Working With Others, Outside The Rooms of AA

By sheelah777 04/26/19
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The exterior looked oddly familiar.I visited the offices a few years earlier for domestic violence therapy after my then-husband attempted to hang himself in the garage in front of my kids and I.He didn’t succeed in his suicide attempt, which was later determined to be a “call for help.” The building was situated in a small suburban bayshore town and flanked by accountant’s and medical offices. I walked in the door and up a stairway to a door with an unassuming sign. There was security camera up above, which I liked, and I had to be buzzed in.The offices were sparsely decorated, but warm and welcoming.Today, I wasn’t there for therapy, instead I was going to volunteer for my shift at 2nd Floor, a confidential youth helpline in New Jersey.

2nd Floor is a program of 180 Turning Lives Around, which empowers survivors and families affected by domestic violence and sexual assault to find the courage and strength to turn their lives around. Years earlier, they helped me so much and I was here to give back as part of my program of recovery.I didn’t realize how much my experience there would impact me.

For me, giving back and helping people is an integral part of my recovery from alcohol and drugs.As part of my wreckage from the disease of addiction, I lost custody of my three children, and years in New Jersey family courts only resulted in unsupervised visitation.Today, the relationship with my 8-year-old is wonderful and we enjoy our visits, but that isn’t so with my older two kids. They have been alienated from me and there is little to no contact with them, minus a few dismissive messages on Instagram or hurried text messages. My 12-year-old daughter even told me to stop texting her.I haven’t stopped and continue to text her I love her unconditionally with the hope that one day she’ll realize I was sick and made mistakes.I also got better, and I recover every day.I pray that one day my older kids will be able to see that alcohol and pills were NEVER more important than them, I was sick.One day, I hope they sympathize with that and learn to forgive me. Today, three years in recovery, that is not the case.

I was nervous for the night of my first shift at 2nd Floor.My training taught me that callers are usually between the ages of 10 to 24, live in New Jersey and they need to talk about an issue or problem that they are facing.Topics range from peer pressure to sexuality to allegations of abuse.I fielded all the text messages that came in that night, too nervous to man the phones.Uncertain at first with my responses to these vulnerable souls, I quickly became acclimated and my response time lessened.I jumped in and identified with what the callers were going through.Time flew and before I knew it, my volunteer shift was over.I didn’t want it to end, I wanted to do more.I felt like I helped people that night and my shift supervisor told me I did a good job. I floated out of the offices, reminiscent of the euphoria of the ‘pink cloud’ in early recovery.

As part of my recovery from addiction to alcohol and drugs, I maintain an abstinence-based lifestyle, attend 12-step meetings, practice yoga and group meditations, read daily, help others - and a hundred other things that keep me on the right path each day.I don’t do any of these things perfectly or on time every day, which goes against my Virgo nature, but recovery has allowed me to accept my imperfections as a human who makes mistakes.After volunteering that night at the helpline, I realized that this (too) will be another tool in my kit of well-being. I felt useful that night, like I made a difference - even if for only a few individuals.We all need help, and within us all lies an innate right to be understood, valued and heard.

My life is not what I want it to look like, but I am grateful for recovery and how far it has taken me.I am honored that I get to volunteer at all, especially with an organization that helps youth and those suffering from domestic violence.I had no idea when I walked into the offices of 180 Turning Lives Around four years ago to begin putting the pieces of my life together, that I would return years later a strong, empowered woman in recovery ready to give back what was so openly and lovingly given to me.Since I can’t help my older kids right now, I am doing all I can to help other struggling children of New Jersey.I’ll keep working on my recovery so when the day comes I can see my older children again, I’ll be just that more prepared to be the supporter they always needed.

- Sheilah Powell is a person in long term recovery, remaining alcohol and drug free since December 12, 2015.She is currently the Operations Manager at The Ammon Foundation, a nonprofit organization with the mission of empowering individuals in addiction recovery through combating stigma and providing strategic support to enable personal success.

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