The tall, thin figure with a messy mop of salt and pepper curls has become a sort of permanent fixture at the little white church. Every day, without fail, he sweeps the steps of the church, clearing it of leaves or dirt or snow, depending on the season. On Tuesday nights, passersby see him spraying down the small windows, reaching as high as only a man standing at 6’4 can on a seven-foot ladder. And on Sundays, he’s the first to arrive to mass, and always the last to leave, save for the pastor.
Eldon is in his early 60s. Judging by his soft-spoken demeanor and his slow, gentle movements, one would think he’s only ever lived a life of peace. Maybe even one that’s bordered on boring.
That assumption couldn’t be farther from the truth.
As a young boy in rural Ontario, Eldon was the eldest of 11 siblings, the son of a farmer and a homemaker. His father was a brute, he says, an unforgiving man with a short fuse and a violent temper. As one of only two boys – and as the oldest – Eldon was often the recipient of his father’s angry blows.
At 12, Eldon was introduced to the bottle by a cousin, who shared Eldon’s pain. His father was Eldon’s brother, and the siblings shared a common habit – physically abusing their sons. Alcohol, Eldon was told, was a happy escape from the violence.
By the age of 14, Eldon was an alcoholic. He was kicked out of his home by 15, had fathered a child by 16, and lived on the streets until he was 21 years old. In those few and painful years, he was routinely attacked, assaulted, violated and attempted suicide twice.
“I would think most people wouldn’t believe my story if I told them,” shares Eldon. “It’s probably just as unbelievable to people as owning a house with three bathrooms is to me.”
When Eldon was in the hospital after his second suicide attempt (an officer found him bleeding behind a dumpster belonging to a restaurant), it was there and then, he says, that recovery began.
“Not even in the physical sense that there were doctors to sew me back up,” he says with a slow smile. The officer who’d found him came back to visit him two days later, not on official police business, but just to say hello. Just to remind Eldon not all was lost.
“He didn’t have to do that,” acknowledges Eldon. “For some reason, I just started telling him my whole story. I remember breaking down and crying. I cried for what felt like days and days, which I’d never done, not since I was a kid.
“He just looked at me and said, ‘Son, you know there’s a life that doesn’t look like this, right?’ For some reason, maybe by the grace of God, that stuck with me.”
The kind officer introduced Eldon to a group of volunteers who ran a shelter for families. There, Eldon learned how to cook. He befriended the staff and chatted up those who came to stay for the evening. He started learning how to write formal letters, and before long, he was reaching out to local businesses to ask for donations and funding support.
What Eldon learned, most of all, is that recovery is a process – and to make that process easier, it helps to give back.
“It wasn’t just the police office,” he says. “It was everybody that worked at the shelter. It was everyone that came in and out every day. The gratitude was awesome. They don’t know that it’s because of each and every one of them were important to my recovery. So what I did every day, in honour of them and in thanks to them, I gave everything I knew to give.”
Many mental health professionals and recovering addicts agree that the service to others is essential to recovery; with giving back in mind, long-term sobriety isn’t only possible, it’s probable. During addiction, one can typically be described as selfish; in recovery, giving back is exactly counter to the way one had been living before.
If you have struggled with addiction, giving back — in any way, whether it’s volunteering at a church, attending support groups, or even making a meal once a week for an elderly friend — will bring you so much peace. You’ll come to discover that you’re now contributing to a chain – the person who helped you has brought you here, and the person you’re now helping will extend the kindness to someone else. Helping someone else find and discover the gifts of recovery helps you keep what you’ve learned – and in this life, how many gifts can one honestly say they can keep and give away at the same time?