A volunteering story by: Kimberly McLaughlin
Ruth volunteered at the hospital in order to complete her community hours ordered by the court system. After receiving this tumultuous task as retribution for the dangerous offense of drinking and driving, Ruth cautiously remained determined to complete the one hundred hours needed to fulfill her legal agreement for the crime she had committed. One hundred hours seemed like a huge amount of time and she often wondered how she would ever find the time to satisfy that requirement, while being a parent to a teenage son and a full time employee. Ruth had many options to pursue but believed going to a hospital and devoting eight hours per week, in addition to her primary work schedule, was going to be the most fulfilling experience and extensive enough to not carry this burden months on end. Thirty two hours a month was dedicated to the nurses, doctors, and patients at the hospital. Ruth would be there to be an extra set of hands and feet for any simple tasks the staff there needed. She would distribute blankets, pillows, and linens to the beds of patients coming and going that week. Ruth made coffee and tea for the visitors and people passing through. Since she was not a licensed nurse or medical staff, her responsibilities were limited to that of making beverages, passing out food and snacks, and preparing the rooms for incoming patients who had recently fallen ill or injured. Being a wife and mother for the majority of adulthood, Ruth had not been used to such a fast paced, chaotic environment, filled with devastated individuals and families. She was a privileged homemaker, who happened to have a major problem with alcohol. Once she had committed her third driving under the influence offense and received the sentence of one hundred hours of community service, she started from scratch and did what the people in Alcoholics Anonymous told her to, which was work and begin to become a productive member of society. She started to work at a clothing store to inch closer to that status. While working here, she had her court date and agreed upon the terms and conditions to satisfy her legal agreement. Working at this hospital was incredibly stressful and emotionally wearing, due to the nature of the injuries and illnesses the patients were suffering from. Ruth began to enjoy going to the hospital and felt she was really making a difference in their lives and that she was truly helping the team of hospital workers who added items to her checklist, week after week.
Ruth started to read to the patients and talk to them during their time spent in the cold, isolating walls of the hospital. She heard their stories from when they were little or during times of adventure, which shaped them to who they are today. She found she forgot she was logging hours to complete this bewildering agrrement, but that she actually liked to go. Of course there were the heartbreaking days in which a patient had passed or diagnosis worsened, and Ruth dealt with those tragedies by immersing herself into forming connections with new faces and hearing new tales. However, she never forgot how much of an impact they made on her life and her perspective, not just during her time spent there, but a lasting impression. Her tasks may have seemed minor but without her, patients’ needs would go without attention and visitiors may not have felt as welcomed. Her friendly face and upbeat energy changed the dynamic of the melancholy hospital and let light into otherwise depressing rooms. She went month after month, logged more and more hours, until her ordered time was completed. Ruth still pulls lessons in perspective when she thinks of her time spent there and knows that each hour was building block in the woman she is today.
Ruth was inspired to volunteer by the group of Alcoholics Anonymous. This support network of individuals fighting for their lives in the midst of addictions really encouraged her to open her eyes to the idea of service to other human beings. Everywhere around the world are people suffering from any given devastation, who need a helping hand and ear, and she finally felt open enough to do her part. Part of the steps in the Alcoholics Anonymous twelve step program are geared towards extending service to others and this notion struck Ruth as a perfect opportunity to combine her efforts to complete her steps and community service hours. She would work with her sponsor in fulfilling the emotional and written requirements of the steps and then rush to the hospital to perform the physical operations to satisfy her hours of service to other human beings. She cannot remember a time in her life when she was so determined, dedicated, and connected to her commitment to be the best version of herself she could be. The recovering addicts, alcoholics, and codependents would share about their efforts to help others in recovery and outside the rooms of the meetings, and Ruth felt inspired to continue to put forth her best efforts at the hospital. Being reminded of the great joy in volunteering constantly became a goal Ruth wanted to obtain and the only answer was to keep going. At any point, Ruth could have stopped or moved on to a less intense form of service, but she felt such a passion and devotion to others and her Higher Power. She truly got lost in the power of one human being helping another and started to seek out those connections in life. As time went on, Ruth became a different person from that privileged housewife whose interests were shopping and drinking. She cared for the people around her and wanted to help those in need. She became a sponsor for women in recovery and after completing the Twelve Steps, took other woman through them as well, so she could pass on the gifts she had found in the program. One alcoholic helping another was the inspiration and the goal; if she wanted to keep what she had found, she had to give it away.
