“My first bar scene experience was at a gay bar. It was really interesting to go into that environment because I felt safe. I really, really felt safe. I was sixteen. They didn’t card me. They invited me in.”
My name is Rico Bodin. I was born in Ceiba, Puerto Rico. The only reason why I say that is mainly because I’ve spent my entire life explaining my name. Being a now six-foot-two white man, usually when I talk to someone over the phone and I mention my name is Rico, they always assume someone else is going to appear, and they see me and then I immediately go into the explanation of how my name came about.
I have five siblings. I am the youngest of five. My father was what I know now today as an alcoholic, but he was a functioning alcoholic. You would never see him out of work. I mean, he worked every single day that he was to be at work. But when he would come home, he would begin his drinking. My mother, what I know today, was the typical button pusher. Things would get instigated. Then of course fights would break out and it’s either my mother beating my father, or my father beating my mother. I grew up in a household never knowing what was going to happen when my father got home.
I never felt comfortable with inviting anyone home. Growing up as a child, I didn’t really let anyone close to me. The home I grew up in, the elementary school I went to was right behind my house. I had this enormous playground. That’s where I would keep my friends at bay, in the playground. We would play and still to this day, when night falls and I see a porch light on, I’m reflecting to the times where I’d hear my mother’s blood curdling screams for me to come home because my father was beating her at the time. Mind you, she wasn’t always the victim. A lot of it was instigated by her, which was an interesting dynamic to grow up in.
My sister is the oldest and there’s three boys between us. My older siblings never saw that side of my parents. That really happened after my father retired from the military. I was the only child left in the house at that time. It was a scary time for me because again, [I had] that fear of allowing someone too close to me for fear of them finding out who my parents are [and] what kind of life I have to live in.
I remember as a child there was this enormous long hallway in our home that I grew up in. They would start at one end battling all the way down to the opposite end, and my bedroom was down there at the end of the hallway. That’s where I found myself trying to hide. I found myself several times hiding in the closet just because I didn’t want to deal with it. At one point, I found myself attacking my father thinking I was saving my mother from what was going on. At the time, she did play the victim a lot. That was one of my fears.
All the way growing up to the age of fifteen, I was short and fat. I was what today I’d consider being bull[ied]. I was teased a lot for being the short fat kid. My parents were convinced I was going to be the short fat kid in the family. My father was six foot, my mother was five-ten. Everyone was pretty tall. My oldest brother was the shortest. I quit all the different after-school activities that I had been involved with once I got into high school. However, from my sophomore year to my junior year, that’s where I got my growth spurt. I went from five-eight, 38-size waist to six-foot with a 32 waist just over the summer. I had this dramatic change.
I remember going back the first day and I got into my locker. We kept the same locker from sophomore to senior year. My friends were like, “Dude, what are you doing with Rico’s locker?” I closed the door and they realized, “What happened to you?” I realized, at that point in my life, people started paying attention to me. It was also at that point that I met my best friend that I’ve gotten to know in junior high and she and I kind of connected. I started taking her into the bar scene. My first bar scene experience was at a gay bar. It was really interesting to go into that environment because I felt safe. I really, really felt safe. I was sixteen.
They didn’t card me. They invited me in. It was just amazing to be in that environment where I truly felt comfortable. That’s where a lot of the drinking really started. I was introduced to drugs as well. I’d reach the point that if I didn’t do the drinking and drugging, I didn’t feel like I was a part of that society. I tried many times to step away from it but never could. I found myself right back in it.
I’ve lost two brothers and my father as a result of heavy drinking. I understand today that they very well could have been alcoholics. I know my father’s best friend tried to get him into the program and he wasn’t interested at all. My brother closest to me did come to the program, our twelve-step program for that matter, and introduced me to it in 1984 just before I came out of high school. I didn’t want anything to do with it because I didn’t think I was my father. That was one of my worst fears, that I would become my father.
My brother eventually passed away in ’89. In 1995, I found myself working at a hotel. I went to a party with a bunch of employees. The next day, one of the employees reports that I had been partying with them and I got called into HR. [I] had to do a urine test and found myself asking for the EAP program. That was really the first time I got a true introduction into the twelve-step program. I had to see a therapist and I didn’t want to talk to the therapist at all. She didn’t have anything I wanted. I didn’t want to reveal anything about my childhood. I remember sitting in these twelve-step meetings and realizing that I hadn’t done any of these things that these poor old souls had talked about.
