Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Giving Back

The room is clean and well-lit. There are bright blue chairs set up in rows, and a long table at the front where the speakers will sit.

The audience - about 60 people - files in and is seated. A few people sip coffee, or chat with the person next to them - mostly it is quiet.

I stand off to the side with three friends; we are waiting for 8pm so we can get started. I take a few moments to absorb the room. I see a young pretty girl with an auburn ponytail - she looks to be about sixteen. She is sitting by herself, glancing around anxiously. A few chairs away from her is an older man with shocking white hair - he is wearing a striped button down shirt and khaki pants. His head is bowed, his eyes closed and his hands are clasped in his lap, as if in prayer. In the back row is a young man - 25 maybe? - with black spiky hair. He is jumpy, nervous. His eyes dart around the room, his knee bounces rapidly up and down. He looks terrified. A woman about my age is softly crying to herself, a tissue pressed to her face. She must have just arrived, I think.

It is finally 8pm, and the four of us file in and are seated at the table at the front of the room, facing our audience. Tonight, I have been chosen to start things off. "Hi, I'm Ellie," I begin, smiling, "and I'm an alcoholic".

I am at rehab center in Massachusetts. We come here once a month to share our stories - our experience, strength and hope - with the patients here. It is a humbling thing to do. In front of us are 60 people whose lives and spirits are broken, many of whom are at the end of the line.

In this room there are mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, grandfathers and grandmothers. Mechanics, artists, CEOs, accountants, musicians. In this room we are in the trenches of fighting addiction. I don't think about statistics. I don't wonder why or how these people got here, or whether or not they will make it. I don't think about my pride, or whether I look or sound just right. I do not judge. I do not compare. I think about how I felt when I was in the bright blue chair, full of shame and fear.

I talk about what addiction was like for me, how it brought me to my knees. I see heads slowly nodding - they understand. I talk about the isolation, how I thought I was completely alone. How I was a prisoner to this disease, and I didn't understand why, or how, it happened to me. I do my best to speak from the heart - to share my story with the hope that at least one person will realize they are not alone.

I speak about hope. I describe the feeling of safety, acceptance and comfort I feel in recovery. All I can do is tell them what is was like for me, how bad it was and how incredible it is now. I tell them recovery is full of strong, empathic, funny, smart, caring people who will carry them when they can't carry themselves. I thank them for listening, and I wish them luck.

After the meeting, as we're preparing to leave, the woman who was softly crying at the beginning puts her hand on my arm, stopping me. "You told my story," she says, her eyes wide. "I thought I was the only one who felt like this, who did those things."

I ask her how long she will be here. "Ten days, I think," she says. "I just got here this morning, and I'm so scared. How will I go back to my life? What will people think? How can I face my kids?"

"Don't do it alone," I say. "You don't ever have to do it alone again. Go to meetings, say you are new and need help. Help will come."

She doesn't look like she entirely believes me, but that is okay. She knows she isn't the only one, and that is a start.

As she is walking away I think: and once you feel better, stronger ... come here and give back. The more we share, the more we speak our truth, the better we all become.


  1. Thank you... we all can give back. Thank you for sharing this!

  2. thank you for this

    My sister is in recovery (5 years this fall, woo hoo!) and she said she was surprised ot see how many people she knew at meetings, and they were indeed there for her

  3. This is a powerful and wonderful posting Ellie.