Who Am I?
They say you are only as sick as your secrets. I try not to have any secrets today and I certainly do not hide the fact that five and a half years ago my life completely changed as I reached both a physical and spiritual bottom. It was at this time that I faced the biggest crossroads anyone could ever face; change or die.
Breaking the number one cardinal rule of any 12 Step Program, I break my anonymity and say that my name is Rick and I am a recovering alcoholic. This is neither the first and certainly not the last time I will take this daring step of breaking my own anonymity as I have become comfortable enough over the last five years to do so willingly and without reservation. I am proud of my journey, grateful for the path that has been set before me and in extreme debt to those who have shown me the way to a better life in sobriety.
While completely mindful and respectful of others anonymity, I choose to be open about my disease of addiction, my past, and most importantly my recovery. I choose to discuss it with anyone who may benefit from my experience, strength and hope.
October 27,2007 I was scared, alone and homeless. I literally had nowhere to go following the ultimatum by my Mother to leave her house. This tough love and admittedly one of the hardest things she has ever had to do set my reality in place and made me face the grave circumstances of my existence and the dire consequences of my actions. May it be known here that this harsh action by my Mother was a saving grace and I am eternally grateful for her courage, dedication and love. You helped save my life Mom, thank you.
By a series of circumstances, divine intervention, a guiding light, little Baby Jesus or whatever you may
want to attribute it to, I ended up going to the west side of Dixie Highway in Pompano Beach, FL to a neighborhood that could certainly be classified as “The Hood”. My last resort to find a place to stay took me to a halfway house for men in a neighborhood I had never been in nor thought I would ever venture into. Sitting with the owner in his small yet neat and comfortable living room, with tears in my eyes I gave the short end of my life story practically begging this man to take me in. I quickly had the realization that my life had become completely unmanageable. I had lost the battle, lost the war, and now I was surrendering and admitting defeat. I could no longer continue living my life in the manner I had done for the past 35 years. In that small living room, on the west side of Dixie Highway I sat; a beaten and broken man.
Once the formalities of the rules, expectations, etc were discussed and I was offered a bed, to which I readily agreed, this complete stranger I had met a mere 30 minutes earlier walked over to me, asked me stand and gave me the most sincere and loving hug I had ever received while he softly said, “Welcome Home”.
Home it was. I lived in this amazing place with 13 other men who were just like me, at a crossroads, for the next eighteen and a half months. Some of them made it, changed their lives, stayed sober. Most of them did not. It’s the nature of the beast called addiction. I learned so much about myself and mostly of who I did not want to be. I learned to live with other people and accept a whole cast of characters I had never been exposed to before. I was taught the true meaning of trust and friendship. I was taught how to ask for help, how to humble myself and most importantly how to be honest. The lessons were life changing and continue to affect my life today in purely positive ways.
Among one of the toughest and most rewarding experiences I had at this place was being asked the very simple question “Who are You?” The search for this answer continues to this day as it still eludes me to a certain point. Here’s how it happened. Having been a resident for a few months and starting to get my life back on track I became frustrated, disillusioned and complacent on where my life had ended up. I was 35 years old, had nothing, and I was working as a cashier at a gas station. My fancy sports car had been repossessed and my Harley soon followed. A college graduate, professional salesman, business owner, home owner, earning over 6 figures a few years earlier, my life had come to this as a result of an addiction to booze. I would ride a bicycle, a train and a bus to get to work. What the hell had happened?
Seeing my restlessness and irritability the man who had welcomed me home a few months earlier brought me back into his living room, asked me to take a seat and asked me what was going through my mind. After I purged a ton of nonsense solely fueled by selfishness and self-centeredness this man looked at me and simply asked me, “Who are you?” As I began to give him my list of accomplishments, where I had worked and what I had done in my life he said “Stop. Not a resume. Who are you?”
I started again. I told him how I was a son, a father of two girls, an only child, “Stop” he said again sternly. “Who are you?” I looked at his face, in his eyes, for what seemed like an eternity and could not answer this question. I had absolutely no idea who I was. Bewildered I got up and walked out. How was this possible?
As my journey into a new way of life continued I started to learn who I had been and certainly who I didn’t want to be. Through work on my recovery, with guidance and most important willingness to change I began to realize that I certainly wasn’t who I erroneously believed I was. I was a liar, a cheat and a thief whole stole the most valuable things anyone can steal; love and trust. I was an egomaniac, as ironic as it may seem, with ridiculously low self-esteem. I was a master manipulator and a master of disguise. A chameleon who could blend into any situation playing the ultimate Oscar worthy acting role. I was different things to different people in different situations. I morphed and became, or acted like, the person I thought you wanted me to be. Sincerity was foreign to me and non-existent in my life. Few things mattered to me and I was merely existing rather than living. I was a lost soul who couldn’t answer the very simple question of who he was.
I knew things had to change and the only way for that to happen was to take action. I admit it, I despise working. The mere thought of going to a job every single day, doing meaningless tasks for a paycheck and spending my free time cleaning, doing laundry, paying bills, and sleeping creates a repulsive feeling in my stomach. I cannot call that living, it is merely existing. We work to pay our bills, we pay our bills to exist, we exist to be able to work. I needed more. I needed to start living and my favorite line from the movie Shawshank Redemption came to mind, “Either get living or get busy dying”. I totally took this to heart and for the first time in my life I was going to get busy living.
My life revolved around recovery and staying sober. I ate, slept, breathed recovery. There was no other choice. As I often say I know that without a doubt I have another relapse or run left in me, but with certainty I also know I don’t have another recovery left. This path I am on is a one way street. Failure is a very real possibility but not an option. I will not face another crossroads again and while the journey has been nothing short of miraculous it isn’t one I wish to start from the beginning again.
