Monday, June 7.
My alarm goes off earlier than usual, but it’s of little consequence since I’ve spent most of the night staring at the ceiling stewing in a less than subtle brew of anxiety and excitement, like a teenager before the first day of freshman year. Today marks my first day of employment as Director of Communications for The Magdalen House, lovingly known by many simply as “Maggie’s”.
I am not an alcoholic myself, but like so many, I have not escaped the reach of this disease. I feel an undercurrent of purpose which pulls me past my anxieties and gets me moving.
I place my lunch in my bag next to a fresh notebook and my thermos of tea before I leave. I feebly vow to stop over thinking and head out the door.
The truth is, thanks to the pandemic and the nature of my last job, I haven’t been in a physical office in ages. I tell no one this and hope to attribute any spastic behavior to a personality quirk.
I arrive at the house on Gaston Avenue.
It’s raining that kind of relentless early summer drizzle that is so purely Texan: gloomy, frizz inducing, and long overstaying its welcome, yet you dare not complain, knowing all too well the unabated heat that awaits when the storms subside. Despite the downpour, the house stands in effortless elegance with a porch that stretches for miles and a warm glow coming from within. There’s an indisputable magic about it, initially stunning you with its beauty, then charming you inside; a house that says come on in, the water’s fine.
I’m greeted by my new assistant, Sierra Godfrey, a woman so talented she will spend the day proving to me she is very near total world domination. I remind myself to make friends with her before her inevitable takeover. Sierra, officially titled “Communications Assistant”, is what appears to be a master of all trades, operating as our resident photographer and a skilled graphic designer. She has tabs open where she’s updating our website, creating social media posts, working on the copy for an upcoming newsletter and she casually mentions to me her interest in both painting and film editing/production which she does on the side. She also began college as a biochemist, before studying marketing and plays bass sometimes.
I wonder if she’s about to tell me she trains competitive show poodles, too.
Alarmingly, I soon discover this wealth of talent is not necessarily unique to Sierra. I will come to find that nearly everyone I meet today carries with them an arsenal of experience that would intimidate even the most seasoned executive. I decide if women like this, who could work anywhere, choose to work here, there must be something about this place.
The workday speeds by in a blur and before I can catch my breath, it’s time to prepare for our first in person birthday party, an event where milestone achievements in sobriety are celebrated by the Maggie’s community.
Sierra readies her digital camera, a heavy and indecently overcomplicated device, and we go downstairs to join over 100 people gathered in our community room. I try to find a spot at the back, dodging shrieks of excitement and tearful embraces between members on my way there. The energy is palpable. For a place full of people who constantly use the word “recovery” this room is absolutely saturated with laughter.
I then witness something remarkable.
As each of the honorees rises to retrieve their chip celebrating their length of sobriety, they say a few words acknowledging their spiritual connection to this work and express gratitude for their sponsors and peers. This is usually followed by a moment of levity where there’s some recognition of their own blunders on their recovery journey. They make a joke or two at their own expense, displaying not only a keen awareness of their own imperfections, but also the ability to not take themselves too seriously. I think how I wish many of the people in my life knew how to do this, alcoholic or otherwise.
But most often, they cry. They cry in front of a room of people who I see as strangers, but which they seem to recognize as family.
I witness each of them, approaching the podium composed, until they turn to face the room, and encounter an unspoken recognition and a limitless forgiveness, which they have so long ceased to allow themselves. And they cry. And no one is stopped or hushed or shuffled off. There is a nearly unnerving sense of generosity in the room. As each person recounts their journey of recovery, some still very fresh from detox and others veterans, the simple gift of our attention gently washes over them, allowing the rare treasure of unmitigated vulnerability to reveal itself. Come on in, the room seems to say, the water’s fine.
I notice by this time that I am quite literally sobbing on the job.
The evening continues and over and over, I think how could the next story of sobriety be different – be something I haven’t heard. Yet, I am moved again and again, immersed in an ocean of vulnerability and stunned at the boundless courage these women have to share their innermost selves with a room of 100 people.
I am the Director of Communications. I am here to increase growth, digital engagement, and build community.
I think how hollow the term “building community” has felt until now. Bandied about by most of my colleagues in the digital media field, it’s a term thinly veiled as inclusivity but ultimately distilling down to a mirage, masking little more than brand awareness and conversion rates.
Here, at The Magdalen House, I experience a real community, by its purest definition, existing completely outside of the digital space and effortlessly providing the deep and abiding connections which we all long for that social media so often promises but rarely delivers.
Emboldened and inspired, I experience onslaught of creativity, but can’t tear myself away from the moment to note any of these thoughts down.
Approaching the podium, and one of the last speakers of the night, is a woman accepting her 10 year sobriety chip. Her speech, which was surely impromptu yet mimics a well-rehearsed call to arms, instructs every one of us that we are all welcome at Maggie’s; and that she’s not going anywhere, and neither are we.
I think how we’re going to need a bigger house.
About Natalie Young
Natalie grew up in Plano, Texas, and attended Midwestern State University, where she graduated cum laude with a BFA in Theatre. Her passion for storytelling and love for service soon evolved into a keen interest in communications, specifically in the nonprofit sector, where she's served for the past 12 years. She is thrilled to join the team at The Magdalen House, which provides a unique opportunity for her to make a direct and meaningful impact on her community by educating others on alcoholism and witnessing and articulating inspiring stories of recovery every day. Outside of the office, Natalie remains active in the theatre and music community. You may see her onstage performing with various local companies such as Shakespeare Dallas, Second Thought Theatre, and Theatre Three. She is also a long-time member of Dallas' own Polyphonic Spree, where she sings in the choir.