Bob started drinking when he was 12 years old. He would never say his addiction came about because he had a difficult childhood, but he did. There was poverty, neglect, and bullying. For a quiet and sensitive person it was a painful childhood that evolved into a difficult adolescence. As a young adult Bob went into military service, and over time held a number of jobs. He married and became a father. He got divorced.
Bob also became an everyday drinker. Over the course of a 25 year addiction, he always thought he could control the drinking. He believed that next time would be different. “I won’t be such an idiot next time,” he says. “Or I won’t get in trouble, or I won’t argue with the police, or I won’t something.” But true to the nature of addiction, progressively his situation got worse. “I had five impaired charges, along with other charges that came as a direct result of my drinking. I was always at odds with the police, I was always at odds with family. I was always at odds with friends. I was angry all the time. I pretty much, just didn’t know why I was on this planet, and I could have cared less if I would have died the next day.”
Unemployment, depression, and continued drinking eventually did lead to a point when Bob was close to death. “I came to Calgary to die. I didn’t come here to live, I didn’t come here to meet anybody. I didn’t come here to get sober. I was truly all by myself, and I came here just to finish off.” It got bad enough that Bob couldn’t remember when he had eaten last. He was in a cafe browsing the help wanted section in a newspaper when an advertisement for Alcoholics Anonymous caught his attention. He might have called then, but he didn’t have the money for a pay phone let alone a plate of food.
Bob left the café and began walking. “I was trying to decide should I walk out in front of a bus or just wait till I fall down from lack of nutrition and all the rest of it? Just how should I end this thing?” In better days when Bob was working, he used to drink at a nearby sports bar so he went there. He met the smiling face of an old drinking acquaintance who pulled out his wallet and proudly displayed his driver’s license. “I just got it back,” he said. “I’m celebrating. Come on in. I’ll buy you a drink.”
That sounded pretty good.
“I don’t know what changed. I don’t know how it changed,” Bob said. Instead of a drink he asked for a quarter, went out into the parking lot in the middle of an electrical storm, and made that call. The AA weekend monitor answered and promised to call right back with arrangements for someone to pick him up. As Bob hung up, neither he nor the volunteer on the other end realized that the pay phone wouldn’t accept incoming calls. Bob waited for that phone to ring. Bob’s drinking buddy eventually came out to see what was happening and pointed to where it said, ‘no incoming calls’. They had a bit of a laugh, and Bob asked for a second quarter. “I’ll just make this call and if it doesn’t work out I’ll be in.”
Out in the downpour, Bob waited for someone he’d never met to come get him. It wasn’t long before a white Cadillac pulled up. “I didn’t want to get in. I was so embarrassed. Here I am, a down and out, I have nothing. And this guy wants me to get into a white Cadillac.” Reluctantly, Bob got in the back seat. “I smelt like a wet dog. I don’t know the last time I’d showered. I’m thinking, I’m stinking up this guy’s car. I said to him ‘you should just pull over and let me out’.” Instead, the man took Bob to a shelter for the night.
The next day Bob declined an offer of pills from another guest. He watched as the man took two and stumbled into a wall. Bob was ready for Detox, and he spent the next 12 days there. When the opportunity to enter residential addiction treatment came up, he took it. “I guess it was a commitment on my part to really, actually, try to do something, to help myself.” Bob spent 10 and a half months at 1835 House, and it became a new start for him. “I was there with a really good group of people. I bonded with these fellows. We went through a lot of things together. We cried together. We had nothing together. And we just tried to help each other, as best we could. I think that was probably the most healing part of being there – all the things we talked about.”
Talking was a big part of processing what he was learning about his disease and the thinking patterns that feed into addiction. He came to understand that some of his old ideas and perspectives didn’t work. “I hadn’t made a lot of good decisions because they were all influenced with my illness and wanting to drink all the time. Everything that I decided prior to coming to Recovery Acres was based on, how in the end, I was going to end up with something to drink, or some kind of pill, or something to take that was going to make me feel different than I felt.”
Bob started connecting with other guys at the House. He learned from them, they learned from him, and talking through problems happened along the way. “I had all these emotions I didn’t know I could recover from. Some of the things I had said to my family or done to my family. All those tragic things that just eat you alive from the inside. You just have to talk about it. If you keep them, they’ll kill you. It’s that simple.”
A New Outlook
Bob’s depression lifted. When it came time to move out, he had learned how to live sober. “I found it very helpful staying in contact with the people I knew from the House. We’d get together. We’d go to meetings together, and we’d stay in touch. Go for coffee or a movie or whatever it was. I just kept in touch with those people who wanted to stay sober.”
Bob has been sober for over 29 years, and is still sober today. He went on to be an addictions counsellor at 1835 House for more than 26 years.