Our Friend Rhonda

Written by Hayley Ruffner

Our friend Rhonda is an alcoholic. She will tell you this herself a short time after meeting her. She has had a painful childhood, and the scars and wounds inflicted by others who should have protected her run deep. She copes with the pain through alcohol, and has for years. She sleeps in a tent outside a homeless shelter. She doesn't stay in the shelter because she won't have access to alcohol. We've known and loved Rhonda for years now. It's been a joy to grow a friendship with her. She is kind and funny. She is a mother and grandmother who loves her son and 2 grandchildren very much. She often borrows our cell phones to call and talk to them back in Indiana. She loves to read novels and enjoys watching The Golden Girls. 

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It's also been a struggle to walk alongside her as she continues down a path of self destruction. We've bought Rhonda a Greyhound bus ticket to go back home to visit her dying mother only to learn she never got on the bus because she got too drunk beforehand. We've encouraged her to seek warmth and safety inside the shelter on cold and rainy days to only have her say she'd rather sleep outside. We've invited her to community gatherings and she won't come. We've sat with her in the midst of the pain. We've attempted to take Rhonda to rehab multiple times. She will say she's ready and when we show up to go, she is not actually ready. 

This morning was one of those times. We saw Rhonda last Thursday and she talked about going to detox and rehab. We helped her call different places and found one that was a good fit. She didn't want to go that day, but said possibly on Monday. We told her she had to make the decision herself and call us on Sunday to let us know if she wanted to go. If she did, we would show up bright and early at 6:30am outside of her tent with coffee and take her to detox. We hoped and prayed she would call.

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My phone rang on Sunday afternoon. It was Rhonda. She was still drinking, but she wanted to go to detox tomorrow morning. I told her we would arrive at 6:30am sharp and were proud of her for taking this step. We pulled up Monday morning and found Rhonda asleep in her tent. We gave her some time to wake up and when it was time to leave, she said she couldn't go. She used excuses about packing up her tent and not being able to leave anymore. The tent didn't really matter; but it wasn't about leaving the tent behind. It was about leaving the alcoholic life behind. Rhonda wasn't ready. 

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These moments are hard. They are frustrating. They are heartbreaking. We can see another life for Rhonda. We can see a life of freedom and healing. A life of clarity and sobriety. A life of restored relationships and renewed hope. We can see what getting in the car and going to detox could offer. But as much as we can see, we can't do. We can't do for Rhonda what she has to do for herself. We can't force change or fix anyone. We can't persuade or convince. We can't take the steps for her.

Our days can be long and our hearts heavy as we walk alongside the broken, the vulnerable, the addict. For every victory we celebrate, there are untold early mornings of heartache and disappointment. But we continue to show up. To love. To pray. To hope. This is the work of friendship. This is the work of The Human Impact. 

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