LOWELL — For those who have struggled with addiction, staying clean isn’t as simple as deciding not to use, former Dracut Selectman Robert Cox explained.
The hours spent alone, in between attending support groups, can be some of the hardest, he continued. And sometimes, it can be difficult to juggle meetings with a job, a long commute, or family time.
“Addiction doesn’t live in the bars… addiction lives in people’s minds,” he said. “It can sneak up on you at any time.”
It was 2016 when Cox attended Genesis House Addiction Treatment Inc. in Lake Worth, Florida, for recovery from alcohol abuse. From there, he discovered The Crossroads Club in Delray Beach, Florida. The two treatment facilities “saved my life,” he said.
The Crossroads Club hosted various support groups throughout the day, he said, in addition to other workshops such as resume building, budgeting, nutrition and self-esteem.
“What I saw that caught my eye… was a community coming together,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to bring to Lowell.”
Cox is now going on three years sober. And starting in November, he will lease the roughly 5,000-square-foot space at the back of a brick building at 33 East Merrimack St. to open The Bridge Club of Greater Lowell — an addiction treatment facility modeled after Crossroads and the Genesis House.
“If you think you’re too far gone… that’s how I felt,” Cox said. “If I can do it, anybody can do it.”
The Bridge Club isn’t just about the initial recovery — it’s about maintaining sobriety. “It’s like getting your oil changed,” he said.
Cox plans to open the facility to support groups — from alcohol to narcotics to overeating — by January. He walked through the space Wednesday with Peter Gervais, the building’s landlord, and Tony Allerton, 91, an original member of Crossroads.
“My lord, what a gorgeous space,” Allerton said, as he walked through the empty building. The space, built in 1921, was once a car dealership, then an office for the Department of Children and Families. It has been vacant for the last year, Gervais said.
“(It’s) good to get something back in here,” he said.
After reconfiguring some walls, there will be at least three large meeting rooms, as well as a handful of offices and a full kitchen. Words scrawled on periwinkle-painted walls in sharpie, such as “doorway,” and “glass” indicated where renovations will take place. A skylight cast bright sunlight into the main corridor. New flooring and fresh paint will likely be added last, according to Cox.
“As soon as I walked in, I knew this was the place,” he said.
Cox plans to update the kitchen, and use it to train attendees in everything from dish washing, to food prep, to the proper use of cooking knives. He hopes these skills will help those in need to find work.
But the real beauty of the facility, Cox said, is its potential to grow and change. To best fit the needs of the community, Cox plans to be flexible, hosting a variety of support groups at times convenient for attendees.
Simply put, the objective is for The Bridge Club to be “an environment for recovery.” The name symbolizes the journey to recovery — the bridge to sobriety.
When asked what inspired the project, Cox said it was his own journey. “I knew I needed more than just meetings,” he said, and he doesn’t want to relapse. At The Bridge Club, he said, he can keep himself on track, and help many others in the process.
“If there’s a message here — it works,” Cox said about attending support groups and programs like those he plans to welcome at The Bridge Club.
Cox named the nonprofit behind the treatment facility Troubled Waters Inc. The logo, designed by a student from Greater Lowell Technical High School, depicts a water wheel with waves underneath.
The Bridge Club’s board of directors includes state Rep. Thomas Golden, Lowell City Councilor Rita Mercier, retired Lowell police Officer Michael Miles, and Cox’s longtime friends, Mark Page and Chris Tierney.
Cox served on the Dracut Board of Selectmen from 2004 to 2013. His older brother, John Cox, is a former Lowell city manager and was a state representative in the 1980s and 1990s. His father, also named John, was a Lowell city councilor in the 1960s.
“We’re in a major-league fundraising effort right now,” Cox said.
Various community organizations have expressed interest in collaborating with Cox, including Lowell General Hospital and the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Cox has been in talks with UMass about the idea of setting up an opportunity for students to complete co-ops at the facility. But nothing is set in stone yet, he said.
Gervais is planning to hold a front section of the building for the time being, just over 5,000 square feet, for The Bridge Club to potentially expand into in the future. It would just about double the facility’s space.
“It (The Bridge Club) is going to outlive anyone who’s involved with it now, if we do it right,” Cox said. “Save one life, and it’s all worthwhile.”