By Mike Pettinella
John (last name withheld) is a 50-year-old long distance truck driver who has been out of work for some time due to a 20-year addiction to alcohol.
He’s also someone who has found renewed hope and strength toward living the remainder of his days in sobriety through his participation in recovery programs offered by Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse.
Originally from Corning and most recently a resident of Saratoga Springs, John has found himself in the Batavia area and, as a result, things are looking up for him for the first time in decades.
“I have had a problem with alcohol for my whole life,” he said while taking part in a special game day and potluck dinner last week at The Recovery Station, UConnectCare’s social gathering place on Clinton Street Road.
John said he was taking too much time off work “because all I really wanted to do was sit around and drink all day.”
He was able to gather the wherewithal to get into a 28-day program and was referred to a local residential facility to continue the recovery process.
“They referred me for a little bit of aftercare, and I’m glad that I did it,” he said. “It was the best thing that I did in my life because I haven’t had a drink in six months. That’s the longest that I’ve been without a drink in probably for 20 years.”
John said that the counselors at the residence, which houses several people in recovery, helped him tremendously.
“I’m the type of person that likes to isolate a lot and everybody over there is really open and they make me feel very comfortable. I feel that I can talk to them about any mood that I am in or anything that I am feeling throughout the day,” he explained.
He then mentioned the importance of The Recovery Station in his efforts to remain sober.
“This place has been a godsend,” he said. “You can come here and work out as they’ve invested in exercise equipment and they have many different activities throughout the week if you look at the calendar.”
John said the certified peer recovery advocates at The Recovery Station are “good listeners who have helped me considerably.”
“From what I hear because I’m not from here, this area needed a place like this, and I think that everything that UConnectCare is doing for this city as far as recovery goes is wonderful,” he said. “Really, I can’t give this place enough accolades.”
The Recovery Station is meeting the need for him to treat “mind, body and spirit,” John said.
“I had the mental support and counseling support, but I always wanted to have a place to come and play games and work out. It has made a huge difference thus far,” he said.
John’s downward spiral with alcohol started when he was 13 years old and hanging out with some older boys.
“It was peer pressure from the bigger kids. They said that if I would carry their beer to the campsite – we used to go camping in the woods – then they would let me drink with them,” he recalled. “That’s what got me started but what kept me drinking was that I always had a self-esteem problem. I got picked on a lot when I was a kid as I had buckteeth and was kind of skinny.”
He said that when he “found alcohol, it took that all away.”
“It takes the inhibitions away. It makes you fit in. You don’t really care what other people say about you. It just makes you feel like you’re on top of the world. That’s what kept me drunk my whole life,” he shared.
In time, the effect of alcoholism reared its ugly head.
“As you get older, your body starts to wear down and it can’t process (the alcohol) anymore and it starts to affect your health,” he said. “For me, when I start to drink in excess, it makes me very unmotivated. I’ve never been really fired from a job, but I always have quit because I didn’t want to go to work or I didn’t show up to work.”
John said he realized that he was traveling down the wrong road.
“At my last job, I knew that drinking and driving don’t mix but also I didn’t have any desire or energy to go to work because the alcohol takes all of your energy away and makes you not care about anything,” he said.
Divorced with a son, John said alcoholism didn’t cause the marital split, but admits it didn’t make things easier. Still, he is grateful for having a relationship with his son and says his self-esteem and health are improving since he stopped drinking.
However, he is aware that the battle to overcome the disease is far from over.
“It’s a struggle if I don’t have support around me,” he said. “My whole life, and I don’t know if it’s a man thing or an ego thing, but I’ve always had a hard time accepting help from other people. I’ve always wanted to do everything on my own.”
John said he’s made a conscious effort to accept help from others and to get involved in social activities.
“That’s what has kept me from wanting to drink again,” he said.
He also spoke about how alcohol triggered the depression that has buffeted him.
“Depression is a side effect of alcoholism, for sure. A lot of people use alcohol to stop their depression, which helps for a little while,” he offered. “But then, as you get into the disease and you start to rely on it, it compounds the depression and makes it worse than it was before. It absolutely turns on you. Then the depression doubles and triples.”
John said he’s working through some issues and seeking to develop a support system and a sponsor – with the goal of being in a position to help others.
“I’m making good progress at that. I just don’t have a complete plan in place to be able to help somebody else right now but I can see that coming in the near future,” he said. “I’ve been doing a really good job about taking advice. People say the only way you can keep your sobriety is by giving it back to other people and helping other people. I do see that as being my long term solution to keeping my sobriety.”