Non-fiction. A personal, portable support group for people in recovery from substance abuse, chronic illness, neglect, abuse, behaviorial disorders, depression, loss & grief.
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Chicken Soup for the Recovering Soul
An Angel Wore Fur
A bleak winter night closed over Detroit. For a lone, unsteady figure reeling along the wet pavement, the weather only seemed to punctuate how cold and dark his life had become.
Tom had bailed out without a parachute and was now plunging at top speed toward a sudden stop. He had no way of knowing that just around the corner, in a narrow, unlit alley, an angel awaited.
Tom poured himself into a business, only to see it wither and die. At thirty years of age everything was lost, including his spirit. Alone, broken, hope in the future gone, the IRS, bill collectors and his landlord were suffocating him. He escaped into alcohol and drugs. Addiction squeezed tighter and tighter.
His will gone, he staggered along the street that winter night. Drinking and drugs ruled his existence.
Tom called a cheap, fifth-floor walk-up home. But he preferred not to use the front door, as “serious” bill collectors often stalked that area. He learned to come and go on a metal fire escape hanging in an alley at the rear of the building.
Steadying himself against walls and trash cans, Tom groped along the darkened corridor. But a night spent feeding his habits was too much and with the last spark of consciousness fading, his body crumpled to the freezing asphalt.
Slowly, very slowly, a strange sensation pulled Tom back. Something wet was making quick, short, abrasive strokes over his face. As he lay on his back, another observation crept into Tom’s clouded mind. There was a weight on his chest. His hand moved to investigate. Fur? “What the . . . ?” His eyes snapped open and he found himself nose to nose with a very large cat. Startled, he scrambled to his feet with all of the speed his condition would allow and, finding the fire escape, he clambered up the five floors to his apartment.
The next day found Tom a bit more in control. Descending the iron steps, he was surprised by the cat leaping from a pile of cardboard boxes to greet him. Big, black, short-haired and wearing a collar, Tom thought the cat had to belong to someone in the neighborhood, so he began walking the streets, hoping if the cat recognized his home, he would go to it. As if an invisible leash tied the two together, the cat matched Tom stride for stride. Tom and the cat were still walking when the sun slipped from the sky. Returning to his apartment, he and the cat parted company at the fire escape.
A violent winter storm gripped Detroit the following day. Tom stayed inside and gradually a tiny cry caught his attention. Opening the window, he was amazed to see the snowcovered cat looking up at him, meowing softly. It had struggled up five icy flights of steel steps and bypassed several other apartments to present himself to Tom. Looking down at the pitiful creature, he opened the window a little wider and his new friend darted in, tail fully erect.
Life hadn’t yet bottomed out for the pair. In the next few months they were forced from the apartment and onto the streets. Sleeping in doorways, Salvation Army collection boxes and flophouses, Tom always felt that warm, little body next to his no matter where they passed the night.
By now Tom was so entangled in his own hopelessness, drugs and alcohol, he desperately looked for a way out. Sitting on an isolated river bank, he held a loaded revolver in his hand. Cocking and uncocking the hammer, putting the barrel in his mouth, then taking it out. He just needed a little spark or nudge and all of his troubles would be over. As he repositioned the gun’s barrel in his mouth, a persistent nudge gently pushed his hand and the gun away. Tom glanced down into the golden eyes staring up from his lap. Hey, if I do this, he thought, who would take care of the cat? Putting the gun away, he lay back on the grassy river bank and slept. Each time over the next few years, when his will to hold on weakened, the cat was there, staring deep into Tom’s very soul.
There was no bolt of lightning or clap of thunder, no inspiring revelation, but slowly and for reasons he still doesn’t understand, Tom starting fighting for control. Eventually, he walked to the front of a room full of strangers and said, “Hello, my name is Tom and I’m an alcoholic.” He found work and began putting his life together.
Eleven years had slipped by since his friend found him in that dark, cold alley. Tom came home from work one evening and after dinner sat down to watch television. As it had done for so many years, the cat snuggled down into his lap. Looking down, Tom gently stroked his friend. “You know,” Tom spoke softly, “you’ve really been here for me when I needed you and I think I’m getting myself together. I’m gonna be okay. If you want to leave or check out, you don’t have to stay on my account.” Then Tom dozed off, his chin falling forward to rest on his chest.
Only a few minutes passed when Tom awoke and immediately he knew his friend was gone. Those golden eyes that spoke so clearly, for so many years, were closed forever.
Most people whose lives are touched by addiction and other problems feel completely alone. They believe that no one else would understand or appreciate their situation, and, although they begin their journey in solitude, they soon find many others who share similar experiences and are willing to help them.
Often facing daunting circumstances and ever-present self-doubt, people just like you confront their fears of the future in order to change and find a better way to live. As you read, you’ll understand how an individual cannot do it alone, how mentors appear at the right time and place. And you’ll meet people who believed they needed no one’s help but began to reach out to others and be touched in return.
Restore your faith as our writers describe the birth, growth and nurturing of spirituality that enriches the lives of people in recovery. And for so many who struggled, feeling they had no choices, new “families” are found on every page as the authors share their discovery that families of origin, friends and even our support groups can surround us with life-affirming, healthy behaviors.
You’ll be filled with awe, wonder and appreciation at the resilience of people in the face of great odds to not only overcome but thrive and grow from difficult, seemingly insurmountable circumstances. Their stories are a mixture of hope, inner strength and serenity.
And, although most of the stories in Chicken Soup for the Recovering Soul focus on overcoming addiction to alcohol and other drugs, we’ve shared a selection of pieces that illustrate how the process of recovery is now applied to other quality of life issues from depression to chronic illnesses. The concepts of recovery and the use of Twelve- Step programs are applicable to many different issues with equally successful results. Supporting each other is an effective tool and consequently the recovering community is constantly growing. We should not be surprised. When something works so well, it will become part of people’s lives.
Finally, one of the most cherished virtues in the life of a recovering individual is the resurrection of joy and one of the greatest indicators of recovery is a desire to share what you have found. The authors represented in Chicken Soup for the Recovering Soul want to share the hope, resilience, joy and spirituality that have touched their souls. This book is about joy and life changes, a portable support group that binds millions of people together in a new community.
It is the recovering community.