Wally’s Story

From being impacted to being an impact

One of my most important, and favourite, responsibilities was to thank all the donors who believe in what we do.

The number 40 has significant spiritual meaning. It is associated with overcoming challenges, struggles, wilderness, temptation, being tested, and probation. It has been a remarkable 40 years of continuous sobriety. Every step shared with my wife Pat. Partners for 55 years, three wonderful children, and seven granddaughters who love us just because we are Nana and Poppa.

I was 36 when I returned from a business trip to Europe. I had hit a bottom. Alcohol had brought me to my knees. I asked Pat if she would help me. Like yesterday, I remember her response. Pat said nothing. She walked across the room and kissed me on the cheek.It was the beginning of our shared journey in recovery. At that point, I had no idea how important Serenity Renewal for Families would be in my journey and how much impact people like YOU can have on the lives of people struggling with addictions. Your gesture of a financial gift will directly impact an individual, a family, a partner, a parent…all impacted by addictions.

Initially in the “pit of despair”, I reluctantly found my way to Alcoholics Anonymous. Pat reached out to Al Anon. At first, I didn’t like going. I did not want to depend on, or be beholden to, anyone or anything. I really disliked the spiritual talk. I had no reason to believe in God and there was nothing in my experience that offered any hope that God believed in me. But I liked the stories, the laughter, and the fellowship of AA meetings.

As my journey of recovery developed, so did my appreciation for AA meetings. We have shared so many wonderful friendships. Known the great joy of recovery. Wept over the loss of friends. Often astounded, but never surprised, by the impact of addictions on the family.

So many ups and downs in the first year. It was highly disruptive and difficult for Pat. Newly sober, I wanted to be responsible for everything in our household.

Despite being a mostly absent father, I now wanted to take charge and set new rules for our children and our household. Pat attended a weekend Al Anon retreat facilitated by Sister Louise Dunn and Alexa Smith. Pat was captivated by their message. 38 years ago, Sister Louise and Alexa announced the beginning of a new non-profit named Serenity Renewal for Families (SRF). This new non-profit would focus on the impact of addictions on the family.

Pat had grown up in an alcoholic family. Yet she had never heard anyone explain how that impacted her relationships and her family of today. Drawn by their passion, Pat became Serenity Renewal for Families’ first volunteer. Later, Pat was the first employee hired by the two co-founders.

Pat and I became great friends with Alexa and Sister Louise. Often, Sister Louise and I would share our love of desserts together. One evening, the four of us were out on a dessert night and Sister Louise began to write notes on her table napkin. She was asking us organizational questions. Words like Articles of Incorporation, Board of Directors, financing, budgets. There was no ceremony, not even a formal ask. At one point, Sister Louise simply printed “WALLY” on the napkin. That was how I became the volunteer Chair of the first Board of Directors for Serenity Renewal for Families. One of my most important, and favourite, responsibilities was to thank all the donors who believe in what we do.

I wanted to better understand what Serenity Renewal for Families offered to the family members who reached out for help. I began taking some of the weekend workshops which were based on the spiritual principles of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. I learned that my recovery was so much more than just not drinking. Recovery was about how I chose to live my life, what I cared about, how I chose to love others and how I would allow others to love me.

In the beginning, Serenity Renewal for Families received much support from the nuns of the Congregation de Notre Dame. Many of the nuns, as teachers, understood how addictions impacted the family, especially the children. Serenity Renewal for Families has never been a “religious organization.” We serve people from all walks of life, cultural identities, ethnicities, and sexual orientation. One of the most important foundations that still holds true today is that our organization is kind, compassionate, tender with those who still struggle.

Early on, we decided that no one would be turned away from Serenity Renewal for Families for financial reasons. Often due to the circumstances that their addictions have taken them to, in recovery from those addictions, the families are often living in poverty. For over 38 years, people recovering from addictions and their loved ones who need support are provided a compassionate humanistic approach. People can access our services (presently through a virtual platform) without being judged or turned away. Our sliding scale, which includes a 100% subsidy, allows access to all who need our services.

Shortly after becoming Board Chair, I began addiction studies. It was a remarkable time of learning for me. I was constantly being drawn towards those themes that had initially caused me so much difficulty when I had first come into A.A. The spirituality of recovery, the steps, grief, shame, acceptance, humility, honesty, and grace. All these themes captured and held my attention. They still do today.

Sister Louise Dunn died three years ago. Although she may not be present to greet us, her spirit remains ever-present. I most feel her presence when giving a workshop. There is seldom a day that passes when I am speaking with people in recovery that someone does not want to share or hear a story about Sister Louise.

I have facilitated more than 300 workshops at Serenity Renewal for Families. A few years ago, I decided to scale back on my workload. I was doing more fishing, less workshops, and seeing very few clients. All that changed with Covid. These past two years have been brutal for the recovery community. Addictions is a family disease of loneliness, separation and isolation. Covid has been unforgiving, especially for those who are living alone. During Covid, women have been disproportionately affected by isolation or abuse. Often, Serenity Renewal for Families has been their only contact with the outside world.

I was most skeptical when Neil Leslie, Executive Director SRF, approached me about offering virtual workshops. How could we duplicate those essential experiences of warmth, tenderness, and caring? How could we create an atmosphere where people are comfortable supporting and sharing with one another? The vision involved a very substantial commitment by SRF staff and volunteers. So much work in putting the technology in place, training staff, requesting help from volunteers. All the workshop material had to be revised for the virtual world.

In many ways, Serenity Renewal for Families had to be better than we had ever been before. Despite my initial doubts, our virtual educational workshops been a huge success and have now carved out their own space on our calendars. Virtual workshops and counselling will need to exist beyond Covid.

Yet, we also know there is a hunger for live programming. Participants often say, “Serenity Renewal has saved my life” or “I don’t know where I’d be without Serenity Renewal for Families”.

Serenity Renewal for Families has also continued to offer counselling to individuals, couples and families, all virtually. Many clients were very resistant to meeting with counsellors virtually. Their attitudes quickly changed after one or two sessions. Our counsellors have provided the much-needed care, support and understanding that was made so much more challenging by Covid.

Thank you for allowing us to offer of the services we do…. counselling, family programs, teen programs, support groups and our educational workshops. Every service that we offer helps family members affected by addictions to lead a fuller life with a brighter future. With your donations today…. we can continue to do that tomorrow. I am not a particularly good fisherman. I am regularly out fished by my granddaughter. Perhaps I will push back my retirement by another year. Knowing that with your support, we will have lots of vulnerable people accessing our programs offered by Serenity Renewal for Families. 

Yours in Service,

Wally C.

P.S. Please make your donation today to help ensure people who can’t afford to pay, can still have the support they need. Thanks to a generous donor, your donation will be doubled!
Please make your gift today, by mail, on-line by clicking here or if you prefer call Neil at 613-784-9754 to donate by credit card over the phone.