“Life doesn’t just turn beautiful just because you decide to get clean. Finances just don’t get miraculous so that you’re rich, but I wouldn’t trade my life. I think I needed to go through everything that I went through just to get to where I am today.”
Hi my name is Ron Nicotera. I’m one of six children, grew up in a very abusive—verbally and physically—household. Neither parents are addicts. My stepfather was just an angry person. We were poor and so I found relief from that home life when I was about twelve—I shot my first bag of heroin and I fell in love. To me, that was, that’s it. It made me feel good. I came outside myself. I wasn’t angry and through the years I just progressed to cocaine, drinking.
I grew up in the 60s and 70s so sex, drugs and Rock ’n’ Roll was like the norm. Then growing up in such a lousy home environment, I would try to escape any way I could and usually by drugs and alcohol. I got my first arrest when I was sixteen for possession of heroin. I went to jail for two years, came out and that was a long road of the destruction of this disease. Never knew about any of the recovery rooms, never heard anything about that and at the time, it was fun. I’ll be honest, I had a lot of good times. You know, if it didn’t make me feel good I wouldn’t have kept chasing it.
I got married at nineteen, had a baby and my addiction was manageable. It wasn’t that bad. I worked forty-hour workweek, married, trying to do the right thing. But you know the weekends would come around and the heavy drinking and partying and the drugs and sooner or later that just interfered with my job, my marriage. I was angry all the time so that didn’t work out and we left and I would just [blame] her or other things in my life not realizing it was probably the drugs and alcohol.
So as the years continued I just kept drinking and partying. I became an ironworker, which really boosted my drinking because that was a big macho construction guy thing and we would go to lunch at bars, after work at bars. I wouldn’t make it home till ten or eleven; have to be up at five and start all over again. It was pretty much like that for a lot of years, just drinking and doing cocaine and heroin and eventually losing job after job, relationship after relationship, and just always being angry and not really knowing why. You just bury all that pain in the drugs.
Then I got into another relationship and had two girls and that was bad from the start. She was an addict and an alcoholic. To support it I would sell drugs, eventually got raided, got arrested. Thank God they didn’t do anything to her. She took the two children and left. I kept going to court and at that time I was really starting to see that I had a problem, that this was a really serious problem. They’re talking about all this jail time. So that relationship ended. I ended up getting five years and going to prison for five years and that was the first time I ever heard any of the recovery rooms.
I went to a couple of meetings while I was there but still not really into it. Figured I could beat it. Got out, I don’t think I was out of prison a month before I started using again. It just sucked and I just kind of drifted along. Then I got arrested. I used to get in a lot of fights, bar fights, and so when I went to court the judge said, “You really need to look at your life. I’m tired of seeing you coming in here. You ever think you might want to seriously do something about your drinking and drugs?” And so he ordered me to go to a program—to the meetings—and then I have to show proof. So it was either that or go back to jail. I did that, didn’t like it, so I started attending some meetings in Manchester and met a few guys that I felt comfortable with. I went in there I said, “Yeah, maybe I could do this,” and they really seemed like they cared and it was the first time somebody didn’t want something from me. They just wanted to hang out. They didn’t want nothing I had. They just wanted the best for me and that was weird for me because usually everybody wants something, either your drugs, money, whatever.
So that was where the seed got planted and I had gotten a sponsor and was getting close then he had a freak accident and died. Hit his elbow painting his house and some kind of blood clot traveled and he died and so everybody was telling me I needed to get another sponsor. For me it’s hard, it’s hard for me to trust and build that bond. So I kept going to meetings and I got another sponsor. A month into that, he died. It’s like, “Oh Man!!!” Now I’m thinking it’s me. I’m thinking, “Wow, I can’t ask nobody else to be my sponsor. Who would want to? The last two died from freak things.” So, and I don’t recommend anybody, you really should get a sponsor and do it. I mean I did it the hard way. It could be done, but I could’ve [done] it with a lot less pain so now I am really questioning these programs. Now I’m starting to use a little bit, relapsing here and there thinking okay some people just aren’t going to get it and maybe I’m just one of them. I tried and got out of the pity pot for a while and then I’m thinking, “Geez, I started using again and I started losing everything,” and it’s like, “I’m not going to do that. I know this road, I’ve been on this before, I know where it ends up. I’m not going back to prison.”
So I went to a recovery spaghetti dinner, just out of the blue, and this beautiful waitress was flirting with me so I got to know her, and then she introduced me because she was really popular in a certain fellowship and she was flirting and it was nice. So I started go to more meetings basically to see her and lo and behold like a year later we’re married and it all started from a recovery spaghetti dinner. I started taking it serious. I started working the steps and putting positive people in my life, but there was one thing that used to get me. I used to sit in the back row of meetings and they would always say, the obsession to use would be lifted and now I’m in twenty-four, twenty-five months and I’m still everyday struggling still with the obsession and I’m started to think, “Man! This is like never going to happen.” I relapsed two times after getting twenty-seven months because it wasn’t going to happen for me.
Then this last time, we got in recovery, my wife got clean and was really working a good program. I valued our relationship that much that I said, “Well I’m going to give it one more shot. I don’t know what’s going to happen.” I remember and I don’t know how many months it was, I got past that twenty-seven-month thing and I was sitting in a meeting in the back and somebody brought up, “I’m so glad that God lifted the obsession to use,” and then I just thought, “Wow! I can’t remember the last time I thought about it.” It was so subtle and it happened. The one thing that was keeping me down was gone. It was amazing. It was like such freedom. I said, “Yeah I guess it is working for me.” I realized that the obsession was gone and that just jazzed me up more.
So we just took a lot of meetings, met a lot of people and I think just being so active in the fellowships and the people and having a good support group and doing the functions and volunteering, I mean it kept me outside of myself until I could straighten out all the stuff that I had wrong inside. Doing the fourth and fifth step dumped a lot of garbage.
About four years ago my wife told me, “Now that you got everything going you should probably open a Facebook account,” because [in my] second relationship, I had two daughters when I got arrested. Well she had moved and I could never find her. I even hired a private investigator. I couldn’t find her. So for nineteen years, I never heard from them. I figured they probably didn’t want to. They probably knew their father was just an addict/alcoholic/loser/whatever.
So my wife goes, “Open a Facebook account,” and I did and don’t you know, three days later, I get a response: “Are you Ronald N.?” I go “Yeah.” “Well I am Samantha N.” It was like, “Wow! Can we meet? I remember her pulling up. She’s like nine months pregnant, I haven’t seen her forever, but we went out to dinner and it was like none of that time had elapsed. Then my other daughter, her sister, took a little longer, but I would say probably one of the greatest gifts of recovery is getting my family back. I have a beautiful granddaughter, she’s my heart. My kids love me. They love spending time with me. One lives in Florida. I go down and visit with her. She comes up here. And it works, you know? It really does. I notice I’m not that angry person anymore. Matter of fact I am probably a little to the other side now with the humor and laughing and it feels good. It feels good to laugh.
Today I don’t do as many of the meetings, but I have a large support group of friends in recovery and do a lot of things. Found a beautiful biker church. How cool is that? I just stay connected. I just keep doing all the things that I learned how to do way back when and they still continue to work so why would I stop?
I’m coming up on eleven years December 25th. That was my Christmas present to myself, getting clean, and it’s been a long—I mean it was long and hard, a lot of trials and tribulations. Life doesn’t just turn beautiful just because you decide to get clean. Finances just don’t get miraculous so that you’re rich, but I wouldn’t trade my life. I think I needed to go through everything that I went through just to get to where I am today.
Photographs taken outside Ron’s home in Hartford, CT.