First of all, I’d like to commend all the other bloggers out there who post on the regular. How do you people find the time?
Anyway, on Tuesday I flew to Kenai with my boss and a few co-workers to check out Ionia; a peer-run “treatment” community located near Kasilof. Our experience there was… different, to say the least.
Common problems and hopes for a common solution brought five families together in 1987. They purchased five acres of spruce forest on the Kenai Peninsula in South-Central Alaska and Ionia had its beginning. The founders came from different geographic, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, as well as different kinds of internal hardships and behavioral dysfunction. Through a process of trial and error, the families realized that individuals, families and communities are truly interdependent; that in order to sustainably change one thing, they had to change almost everything; and, that it is impossible to create change without embodying it. This kind of thinking has led to Ionia’s endurance.
Have you ever seen Wanderlust? With Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd? Where Paul loses his job in New York and winds up at a hippie commune after he and Jennifer attempt to get to his brother’s house in Georgia? Ironically, Aaron and I watched this movie for the first time the day after I visited Ionia. If you’ve ever seen the movie, you know what my experience was like. Not as extreme, but the parallels are uncanny!
The community is completely run by “peers” who struggle with some sort of substance abuse or mental health issue. There is no hierarchical structure, all food is grown within the commune, and all homes are built by its members.
Ever had a splinter in your butt?
There aren’t really “rules” at Ionia, more like unspoken, required “ways of thinking”. For example, all members of the community feel that food is the foundation and gateway to positive health (I totally agree!). In an effort to honor this, they have chosen to live a macrobiotic (vegan) lifestyle (some kind of Taoist principle that has to do with balance). However, if a member decides he’s tired of eating seaweed for dinner and wants potato chips instead, he is welcome to go to the store, pick up a bag of potato chips, and eat them in the privacy of his own home, away from the rest of the community.
Formal substance abuse and mental health treatment techniques are not used. None of the community members are professionals so they rely on the rest of their community to “treat” the individual. Their philosophy is: The community treats the family treats the individual. Their Morning Meetings are used as healthy outlets for conflict and dispute.
“Morning meetings are a top priority of the Ionian day. Regularly, the entire community sets aside at least two hours from the busyness of life to talk with each other. There is no subject too mundane, too personal or too philosophic for consideration. An atmosphere of relaxed attention is brought to the evolving discussion. Participating in meetings is considered a profound contribution to the whole community. All ages speak up, and each subject is given whatever amount of time it needs.
By the end of our tour I felt like I had taken a step back in time where the hair was long, the weed was strong, and the boobies and love were free. Plus, there were like a dozen kids running around and we couldn’t tell who belonged to who.
Their garden is pretty cute, though. Am I right? We planned on eating lunch there until my boss found out they use their own feces for compost. I helped them out a little by going to the bathroom in this…
Aaron and I are East Coast people. He will not agree with me and swear he was born to live in Alaska. But, I know we were both born to live on the East Coast where everyone wears black, has an attitude, and walks like they’ve got somewhere to be (like me). I fit in there. It’s diverse there. And most importantly, our families live there.
Aaron grew up near Rochester, New York and I grew up near Columbus, Ohio. During our long-distance dating days we learned to frequent the trip (it takes me 5 hours to drive and Aaron 6.5 hours to drive) between NY and OH… IO! to spend time with one another’s families. We still do this, every time we get the chance to visit home, because I can’t leave the East without seeing my family and he can’t leave the East without seeing his.
But as great as it is to spend quality time with our loved ones, we’ve been known to make a secret pit stop in between our frequented (is that a word?) 6 hour journey. An incredible little pit stop to the beautiful Niagara Falls.
This is why you should make a pit stop too: