My name is Rob Baum and I am a person in long term recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. I have not had the need nor desire to drink or take drugs since January 10, 1987. Getting where I am today has at times been a wild and tumultuous ride. What I know today is that life happens. I do not believe in coincidence; rather I believe everything happens for a reason.
Growing up, I was the 2nd oldest child in my family; with an older sister and younger brother and sister. Alcoholism runs deep within my family and I remember early on the presence of alcohol intertwined in my parents lives. My brother and sisters and I took on the typically prescribed roles in an alcoholic family. I was the Family Hero, my older sister was the Scapegoat, brother the Mascot, and younger sister the Lost Child. All sorts of abuse were rampant. This taught me two things…. fear and anger. The scourge of alcoholism showed itself to me when I was just 14. My older sister had already started down the drinking and drugging road. When she was just 15 years-old, my parents came downstairs one night to find her not only drunk, but she had also taken phenobarbital and had stopped breathing. My parents got to her just in time. She was evaluated by a counselor who called my mom on the phone and asked her to come in to speak with him. When my mom arrived, the counselor confronted her saying my sister had talked about our mother’s drinking. My mom broke down and started going to 12-step meetings almost immediately. She has been sober ever since. (In fact, she has 40 years of continuous sobriety today!)
Six months later she decided to divorce my father. I had my first official “drunk” during this time and mom decided I needed to go to 12-step meetings. I was 14 and didn’t go for long. In high school I learned there were two social groups…. the jocks and the heads. I wanted to be a jock, but the fear of failure was too great. Being a head was easy. I fit right in and not surprisingly, I failed my first class during sophomore year. My drinking and drugging were on a steady climb. As a junior, my mom kicked me out of the house and I was expelled from school not long after that. I did things that I knew were wrong and knew I shouldn’t do, but again, at that time, I had to fit in. I was arrested for stealing money from my mom and forging a check for which I was sentenced to 18 months of probation. I eventually went back to school and pulled myself together enough to graduate. Still, I felt that nothing was ever good enough. I didn’t have the right girlfriend, etc.
I joined the Navy just prior to my 19th birthday and became a star performer — high evaluations, the whole package. I still felt “not good enough.” In January 1987, I was eligible for “Sailor of the Year. “ That should have been (I thought) the pinnacle of my life, but I came in 2nd place. Again, I felt “not good enough.” I went home that night and decided that I was going to get good and drunk. My brother was living with me, but he had plans of his own that night, so I took some LSD and proceeded to drink more than I ever had before. As the night wore on, I became more and more intoxicated and more and more angry. I remember thinking “I’ll kill myself and they’re going to wish they’d treated me better. “I’ll show them!” I took a full bottle of Extra Strength Tylenol and the rest of the narcotic pain meds I had at home. I kissed my dog (Josh) goodbye and laid down. The next thing I remember was hearing the sound of Josh barking and wanting to come inside the house. Somehow I dragged myself out of bed and my brother (who had arrived home by this time) realized I wasn’t just hungover. I believe that Josh was used as a channel by God, my Higher Power, to save my life. If he hadn’t barked, I don’t believe I’d be alive today.
I knew it was time to get help and I did. As it turned out, I just narrowly avoided needing a liver transplant. Fortunately, my doctor understood addiction and sent me to a treatment center where I was reintroduced to 12-step recovery. That’s when I started climbing out of the hole I had dug myself into. I began to believe that there was life after alcohol and drugs. Substances had been so intertwined in my l life that I didn’t know how I was going to live without them. To my great surprise, I made many good friends and got married in Recovery. (Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t last.) Although I was no longer drinking or drugging, my life-long struggles with fear and anger continued to plague me and I entered into intense therapy.
Flash forward a few years while still in the Navy, I felt like I had been given an opportunity to pay the Navy back for all it had done for me – both in service to our nation and my recovery. On average, it takes 15 years for a sailor to achieve the rank of Chief Petty Officer; I made it in 11. I realized that having spent so much of my life trying to be what I thought others wanted me to be that I was like a hamster on a wheel – running, running, running and getting nowhere. With the help of the 12-step program, my therapist, and lots of good friends and co-workers I found a much better way to live.
I was eventually reassigned to an aircraft carrier as a production control chief and directly supervised about 10 men. As such, I was to be their supervisor, trainer and mentor. I treated them the way I wanted to be treated; with respect and decency. In the past it would have been all about me. “What can I get out of this?” “I’ll be nice to you, but what do I get out of it?” But I was now a different man. I helped all who were eligible for advancement attain it and recommended them all for awards and medals. Just before we pulled back into Norfolk after a 6 month cruise, I held a meeting in my quarters and acknowledged and thanked the men for their hard work. On the way into port, my leading Petty Officer said, “Chief, you did a great job.” Those words were better than any award or medal I could ever receive.
Since retiring from the Navy after 18 years of service at 36 years of age and 11 years of sobriety, I’ve dedicated myself to service. (I know that I can’t keep my recovery unless I give it away.) I’ve committed myself to years of service work in the 12-step community, held pseudo 12-step meetings in a juvenile detention home, became a Literacy Volunteers instructor and board member, and serve on the United Way and Friends of Recovery – New York Board of Directors.
In December 2001, I suffered a traumatic brain injury that resulted in short term memory loss. I wasn’t willing to accept that as a result, I could no longer work. The injury had exacerbated my bi-polar disorder symptoms and I became suicidal. (By the way, I HAVE bi-polar disorder. I am NOT bi-polar. Big difference.) While I know that God doesn’t close one door without opening another, I waited in the hallway for a few years before finally walking through that newly opened door. I have a good life today. I’m retired and bought a house that I love 6 years ago. God-willing, I will celebrate 30 years of sobriety on January 10, 2017. The cycle of addiction has been broken in my family. All that has happened, happened one day at a time. Has it all been smooth and easy? No, but I wouldn’t change a thing.