The first time the patients found themselves on the hospital campus, it marked the beginning of a long and difficult journey. But this past weekend, their return as alumni signified a celebration of sobriety. And boy, what a celebration!
Willingway Hospital hosted its 41st annual homecoming last weekend and almost 600 former patients, supportive family members and friends took part in the festivities.
Sarah Dasher, Willingway alumni director, said, "Whenever I try to describe the miracle of what we do at Willingway to people, I tell them that there is no better way to understand it than to come to homecoming. When you see hundreds of sober addicts/alcoholics and their loved ones flocking to a rehab facility for fun, you know we're doing something right!"
The event was held at the Springhill Suites in the conference center with much of the activity flowing over into the parking lot under a large tent. This year's theme, ‘No Day But Today,' was inspired by the song from the Broadway musical, "Rent" and was submitted by an alumnus in Maryland. Alumni may submit a theme by way of a contest and the winner, chosen by a committee, gets a homecoming prize package.
Events included such activities as a ‘Recovery Round' scramble golf tournament in Pooler, four conference-style meetings in which speakers share their recovery journeys and a family member shares from his/her experience, carnival style games and bounce houses for the kids, tours of the hospital so patients and families can revisit where their journey began, a barbecue lunch, pizza dinner, roundtable breakfasts, dance party, door prizes and two keynote speakers sharing their recovery stories.
One gentleman, Bob T. shared his sobriety journey with the Herald. The almost 88-year-old recovering alcoholic said he became sober on May 18, 1975. Bob said with a laugh, "The date is on my license tag. And it cost to change it, so I make sure I don't drink so I won't have to change it."
In a serious tone, he shared, "I was thrown out of the house. At 45, I was living with my mama because I had nowhere else to go."
Bob was in the furniture business in Atlanta at the time and had many drinking buddies. One of those buddies, however, spent time at Willingway and became sober.
"That's how my friends knew about this place."
Bob said the friends picked him up one day and brought him to Willingway. He had no idea where he was going. "From Atlanta to here, it felt like 5,000 miles when you're hungover. Dr. John [Mooney] said I probably should have had a stroke or something before they got me here.
"That was the best trip that ever happened in my life. I stayed 28 days and I caught onto this thing. May 18 of this year, I'll celebrate 42 years."
Bob's hospital stay proved to be the catalyst for his sobriety journey, but it was a day to day battle after that.
"I went to meetings every day somewhere, no matter where I traveled or lived. I'm still very active in the program."
Sobriety is vital to Bob and he counts every day as a gift. With a quick glance at the date on his watch, Bob proudly said, "15,300 days sober."
Cherie Tolley, Willingway Inc. CEO for the past three months, said what she has noticed most about the employees of Willingway is their passion for what they do. "It's a philosophy like none other I've experienced," Tolley said. "Our main goal is to help folks through recovery and the recovery process, and then to help them stay clean and sober."
Willingway Hospital, established in 1971, was founded by Dr. John and Dot Mooney, a married surgeon and nurse, who were able to overcome their own drug and alcohol addictions and help other people recover. Now, years later, the treatment center remains a private hospital on an 11-acre wooded campus in Statesboro.
Willingway offers a full continuum of services, starting with detox, inpatient and then step-down programs. Willingway residences offer extended treatment and intensive outpatient services are available, also.
Continuing Care groups can be found across the country and are open to anyone who suffers from the disease, who knows someone with the disease or anyone interested in learning about the disease. The Statesboro Continuing Care group meets at the outpatient building located at 373 Savannah Avenue on Wednesday evenings at 6 p.m.
Alumni and supporters return for a variety of personal reasons. Dasher said, "Many come back to see the friends they got sober with. Some come to reconnect with staff. Others come to get a refresher or recovery recharge. It's a chance to let people know what they are up to now."
But all come to celebrate sobriety. A day by day journey on the road to permanent sobriety.