Friday was my 5-month sobriety anniversary. It was also the day that my company held their first annual day of service as a gesture in giving back to the community. For those of you who don’t know, I work in an industry that plays a large part in providing affordable housing developments for low-income families and seniors across the country. The organization we selected to assist may not have immediately seemed to have a connection to our industry, nor did it need to, but it turns out that the affordable housing conversation was very relevant to the people we were about to serve. It also turns out that the people we would interact with were very relevant to my own personal journey.
Leading up to Friday, I hadn’t fully let the organization we chose to work with sink in. Hope Haven is a foundation of recovery. They provide life skills for chemically dependent adults and families, helping them through healthy recovery and rebuilding their lives. Our job that day was going to be serving lunch, but until I arrived, I had no idea that the biggest part of that job meant that we were going to interact with the residents. In fact, we were encouraged to talk to them, ask about their stories, break bread with them and share a part of ourselves. As I sat in the conference room listening to the overview of their program and how we were going to spend our next hours, I was struck by the power of how I would get to spend my 5-month anniversary. Call it what you want, but in that moment, it felt like the universe was delivering me a gift.
As the men and women started to line up for their lunch trays, I decided to dive right in by saying hello and asking their names. There was some awkwardness between us here and there as they tried to figure out who I was while I tried to find my footing, but it wasn’t long before it came together. One of the first women I spoke to, Mary, had a pretty purple t-shirt on and she initially didn’t seem too pleased to see me. She scowled a bit when I introduced myself, but as soon as I told her how much I loved the color of her shirt, she lit right up. Through an excited smile she told me about the talent show that was held the night before and how she was wild about Prince and sang his song, Kiss. Mary would ask me if I knew the song and I told her I knew it so well that I could sing it for her, but I promised she wouldn’t want to hear this voice of mine destroy it. She laughed and patted me on the shoulder, telling me that she had so much fun the night before that she had to keep honoring Prince by wearing that purple shirt. A sense of ease came over me and I knew I could do this. I spent time approaching people across the room, offering to bring them drinks, clean up their trays, and sometimes sat down to talk with them.
Most of the people I spoke with were anywhere from one week to 3 months into recovery. For a number of them, this wasn’t their first time trying to quit alcohol or their drug of choice, but it was their first time in a program like this one. I saw eyes filled with love, fear, trepidation and hope. When I shared my sobriety with some, it was received with so much love and encouragement. They accepted me as someone who wasn’t just here to do service, but who also understood some of the struggles with addiction. They talked to me about time spent living on the streets, the loss of their families and the struggle to find a job. We spoke of the difficulties in finding an affordable place to live and their fears of being able to make ends meet. I heard how some had what might be considered a perfectly normal life early on, but then they lost it all to alcohol or drugs. They hugged me, they invited me to their AA meetings and they encouraged me to keep going just as I was encouraging them.
I saw my father in that room and I even saw myself. While I’m in no way comparing my personal journey to the severity of what many of them have experienced in their lives, there is also no reason why it couldn’t have happened to me. It happened to them, didn’t it? There is a common bond in recovery that we all share. No matter who you are or where you’ve come from, addiction can impact anyone. Addiction can change your life forever. I saw my father, a smart and highly capable man, lose his job and his ability to find a new one. I watched him teeter on the edge of homelessness and slowly destroy himself and everything around him. Addiction is fierce and it can escalate quickly and take us to levels that we never thought were possible. Just ask any of the men and women who were in that room with me on Friday.
I wish everyone that I met strength and sobriety as they work so hard to rebuild their lives. They are fortunate to have support and the foundation that Hope Haven is giving them, but they will continue to have a long battle ahead. This will be the journey of their lives and with this opportunity it is possible for them to survive. Those hours spent with them made a difference in my life and I know I won’t be the only one.
Mary, may you keep wearing purple and that beautiful smile for years to come.