Their stories are compelling. Their strength inspiring.

The members of the newly formed Kennebec Club have experienced great pain and desperation in their lives — and have come out on the other side.

Now, they use their experience and compassion to help others in the same boat.

The club, in the basement of The Center at 93 Main St. in downtown Waterville, is a safe, supportive environment for those recovering from addiction to alcohol, drugs or other substances. Anyone seeking help or an understanding ear may drop in at the club, which is open to the public and run by volunteers.

The club rents a large space from the community group Revitalize the Energy in ME, known as REM. The Kennebec Club will have a separate meeting room that will be rented out to recovery and other groups. The club is freshly painted with comfortable sofas and chairs, tables, and always a pot of fresh coffee brewing.

I was convinced, after spending a couple of hours with five members of the club Thursday, that they are deeply committed.

“You’re looking at more than 200 years of sobriety right here, in this room, right now,” said Marc Roderick, club president. “That’s how we’re able to help people, because we’ve experienced all this.”

Membership dues are $10 a month, but the organizers made it clear no one will be turned away for lack of funds. People may visit the club any time, even if they are not members.

Roderick, 62, and Jean Culver, 76, helped launch the club, which already has 50 members and held its grand opening Saturday.

They explained that recovery centers in general have a tough time staying afloat because they lack funds and community support. The Recovery Center on College Avenue closed earlier this year, and it is critical that such places exist, they said.

“Addiction of any kind is not a personal thing. It doesn’t affect just that person. It affects everyone — their family, friends, community,” Culver said. “It’s a huge community problem, and we need to be aware of that and do whatever we can do as a community to make it safer. We want this place to be successful in the community so that we help it to be a safer place.”

Culver knows of what she speaks.

She grew up with a “raging alcoholic” father and a mother who was the “queen of denial,” she said. The alcoholism was never talked about in the home. Culver, whose last name was different then, remembers always walking on eggshells.

“I thought, ‘This is my job to make sure everything stays balanced — don’t rile the waters and everything is good,'” she recalled.

Later, she would drink alcohol, but she was a controlled drinker. She never allowed herself to appear drunk at parties, for instance.

She married young and had two children. In 1965, when she was pregnant with her third child, her husband was driving drunk and was killed in an automobile accident.

Later, she married a man who, like her father, was a raging alcoholic. The marriage fell apart, and she drank to keep the pain at bay.

“I drank at home; I drank alone,” she said.

Her daughter was 33 and had been in a relationship with a drug addicted alcoholic who beat her, according to Culver.

“At some point many things happened, and after that, she took her own life. This was in ’99.”

Culver’s son was in recovery for alcohol and drug addiction, and her own father had died at 53 of alcoholism. Culver was in excruciating emotional pain.

One night, all alone, drunk and crawling on hands and knees on her bedroom floor, she cried for help, but there was no one to call who would understand.

“I pulled myself up off the floor, and I had a mirror on my dresser that my granddaughter had tipped forward too far and it had a diagonal crack across it. I looked right into the mirror, and I literally saw my father’s face on the top and my mother on the bottom, as clear as if they were with me. I was in the crack and I was all distorted and it terrified me. I fell back on the floor and said, ‘Dear God, please help me to not live like this and stop drinking and live better.'”

She managed somehow to find a phone book and called her mother’s doctor. It was 11:45 p.m. He told her to hang up, go to sleep and call him in the morning. She was angry but did what he said.

To make a long story short, Culver stopped drinking shortly thereafter, but she still needed help with her emotional pain. She entered a recovery group and the happy part of the story is that her mother’s medical doctor, Ray Culver, was also in recovery. The couple began attending recovery meetings together. They married two years later. Jean Culver has been sober 14 years; her husband has been sober for 29.

“I was given the best gift of all gifts because the people in the program gave me everything — they taught me how to live life one day at a time,” Jean Culver said.

Roderick’s story began when he was a teen in high school, where he said he was mocked and teased by his classmates because his eye was crooked. He quit school and got involved with people who drank. He finally felt included.

“I fit in,” he said.

He continued to drink while working as a pipe fitter and one night drove to bars around central Maine, ultimately getting shut off at every juncture. Later, friends would tell him where he went and what happened, as he was in a blackout and did not recall.

He landed at a friend’s house in North Anson that night, became violently sick and spent the night. He was severely depressed and had hit rock bottom.

The next morning, his friend’s wife told him he was a heck of a nice guy, but he had to stop drinking. He ultimately got into a recovery program, went into the hospital and connected with others who understood his pain. They went to recovery meetings together.

“They took me around and introduced me to everyone at the meetings,” Roderick recalled. “I felt like I fit in, and I’ve been here ever since.”

Roderick, the Culvers and the others I met at the club Thursday were intelligent, friendly, open and articulate. They appeared healthy — and happy.

But the thing that stood out the most, for me at least, was their genuine warmth and compassion.

Which is just what someone reaching out for help needs most.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17