Like millions of Americans, my life was directly impacted by addiction. Both of my grandfathers were alcoholics but my mother’s story was the most impactful. Born in Los Angeles in 1954, she was the daughter of a successful medical doctor and nurse.
My devoutly religious grandparents had six beautiful children: five boys and one girl, who had everything they ever needed and then some including the newest cars, five course dinners at the finest restaurants, a housekeeper and annual vacations – all seemed perfect until the family was ravaged by drugs and alcohol.
When my mother was a child, her two-year old little brother died due to kidney problems. Deeply depressed by the loss of her child, my grandmother took to alcohol and sleeping pills to numb the pain. My grandfather turned to the bottle. It wasn’t long before the marriage began to unravel. Plagued by addiction, what was once a peaceful, idyllic, All American family that looked like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting, was soon filled with constant tears and drunken brawls.
Now in her sixties, the memories are still painfully clear. My mother can recall my grandfather dragging his beautiful, barely conscious wife out of bed to force her to care for her five children so he could go to work and run his radiology practice. The marital turmoil came to an end when my grandmother suddenly died of a brain aneurism in the middle of the night when my mother was just twelve-years-old, but my grandfather remained an alcoholic until the day he died.
I’ve never seen my grandfather without a glass of whisky in his hand. I’ve never seen him sober and he always reeked of alcohol. My family was dysfunctional and even though my grandfather lived five minutes away when I was growing up, I only saw him once a year on Christmas. It was like he was oblivious to the fact that his grandkids were right around the corner.
Of the five surviving children, my mother experimented with drugs in her teens but fortunately she stopped using them after a couple years. One brother became a heroin addict and alcoholic and died of cirrhosis of the liver in his early forties. One brother abused drugs but committed suicide shortly after getting out of the Army.
One of my uncles became addicted to alcohol in his early twenties and he’s been living on the streets ever since; we don’t know if he’s dead or alive. Of my mom’s five brothers, only one turned out normal. After high school, he obtained his bachelor’s degree and enjoyed a successful career as a park ranger until he retired.
Since I’ve experienced first-hand the effects of addiction and how it destroys families, when I heard about Life Skills Recovery Ranch (LSRR) in Holden, Utah, and its approach to recovery, I wasn’t only intrigued, I had to know more. I wanted to find out why over 90 percent of LSRR’s graduates never use illegal or dangerous substances again compared to a mere 8 to 13 percent success rate from the 30 to 90-day programs.
I had the opportunity to meet with Greg Kesler, the owner and creator of LSRR, a one-year addiction recovery program that uses a unique approach to substance abuse. It is a Christian drug rehab working ranch that believes in teaching life skills to recovering addicts. “We call our approach Grandpa’s Theory. It was used by the dads and grandfathers of this nation with success for centuries to help build responsible adults and help troubled kids,” says Kesler.
As I got to know Kesler, I learned that LSRR’s story began a long time ago when he left his home in Utah at just 13-years-old. “My mom died when I was nine and I left after the fourth stepmom.”
After finishing high school and doing some college, he left Utah and landed in Southern California. He said that’s where he got into drinking hard and doing the wrong things. “I got drunk one night and me and several friends joined the National Guard. The next day, they wouldn’t let us out.”
He was sent to Fort Ord, California (a former United States Army post on Monterey Bay) and then to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for artillery training. He said the experience got him thinking about life and religion. He cleaned up his act and his life and swore he’d never fall back into destructive habits again, but when he got out and returned to California, he slipped back into the same routine.
“I felt guilty and begged the Lord to help me stop digressing and start progressing. I ended up on a mission for my church,” says Kesler.
He was raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints but had fallen away. In his youth, he tried other churches but couldn’t find answers that made any sense to him so he went back to his own. He said his dad tried to talk him out of going on a mission. “You’re not missionary material,” his dad told him. But Kesler made the decision to go on a mission anyway and when he returned, he realized he was entrepreneurial and made his first million in the oil business.
While working in the oil industry, Kesler developed multiple uses for Magnesium Chloride (MgC12), a liquid bi-product of the Great Salt Lake, including using it to control dust and erosion on unpaved roads, and for de-icing of highways in sub-freezing conditions.
