I’d like to be able to talk about your recovery using the terms that you most identify with. What language or labels do you use to define your recovery?
I embrace the Twelve Step Model of Recovery. I went to Hazelden Springbrook treatment center which specializes in treatment for health care professionals. They use the 12 step model. When I think of recovery I think of the spiritual aspect of it which has facilitated growth in my life. I don’t think there are one or two terms that can encapsulate what my recovery has been. It is a journey to Wholeness that started by going to Hazelden for a couple of months and working the twelve steps.
Are you a person in recovery?
Yes absolutely. October 23, 2007 is my recovery date. Certainly I consider myself in recovery.
Why is that language important to you?
It’s not something that I focus on. It’s not that important to me. I focus more on my spirituality. In the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous it says is, “What we have is a daily reprieve based on our spiritual condition.” And when I was in recovery I really took that seriously. I really made an effort to focus on my spiritual health each day and that really transformed my life. When I think of recovery for myself I think more of the spiritual component.
What does it mean for you that it’s an everyday process, recovery that is.
It means that I’m one drink away from being very miserable. I talk about this being a spiritual program which is how the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous describes it. I don’t have the luxury of being complacent with my spirituality because ,if I was ,I would be right back in my drinking and drugging ways. I am dependent on my spiritual connection everyday to keep me sober. Some people can be a bit more laissez-faire about their spiritual journey and I can’t. My sobriety depends on it.
When did you start using?
When I was twelve years old my mom gave me one of my dad’s sleeping pills. He would get these migraines so they are strong sleeping pills. I was sick and I was miserable and
she thought, “Well I’ll help Bobby be more comfortable” and she gave me half of one of my dad’s sleeping pills. Well she gave me one of these sleeping pills and when that started to take effect I was just bouncing off the walls, running around the house--I was just euphoric. There are just some people that respond differently to medication, drugs, alcohol. And for me I really enjoyed that euphoria.
Addiction was in my DNA.. I had two uncles that drank themselves to death. Your family history can dictate your propensity towards addiction.Social and Peer influences also played a role. When I was sixteen years old.......have you ever heard of the movie Easy Rider?
Yes, I have.
When I was sixteen it was like the first movie I ever saw in a theater. Easy Rider is about these two guys who are selling drugs and cocaine and make a bunch of money and go on a motorcycle trip throughout America and sex, drugs, and rock n roll and freedom and that really resonated with me. Some people discount the influence of media and I think, at least in my life, it had a really big impact. I thought, “I want to be that. I want to be selling drugs and be the life of the party, that lifestyle.”
And I did. I dropped out of college and started selling drugs and drinking and partying. I always had drugs,and I was always High. We had a biker friend who would go to San Diego and buy cocaine and come back up and we’d sell it in the Northwest. I tried everything, you name it: speed, crank,hallucinogens, mescaline, LSD, heroin.... Once I read an article on the internet that had the sixteen most addictive substances ,and as I read through it I thought, “Wow, I’ve used fifteen of those.” I was not discriminatory in my use of drugs. I tried and used everything and alcohol was always at a foundation of that whole process. I was always drinking while I was doing all those other drugs.
Surprisingly I went back to college and got my degree as an RN and I was pretty functional despite always being messed up. I was on the ski patrol, I did a lot of wind surfing and backpacking. I was pretty active doing a lot of activities that you might not associate with the typical addict.
Did your family ever talk about addiction?
No, not really. I was raised in a pretty conservative home. It wasn’t really talked about. It was ignored.
Have you watched the movie Easy Rider again? You mentioned how deep of an influence that it had on you.
I watched parts of it a few years after my sobriety. I was in such a different place.I looked at it with a historical perspective....that lifestyle seems so empty to me now.
Especially coming from those impressionable teenage years, trying to find yourself and seeing this gregarious role model on screen, to someone who has lived experiences.
I had a lot of ups and downs with my addiction, but when you’re in the throws of addiction you rationalize a lot of dysfunctional behavior. If I would lose a relationship or if people wouldn’t want anything to do with me anymore because of my obnoxious behavior. I would not own my role in being obnoxious and driving people away because of my addiction. It’s Kinda typical for when you’re an addict..... you are stuck. you’ll do whatever you can to rationalize your behavior and your addiction.
