Earlier this week, Swenny and I shared dinner with 12 men living in a recovery home. They have removed themselves or have been removed from their families, friends, and everyday lives to focus on their recovery 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These individuals have hit bottom, some harder than others, and are finding the will to get up and reclaim themselves and the men they were before alcoholism and addiction stole the best of them.
We have been sharing meals with residents of this home for many years. At the first meal, we were a young family wanting to give back. Nice people from a partner congregation who enjoyed taking our turn around this very special table.
As Swenny’s alcoholism worsened, I would marvel at how he separated himself from them. Acting as if he had no idea what they were going through, a struggle that was theirs but never his. Now, though, he has accepted his place as one of them. As a man seeking sobriety and the possibilities it holds. Some recognize him from meetings, and occasionally he can be found in private conversations with those aware of their shared position on the front of a battle to which they were drafted.
Each dinner begins with two questions. One for the residents and one for the guests. Answering is not an option, and dinner isn’t over until everyone takes their turn. The questions are never easy, and the answers can be difficult to hear. Every person’s answer is acknowledged with a simultaneous thank you from the group, followed by the respondent’s name.
While rote, the practice is not insincere. Residents and guests listen to one another so intently that silence follows each answer, leaving long periods where no one speaks. I have never known there to be a spontaneous response. Instead there is nodding, appreciation, acknowledgment and respect.
When the formality of the guided conversation is done, the men sit back in their chairs and tell tales, encourage one another, make fun and enjoy each other’s company. Just like a family.
A family to which we, too, belong.