By Stacy Wise
Editor’s note: Those affiliated with M.V. Community Services’ Red House will write an occasional column, sometimes anonymously, for The Times that reflects the work and life of those in recovery.
I work as the outreach coordinator for the Red House, the peer recovery support center adjacent to the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. For me, working in the recovery community since 2016 has been a meaningful and fulfilling, though sometimes heartbreaking, career path. Our recovery center membership has grown exponentially since I took my position last November. Seeing people once short on hope making meaningful connections is gratifying beyond description. The bulk of our members are hardworking Islanders, rounded out by some seniors and a few newcomers just beginning to get back on their feet, and in need of resources. The ultimate goal behind a peer recovery support center is that our programs be member-driven, rather than facilitated entirely by the staff. That said, it has been a challenge to draw in the kind of member participation we’re aiming for. Between busy work schedules, parenting, and grappling with the inherent hardships of early recovery, member engagement has yet to reach our desired level.
One Friday morning in late October was particularly challenging. Our staff was having trouble finding anyone to cook for our Recovery Cafe. Doug Smith, owner of Lucky Hank’s, makes incredible gourmet lunches on Wednesdays. Robert Cropper, our director of recovery management services, sometimes offers a beautifully prepared lunch. I cook when I can, and I love doing it. This particular Friday, with end-of-the-month deadlines looming, I didn’t have time to step up to the plate. I decided to order sandwiches from a local eatery; a loyal member picked them up and delivered them to the center. Not optimal, but the members who came were satisfied.
Later in the day, a woman stepped into our foyer. I greeted her, and could immediately sense her pain; I’ve been there myself. “I need help,” she said, fighting back tears. Although it’s difficult to see someone in the throes of late-stage addiction, it always gladdens my heart when I hear those words, because I know this could be the beginning of a powerful journey in recovery. We sat down and chatted for a while over tea, trading war stories and hope. I offered her our monthly calendar of events, a lively blend of recovery meetings, recreational activities, yoga, breathwork, meditation, community meals, and more. Noting a sparkle in her eyes as she completed our membership form, I mentioned we were always looking for members to help us with planning and facilitating events. I invited her to participate, if it was something she’d be interested in, and she replied, “I’m a good cook.”
Thinking back to my struggles earlier in the day, I told her about our triweekly recovery cafe. She said she would love to cook a meal for us the following Friday. I made no effort to conceal my delight at her proposition. It’s a win-win because service is a crucial component of a sustained recovery, and we needed a volunteer. We exchanged numbers, and I indicated which meetings I hoped to see her at that week.
A few days later I checked in with her to see if she’d be attending one of our Red House women’s groups, and if we were still on for Friday lunch. Yes and yes! When I saw her at the meeting, the difference in her demeanor was remarkable. We hugged, and I asked her for a shopping list. The Red House staff works to facilitate member participation; we don’t expect them to do it all on their own. She insisted she had it all in hand.
The following day at our recovery cafe, I was amazed when she showed up with two enormous trays of a deliciously fragrant chicken and rice dish. She had to leave for one of her children’s doctors appointments, so members and staff shared in the exquisitely prepared dish cooked with love by our newest member. There was enough left over for me to stop by Vineyard House, the sober living facility, with a large platter of the hearty meal.
Upon her return, our volunteer chef was greeted with an enthusiastic round of applause along with sincere thanks from a grateful outreach coordinator. She is part of the Red House family now. Research has shown that a strong connection to a vibrant recovery community significantly increases the likelihood of overcoming addiction. The best part of my job is seeing the look in someone’s eyes when they realize there is a safe and supportive place to go where they will be embraced by peers familiar with the physical and psychological challenges they will face. We are not alone; we recover together.
For more information about the Red House peer recovery support center, 12 Beach Road, Oak Bluffs, visit bit.ly/recoverymvcs, or call 508-693-2900.