From Liquor To Living
Circumstances have never been tilted in my favor, or so I always thought.
Even at a young age, I felt like the odd man out. I never felt I belonged and knew that I was somehow exceptional. Of course, it would take years to figure out exactly how I was unique, but I was unique none the less. I doubt my story differs much from thousands of others, but today I know that I have a voice that can help others know they are not alone.
I was born and raised right here in the Ark-La-Tex. Like many, I had a divided family. My parents divorced when I was very young, and to this day, I have no memories of them together. They both remarried and as a result of that, I have four parents. I also inherited siblings with whom I share no DNA, but they are my siblings, nonetheless. I did fairly well in school for a guy that hated it. I grew up in Simms, Texas, and at the time the only diversity I saw was me. I know it not to be fact now, but to a teen in the early 2000s, I was in Hell!
In a place where I felt chronically different, I recall escaping into fantasies a lot. I would often dream of being anyone other than who I was, which was still a mystery to me. I watched a lot of “reality television” hoping to find someone like me. They didn’t have to be like me completely, but some resemblance was all I was seeking. I was a freshman in high school when the first drop of alcohol touched my tongue. I remember a tingle at the back of my throat as I swallowed. No gagging. No burning. The liquor slowly made its way down. Instant alleviation. A wave of instant gratification came over me. For a teen that always felt alienated, with alcohol, I did not care what people thought of me. I’ll be so bold as to say that I didn’t even care what I thought about me. My biggest fear, which was not being accepted, became a fleeting thought. The pool of emotion I felt with my first drunk experience became quite a fervor of mine throughout my teens, lingering to plague my twenties as well.
I sustained, like any budding alcoholic would, but as a senior in high school, what should have been a pastime with friends became a way to drown my demons. I can recall going to a party shortly before graduation, and instead of drinking a few to “fit in,” I drank everything in sight. This was a first of many blackout episodes. You would think being violently hungover would be some sort of a wake-up call, but no. My only thought was “when do I get to do that again?” Graduation came and went in the spring of 2005. I enrolled at Texarkana College that fall with every intent of going. However, once it came time to attend class, I could think of nothing but chasing neon lights and shots of Southern Comfort. Anything that would alter the way I felt is what I did. From keg stands to illicit drugs and everything in between. I quickly failed out of college but somehow managed to get one “D” in a math class.
After that, I decided college was just not for me and took a job at a new hotel being built in town. I did well for a young man on the front desk, but in September 2008 I found myself in need of some dental work. I was prescribed narcotics for the pain and took it as directed. Being born with an addictive personality proved to be problematic when “as prescribed” turned into “I wonder what two will do?” Then came three, four, five, ten pills at a time. I was hooked, but oblivious to the fact that I was in trouble. The only problem I could see was whether I would have enough to get through the day. Red flags began to go up for people around me. People realized that “Richard” was a lot more chipper than most other people and for a fella that has a big personality anyway, when I was high, it was a full-on Broadway production. Add some alcohol to that and the “cocktail,” turned me into a disaster that had no regard for anything.
My first overdose was when I was 24. I got my dosage wrong one day and woke up at St. Michael’s Hospital. More red flags. Only, I am a master manipulator, you see. I can talk my way out of any situation, right? Wrong. Treatment center number one was a local one. I stayed for all of four days. I convinced myself and my family that the only issue was me stopping. Now that I had stopped, I could drink. Drugs were the issue. Surely “John Barleycorn” was not to blame. I went from the treatment center to the bar. This rocked on for about a year when I found myself face to face with my sister, Whitney. In full E-True Hollywood fashion, this was to be the first of several ultimatums to arrest my addictions. My sister said, “treatment or get out of my house.” I chose treatment. This time I was able to complete it. This was the winter of 2012. The day that I came home from treatment is the day I went right back to the bar. Again, alcohol was legal, so it most definitely could not pose a problem.
I lacked the ability to recognize I had a problem for years. There were multiple failed relationships, multiple run-ins with law enforcement, multiple rehabs, and multiple moments of harm to my friends, family, and coworkers. I was a cyclone. I ripped through lives with no regard of anyone or anything other than my own selfish desires and habits. This is how self-centered I am capable of being. I used everyone and offered nothing in return. By May 2015, I was homeless. I was jobless. I was helpless. I lived at the precipice of death and knew it all too well. Today, I can tell you that at that juncture in my life, I made peace with the fact that I was an unfortunate soul, and this is how I would die. My family suffered the most, I think. They suffered things that they never should have had to endure. I sought to hurt them, and I succeeded. To this day I maintain that the most awful thing I have said to anyone, I said to my mother. The lady that bore me. I live every day attempting to make that right, even though she says she has forgiven me.
For me, treatment centers didn’t work in regard to staying sober. It planted seeds, though, seeds that slowly grew over time and survived many more overdoses and trips to psych facilities. My day of grace was August 11th, 2015, and for that I am truly thankful. I was so broken, tattered, and riddled with shame when I got sober. I literally had nothing but my life and a touch of willingness to do something different. Eventually, days turned to months and months turned to years. I decided last summer, after being nudged by my friend Will, to go back to school. My .67 GPA is now a 3.35 and steadily climbing. I will graduate in December from Texarkana College with honors. I was recently accepted to Texas A&M University, Texarkana, where I will pursue a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. Then, who knows? Currently, my sights are set on becoming a licensed investigator and on becoming Board Certified in Civil Trial Law with the State Bar of Texas–Paralegal Division.
Sobriety has afforded me many things. I am also an Advocate for children with CASA, Texarkana, where I get to be a child’s voice in the courtroom. I have repaired relationships with my family. My word is actually credible today, and when I tell you I will do something, you can take that to the bank. Today I have a loving partner, Terry, along with genuine friends who want nothing but for me to succeed and be happy. On my journey, no matter how short, I have experienced loss. Some of my friends that used to walk this road of sobriety with me chose an alternative path and that path cost them their freedom. For some, it even took their lives. I find tranquility in the trials of life. A dear friend of mine once said, “life is life, and if you don’t fight life, life ain’t half bad.” How true those words are! I live my life today with the idea that life is a gift from God. Today, when I hit my knees to ask for help, I don’t see it as an act of humiliation. It’s an act of surrender. As long as I concede daily to the fact that there are certain drinks and chemicals that I cannot place in my body to change the way I feel, I still have a dog in the fight.
The disease of addiction is very real. In fact, it claimed the lives of over 70,000 people in the United States in 2019 alone, according to the Center for Disease Control’s website for statistics. In the literal sense, we all know someone battling with the disease of addiction, whether privately or publicly. Whatever the case may be, there is help. The harsh reality is that some lives lost are cautionary tales. Stories are sometimes meant to serve the greater purpose of making you feel something deeper than what the Lifetime Movie Network conveys. Addictions do not discriminate. They will claim the life of anyone.
You will never see me shame someone for battling addictions. Instead, you will see the grace of God in motion. I remain vigilant in my efforts to stay sober. Everything that has been gifted me will fit in a shot glass, and that is a fact. Bottle in hand, I will ruin everything in my wake if I ever backslide. So, when I say that my story is full of broken pieces, terrible choices, and ugly truths, I mean it. It is also flooded with major comebacks, peace in my soul, and a grace that has saved my life.