“I was in this beautiful place and the world was all around me, but I was confined to wherever the alcohol was.”
My name is Brian Farr and I am a person in long-term recovery. What that means for me is that I stopped using drugs including alcohol on November 13, 1996, and since that time my life has gotten immeasurably better. I certainly am not in a place that I planned to be, but it’s a place that I would not give up for anything in the world.
My story starts in a small town only about twelve miles from where I live now in upstate New York. There was no addiction in my family—at least that I knew about at the time. Later on when I was into my recovery and I asked about that, I was told that there was no addiction to alcohol or drugs, but it was odd that my father took that sleeping pill pretty much for the last twenty years of his life every night, and my grandfather on my father’s side also had just quit drinking, but nobody really talked about that.
So at age thirteen I took my first drink, and it wasn’t in upstate New York in that small town because I wasn’t in an environment where there was a lot of drinking. I was brought up in what I thought was a home that had a lot of money—I know now it was just middle-class—but compared to the other homes we had money.
My mom had grown up in Brooklyn in Bedford-Stuyvesant and in the summers I would go down there to visit—that was my version of summer camp. It was kind of the opposite of the inner-city kids coming up to the north; I was the northern boy who would go down to the inner city. We would go to Jones Beach, and we would go into the city and see the twin towers and the Empire State building. My uncle who lived down there, I realize now was an active alcoholic. At the time I just thought he loved Budweiser and I thought that was pretty cool.
He had a fridge devoted to Budweiser in the downstairs basement, and at age thirteen Donna, who lived down the street and I had an enormous crush on, thought that we both should have a sip of that Budweiser. I remember hating the taste and it was just horrible, but I drank that one and I drank a few more and we also had some cigarettes that Donna had provided us with and we went to see the movie ET—I remember that specifically. At that time you could smoke cigarettes in the movie, and I had a nice warm feeling from the Budweisers, and I just thought I had arrived.
So a few days later, Donna and I and my cousin hit the Budweiser refrigerator again and we also mixed in some liquor that we had gotten from their liquor cabinet. This time I drank to the point where I was out of control, do not remember much of what happened, and was very, very violently ill afterwards. I went out on my bike that they had down there for me—a bicycle—and fell over on the bicycle and hurt myself. There wasn’t a whole lot of monitoring going on by parents, so nobody really knew this had happened, and I remember the day or two after that thinking, “Boy, that was just horrible,” but the thought that I wasn’t going to drink again never went through my mind.
Alcohol from that age forward did something for me that I just loved. I realize now that I had an anxiety disorder that was coming on at that time, too. I kind of had the self-diagnosed ADD, and alcohol was a great cure for that, or it seemed to be. So even though [it was] the second time that I blacked out and it made me very sick—there was not a question that I had really found something there—that was wonderful. It was the thing that was going to make me comfortable in my own skin.
I came back to the small town in upstate New York after that summer with my first pack of Marlboro cigarettes, and desperate to get some other friends to raid their parents liquor cabinets and begin our drinking—and that’s what we did. Our drinking was mostly on the weekends from age thirteen to fifteen, and we would always find someone’s liquor cabinet to raid, and we would always find some place to get alcohol.
When I turned sixteen and got my drivers license, because you can do that in these rural towns at sixteen, my drinking really started to progress. Then I could get out to other places—there were bigger towns around—and I could go over there and drink on the weekends and have wonderful sleepovers. We did a lot of camping, but the camping was really just going out somewhere and getting so drunk you couldn’t walk and then sleeping at someone’s house or sleeping in your car or sleeping in a boat launch and that was the extent of camping to me. There were a few times when my parents would realize that I had said, “Well, we’re gonna go fishing, and we’re gonna go do these wonderful outings,” and I would leave all the equipment at home and they would question what that was all about, but never really to the point where I was asked about my drinking by my parents.
When I was sixteen in high school there was an English teacher who pulled me aside and asked if I was using drugs. I remember being very nervous about that, but I think he noticed my anxiety in school, he noticed my writing was so bad. I just was very defensive, but denied that completely, and never told my parents about it, never thought it was a problem. Certainly this was really the answer for me—this was not a problematic thing at all.
