious, Father Martin said, his round, sun-burned face creased with smile lines.

Yesterday, he gazed at marble tile, area rugs, deep brown furniture and French doors at Ashley, set on 43 well-manicured acres perched above the upper Chesapeake Bay on the old Oakington Farms estate once owned by the late U.S. Sen. Millard E. Tydings.

Ashley also celebrated the opening of its latest addition, Bantle Hall, named in honor of Louis Bantle, chairman of U.S.T, a multimillion-dollar tobacco company based in Greenwich, Conn., which contributed half of the $6 million cost.

Bantle Hall houses bedrooms, a dining hall and offices.

Father Martin said he was amazed that Ashley, built mainly on charity, has treated close to 6,000 patients and has been rated as one of the top treatment centers in the country by Forbes magazine.

The priest from Baltimore is 68 and has been sober more than 35 years but still vividly recalls the last days of his decade of drinking heavily.

"At that time, I knew God didn't hate me, I just felt he was so disgusted he quit on me," he said. "What baffled me was I kept drinking a little bit more even when I didn't intend to, but now I understand that compulsion."

Ashley, which started with 32 beds, now has 66 for patients ages 17 and older and a staff of more than 100.

Patients pay $13,000 for four weeks of intensive residential treatment that includes lectures, individual and group counseling sessions and extracurricular activities.

Some insurance companies pay a percentage of the cost -- others pay nothing. The center also makes arrangements on an individual basis for patients who have no insurance or cannot afford all the fees.

At the celebration yesterday, laughter replaced tears, hope replaced despair, great expectations replaced desperation.

Mike, who asked that his last name be withheld because he is undergoing treatment, recalled stealing and pawning his and his relative's possessions to get his next fix. He started doing drugs at 13 and tried marijuana, cocaine, PCP and opiates, before settling on heroin as his drug of choice.

Before quitting, he was shooting up to a gram a day.

"At Ashley, I feel like I'm 14 going on 38 because I have a life now," said Mike, a blond, tanned, 37-year-old construction worker from Centreville, Va. "I've learned more in my two weeks here at Ashley than I have my entire life."

Lynne, a 49-year-old recovering alcoholic who works in employee relations in Washington, D.C., relapsed about 2 1/2 weeks ago after 12 years of sobriety and chose Ashley, a place she frequently recommends to clients, for her own healing.

"Ashley's reputation precedes it," said Lynne, who also asked that her last name be withheld.

"I can't imagine a more tranquil, serene place, which is what you need to recover."

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