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 wasnít 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 driverís 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 didnít 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 didnít 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
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
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
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
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
didnít 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"