Building a Sober Brotherhood
Featured Guest: Brandon Stump and Ryan Stump
Today’s guests are brothers Brandon and Ryan Stump from The Ohio House, a sober living community in Orange County, California. And even though they have several locations now, it all started out as just a single house where Brandon and two friends from Ohio lived after they moved to California to start fresh and figure out how to do recovery. They sat down with me at the Innovations in Recovery conference in San Diego to share how they’ve used what they’ve learned on their own journeys to build a culture of brotherhood and accountability that challenges residents to lead by example and how they’re growing and adapting to reach female clients with these same principles.
David: Hello, and welcome to this episode of Recovery Unscripted. I’m David Condos and this podcast is powered by Foundations Recovery Network. Today’s guests are brothers Brandon and Ryan Stump from the Ohio House, a sober living community in Orange County, California. Even though they have several locations now, it all started out with just a single house where Brandon and 2 friends from Ohio lived after they moved to California to start fresh and figure out how to do recovery. They sat down with me at the Innovations in Recovery conference in San Diego to share how they use what they’ve learned in their own journies to build a culture of brotherhood and accountability that challenges residents to lead by example and explain how they’re growing and adapting to reach female clients with these same principles. Now, here’s Ryan and Brandon.
David: Hi, well, I’m here with Brandon and Ryan Stump. Thank you, guys, for your time.
David: Cool. Let’s start of by having you tell us a little bit about your personal stories. I know Brandon your story is really intertwined with how this whole thing in the Ohio House got started.
Brandon: Yes, I guess I’ll go off first. I moved out to southern California back in 2008 to get clean and sober myself. I had a bad heroin addiction and I Googled treatment center California [laughs] because I needed to far away from Ohio as possible. I figured if I do so, I’d get clean and sober and realized I just took the problem with me to California and I did not achieve sobriety, went in and out of treatment centers in southern California same thing I was doing in Ohio and ultimately, one day, it stuck.
I got sober August 3rd, 2010. I went back to Ohio and went to a small bar that everyone goes to around the holidays and saw two guys that were doing heroin at the time. They saw me, they saw the change in me and they wondered, “What was going on?” I told them, “Hey, man, if you ever need help, give me a call.” I went back to California, both those guys called me. I moved out of my one bedroom apartment, got a three-bedroom house on the west side of Costa Mesa, moved them in. After they went through a detox program, I just showed them what I was doing and it, jokingly, became called the Ohio House because that’s where all three of us were from.
David: What was it I guess that finally clicked with you? You went through a lot of different programs and sober homes, what was it that finally made the difference you think?
Brandon: God. I said a prayer on August 2nd, 2010. I was living in my car at the time and I said, “If you exist, why don’t you get off that cloud you’re living on and come into this car and do something because I’m going to die.” The next morning, I drove to an AA meeting and before I got out of my car, I looked myself in the rear view mirror and I said, “Hey, Brandon, let’s try something different today. Let’s try to stay sober for one day,” and I have been sober ever since.
David: Yes, man, congratulations.
Brandon: Thank you.
David: That’s a big deal. Ryan, I know you’re Brandon’s brother, how and when did you become involved?
Ryan: I moved out to California in 2013. I was working a job in medical sales in Washington D.C. and he had been calling me and itching to get me out to California to partner with him and help out with this thing that he had going on called the Ohio House.
David: At that time, it was was just the original house?
Brandon: Yes, I was living in it. [chuckles] It was my house.
Ryan: Yes, he was living in it. He was going to work for eight hours a day and then, coming home and then, working with these guys in the Ohio House and going to meetings with them, taking them out to sober parties and all that stuff. I always found it interesting and obviously, I was super, super proud of the progress that he had made in his personal life and professional life, but I wasn’t quite ready to necessarily take that leap of faith to just sell everything I own and move across the country and start this partnership for this sober living thing that I’d really only heard of. I hadn’t really seen much of it, never been exposed to it.
