I’m starting a new feature today.
Conversations with people who make a difference.
My intent is to interview people all over North America and the world, whose acts of courage, grace, caring make a difference. These conversations will be posted on Sundays, interspersed with Guest Blogs. I hope you enjoy it! I am thrill to share my conversation with Donna Mae DePola today. Her book, Twelve Tins, is a powerful journey of empowerment that starts in the darkness of incest and ends with hope, joy, Love and living a passionate life. Her vision to provide former addicts opportunities to gain training and credentials as addictions counsellors is inspiring.
Donna Mae DePola: Turning pain into laughter and grace.
When I answer the phone a warm friendly voice with a distinctive New York accent responds to my greeting. “Hello there! This is Donna Mae.”
I’ve never met her and until recently, I didn’t even know her name or her remarkable story. And then, I received an email from Sandra Bossert, publicist and graduate of the Resource Training Centre, Inc, introducing me to the TRTC founder Donna Mae DePola and her book, Twelve Tins. Suddenly I am awakened to the brilliance of a fellow human being doing everything she can to make a difference in the world, to make it a better place.
It’s not the story of being raped by her father, year after year from the time she was a child until her teens that is most remarkable. It’s not the story of finding twelve cans of film he’d captured of his continuous abuse of her, or the fact she spent 25 years in a drug induced haze trying to forget, to erase the trauma and horror of his abuse and the betrayal of the other adults in her world. While those things are an amazing story that speak to the true grit of the woman and her fierce passion for life, what is most remarkable about Donna Mae DePola is the joy and compassion with which she approaches each moment of every day. It is her love of life, her fearless conversation about topics that in most instances would be taboo, and, her incredible sense of humour that leave me breathless and wanting to know her better, to talk to her more.
Donna Mae is a remarkable woman. And, she’s very funny. Funny in a light, musical way that bubbles up from a well of laughter buried deep within her soul. I hear it in our first exchange of words and it burbles beneath the surface of our conversation, popping up in unexpected places to surprise, illuminate and enlighten even the most delicate of topics.
Of the things she is most proud of in her life, her personality, her empathetic nature and her sense of humour top the list. “Oh, and the fact I’m a dyke,” she adds with a laugh. “Ask people to describe me and they’ll tell you, ‘She’s a dyke.’ And then they’ll add, she’s funny and be careful if you ask her opinion. You may not like what you hear.”
She is opinionated. But in a gentle, caring, non-judgmental way. “There’s a saying I really like,” she tells me. “He who judges doesn’t matter. He who matters doesn’t judge.”
And she lives her life by that axiom. “It is my gift to the world,” she says. “To help people, especially those for whom addictions have limited their options and left them reeling. And in that place of being of service, there is no room for judgment. “I want them to know that if I can do this, so can you.”
The ‘this’ is to start a school even though an expert in the field of addictions counseling says you can’t. And again she laughs. “Don’t ever tell me I can’t do something. I’ll just work really hard to prove I can.”
The ‘this’ began in 1996 when she realized there were lots of people with lived experience of addictions looking for ways to change their lives and the world around them and not enough opportunities for them to get the education they needed to make a difference.
With an annual budget of $20,000, her counselors support and a belief she could do it, Donna Mae established The Resource Training Centre, Inc. (TRTC) in New York City. Students at TRTC obtain their credentials as Alcohol & Substance Abuse Counselors and, as it says on the TRTC website, “become soldiers in the fight against addictions.”
It is a fight she is well-suited to. “Originally, when I first got clean and started working as a counselor I figured that after twenty-five years as an addict, I had achieved a Masters in Drug Addictions.”
She didn’t intend to start her own school but, as she candidly says, “I needed a job that I could do that also kept me clean.”
Having to model sobriety did it for her. “I get to serve others instead of serving myself. And that makes a big difference.”
Donna Mae is into making a difference. “Isn’t that why we’re here?” she asks. “To make a difference in the world?”
And make a difference she does.
“It’s all about giving people jobs who might not otherwise be able to get them because of their history with drugs,” she says. And in the process, it’s about shifting perceptions of the people and the circumstances that lead people so far from where they wanted to be or thought they’d be in life.
“Drug addiction is not just about life and death,” she says, her voice filled with the passion that underlies everything she does. “It has legal impacts. It affects your family. Your community. You know you don’t want to be an addict, but you don’t know how to get out.”
From her training centre to the programs she’s introduced to help people address the consequences of their addictions, Donna Mae is committed to creating a world of opportunity that helps people find themselves in and out of their addictions.
“People don’t see it within themselves,” she says. “They don’t see that they can do this. Help others. Become a counselor. Quit. Change. So, we model it. We show them they can do it by doing it ourselves.”
And in their showing, in Donna Mae’s passion to serve others, a world of difference is made. A cycle of abuse is broken, and lives are healed, changed, made purposeful.
She is funny. Generous. Caring. Compassionate. She laughs easily. Is open and forthright about who she is, what she’s done and how she’s overcome the past. And most of all, she is real.
I spent an hour on the phone with a remarkable woman the other day and I am grateful. I am grateful for the generosity of her time and spirit, and I am grateful to know there is a Donna Mae in the world leading the way out of the darkness of addiction for those who have become lost on the road of life.
Thank you Donna Mae DePola. I look forward to meeting you one day. To looking you in the eye and saying, “Thank you! You inspire me. You are a gift to the world and I am grateful for your presence.”
Resource Training Centre, Inc. NYC http://www.resourcetraining.org/