Passing the Torch
“I know now that we never get over great losses; we absorb them, and they carve us into different, often kinder, creatures.”
― Gail Caldwell, Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship
Let me start off by saying that I am one of thousands of addicts/alcoholics whose life was touched by Sarah G. Pardue. I remember vividly lying in my bed, depressed and mad at the world that I was sitting in some “rehab” that was meant for people who lived on skid row or had no teeth. I was very quickly but gently told that addicts come in many different forms and that I just so happened to be one of them. I didn’t know who she was but there was something about her that attracted me to her. Not in a sexual way, but like there was more that I wanted and needed to know about this person. She very gently told me, “Dana, we’ll take this one step at a time.” I was so sour at the world that instead of thanking her for her kindness. I simply said, “Really, is that available stitched on a pillow.” I promptly proceeded to roll my eyes.
I guess maybe that comment or instincts kicked in about how I might be as a client. I was like a feral cat that was just angry and hurt. She had that perfect balance for me. She knew exactly how to push me without being condescending or aggressive. And she knew that I needed that very nurturing side to let me know that she was a human that didn’t have any intentions on hurt me.
I, unfortunately, can’t remember all 90 days of being a patient at Pine Grove’s Women’s Next Step Program, but I remembered the therapist that would forever change my life in a very unique kind of way. I was once handed a “character defect” worksheet where there were like one hundred or more on there that we were to circle as our personal character defects that have entangled our lives with addiction. I very quickly looked at both sides; handed the sheet back to her and said, “Nope. None of these describe me or my current, past or present behavior.” She had that “momma look” in her eye that can spark fear in Satan himself. She simply and very non-confrontational said, “Really? Would you like us all as a group help you pick out which ones belong to you?” I promptly answered, “No. I’m sure I can find a few.”
After 90 days of treatment at the “resort” as the husband at the time use to refer to it, I head out on my own with promises that I would one contact her in the event that I found my birth family or completed school. She had done a lot of something most people don’t really know how to do for me that made a huge impression on my life……LISTEN. To that struggling drug addict, that meant more than that next ‘high’ for me. I will admit that I didn’t go willingly. I also didn’t leave willingly even though I had completed the program because for once I was safe from most things. I cried because I was leaving a “special” and somewhat sterile environment from the outside world that was so mean.
About 5 years later, I tracked her down at work to tell her that I had gone back to school to become a drug/alcohol therapist and was currently in my undergraduate work. I also called to tell her that I been found my biological brother and was flying to meet him, 2 half brothers, my birth mom and birth father. We agreed to talk when I got back from my trip and that’s when the re-connection emotionally began for me. From that point forward, I felt like I owed her the unpayable because she had done the one thing that no one besides my parents and certain close friends had never done, at that point, not give up on me. She always saw some form of potential that even today I still can’t see.
She slowly began and I allowed her to begin to love me until I could love myself. Under the hard exterior, I was melting like butter. I was a kid again with an adult separate from my parents that seemed to love me and listen anytime I said anything. She knew that I was still married to my ex-husband and I was also doing internships under her and a couple other people. It was like everything had come full circle. She and her now deceased husband Doug Pardue became like surrogate parents to me.
They used some very tough love approaches to some of my behaviors and some I didn’t appreciate. I always, knew though, that it was done out of love. They would have “good cop, bad cop” sessions with me that made the show Cops look like pretend. I don’t know if some of you know what being “12 Stepped” means but I can tell you that I’ve had both of their shoes broken off in my hind parts, more than once to get my attention, in an attempt to save my life from whatever behavior was consuming me.
For whatever reason, the stars lined up perfectly again and she is now simply called “mom.” Our friendship grew into something much more special. She has been a “life force” for me for the last 14 years. They both saw me at my worst as a struggling addict of all kinds of addictions. And they were both there celebrating the victory of completing my undergraduate degree in psychology while finally leaving a very emotionally and sexually abusive marriage. Their compassion and my independence that I gained while becoming educated led to me believing that I was not nor would I ever be all those things I had been told all those years by him. I was the only one that could make that change. I wanted someone to come rescue me. This time, though, the realization was that I had to do this scary part on my own.
I became part of their family and she and I had lots of talks about life, in general. We always told each other that we loved one another no matter what. I also was getting to learn from the one that I considered as the “master” of counseling. I watched her every move both at work and away from work. I wanted to learn everything I could possibly learn from the “Yoda of 12-Step.” The key that she taught me to working with others was not with words but with actions. She quite simply taught me the definition of compassion. I’ve never lost the feeling of an innocent stranger that was getting paid a salary, that for once, cared about what I had to say about what had been done to me and how I felt.
A few months down the road she introduced me to my now legally married wife. She played matchmaker which was never intended. I’m glad the universe saw fit that we be together. We have a beautiful little boy and one on the way to thank all because of Sarah G. Pardue. Both she and Doug took me under their wings and showed me again that a healthy love was possible. I might not ever fully understand why they did that. However, grateful doesn’t begin to describe the feelings I have about what they did both directly and indirectly in changing the direction of my life.
I did complete a master’s degree in counseling in 2009. I have fallen in love with working with the ones that always seem to be the “leftovers of society.” Truly, this is partially due to my own trauma. But the other reason is because of the example that she set for me time after time. She didn’t just talk recovery, she lived recovery. The clients that she worked with saw this and you couldn’t help but to gravitate to something you don’t see every day in a person……AUTHENTICITY.
Sarah fulfilled her passionate dream of working with drug addicts/alcoholics and touched many lives. There is only 1 of the 30 women that I was in treatment with, at the time that I stay in contact with. She also happens to be the only one that never relapsed. I’ve had my struggles for sure. And the other former patient has been a prayer warrior for Sarah during her time of grief and acceptance of the death of her husband and her own illness that took her life.
As I sit in this hospital room, waiting for her time to meet her maker, past friends and family members. I also think about how much she impacted my life in a positive way. I’m just one addict that she took time with and let them know that there was still value in a person who had been told for so long that there was no value left. She did addiction work for 20+ years. How many addicts/alcoholics lives did she impact in ways that no one will ever know? To me her concept of counseling was very simple, “Read the person, not the book.” She taught me things about counseling that no book could ever convey. You just have to be able to watch the miracle happen.
What an example of true love, compassion and everything authentic that many of us as her patients, friends, family and co-workers got to see displayed even when she no longer went to work. The word RECOVERY has her picture out beside it. What a beautiful person that God loved me enough to allow into and bless my life. And because of her love and continuous fight against the war on the “disease of addiction” my future clients will also in some very special way will be touched by her as well. With tears in my eyes and streaming down my face, I can say that there are many people that will always remember the legacy that she left on the hearts of many addicts/alcoholics that didn’t deserve another chance.
I have taken that same compassion and concept into my own style of counseling. She has passed the torch to be paid forward as she did with many of us. I remember that everyone is individual and will have individual needs. Above all, she taught me compassion before judgment because in everyone there is some worth. Thank you for loving me, Sarah G. Pardue!!!!!
And she is now with the love of her life, Doug Pardue. You two will be dearly missed.
Sarah G. Pardue
“You were born a child of light’s wonderful secret— you return to the beauty you have always been.”
― Aberjhani, Visions of a Skylark Dressed in Black