I should mention that earlier on food was probably my first addiction, even before the alcohol came on the scene, and I see that clearly now. I remember on snowy days in the winter that my mom would have me and my sister in bed and we’d read a story. There’d be a bowl of potato chips there, and a soon as that bowl was gone I would want another one. So right before I had turned thirteen—I was quite an obese child—I had a weight problem. I turned to food to fill up something that was empty to help with that anxiety I was feeling. But just before thirteen my mom did recognize that and she helped me lose a ton of the weight, plus the hormones kicked in and I had a growth spurt, so I was starting to look a little thinner and a little better. I think that was part of why I said, “Okay, well food’s not gonna do it, what else can we find out there?” And the Budweiser seemed to work even better.
So as a result of getting thinner and drinking more, I became more popular. I had always seen myself as kind of the outcast and the spazz and this anxious kid in school, but as I got thinner and as I got in with what I thought was the cooler crowd I gained more popularity. Instead of kind of being an advocate and seeing that I had been on the other side of that and bullied and made fun and “the fat kid,” I became a real jerk and a bully.
In senior year I was on the football team. I actually had been on for two years and I was voted as the captain of the football team because I was always a hard worker and I would never give up at anything—and that really helped with drinking hard and smoking cigarettes because I was never to give up. So I had become the captain of the football team and I was completely full of myself and I think the technical term would be just “an asshole” completely by senior year. I thought that this was all that my reputation was because I could drink heavily—my tolerance was very high. I would do these party games and I was just—I would learn later on that the correct term would be “egomaniac with an inferiority complex,” but that fit very well during my last year of high school and [I] felt like the king of the roost.
There had been a girl that I was enamored with and because I was now popular she paid some attention to me and I was dating and I just thought I had it all. There was an incident where I got together with some friends and we destroyed some soccer posts—this was a weekly event with us. We would go out and we would drink and we would destroy things and we would vandalize things.
There was a lot of anger still that I had, and I’m not sure where [it came from], and I’m not sure what that was all about, but I found other boys that were angry and we went out and would do these things. My parents ended up finding out about that. My name was mentioned as being involved and that there was alcohol involved and it was a very—it was the closest I came to really getting caught—but I felt as if I was a Jekyll and Hyde. My parents wanted me to be one way. My grades were good, I was into sports, I could kind of bullshit people and get out of things pretty easily. I’m unsure if I was really good at that or if they didn’t really want to deal with it, but we had to pay some fines, I was taken off the football team for a while, I couldn’t play in some games, and that slowed down my drinking. So my answer was to not drink until sports were over and as soon as they were over I went right back to it.
[I] lived through prom—a lot of drinking that night—and we were out driving and doing all of that. [I] lived through graduation—there was even more drinking and driving around. After graduation I was accepted into one college, which was all I needed. It was all I tried for, and the only reason I was going there was because it had a reputation as a party school. So again, looking back at it, my parents never really questioned these decisions. There wasn’t a whole lot of handholding or even direction going on for my parents on any of this stuff, and I thought that was just wonderful that I was keeping them at bay.
I had a good group of friends and we were drinking very regularly at that time, and when I entered college I just thought now we can really go. Now this will be wonderful. The first weekend in college—I think classes started on a Wednesday—and that Friday night I went out with a few of my friends who had come from the small home town including my roommate who I had known was a drinking buddy, and a few new friends from the college. We went to a bar and I thought that my jean jacket had been stolen from this bar—and that was enough to make me irate. So when we left the bar I started damaging some property just as a police car was going by—that was a very bad decision.
The police decided to chase me, I had no idea where I was because I was very drunk and the college was entirely new to me, so they chased me and they threw me in jail for that night—and that was horrible. I’ve always had a type of claustrophobia, and waking up in that cell—they didn’t put me in general population, they put me in my own cell. They had found a fake ID that I had that night, had taken off my shoes—had caught me—and I did not think I could be caught, I did not think I could be stopped.
So the next day I had to go before the judge and they gave me I think fifty hours of community service and there was some kind of fine, and then I was released to walk back to my dorm room. I remember thinking, “Boy, this town is really tough—they don’t know who I am. This shouldn’t happen to me. I’m not a bad guy.” But I made the decision that I probably shouldn’t go to bars anymore, so I just drank in my dorm room for the remainder of that year—that was how I got away with that.
