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Relevents — Marilyn Canty

Marilyn Canty, director of The Salvation Army’s Eliza Shirley House in Philadelphia, Pa., talks about flea markets, friends in Spain, her faith, and how being in recovery has brought her closer to God.


In 1976 when I arrived in the U.S., I was an addict. In my recovery program, I learned that when the urge to relapse comes, I should simply ask God for help. But to me, the Lord was a fearful Being and I simply believed that achieving sobriety was beyond me. One day, I went into the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and said, “I’m sorry God, but I am going to let You down. I can’t keep this up. I don’t even want to live.” At that moment, I felt a warm Presence with me, and a bright light shot into the bathroom out of nowhere. I looked up, and the hurt and self–doubt were gone. I knew then that “this too shall pass,” and God would guide me through every difficult day.


My recovery is ongoing. I still go to meetings and find people whose situations are similar or worse to those I had experienced. Recovery is difficult; I am fortunate to have achieved it on my first try. I help friends who are trying to get clean, or who had given up but now are trying again. My recovery also helps in my career. When I started as a counselor, I wondered what I could say to these women who had been dealt such troubled lives and unimaginable hardships. I asked God for guidance and I heard Him say to me, “Give them freely what others gave to you. Tell them who you are, how you got sober. Focus on today. How can they get through today? Listen to them and give them hope.”


Connecting with the staff and residents at the Eliza Shirley House is an important part of my job, and a gift from God. I always try to step out of my office and connect with our residents. Sometimes, the women who come for help can be frightened and resist trusting us, and following rules and regulations in such an enclosed environment may be new to their children. I also keep communication with our staff open. Whether it’s money or family issues, I help them as much as I can. Their lives are just as important to me as those of the people we help.


I’m always looking for something for my home, and the odds are good I’ll find it in a flea market. I can spend hours hunting down what I need and haggle for it; it’s a bit of a rush! I helped a friend move into a new apartment, and I got free range to decorate it in any way I wanted. I did the whole apartment with everything from flea markets.


My mother and I love to visit Spain. It’s a gorgeous country, and a perfect place for everything to just “stop.” In the U.S., everything is such a rush. In Spain, l do things at my own pace. It’s easier for my mother, too; she knows the country and always finds her way. We meet up with friends from all over Europe who also come to Spain. We made these friends through my late father, who traveled with us and struck up conversations wherever he went. Those friends introduced us to more friends, and now in Spain, we’re all a big group.


I always look forward to seeing my family in London, especially my mother. She’s a lively 86–year–old who tries to get a little golf in whenever she can! She taught me to reject prejudice, embrace acceptance, and treat everyone with fairness, important lessons in my personal, spiritual, and professional life. I’ve made some dear friends in the States, but I like going home to mom best.

Interview by Hugo Bravo

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