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Coming out of the Woods... Literally - Rick's Testimonial Story

Fog in the woods

My name is Rick. I am a recovering alcoholic.  I am from the gulf coast of Florida and have had epilepsy since I was nine. I slipped and fell, hitting my head while running around as a kid and three months later, I had my first seizure. I don’t tell you this for sympathy, just because it plays a big part with the rest of my story.


Growing up, my mother always told me that if I drank alcohol, it would kill me because of the medicine I took for my seizures, so I never did. I just smoked a lot of pot. I would skateboard, surf, play guitar, and listen to grunge/punk rock music. I was your typical 90’s teen until one day I was 13 and we were all skateboarding behind my girlfriend’s house and I was really thirsty. I asked my friend if I could have some of his Gatorade, which was the new clear kind. I grabbed the bottle and three chugs in, I realized it was alcohol and my throat was burning. I yelled out that I was going to die and ran into the bathroom and looked into the mirror as if I only had minutes or seconds to live. Then… I didn’t die. My mother had lied to me! I was embarrassed and afraid and I was going to show her.


Once I knew I could drink, it was time to figure out what this new party was all about. I was so much more talkative and awake, and I was the life of the party, when before I tended to sit back and watch everyone have fun rather than be the fun. I really liked being the center of attention. There was a catch though; I found myself early on not remembering what had gone on past a certain time. It’s like everything was black, or a black out as I later came to find out.


This would progressively get worse as the years went on. I found that using certain pills or substances to keep me awake would always become my go-to, to prevent or delay the blackouts from happening. I knew that I was an alcoholic for a long time. I couldn’t just drink one. I wanted liquor. I wanted a bottle. I would settle for a beer if that’s all you had, but my objective was to get as fucked up as I wanted to, until my mind felt right. Until then, get out of my way because nothing and no one else matters, even if you were important to me. Now, I didn’t actually say this to people, but that was who I was on the inside and why I ended up hating myself for years because I was presenting myself to be someone totally different from who I really was, a sick, selfish, demoralized, depressed,  piece of shit, who’s only concern is to make sure that there’s enough in the bank for today’s drink. The worst part about that whole scenario is that for so many years I lived my life this way and didn’t feel like I could ever do anything about it. The last five years of my drinking were definitely the worst. Before then, I just always liked to drink a lot more than most other people and use other substances to help me function so that I could keep drinking without blacking out. I got pretty good at it.


When my ex-wife and I got married in 2016 things were already starting to fall apart for me. Asking her to marry me was a drastic decision that I made, hoping it would change both of our lives for the better. Even before I asked her, alcohol was already a regular reason for our many fights. We separated and divorced in a few years later, and I’m surprised it lasted that long. When we separated, none of my family was talking to me because of my alcoholism. I had lost everything I had ever loved and hated myself. While my ex drove me back to my hometown to drop me off I don’t know where, the only thing I could think about is that I have $132.00 in my pocket. That could get enough bottles of vodka and cigarettes to last about a week and I could sleep on the beach under the walkway. All I had was a backpack and a guitar. I kept the guitar at my grandma's house, where I wasn’t allowed to be, and kept my backpack with me.


One night I was drunk and tired and decided it would be ok if I slept on her back porch. It wasn’t. Instead of taking me to jail, my cousin took me to the Salvation Army. They let me stay for six nights in a room for 30 guys on pads on the floor. Every morning you had to leave. If they suspect you’re drunk and you don’t pass a breathalyzer, then you're out. After you get six nights, you can’t come back for 6 months! I didn’t know what to do because I had to get vodka and cigarettes, otherwise I would start going through withdrawals, having seizures, throwing up with insane stomach cramps, and possibly dying. Being an epileptic and a chronic alcoholic is very dangerous, because withdrawals are much more intense. So, I had to learn how to panhandle to get some income. I’ve always been a good salesman, now I just have to sell my personality. I knew that once I made $34.36, I could buy one half gallon of vodka, two packs of cigarettes, four Gatorades, and food (optional).


I met this guy Jim, and we became friends. We cleaned the best we could in public restrooms. Sometimes I’d go months without a shower. We slept in the woods on two old beat to hell mats under a tarp that would leak when it rained. One day in those woods, I don’t remember much at all, I woke up in the night and felt very strange. He told me in four hours, I had at least eight seizures, and he sat with me to make sure that I was ok while I was having them. Jim had been with me when I had seizures before and knew to just sit there and let me have the seizure and make sure that I wasn’t hitting my head. And now I have difficulty walking, have lost the ability to run, a lot of my balancing capabilities, I can’t even put my pants or underwear on without holding on to something (and I have surfed 20 ft waves in Costa Rica), and I’ll never play music as well as I used to because something in my brain destroyed a lot of my memory and I have to reteach myself so many things. All because of this one day they call ROCK BOTTOM.


