"Spitfire: a person, especially a girl or woman, who is of fiery temper and easily provoked to outbursts." dictionary .com
The word spitfire is what comes to mind when I think of my first encounters with Olive (not real name). Spitfire not in the sense of outrageous outbursts but definitely being able to push her buttons and watch her anger sweep in. She is a bit older than I am, an East Van gal; small in stature but mighty in spirit. Olive was always a party girl; by late August 2002 her party had long ended though and she found herself on the brink of homelessness, had her things repossessed, her relationships with her family were not great and she was unemployable. After a family intervention she made the decision to head to detox; she has been clean ever since. Olive chose Charlford House because while in detox she was handed a book of recovery house options; she misread the Charlford information and thought it was a 3 week program. Amen to impatient detox reading. Her first impressions of Charlford House were the house was rundown but she was greeted by someone wearing yellow rubber cleaning gloves- she felt a sense of relief that although old at least Charlford House would be clean. Olive was- and to this day still is- a tad- obsessive about cleanliness.
I met Olive the first day I arrived at the house- she was my roommate. I came into the house straight from a tent on Hastings St- with a better than attitude. Olive had her own better than attitudes; and we clashed. Before I got to the house I can't recall the last time I had changed clothes or bathed. I had the beginnings of street feet, there were actual holes in my ankles from ill fitted shoes and I was dirty. Olive loves cleanliness, structure, routine and rules. I had gotten to the point where I loved getting high more than anything else- including hygiene. In regular everyday life I do not need ridged structure and can easily go with the flow. Our personalities were so different and we had not yet learned how to practice acceptance, tolerance and love for one another. Olive could also at times be a bit of a controlling person- she would get on my case about everything man- from my boyfriend to how I cleaned, to what music I let my kid listen to. My reaction was pretty much always the same: I did not care what she had to say or what she thought- which seemingly fueled her disdain for me - and-I thought it was hilarious. It got to where I could just give her a certain look and it would set her off- she would grumble or mutter something under her breath, put on her sweats, her headband, yellow gloves and clean her anger away- it was awesome! She was the only woman in the house who ever called me a nasty name- to my face anyways. Her and Sally (not her real name) would conspire to get me tossed out of the house, they would attempt to find faults with my every action in an effort to strengthen their case to have me kicked out. Admittedly, I was not a likeable person. I thought I was more fun, smarter and different from the other women I was in the house with. I was there for the singular goal of getting my son back- building bonds with the women was not even on the low end of my priorities and they knew it. I had no idea it would be Olive and Sally who would become the 2 most important women I would forge lifelong bonds with from Charlford House.
There are various ways for women to develop relationships while in Charlford. Being roommates, groups, chore duty, the buddy system, helping each other with step work etc. On Friday nights Charlford Women stay home- we would watch movies, play games, do facials etc. It allowed us to get comfortable with not having to be out every Friday night, we got to know each other in a different way than in heavy groups or cruising for guys at meetings; it was just women spending time together without distraction. Before recovery many of us were so used to being out every Friday night; it felt like were missing out on something by staying in. For me it was almost like a punishment; I rarely got to pick the movies, don't really enjoy games nor am I into facials or makeovers etc; so Friday nights were never my favourite time at the house. Looking back I think the same could be said for Olive- so overtime those Friday nights allowed for our relationship to soften. The therapeutic value of mutual complaint does wonders. From there we started to share funny, intimate stories with each other, she took the time to get to know my son; truthfully I think she felt sorry for him that he had me for his mom- but her interest was appreciated. With time she became a person to me and I to her. I admired her desire to learn recovery, to make sure she was doing it right. I was envious of the relationship she had with some of her family members; they would visit her often. When they came I got to watch their love for her thru their eyes. I'm not sure how it happened but over time we learned that we could trust each other- that we both wanted the same thing- to be in recovery. I began to like her, invest in her and find value in who she is. Words cannot convey the gratitude I have that both of us are still sharing recovery together all these years later. Olive celebrated her 16th year of recovery at the beginning of September and I was at her celebration- just like every other year- and she will be at mine at the end of October.
I left the house a few weeks before Olive and Sally moved into their place. I was getting settled into my own roommate situation and learning how to parent without getting high. I was also not sure how to reach out for help when I first left the house- but I knew I needed help or I would soon repeat my old patterns. I needed breathing room and knew I could trust Olive and Sally with my heart. They showed up for me and my son without judgement. I started to feel loved by them. They would take my son shopping, he would have sleep overs, and they would invite us for meals. We shared celebrations. They became my family. To this day my son- who is 19 now- considers Olive and Sally to be 2 of his favourite people. After Sally moved away to be closer to her son Olive still took my son out for day trips and has maintained that relationship. I live with a chronic back condition that at times renders me immobile. When my son was 13 I spent 4 months in bed, unable to cook, clean, shop etc. It was Olive who came to help me and yes she brought her yellow gloves. When my lungs were bad Olive sent someone over to my house to test our air quality- turns out our rental place was filled with bad mold- we moved 2 weeks later. When I got married Olive was there. Olive is a part of my heart.
Since leaving Charlford Olive's life has totally changed. She was able to make and continues to live the amends she made to her family. She took care of her father until his unfortunate passing. She focused on fixing her credit, found employment and has been working for the same company for more than 10 years. I believe she is in management now. For someone who prior to recovery could not leave her East Van basement suite Olive could be considered a world traveler with some epic vacations behind her now. She is active in her 12 step fellowship and has sponsees who rely on her. Olive remains active in helping Charlford, she used to do volunteer shifts at the house- now she helps with events. Olive's life is what living a program looks like.