Brandon: I kept getting a no from him, “No, no, no, no.” He wasn’t taking it serious. At this time, I think I had three or four houses and I was starting to get some momentum. I was helping a boatload of guys.
Ryan: A couple of those houses had my name on the lease, actually.
Brandon: Because I had bad credit and I finally said, “Okay, Ryan, you’ve got this big boy job, you’ve worked there for two years, how much money is in your savings account?” He said, “$12,000,” and that’s the exact amount of money that was in the Ohio House account. I said, “If I give you $12,000, what you’ve been able to save for the last two years, will you come and join us right now?” He said, “Yes.” It just so happens that it was $12,000 and there’s 12 steps in the AA program, which saved my life.
Ryan: Once I moved out, I actually was down in the trenches with the guys and I was house managing for the first 9 months. That’s where I got my feet wet in the industry because this was all new to me. I did- experienced it with friends and family, just what addiction can do to a family but-
Brandon: He needed to see what it was like to be on the front lines, in the trenches on a daily basis.
Ryan: Yes. It was the best thing I could have done too.
David: Like you said, then, you got up to a few houses and it’s grown from there. As you established it as being more than just this one house that you are living in, how did you come to formulate some actual methods and techniques and treatment elements?
Brandon: Yes, it’s a great question, because seeing myself, I went through all the nice detoxes and the state-funded detox, the nice treatment centers and the state-funded treatment centers, the cold turkey places and the medically assisted places. When I started the Ohio House, I just started incorporating all these little bits and pieces of stuff that worked for me at these different programs. It all revolved around keeping the individuals busy, giving them something to be proud of themselves for and seeing the change. Creating a sense of brotherhood was what it was all about.
David: Yes, man. Being a men’s specific program, specifically with the Ohio House, what are some of the barriers that you see with guys in particular that keep them from establishing long-term recovery?
Brandon: Well, there’s a lot. There’s a lot. I mean, a lot of the guys these days too, they’ve gone to 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 15 treatment facilities before they get to us. The whole goal of the Ohio House is for these gentlemen to live self-supporting and achieved long-term sobriety. We just celebrated over 500 years of continuous sobriety and only been in the business for six years, it’s a tremendous feat.
Some of the barriers, I mean- ultimately, what it comes down to is a lot of these guys just don’t feel the love, they don’t feel the camaraderie, they don’t feel the brotherhood or support. That’s our number one thing. When you come into the Ohio House, we’re gonna wrap our arms around you immediately. You’re going to have a brotherhood, you’re going to have a support system that, ultimately, cares about you and your well-being.
Ryan: Yes. One thing that we may hear a lot, and it’s true across all the programs, I believe, is that some of these, especially the younger guys between 18 and 27 years old, which is really our average age, they find it difficult to have fun in sobriety. They find that any downtime is extremely boring, which is very true and that goes back to really our mission from the get-go is, how can we implement structure and accountability to allow these guys to work a serious program but also learn how to have fun in sobriety because that’s ultimately going to keep them engaged in the program and what our mission is from the get-go.
You always find it difficult working with guys that do not want to be active or not open or willing to trying something new that we offer and then, like Brandon said, they don’t really feel connected to the program and that’s always an obstacle, but it’s a challenge we’re up for that’s for sure.
David: What are some ways to bridge that and make that connection with people who are having that resistance?
Brandon: They get to know everybody within the program. Day one, as soon as they get here, we’re at the airport waiting for them. Then, going from that, they’re going to have an assessment at the outpatient level of care. The next morning, they’ll start groups. They will be in a group with five to eight guys right there. They’re going to have a counselor and they have a relationship with those eight guys.