Ultimately I lost my marriage, I was married for thirteen years but it ended because of my addiction. I now take full responsibility for my marriage imploding. I had a daughter who was 18 months old at the time. But rather than recognizing that my addiction and lifestyle was causing problems in my life I just put blinders on. I didn’t look at the cause of that because my first love was the drink and drug. Some people are like “I’m really trying to stop” and try and fail and try and fail..... but I didn’t even try. I didn’t try to stop...,because I didn't want to stop . I couldn’t envision having fun without a beer in my hand. That was who I was.
In fact, when I was getting sober I asked one of my coworkers, “How do you even have fun if you’re not drinking?” And she looked at me like, “What’s wrong with you?” To me, I could not even envision having fun without drinking because I had been drinking everyday for thirty years.
I don’t know why I’m even still here, intact, and functional. I snorted, smoked and injected hard drugs and I drank pretty much everyday. I have friends that are dead. I have friends that are drooling in a nursing home. It’s truly a miracle that I am alive and still have a couple brain cells left!
I think God had a plan for my life. I’m able to give other people courage, strength, and hope and I think that’s why I’m still here and still functioning.
I’ll just share a little bit of my story. After I got a divorce, I lived in Hood River by a creek and it was a great party house. I did a lot of sports and hunting and fishing but I was always drinking and using drugs. Then I met my seventh grade girlfriend. We had a class reunion and I remet Susie. We’d both been divorced for about eleven years. Susie and I really connected. We remet on a Saturday and went out on Thursday and decided we were going to get married that Thursday at dinner. Susie and I got married and she was just my soul mate. We were buddies back in the seventh grade and we just kinda picked up where we left off. She was my drinking buddy and we enjoyed fine wine, wine tasting, fine restaurants.
We had fun for a while and then it became fun with problems ,and then it just became problems. It’s amazing how someone you are so close to and that you care about so much.... alcohol can just ruin that intimacy and make you say things that you wouldn’t have said otherwise and you regret. Unkindness and hatred and resentments ....alcohol just fuels all that.
Our marriage was imploding after five years and we were struggling. We decided to reevaluate our spiritual journey but I couldn’t stop drinking. However Susie just quit. And I was like, “How did you just do that?” I could not stop drinking. I was taking narcotics as well, and benzodiazepines.
So Susie finally did the most loving thing she ever could have done..... she moved out. She said, “I love you and I care about you and I will support you but I’m not going to watch you kill yourself. You need to get help and treatment.” I always thought Treatment was for losers and that I was a winner ...I was smarter than this disease. I really had to reevaluate my priorities. I didn’t want to lose what was really, really dear to me. I love Susie and we were best buddies and soul mates. I knew I didn’t want to lose her. I reevaluated my journey and I said okay, I’ll go into treatment. I worked at a hospital. I was a trauma nurse and an OR circulator. I ended up finding myself at Hazelden Springbrook in NewBerg, Oregon. Hazelden has programs across America but this one’s speciality is treating health care professionals.
It was exactly where I needed to be. On one side of me was an open heart surgeon from Texas and on the other side of me was a director of x-ray from a hospital somewhere in Oregon. This made me think that maybe this disease is not about intelligence. These are bright guys. It was a new paradigm in understanding addiction and how this disease crosses social economic barriers, all gender, and race barriers. I recognized I needed help....and I got serious about working the program.
In treatment you discover this brotherhood of people who are from a variety of backgrounds. As I’ve continued to go through AA meetings and go to recovery groups it’s like you end up connecting with people you probably would have never had anything else in common. You really draw close to each other when you have the gift of sobriety and the gift of twelve step recovery. I was in that treatment program for thirty days and at the end of the thirty days we do what we call a DNA where we review all the drugs and alcohol in your history. Everybody in the group said to me, “You need to stay for another thirty days,” and I did. I was so grateful because during the fifth and sixth week at Hazelden I really started to grasp the whole piece of
surrender. At its core, alcoholism and addiction are self-focus. In treatment and in recovery steps, when you finally surrender and turn things over to a God you start to see the miracle happen.... I surrendered..... I got out of the driver’s seat and asked God to be in the driver’s seat instead of me. I quit trying to run the show. For me that was the key because I’d never really been able to listen to other people’s advice. I was always thinking that I had more insight than others. I found victory through surrender!
