Israeli program Retorno paints itself as a paradise and is actively recruiting Americans, but former clients say the center virtually wrecked their lives.”>
A prescription painkiller overdose had nearly killed Victoria Gonzalez Vega, but the 61 -year-old American was hopeful shed get a second chance at lifeat Retorno, an inpatient addiction program near Beit Shemesh, a desert township near Jerusalem.
The rehabs pamphlets and website painted Retorno as a paradise, with horseback riding and mountain hikes.
They said nothing of the full days spent peeling potatoes or shoveling horse manure. They didnt mention the use of humiliation as a penalty, or the strange therapy where junkies were screamed at and insulted by their peers until they broke down. And though Gonzalez had signed up for the English program, very few of the other women or counselors ever spoke it.
But it was the stillnes that still haunts her.
I wasnt allowed to speak to anyone. No one was allowed to speak to me, Gonzalez said, describing one of the treatments she received at Retorno. There was a lot of grunting to request things I required, like a glass of water or something.
For Gonzalez, who had been sexually abused as a child by her father, that stillnes and the guttural audios were triggering. During group therapy, she began screaming, then wailing. Soon some of the other women in the working group started to shriek, too.
The next day, Gonzalez tells one sadistic counselor told her, We liked what happened to you yesterday. Were doing it to you again today.
Speaking from a New York coffee shopfive months after she finished the program and left IsraelGonzalez tells such treatment is cliche at Retorno. She tells its a place where participants work long hours, learn what the rules are by breaking them, and are handed down peculiar punishments including timeouts, isolation, and being forced to dress like a newborn for immature behavior.
And now, the therapeutic community, which practices a self-described tough love philosophyone that American mental-health experts label ineffective and perhaps detrimentalis making a concerted move to recruit more American addicts for its programs.
At 62 years old, Gonzaleza lawyer by training and an artist by naturewas 40 years older than her nearest peer at Retorno. Before she entered the facility in 2015, she was living with her then-boyfriend in Tel Aviv; when the relationship went sour, Gonzalez became depressed, living most days locked in her bedroom, high on Klonopin, Valium, and alcohol. One day her boyfriends son came to get her for dinner and find her unconscious in a pond of her own vomit.
When she woke from her coma months later, her boyfriend told her he didnt want her to come home. He indicated a place for disturbed artists, then, she says, he found out about Retorno, for people with addiction problems.
And I surely have an addiction problem, Gonzalez says.
Though she wasnt technically committed, Gonzalez had run out of options and was taken to Retorno not entirely voluntarily, according to the rehabs director. Still, hearing that she had been accepted to Retorno, Gonzalez wrote to her boyfriend, I feel hopesomething always beyond my reach since I was 18. Before that, survival itself was all I could hope for, dream of. Now it may be possible to exorcise the demons.
But Gonzalez says she never got the treatment she needed.