I like to say to the guys when I’m on the phone with them before they come to our program, “You’re going to have good examples that you’ll be calling roommate,” because our average length of stay is eight months right now. These guys are moving in with 30-days sober and their roommate might have 8 months or a year sober, but we provide a fun activity every single day of the week. They’re either playing basketball or going to Phoenix Multisport Gym, doing equine therapy, playing flag football, going to job seminars and if they’re new, they’re required to attend these.
Ryan: It gets them out of their comfort zone. In their first 30 days, they’re required to attend yoga, go to Phoenix Multisport and if they don’t want to participate in that, they’re still getting in the van, they’re going there and they’re reading the big book there. Maybe they’re not lifting some weights, but they’re being productive, they’re getting out there. One activity too that we find a lot of guys really enjoy doing that is outside of normal activities is we have an Ohio House boxing team. We’ve got about six guys that are participating in the Ohio House boxing team and actually competing. They’re amateur boxers now. From being 30-days sober, moving in the Ohio house across country to a totally new atmosphere, new living situation, and they’ve really embraced the activity portion.
Brandon: Speaking of alumni, I mean– When you come to the Ohio House or a girl goes to The Chadwick House, and they’re receiving treatment at our program called Buckeye Recovery Network, when they’re coming into our family, they get so much support, “Okay, we’re going to help you get long-term sobriety,” but in addition to that, we help them get jobs. We help them get their life back. We help them clear up their license. We help them get back into school. We want our clients to get on the train of living and just start to get that momentum going.
It’s actually funny, I’m looking around the room today, there’s six alumni of our program that have achieved long-term sobriety, started their own businesses, employed 20, 30, 40 people in the treatment field, and they’re here today presenting their companies. It’s pretty cool to see. We’re really proud of that.
David: You touched a little bit on the structure element that you provide and I saw on your website that you break that down into three areas, the first of which is routine. Could you take us through what a typical day looks like and why it’s so important for all the residents to have that same schedule foundation?
Ryan: Absolutely. The very first thing that every client is going to do when they move into the Ohio House or The Chadwick House is make their bed. That is something that is so simple that we enforce every single day. That’s the first thing you’re going to do, is make your bed because it starts your day off right. We have many people that go to a morning AA meeting and the ones that don’t are making themselves breakfast before they either go to school, work, or IOP. After that, is when we’ll go back to the house, make some lunch before the 2:00 PM activity. We have rotating activities throughout the week and throughout the year.
David: That’s like some of the boxing, yoga, that kind of stuff?
Ryan: Yoga, beach volleyball, hiking, you name it. We’re doing a lot of that stuff. Then, they come back, make themselves dinner, and they hit a meeting at night, meet with their sponsors, and they’re back by curfew. That’s the general gist of it, but oftentimes, there’s other things that are thrown into the mix, which may be individual therapy sessions. We do a lot of volunteer work in the local community.
Brandon: Yes, I was going to talk about that too. We have panels, multiple panels throughout the week, where our clients are going to detox facilities, into residential treatment facilities, three, four at a time and sharing their experience, strength and hope with clients that were in the same shoes they were just a month or two prior. That’s just a huge– I mean, just today, I meet a guy who owns a detox- it’s a new detox and I’ve known him for a long time.
It’s close to the Ohio House. We’re not even talking about doing business together. What we’re talking about is, “Hey, what day can my guys come and speak on the panel?” Getting these guys to be of service and give back and providing a platform for them to do so is so important.
David: I imagine that does as much or more for them-
David: – giving that presentation as it does for the- [crosstalk]
David: The other two principles that I saw for your structure are about the rules of the house and accountability, how do you build that accountability because it’s got to be natural, right?
Brandon: It boils down to being a good person. The awesome thing about working in this field is, we meet the individual at their all-time low. When they move into our program, their life is most of the times destroyed. It is shattered. Their life is broken and this is the worst version of themselves. We have to have patience with that. We have to understand that they have a long way to go, and we do and our staff does understand that. It’s always the guys that give us the most trouble in the beginning that become the best examples in the end.
We walk them through that process. We show them- we instill values in them. We show them how to behave, how to be a good friend, be a good son, and so forth. There’s rules in the house. I mean, yes, it protects the house or protects the whole, the camaraderie, but at the same time, we’re showing these guys a new way of living.
Ryan: To Brandon’s point earlier, we’re creating leaders. Our management team, our house managers have all been through that. They have moved into the Ohio House with 30-days sober in a brand new environment and had troubles adjusting. It makes that transition a lot easier when you don’t just have someone breathing down your neck saying, “You need to be here at this time and do this,” when you’ve never done that yourself or you’re not willing to do that right now. Our management team is so strong and they’re not afraid on a Sunday morning double scrub to get on their hands and knees and scrub the floorboards with the newest guy in the house.
David: Nice. I mean, that creates the whole culture of like, “I should be accountable because look at this guy, he doesn’t have to do this and he’s getting down there and doing it.”
David: As you mentioned, Chadwick House, that seemed like a way to bring the program in the way that you’d seen it’d be effective for men you brought it into a women’s only setting, could you talk about that approach and how it’s similar or maybe different?
Brandon: Absolutely. It’s much different, but it has the same foundation. We’ve been asked by, actually, the guy– [chuckles] We were inspired to start our female program by the guy who’s going to be up next, Adam Marion. When he was working at Black Bear, and we came out and visit him, he started to work with us. He started to see guys leave his program and come to ours and recover and get a great life. He said, “You guys have to do this for women. We need an Ohio House for women.”
It was three years. “We’re working on it, we’re working on it,” but every time I went to start a female program, it came off as a business plan. The Ohio House was an accident. It was never supposed to even become a business. I actually, personally, never wanted to work in the field of addiction. I had been through treatment center 15, 20 times. I was done with treatment, but the Ohio House was created naturally. I felt like if I was ever going to do a girl program, I had to feel the same way. Three years go by and Sam Woodbury, our director of admissions, is married to a girl named Gina Woodbury and she just came to me with this proposal, this idea, “Hey, I want to leave what I’m doing now and start this,” and it was easy.
We started it the next week. The Chadwick House went from one house to four houses in its first year. We’ve had, I think, 4 or 5 girls already achieve a year of sobriety and we’ve only been open for 13 months.
David: Cool. You said there are a lot of differences as you’re translating what you did with the men at the Ohio House to, now, the women at Chadwick House, what are some of the main differences that you see?
Brandon: Some of the things that’s come to mind right off the bat are, the women tend to seek recovery later on in life. We’re getting guys in their 18, 19, 20, 21. I mean, our average age is 25. We help guys in their 50s as well, but with the girls, our average age is in the 30s. We’re noticing that girls are starting to seek recovery at a later age than guys. With that, comes more wreckage. They’ve been using drugs and alcohol to cope with life for a longer period of time. Their recovery process is a little bit slower because of that.
I mean, when we get guys that are coming in at 22 years old, they’ve only been using drugs or alcohol for 2, 3, 4 years, where some of these girls have been doing it for a decade. That’s the main difference and it’s hard. I mean, women are coming to our program from the East Coast, the south, from out of state, and they have families or they have children or they have husbands that they’re away from. That also are more stressors for their early recovery as well.
The thing is that these girls are grasping recovery just like the men are. They’re going to meetings. They’re working with sponsors. They’re leaning on their house managers. They’re participating in groups at the outpatient level of care and they’re asking for help and they’re seeking recovery and they’re getting it.
David: You also mentioned Buckeye Recovery Network and that gets you guys into the outpatient. Like you were saying, when you’re talking about the daily schedule, IOP can be a big part of how they spend their day, what made you decide to want to start up that?