I remember walking up the driveway and seeing the vehicles in the parking lot and they looked like alcoholic cars, [with] duct tape and dents. Then I get inside and there’s a bunch of old crusty men, [and] probably some crusty women. I remember seeing a lot of flannel. That’s one thing I didn’t like. Growing up in the South, I wasn’t a big fan of flannel. But I stuck around for about six months and never listened to similarities in the stories. Could not connect with anyone. I remember meeting this one schoolteacher and she made a pretty big impression on me. She always asked me to come back and I thought it was really interesting that this woman wanted me to come back, that she was inviting me back. I wasn’t used to that. I lived a very isolated childhood and I wasn’t close to a lot of people, so I didn’t know what it was like to really be invited somewhere. Still today, I don’t remember being invited to kids in my neighborhood’s birthday parties.
Eventually [I] ended up leaving. I moved from Jacksonville, Florida to Highlands, North Carolina. I had a friend of mine that had a cabin there and she was in a twelve-step program. I figured I would change the people, places and things because I figured it was the people I hung around with. I was in Highlands, North Carolina for just about three weeks and I found myself driving to Asheville, North Carolina, an hour and forty-five minutes away, so I can drink. Thinking about it today, I never once thought about spending the night. [I] go and party and drive the hour and forty-five minutes back through the mountains to get back home so I could go back to work the next day.
I collected two different DUIs. One was a DWI and then it switched to a DUI. The second DUI was in a matter of a two-week period. The first one I got away with or wasn’t charged because the attorney I had at the time was like a young Matlock. I was allowed my first phone call. However, no one answered the first phone call. He took that as far as he could and they dropped the charges to reckless driving.
My second DUI, the judge was so fed up with seeing me a second time within a two-week period that he said if I promise to never to step foot back into North Carolina, he would drop it to a reckless driving charge. I agreed. I agreed never to step foot back into North Carolina. Mind you, before I had moved back from North Carolina to Jacksonville, I was bound and determined I was going to live there because I seemed to be doing so well. I didn’t realize the town was going to shut down. It shut down from the weekend after Thanksgiving and didn’t open back up till after mid-March.
I had found myself driving down to Clayton, Georgia to work. Eventually, that didn’t work because drinking got in the way. I was determined I was going to run away from myself for that matter and found myself heading towards Mexico. I was going to live across the border. I didn’t have to deal with any kind of probationary madness, any kinds of fines or anything like that. Once again, I found myself running from my problems. I didn’t get to Mexico. I woke up on the streets of New Orleans with a slice of pizza stuck to my face. Apparently I had a great time. Don’t remember much about pulling into New Orleans. Don’t remember much about Bourbon Street. I just remember the next morning waking up with a slice of pizza stuck to my face on the sidewalk thinking, “Here I go again.”
My parents eventually had asked me to move back home. I did. When I moved back home, I found myself working in a bar. At one point I was living in a home with five lesbians. I received a phone call one day and my father had passed away. I eventually moved back home with my mother. I found myself working for another bar. I bring up the bar scene mainly because that’s someone I never wanted to become. I knew my drinking would have gotten bad if I ever ended up working in a gay bar. [I] kind of felt that was the last resort as far as employment was concerned. I did. I made absolutely fabulous money. It was nothing for a Saturday night to walk away from work with $750. It was great money. I had a great time, but 99% of the time I had been drinking and stayed lit during my shifts.
Collected a third DUI here in Jacksonville, Florida in 1999. I didn’t really want to face the fact that I did have three, and I was grateful at the time that the states were not communicating. I had to go [through] the basics of [being] a first time offender, them not knowing that it was actually the third time for me. I had to do community service. I found myself going back to a twelve-step meeting to get papers signed. I still, still to the day, didn’t see where I had an issue. I thought everyone else had the issue but me. I started going. I just didn’t want to really listen to what anyone had to say. I was still drinking at the time.
