When I recovered consciousness I wasn’t able to move. I was upside down and the steering wheel of the Triumph TR 6 had my arm pinned to the broken glass of the windshield. “Two Trains Running” by the Blues Project dolefully slowed to a halt as the tape jammed in the cassette player. I had just driven off a 40-foot cliff and landed next to the Colorado River. My best friend, the owner of the car, had escaped major injuries and was able to get out the crumpled passenger door. He was trying desperately to lift the car off me as the gas leaked all around, but to no avail. He asked if I was ok and said he was going to climb the cliff to get help. I waited for the fire to start. It didn’t and help was there 45 minutes later.
Late the night before we had decided to meet the “ladies” at the Blue Water Resort near Parker Arizona to water ski. We drank beer, popped “bennies” (Benzedrine) and smoked pot through the night as we drove through the dessert. At dawn Rick asked me to drive the last couple of miles along Parker Dam Road – bad idea. We were both lucky to be alive. Now I realize I had an angel looking after me.
I slowed down my drug and alcohol consumption after that for a while, but I didn’t quit – I was 19
I was born in Brooklyn but the family moved to California when I was three. We lived in Redondo Beach until I was 14. I went to Catholic school with my four younger siblings. We lived near the beach and that was where I developed a love affair with the ocean. It also helped relieve the fears of being bullied. I used to get abused at the bus stop before school every morning. I often walked to school to avoid confrontations.
I learned to body surf and eventually saved enough money for a surfboard – it became my passion and my escape. When we moved to Orange County I felt like my life was over and I had lost my best friend.
My dad was a very successful comptroller in the Aerospace industry. Sadly he was never there for me emotionally. We never did things together and he missed most of the important things in my early life – first communion, plays, graduations etc. I felt that I was on my own when it came to learning about life from a man’s perspective.
In high school I was one of the smallest students – 120 pounds – and awful at team sports. I always felt less than and got targeted by bullies I had picked up smoking and started drinking beer as a weekly habit during high school. I liked the way it made me feel – my drinking buddies not so much – I always over did it and either threw up or caused a crazed scene attracting too much attention but it made me feel like I belonged and it helped with my fears. I hung out with the alienated surfer crowd and became a 10%er at school – one of the group of individuals that the principal targeted as degenerates. In my senior year I discovered marijuana and psychedelics.
The consequences of my drug and alcohol use mounted. After graduation I got arrested in Catalina for trespassing and possession of arsonous paraphernalia (I had learned to blow flames with lighter fluid) I was high on acid and alcohol and I got kicked off the island and asked to never return. Ten of my friends were arrested at the same time because of my behavior. That same summer I had tried to kill myself while drunk by intentionally crashing my car. This came after receiving a “Dear John” letter from my first major crush. Fortunately, I was only knocked unconscious from the crash and did minor damage to my car.
Soon after that I quit drinking because of a bleeding ulcer. I switched to pot and other drugs. The next year I went away to college at UC Santa Barbara. Studying took a back seat to surfing and partying and of course, my grades sucked. My dad withdrew his support so I sold marijuana to afford saying there. LSD became a regular escape from reality. I moved to the Bay Area the summer after I quit UCSB. In the Bay Area during the Sixties I did the hippie thing. I joined a band, grew my hair, went back to school and worked in a restaurant. I had many relationships after high school but they were very self-centered and emotionally abusive. I know that I had felt ignored and abused by the opposite sex in high school so maybe I was trying to get even. I didn’t have much to give anyway. Cocaine became part of the scene in the seventies. I drank and used Coke daily. As I lost motivation the band and school became a drag.
I quit both. Then I lost a long-time relationship because of my infidelities and became depressed. I got two DUIs during that period and didn’t drive for three years. Unbelievably during this time of struggle I met my wife. She was a waitress and I was the night chef. She thought I was a misogynistic ass – I was. But somehow we hooked up and a blossoming relationship began. I tried to be a better person - I really tried.
The whole Oakland scene was getting out of hand so Nancy and I moved to Orinda and later Lafayette to get away from it. We got married in 1976. And I focused on being a good husband. I got a job at Trader Vic’s when Nancy was pregnant with our first child, Giorgio. I quit drugs, alcohol and cigarettes and stayed clean and sober for about five years. I also became a long distance runner and practiced martial arts. I was really healthy and I did all the things a Lafayette dad was supposed to do – soccer and baseball coach, helping in my kid’s schools, attending martial arts classes with my son etc. But gradually I started smoking and drinking again after I left Trader Vic’s. Maybe it was the stress of the new jobs. I became a binge drinker for the most part – after all I was working hard and I was under so much stress that I deserved it. I stayed away from coke and other drugs except for pot. This went on for years. Every once in a while I would quit drinking just to prove that I wasn’t an alcoholic.