I should mention that two weeks after that—because I wasn’t going to bars anymore, I was drinking in my dorm room—I was leaning out the window of the dorm room and screaming obscenities or screaming at someone. I was just letting them know I was there—there was nothing that I saw a wrong with this. The resident assistant, who kind of runs the dorm, came down and put me on probation for the semester, which meant that if I did that again I would be thrown off campus. I was afraid, but really just could not understand what all this fuss was about that was that was going on with drinking.
Amazingly it didn’t affect my grades that much, my drinking. I had always been able to get good grades and college was the same. I was certainly not an “A” student—a 4.0 was not my goal, but I did all right. I did enough to make my parents happy, and they were paying the bill and that was fine.
So I was drinking in the dorms, I was getting through and made it through freshman year. That summer [I] drank pretty much the whole summer, came back for sophomore year, and the first weekend of sophomore year I was arrested and I was put on probation at the college again—both having to do with things that had to do with drinking. So I knew it was time to make a decision, and my decision was that I should go on an exchange program to some place where these laws were not so strict.
So I decided to make a geographic cure and go to England. The problem was my grades were bad—well, they weren’t [as good] as the other people[‘s] that were going to England—so I had to really make some pleas to the people running the program of how much I wanted to be there. I had not connected with any of my professors; I was becoming more and more isolated. I had always kind of seen adults as the enemy anyway, so I couldn’t get anyone to say that I would be a good candidate for that. I just had to show for myself how I would be. I schmoozed and then finally somebody canceled from the program, so they said, “Okay, we will accept you.” And off to England I went after that semester. I was going to solve this problem. I was nineteen at the time. I was going to go to England when I was twenty, and I was not to come back to this country until I was twenty-one, and that was going to solve these ridiculous drinking laws we had here.
So I wind up at Chester, England, a very small college. Before I get to Chester, England, I should mention that we traveled around Europe on Eurorails. There was a group of about eight of us that got together and said, “Before the semester starts, we’ll get these Eurorail passes and we’ll go and we’ll see everything. Well, my first stop that I wanted to see was Amsterdam. I wanted to go to there, I wanted to go to France where the wine was cheap, there was a great bar in Switzerland. So immediately my traveling companions saw that I really wasn’t there to see anything historical or relevant—I just wanted to drink and party.
I never made it out of the red light district of Amsterdam. [I] stayed at a very seedy hotel, and walking around there I had thought it would be more glamorous, but I do remember looking in windows. I haven’t been back, but at that time they had young prostitutes in the windows, and I remember walking around and thinking, “This lifestyle and this thing is not as glamorous as I thought it would be.” It was really where I started to see the darker side of addiction and the people that were trying to manipulate us and take advantage of us—but still, it didn’t stop my drinking.
There was drinking in Paris. There [were] some incidents in Nice in France, where we were diving into fountains—we thought that would be fun—and one of the young men knocked out some teeth and needed some dental work. There were just these indicators that things were getting out of control.
So finally we get to Chester and the semester starts, and the first weekend of the semester I am picked up by the police in England for being drunk and disorderly and having my pockets just stuffed with ridiculous items that I had stolen from the bar, because that was another thing that I would do when I was drinking. Sometimes I would decide to take things and steal things, and I had done that in England. Luckily they just kind of booted me to the curb. They thought I was a stupid Yank and I could not believe that even there I was going to get in these kind of ridiculous problems.
While I was there—I was there for a year—I did meet the woman that I would later marry. She was on the same exchange program. Her name is Suzanne, and she told me during that year, she said, “I just cannot handle this amount of drinking. I need to give this up for a while.” And I had to convince her what a horrible idea that was, that we were young and this was our time and we needed to drink—and she wasn’t too hard to convince. But I remember at that point being, “Well, how could someone possibly not drink? How could you give such a wonderful thing up?”
So the year in England was kind of a blur. They moved me around with my roommate, who also drank a lot, to a couple different dorms because we had done damage in the dorms just by having parties and doing things. We had really taken advantage of very nice people and a nice system over there, so they moved us around a few times, but they didn’t kick us out, I think they just wanted to get us through.