I started working at a drug and alcohol treatment center with a detox and 30 day inpatient residential program close to my 2 year sober anniversary. I began working as a BHT or Behavioral Health Technician which is really a fancy name for low paid babysitter. “Observe and Report” were among my basic duties. I can romanticize the position and claim that I was responsible for patient safety, working alongside nurses and doctors in the crucial daily operations of a 54 bed facility. While part of this is true, the reality is that we did head counts and tried to get patients to where they were supposed to be. Techs are glorified gophers who truthfully are way underpaid and don’t get enough credit for what they do. They truly are essential for the smooth operation of any treatment center as menial as the job may seem.
It was here, as a BHT, that I began to learn the difference between existing and living. For $10.50 an hour I could have taken the attitude of simply going to work, doing the bare minimum, punching in and out at the assigned times and going home. Existing. However, something unexpected and awesome happened. I made a connection with the patients, I saw myself in their faces, I was able to feel their pain and discomfort, I could relate to everything they were going through and I could genuinely celebrate their successes. I found myself looking forward to going to work, I began to develop a passion for what I did, as simple as it may have been, I began to live.
I quickly found that with humility, sincerity and love for others I was enjoying my work. It stopped being a job and it became my purpose. There were many trying and frustrating days. There were days I couldn’t wait to go home. There were days where I questioned why I was putting so much of an effort into something that seemed pointless. Yet right when I was ready to revert to my old ways of indifference and not caring about anything something would happen that would recharge me, inspire me and fuel me to keep going. It was often as simple as a patient saying “thank you” or asking me for a hug. I was making a difference in people’s lives, I was offering hope and love in the same manner it had been offered to me in that living room by a complete stranger at a halfway house in the hood. My only reward the knowledge that I had helped another human being.
I started to look at the other techs that worked with me and I began to see that they too were doing the same thing. Yes, there were some who hated their job and could have cared less, but the majority of the people who worked there shared the same commitment and passion that I was starting to develop. I began to observe the more seasoned techs and learned from them. I wanted to have the ease and comfort in reaching out to the patients that they had. I wanted to follow their example. I learned that the techs were truly amazing and caring human beings who worked at this facility for the mere reason of offering love, hope and caring. What an incredible group of people I have had the honor of working with.
There have been some heartbreaking days. I remember a young lady in her mid 20’s, a heroin addict, who came in as one of the angriest people I had ever met. In 30 days this bitter, rebellious scared little girl changed and became a radiant, smiling, kind, generous woman who was full of life, who was full of hope and was making plans for her future. The classic example of the worm who became the butterfly. She was going to make it. In her 5th rehab, this time it was going to be different. She was going to follow the suggestions and continue her life in recovery. I was so proud and so full of hope for this beautiful woman who became an inspiration to many in her short time at our facility. We received a phone-call from her mother two weeks after she completed and left treatment. She was found dead of a heroin overdose. That one hurt. It hurt real bad. But rather than discouraging me, or making me wonder if my efforts were worth it, it revitalized and recharged me to go even stronger. I had to keep going and not allow this tragedy to discourage me from continuing to try to help others. After all, I was finding my passion, my purpose, my meaning and who I was.
After a year and a half of working at this facility I was transferred to a desk job with different responsibilities. Literally in a closet, my office consisted of a safe used to keep patient cash, Id’s and credit cards which also doubled as my desk. I would have to open the safe in the mornings so I could scoot my legs inside. Behind me was a large file cabinet with additional patient belongings and storage shelfs above the safe for paperwork, office supplies and anything else that required safe keeping. The area was so small that it was impossible to rotate a full 360 degrees in my small office chair as the walls, safe and file cabinet prohibited me from doing so. It was the greatest office I have ever had and I proudly walked in it every single day. I was able to see beyond the cramped closet, the four walls that almost seemed to be closing in on you, the lack of air circulation (there was no A/C vent in the closet) and saw the significance behind my tiny office.
My closet, not really worthy of being called an office, was a symbol of trust, of progress, of hard work. I had proven myself to my boss as someone who was honest, dependable and could get the job done. I was trusted with every patients belongings including credit cards, checks, cash, jewelry, etc. I was only one of two people in our entire facility to have access to the safe; I had to, it was my desk! This new position was truly representative of the changes I had made in my life. I had gone from unemployable, untrustworthy and certainly not dependable just a few years earlier at the peak of my addiction, to someone who could be given great responsibilities and be held accountable. There were times I screwed up royally and while my first reaction was to lie my way out of it or make excuses, my new-found/taught way of thinking made me tell the truth regardless of the repercussions. I was truly enjoying my new outlook, my new demeanor, my new way of conducting myself in a professional setting. This experience and what it meant further added to what would become my answer to the question, “Who Are You?”
Today, approaching the ripe age of 41 and God willing 6 years sober, I can begin to answer the infamous question. Clearly I have defined Who I Am Not. I am not who I thought I was or pretended to be. I am not that scared, lost 35-year-old child with no friends or family to turn to for support. I am not a pitiful active alcoholic who has lost all sense of reality. I am not a liar, a cheat or a thief.
So “Who Am I?” Following one of the basic principles that was instilled in me I can summarize it the best possible way. I am a spiritual, sober man who tries on a daily basis to make a positive impact on someone else’s life for the mere motivation of helping another human being. I am someone who attempts to live their life with meaning, passion and purpose. The best part is, I’m OK with that today.
Who Are You?
Do you or someone you know need help with addiction issues? Send me a confidential message and I will provide a list of resources and assist you in finding help.