“After about 14 years of active substance abuse, I realized that I had a terrible allergy to alcohol and drugs because every time I drank and used, I broke out in handcuffs,” says Rick Stein, director of business development at The Aviary Recovery Center.
Rick is a personable, passionate and genuine 63-year-old man who has been sober for the past 35 years. He shared with me how addiction and recovery have shaped his life and led to him shaping others’ lives.
At 28, Rick decided to seek help for his addictions after spending the previous half of his life estranged from his family of origin, couch surfing, losing jobs, and serving jail time. His mother had not spoken to him for years; he was, he told me, everything you do not want your kid to be.
It hit him that if he didn’t change how he was living his life, he was going to lose it. He realized that maybe he wasn’t ready to die. Rick was lucky enough to hear about a residential treatment center that he could go to, but he had never been exposed to Alcoholics Anonymous, therapy, or what a recovery process really entailed. All he knew of recovery was that it was supposed to be “a way out.”
When Rick decided to enter the program, he had never imagined that treatment would include abstinence, let alone that abstinence was even possible for him. He thought that the center would teach him how to handle substances more responsibly, how to do a little and not a lot, how to control what he could not.
But he did not learn how to control what he could not; instead, he learned how to let go of what he could not control. He learned in treatment how to live life on life’s terms, and that he could not force life to conform to his terms. Rick said that after detoxification and a few days of regular meals and sleep, he started to feel like a bit of a human being again.
After completing his program, Rick left the center with a stable foundation and a taste of life that was free from the overwhelming inability to not use. He knew that he would need to recreate and maintain the controlled environment he had just experienced, because if he were left to his own devices he would drink alcohol or use drugs.
With the help of his newly learned therapeutic exercises and the 12-step program, Rick continued to stay sober and began to achieve what he had always considered a normal life. He got a job in the business world, a house, a car, and a garage to park it in.
Rick was never one to conceal his addictions, and achieving sobriety did not change that. He explained that when he first got sober, he was so frightened of where he had been and of returning to that place.
It was this fear that led him to telling the people he was with that if they ever heard him say, “It’s okay if I smoke one joint or drink one beer,” to stop him.
“I can’t drink or smoke at all because I don’t know how to do it just ‘a little,’” he would tell them. “Please understand that I’m sick. I’m telling you this now with a sober mind, so no matter how hard I try to convince you later, it’s never okay.”
As time went on, Rick said that he continued to grow less concerned with what others think of his addictions: his attitude became “this is me and this is how it is.” This openness about addiction led to people coming up to him, saying “My friend [or husband, or father, etc.] has a little bit of a problem with addiction—can you help me?” Rick stayed close to the recovery community and was involved in recovery-based charities and active in AA meetings, so he was always able to direct people to centers.
Through these connections in the treatment world, a perfect opportunity popped up. One of the treatment centers that he helped establish—The Aviary Recovery Center—told him they needed someone to represent them in his area. Rick believes that everything happens for a reason, and from then on, everything fell into place.
Now, as Aviary’s director of business development, Rick’s job entails a lot: outreach to the community, professionals, and other treatment facilities; serving as the public face of the Aviary; and, last but not least, working with clients, insurance companies, and fellow employees.
Due to his personal history and experience in the business world, Rick is a natural as the Aviary’s director of development. He enjoys the opportunity to help people get the resources that they’re looking for, raising awareness of the kind of care the Aviary can deliver, and seeing a client that’s struggling with addiction become successful in response to the treatment.
Rick’s passion for the Aviary is tangible and he has a fatherly pride for the center’s potential to positively impact the St. Louis community. His genuine love for what he does comes back to his humility and personal experience with recovery.
Rick said, “I ended up where I belong. Every day allows me to remember how grateful and lucky I am to live through addiction, that I get the opportunity to help people and that I had something to do with opening a treatment center like the one we opened.”
I asked Rick what he would say to someone who has a loved one struggling with addiction. He replied,
“You didn’t cause it, you can’t control it and you can’t cure it.” If Rick could say one thing to someone who is struggling with addiction, it would be: “You don’t have to live this way.”
Towards the end of the interview, Rick told me, “By the way, I got my mom back. After I got sober we had many, many years together, and I was able to be her caregiver at the end of her life.” This last piece of his story is a testament to how far he has come and to how powerful recovery treatment can be to one person’s life. Rick understands this power better than most: he’s living proof.