May 9, 2016 | Stories & Profiles

Partner Profile: Liberty Bay Recovery Center

20151128 125129 web2015 was a big year for Nathan and Jasmine Cermelj, founders of the Liberty Bay Recovery Center in Portland, Maine. Their first child – a little boy named Remington -- was born on January 14. Then, little more than a month later, the couple completed a cross-country move from Arizona to Maine, where Jasmine was born and raised.

The 12-day cross-country trip in their Subaru with 2 dogs and a 6-week-old infant almost broke the two of them. “It really hit us when we were on the road,” Nathan recalls. “It was an incredibly stressful time.”

Once they arrived in Portland on March 16, you’d think the family would simply be looking for the nearest place to catch their breath. But in fact, their odyssey was just beginning – because they had a business to launch.

In December 2014, when the couple visited Jasmine’s family in Maine over the holidays and contemplated their move, Nathan noticed there weren’t any addiction treatment centers in the Portland area. While this isn’t something the typical tourist is likely to pick up on, Nathan and Jasmine are both immersed in recovery – personally, professionally, and as a couple.

Nathan and Jasmine’s stories are similar and all too familiar. Both started drinking in their late teens, and the paths they thought they would follow quickly started to unravel under their feet. Jasmine, struggling with alcoholism, left college after one semester. After completing a 30-day treatment program in Utah, she stepped down to a sober home in Prescott, Arizona, started attending 12-step meetings, and got a job at a local restaurant called the Lonespur Café.

Nathan’s unraveling, happening at the same time, had a few more rough edges. “From age 18 to 21 I was just running and gunning” and leading a “crazy lifestyle” motivated first by alcohol, but later by cocaine, marijuana, and meth as well, and included living out of a car and a total of 7 felony arrests. After his last arrest, he was offered a chance to complete a drug-court diversion program, which marked a new beginning for him. “I moved to a halfway house in Prescott, got a job remodeling a house, then when that project ended, got another job at the Lonespur Café – and that’s where I got to know this really attractive girl I had seen at my 12-step meetings.”

The two started dating, taking things slow and “always putting our recovery first.” Both completed college – Jasmine with a nursing degree and Nathan majoring in business – and eventually left their jobs at the café to start their careers. They married in 2012, and both ended up working in the treatment field, Jasmine for an insurance billing company specializing in substance abuse treatment, and Nathan for various treatment centers, where he discovered that working directly with clients wasn’t for him. “I was really invested personally in whether people did well, and I started getting lost in ‘shoulda, coulda’ thinking” when clients relapsed,” he explains. Then, when he was asked to fill in for a week in admissions for another employee who was on vacation, he found his calling. “It turned out I was good at the business side.” 

Over that holiday visit to Maine in 2014, Nathan and Jasmine took the first steps toward opening Liberty Bay: writing up a business plan and starting their application for a state operating license. By the time they landed in their new home state, they had received license approval. But the hard work was just beginning.

“In March and April, we furnished and outfitted the main building, started marketing, and looked for our first sober-living house for the housing company Shoreline Homes,” Nathan recalls, explaining that finding the house was the hardest part. “Not everyone wants to rent to people like us.”

They did eventually find a property – a fairly humble place they found on Craigslist – and on May 4, Liberty Bay opened its doors. But there wasn’t exactly a line to get in.

“We didn’t have any clients for close to two weeks,” Nathan recalls. “It was very stressful. After the move and all the work and money we had put in, we definitely asked ourselves, ‘Did we make the right decision?’”

Fortunately and unfortunately, we live in a time when it isn’t likely to take long for a line to start forming outside a new addiction treatment center. By the end of May, the house was full, and by June, Nathan and Jasmine were already thinking about expansion. Over the course of the summer and fall, they secured four more houses for Shoreline Homes, for a total of 38 beds.

Now with 3 full time LADCs, an in-house psychiatrist, an accountant, 2 administrative staff and an ADAC, Liberty Bay has treated 48 people since last May, 14 of whom came through a scholarship program run in partnership with the Scarborough Police Department, which started an amnesty program similar to that of Gloucester, MA. Most of Liberty Bay’s clients come from Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, but a few have traveled from as far away as Washington State. 

“Looking back,” Nathan says, “I think we totally underestimated what it would take to make a cross-country move, start a business, and raise an infant, all at the same time. We did all the big changes you can possibly have in your life, all in one year. The first 6-7 months getting Liberty Bay started was really hard – and then we had our child to pick up at 4:30.”

But it worked out – and Nathan attributes that to the fact that he and Jasmine balance each other well. “I’m outgoing and want to try new things, where Jasmine is more the reserved and cautious side. We balance each other in our recovery, too. Along the way we’ve just been supportive of each other’s journey. Either she would be my support or I would be hers.”

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This article appeared in the May/June edition of our newsletter, TheBuzz.