When I left that treatment program some of the old timers said, “Well, if you want to stay sober the day you get out you need to go find a meeting, find a sponsor, and start going to meetings.” The old me would have said, “Yeah whatever, I’ll do this my way.” But the new me said, “I don’t have all the answers. Thank you, I appreciate your insights.” I left and went and found a meeting, found a sponsor, I did a ninety-and-ninety as we call it. I went to ninety meetings in ninety days. I called my sponsor and he said, “I want you to call me every day.” I called him everyday. I never felt like I needed to because that’s just the way my alcoholic mind worked but I had reached a point where I recognized that what I was doing wasn’t working. I was open to trying a new dynamic and so I did. It was the dawn of a new day for me. October 23 2007.
I lived in Hood River and there was a great group there that defied the stereotypes of addiction. My sponsor was one of the best windsurfers in the Gorge. There were a lot of professional people in that group that really defied that stereotype. Athletic, successful people are perhaps not the most prevalent demographic when you’re thinking of addiction but there are a lot of people in that [Hood River] group who were athletic and successful.
I got back together with Susie. She was so supportive. She just saved my life. I will always be grateful to her. I can just totally break down what I think about her because she is a gem. She’s been there with me through thick and thin and she’s always believed in me. One of the things that keeps me sober is my gratitude for her faith and trust in me and I don’t ever want to lose that or violate that.
I was very serious about the spiritual component so we would get up before we had to go to work at like four-thirty in the morning and do prayer, Bible study, and meditation to focus on our spiritual journey and connection. I remember after a few months thinking, “Boy I hope this works because I’m sure tired of having to get up at 4:30 in the morning.” But we were committed to it and we really believed in it. It was a real key to my sobriety.
I’ll never forget--it was in the fall and it was probably ten months after I started on my sobriety journey--It was a cool crisp Fall morning....I was pruning an apple tree in my yard and a branch hit me in the ear...and it really hurt.....I said “Owww” it was cold and it really hurt. Then in the next moment,I paused,and I realized I had not said a four letter word that had been automatic for the last thirty-five years and I thought, “ Wow...I’m becoming a different person.” God is changing who I am.
Then I started reflecting on my journey...How the resentments and the bitterness and the anger that I’d had for a multitude of reasons.... it was just kinda falling off. I thought okay this isn’t just a theory. God is working in my life and I’m becoming a different person.I have a Peace and contentment that I have never had before. .So I became passionate about sharing that Recovery isn’t just a theory or a doctrinal thing. If you really surrender to God he will transform you! In scripture you read about the fruits of the spirit: peace and joy and long suffering ,patience and kindness. I was beginning to experience the promises ! Anyway...We got involved with our church group and became active leading small groups and sharing how God can change your life ....Ultimately our pastor asked me to be his assistant pastor. One thing led to another, I took some additional schooling and started pastoring. It’s just amazing where God leads you if you say that you’re willing. I never saw that coming. Here’s a guy that used to carry around a Crown Royal bag with the best drugs in town and now I’m carrying around a Bible, telling people about how a spiritual journey can change their life.
I’ve recently moved back to Walla Walla and am grateful to have had the opportunity to get involved with Trilogy. Step Twelve of Alcoholics Anonymous says having had a spiritual awakening we carry those truths to others and we share the courage, strength, hope we have to encourage other people to make some changes in their life. It’s one of the things that keeps me sober, by helping others. I’m grateful to be working with Trilogy to help promote that dynamic.
Was there a moment where you were reckoning with those sorrows, those tensions that you had been holding onto?
In recovery, the fourth step entails taking a fearless moral inventory. All the stuff that you have not wanted to look at your whole life, you are encouraged to look at. But not only look at, but take accountability for. So when I was in treatment I had a workbook that was that harms you’ve caused people, the damages you’ve done, and what was your role in that? It really creates this journey that is really painful. To unpeel all the layers of the pain that I’d caused others. It’s easy to blame your parents or blame your spouse and play the blame game, but recovery is all about being accountable....taking accountability for your actions.
I had some excellent counselors in recovery at Hazelden and they really encouraged me to look at what my role was in those scenarios. I started having these volumes of pages of harms I’d caused people. It was really gut wrenching doing that and going through that process.
The fifth step is sharing all that with another person. It’s easy to think, “Yeah I was kinda a scoundrel” but when you share that with somebody else... that’s really difficult.
I’ll never forget the feeling of relief after sharing all the baggage: the harm I’d caused people, the pain I’d caused to my parents, the divorce I’d had and all the pain I’d caused to my daughter. Just sharing that was like, okay, I’m moving on now. This is a new chapter. I’m going to make amends with those people as far as I can and give restitution for any harm I’ve caused. It was a difficult journey but it was a journey of healing and it’s a really important process.
