Why I care, why I do what I do, why I go into the community, the motels, why I feel even the most lost have a chance to change, even if they have failed every time before:
Part I – What It Was Like
In the 1970’s, friends and relatives would gather and have weekend-long parties with food and drink and fun. There was a frequent sense of festivity and celebration, reunions with friends and family, security, and love.
Some of my earliest memories are of when I was 3 and 4 years old, finishing near-empty cans and bottles and cans of beers left behind because I liked the taste and the mental fuzziness that came along with drinking it.
I began experimenting in 5th and 6th grade with opiates that were in the house. I was often curious and I began taking a couple Codeine pills just to see what it felt like – I continued taking one or two in the morning before school a couple times a week in 5th and 6th grade. Taking them before school helped me tolerate Ms. Williams.
Between 6th and 8th grade, a couple of friends and I began drinking liquor at our different houses, experimenting and daring each other to try various liquors stored in the cupboard. Sometimes those who were 18 would buy for us and we would take it to school, store it in our lockers, and drank a little between classes.
I drank to the point of passing out on my 13th birthday. Alcohol took away my insecurities, worries, and fears. I enjoyed experiencing the world through the eyes of alcohol, the sense of ease and comfort.
By 16 years old, my tolerance had grown and I was blacking out at the end of the night. Between 16 and 18 years old, I would drink myself into unsafe situations, then drink more to not feel what I had experienced as a result of putting myself into unsafe situations.
The first two years of college, I spent with my peers, attending concerts and festivals, camping out and hiking year-round in Western Massachusetts. In the summers I would work in Vermont State Parks as a maintenance person.
I first worked at Lake St. Catherine as a lifeguard for a season while I was still in high school. then as maintenance for another couple seasons. When the Rangers who ran the park went to work at Sandbar State Park up in Milton, VT, they asked me to come with them. I lived in a cabin inside the park which was a day park. That left the rest of the evening to sit on the beach alone and enjoy the nature in peace and quiet. Or have employee keg parties when the boss was gone.
At an Allman Brothers concert in Connecticut one summer, my college friends and I were getting out of our vehicle with our usual dark colored 7 & 7’s, getting ready to go see the show outside at a small baseball field near the ocean. The first thing I noticed was these loud, boisterous men sitting on their Harley motorcycles, drinking my favorite, Seagram’s – right out of the bottle. I immediately thought – now those are the guys I want to drink with!!! A goal I achieved but by that time, I didn’t care if I was sitting on the back of a motorcycle or on the back of a cow.
It was about this time that my tolerance that had been so high, began to change. Instead of blacking out at the end of my drinking, I began blacking out after a couple beers. Sometimes I would come out of a blackout while driving. School was a few miles out of town, and after closing down the bars, sometimes I would set out walking back to school because I couldn’t find my car. On these kinds of nights, I would wake up under a bush in the park, in an alleyway, or up in the cemetery, not knowing how I got there or what happened leading up to it.
Many lightyears away from the college bars of most of our peers, my girlfriend and I started hanging out at a few local bars including the Pink Flamingo (which I strategically arranged to live above), Brittney’s, and the Purple Onion. One night, the President of a club called Diablos, followed me out of the bar and strongly encouraged me to use with him something I never had before and that night my life changed It is what brought me down so quickly and at a young age.
One night my usual girlfriend and I met a few new guys out in the alleyway next to the biker bar. It turned out they just got off a boat from Puerto Rico. They didn’t speak much English and they sold their substances, including crack cocaine in Holyoke and Springfield, before it ever got up to Vermont. As usual, we were clueless at the time to realize they were part of a group that called themselves Los Solidos. Holyoke, Chicopee, and Springfield were our new stomping grounds. A whole different planet.
Every morning I woke up with dread that I was still alive. I would jump to the window to see if my car was there, and if it was, what condition was it in – I was the one initiating behaviors that led to trauma, then drank and used to forget the trauma, which only created more situations to be traumatized.
Instead of the fun and foolish college world of following the Grateful Dead with my peers, or hanging out with the Vietnam Veteran era bikers who were part of the time pretty mellow, my life changed into the dark, rusted-out, hollow world of evil addicts living as animals in survival mode of conning, stealing, lying, hurting, and using. Use or be used.
I lived like that for about 8 months, dropped out the Spring semester of my Senior year, went home and quit everything on my own but continued to drink.
After a DWI several months later, I decided to go to rehab – mostly for a time out, to collect my thoughts, call some people, and figure out a new plan of action. None of it involved quitting for good. God had another plan. I was 22 years old and the last time I drank alcohol or used is September 10, 1994.
After spending a year just focusing on getting my mind and body back together, I joined AmeriCorps for two years in a row, used the educational grant from each year to finish my Bachelor of Arts in Advertising and Public Relations.
I worked in the Rutland area for about 5 years in various adolescent group home settings with both males and females, including the ever so popular and newly-opened girls group home on Stratton Road. I then turned my attention towards in-patient adolescent substance abuse treatment.
In Nashville, Tennessee I worked at a residential treatment center, Cumberland Heights, the sister program to the Betty Ford treatment center in Center City, Minnesota. I worked as a case manager working in their residential adolescent program just outside of the city. I taught psychoeducational groups, took the teens into Nashville for support meetings, and facilitate weekly aftercare groups for the same population.
My favorite experience of all was working in a Therapeutic Unit in a Women’s facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico. To come from where I had been, to a mother of three with a Master’s degree, entering a correctional facility as a professional instead of an inmate, was a validating and faith-strengthening moment for me. I always enjoyed hearing the gates shut behind me as I walked out at the end of the day.
Here I taught Relapse Prevention, Criminal Thinking, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and conducted group therapy sessions and individual sessions. I think I learned more from these women however, than they did from me!
I then began working as an intensive outpatient substance abuse therapist for adults. Here I developed and conducted daily three hour youth groups addressing substance abuse issues. I also conducted Family Groups for parents of adolescents in the intensive outpatient program. A fun population to work with was the adult group that met twice a day for three hours and they were all court ordered. I would usually have over 20 people in a group. Good times.
In Wyoming I developed and facilitated three hour Adult Intensive Outpatient groups 3-4 times a week for a community mental health center. I would also see adults, couples, and children.
When I achieved all the supervision hours and went from a provisional license to a Licensed Professional Counselor, I started my own business in 2013 and I continue to own and operate the same business.