Recovery Notes #8

Maybe God does take care of fools and drunks

I always think of the little white house on Yellowknife’s 54th Street as my place of healing. It was my home for the first three years of my sobriety and I was the last person to live there. By the time I left, it had a buckling foundation so it was donated to the fire department and burnt down to serve as training exercise for firefighters. Today it is the site of the Lynn Brooks Transitional Home for women and I like to imagine that the healing energy I found there has made its way to the women who pass through the home.

The house came to me against all odds in the first autumn of my sobriety.

Back in the 1982 when I moved to Yellowknife, the city was growing rapidly and the vacancy rate had been zero for more than a decade. I spent the first month sleeping in somebody’s walk-in closet. Then a single ad for a four-bedroom rental house appeared in the local newspaper the same week I met a miner during a hungover morning-after while drinking the dregs of booze abandoned the night before (don’t ask). After a ridiculous conversation (considering what we were doing) during which we both assured each other that we were practically teetotalers, we decided to share the house and rent out the other two rooms. Bret* also agreed to lend me money for my share of the rent.

We lived there for most of a year during which Bret and I consumed numerous bottles of beer and wine, he reconciled with his estranged wife and daughter and moved them into the house, quit drinking in favour of smoking dope (and left recovery pamphlets around the house which made me cry but not quit) and then started up again, then quit again (both booze and dope this time). I sobered up in August while Bret and his family were on vacation and, in September, we received an eviction notice because the house had been sold.

Bret bought a trailer for his family, leaving me with no place to go. I didn’t know any sober people with a room for rent and renting a room in a drinking house was dangerous for me. The only suitable accommodation I could find were bachelor units rented by the YWCA for $800 a month but, even though I’d gotten a research job at CBC, that was beyond my means. Then, not long before I had to move, the woman who was buying our place called on the off-chance that somebody might want to take over the little house on 54thStreet that she had been renting. The tiny one-bedroom house with a small patio in front was perfect for me and the rent was only $400 which I could afford. Maybe God does take care of fools and drunks.

On moving day my sponsor, Jen, showed up on my doorstep with a crew of inmates from the local jail. (Jen ran a non-profit organization and the guys at the jail were assigned to her for a half-day a week as part of their work program.) Dressed in regulation green work pants and shirts, the guys marched into my house and then marched out carrying all my worldly goods:  the components of my bed and a motley collection of boxes. The whole move was done in less than an hour — the easiest move I’ve ever had.

Then Jen got busy helping me furnish the place, schlepping me over to the house of friends who were leaving town and wanted to get rid of their living room furniture. They were going to give it away for free but Jen had a different idea. She thought it was time I started to pay my own way so she made me wash walls in exchange for the chairs. At the time, I was not impressed. Looking back today, I am grateful.

My first night in the house, I went over to a colleague’s place to do my laundry. Everybody there was going to a Hallowe’en party, dressing up, laughing, drinking beer and I overflowed with the longing to be a part of it, to be a normal person, not somebody who had to spend her evenings attending meetings in dusty old church basements. But I knew I couldn’t do it. I packed my clothes into their green garbage bag and set off to walk the six or so blocks to 54th Street. It had been raining all day and I could feel the pinpricks against my cheeks as the rain turned into sleet. After a while I realized that the sleet was mixed with tears.

My tenancy wouldn’t be official until the next day so there was no electricity in the house when I came in.  I made my way through the chaos of furniture and boxes by the dim streetlight that shone in the window. I lit a candle that I found in one of the boxes, hung a blanket over the window and wrestled my mattress onto the floor. I made the bed and crawled in and as I looked at the play of shadows on the ceiling, I felt peace settle into my bones. My quiet inner voice told me that this was the place where I would heal and that all would be well.

That night I slept deeply for the first time in sobriety.

 

*Not the real name

This blog has been inspired by reactions from readers of “Free Love,” my novel about recovery from alcoholism. I have often been asked why I chose to write about that particular subject. While there are several answers to that question, the most honest one is that I’m a recovering person myself. That opened the door to more questions. So I have started this blog to share some of my thoughts about alcoholism and addiction, based on my experience and observation.

If you’d like to read or gift Free Love, check out my SALE PRICES!

Free Love gets Honourable Mention

 

WIBA-honourablemention-hrI am thrilled that “Free Love” has received an Honourable Mention in the Whistler Independent Book Awards.

But I have to admit it took me a while to be happy about this. At first, rather than being grateful for what I got, I saw only what I didn’t get. Oh, I dutifully made a promotional fuss by announcing the award on Facebook and basking in the congratulatory comments. But I wasn’t really that impressed. I only focused on the fact that “Free Love” hadn’t made the long list. It wasn’t until the gold stickers came in mail and I started to put them on the books that I realized that for a first novel to get an Honourable Mention in a Canada-wide contest is … well … quite an honour. Now I’m delighted.

The Whistler Independent Book Awards were established this year by the Whistler Writing Society and Vivalogue Publishing. These are the first juried Canadian awards to recognize exceptional quality in independent publishing. The establishment of these awards recognizes the explosion in independent publishing over the last decade as more and more professional writers publish their own books.

The landscape of “Free Love”: Hamilton

Even though the protagonist in my book Free Love, Marissa, is a fictional character, I have given her some elements of my own biography (it was easier that way). In particular, when she was a young girl, she and her family immigrated to Canada from Holland, as I did. And  Marissa grew up in Hamilton, Ontario in the same era as I did: the 1960s.

Unlike Marissa’s, my family moved around a lot in Hamilton when I was growing up. There was one neighbourhood where I lived for a few years, starting from when I about 7 or 8. It was an inner-city neighbourhood full of working class families. Hamilton was known for steel production and just about everybody’s dad (except mine) worked for the steel company. It is this neighbourhood that comes to mind when I remember my childhood, and this is neighbourhood where I have placed the young Marissa.

I haven’t walked the streets, where young Marissa and I ran around, for more about thirty years. So when I was writing the scenes set in that neighbourhood, I relied on memory and imagination. But Mike Clark, an old friend in Hamilton and a photographer, was inspired to photograph it after reading Free Love. Much has changed from when I remember. It is more rundown and many of the big maple trees are gone. But the streets have that same gritty feel. Here are some of Mike’s photographs of Marissa’s and my old neighbourhood as it looks today.

IMG_0149Ford Street: “I turned the corner onto Ford Street, raced past the field and Mr. Smithers’house (making sure to keep my fingers crossed to ward off evil spirits) until I came to a stop in front of Nina’s grey stucco house across from the railroad tracks.”

IMG_0157The tunnel: “…when I got to the tunnel and peered into its gloom, it looked empty. Holding my breath against the stench of piss, I dragged my cart through the debris of broken glass and flattened cigarette packs.

 

IMG_0154The field: “Both the field and Nina and George’s stucco house that had stood on the corner were gone. In their place was a sterile apartment building.”

 

IMG_0151Yonge Street: “He jumped on a flatbed when it was still going fast, before it slowed down to take the turn into the Yonge Street underpass.”