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Heart of the Treasure Valley: ‘If you’re a drunk, you’re a drunk’

For 35 years she’s been sober and helping the homeless and mentally handicapped

She hit bottom just before Christmas, 1974. That was a long time ago, but that’s also part of the point: For more than 35 years, Adele McGrath-Davis has been sober.

But at 93 years old, that means there were a lot of years in which she wasn’t.

This particular Christmas, though, Adele went to a party at the Yacht Club in California. It was a stylish, fashionable party featuring a lot of recognizable Hollywood names. Adele wore a pink chiffon gown with a gorgeous beaded top. A friend told her, “You look just like a fairy princess.”

“And I answered them: Yes, but I won’t look like that when I leave tonight. É (A friend) turned around and said to me, ‘It doesn’t have to be that way.’ I said, I know, but that’s just the way it is.”

Her drinking had started out naively enough.

“Social drinking was the thing to do. Just like when I was a young girl, it was smart to have a cigarette in your hand. It started off that way and it was good as long as everything was going good in my life.

“But when tragedy struck, I didn’t know how to handle it.”

The tragedy was chicken pox. All three of her sons got sick, and when the fever subsided, her 18-month-old baby was brain damaged. Today, he’s 63 years old, but back then the only option for his care was an institution where he has lived since he was 8 years old.

“It just about killed me. I couldn’t sleep. All I could think about was this child in this place and him heartbroken about why his mamma would do this to him.

“So I started to take a drink to go to sleep. And then one drink wasn’t enough, so it took two drinks. Then that wore off and it took three. It became a crutch, the only way I could sleep. So that’s how it started, very innocently, with me saying I could stop any time.”

Adele lived in a beautiful home; she worked in a doctor’s office that catered to Hollywood’s rich and famous; she kept company with very influential people.

“But it doesn’t matter if you’re poor or out of work or whether you’re living in a palace. If you’re a drunk, you’re a drunk.”

So that particular Christmas, Adele drank too much like she knew she would. She fell and got mud all over the beautiful pink chiffon dress. As her friend picked Adele up off the ground, she invited Adele to a meeting – to Alcoholics Anonymous. New Year’s Eve was coming up and, of course, Adele couldn’t miss those parties.

“Ten o’clock on New Year’s Day, she called me. Took me to AA and I never had another drink.

“I am a delivered alcoholic. É When I went to AA, they have 12 steps. The first step is (to say) I was powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable and the only person who could help me was God. So I’m going to let God take a crack; I wasn’t doing any good at it.

“You’ve got to get the spiritual part of the program for it to be successful.”

She was 58 years old.

In the complex path that is our lives, the very thing that troubled Adele also was the thing that drove her to action. First, there was the work into which Adele plunged as she sought help for her son. When she tried to find a kindergarten for him, no one would take him. So she and a fledgling group of parents (she was living in Toronto) started their own school, which grew into an active local, then nationwide, advocacy group that it is today.

Adele met and worked closely with Eunice Shriver – Eunice in the United States, Adele in Canada – to nurture a group called Recreation for the Retarded into what is now the internationally supported Special Olympics.

When Adele left Canada (and her son) for California, her life took significant turns, including AA, a wonderful new marriage – plus a visit to her first homeless shelter. When she moved to Boise six years ago, Adele stopped in under the “Jesus Saves” sign that hung over Boise Rescue Mission.

“I went down to serve a meal and realized how blessed I was that I had escaped Skid Row. I would have ended up either killing somebody behind the wheel or my liver. But for the grace of God, AA was there to help me. And but for the grace of God, Boise Rescue Mission is there for anybody who needs help.”

Adele is particularly fond of visiting City Light, where she’ll have lunch and talk with the women.

“I’m so old, I’m the great-grandmother of everybody. É They trust me. They know I’ve been through what they’ve been through. I understand.

“I’m just an encourager of people having a hard time in life. (I tell them) that you can be an overcomer, that you can be victorious – but I also say you can do nothing really permanent without the Lord. After all, he made me.”

Adele is still full of fire even as she jokes about the statistical inevitability of her death. Her failing eyesight frustrates her as does the loneliness of old age, even as she can’t help but be assertive and gregarious. Her life has blossomed with compassion, wisdom and generosity.

“It just proves you can be anything you really want to be – if you really set your mind to it. You can’t do it on your own, but with God’s help, you can do anything. God provides angels, too É”

source: Idaho Statesman

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