Contributed by AC
“The women I went thru Charlford House with left lasting impressions upon me. Each of us are bonded for life through our shared Charlford experiences - those experiences are both unique and powerful. Charlford includes women from all walks of life; with so many personalities it is not surprising that some of us have remained closer with each other than others. Regarding the women I have not stayed close with, I still feel a strong kinship and know they are in my corner should I ever need for anything - as I am for them. My goal is to capture each of their stories and account for how they helped me. For the sake of comfortability, I will start with the women I have stayed the closest with.” AC
I want to commence my storytelling with one of the women who gave me the hardest time while we lived together in the house - but ended up being a dear friend; she was instrumental in those formative years of recovery for me to maintain my sanity as a single mom in recovery. She is in my heart as well as my son’s. Before we get to that part of our story, we must first understand her journey.
Sally (not real name) was the oldest of our crew; she started her recovery - for the first time in her life - at the tender age of 52. She arrived at Charlford House Oct 17, 2002 - with almost a month clean. Prior to Charlford House, her 2002 included 12 hospital admissions, more hospital visits, multiple suicide attempts, the imminent loss of her Point Grey home and she was stuck in a co-dependent relationship with a man who became more of her using partner /supplier than any sort of lover. The relationship with her adult son was salvaged only because he lived across the country and was not witness to his mom’s destruction; he would often find excuses not to talk to her on the phone as he could tell she was loaded. Sally lived in isolation - juggling between using and fighting ongoing serious medical issues.
Sally’s failing health was the catalyst for her entry to recovery. In detox she was given an approximate 4-5 year life expectancy. While in detox she made the decision to check into Charlford House. Her reason for choosing Charlford was simple - it was a non - religious based recovery house. By her own account, Sally was pleased when she pulled up to Charlford and saw that it was an actual home and not another institution. Her previous thoughts were that recovery houses would be similar looking to Army Barracks - I had thought they were on rolling hill estates with horseback riding as a method of healing - we were both so wrong.
I met Sally Oct 30, 2002 - and let me tell you my impressions of her: she reminded me of Carol Burnette’s character in Annie. She was too thin, a bit nasty, shaky, grumpy and very sick. She had multiple hospital, doctor and pharmacy visits while we were in the house. As beat down as she was, she also had an air of superiority about her that was both comical and truly sad; her front was rooted in low self-esteem, fear and denial. Despite all her ailments and attitudes, I do not recall her missing too many meetings, morning workouts or groups; she was a warrior.
Sally struggled with honesty - as many of us do - I struggled - and to this day still do - with intolerance, judgement and impatience. Between her lies and angling to get what she wanted and my contempt for those qualities, we were a bad combination. Efforts were made on both parts to get each other kicked out of the house; fortunately, the staff were ‘hip’ to our games and disregarded both of us. FYI: the other day when she and I were talking about this blog, we could not help but laugh at how ridiculous we both were towards each other - and so grateful our hearts opened for one another.
While in the house, Charlford women are never alone; if we had appointments or wanted to leave the house for any reason - even on weekends - we needed to ask and find another woman to agree to go or we had to stay home. I learned a lot of great things while I was at Charlford - upon reflection, learning how to ask for help to meet specific needs might be the most valuable of those tools. Over the years I have been able to ask for help for many things without it being overwhelming.
Sally and I ended up spending time together going to various appointments and to the pharmacy. We were “buddies” at a 12 Step Convention. We might have been the only women from the house at that convention there to learn about the fellowship instead of checking out all the guys; not that there is anything wrong with checking out men - we did our fair share of that at different meetings. Slowly we began to get to know each other - we learned we were a lot more alike than we wanted to admit. Eventually we started to sit together on the bus, sharing our mutual contempt for our chipper house mates. We were like a cross between the two old grumpy men on the Muppets and Blanche and Dorothy from the Golden Girls. We shared a similar defiance and disdain for many of the house rules and over time we came to accept then respect each other. I truly believe if it were not for the Charlford “buddy” system our time spent together would not have happened and we would have robbed each other of the relationship we developed.
I left Charlford a few weeks before Sally completed the program. When Sally left, she went back to her Point Grey home to pack up her things, put her home on the market (after she sold it and paid back what she owed, she was left with approx $6,000.00 - she gave most of that to her son for his education), ended her long-term relationship and prepared to move to a basement suite in Burnaby with one of the women we lived with in the house (her roommate may have hated me more than Sally did - we will get to her story next). That was a lot of change for one person to cope with on their own. I can’t recall who reached out first but we connected and started doing 12 Step recovery together. We believed in each other and in recovery. The underlying contempt we had for one another faded and was replaced by acceptance, love, respect and the sincere desire to help each other.
When I left Charlford I was hit with a different sort of culture shock and I needed help. By May 1, 2003 my son was back in my care full time. My three, about to turn four-year-old son was a challenge and greatly disliked that he had to live with me. He expressed his feelings with violence - he would hit me - he gave me a black eye and nobody believed that this sweet 3-year-old could be capable of such a thing - he would break my things and essentially torture me as a way to process all of his feelings. I had limited financial resources at the time, the wait lists to get him help were long and as per MCFD, I could not leave my son with just any sitter. I owned all of that, for my addiction caused a lot of damage to him but I also recognized I needed help. I was at my wit’s end and started to truly believe he would be better off without me; using again started to look like a good idea. Sally and her roommate became my lifeline- my son loves them both - I could call Sally in tears, tell her what was going on in my home and she would let me drop him off; for the record,he was sweet as all get out while at their place. They would build forts, cook together, watch movies, read etc. That time allowed for me to take care of my spiritual condition. I was able to learn how to be an advocate for both my son and myself. It is not a stretch to state she saved my life by being there for us.
Sally in her own right, began to rebuild her career. She is smart with other people’s money; she began keeping records for local companies. She became active within her 12 Step Fellowship and remains so to this day. Within the first few years of Sally’s recovery, her son returned to BC; he was able to see her transformation. He fell in love with a gal, they got married and now have two kids. His family moved to the Island. Sally wanted to have a hands-on role in her grandkids’ lives so she followed them and has been there for almost 10 years. Prior to her move, she was active on the Charlford Board. For the past number of years, she has worked at a local bar keeping their books. The bar is located in an area known to have many homeless people live behind it - over the years Sally has been able to carry the message of recovery to some of those people and some are in recovery now because of that.
For Sally, Charlford was the game changer because it introduced her to this new way of living. Her medical issues are manageable, she no longer has a limited life expectancy. She is active with her dog and her two grandkids. Sally lives with integrity and when she tells me something, I no longer question if it is true. None of this would have been possible had she not entered recovery.
We don’t see each other often because neither of us like the ferry system - she was here the beginning of September for her former roommate’s 16-year celebration. We had dinner and a great hug. I have made a commitment that within the next 11 months, I will make the trek over to see her and the kids. She called me this morning – today is her 16-year anniversary of continued recovery. What a gift it is that after all these years, we are still connected and able to nurture each other.