“I really can’t remember the first time I touched a drink. It must have been in my single digits. All I remember is the family cook-outs. When my relatives set down a drink, it was gone shortly after. I swooped in just like the Shadow. I loved it right off the bat. I started smoking pot on a regular basis when I was between twelve and fourteen. I started drinking at the age of fourteen. I walked into a state liquor store, put a half gallon on the counter, and the guy didn’t even flinch. I didn’t have to worry about finding someone to buy my alcohol because I looked old enough to do it. That was the start of a long run.
I went to Fryeburg Academy in Fryeburg, Maine. It’s a semi-private school, so along with students from all over the world, there were drugs from all over the world. I like to to say my drug of choice is “mine more than yours” because I’ve tried so much stuff that it would take me all day to count. All I know is every time I tried something, I loved it and I wanted more. I knew I was a full-blown addict right off the bat and that didn’t really bother me. I felt like I belonged every time I got high or drunk. Of course that only lasts a few hours and then your real feelings get worse afterward. You’re always trying to escape. I did a lot of escaping.
I graduated in 1983 because the school didn’t want me there for another year. I did master one course: Off Campus Study Hall. I did a lot of skipping and partying. I swear I was reincarnated from a drug dog because I sniffed out all the parties. I never had a care in the world as long as I was high. Of course, getting home, I had to do chores and stuff like that. My father was a former Marine. I basically had eighteen years of boot camp. I was always being told that I was less-than and I wouldn’t amount to anything. I always felt out of place because I didn’t know when I was going to get abused. Any little thing would trigger it. My mother was my anchor and my rock. She probably saved me more times than I can remember.
I met the love of my life in 1984. She was ten years older. She was twenty eight and I was eighteen, which I thought was awesome. We hit it off right away. She was a partier also. We had that one thing in common. She had two children, so when we got married in 1985, I married a prefabricated family. I became a stepdad instantly, which gave me a lot of responsibility at an early age. We were able to pay bills, pay rent, and live week to week on our checks, but I was also able to drink and drug every weekend. Back then, I considered myself a social drinker…if you consider a six pack or more a night being social. I used to talk to people when I was drinking, so I figured I was social. That went on for awhile. Just like any married relationship, we had our fights and struggles, but we always stuck it out.
In November of 1995, I lost my mom to heart failure. It devastated me. Being a smart alcoholic and addict, I started self-medicating myself instead of trying to get real help. Trying to cure depression with a depressant doesn’t work. In late 1997, my wife and I separated for a month. Part of it had to do with my drinking and drugging because she stopped. She quit. She was never an alcoholic or an addict. In March of 1998, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer which spread through her liver. By the time she felt the pain, it was too late…especially back then. In November of 1998, I lost my wife. She died in the same room she grew up in. We were at the in-law’s receiving hospice care.
I woke up that morning at three a.m. and heard her gasping for air. She was going through respiratory arrest. I sat with her for two hours. My mother-in-law came and I said I had to go to work. I probably should have stayed…but I couldn’t. I couldn’t deal with it at the time. After I got to work – at about 8:30 – I got the call. I went back to the house and sat with her. When the ambulance came, I left. I thought the right thing to do was go to the bar. That was around noon. I ended up closing the bar. It seemed like after that day, that’s all I did. I didn’t want to work anymore. I didn’t want to do anything except try to get out of my depression. The only thing I knew how to do was drink and drug…and I did. It was like Groundhog Day. I woke up and the first thing I did was grab a bottle of some kind of liquid and either a blunt or a straw…whatever I had at the time. I was starting to have a lot of things. I used up all the Oxycontin my wife had left over. It was just a mess. I couldn’t stay there anymore. I couldn’t stay in the room where she died. So I moved back to Maine with my oldest brother. I probably could have made a better choice. I kept on partying and going to bars every night.
