Clean and Sober

Find recovery from the disease of addiction.

The oldest of four girls from an average middle-class family, Cassandra Luke went to good schools, was a good student and spent much of her free time playing sports. She was popular, had a lot of friends and always had the essentials to live comfortably. Cassandra also had a problem with alcohol.

Photo by Jordan Pysz.

Cassandra describes the center’s holistic approach to a new patient.

“As a teenager, I started to experiment with drugs and alcohol. At first, it seemed to be normal teenage behavior,” she admits. “As time went on, it became pretty apparent it was not just experimenting or typical teenage behavior. The way I partied with my friends was abnormal, and it was evident there was something different about me.
“I always drank more. I didn’t want the party to stop. I was a blackout drunk, and my friends had to tell me what happened the night before. It seemed like those situations never happened to them. At the time, I chalked it up to being young and crazy and just living my life.”
After high school, Cassandra’s drinking escalated. She had dreams of going to college and becoming a special education teacher, but drinking got in the way. She wasn’t able to succeed at school because alcohol always came before her education. For years, she maintained a cycle of going to school then dropping out, going back then dropping out again.
“I wasn’t homeless. I didn’t lose anything valuable, like a house. I was able to maintain jobs for the most part,” she relates. “Outwardly, it looked like my life was manageable, but I was very unhappy and dissatisfied. Everything was a lot more difficult for me to achieve because I continually put partying before everything else. Most people my age were finishing college, starting relationships and getting married.”
Cassandra became very depressed. Looking for help, she went to a couple of treatment centers in her native Chicago, but she failed to respond. She says she wasn’t ready for them to help her. Then, she moved to Tampa and went to another treatment center, but again, she wasn’t entirely ready.
“At that point, I hated myself. I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I felt like a shell of a human being,” she shares. “What’s the point of life if you live every day despising the person you are. I hit a very emotional bottom. I wanted to feel differently, and I wanted to feel better.”
Cassandra discovered a program that worked for her and has been sober since April 27, 2009.
With a clear head for the first time since childhood, Cassandra was determined to go back to school and finish her education. She decided to become a nurse and started taking classes one at a time.
“Before I knew it, I graduated as a registered nurse and was working in one of the major hospitals in Tampa,” she states. “I quickly moved my way up to charge nurse and got very involved in the organization. Then, I went back to school and got my Bachelor’s degree.”
Cassandra now serves as director of nursing at recently opened Riverside Recovery of Tampa. Riverside Recovery is a comprehensive center offering inpatient and outpatient services to treat all aspects of the disease of addiction.

Holistic Approach

Not only is Cassandra Luke, BSN, RN, now an experienced clinical nurse, she also has the personal experience of facing recovery. She believes it gives her an empathetic perspective when helping the people who come to Riverside Recovery of Tampa. She’s not alone.
“About seventy-five percent of our staff is in recovery,” she observes. “They have the ability to professionally assist the individuals who come to us for care, as well as to personally relate to the struggle they’re going through.
“We want to help remove the stigma of addiction. We want to tell the community we’re here and tell people suffering from substance abuse there is help. They’re not hopeless people. They don’t have a moral deficiency. They’re individuals with a disease, and it’s the disease of addiction.”
Graphic from Riverside Recovery, a range of techniques are used to teach patients how to stay sober and clean and how to integrate themselves back into society. The techniques cover the scope of recovery services. They include group and individual therapy, motivational interventions, mindfulness-based relapse prevention and 12-step facilitation.
“We take a holistic approach to recovery,” elaborates Cassandra. “We offer services such as yoga and biofeedback, and a physical therapy group comes in and gives massages and treats the physical issues that can affect the body from drug and alcohol use. Even the food we serve is clean and healthy.
“Our clinical team is very knowledgeable about the disease of addiction and works on confining some of the disease behaviors, such as manipulation, as well as the guilt and shame that people carry.
“The medical component of our care is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Rather, it’s personalized. We meet people where they are and make them as comfortable as possible through the detoxification process. Our goal is to have them finish that process then move to our residential service.”
Riverside Recovery of Tampa is among the few centers in Florida that provides all levels of care under one roof. They combine a detox facility with a residential center and intensive outpatient services on one site.
“That gives us an edge,” offers Cassandra, “because our patients don’t need to travel to different facilities for their care. They start in our detox, where we get them medically stable, then they simply walk down the hall, and they’re in the rooms for residential care.
“This provides continuity of care and helps prevent inconsistencies in patients’ stories. It keeps everybody on the same page. I believe it gives patients a better overall experience and a better chance at staying sober and clean after they leave.”

Active Discovery

As part of the treatment at Riverside Recovery of Tampa, patients are shown they can live happy, normal, healthy lives without the use of drugs and alcohol. The center offers amenities and activities to guide them in this discovery.
“Before my recovery, I thought getting sober meant my life was going to be boring. I wondered what I was going to do; my whole life was drinking. Even though it wasn’t fun toward the end, it was the only way I knew how to do anything. But that isn’t the case anymore, and it doesn’t have to be for our patients.”Graphic from
Riverside Recovery has a half-court basketball court, a sand volleyball court and an exercise room with weight and elliptical machines, and they’re in the process of putting in a swimming pool. They’re also installing a dock on the nearby Hillsborough River so patients can fish, kayak and enjoy other water sports.
“We show patients they can have a lot of fun while sober and clean, doing things like working out, playing basketball, swimming or fishing, and they can enjoy it clear minded,” reports Cassandra. “They will actually have more fun than if they were drunk or high.
“We do the deep work here. We get to the root cause of what’s going on with people and show them their lives are not over. With the help of Riverside Recovery of Tampa, people with addiction can be happy and laugh and enjoy life again.”

Print This Article