Laura Hammack works the front desk of Simonka Place on Jan. 28 as part of the New Life Fellowship program (KEIZERTIMES/Joey Cappelletti).
It wasn’t Laura Hammack’s first time in the hospital. A decades-long drinking problem had resulted in four hospital scares in the past. But an emergency room visit in September of 2020 was different.
Hammack had been rushed to the hospital after breaking three blood vessels in a drinking accident and doctors had been unable to stop the excessive bleeding.
“I just recall being in this very small little room with like 15 people,” Hammack said. “And I could feel when I was going to gush out more blood and I would be apologizing profusely like I had control over it.”
As more and more of her alcohol-thinned blood spilled from her body, Hammack began to accept that her years of drinking may have caught up to her.
“I just remember laying there thinking to myself, ‘I wonder if I’m dying,’ I’m getting rid of all this blood and I wonder if this is what it feels like to die,” Hammack said. “And I thought, ‘I sure hope so.’”
‘All of it started crashing in on me.’
Raised in San Francisco, Hammack was hired out of college as a secretary at Bank of America. For 13 years she climbed her way up the corporate ladder, eventually becoming a supervisor. She was hired away by the Intel Corporation where she worked for over a decade.
“During my Intel years, I was raising three teenage stepchildren with my then husband. At the same time, I was rising at Intel and the stress of my job was changing. I was traveling a lot. I wasn’t home very much,” Hammack said.
“My use of alcohol had begun steadily increasing and eventually, all it started crashing in on me,” she added.
Hammack divorced her husband in 2000 and soon after quietly resigned from Intel. Her personal and professional life having both been severely impacted by drinking, Hammack entered her first residential treatment in 2003. She relapsed after 30 days.
In 2004, she tried residential treatment once again after spending a night in jail from a DUI. This time, the treatment was successful. She began going to Alcoholics Anonymous and even got a job as a drug and alcohol counselor for Bridgeway Recovery Services in Salem.
In 2012, after eight years of sobriety, she relapsed and was fired from her job at Bridgeway.
“Recovery will always be open ended,” Hammack said. “A glass of wine here, a glass of wine there, and you’re right back to where you were.”
Having battled alcoholism for most of her adult life, Hammack felt there was “something was missing” at residential treatment centers. She decided to give faith-based recovery a try. Hammack checked herself into Simonka Place in July of 2020.
Located in Keizer, Simonka Place is a faith-based women’s shelter that provides both short and long-term recovery services. Union Gospel Mission operates Simonka Place in addition to a men’s shelter in Salem. The New Life Fellowship program, which Hammack was attempting to enter, is a substance abuse recovery program.
After close to a month in the program, Hammack was dismissed for bringing alcohol into the shelter.
A month later, Hammack made her fifth, and final, trip to the hospital. Covered in blood, with her chances of survival decreasing by the second, Hammack didn’t care if she lived or died at that point.
But something happened as she laid there, something that she wouldn’t fully understand until later.
“I turned my head on the pillow and, at the time I didn’t know what it was because I was kind of dazed, but there was just kind of like this white ghostly figure. I just looked at it and it didn’t move. But I could just make out an arm raised up over me, almost pointing at me,” Hammack said. “There were no words said, but I know there was something else present.”
Hammack survived and four days after being released from the hospital, she began drinking again.
‘Scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight.’
In just over a month, Hammack will graduate from the New Life Fellowship program at Simonka Place. Sitting in a Keizer coffee shop, she recites her favorite Bible verse.
“At once something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight,” reads a passage from Acts 9:18. The verse is about the sudden clarity that Apostle Paul has with Jesus.
Hammack’s “scales” began to fall a week after leaving the hospital. She had relapsed and was drinking all day, every day. She received a voicemail from DeDe Hazzard, a supervisor at Simonka Place, asking for her to return to the shelter.
“When I heard that they wanted me back, I started to cry,” Hammack said. “And that was when I made the association of the vision of Jesus in the hospital and that phone call. He speaks through other people.”
On Oct. 1, 2020, after a weeklong detox, Hammack entered into the New Life Fellowship program. Over the next 16 months, she would slowly work her way through the program’s three phases. She credits both the program and her strengthened faith for her recovery.
“When I surrendered to God, I had to build on that trust. Sometimes it was easy, but most of the time it was hard to just really trust in God and trust that he will manage it all,” Hammack said. “And once I could do that, then things just eased up slowly over time and we began working through these false beliefs that we have.”
In Simonka program, Hammack said she would work weekly with a counselor to identify the “false beliefs” she had about herself. False beliefs, according to Hammack, are the things we tell ourselves to justify our actions.
“You identify, what are your top five false beliefs about yourself? The ‘whys’ that you tell yourself. You go through and break each of those down and then you meet with our counselor,” Hammack said. “It’s kind of like when you go to boot camp. They tear you down and then build you back up.”
Recovery is open ended, as Hammack knows better than most, and she says that she works daily to strengthen her connection with God and improve on her recovery. She is currently in phase three of the New Life Fellowship program and has begun looking at jobs for when she leaves.
Hammack said she’s hoping to go work for a non-profit — or to come back and work at Simonka Place, which many program alumni have done. Either way, Hammack said she wants to give back and help others who may be struggling like she was.
“I would like to eventually mentor a woman or two from Simonka because that mentorship relationship is very key to success for a woman,” Hammack said. “My hope for any woman leaving here is that they have the external support and you can always rely on Simonka.”
On March 10, Hammack will officially graduate from the program. The ceremony will include two women from Simonka Place, one being Hammack, and three men from the Union Gospel Mission’s men’s shelter. The graduation ceremony will take place at the men’s mission in Salem. While her recovery at Simonka is coming to a close, Hammack’s journey will continue.
“My past is behind me. That’s all been forgiven and that’s behind me,” Hammack said. “I think that everybody deserves to feel like they have a second chance, a third chance, a fourth chance. I believe that our God doesn’t give up on anybody and there is no such thing as a number of chances.”
News tip? Contact reporter Joey Cappelletti at [email protected] or 616-610-3093.