Right after my twenty-first birthday I came back to the United States, and I thought all of the problems would be done now because now I was legal and for the most part that was true. From age twenty-one on, I did not get a DWI—I could have. I had driven drunk hundreds of times—times when I couldn’t see and was following somebody else’s taillights. I just did not get pulled over at those times. There were a few incidents where—I truly do like the outdoors and I like going out and doing those things, it helps with the anxiety part of things—but I would end up outside in the woods, or at a boat launch vomiting and someone would tip me over. I would vomit out, but I could have asphyxiated; I could’ve died on my own vomit.
There were these blackout times, there were these times that were out of control, I was ruining relationships. People that were close to me—friends [and Suzanne] said, “I can’t watch you do this.” Once we got back to the states [Suzanne and I] were on again and off again, and she certainly didn’t know the extent that I was drinking because she lived in Long Island and I was up here. It was just kind of circling around the bowl, as I heard said later, kind of like the Ty-D-Bol man. I was in there in my little boat, just going around and around, but nothing bad really happening.
I finished up college up in Plattsburgh and my family had owned a sporting goods store. It was really a bait and tackle shop, but we wholesaled to about 100 different places in the Northeast before the bigger Walmarts came along and the bigger box stores came along. My father hadn’t really pressured me into doing that, but it was the only place that he and I ever connected. We never watched sports together, we never hung out together—we just worked together.
Another addiction in my family was workaholism. That was something that was always respected, and you could never work too much, and the worst four-letter word you could be called was “lazy.” So when I got done with college I had made no plans for a career. I had a bachelor’s degree, but had done nothing else really to go anywhere. I did not really want to go back and work with my father in this business, so I made a plan with two of my best drinking buddies to do a cross country trip and that’s what we did. The three of us bought a $900 Ford Econoline van and we took off for a few months across the United States. That really was a great time and honestly, once I got out there at my drinking slowed down. I simply didn’t have the money for it as much. I stopped smoking cigarettes for the first time since I was thirteen—again, just to save some money and because they didn’t smoke.
While I was out there I fell in love with a place in Boulder, Colorado, and I put a down payment on this apartment while we were traveling because I knew I wanted to go back there. When our trip got done, my plan to kind of escape falling into running this family business was to go out to Boulder, Colorado, which I did. I knew nobody out there and immediately became very lonely and turned to alcohol and pot more and started smoking cigarettes again. [I] really became isolated in my drinking and drug use, and was just completely alone.
Somewhere out there I saw an ad for a company that took European students across the country in thirteen-passenger vans, and you got to go to all these great cities and national parks. It was the cheapest way to see the United States, and I thought, “Well this will be just wonderful for me because I love to travel, I like meeting new people.” I interviewed for that job and I got that job.
As soon as I started—they had offices in New York City and Los Angeles—I knew this was going to be a problem, because these were European people on vacation who love to drink and I was driving the van and I was also “you were it.” The tour leader was also the driver, and I am sure there were many, many times—these were three- and four-week trips across the country—where if I had been stopped and breathalyzed, if anyone had checked, I would have had blood alcohol content in my system. I wasn’t drinking while I was driving, but we were drinking until twelve or one AM and then getting up at seven AM the next day and heading out for eight hours on the road.
That was tough, trying to keep that façade up of being the tour guide. Not everyone on these trips was drinking, but I always gravitated toward the people that were. I knew right away, even though this was wonderful—I mean I was at the Grand Canyon and we were at Yosemite and I was seeing San Francisco and Chicago and I wasn’t paying for any of this, I was getting paid for it—but I could not stop. When I got to that hotel room the passengers would come up and say, “Hey! Do you want to go see the Golden Gate Bridge?” Or, “Hey! Do you want to go on a hike? We’re in Yosemite,” or “Grand Canyon—this is beautiful.” And I’d say, “Well, I’m just gonna kind of open the cooler. I’m just gonna start the fire here at the campsite.” And inevitably I would sit there and drink with whoever wanted to drink with me. So again, just like being in Europe, I was in this beautiful place and the world was all around me, but I was confined to wherever the alcohol was.