Brandon: Getting continued treatment as a transition out of a residential level of care is extremely important. We’re doing traditional treatment groups, but we got a little twist on it and we have our own version of what treatment really is. That’s a question I asked in a lot of people that worked in the field. Actually, traditionally, when I meet somebody who works in the treatment field, that’s the first question I ask them, “What is treatment?” That’s a question that we ask ourselves daily. We strive to create and develop new ideas of what treatment really is and evolve what the treatment process is all about. We don’t have it figured out. It’s not cookie cutter treatment. We have to always be challenging our ideals on what works.
Ryan: It really goes back to what you asked earlier, what are some of the obstacles or challenges that we run into? It was keeping clients engaged in the therapeutic process. They’re showing up at 9:00 AM every day for three hours to core processing group. How do we keep them engaged? How do we keep them motivated? That was our goal from the get-go with Buckeye Recovery Network, is we have this great program in place, where we’ve been able to help a lot of females and males obtain long term sobriety, but how do we keep them engaged now? What new offerings can we add to our arsenal to create a better experience? We implemented music therapy that’s just- we’ve gotten phenomenal feedback on that. We launched an art therapy group. We actually just a couple weeks ago started acting therapy.
David: Oh wow. Okay.
Ryan: Really getting people outside their comfort zone there. It’s something that we do evaluate every single month. We’ll say, “What more can we do? What can we offer? What are you hearing from the clients?” That’s one thing that we put a strong emphasis on too when we launched Buckeye Recovery Network was getting the satisfaction surveys from these clients. We understand we don’t know everything.
David: Last question, I know you guys are devoting a lot of your life, a lot your efforts to this mission that you have and both you, like you said, left careers, you could be doing any number of things with your time, could you sum up by telling us why helping people establish new lives in lasting recovery is so important to you?
Brandon: I’ll go first. The reason it’s so important to me is because it had become apparent that that was my life calling and it was not a decision that I had made. It was chosen for me and I’m just trying to do what seems like is my calling.
Ryan: I’ve seen the transformation firsthand with Alcoholics Anonymous and a strong support group save my brother’s life, saved a lot of my friends lives. It was an easy decision to be able to see that transformation and how powerful it is, combined with working alongside my hero in life. There is no better ground though.
David: All right. Well, Ryan, Brandon, thank you guys so much for your time.
Ryan: Thank you.
Brandon: Thank you very much.
David: Thanks again to Ryan and Brandon for joining us. Now, I’m happy to welcome Will Hart from the Life Challenge team. He joins us each month to give us an update from their community, which is the aftercare support network for those who have gone through foundation’s treatment programs and anyone else up for accepting the challenge of living life in recovery. Last month’s challenge was to spend some time outdoors and now, Will’s back to share the new challenge for this month. Welcome, Will.
Will Hart: Thanks for having me.
David: All right, man, how are you doing today?
Will: I’m pretty good, ready for the weekend.
David: Yes. What are we getting into this month?
Will: Got a pretty fun one for you, it’s make summer 2018 one to remember and do something you never thought you would.
David: Nice. Yes, challenge yourself to step outside of your box.
Will: Yes, and do something fun. For me, I’m taking a big trip this summer. I’m going to Canada for the first time, so I’m very excited about that. Some other examples I came up with is white water rafting. I did that last summer for the first time. I thought that was a blast. Go camping, take that trip you always wanted, could be one for you, get in shape. Go to an outdoor event. Summer’s full of possibilities.
David: Yes, man, I know. Summer’s great, glad it’s here. As always, they can post those, let you know what they’re doing?
Will: Yes, share any pictures, anything you want with us, on our website lcaccepted.com. We always love to see everything you guys are up to.
David: Perfect. All right. Well, have a good summer. Get out there, do some fun stuff and we’ll see you here next month.
Will: Yes, thank you.
David: This has been the Recovery Unscripted podcast. Today, we’ve heard from Ryan and Brandon Stump of the Ohio House. For more on their work, visit ohio-house.com. Thank you for listening today. Please take a second to give us a rating on your podcast app and subscribe so you won’t miss out on what we have coming up. See you next time.