Frank was in his early thirties. He sat alone on a park bench. It was June 2001. He had a couple of king cans of beer and some other “stuff” in his pocket for later. Frank says that in those days he needed to drink in order to get ready to drink. That night he thought about the people he grew up with. Everyone seemed to have things he wanted – houses, cars, families, BBQs on the weekend. That’s what the disease does, it isolates people. Recovery is about learning to be in community again.
“The drinking had gotten out of hand,” recalls Frank. “I was on the verge of getting fired. They gave me a couple of days to get myself sorted out. I went to the doctor and he referred me to Renascent.”
Charles was across town that same night. He was staying at the Inglewood Arms, a rooming house where he paid rent by the week.
Charles is a priest by vocation. Until everything became unmanageable, he was a priest by occupation. Drinking took all of that away. When he entered treatment at Renascent in July 2001, he literally had nothing.
Frank and Charles entered treatment the same day. They were placed as roommates. For the first week of treatment they scarcely talked.
Frank is a tall man and his frame sagged under the weight of everything he carried into treatment. He kept his eyes on the floor. “He’d share in group,” recalls Charles. “But he’d never look up and he could barely be heard.”
Charles was quite content with his quiet roommate. He wasn’t interested in talking or making friends. On the streets he’d learned to always be on guard. It was the only way he knew how to protect the few possessions he had.
“I can only see now that treatment was a movement from isolation into fellowship, into community,” says Charles. “That’s what the disease does, it isolates people. Recovery is about learning to be in community again.”
One afternoon following a group session Frank and Charles were in their room. “Hey,” said Frank. Charles ignored him.
“Hey,” Frank said again. “We’ve been roommates for a week. Why don’t we talk to each other?”
The question hung there. Frank was undaunted and continued. He drew Charles into a conversation. It was the first real conversation either man had had in a long time. A friendship was born.
“That’s the thing about treatment,” says Frank. “Lawyers and street people can bond. It doesn’t matter about status, race, creed, nationality. The shame and everything going down the drain, we share that in common.”
On discharge day Frank and Charles left treatment in a cab heading east.
“I was going to the St. Vincent de Paul Society in the east end,” says Charles. He was destitute but he was sober. Both were a little overwhelmed but hopeful. They had a new beginning.
Frank got out first. Charles was going a little farther east. They parted without a lot of sentiment, only a “see you at a meeting,” or that sort of thing. As the cab drove off, Frank walked across the street and straight into a bar.
“I did everything they told me not to do,” says Frank.
Even as he left treatment, Frank was struggling. He wasn’t sure he was ready, but he was too proud to ask for more help. But a seed had been planted. He continued to struggle for almost a year. He would attend meetings, only to sneak away to the familiar comfort of old habits.
Periodically, Frank and Charles would cross paths. Charles had remained actively involved in the Renascent Alumni community, eventually being hired as the Alumni Care Manager. Today, Charles is an Access Centre Counsellor.
On the evening of Charles’ one-year medallion Frank was seated on a bar stool contemplating whether or not to go to the meeting. Ultimately he did.
“Did he tell you he cried through the whole thing? I kept feeding him cake trying to get him to stop,” recalls Charles with a smile. “‘Here eat this,’ I’d say offering him another forkful while a few other guys worked the phones trying to find a detox bed for him.”
“I cried through the whole thing,” says Frank. “Charles was so good to me – to take time out of his medallion to deal with me.”
Frank ended up in Brampton for days while the booze and “other stuff” came out of his system. He recalls Charles coming to visit. Again, the particulars of the conversation are fuzzy to each man. Perhaps it is only important to note that they talked. In the exchange something happened. Frank returned to Renascent and reconnected with the counsellors. He did not enter residential treatment again but became actively involved as an alumnus.
“Renascent showed me the way,” he says. “That’s why my mother wanted me to stay involved. She saw the way it changed my life. When I came back from a meeting at Renascent, she saw something in me that she liked.”
“I am awed by the recovery I’ve seen in Frank’s life,” says Charles. “He’s different than the man I met in treatment. I was honoured to be at his wedding in 2007. When I see him speak he stands tall and confident. He’s been an active alumnus for years and always willing to help out. It’s awe inspiring… that’s the only way to describe it.”