I only did that job for two summers. During the second summer it became clear to me that I wasn’t going to be able to keep up my drinking and function at that level, so I made some kind of excuse. I think I had said that a family member was sick or ill and that I needed to go back to northern upstate New York—and that’s exactly what I did. I went back to upstate New York. I figured I had exhausted my options, I had been out there and seeing what was around, I truthfully think my drinking was scaring me a little bit, and I turned myself over to my father and said, “Okay. Here I am. I’m twenty-five years old now and I’m ready to run the business and be responsible.”
I moved back, I want to say in July. In August there was a big concert. We have an outdoor concert venue nearby in Saratoga Springs, and I went to this concert. I had I gotten an apartment in Saratoga Springs and I could ride my mountain bike over to the state park. Of course I was with a friend and we were drinking, and I think we smoked some pot that night, too, and while I was riding my mountain bike I noticed that one of my shoelaces had come untied and wrapped around the peddle. I reached down to undo that and I went over on the mountain bike. I didn’t have a helmet on, I knocked myself unconscious, and broke my collarbone at the same time.
My friend who was with me said he tried to wake me up for about twenty minutes. I was not coming back awake. He was somewhat concerned but because he was intoxicated kind of thought I was faking and it was funny, too. When I woke up, I refused to of course go to the hospital—I was fine—and I walked my bike back to the apartment and went to bed.
When I woke up the next morning with a broken collarbone and a screaming, screaming hangover headache, something was saying, “This is not right. This is not normal,” but I would not ask for help for anything. So I drove myself to the hospital. They gave me some nice, I think it was oxycodone or some kind of good opiate painkiller which I felt was pretty good, and I took those. My father now was starting to see that maybe I was not the responsible adult that I had said I was moving back here, that maybe I was just doing this as kind of an out.
Suzanne and I had been on and off, kind of a real stormy relationship, but at just this time she had said, “Enough is enough,” with me, too. I was a college graduate, I had not really progressed in any kind of career or responsible living. I think at that time, besides working for my dad, I was delivering pizzas. I had friends that were dealing a little bit, too. I just was not moving forward, so she set the boundary and she took off and ended our relationship. I drank for a few days about that.
That was somewhat of a motivator. When she left me I said, “I’ll show you,” and I got sober for a little bit. I really started trying at my father’s business because there was more we could do to make money. So I started to move forward and I also went out and got a puppy. I knew I couldn’t replace her with another relationship, but I could get a dog and that probably would be easier—and funny enough, it did [get easier]. That sense of responsibility, of knowing I had a dog at home, was enough to make me go home. Even when I was drinking or smoking pot, just to see the dog looking at me, I was feeling some kind of guilt about it anyway. I came to believe later on there was some higher power stuff with that dog going on.
So I started trying harder at my father’s business, I’m starting to get things together a little bit more, and the following summer at the same venue, where there was a big concert going on, that day our challenge had been to get a mixture of alcohol into the concert. I was hanging out with a girl that I was kind of seeing at the time and her older brother, and her older brother had a young child—I think he was ten or eleven. We had that ten- or eleven-year-old hold the mixture of liquor that we had in one of those sacks—the cloth kind of sacs that look like Daniel Boone thing—and we thought, “Oh, they’ll never search him.” We walk through to get in and it was on the lawn seats and they didn’t search him, and we thought, “Boy, aren’t we clever? This is wonderful.”
We had been drinking for most of the day. The concert was about half over and a good friend of mine came in who hadn’t come to the concert, and I knew as soon as I saw him that something was wrong. He told me that my father had been in in an accident and that I needed to leave and I needed to get to the hospital as soon as I could. So when I heard this I thought, “Okay. My father had this big kind of blue sedan he was driving,” and I thought, “All right, he was in a fender bender. It’s a small town. How bad can it be?” And as I was walking out with him I said, “So, is his car damaged?” And my friend told me he wasn’t in his car. He had a small scooter moped at the time and he never wore a helmet when he drove this thing, so as soon as I heard that I knew this was not going to be good—and it wasn’t.
My father had a severe head trauma from that injury. I raced down to the hospital. I’m sure again that there was alcohol in my blood; I’m sure I would’ve gotten a DWI in getting there, but I raced down to the hospital. My mom had been away down in New York to see her sister. My sister was coming in from Cape Cod—she had been out there—and when we got there the doctors made sure to tell us that this was a very serious situation. They had tried with the paddles that you use on someone’s heart to bring him back a few times and they had, but he was placed on life support and was on life support for about three weeks when it became apparent that he was not going to come back in any sufficient way. We had to make the decision to let him go—to unplug his life support system. And that woke me up.