That was the hard part about recovery. It’s easy just to say “I want a different path.” But It takes work.
How did you do the work that recovery requires without bringing shame along with you? Or were you able to dispel shame in some way?
Part of that is the spiritual component. Even in scripture, in the Bible, Jesus says, “I forgive you for your sins. Go and sin no more.” The scripture says in Isaiah, “I will remember your sins no more.” We have an opportunity spiritually to leave your old life behind and be born again, as the term is coined. And that’s part of what recovery is about too. It’s about being born again and just recognizing that there is nothing that you can do about the carenage you’ve caused in the past but you can make amends.
I thought a lot about how I can make amends..... Really, all that I can do is to not be that person again. And to be a good spiritual role model and be supportive and consistent and steadfast in my recovery and help others. So that’s what I’ve tried to do. Money isn’t going to solve anything. Words aren’t going to appease anything. What’s really going to make a difference is life well lived . Having Integrity. Living a life that is dependable and consistent....that’s what I’ve tried to do.
I’ve been thinking about how every minute you have that choice to decide. That freedom and that choice is sometimes crippling because it is entirely up to you but it seems like you were able to come to terms with it and see that choice as an opportunity.
It’s a process. I felt a lot of shame and remorse and heartache when I was first on my recovery journey. But time heals all wounds and you start to see that your harm is being replaced by good stuff. Susie and I have facilitated several Christian Twelve Step groups and we’ve seen a lot of lives changed. We’ve kinda replaced that pain and shame. Rather than having that emptiness we’ve filled that void with service to others and time and effort trying to help other people achieve success in their recovery journey. I think that’s one of the reasons I haven’t gotten stuck in that remorse or shame place.
I experience recovery one day at a time and I certainly don’t discount the importance of recognizing that I have sobriety for just today and I need to maintain that--but I’ve
had so many experiences where I’ve seen how drugs and alcohol have destroyed people’s lives including my life.... that it’s just nauseating to think about drinking anymore. Susie and I, we came back to a restaurant that we used to frequent after a couple years of sobriety thinking, “We’re strong enough in our sobriety now. We can go back to this restaurant where we used to drink and enjoy a meal without the wine.” We were having dinner and there was this couple next to us who had drank one bottle of wine.....Then they ordered a second bottle, and they kept getting louder and louder and then they started arguing. Then I looked at Susie and I said, “That was us.” They were so obnoxious and annoying and it was just an aha moment of “I am so glad we are not those people anymore.” I’d gotten kicked out of restaurants for obnoxious behavior. There was a realization that I am so glad I’m not there.
That’s one of the beauties of going to twelve step meetings. I don’t attend AA meetings as frequently as I used to, but when I do I'm able to share that my life is good now. I have peace. I have a good job and a great relationship. A day at a time I started making right decisions and life is good! I can offer courage and hope to others .....but what helps me is when a guy in a meeting says,
“I’ve got thirty days.” We all say, “Good on ya!” He says, “Yeah I lost my job, I lost my wife, my dog, my pickup...” whatever. His life is a mess and he’s just struggling to scratch the surface of sobriety. For me, I hear that and I’m like, “Thank you. I’m so grateful to hear your story because it reminds me of where I was , and it reminds me of a place I never want to go back to.”
That element of service is a method for you to help others and help yourself?
Absolutely. That’s one of the beauties of a twelve step recovery group. You help others and that helps you. In my early sobriety we moved to Goldendale--I mentioned that I had such a great core group in Hood River--and this Goldendale group had a small attendance. Half of them were court ordered and just were there to get their attendance and they weren’t really serious about their recovery. So I called my sponsor and said, “This is really disappointing. Guys up here aren’t taking the program seriously.” He said, “Well that sounds like a really great group for you because you can really model what it is to take your recovery seriously. Man, I’m really glad you’re there.” Well that was a little different take on things.
But he was right. I have the privilege of modeling something in recovery that could give them hope instead of it just being about me taking something. He had asked me what can you give to that group, what can you offer them. For instance...sharing with others the tools that I use in sobriety that enable me to succeed.
For the first few years in sobriety there are all these little triggers. For example; you're walking down the alcohol aisle in the store and you’re like, “Man, I’d really like to....” You have these moments that you have this overwhelming sense that you want to drink. Literally your life kinda hangs in the balance there.