I injured my back in late 2009 and in 2010 the pain became unbearable. After two major surgeries I had become addicted Oxycodone. I also was also taking muscle relaxers and benzodiazepines for the anxiety of withdrawals. I was diagnosed with degenerative disk disease, an incurable condition, and I became resigned to taking drugs for the rest of my life for my pain. I had a justification for my addiction.
Without work I started to isolate and drink earlier and earlier during the day on top of all the meds. It helped with my daily withdrawals because I never seemed to have enough oxyies. I switched from wine to vodka and began to hide the empties. This went on until March 2013 when I called 911 because I thought I was having a heart attack or stroke. I was really loaded when I went to the hospital. They detoxed me off the alcohol for five days but let me take my oxyies and gave me Ativan. The day I was released the doctor came in and told me I had a problem with alcohol and that I should go to AA meetings. Thinking back on it I was kind of relieved to hear that. I went to a couple of meetings but I thought that they were religious fanatics and some kind of a cult. I decided I could do it on my own. With alcohol still available in the house I only lasted six weeks, if that. I never stopped taking my other meds. Soon I was drinking way more that before - I quickly went down the toilet. I was starting to get super depressed and suicidal. I went through withdrawals every day and would wake up at 3 AM sick as a dog throwing up and shaking so bad I couldn’t hold a newspaper. If I didn’t have vodka I would drink anything in the house – vermouth, beer, cooking wine – until I could get to the Quickie Mart at 7 AM. I hated my life and I had no idea of what to do. Death seemed like an option.
Nancy had had it. She was ready to leave. She started finding liquor receipts and empties everywhere. Just before she left me out my Son found CFR and asked me if I would go. I said yes. My last drink was on September 23, 2013 on the way to detox.
I spent eight days in detox. My back was still bad and I was feeling like shit, but at the same time relieved. At least I wasn’t having the horrible withdrawals – that was a major improvement. Dr. Von Stieff gave me stretches and exercises to help with my back pain and that gave me hope – something I had lost. At first I was still very unwilling to listen to the lovely folks from AA and NA that came to speak in detox but that gradually changed. My insurance covered my stay in the Residence and I learned how to live with three changes of clothes and no electronics. My housemates were a major part of my newly found life. We were all in pain, suffering, lost and demoralized. But it got better.
The Spiritual Awakenings came slowly. Nancy didn’t really want to talk to me and at first and I was broken hearted. But I slowly came to believe that I had to do this recovery thing for myself – a huge concept. Next I gave up fighting to be in control and I gave my spiritual side a chance to develop. As a recovering Catholic I had a lot of prejudices about religion but I was blessed to have a very spiritual housemate and one of the Resident’s Counselors to talk me though it.
I thoroughly enjoyed the program. I didn’t have think and everyday was planned to maximize my exposure to the tools of recovery. I learned not to future trip. I tried to be honest, open minded and willing. I was curious about this “recovery thing” so I would hang out in the smoking area and talk to all the newcomers from detox everyday. I would ask them what happened, was it a first time or did they relapse? I listened to the “relapsers” the most…
I listened to the “relapsers” the most. Their stories were always the same – they put their job, family, relationships, school or whatever before their recoveries, they stopped going to meetings, they stopped calling their sponsors and they stopped working the steps – most importantly they stopped being grateful…
I did not want to relapse – I wanted to learn from them. I was told to do 90 meetings in 90 days – I laughed – but I did it and still attend between 5 and 7 NA and AA meetings a week. CFR requires you to get a sponsor before you “Graduate.” I was lucky to find the person I needed at the “Askitbasket” NA meeting. He is a person who has had decades of recovery, who had relapsed and come back, who had made millions and lost it all, who struggled with relationships and family and wasn’t afraid to cry in meetings. He helped me through the steps and encouraged me to be a sponsor. The process of sponsorship is one of the biggest parts of my recovery. I am blessed to be able to work the steps constantly with my sponsees. They have given me more than I could ever possibly give them and I love them all.
I was encouraged by counselors to think about going back to school and studying to be a counselor. After eight months of recovery I took my first class at DVC. I loved it.
I just graduated from the Addiction Studies Program with an Associates Degree and a counseling certificate. I also pulled a 4.0 GPA, something I never thought I could do. In recovery I have sailed through cancer, radiation treatments and two surgeries without medications and I have learned how to manage my chronic pain with my new tools. There are financial challenges and the stuff of life but if I stay clean and sober I can face those challenges with my experience, strength and hope.
My life now is about the Triangle of Health – Body, Mind and Spirit. I work out everyday, I give back and I do something to improve my mind everyday. I have joined a new band and my guitar playing has improved immensely with out drugs and alcohol. I believe in Quality of Life and it has very little to do with money and material things - it is not having what you want but wanting what you have. I am truly grateful for my recovery.