So my father was gone, I had this business to run that in all honesty didn’t make any money, it was just a satisfying his workaholism traits. My mom was devastated, and my sister at that point was engaged to be married the following summer. Every family I think has a rock—has that kind a stable member of the family—and my father had a lot of traits that like anything else I would’ve changed if I could, but he certainly was a good provider and that rock. When he was gone that started to float away.
I immediately gave up my apartment and I moved back in with my mom and my drinking stopped for a while—that was August. I had to tighten down and we had to get things done, and I don’t think I drank again until October. When I drank in October it was with a friend of mine and we were in a small rowboat that I had that we used to go fishing with on the Hudson River, and there was a waterfall nearby. I remember being in just such a dark, grieving place, that I had my dog in there and my friend in there, and I was very intoxicated and thinking, “You know, I could just go under that waterfall. I could just bring this boat under there and that would be an accident and no one would be the wiser.” And was really contemplating that.
The next day when I sobered up I said, “Wow. I can’t believe that I would even think that knowing the pain that my father’s death had put everyone through.” But I didn’t want to live anymore. I didn’t want to live like that. I didn’t want to live being dependent on alcohol and thinking there was no way I could get through life without it.
So November 12th, the same friend and my dog and I went camping because my friends birthday was on November 13th, and this is the same person who had come to that concert and told me about my father. He’s had my back for years; he’s like a brother to me. We drank in a snowstorm. It was the last weekend this campsite was open—there was nobody else there. It was just a pitiful, cold, rainy, wet snow experience, and I woke up November 13th and said, “Enough. Enough is enough.” And that’s when my journey of sobriety started.
What happened was I’m a stubborn Irish son of a bitch, so when I said that I wasn’t going to drink—and I quit smoking, too, just for some extra torture on myself—when I wasn’t going to drink and I wasn’t going to smoke and I wasn’t good to do it for a year. I was going to give myself a year without this because I figured I could do anything for a year. Then I would see the benefits of drinking and smoking, and I would be able to go back to doing those things.
I started out and it was tough, and quite honestly I always like to mention you know that I quit smoking cigarettes at the same time as I quit drinking alcohol and doing drugs, because that was a tough addiction, as well. I truly do not think I could’ve quit one and not the other they were so tied to each other—and I was angry. I was beyond angry. I was [raging] at God, my higher power if you prefer, but I had always had spiritual beliefs. I was raised in a religious background, but I had looked for my miracle when my father was in the hospital and it wasn’t there and I was holding a huge resentment against God.
I, in a way, was just going to not drink and not use and I was going to take on this horrible life in this horrible world he had created, and show this bastard that I could do it. People didn’t really want to be around me, surprisingly enough, with that attitude, and I had this business. Thank goodness I had the business—the bait shop, tackle store at that time, because fishermen like to get up early. So I could be there at six in the morning, and I could stay there until nine at night, and that was my addiction at that time. My dog had no choice but to be around me, I really had no friends who stuck by me at that time because my friends had been drinking buddies and I was no fun anymore. My one friend who I had been with on his birthday and had quit drinking was still there and we were still close and we were still tight, but I just didn’t do it. I just didn’t drink and I just didn’t smoke.
Again, part of my story of sobriety is spiritual. I believe that my father was coordinating some things up there with my higher power. People started coming into my life, started coming into the shop—fishermen who were in various programs and who had been sober for a long time.
There was one in particular—my grandfather [and] my father had always liked coins because we own this business and you see a lot of silver dollars and dollars and neat coins come through—and I saw this gentleman playing with a coin that I didn’t recognize. So I asked him about it and he kind of didn’t know what to say and then he said, “Well actually this is a coin that celebrates my recovery. I’ve been sober for a while. And I said, “Oh, cool! I don’t drink either.” He started telling me about these other people he had met who didn’t drink and I thought, “Well good for them. They sound like real alcoholics, but I got this and I’m not drinking for a year and then I’m fine to go back.”