Kesler sold his chemical business in 2006 and pumped money into his ranching business and real estate. Today, Kesler runs a cattle, farming, and horse operation at Double Dollar Ranch. Twenty-five years ago, he also started allowing young men with a need for skills and self-esteem, including some with substance abuse issues to come be a part of the ranch family.
The addiction recovery aspect of Double Dollar Ranch started when Western Horseman did an article on Kesler. A guy in California read the article and wrote a letter to him asking for a job on the ranch. The guy struggled with life issues but working with Kesler on the ranch helped him move on to a successful life. It wasn’t long before more and more young men started coming and LSRR was born. This got me thinking, “Why is LSRR so successful compared to other rehab programs?” and that’s when I started digging.
“We believe in ‘The Grandpa’s Philosophy’... get them up early, work them hard, and put them to bed tired with the rigorous schedule at our men’s drug rehab in Utah! It worked so well for all those generations before us! We have found returning to our nation’s roots is key to creating self-respecting MEN. We teach these men to take pride in their work, to develop self-confidence, self-respect and to become men of integrity,” it says on LSRR’s website.
When I asked Kesler about addiction and recovery, he said, “You have to do what grandpa did, help them gain self-esteem.” He continued, “They have to have accomplishment. There is only one way to overcome self-esteem issues and that is with accomplishment. You can’t buy it, borrow it or steal it. Accomplishment and self-esteem only come with hard work and INTEGRITY.”
Kesler breaks recovery down into three steps: First, you have to get the brain clean and that takes four to eight months. “Adolescents have a reactive brain, they don’t analyze,” he said. “These young men, their development stops when they’re on drugs. “When they start analyzing, that’s when they’re coming off the drugs. That’s how we can tell.”
Second, you have to help them figure out who they are. You get them asking themselves, “Do I want to work in an office? Do I want to run a business? What do I want to do with my life?” You’re helping them develop a mindset about everything, says Kesler.
Part of this is teaching them trades, such as construction, equipment maintenance and operation, plumbing, tiling, sheet rock, cabinet making, mechanic shop, animals. Even more important, how to be a leader so no matter where they go, they can get a good job. “The penal system gets them clean, it turns them back into society, but it doesn’t teach them trades.”
The third and final step is to teach these former addicts is how to fit into society in a healthy manner. Kesler said that when the boys come to the ranch, he makes them cut their hair, cover their tattoos and remove all body rings so they assimilate into the real world. In the last part of LSRR’s program, the participants get paid. They become mentors and now they’re being looked up to.
“We hold them accountable the whole time they’re here. They work hard and they’re an example to the other guys. We help them find good jobs and fit back into society. Most of the graduates, however, stay for at least several months and leave with a car they paid for themselves and plenty of money in their pockets to get started and a solid plan for the future.”
Kesler said that most treatment programs are only one to four months and they don’t even get their heads clean. “They sit around rooms and talk about their problems. They don’t help them fit back into society and then they blame them when they fail.” But with the right approach to addiction and recovery, the one-year the men spend at LSRR is a do over. It gives the recovering addicts a new lease on life. “You don’t have to wear the title of drug addict forever,” says Kesler.
When I asked Kesler about the causes of addiction, he referred me to research by Dr. Kevin McCauley, whose body of work focuses on addiction being a “disease of choice.” Dr. McCauley points out how 2.3 million people in the United States are incarcerated because of drugs or alcohol, or because of the things they do while on drugs and alcohol.
Dr. McCauley describes addiction as a deficit in the brain’s ability to perceive, process and act upon pleasurable experiences. All of this is thoroughly explained in Dr. McCauley’s video, Pleasure Unwoven, which the program sends to each of the families who enroll their sons, nephews, and grandsons in LSRR’s rehab program. Dr. McCauley, a recovered addict himself, says it is possible to overcome addiction and LSRR’s track record of success has proven this repeatedly.
What I learned is that LSRR uses a proven method of hard work and accomplishment, while exploring opportunities for career growth and self-confidence. Unlike other rehab programs, it focuses on hope and future potential, rather than past mistakes.