Store sells items celebrating freedom from substance abuse

THE GIFTS OF A BETTER LIFE

December 06, 1990|By Henry Scarupa

Recovered alcoholics and addicts celebrate an anniversary all their own.

That's the day they went clean.

To mark the occasion, people in recovery often send special cards and gifts to one another. But until last week, such items were not readily available in Baltimore. That changed with the opening of the Serenity Shop on North Charles Street, operated by Rebecca Lazarus and Larry De Angelis, both recovered substance abusers.

"Because we're so involved we go to a lot of recovery-oriented conventions," explains Mr. De Angelis, who spent 20 of his 46 years as an addict and now serves as director of Courage to Change, a non-profit organization that helps people make a comeback from addiction.

"We'd see all the cards and gifts and books that are available, and we thought it would be nice to have a place in Baltimore where you could buy these things. People here were celebrating anniversaries all the time, but they had nowhere to go for such gifts."

A partner in the enterprise, Ms. Lazarus, 34, became involved with drugs at the age of 13 and didn't pull out of it until 4 1/2 years ago. Mr. De Angelis has been drug-free five years. The two met while attending recovery meetings.

The proprietors see their shop not only as a place of business, but as a "lighthouse" for directing addicts toward help and supporting others in recovery. An ever-present pot of coffee and a pair of canvas chairs arranged alongside a colorful throw rug seem to say, "Stay a while."

"We want this to be a place where people can come in, have a cup of coffee and talk," says Ms. Lazarus. "Holidays are especially tough for recovered people. It's important they have a place where they can find friends and feel comfortable."

Although the small shop, a few steps down from ground level at 2011 N. Charles St., is still adding to its stock, it displays a sizable collection of greeting cards, calendars, bumper stickers, mugs, refrigerator magnets, sweat shirts and other paraphernalia, all bearing uplifting slogans.

"Just Let Go and Watch What God Can Do" reads one sweat shirt, while bumper stickers display such slogans as "Reality, What a Concept" and "Don't Quit -- Surrender." Anniversary cards convey the message "Experience your true self," "Easy does it but do it," and more.

Also available are money clips, watch fobs, cigarette lighters and other objects with the Alcoholics Anonymous symbol, a triangle in a circle, or the Narcotics Anonymous symbol, an encircled diamond, or the serenity prayer. Special clocks and watches replace the numbers with the 12 steps of recovery: One o'clock is powerlessness and 12 is awakening.

A varied assortment of 12-step literature includes books and daily meditations dealing not only with the alcohol and drug abuse, but also with the addictions of overeating, gambling, sex and spending.

The pair do not expect to get rich from the enterprise and are depending on other sources of income. Mr. De Angelis is a hair stylist and owns three homes, which he rents to men in recovery, while Ms. Lazarus works as a manicurist.

"We're not in this for the money," says Mr. De Angelis. "We want to help people and provide a service."

Adds Ms. Lazarus, "If this holds its own, we'll be very happy."

The store is open Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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