But this gentleman started coming in, and I was having conversations with him—and that happened more than once. I was meeting people who had programs they were working and who seemed very happy and comfortable and didn’t seem so angry with life. Over time I decided that I should check these places out and meet some more of these people. One of the people that I had met had been someone who was helping with the grief and loss group. I started going to a grief and loss group—purely for my mom, because I didn’t need this hubbub—but it was very helpful. Somebody they had also mentioned that they had a program, and that they had been sober for a long time, and they were inviting me to meet other people who had been sober and had programs.
So I went to the library and I took out this book I had heard about, and I made excuses as to why I was taking out this book, because I certainly didn’t need it. It was very interesting because I read the whole book and nothing made sense to me. Well, two things made sense to me, but nothing else in this book made any sense. One thing in there that made sense to me was there was a line that said you are powerless over this—and I knew that was true. As much as I did not want to think that was true, I knew that I could not have a little—I could not have one. I could not have one cigarette, I could not have one drink, I could have one joint. I’m just not wired that way. I can’t have one M&M—I’ll eat the bag. That is not me—so I knew they had me there.
Then there was something else, and it was a promise that was made about fear—fear of money and fear of people would leave me if I just did some things and got around some people and started looking into things. And that was enough. That was enough for me to say, “Okay. I’ll hear what people who have been doing this have to say,” and that was a start.
At that point I had gone over the year mark. I think I was fourteen months into sobriety, but I [wasn’t] just smart enough, even though I was stubborn, to know that sobriety was better than what I had been doing. My life was better, I felt better, and the main thing for me was nothing was telling me what to do anymore. I did not need a pack of cigarettes when I went out to go camping or out somewhere. I did not need a cooler full of alcohol. Above all I wanted to be independent and not need anything, and I knew that was happening.
So I had sold myself on this and I started putting myself around other people that were recovering. Looking back on it now, I was just so full of ego and so full of myself and I had some suggestions for these people, and I was going to show them the right way. Luckily the people I met—again, I truly believe this is all a part of God’s plan or higher power, if you prefer, that he was putting people who were very gentle with me and saying, “Uh-huh. Okay. All right. Well, just keep coming. Well, just keep listening.” And I’d be like, “Well, I’ll get these people to understand over time,” and over time it just worked.
From there I decided that I wanted to help other people. I was going to get everybody sober and they would just love this, this sobriety thing was going to be great. So I went to school to become an addictions counselor and to get into the field of addictions counseling.
I also got a job at a halfway house, and again when you talk about the behaviors and just the ridiculousness, I heard somebody say once that, “Just because the monkey was off my back didn’t mean the circus had left town,” and that certainly was true for me. I was just the ringmaster of unhealthy, ridiculous behaviors. So the first job I got at a halfway house said, “How long ha[ve] you been sober?” I was going about two years, and they said the minimum there was three years, so I said, “Good! Three years. That works.” I was still just saying what I had to say and doing what I had to do to get things done. The manipulation was still around.
I got into that halfway house and started working and immediately saw that not everybody wanted this sobriety thing. That was very shocking to me. I thought that it would sell itself. I saw people who really did not want to get sober. They wanted to get out of the cold for the winter and they were living there, or they wanted to get someone off their back, or in some cases they even had some kind of mental health issue that just was keeping them from using again. So I got schooled pretty quickly that not everybody was going to want this.
I had talked to some of the men that I respected—the first ones who told me about their coins and told me about their stories—and they really warned me about getting into the field, how it could wear you down and it wasn’t for everybody. But of course as soon as they told me that I just wanted to do it more and get in there and see what I could do. So I went and got my certificate to be an addictions counselor. I really enjoyed the classes. I enjoyed learning everything about addiction—I thought it was fascinating—and I ended up selling the family business. That was really when I burned not really a bridge, but I burned my safety net, and wanted to move forward and said, “I’m going to do this.”
If I could tell you the number of people who said, “It’s not going to work. You’re going to live broke. This is going to be horrible,”— there were a lot of naysayers, but something was telling me move forward with this.
So out of that program that I took I got into an internship at an outpatient facility that worked with substance abuse people. I transitioned over from working at the halfway house to an outpatient clinic, and I’ve been doing this now for about sixteen years and I love the work. I absolutely love the work.
