The snow has melted and children appear in our yard like the tips of the bulbs pushing toward the sun in the flower beds. For 2 1/2 hours, laughter rings, squeals peel, and the sound of racing bikes keeps me company as I tidy up a home that has been abandoned since 8:30 this morning. I look out my kitchen window and see two boys and three girls that I have never seen before in our playhouse and on our trampoline. My children race on plasma bikes and scooters up and down the circle with neighbors that they have missed all winter, though they only live a few houses down. They are so energized by each others company.
I too have been energized by the company of others. I entered the Hellenic Cultural Center attached to the Greek Orthodox Church and saw several beloved faces from the beautiful clients at the House of Hope. We hugged and caught up while the tables filled with alumni, 112 women who represent the hundreds who have beat the odds and overcome their addictions with the help of their higher power. Behind each woman is many children and I imagined the hundreds of children that would no longer live in neglect and fear due to their mother's courageous choices.
The program to honor those who have stayed sober lasted many hours. Many graduates of the program shared their stories, and my dear friend Jodi read a poem about Hope she wrote and provided a beautiful musical number. The governor and his wife came and talked with the women, but most impressive were the women we gathered to honor who fought the battle with drugs and alcohol and won.
One story was representative and will always stay with me. Syd has long dark hair streaked with grey. Her clothes are nondescript and she is heavy set. I remember her from years earlier with frightening teeth, but something has changed and they look fine now. Quietly, she tells how her alcoholism began at age 2 when she begged her father, "drink! drink!" Her father responded by offering her his whiskey. Neglected and abused she spent her early childhood calling bars to find her mom when she never came home. She was homeless and on her own at age 14. A gypsy married her at 15, and her first son arrived at 16. She used drugs and alcohol to ease her pain, and they floated from place to place and had more sons. Marriage #1 ended, marriage #2 began... abusive and full of substance abuse. After she escaped marriage #2, she ended up in jail... I think she was there several times. When she arrived at House of Hope in 2001, she looked the part of the rough mean jail bird. Through the support of women in the program, she found herself for the first time. Her oldest son died while she was in treatment, but she kept on. Against all odds, she graduated from treatment and went to college, graduating with a degree in social work. She stayed on to volunteer at the House of Hope and eventually was hired as a counselor. I feel her quiet peace about herself. I have seen her work firmly with the women currently in treatment and find it hard to reconcile with the scary woman of 8 years ago.
I think of the good she is doing with her life now and all the good she will do. I am struck by the worth of one soul and the power and goodness within each and every person, even the least. The contrast between gorgeous, classy, well spoken Mrs. Huntsman and Syd was huge, yet not. I felt that neither one had more value than the other. Mrs. Huntsman was doing her best to change the world in the circumstances in which she had been placed and Syd and every woman in that room were breaking ancient cycles of horror and creating new futures for generations.
Sadly, I did hear that as Syd worked her way through treatment she went to church in pants (all she had) and smelled of cigarettes. She was asked by the good women to leave. My heart aches for her and for all of us well meaning snobs that forget to reach down and help another up who may be carrying burdens that we cannot fathom.
The energy, happiness, and hope in the Greek Orthodox today lifted all of us. Those currently in treatment left with hope that they too could remain sober and perhaps be the next success story. The graduates celebrated that their hard work to remain sober day by day was paying off. The board of trustees, the staff, and the 3 volunteers (Jodi, Jacqueline, and myself) felt awe, respect, and honor. We realized that we were witnessing something that we did not truly understand, but we witnessed that these women knew and used their higher power more than us. We felt the perseverance, the courage, and the forgiveness exercised by the women. I was refreshed by their humility and candor. I truly love these women. I am so grateful to work with them when I can. They need extra prayers though, especially those still in treatment. Since 2001, four graduates have died from overdose... they didn't make it.
I looked for some of my favorites from 6 years ago. I couldn't see them. I hope they moved on to amazing things and didn't have time to attend. I can't bear to think of them back in that horrible spot of addiction again. They were too beautiful and sparkly. Send a prayer up for my girls in treatment tonight. And while I'm at it, I will thank my Heavenly Father for my amazing life, my girls, and my sweet supportive husband and every other happy positive influence in my life.
While rambling in my head, I think of the power of a woman, of a mother... to influence generations. I want my girls to always know their value, their power... for it is great. I envision the lives they will touch with their compassion and strength and pray I will do them justice as their mother.