I did get an inheritance after my wife passed. It lasted six months. The only thing I had to show for it was a 1992 Harley Davidson Softail Classic, which I was driving around without a license. In late 1997 or very early 1998, I lost my license. I could have gotten it back but after my wife passed, I realized I would definitely lose it again. I told myself I didn’t want my license because I didn’t want to hurt anybody… but I still drove in blackouts. I always thought I was lucky or smart enough not to get caught for the things I did, but now I realize that I was blessed; someone or something was watching over me. It never really clicked in my head until I went to treatment.
We always think that geographical change is going to help and it doesn’t. Being back in Maine was tough. It was hard looking for a girlfriend. I did finally find one. She was a partier… just like me. After a while, even she got sick of my “partying”. It wasn’t partying anymore. It was just me trying to escape. Three years after my wife died, my father passed away. He had many shortcomings, but he was my father. I still loved the guy. Of course, that didn’t make anything better.
For countless years, I never paid rent. I couch surfed a lot. For the last five years of my using, I was actually homeless. I was living in the woods and trying to find a warm place to sleep during the winter. That was hard. But I didn’t care. At the time, I didn’t care about anything. I didn’t care about myself. I didn’t take a gun to my head or a knife to my wrist, but I pulled the trigger on quite a few bottles. I always woke up in the morning. So I just kept on going the way I was – hustling, lying, cheating, and stealing. I was the type of person who would take your wallet and help you look for it. Finally, I got into a legal situation and I went to stay with my brother and sister for a little while. They gave me an ultimatum: I couldn’t drink or drug. I still did. I tried to hide it… but they knew. My sister helped me get into treatment on August 28th, 2015. The only reason I went is my brother and sister. I owe so much to them. I figured in the twenty-eight days I’d learn how to drink responsibly. I still didn’t consider myself an alcoholic or an addict. I knew I had a problem but my ego was saying: “You can fix it”. After the second week of going to the groups, listening to the commitments, and reading the book, I realized: “Yeah, you’re an alcoholic and addict, Richard.” So that’s when I finally gave in and surrendered.
I didn’t really have a problem finding a Higher Power. I never believed in God. The only time I ever talked to God was cursing at Him for all the people He took away from me. So my wife, mom, and dad became my Higher Power. I started calling them my “gang of deceased loved ones.” In November of 2015, my stepdaughter called me and told me that my mother-in-law had passed away. I was at work. They told me I could go home if I wanted and I said: “No, I need to stay here.” I knew if I left, I would probably use. In fact, after I got out of work, I walked right to the Market Basket and stood in the beer aisle for ten minutes, just staring. All of a sudden, the thought came into my head: “What would my mother-in-law say if she was standing behind me right now? She’d kick me in my behind and tell me to get out.” And that’s what I did. That’s when I realized that my Higher Power can work for me in that situation.
I know it’s tough hearing about people dying. They relapse and they die. Every time I hear that, I look up in the sky and ask them if they want to join my gang. The way I look at it, my Higher Power is getting stronger every day. I try to take those negatives and turn them into positives. That’s all we can do. It states right in the book that pain is part of the spiritual process.
I work on my steps and I live them to the best of my ability every day. I have a sponsor and I sponsor a few people. I know I still have character defects. We are only human. I’m working on it. Like they say, progress over perfection. Sometimes I still have anxiety; I don’t know if I’m actually helping somebody. It’s that less-than thing – my self-esteem. I’m working on that, too. On August 27th, I’ll be celebrating two years. I just wish I’d done this earlier instead of running on my ego. E.G.O – edging God out. I was doing that for the longest time. There’s one saying I like, because I’m not a religious person, and that is: “Religion is for people who are afraid to go to Hell, and spirituality is for people who have already been there”. I don’t consider myself a born again Christian, I consider myself a born again human.
These past two years have been the best years of my life. Don’t get me wrong, I had some good times back then, but being clean and sober gives you a whole new outlook on life. I just feel so much better. It’s awesome. I can actually care for people unconditionally. Back then, I knew what love was, and I thought I loved everybody, but it was just to get what I wanted. Now I understand unconditional love. I try to help out everybody that I can.”