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Miracle Me

Chipping in for sobriety

By Vrinda Normand

TO THE casual observer, Anonymously Yours is an innocuous gift shop tucked away on a small street behind Valley Fair Mall. But venture past the Tree of Life near the entrance, a mural scrawled with signatures and inky lines of hope, and one crosses the threshold into an oasis of sobriety.

"There's always been a spirit in here," says Susan Radnich, the woman behind the counter. She waves her hand through the incense-scented air. "You can just feel it." Her blue eyes widen as she describes the healing energy in the boutique, dedicated to recovering alcoholics and followers of other anonymous programs. The hand wave takes in dozens of self-help books with titles like The Power of Now, Choosing to Live and Ghosts in the Bedroom, along with various 12-step manuals and guides for staying sober, glass angels, wooden puzzle boxes and gift cards.

Glass cases near the register boast rows of chips and medallions to empower the recovering addict on his/her journey. Radnich is more than just a clerk. Since she bought Anonymously Yours in 2001, she took on the role of mentor, counselor, friend and sympathetic ear to many of the customers. "People keep coming back," she says. "I'm like a cheerleader in here."

A customer pokes his head in to chat about how he's doing, and the brief interaction propels Radnich on a heartfelt diatribe about the power of her store and its unique place in the South Bay. "I feel I am a vessel. This is God's store. Miracles happen every day," she says. "People keep going on—they continue to believe in the program and themselves."

Patrons come in celebrating 24 hours, 30 days or 30 years of sobriety. Radnich meets mothers and fathers who have lost custody of their children because of alcoholism. She gives them a plastic chip that says "10 minutes" to squeeze in court while they ask the judge for their kids back.

One time, a woman came to buy a gift for her daughter who was celebrating one year of sobriety. She was only 14 years old. The mother and Radnich both wept and hugged each other. "It's so fulfilling to see people make it through their struggles," Radnich exclaims.

She clasps her hands in excitement when an elderly man purchases a 29-year enamel chip for his wife. "Twenty-nine years!" she squeals in a half whisper, "Can you believe it?"

Radnich knows from personal experience how many baby steps it takes to get that far. She started drinking and using drugs when she was 12 years old, found her mother dead from an overdose when she was 32 years old, and decided to turn her life around when she was 37 years old.

Now she only has to worry about minor addictions, like her love for Naga Champa incense. "We should have meetings for it," she chuckles. "Hi, my name is Susan and I'm a Naga Champa addict. I can't stop burning."

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From the October 27-November 2, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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