Ronnie’s Amazing Journey to Recovery

Ronnie at the YMCA
After struggling with addiction for many years, Ronnie wanted to help others by sharing his journey to recovery. Ronnie was recently recognized by the Oneida Family YMCA as the 2015 Volunteer of the Year.

The road to recovery has many bumps, potholes and turns….sometimes complete U-turns….rarely a straight smooth path. But for Ronnie the road ends in a really good place. His place.

Ronnie began experimenting with alcohol as a teenager. “I came from a good home,” he emphasized. “I was a boy scout, played sports….everything was good. My mom instilled good values and those values helped save me,” he added. His mother didn’t drink or do drugs. His father, however, was an alcoholic.

Ronnie had four siblings. They drank together. They started smoking marijuana. “We were having fun and saw it as harmless,” he said. Soon after, Ronnie had children of his own. Alcohol started having a regular impact on his life. He became abusive with his girlfriend and kids. “I thought I was OK,” he said.

But he wasn’t.

That addiction lasted over 30 years and Ronnie has been in and out of rehab programs before achieving long term success. “I would listen every time I went into a program but I was a rationalizer….I have a problem with alcohol, but I’m not doing drugs.” “At least alcohol is legal.”

In his 30’s, Ronnie was introduced to crack cocaine by a family member. That change took him “into a deep level” and he was hooked. “In rehab they tell you to look for warning signs. I was a friendly person but I started turning into a monster. I started going to jail. Started losing the good jobs.”

He needed a place to stay. “My mom let me stay at home….she was a great enabler.” But then she had financial problems and Ronnie couldn’t help with the rent. They were forced to move out. He ended up homeless for the first time and landed in a crisis center.

But the addiction got worse and worse. He was hanging around with people who would do anything to get drugs. “I didn’t want to steal or rob people. I would have felt guilty. I was scared of that,” he shared.

In his 40’s, he met a woman and that relationship saved him for a while. “I knew if I didn’t straighten my life out it was going to end horribly,” he said. But “addiction reared its head and I destroyed that relationship.”

“I wanted to stay clean and was starting to see the light but my addiction talked to me. I was trying and meant well but a thought comes out of nowhere….drink.” He had an apartment but wasn’t paying the rent so he was evicted. “I had to decide between drugs or rent and chose crack,” so he was homeless again. “I started to get comfortable with homelessness. I was carefree. I would eat and get high.”

A moment of clarity…

Ronnie with YMCA Team Leader, Stephanie Neff
Ronnie with YMCA Team Leader, Stephanie Neff

“Then I had a moment of clarity. Don’t fall into that couch. I realized I’d be stuck in there.”

In his 50’s and homeless, Ronnie started his recovery journey at a crisis center in Poughkeepsie. He stayed there for several months while waiting for a spot in rehab. “I was embarrassed to go back to rehab. My pride was in the way because I didn’t want to face those people again,” he said. The staff would tell him to “put your ego in your pocket.”

Ronnie completed a 28 day rehab program but they suggested that he enter a long term program. “This time around I was ready for it,” he said. “It’s an inside job. You really have to want to do it. You have to make the decision,” he said emphasizing the YOU in each sentence.

He had to wait again at the crisis center until there was an opening at a long term program in Saranac where he spent three months as an inpatient. “It was a great experience,” he said. After his discharge, he moved into Maxwell House, a residential program in Oneida for people in early recovery. “It hasn’t been easy though,” he shared. Once the drugs and alcohol were out of his system, he lost his craving for them. “I need to ignore it once and awhile,” he added. He also had trouble interacting with some of the other residents. “They try to bring you down and get jealous of your success. I wanted to reach my goal,” he shared.

As part of his recovery efforts, Ronnie enrolled in the chemical dependency and mental health counseling services at the FCS office in Oneida. He learned new ways not to feed into negative behavior. He felt empowered when a counselor told him, “You don’t have to do this anymore,” and gave him strategies to deal with challenging people. “They were a tremendous help. I love the groups. I learned how to live sober. I learned how to look at things from a different perspective,” shared Ronnie.

In group, they would talk about many things. How are you planning to stay sober? What does it look like? “For me I got in the support group and have a sponsor. I have new friends and new healthy relationships. It gave me more insight and perspective,” he shared. “I always thought, I’m not hurting anyone. But now I realize I was hurting my mom, employers, and others.”

Giving back…

While living at Maxwell House, Ronnie learned that the Oneida Family YMCA was looking for volunteers. As a volunteer, he qualified for a scholarship that allowed him to participate in programs and use the exercise facilities. “Taking care of yourself is good for people in recovery. I got physically fit. The internship gave me a more positive outlook on life,” he said. “I feel good about myself.”

At the YMCA, Ronnie became a dependable volunteer and a valued member of their team. So much so that they recently recognized him as the 2015 Volunteer of the Year at their annual awards celebration. “It feels good…this was a first for me,” he said with a look of pride as he shared the plaque he had received.

“Ronnie has been incredible. He’s always willing to help out in any way he can,” said Stephanie Neff, a Team Leader at the YMCA. In fact, Ronnie has done so well that the YMCA hired him. “It feels good to be working again with great people who care…not just for me but for the community,” he said. “That’s part of recovery….giving back and helping others.”

Ronnie’s advice for others who are struggling…

Ronnie wanted to share his story publicly hoping it would help others.

His advice? “Don’t give up. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Last May, Ronnie moved into his own apartment. “It feels so good to be self-sufficient. I get a pay check, I have a bank account. Before I’d get paid and by the end of the day had spent it all on alcohol and drugs and would be broke. But I never gave up…that’s what saved me.”


Need help?  FCS is here to help those struggling with addiction. Please call. 

Cortland office  (607) 753-0234

Oneida office  (315) 280-0400


2 Responses

  1. Yeah Ronnie! So proud of you. It was a pleasure to get to know you too at FCS. Robyn T

  2. You are a good man Ronnie! Congratulations on making good choices and sticking to them!

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