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Webster's Narrative

I grew up in New Haven, one of seven children from a broken marriage. I was the oldest of the brothers in what was not a close knit family. I did okay in school. I stuttered a lot so, during middle school, it was suggested that I take speech classes. As I entered high school, my speech became much clearer. I did okay in high school, just barely getting by, but I liked two courses: swimming and photography. I did them as much as I could. I never got into fights, never too outgoing, more shy than anything else. I was not involved in daily activities.

Christina: Do you think you were experiencing symptoms of depression back then?

Webster: I think I had symptoms of depression back then and didn’t realize it. I did isolate. I wasn’t much of a drug user or drinker back then, I did the normal amount on a sneaky basis, but… you know, I had to find myself. I had to find myself—that says it all, I think.

I graduated in 1977 and stayed home for the summer before enlisting in the U.S. Army.

Christina: Why did you decide to enlist?

Webster: I decided to enlist in the Army because I didn’t think I would make it through college, first of all, and second of all, I didn’t think I would amount to anything substantial. It builds character, which I never had through high school, I never had many friends through high school. It was another way of finding myself. I came to a conclusion that I would have to go into the military to help find myself and my self-esteem, until I found out that didn’t work.

At first, I had reservations, but I decided to go. I left at the end of that summer, went to boot camp at Fort Knox, Kentucky until going to Fort Rucker, Alabama. I stayed for 10 weeks, then went to Fort Lewis, Washington. I didn’t like Washington much, it was rainy and wet all the time. After about one year, I got orders for Korea and went to a demilitarized zone, 4th regiment in the 7th cavalry. My tour there was for 17 months. The highlight was when I saw my first cousin get out of a taxi to my surprise. We were in the field together a lot.

I was always on alert, always scared of the outcome of one of the alerts, scared to die. I thought of it all the time, it consumed me and my emotions. I developed severe depression symptoms and began to isolate myself. I began medicating myself on a daily basis for the remainder of my tour in Korea.

In 1979, while I was still in Korea, I became a father to twin girls. I left Korea in the summer of 1980. Upon leaving military service, I enrolled in school, a state college, where my major was going to be economics. I went for two semesters and dropped out.

Christina: What did you find challenging about going back to school?

Webster: I couldn’t hold down work, school, and raise a family at the same time, and it got to be overwhelming. Though I liked the money I was being paid, I think I went for all the wrong reasons. Trying to build self-esteem. So I couldn’t hack it, it was just too much.

I worked for Ann Taylor as a sportswear purchasing agent for another three years. I began abusing drugs and alcohol, a problem that continued for the next 30 years. I lost everything. It was a dark period in my life.

Christina: What was going on while you were working for Ann Taylor that started this dark period?

Webster: I loved that job. But that’s when the dark side started taking over. The more money you make, the more the dark side starts kicking in. That’s where that 30 year period began.

Christina: What changed after 30 years?

Webster: I used drinking and drugs to try to wash my feelings under the table. Until I get to the core of why I used, I couldn’t be fixed. It took me 30 years to find out who I am and accept it.

After that, I began getting mental health treatment and was diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder. For several years after, the treatment allowed me to work and see things more clearly.

Webster: Once you find yourself, you begin to heal. You find your core values from what you have done in the past, and it takes this pressure off you, you know?

I began working part-time jobs, then I applied for a job at the VA through supported employment services and I got the job. I worked in Nutrition and Food Service there for 18 months as a tray passer, then, again through supported employment, I got a job as a Peer Specialist Apprentice.

Christina: Was going to a 12-step program part of your treatment for drug and alcohol abuse?

Webster: Yes. I began going to a 12-step program daily, I picked up on a sponsor. There were days I didn’t want to go, but I did go. I fought with my emotions, I fought with isolating, I fought with the devil… building people’s trust back, I had to get all that. But it’s brought me to a point where, as of today, I’m very confident in what I do, I’m very good at what I do, but I also come from experience with what I do. You can’t tell an addict how to be an addict, we know already. And that’s what I can bring to the table as a Peer Specialist. My experience, structure, a how-to and how-not-to…

Christina: Like skills?

Webster: You got it. Meetings, sponsorship, caring, understanding. You have to have all those qualities in order to be a Peer Specialist.

Christina: So what’s changed for you in recovery?

Webster: Today, my kids are with me. We’re very good to each other, very close. I have five grandkids who I’m very close to. The thing that I’m proudest of is that I work, I pay my own bills, and I take care of my own house. I have a really good, decent job again. If I go back to using drugs and alcohol, I would lose all this, and I’m not going to lose all that because of drugs and alcohol.

Webster: I earned this. I don’t have to ride around, look for drugs. I can go food shopping, bring it home. I can go to the Laundromat, and come home. I don’t have to just ride around with the fellas and drink beer. I don’t live like that anymore. I lost a lot of friends, but that’s okay. I have all new friends.

Webster: People that don’t really get recovery… I see that it rotates, and it has this big circle, and once you get caught up in this circle, it’s hard to get out of the circle. It just keeps going round, and you have to want to get out of the circle in order to get out. I see a lot of people that keep coming back through, and I’m just fortunate enough to say, “Look, I don’t want to get on this Ferris wheel anymore. I’ve had enough.”

Webster: So right now, I’ve accepted who I am. I love Webster today, you know? Webster’s a great guy. Recovery—it’s just amazing.

Christina: Why did you apply to become a Peer Specialist Apprentice at the Errera Center?

Webster: I applied for this position because, first of all, I like helping people. I am part of the 12-step program, and I am a sponsor. So I’m here to help in any way I can, any way they need me to. If it’s for them to kick drugs and alcohol to get better, or to help them live with their illness, then that’s what I’m going to do as a Peer Specialist. On the other side (the mental health side), I can relate to their symptoms, side effects, and I can relate to why they want to get rid of it through the drugs and alcohol. You know, that numbs a lot of stuff!

Christina: Until it doesn’t work anymore.

Webster: It doesn’t work anymore because the problem’s still there.

Webster: You also have to be genuine. Peer specialists come in all forms, shapes and sizes. It’s so perfect because there’s a twin out there who’s exactly like me who needs to hear my message one-to-one, and all I have to do is sit back and say ‘I understand,’ I know where you’re coming from.

Webster: It does get better. It’s a lot of work, but it can be done.

Christina: How do you maintain your recovery?

Webster: Today, I do deal with severe depression, I do have bipolar disorder. I see a therapist once every two weeks, I take medication, and I’m very grounded, so I’m very high functioning. But, it’s good for them [Veterans] to see that, because that lets them know they can do it, too. It can be done. There were days I would sit home and curl up in a ball and just never want to come out. But those days are over. I no longer live in a basement, I’m not a chipmunk anymore [laughing].

Christina: What advice would you like to give the Veterans who are still struggling with substance abuse and mental health problems?

Webster: Just take it one day at a time. And sometimes, you might have to go one hour at a time. That’s the best advice I can give. You have to change everything. Everything, you know? You have to change. Because anything that makes you think back will make you go back. It’s like being reborn, all new.