I found myself at a bowling event one evening with my best friend. Typical thing, bowl and drink, bowl and drink, and bowl and drink, because you couldn’t bowl without a couple of pitchers of beer. Coming back from throwing a strike, one of the guys that was in the bowling league said to me as he looked me in the eye, “Rico, you’re a recreational hazard,” which hit me deep. It was one thing to act a fool, but it was another thing for me to realize that I had hurt someone emotionally or I was creating some kind of scene. At one point in my drinking career, I found myself driving to Daytona Beach where I could drink, where I actually drank under the assumed name of Michael. For that reason, I knew that if I acted a fool there or caused a scene or fell off the bar stool or any of those things, that a white guy named Rico would stick out. I continued to drink when I went down to Daytona under the assumed named of Michael.
That evening of the bowling event, we went to a bar afterwards as we always did. I told my best friend that that was the last night I was going to be drinking. I did go back to that twelve-step program that seemed to know that non-drinking game, because evidently I totally understood the drinking game. I found myself sitting at the bar with a dirty martini in my hand. There’s a mirror, so you find yourself looking in the mirror. I remember looking at the mirror. I saw this guy and I’m like, “Oh that poor dude looks horrible.” As my eyes focused, I realized it was me I was looking at, which terrified me because that was a glimpse of what my father looked like. Once again, I never wanted to become my father.
I drank as much as I could till my best friend told me it was time for us to leave. I begged for her to stop at a convenience store because I wasn’t quite finished with drinking. She refused to stop at the convenience store. I went back to my apartment. The next morning I woke up, almost in a night terror awakening. I had realized what I had said to my best friend and I realized how many times I had said this to her that I was going to quit drinking. Immediately, I felt like I overreacted. I didn’t want to deal with it at that moment.
I chose to grab my laundry. I was going to go down to the bottom floor of the apartment complex and do my laundry and think about it. As I was grabbing my laundry out of my closet, I realized all my laundry and the hamper was wet. I realized the laundry was wet because apparently at the middle of the night I got up and peed in the closet. That’s when everything came flooding in for me because that was one of my father’s behaviors. [I] still hear my mother’s voice screaming at my father telling him to get out of the closet because he’s in the closet, not the bathroom.
Here I found myself at twelve-step meeting again. I remember them telling me that I needed to find someone to help me do these steps that they talked about. I remember them saying, “Find someone that has what you want.” I did. I found a good-looking guy that apparently had a lot of money and drove a great car. That’s all I wanted at the time. That’s truly all I wanted. I think we worked together for maybe six months and he ended up going back out. I found myself on a step that where I had pulled up all this garbage of all my past. I found myself sitting in the middle of all this trash that he and I had pulled up together. That’s where I got the feeling of abandonment. That same feeling that I got when my brother left home. I was the only child left in the house, the house of this craziness that I was left to deal with by myself.
I was at the point where I finally really looked inside and wanted to do something different about this problem I had. Here, I found someone that I thought would help me and they just left on me, which seems to be a track record even in relationships. I immediately thought, “Maybe I ran this individual off. Maybe I told him too much about myself and they didn’t like me.” Again, which was a fear of mine since childhood. I continued to go to meetings. I remember this one schoolteacher just said, “Keep coming back. Keep coming back.” That’s all I can remember doing. I kept going and going and going and just hoping something would happen.
Then this one gentleman approached me and he goes, “I see you’re serious about this thing. I see you really want to do something about your drinking.” He goes, “Here’s my number. Let’s talk after the meeting.” I’m like, “Okay.” I was terrified because this was a good old boy from Georgia. I was terrified because I wasn’t sure how I was going to share about me being gay. I felt that was a huge part of my story that I needed to be me and reveal everything because I understand as I heard, we’re only as sick as our secrets. I did not want to be sick anymore. I did not want to be my father anymore.
After the meeting ended we went outside. Before this gentleman could speak a word to me, out of my mouth flies, “I’m gay.” He just looks at me and he goes, “I can’t help you with that but I can take you through the steps.” That began this amazing relationship with an individual that the only thing we had in common was our drinking. That was the first time in my life that I actually had a bond with an individual that was willing to accept everything about me and wanted absolutely nothing from me. I’d never experienced that before in my life. I thought if you were my friend I had to buy you lunch. I had to buy you this, that or the other, because I never liked drinking alone when I was out there. I’d always pull a victim with me.
