Hi..my name is Rich..and..(Deep breath)...I’m an alcoholic. Wow! You know, It’s been over 11 years since I first said those words, but today I can still remember where I was and how I felt in that moment. Up until that point I had no idea who I was, but at that moment in time I knew without a doubt that I was an alcoholic and an addict.
Of course I didn’t start out that way. I grew up in Eastern NC, the youngest of two boys. My brother is 13 years older than me and he wasn’t around for much of my childhood. Being from the coast we spent lots of time on the water with a fishing pole or a cast net. My parents divorced while I was in the 6th grade and it was very difficult for my mom. We moved to a mobile home park in a different town. I didn’t like the new school I was going to so my mom didn’t make me go. Instead of going to school like a normal kid I spent my days at work with her.
When I turned 18 I earned my GED and picked up a camera for the first time. Photography helped me find a path in life and gave me the opportunity to leave NC to become a college student. Throughout college I was trying to figure out who I was and alcohol was my best friend. It helped me to fit in and to feel a part of the fun. I became social for the first time in my life. The world was opened to me and I traveled to Mexico and Guatemala, where I experienced so much through my lens.
After graduating with my MFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design, I was hired at a daily newspaper where I became a photojournalist. Photography helped me experience life. For a brief time I became whatever I was documenting. I was a firefighter, a police officer, a soldier, an athlete. For a fleeting moment I was able to be a part of something more.
The problem was, I was just never able to be comfortable with me and I always wanted more. Alcohol and later drugs helped for a bit, but the very things that once helped me to feel like I was a part of life now isolated me. Relationships were not good with my family. I didn’t know how to be a friend or a boyfriend and I didn’t really know how to be a coworker. I vacillated from being the best photographer I could be to just barely holding on to my job.
Finally on April 28th, 2008 I knew I was at the end. I had what they call a moment of clarity and for the first time I saw myself for who I was. An addict. I asked God for help and the next day I went to see an addictions counselor. For the first time, I was 100 percent honest with someone and she recommended I go to 12 step meetings. I attended my first meeting and picked up a white surrender chip, but I didn’t identify that night as an alcoholic. It was five days, several 12 step meetings, and some reading through the book Alcoholics Anonymous before I said those fateful words..my name is Rich and I am an alcoholic.
Today I am a husband, a father, a sponsor, a small business owner, and so much more. All that I have and am today is because of that day in 2008 when I looked into the mirror and for the first time saw the true me. The thing is, today the true me is always growing, but photography is still my window into the world.