How Medical Science, a 12-Step Program, and Gratitude Saved Bob’s Life
Bob Rice has packed a lot into his 54 years, but he admits that substance abuse from an early age and then a serious liver disease nearly killed him.
During September, which is National Recovery Month, Bob has no doubt that he is still alive—and planning to remarry—because of a liver transplant and the fact that he entered recovery for his addictions when he was in his late twenties.
“I wouldn’t be alive today if I didn’t get into recovery early,” he says. “I would probably have died before I reached 40.”
Bob, who was born in Boston and later moved to Dedham, Massachusetts, first started to drink alcohol when he was 12.
At 14, when he was at high school, he was smoking marijuana and using other illegal drugs.
As a high school senior, Bob became an IV user. He was hooked on cocaine for more than six months.
Bob admits to having had a rough childhood. His step-father was an alcoholic. “There was a lot of alcoholism and anger in the house,” he says.
Bob’s older brother was an alcoholic and drug addict. He died eight years ago.
As a 12-year-old, Bob recalls, he lacked self-esteem.
“I only felt comfortable when I was with my friends and doing what they were doing,” he admits. “All the kids I grew up with were doing the same thing. I didn’t like the taste of alcohol. But I wanted to fit in. That’s why I drank.”
By the time Bob graduated from high school, five of his friends had died from alcohol or drug addiction.
Detoxing in the Military
Bob, when he served in the military.
When they turned 18, some of Bob’s friends enlisted in the military, and he joined them. One way or another, he figured he needed to get off the streets.
“When I was in boot camp,” Bob says, “I went through withdrawals but didn’t know that’s what it was. For the first time in five years, I was clean. Graduating boot camp was the first time I succeeded in anything.”
While he was in the service, however, Bob got into trouble off base at a bar. Though he spent some time in the station prison, he was forced to confront his addiction.
“My commanding officer suggested I had a drinking problem,” Bob says. “He introduced me to a 12-step program to try to get me on the road to recovery.”
After eight months, Bob’s squadron was heading overseas, but due to his mother being sick, he was unable to go. Bob’s commanding officer decided not to send him because if something were to happen to his mother, he wouldn’t easily be able to return to Boston.
Upon returning from the military, Bob didn’t follow the 12-steps. The detox was in the past. He was drinking again. Nevertheless, he was a supervisor with a security company, setting up burglary and fire alarm systems.
It took another nine years before Bob realized, once and for all, that alcoholism was taking a terrible toll on his life and affecting others. One evening in 1987, when he was 28, Bob told his oldest daughter
Michelle (who was six at the time) he was going out and would be home in a while.
He recollects how he went to a bar to have a couple of drinks and to watch March Madness. “Those couple of beers, as always, led to an all-night thing. I didn’t get home until mid-morning the next day. I was really hung-over.”
When he got home, Bob and his wife got into a fight. Suddenly, he noticed his six-year-old daughter standing there, witnessing what was going on.
“Michelle was all dressed and ready to go to school,” Bob says. “Something hit. I just realized I was doing to that kid the same thing that was done to me growing up. Something just changed that morning. I figured this kid just didn’t stand a chance. She was going to be just like me if I didn’t do something.”
Bob sought out a friend whom he knew was going to 12-step program meetings. He started attending the meetings.
Bob started his own security company about one year into recovery.
“I have been sober almost 27 years now,” Bob declares, with a true sense of achievement.
Liver Disease and a Transplant
But Bob’s fight for his life wasn’t over—not by a long shot. In 1992, five years after achieving sobriety, Bob was diagnosed with hepatitis C. As is so often the case, it was probably dormant in his system for a decade or two.
Bob admits that his lifestyle is likely to have contributed to his liver disease, which also caused cirrhosis and hepatic encephalopathy, a condition that causes temporary worsening of brain function in people with advanced liver disease and a major complication of cirrhosis. But it’s possible that other factors were his immunization while in the military with an unclean air jet device, and a blood transfusion following a major car accident in 1979.
Whatever the causes, Bob’s liver disease continued to worsen over the succeeding years. He began to retain fluid. He experienced several dementia-like episodes. For a short time, Bob’s hepatitis C was treated with interferon but it was ineffective and made him feel depressed. On several occasions, he was hospitalized because of repeated bleeding in the enlarged veins in the walls of the lower part of the esophagus.
In 2006, Bob was placed on the liver transplant list at Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Massachusetts, but it took another four years before he received his new liver. The transplant took place on March 5, 2010.
Bob’s donor was a 55 year old male. “He must have been a very caring and loving person,” he says. He wrote a thank you letter to the family of the donor.
Despite his chronic ill-health, Bob worked at his own security business up until the day he received his transplant. His ex-partner would fill in for him when he was hospitalized, and he saved Bob’s business during the six months he couldn’t work after the transplant.
Apart from some short memory issues, Bob is doing well. He hasn’t been back in the hospital since the transplant.
Bob’s life has certainly changed. He is going to school to be a drug and alcohol counselor, and he works at a halfway house where people complete the detoxing process and prepare to enter their new lives.
Recovery and Gratitude
Bob believes that, in part, he was able to overcome his liver disease because he had stopped drinking and using drugs when he was so much younger.
So with the focus on National Recovery Month, what secrets can Bob share about how to stay free from alcohol and drug addiction?
For one thing, he says, former addicts should consider turning their lives over to somebody or something more powerful than themselves. “Growing up as a kid I thought I ran the show, I was in control, I can take care of myself; I didn’t need anyone else. Today I realize that’s different. I do need people. I need someone else to take control of my life at times.”
In Bob’s case, finding trust in God and Jesus has been enormously helpful. That’s not to say he doesn’t still have some personal struggles with his Catholic faith.
He also firmly maintains that people, whatever their addiction, should enter one of the many 12-step programs that are available. But they have to be ready to do so; you can’t force them.
“If everybody in this world were to read about the 12-steps and tried to live by them, we’d have a better world, a better society,” he argues. “It’s about respecting others. Don’t lie. That’s pretty much what it is. It’s pretty amazing.”
Most important for successful recovery from addiction, Bob insists, is gratitude. He quotes the widely-known maxim that “a grateful heart will never drink.” No matter what has happened in your life, he says, you should be grateful for what you have.
Bob explains it this way: “What happens with addicts of any kind is they get ungrateful. They want more. Why don’t I have this? Why don’t I have that?”
Gratitude and being of service to others have definitely enabled Bob to change his behavior. He was tired of hurting people, and one of the steps he followed urged him to make amends to those whom he had hurt.
Learning to Ride a Bike
As an example, when Bob was sober for six months, it dawned on him that Michelle, his oldest daughter who was seven at the time, was still riding with training wheels on her bike. Meanwhile, her friends were riding up and down the street.
“She wasn’t keeping up with the others because of my alcoholism,” Bob says. “I never got off the couch to help her learn how to ride a bike. So during those first six months, I took her outside and showed her how to ride a bike.
“When I wanted to have a drink, I hung onto things like that. I was grateful that God gave me the chance to show her how to ride a bike. It might not have been big to anyone else, but it was big to me. It is the common everyday little things that you have to be grateful for.”
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