I worked with this gentleman for about seven and a half years and really found out a lot about myself. I remember my mother saying to me one time before she had passed away how upset she was that some stranger came into my life and got me to stop drinking when she had been trying for many, many, many years, just like my father, my three brothers, to get me to stop drinking. I knew it was something I could never explain to her, although I tried. I worked with the gentleman for seven-and-a-half years. I say that because after thirteen years of sobriety, he ended going back out.
That was difficult because here, once again, I felt I was being abandoned. Not that I felt I had abandonment issues, but I would say that has a lot to do with it. Apparently there are issues there of not trusting someone to stay. Within ten years of my recovery, I found myself going to a therapist because I was having issues with a boss at the time. I didn’t feel those twelve steps that I was utilizing were addressing my work issues. I sought out a therapist. I sought out a therapist that worked with LGBTs. Come to find out she was actually an HR therapist as well.
What came out of that, working with this therapist, is that the issues I was having with my boss stemmed from the issues I was having with my father. She really became the catalyst that pointed me in the direction of the health services industry. I found myself going back to school, which I couldn’t really reveal for a long time that instead of graduating from high school, I actually walked away in my 4th quarter of my senior year because my acceptance of who I was, my acceptance of my drinking that had began, and my acceptance of the friends that I had began to hang around with. I felt school wasn’t doing anything for me and it was time for me to move on.
Since [the] visiting sessions with the therapist and her pointing me in the direction of the health service field, I’ve since graduated. I went back and actually did a diploma, a high school diploma versus the GED. I received my [associate’s] degree. I also just graduated in May with my bachelor’s degree, and [am] due to go for back to school in January of this year for my master’s degree. What I’ve realized is all these individual things that have been put in front of me are God motivated. I find myself just being led by different situations that had led me in the paths of helping others, which was nothing I ever wanted to do. I wanted what I wanted for me. I would step on you or over you in order to get what I wanted out of life.
While I was in the middle of my bachelor’s degree, with the help of this therapist that I was using, she asked me if I ever thought about helping the LGBT community, mainly because the length of time that I had in recovery and some of the co-occurring issues that I was having with my own personal drinking. That’s where I’ve started realizing that a lot of concentration in my studies had happened. I found myself approaching a CEO of a community center presenting data to her based on treatment programs that are being offered to the LGBT community in Florida. There wasn’t really any kind of programs being offered.
What I truly wanted to bring to the treatment center was just a face and a voice of the LGBT community that were in recovery. It was a program that was designed that’s all-inclusive. It was a program that was designed where the community would come in and represent sobriety, not asking that any of the clients were LGBT, [but] just to give them a sense of comfort if they were. I spent about an hour talking to this CEO and presenting all this data to her about the possibilities of maybe doing something to volunteer with the community center, and laid out a curriculum of five different sessions based on the 28-day Minnesota Model that most treatment centers use.
As we ended the conversation and I felt it was time for me to leave, she asked me when I wanted to get started. I was amazed that she even asked that because what she revealed is a week earlier there was a transgender female that was on property and she was having issues with trying to get them in a room where they felt comfortable. She felt it was time that the campus started making the transition to cultural competency and being a more inclusive environment. [In] June of 2012, myself and five other members of the LGBT community, one being an ally, started bringing sessions into the treatment center.
It wasn’t until about a year into it [that] we realized that these sessions that we had been bringing into the treatment center had become sensitivity training for the non-LGBT clients. I still think today that all these little things that have happened in my journey of sobriety, since walking back into a twelve-step program in 2001, all had been God motivated moments. It was nothing that I truly planned.
I often say in my times sharing that I didn’t write in my yearbook, “I’ll see you in a twelve-step group.” I grew up in a family that you took care of your own situations. You swept things underneath the carpet and you didn’t tell anybody what was going on inside. I’m grateful that I was able to swallow my pride and ego and admit that I needed some kind of help with the non-drinking game. I’m grateful that there are rooms where individuals could go in and feel comfortable, rooms that you can be yourself and you’re accepted. I’m grateful that my journey is still continuing. I have a lot more to learn, be it I have the ability of giving back everything that I’ve learned.
Photographs taken at Gateway Community Services in Jacksonville, Florida, where Rico works as a case manager.