Barry Pietrantonio, M.A., CMHC
Chief Executive Officer
After high school, and a failed try at college. I got into the construction field. I thought it was great; it was normal for every carpenter, framer, and worker to drink and drug. At the time, I could stay up until 4:00 a.m. and sometimes later then go to work by 8:00 a.m. I later found out that I was having experiences with mania. I could go a night a two straight during a manic episode. I found them to be enjoyable. It was almost like doing drugs but not having for pay for them. In my late twenties, I tried to get serious. I stopped using for a few years while getting my Bachelor’s degree in accounting. But as soon as I graduated and got my first job, my addiction exploded once again.
I then experienced severe depression after my mother passed, so I went to counseling. Even though they kept telling me the substances were causing the depression, I didn’t believe them. They prescribed me Wellbutrin, Paxil, and Buspirone, but I kept drinking and drugging. “The medications aren’t working,” I said, “I must not be depressed”.
Things started to get a little more intense. I had a herniated disc in my back from doing carpentry and then I had a motorcycle accident which led to another herniated disc in my neck. I played the “oh, the pain, the pain!” card. I started using Percocet and Vicodin. When I finally had neck and back surgery, it was a free pass for opiates. All I had to do was declare I was having pain from the surgery. Doctors were prescribing, and prescribing, and prescribing. “This is the life,” I thought. “This is great”. Six or seven months after surgery, the doctor started to restrict the opiates and my addiction to other drugs exploded. I turned to crack cocaine and hard liquor. During the night, I was grabbing a bottle of Jack Daniels or tequila and chugging two or three ounces just to feel normal and safe.
I got a DUI in Florida. The case was dismissed due to lack of evidence. I swore I would never do it again. A year later, I got another DUI, and six months after that, I was charged with yet another. Over a twenty month period, I got three DUI’s. I had no conscience around what I was doing. I finally admitted that I needed help. I came to a crossroads. “My life is either going to end miserably,” I thought, “or I’m going to get help”. My son told me I was a lousy parent; I was no good and I was a drunk. My wife kicked me out of the house. My entire family started to push away. So, right before things started looking really bleak, I said “I’ve got to go to the hospital”. Rather than going to detox, I went to a psychiatric facility. I thought I was going crazy. I was admitted to a local Hospital and, for the first time, I was honest. Another patient come up to me, pointed, and said: “Do yourself a favor. Listen to these people”. Within two days, I was diagnosed, by the third day, my whole life had changed. For the first time, I could see with clarity. I stayed in the hospital for five or six days.
In the meantime, I was still working and trying to get everything straightened out. I felt conflicted about my job. I sought counsel from a sponsor and he said: “It’s good to be working”. But I really wanted to quit. Within three months, I got laid off. That was my first experience with things going my way. I prayed on it and it happened. I could work the steps the way I wanted, go to meetings, and talk to my sponsor every day. In the meantime, I didn’t have a license because I had lost it but I was still driving. I hadn’t even gone to court for my first DUI when the second DUI came. I was so lost that I was representing myself in court and asking for extensions. My sponsor advised me to get a lawyer and not take care of it myself. In the beginning, I still had delusional thinking but i knew I needed to trust people and take their advice.
I talked to my lawyer and I talked to my sponsor, and they assured me that if I kept doing the right thing - going to AA and staying sober - things would get better. Sure enough, when I went in front of the judge, I had a year and half of sobriety. The judge said: “We’re not in the position to put recovering people in jail”. He continued the case and I went on to the next. The second judge didn’t know about the first case. He took it as a DUI 1. My lawyer said: “He thinks it’s a DUI 1. You better plead guilty”. So I plead DUI 1 on my second AND third offense… and they never got connected to each other. I lost my license for four years and was sentenced to probation for two years. I took the outcome as a sign of God and said: “I am sticking to this program”.
One year turned into two, and I decided to go back to school and get my Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. I was accepted into a Psy.d program and spent a year in the program. Originally, I wanted to go into mental health because of my diagnosis. As I grew into my Master’s program at Rivier, I started to realize that I would be very capable of helping the dually diagnosed population. My clients say: “You have so much insight. How do you know all this?” They think I read it in a book. They don’t realize their life is really my life. The parallels are the same.
It has been a long road. I used for almost three decades. I started drinking regularly when I was thirteen and I didn’t stop until I was forty-four. I went from getting kicked out of my home to being capable of repairing my marriage. My wife and I just celebrated our 28 year anniversary. My son - who wrote me a letter about how horrible I was - tells me he loves me every day. He’s twenty three years old. He never came to me before - he went right to his mother. Now he says: “Dad, can you help me? I need some advice”. I also have real friends. I used to be isolated and only hang out with drug addicts and alcoholics. Today I’m friends with a bunch of people and I feel like I can call any one of them. In the past, I could only call one or two people… and the only reason they would help me is because they were going to get something from me. In recovery, I learned I can call people because they truly want to help. This is the feeling I wish I had in middle and high school. I can honestly say I wanted to commit suicide in eighth grade. I thought it was normal. I thought every eighth grader wanted to kill themselves. I didn’t realize until later that it’s not normal. The kids who are in eighth, ninth, and tenth grade - I want to reach that population. I want to give back. I think it’s really important. I did an internship with younger clients and I really enjoyed it. A lot of them were court ordered but you could see they wanted help. Like me, they just didn’t know how to ask for it.