TRAVERSE CITY — Jason Null figures he’d be dead without The PORCH.
“This place is so willing to work with us and provide a space where we can be safe and we can celebrate our sobriety,” said Null, a recovering meth addict.
Null, 41, has been clean for about six months this time — he previously spent seven years in recovery before relapsing. His battle with addiction has raged on and off for 20 years, peaking at a 4-gram-a-day habit, Null said.
The PORCH — which stands for Providing Opportunities for Recovery and Community Health — is Addiction Treatment Services’ community outreach center.
ATS is a treatment center with inpatient and outpatient services, said Matt Zerilli, The PORCH Recovery Community Center manager and recovered alcoholic. The PORCH’s primary role is to support people as they transition through different levels of treatment with various support groups and recreational activities, he said.
Recreation opportunities especially are important, because they offer a way to socialize while avoiding the drinking culture prevalent in Traverse City, Zerilli said. The challenge is that The PORCH doesn’t have enough staff to lead all the events they’d like to host, he said.
It was current ATS client Gerald Rice — a 29-year-old recovering alcoholic — who volunteered to facilitate the recent Monday Night Football gatherings, which began Oct. 14 and ended along with the regular season.
Attendance averaged between 15 and 25 people each week — there were about five people “deadset” on coming every time, while others came when they could, Rice said.
One regular was Null, who was arrested in 2014 for operating and maintaining a meth lab — a charge to which he pleaded guilty.
“In our addictions, we went out in society and acted a fool,” Null said. “When we come here and enjoy activities that would normally be done in an addictive setting like football — Monday Night Football normally goes with beer — we do it in a safe, sober environment where we can enjoy each other’s company.”
The group barely watched the football games, Null and Rice said in separate interviews. Instead, people ate and chatted, often about their recoveries — the successes and the challenges, they said.
The PORCH offers him a way to use his experiences to help others, Null said.
“I find fulfillment (in) … using all the dumbassery of my past in a positive way so maybe somebody else doesn’t have to experience that pain,” he said.
“If people don’t enjoy recovery, it’s never going to work,” Null said. “So if I can make people laugh and smile and enjoy recovery, it makes everybody’s job that much easier, because we walk a dark and dangerous line.”
The great thing about The PORCH is that there’s unlimited possibilities straight out of treatment, said Rice, who has been sober for seven months.
“There’s no judgement on like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re 30 days clean, just got out of treatment. Maybe we should wait,’” he said. “It wasn’t nothing like that. It was like I wanted to dive right into whatever I could because staying busy was a main focus of my recovery, but also being balanced.”
Support expressed for the Monday Night Football gatherings showed that the community has an appetite for those kinds of things, Zerilli said.
“The big thing for us is just finding people in the community to lead these things,” Zerilli said. “We’ve got the space (for) the activities, we just need people to step up and lead it.”