My last stop for the day was a home in Eugene for recovering alcoholics, and on this particular dreary day, my inclination was to skip it. Instead, my 4-year-old son and I stood at the door, where we were to deliver a free copy of the Christian Science Monitor, something we did as volunteers every week for people who requested it.
The director of the recovery home was an angelic-looking, white-haired man who asked whether we would stop in for a few minutes.
"We deal with heavy problems here," he said, "and you have no idea how uplifted we all are when we see you and your happy, little boy in his cheerful red jacket appear on our doorstep."
Beyond the front room was a warm fire. A huge banner hanging from an archway read, "Hold On A Little Longer."
The director's name was George, and his gentle-eyed wife was named Honey. George told us he'd been an alcoholic most of his life, and he shared how he once overheard his little girl telling a neighbor girl what a wretch her father was, and the child responded, "In his heart, your father is a good man."
It was the first kind words he'd heard about himself in a long time, he said, and the idea stayed with him through years spent in and out of various treatment centers.
He was an atheist, he said, but one day, falling into the darkest despair he had known, he heard himself cry out, "Oh God — if there is a God — help me!"
And that was it, he said. All desire for alcohol left him.
He later tried to reconcile with his grown son but was told, "You weren't there for me when I needed you." So he and his new wife turned their affections to parenting others.
He started a carpet-cleaning business and was successful, and they opened their home to help addicts, utilizing kindness and ideas from the various facilities he had visited but adding a home-like atmosphere and serving juices, nuts and snacks.
Over the years, the recovery rate of their clients was so high that community support kept them going. I spoke with several people under their counseling and was stirred to discover how genuine and idealistic they all seemed.
Years later, I volunteered as a career counselor in Medford at the Omnihouse (all addictions) recovery home, which instituted a similar philosophy — the difference being their clients could choose to be either there or in jail.
One young man at Omnihouse wanted to become a teacher, so I took him to observe a class taught by my friend, Dawn Gwaltney.
He was amazed to observe the well-behaved students blossoming under her supportive methods. She told of holding a class ceremony in which they burned the paddle often used by a previous teacher. The last time I saw this young man, he had recovered and obtained a 4.0 grade-point average at Southern Oregon College (now Southern Oregon University) on his way to becoming a teacher.
Another man who inspired me with his resiliency was Gene, who volunteered to give a talk to the group at Omnihouse. I was surprised when he told about his own past struggle with alcoholism. He told of getting fired from jobs, taking others (such as dishwasher), giving it his all, getting promoted, followed by being fired again. Like George, he experienced recovery by turning to a higher power.
The following are lines from a poem I wrote inspired by these men:
If you'll just hold on a little longer, you'll find that you've grown stronger.
You'll leave the dross and keep the gold — a whole new world will unfold.
Till comes the day, you'll be able to say:
"I know now, I cannot be beaten, for somehow,
man was never meant to be defeated."
Jeanne Marie Peters lives in Ashland. She is a 1984 graduate of SOC (now Southern Oregon University).