- Friends & Family
Submitted by: Susanne Johnson
I stole a bottle of whiskey from my father’s liquor cabinet when I was 13 years old. I chose whiskey because I used to like cowboy movies. I thought that a real man should drink whiskey. I drank the whole bottle, threw up, blacked out and got sick… and couldn’t wait to do it again.
On June 21, 2010 I had a rope in my backpack, and I had perfectly figured out on which branch of the tree to hang myself. I became homeless and lived that night in a cemetery under a tree.
Fortunately, it didn’t become the day that I would end my life; it became the day my life started anew. I got clean and sober, and my life of recovery began. I’m the most grateful recovering addict you will ever meet, because I was dead and now I’m alive.
My life was a success story. I was a very successful Wall Street stock broker, and I was a senior vice president for 28 years. I have been the feature story in the Wall Street Journal. I have been in books and magazines. I even owned a famous night club. I had a million dollars in the bank by age 26, and I traveled by limousine.
I grew up in Brooklyn, and when I started at Wall Street, I was introduced to cocaine. In college I played Division One soccer; that’s how I got into opiates. I had never heard of any 12-step program in my life until that day in June 2010, which was the same day that my life almost ended.
My lifestyle was always very fast. I met and partied with celebrities back then. I thought I was a big shot, when really, I wasn’t. I was making obscene amounts of money, dating all these beautiful women, and next thing I knew, I was homeless under a tree, weighing 137 pounds and wanting to die. The progression of the disease got worse and worse.
My alcoholism and my drug addiction led me to make some really terrible decisions. Not only as a person, but also as a stockbroker. I was very aggressive, and traded some accounts in ways that were borderline illegal. I started to get investigated by different regulatory agencies and the next thing I knew– the commission took away my stockbroker license. My wife had divorced me and my two children were out of my life. I was depressed, couldn’t hold any kind of job and I became totally destitute, eating out of garbage cans.
I had a very strict Sicilian father, who told me that I was no longer his son and that they would no longer help me. My siblings were very successful and helped me a little bit, but then they all saw how I constantly lied to them and so they cut me off as well. King Alcohol had finally defeated the great Ray R., because I was a legend in my own mind.
I used for about 33 years in total. I used mainly alcohol, cocaine, and OxyContin. When I think of it, I break up my drinking and drugging career in thirds: the first third of it was so much fun, my second third was fun and problems, and my third was all problems.
In the end, I couldn’t even get drunk or high anymore. I just needed the drugs to feel somewhat normal, just so I wouldn’t be sick. I reached a point where I couldn’t live with alcohol or drugs anymore, and I couldn’t live without them, either. My inner experience was horrible, I was filled with so much guilt, shame, regret, and self-pity. I hated myself and was driven by a hundred forms of fear. It all climaxed when I was homeless under that beautiful tree for one day and one night.
That day, in June 2010, under that tree (which I shared with another homeless alcoholic), I was lying sleepless with a bottle of Scotch in my hand on a towel. Bugs were crawling on my legs, the roots of the tree hurt my back through the towel and I had no blanket. I couldn’t believe that I was homeless.
I finally passed out in the morning for a few minutes and woke up by the sprinkler system going off. Jimmy, the other man beside me, told me that we needed two cigarettes, and that I should go across the street to this 12-step meeting and ask for a couple of cigarettes. I had no idea about AA, NA, CA or any of those meetings, but I went over there, drawn by the wish to smoke.
After wearing Armani on Wall Street, I was then barefoot because I had lost my shoes. I was also soaking wet from the sprinklers, and I was drunk. I was asked to come inside by a guy named Michael. He asked me, “what happened to you?” So, I told him. At first, I refused to go inside. I just stood there and smoked a cigarette. But then he said, “Come inside. We got coffee.” So, I went.
It was the first moment of my new life. I picked up my white chip and have never used or drank since. From that meeting, I went straight into a halfway house. Going into that meeting was the greatest thing that ever happened to me in my life. I love the 12-step fellowship more than anything else in my life. Getting sober gave me one thing I never had in life, and that is purpose. My purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety.
Today, I have a modest car, a modest home, and (just this year) I married the woman of my dreams. I was awarded the title “Recovery Man of the Year” and I was sent to Washington to share my testimony of recovery on Capitol Hill. I am part-owner of two sober living homes. I try to show my gratitude to my Higher Power by helping other men. Much of my life, I thought that money and power were the highest, most desirable things. Although I had it all and even dated a playmate of the year, I was never happy.
I try to live in the moment now, do my best, and work the steps. The loneliness that I felt that only another alcoholic or addict can understand– that pitiful, incomprehensible demoralization we experience– was my bottom. I can say that I thought I would never ever feel good again.
When I was in addiction, I hated the man who became a father for my children. That hate turned around in sobriety. When I finally met him I was able to give him a hug and tell him, “Thank you for being a good stepfather for my kids.” All my anger, my bitterness, and my resentments left me in that moment. That is where I believe I have started my spiritual awakening.
My greatest gift in recovery involved my father, who was embarrassed of me because of everything that I did. He was humiliated when I was hit with nine felonies. But just this year, he was the best man in my wedding, when I married the woman of my dreams, who is from the country of Belize. That day, my father told me how proud he is of me and how this program has given him his son back. Exactly two weeks after that, he passed away and went home to the Lord. I’m so grateful that after years of not talking to each other, we became best friends again, and he could die happy.