Street Talk: Down the street from rock bottom

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It’s odd how no one ever talks about the Fellowship House.

Back in the day, it occupied a low brick building near the corner of Blake and Ash streets in Lewiston. The building is still there. The Fellowship House is not.

It was an alcohol detoxification facility, and only God knows how many lives were saved during its quarter-century of un-pickling the pickled.

When the Fellowship House was in operation, men and women, young and old would stumble into its beds at all hours. Many were near death as they ambled in. Some came on their own in search of 11th-hour miracles. Others were poured through the door by husbands or wives, sisters or brothers who had run out of ways to help their bedeviled loved ones.

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For some, the Fellowship House was a last resort, a drunkard’s Hail Mary when all other options had failed. They would arrive at its door, beaten and broken, desperate men and defeated women engaged in dying by the ounce.

For Lewiston’s alcoholics, the Fellowship House was just down the street from rock bottom. Some beleaguered drinkers came straight from the bars. Others came in the back seats of police cruisers, while many would never recall how they got there.

But they got there, all right — and the people of the Fellowship House time and again went about the impossible task of turning pickles back into cucumbers.

They medicated the suffering through the horrors of withdrawal. They pumped nutrition into quivering souls who hadn’t eaten in days. They counseled and comforted and patiently waited out the rages, the crying jags, the tantrums and violent rounds of sickness.

The Fellowship House had its medical professionals for sure, but when you got right down to it, it was mainly a group of drunks taking care of one another. They had all fought the same demons at one time or another. They all knew the boozy battlefield and the costs of spending time there.

Nobody can tell me how many people were saved by the Fellowship. Thousands, certainly. Some were saved forever, some bought only a little more time before the fire of alcoholic thirst drove them straight back into hell.

The Fellowship House performed big magic, but it did so quietly. People who walked by the little brick building every day of their lives might not have known what went on inside its walls. They’d see little groups of pale men and women smoking out front and they’d be curious, perhaps, but by the time they reached the end of the block, they’d forget all about it.

From the outside, the place looked unremarkable. Inside, on narrow cots and in rows of beat-up chairs, the miracles continued, all day, every day.

People used to die of drink all the time. Still do, in fact. Their obituaries seldom state that fact — “died of a long illness” is a popular way to say it, or “died unexpectedly,” depending on the nature of the drinker.

These days, the death toll is equally grim, although liquor seems to have lost its reign as the No. 1 killer through spiritual torture. These days, a good number of people who “died unexpectedly” found their demise through heroin or its hideous sisters, fentanyl and oxycodone.

Dropping like flies, they are — and to the best of my knowledge, there is no Fellowship House out there for them. There’s no place to stumble to at 3 in the morning when the faint light of reason shines through the fog of intoxication. By and large, bureaucracies gobbled up the small, hole-in-the wall street detoxes, and the only thing that dried out at places like the Fellowship House was the funding — the last fuzzy-headed addict was shuffled out the door in 1997 and then the detox ceased to exist.

The era of quiet miracles on Blake Street was over.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. The saved can email him at mlaflamme@sunjournal.com.

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