Ron, 48 at the time of this interview, got his GED in 1989 after attending classes at The Literacy Project’s Charboneau Learning Center in Greenfield. He continued on to graduate from UMass-Amherst with a Bachelor’s degree in counseling.
What brought me to The Literacy Project was really my alcohol and drug abuse. I was at the Beacon House for men. I think I was about 32, 33 years old. Well out of high school. I dropped out of high school.
Kind of stepping back a little bit, my parents were separated when I was two or three years old, late fifties. My father got custody of me. He joined the military, army. Green beret during Vietnam. And so every time he went to Vietnam, I moved up from North Carolina to Westfield, where his sister lived, my aunt. And she took me in as part of her own. However, when my father’s tour was over, he’d pick me up and I’d go back down south.
And my educational experience suffered because of that, I believe now. I don’t blame anybody. That was just the way it was. I got sent back from the third to the second grade, and then I failed the fourth, in a period of three years, I guess it was.
So, eventually the Vietnam War was winding down and I went to school down south. Growing up down south it was ‘yes ma’am,’ ‘no ma’am.’ So, my father was trying to instill in me responsibility. You be on time. You respect your elders. But he didn’t know how to go about instilling that in me. This guy was very regimentated. Very army. No questions. No ifs, ands or buts.
That was in the late 60s, when the riots were going on. Of course, I wasn’t really cognitive of really what was going on, with the Vietnam War, the protests, the flower power, and all that stuff. But, I started experimenting with drugs, alcohol, which was just the way it was. I mean, you go to a local 7-11 store and buy a fifth of Boone’s Farm for 99 cents. And a pack of smokes was 26 cents in North Carolina, so you saved your lunch money for a day. I mean, you know. And we had pot and a little Warren Sunshine came along, and one thing led to another.
So I kind of rebelled. Being fourteen, and then you throw in the booze and drugs, and then you throw in the military, I said, “The hell with this, I am out of here!” Because, I’m used to – my story is one of the road. One of the highway, the road, travel. When my father was going to ‘Nam each time. No roots. You understand. No family. No foundation, if you will.
So, a neighbor helped me run away, buy a plane ticket, and I moved up to Turners Falls [where my mother lived]. And things really escalated downhill, real quick. Because I didn’t have that discipline anymore. My mother – you know – there seems to be more alcoholism on my mother’s side of the family.
By this time I was in ninth grade. I was only going to school to play football, because I played Pop Warner down south and I loved it. I really loved it. And to this day, I think it’s my only regret about dropping out of high school. I could sign myself out of school anytime I wanted. I was of age. I would just come into the office and say, “I’m leaving. See you later.” And that didn’t last too long and I dropped out again.
I drank and drugged for eighteen years. Beginning at 14 until I was 32. [My] twenties were a blur to me. A blur. Booze and drugs. Somebody said let’s go to Salt Lake City – so, let’s go! Hitchhiking across the United States, all that stuff. I was living anywhere anybody wanted to go. …Anywhere I could. Until I wore out my welcome. I lived in Salt Lake City, I lived in Alabama, I lived in Texas, Massachusetts, you know. Like the wind. I worked from paycheck to paycheck, just enough to buy alcohol or whatever.
I met this girl in high school. Fell in love, it was love at first sight. But we didn’t really get together that much. We each had our little world. Last time I saw her was in a bar and she kissed me good-bye. She got married. And I swore then that I would get her back in my life. So, time went on. She got divorced. And, lo and behold, it happened. We got married. She had a child, a daughter, our oldest daughter. We went through the courts and I adopted her. Judge says, “You’re her father.” So now I got this family. My boozing and drugging got worse. We were married four or five years. Got divorced. She finally said, ‘get the hell out.’ Drunks burn people out big time. It was the best thing that ever happened to me that she threw me out. I finally had to look at myself and start taking care of business. So I thanked her for that. I’m grateful for that.
I was doing bridge work at the time. I was learning a jack-hammer. In the back of my mind this whole time I’m regretting the fact that I don’t have a high school education, I don’t have a GED. All the applications I write on that I have a high school diploma. That kind of wore at me. I call it, kind of … drinking my life away, drinking my dreams away. I’ll get my GED tomorrow, but give me another round right now. Of course, it never happens.
So, my last time at the Beacon House was in eighty-eight. And that’s when I hooked up with The Literacy Project. Because of my past drinking and drugging thing, I was going to be a substance abuse counselor! That’s what I was going to be, by God. And I did become one. But that was down the road. I got my GED, signed up for GCC. The GCC experience was wonderful. I transferred to UMass. I went to school full-time for five and a half years. Working overnights, relief, at different places. Silver Street Inn to whatever. Brattleboro Retreat for a little while. Whatnot. I graduated from UMass, finally. B.A. I was a substance abuse counselor for Providence Hospital – Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor.
Two things I learned while going to the Beacon Clinic. I knew I was a drunk. I accepted that. [The other] was the word parenting vs. babysitting. You don’t baby sit your own children. You parent them. Parenting – you’re involved, you’re making decisions, it’s more…whole, I suppose. So I would get them off to school, [then] I would go to school. And during the summer, I would parent them everyday. Through the whole summer, five days a week. It was kind of tough when, then my ex-wife would come home from work, or she would leave for work. Tough facing her every day. I was doing this within my first year of recovery.
As a parent, [one of my goals] is to be able to help them get an education, the easy way, because I did it the hard way. I understand the value of an education, getting that piece of paper. It’s not so much what you learn, because you can’t remember everything. College, to me, taught me how to learn. Where to look for things. I can’t remember the quadratic equation to save my life. But I know where to go if I had to look it up. That’s to me what education is all about.