About the same time—two to two-and-a-half years into sobriety—my phone rang and it was Suzanne. I had dated a few people, [but] I was really trying not to get into relationships. As corny as it sounds, I believed that I couldn’t love anyone else until I loved myself, and I had seen how that had not worked for me in past relationships.
But at two-and-a-half years Suzanne called me, and the last I had known she had been engaged and she had moved on. I had thought, “Good for her.” That was just another thing I had wrecked and destroyed and it wasn’t coming back. And lo and behold, she broke that engagement off, and we slowly started talking again and we got back together. She moved up here to upstate New York because she knew I was getting on this right path, and I was really nervous if she would like me now that I was sober, if we had anything in common now that I was this different person. I remember her saying, “This is the you I always knew. I always knew this was in there.” And I didn’t know it was there.
Suzanne and I did get back together and we got married in 1999. We have two children now—eleven and thirteen—and they have never seen me take a drink. I educate them in the ways that I wish I [had been educated]. I don’t blame my parents—it’s just a different world—but I educate them that they are carrying this gene around. They are carrying this allergy around that they have to be careful about certain things. We have very open discussions here.
When I was back in high school, when I was sixteen or seventeen, all I wanted to do was be Easy Rider—that was my favorite movie. I wanted to get the motorcycle like Dennis Hopper and get out there and just smoke pot, and do drugs, and be this lone wolf rebel—and the life I have now is nothing like that. The life I have now is very stable. I have two wonderful children; I have the love of my life who is here—and I owe that all to getting sober.
Getting sober was not a moment in time for me. There was not a light bulb that went off on November 13th in 1996. It was a long, slow process. There were times when I did not think I was going to make it. There were times that I wanted to drink. There’s times I wanted to have a cigarette. There’s times I’ve wanted to use any drug out there just to get out of myself, but I haven’t. And in good times I’ve called somebody that I can trust and I’ve talked about those. In bad times I’ve shut down and I’ve gone to old behaviors.
I’m getting better, but I don’t think I’ll ever be cured. This is alcoholism, it’s not alcoholwasm, as I’ve heard somebody say, too, and for me that’s very true. My “isms” come out and it’s a process for me.
As an addictions counselor, I work with people every day at the outpatient clinic, and I really enjoy that kind of work. I went back and got my degree in education, and I’ll be honest I wanted my summers off, so I thought that would be pretty cool, not that I thought I would be any better teacher than anybody else.
Through a spiritual chain of events, I ended up getting offered to teach at the college where I got my certificate in counseling, and I now run the program for up-and-coming addiction counselors. That is just—I get tingles just thinking about it. I cannot believe how lucky and blessed I have been, and it is all because of sobriety.
Every day I do something with sobriety and recovery. I’m involved right now in a recovery advocacy group that is growing here in Saratoga. I constantly have my head in some kind of self-help book or the latest research on what’s going to help, whether it’s Suboxone or some other kind of medication out there that can help people with cravings and what’s going to help to educate people with this.
I can never ever pay back what was given to me. Just the other day—my wife and I are constantly doing projects around the house—and we were doing one and my saw blade didn’t work, and I just was getting so angry, and this project was not going well, and I couldn’t believe it, and it all had to do with a countertop. So I was on my way to the hardware store, and it’s snowing outside and the weather is not good. As I pulled into the hardware store there’s a bus stop there and there was a man about my age and two young kids waiting out in the snow. I saw them when I went into the hardware store and I went in, and of course they didn’t have my saw blade there so now I’ve got a drive even further.
As I drove back up they’re still waiting and the bus is not there and I asked him if he was waiting for the bus and he said, “Yes,” and I said, “Well, jump in.” I gave him a ride out to wherever they were going—and that was me. There is no difference between that man and me. I knew this man, because I had seen him around. He’s still out there and he’s still active and he’s made some efforts to get sober, but I can never repay what I have now. I can never repay the gifts that I’ve been given—but I’ll try.
Every day I try to give something back. I will do whatever I can to help people that are trying to get sober and want to get sober. That’s what it’s like now. It’s a wonderful life, it’s a beautiful sobriety, and I just can’t say enough about this life.
Photographs taken outside of Brian’s home in Saratoga Springs, NY, in front of a treehouse he built for his two children.