Let me begin by telling you all that I have never shared my story of employment and recovery as openly and publicly as I will with you today. I am able to because of the enormous strength and courage I have gathered throughout the years from many of you. I also work for an agency, Riverside Community Care that has accepted me and supported me in my recovery.
I am an alcoholic, drug addict and I have a mental illness. I never made a conscious decision to use alcohol and drugs to self medicate or ease my symptoms of depression and anxiety. I used alcohol and drugs as naturally as one would breath, eat or sleep. I do not recall a day in my life that alcohol was not my first and last thought of the day. My memories begin at age 8.
I was fortunate to have a family that believed in the importance of work, productivity, and self-reliance. Work was an expectation. If I wasn’t delivering newspapers then I was selling ice cream, doing yard work, washing windows, or being a camp counselor. The income was mine to spend or to save. I never saved a penny and used every cent to buy alcohol or drugs. As I grew older my appetite became insatiable and I began to steal alcohol and prescription drugs. This began before the age of 16.
My life changed when I got my driver’s license and I was able to hide for hours alone in a field or in the woods. I started to obsess about death and dying and created elaborate plans to commit suicide. I wrote poetry about my feelings and would burn the evidence before I returned home. I was popular in school and work but wanted to be left alone. I knew that others didn’t have obsessive thoughts of despair and death. I started to feel responsible for evil and destruction in the world. The war in Vietnam was my fault and it lasted far too long.
I learned during that time if I kept busy it would help to filter my thoughts and make my life more bearable. Life was work, school was work, sports were work and a job was work. I stayed as active as possible to filter out my fears and hide my feelings from others.
My first job out of college was as a physical education and health teacher. Each day I would greet my students with an energetic smile as alcohol leaked from my pours and breath. I never drank on the job but typically didn’t finish drinking and drugging until the wee hours of the morning. I began to believe that I had the power to infect and contaminate others. I knew that I was a liar, and a phony.
I spent the next 8 or 9 years running from one job and one state to another. I would typically last a year in one place until I was sure that I would be discovered. I would leave my belongings and tell my employer an elaborate story of why I had to leave.
My physical and mental health was rapidly deteriorating and it became impossible to hide my behavior. Cocaine helped me to get up in the morning and keep going throughout the day. It also brought me to my knees. I was hospitalized several times for brief periods of rest and recuperation.
One day I put my car in the garage, shut the windows, stuffed my tailpipe and started the car. Through the grace of God, my attempt was interrupted by a violent wave of nausea. I was ashamed of being discovered lying in my own filth. At the age of 28 I wound up in rehab at Spofford Hall. I spent 30 days being told that I was sick and needed help. I stopped drinking and drugging and have never picked up since. That was 16 years ago.
Within a year my feelings of despair and self-hatred returned. I began to contemplate suicide and to plan my demise on the highway. My fear of driving became so intense that I had to keep all my windows opened even on the coldest of days.
In 1991, 3 years before I started working at Crossroads Clubhouse I had another serious suicidal plan. I was caring for my mother and father at the time and felt responsible for their well being. My partner knew of my struggle and tried desperately to get me to seek help. One summer day in July of 1991 we attended a concert at Great Woods. I wanted to see Carly Simon. I don’t know if it was the hot sun or crowds but something violent started to happen in my head and I started to shake and cry uncontrollably. I had a nervous breakdown and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. I was given medication to treat my symptoms and I started to feel better. I learned some coping skills and also that there were other people like me. I stopped feeling ugly and dirty. I started to respect myself and had pleasant thoughts for the first time in my life. I was 34 years old and finally free.
I felt I was cured and it was time to start another career. I stopped the medication and life felt ok for awhile. I started to teach independent living skills to people like me that had substance abuse and mental health problems. I enjoyed the work and felt challenged.
I started to work with a woman that attended a place called Crossroads Clubhouse. She said that it was a place that people worked to get well and stay well. She invited me to meet her at the clubhouse.
I asked questions of staff and members and wanted to know what a clubhouse was all about. I saw people like me that were working together in a beautiful home.
I was told of an opening and applied for the job of assistant director. I was hired and my life has been different ever since.
I was still struggling with my driving and having obsessive thoughts of death. I felt drained before I even got to the clubhouse. My hour-long drive sometimes felt like an entire day. I felt safe at work with other people that appeared to be like me. I overheard members talking about how medication has helped them.
I heard others describing side effects and how sometimes the side effects interfered with their ability to work successfully.
I sought treatment again and learned for the first time that I had dual illness and if left un-treated I might never be truly happy or successful. This psychiatrist told me that I had a story and something to offer other people. She suggested a medication regimen and I agreed to do as she had suggested. Within 48 hours, I experienced the first day of my life without a desire to die. I drove my car without a plan to kill myself. I arrived at work without shaking and sweating. I didn’t feel dirty or afraid to contaminate others. I was free to experience life in a pleasurable way.
I learned that people that have a dual illness have to work and participate in life more vigorously than others participate. I learned that there are programs and supports to help people like me. I became introduced to Dual Recovery Anonymous, a fellowship of men and woman that experience a chemical dependence and have psychiatric problems. The DRA fellowship has taught me that if I go to meetings and become part of a group my life will get better.
I have been employed at Crossroads Clubhouse for over 8 years. I am part of a community that loves me, as I love them. I work each day to help others as many have helped me. I can face and cope with great adversity; such as cancer, deterioration of a parent, having a partner become disabled and intense job stress. I work to cope, to belong, to survive, and to help others.
I am truly grateful to have found a career that has challenged me to discover my self worth and to work so hard that I exhaust myself every day. I have friends and co-workers that others can only dream of finding.
In closing, I would like to recite part of a poem by Tennyson that my mother use to read to me.
“How dull it is to pause, to rust unburnished, not to shine in use, as though to breathe were life”