One tool that really helped me ,was rather than being stuck in the “Man it really would be fun to get blasted ” you pause .....play the tape out ... say okay. I drink. I get drunk. I argue with Susie. I‘d feel horrible.I’d be prone to drink more. My marriage would implode. My job would be in jeopardy...what was I thinking? Sorta just playing out the tape,...playing out the scenario in my mind instead of just living in the moment of drinking right now. What are the consequences going to be? There’s a little book called Living Sober. It was written in the fifties and some of those old timers had some of these great suggestions. That’s one that resonated with me and was helpful to me.
I remember I used to have dreams and in my dream I’d be either drinking or shooting up some drugs--I used to use IV drugs--or I’d be just about to do that and then sometimes I’d wake up in a sweat. I’d be like, “Oh I’m so glad that was just a dream and I didn’t just blow my sobriety.” You know you get like thirty days and then sixty days, all of these milestones, and that’s for a reason. You get a year and you’re like, “Man I don’t want to screw that up.” It’s helpful to have those milestones. You carry a coin around and that indicates where you’re at in that journey.... No fun starting over.
You go to meetings and it’s like, “Yeah I had eleven years and now I’m just right back to square one.” I don’t want to be that guy. That’s another good thing about meetings. You go and it kinda reiterates no matter how far along you are in your sobriety journey, you are not immune to the disease.
Something that I read as I’m starting to learn about recovery and addiction is that for a lot of people relapse is just a part of the journey. Having to contend with that must be wrenching; knowing that in a way failure is a step. So then it’s not really a failure?
I think that’s why, for me, the spiritual component was so important because when you start experiencing a peace and a joy in your life I just think, “I don’t want to lose that.” I have a revulsion to relapsing because I don’t want to lose the joy and contentment and freedom from resentment and bitterness that I have been blessed with. I don’t want to have to do that back and forth thing.
But I’ve seen people who are like, “Yeah this is my fifth treatment program....” And it's so sad....... I went through a recovery program, oh, twenty years before I got sober and it was a court mandated thing. The whole way through I was like, “Yeah whatever I’m
smarter than all these losers. I will manage my life after I get out of here.” I never really surrendered to the recovery process. Unless you do, it’s not going to work.
You mentioned that your addiction put a strain on many relationships in your life, how did you go about building up those relationships again?
It takes time. Talk is cheap. You can say, “I quit drinking. I’m a different person now.” Most people will say, “Oh I’m glad for you, that’s great” but they’re not going to really open up to you emotionally until there has been an opportunity to observe your behavior for a while. So going in, I knew it would take time to reestablish trust.. One of the things or ways that you can make amends is being consistent and not relapsing and going back to the ways things used to be.
It takes a few years. I’m grateful for family that trusted me and even gave me the benefit of the doubt and said, “I have faith that you are going to succeed.” That’s a gift... not everybody does that; they say, “I’ll trust you after you have some time under your belt.” But I’m grateful for those people who trusted me along the way. I’m blessed that I had that. Both my daughter and my wife came to the treatment program that I was in. There was a week that you worked with family and you were kinda able to unpack. They would share with me some of the pain that I had caused their lives. That was difficult to look at, but it’s something that’s important to look at. I keep those letters and I never want to forget where I was. I think it’s important to not forget the past, to review the pain that you caused others, your parents, your family, friends. I never want to go back there. It’s good to not forget those painful experiences but to learn from them and it makes you cherish what you have.
What was the most difficult aspect of your recovery?
The fourth step of doing that fearless moral inventory and just being honest with yourself and peeling off all of the layers .... actually being accountable for your actions. That was the hardest part for me.
Would you like to share any more insights from your recovery journey?
Anybody that’s on the recovery journey needs to know that there is such a better life available if you stay sober for just 1 day.
I've been privileged to work with some folks that are in a really dark hopeless place.facing loss .. time in prison ...divorce . Circumstances can seem overwhelming. I offer them courage, strength and hope of a better life....I can say “Hey I was there...
there is hope for you.... this is actually the beginning of a better life for you. Just don’t do drugs today and tomorrow will be better.” I’ve seen that happen in so many lives. There are so many stories where you hear about a day at a time. A day at a time is how you do it and it invariably results in a better life.
I couldn’t agree more. Thank you so much for your time and sharing your words.