Everybody Has a Verna

My 12-step group has suffered a major loss of one of its old-timers, a grand lady who impacted each person with decades of sober strength and wisdom.

Many of the “younger” group members are really struggling with the grief of her death.

I knew her only a couple of years–since I moved to the area and made the group my new home–but I received multiple blessings of serenity and satisfaction from her.  She exuded a peace that only comes from the comfort of being where she was.   Charla had a way of combining gentle tact with no-nonsense recovery.

She had quite a history of substance abuse–including clinically dying–that only the truly hard-core users can claim but all of us can understand.  Her allure laid in caring not at all whether a recovering person was a gutter bum or a society matron; if that person had a desire to be sober and wanted to sit in a 12-step room, that was all that counted.

I loved her for that belief.

Charla sponsored and mentored many women of all ages and stages in recovery.  While I was not one of those women, I do have the pleasure of seeing her legacy of recovery living on in the lives of her girls, many of whom will be stricken with sorrow for a long time to come.

I can relate to their sorrow because I had a Charla once.  Her name was Verna and she was the Grand Dame of my old home group in Missouri.

Verna and Charla were opposite in their drinking stories.  Where Charla was rough-and-tumble, Verna was a genteel lady.  Both, however, were tough as nails and had hearts as big as the number of newcomers they could hold.

Verna was my grand-sponsor, meaning she sponsored my sponsor. 

She was mother, grandmother, friend and confidante all rolled into one and when she died as so many of us do, of lung-related illness, my world cracked.

My group didn’t know how it would go on without Verna sitting in that chair on the wall, right underneath the Princess phone. I lost count of how long that chair sat empty meeting after meeting out of respect for her memory.

But we did go on, especially after other old-timers reminded us that Verna wouldn’t stand for hero worship.  Yes, she had been around for decades, had touched hundreds of lives, but in the end, she died no better or worse than the rest of us.

It may take a bit for that reality to catch up with these good folks in Texas.  Charla’s passing is too fresh; their grief too raw.  For many–and rightly so–Charla was family and there is little worse than losing a close family member.

I suspect that Charla would agree with Verna that hero worship has no place in 12 step rooms.  Maybe I’ll have the opportunity to help in learning that lesson.

After all, that is the experience, strength and hope that I have to share.  While I don’t have the history with Charla that all my other group members do, I did have my Verna.

Sooner or later, if we stay sober, everybody has a Verna.

Do you?  How did he or she impact your life?

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