My Dad used to ask me, have you hit your Rock Bottom yet? I told him I don’t even know what that is. Despite being in and out of these rooms for over 20 years, I never worked the steps, never got a sponsor, never did it right before this last time. On October 18, 2020, I was in the woods (my home). It was in the middle of nowhere and very few people knew about it, but I heard a man’s voice call my name, “Rick! You ready to go buddy?” I was like, “oh shit, I’m hearing voices again.” Then, another voice was calling my name again. Jim had a burner phone that never worked in those woods and somehow that day it had service. I couldn’t believe it. He was able to give Chad and Marcus directions to come get me out of those woods, which they knew I was ready to do, after communicating through my dad that I had hit my Rock Bottom.


Let me tell you something about Chad Belger. He works with my dad in the Rescue/Fire industry and was familiar with my situation. My dad didn’t know what to do and had no one to turn to but Chad, who I had never met. Chad came all the way from St. Augustine, FL to Panama City, FL and pulled me out of the woods. We got along great from the minute we met. He made me feel like I wasn’t as much of a fuck up as I thought I was and that maybe there was some kind of hope just yet. It was a 4.5-hour drive to Jacksonville, FL to take me to a Sober Living House where they had a bed waiting for me and I could stay for at least six months. I drank two pints on the way there to keep me normal and not go through withdrawals and have seizures. When I got there, my BAC was .249. They said they couldn’t take me because was too intoxicated and they have to give my bed to someone else.


So, then Chad keeps going. He took me to Daytona Beach, FL, where I checked in to detox for seven days. Chad and I remained in contact, but he went back home to St. Augustine while I was there. After detox, I tried to get into a Sober Living House in Daytona but this one said I had to be intoxicated to get in and I was sober. I told Chad, “No problem, where’s the fucking liquor store?” I’ll never forget these words he said to me: “No. We are only moving forward from now on, never going back.” Eventually, Chad found a place called Real Recovery in Bradenton, FL, where he went to recover, and they had an opening, but not the same day. Chad took me to St. Augustine and I had to stay in a hotel room that night by myself. He got me a pizza and wings and some sweets we put Monday Night football on, and he left to go home, knowing he was just a phone call away. I noticed when we pulled into the hotel that there was a liquor store right down the street. That stuck with me, that if I wanted to, I could get some. Then I thought about what he said: “We are only moving forward. Never going back.” I went back upstairs and didn’t drink. That was my first step in learning that I could choose not to drink and still be alright, and that was a good feeling.


Chad drove me to Real Recovery and didn't know what to think. All I knew was that I got out of those woods, and I’ve got a clean bed and a shower. I’ve faked this program 100 times, what could it hurt to try to do it right? I had no money, just a few items of clothes that Chad gave me. He always took care of me. He got me everything needed to start a life from coming out of the woods: bed sheets, pillows, food, etc. If it weren’t for him and Recovery Rx, I wouldn’t have had a chance. But now it was time for me to do the work. I kept going to meetings and praying constantly. Prayer when I get up and at night has become such a valuable asset to my life and has allowed me to do things I never thought I was capable of, but God has shown me that I am. Don’t ever forget God or whatever your higher power may be. I’ve found it essential to my recovery.


Today I’ve been sober 1 year and a little over 10 months I’ve had a job in accounting since February 2021. I’ve went in front of a judge myself and got my SSI disability favorable judgment that three lawyers failed to do before me and won. I’ve still got things in my life that are not how I want them to be, and you can’t fix 25 years of drinking in 1 year and 10 months, but I know that my life right now is so much better than it ever has been, even when it’s not. The way that I continue to stay sober is by talking to other alcoholics on a regular basis because no one can understand a drunk like a drunk.


My advice to fellow alcoholics is to find yourself some alcoholic friends (recovering preferably) and call them. Going to meetings is the best way that I’ve found to accomplish this. Meetings allow you to hear so many significant stories that you would never hear otherwise from so many different people that you would probably would never talk to otherwise. Probably the most significant way I stay sober is to pray. This for me is the key to all of the promises in the Big Book coming true. God will not always give you what you want when you want it, but I find that as long as I do the right thing all of the time, that God will always take care of me and that gives me peace of mind that I’ve never had before in my life.


I no longer have to worry about what is going to happen tomorrow or in two or three weeks. I just have faith in God’s will and do the right thing just because it’s the right thing. I help other people like so many other people have helped me, and I work on my character defects every day to become a better me, so I’ll never be that monster that I had become. I know now that wasn’t me. I was and still am sick with a disease, just like my epilepsy. The only difference in this disease is that before I didn’t know how to take the medication. Now I do. My medication for this disease is to call another drunk, pray, go to meetings, read the Big Book, and repeat. I have the tools in front of me. I know how to utilize them. It’s now or never and I’m choosing today.


Thank you.



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