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Cook starts an Oxford House to help men overcome their addictions

by Theresa Henson

Monastery cook Tyler Wiley starts Oxford House.

Tyler Wiley lived in an Oxford House after he became addicted to heroin because of taking the prescription pain reliever OxyContin for a work-related injury.

Recently he has been working as a volunteer to open an Oxford House in Lewiston.

An Oxford House is a home where men in recovery live together in community and mutual accountability as they learn how to live in healthy ways, said Tyler, who now works as a cook at the Monastery of St. Gertrude in Cottonwood, Idaho.

“After men are out of prison or treatment, they are so used to people telling them what to do and having the system support them, they eventually have to break the reins and live life,” he said.

In an Oxford House, up to eight individuals in recovery live together, each holding jobs to pay the rent. There is rigorous accountability: individuals are voted into a house and must take frequent drug and alcohol tests. They can also require each other to take a drug or alcohol test on the spot. If a test is failed, the individual must move out immediately because that person is seen as a risk to the whole house.

There is a house president, secretary and chore monitor. A house treasurer oversees a mutual account for utilities and household expenses.

If they do not have life skills such as cleaning, laundry and keeping a bank account, they soon learn them, said Tyler.

They also help one another by cooking, sharing meals and taking on household projects.

Because the Oxford House is intended to be a real home, significant others and children are welcome to visit.

“Most addicts blew trust with their families a long time ago,” said Tyler.

“At an Oxford House, they can demonstrate change and rebuild trust. They have to stay clean and pay their way,” he said. “They will also lift each other up and keep each other whole. They will love you when you can’t love yourself.”

Tyler knows because he has lived in an Oxford House.

Once addicted, Tyler said his once-stable life went into chaos until he decided he did not want to live anymore.

“I blockaded the door and took enough heroin to kill me,” he said. “I should have died, but I didn’t. I am a walking miracle.”

A doctor intervened and saw the excessive prescription for OxyContin.  He revised the medical treatment.

Tyler began working on the 12 Steps of Alcohol and Narcotics Anonymous. From there, he made his way to living in an Oxford House in Longview.

“I am proof it can happen to anybody and I am proof that the Oxford House works. I learned who I am there,” he said. “The Oxford House is a way our society can deal with addiction.”

Tyler has now been clean and sober for two years and is newly married to Carrie, who is also in recovery.

She has been a volunteer and counselor at the Recovery Center in Lewiston.

They are parenting a blended family of three sons.

Tyler feels it was his destiny to work at St. Gertrude’s Monastery, even though the intimidating sight of the chapel towers as he drove in for the interview almost made him turn around.

A strong feeling that he should accept the job remained. He even said no to another job offer.

“My higher power led me here. The sisters do a lot to help the community. I want to do the same,” he said.

Tyler pointed out that it can be difficult to convince a property owner to rent to a group of recovering addicts, but the track record of Oxford House helps.

The worldwide organization has a policy of making all of its records available.

The program has just a 13 percent rate of relapse, and the property owners find that because of the strict rules and accountability, rent is paid with reliability and their properties often receive better care than if they had rented to the general public, he said.

Tyler spent six months talking to investors and his goal was featured in The Lewiston Tribune and local TV news.

Finally, he found someone willing to give it a try. The conversation took place with a local contractor over the grill at a recent barbecue fund raiser for the Recovery Center.

The first residents were selected through an interview process and many had to be put on a waiting list.

When the men were shown the home, they immediately began making plans for gardens and other projects.

“The joy on their face was beyond what I was expecting,” said Tyler.

Through his advocacy for the Oxford House and volunteer work at the Recovery Center, he sees more work ahead.

“I knew there was a need, but I did not know how great that need was,” he said.

Tyler believes the area could use at least seven more Oxford Houses. His next goal is to help create an Oxford House in Lewiston for women and children.

At the recent world convention of the Oxford House organization in Washington D.C., Tyler received recognition for role in pioneering the first Oxford House in Idaho.

Now only Montana and the Dakotas remain as states without Oxford Houses.

“The only gratitude I want is the opportunity to freely give back what was so freely given to me,” he said.

For information, call 208-791-4168.

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