The Aha! moment…
Ruth learned a lot from her experience at the hospital. Not only had the weight and gravity of her actions become apparent to her, but the impact she could make on others was realized. She finally woke up to the idea that she could truly change a person’s life by merely listened to their war stories or by looking at their childhood photographs with them. She was finally conscious of what alcohol and selfcenteredness was doing to her, separating herself from others and her Higher Power. Through devoting her free time to being there for others, Ruth began to feel a new found sense of self esteem and self worth. She was a valuable asset and a person others wanted to be around. There is a tremendous loss of self love and value for an alcoholic and addict, that can only be rebuilt by fundamentally changing your life and the error of your ways. After doing the Twelve Steps, Ruth realized her faults and character defects that were plaguing her existence and life; these shortcoming could only be remedied by committing contrary action. Contrary action was community service, volunteering, and helping others, and Ruth had made a commitment to herself that she would never lose sight of these promises in the program. It is often hard to continue to help others once your contracted time of service has ended, but Ruth had vowed to continue to sponsor women of all ages and ensure she never go down the dark road she had once before. She discovered that other people could forgive her for the crimes she committed and that she was not hopeless. Very often in recovery, addicts and alcoholics feels their debt to society may be too great to repay, which can paralyze a person from growing spiritually and emotionally. Ruth often wondered if community service was even a bold enough dent in that debt she promised to repay, but once she saw the difference in herself and her actions, she came to see that the hours were merely a formality and the real work began with herself. She needed to go back to the beginning and find out why she drank and lied her way through life. She wanted to understand the real reason she veered off long before the day she day she drank and drover her car. Ruth was coming to grips with deep emotional trauma that remained undealt with until she was forced to devote this time to her legal case. She began to peel the layers back and discover the difficulties she faced and why. This process was unforeseen to her when she stepped out of the court room and into the hospital and rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. Ruth did not just have to right those wrongs to the judges and attorneys that ordered this time of her, but to herself and her family. She no longer felt burdened by her agreement, but welcomed the ordered time as discipline for herself during her quest for transformation. Certainly, this woman in front of me was not the woman she has been speaking about today. Today, Ruth is a House Manager at the sober living home, La Costa Solutions for Women in La Costa, California. She lives there full time, extending her experience, strength, and hope to women all over the world who come to spend weeks, months, and years of their life to live in this peaceful place. The home instills a sense of discipline and structure for those who have gone off course and requires them to commit themselves to the Twelve Steps of recovery. Ruth’s life changed as a result of her third driving under the influence charge. She agreed to one hundred hours of community service to satisfy the legal requirement to be a law abiding citizen and opted to volunteer at a hospital to complete this settlement. Through helping those is need, Ruth began to take a deeper look at her actions and completed Step one, which was admitting to herself that she was powerless over alcohol. She then completed the next eleven steps and began to sponsor other women in recovery, which led her to shift her career to become a sober living House Manager so she could help women all over find what she has found in recovery. She has been at this house for three years now and can say that her job and life today is immeasurably more fulfilling than other life she ever lived before, and that it all started at that hospital in Chicago.
To summarize it in three words…
- Necessary, important, transforming
Why should you do this
Ruth fully recommends people to volunteer in any way they can. Everyone has different situations that change their time and availability, but there are always ways to give back to the world. Holding the door for someone at the grocery store, giving a friend a ride, or taking the time to spend an hour with a loved one are obvious, but meaningful ways. However, people that truly want to see a change in themselves like Ruth did, can take on the larger task of committing to time servicing the community. This can include folding clothes at goodwill, tutoring children for free, or even finding a non profit organization that could benefit from your time. There are so many different causes that need people willing to extend a few hours of their free time, in order to make immense differences in people’s lives. Volunteering surely made a huge change in Ruth’s life herself, and she strongly encourages others to seek the type of personal insight she found through being of service to other human beings. We cannot always change our perspective until we dare to go outside of our comfort zone, and there the true miracles are to be discovered. Whether or not you are forced by the legal system to devote your time, people need to be willing to give back what is theirs to others. Any person can truly be the change they would like to see in the world by giving very little of their time. Choosing to walk in a 5K for a charity of your choice, or wrapping presents for children in shelters, or even writing inmates letters of hope can fundamentally change someone’s life, and if more people were open to honoring this commitment, there would absolutely be a shift in our environment. Ruth has graciously given her time to allow me to interview her for this piece because of her true passion to volunteer. She continues to drive the recovering addicts and alcoholics to their jobs and Twelve Step meetings daily as part of her personal commitment to service. She is an incredibly generous, patient, and loving human being that I call my House Manager at La Costa Solutions for Women. I have been living in this home since January and Ruth has been and will continue to be a woman I aspire to be more like, and much of that is due to the work she has done the past 6 years in her recovery.