The Recovery Guy
Robert Pardon, also known as Robert the Recovery Guy, is a 35-year recovered addict turned life coach, who now dedicates his time to helping others on their path to sobriety. A seasoned motivational speaker and the host of his own podcast, The Recovery Guy Podcast, Robert is no stranger to addiction and recovery and believes that addiction is an ongoing process that is met one day at a time.
“recover from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.”
The name Recovery Guy was born out of a lesson Robert learned from his early days of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which is that the goal of every person who enters into fellowship is to, “recover from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.” Robert first went to AA on February 9, 1986, where he was able to achieve sobriety for 71 days before relapsing for five days. On April 25, 1986, Robert says he returned to AA and never looked back, and says, “I realized that the only place for me was back in the rooms of recovery.”
In 2014, shortly after entering the thirty-year arena of recovery, Robert says he underwent a ‘spiritual upheaval’, during which he felt it to be his duty to ‘do more.’ Robert says he truly began to dedicate himself to becoming and doing more; and began writing a blog for those struggling with addiction, and later went on to create his own podcast, and thus began his story as Robert the Recovery Guy.
“You never know when that one message will resonate with someone who thinks that they have to die when all they want to do is learn how to live.”
His dedication to the addiction community is fueled by his desire to help and inspire others. Through choked words, Robert explained why he spends countless hours writing and recording content, saying, “You never know when that one message will resonate with someone who thinks that they have to die when all they want to do is learn how to live.”
On Tuesday, April 27, 2021, we sat down with Robert over Zoom to talk more about his journey with addiction and substance abuse, and to learn more about how he is helping people who share his common desire to go from broken to whole.
What were your early days of addiction like? When did you first start using?
I remember feeling so isolated and alone as a child. I was so confused and scared that I would get lost in my tears. I remember lying in bed at night when I was five and six years old and wondering why it hurts so much being me, and to this day, I’ll never forget what it was like going to sleep and just wondering, what is it hurt? I didn’t even know what hurt was, but I just, there was an emptiness.
Father Martin, who did Chalk Talk back in the late seventies or early eighties, gave the most fabulous talk on alcoholism I’ve ever heard to this day. Father Martin said, ‘people seek relief from that, which is uncomfortable,’ and that’s all I was doing. I was uncomfortable from the minute I could feel, and you know, when you’re five or six years old, you don’t know how to medicate. You don’t know how, but when you get introduced to that medication, you know right away.
When I was 14 years old I took my first drink. I remember how it made me feel once the alcohol hit my system. I went from being nothing to an ‘almost’. When you come from nothing, you are convinced you are always going to be nothing, and being almost felt like the top of the world. Every subsequent drink I took was an attempt to recapture that feeling of being an almost.
How did you first know you had a problem with substance abuse?
When I turned 16 years old, I realized my drinking was getting out of control, and that it had become obvious to others around me. It became necessary for me to experiment with other substances that would enhance my sensation that alcohol alone could no longer produce.
In the beginning, a joint here and a joint there was sufficient, but that would make me tired and lethargic, and I was not left with a very adequate means to concentrate in school. Then, someone introduced me to methamphetamines, and this helped keep me up and active during the day. This went on and on until I got to my senior year in high school and on my 18th birthday, I decided to drop out of school.
By the time I was 27 years old, I had become chronic in my addiction. I had added compulsive gambling, overeating, pornography, and I started throwing up three to five times per day. I was at the end of my rope and I knew that if something did not change, I was going to die, and I knew there were no more chances for me.
You mentioned that you were always trying to be an ‘almost’. Can you describe that feeling?
You know, there were glimpses where I thought I could be what another person was. I used to love to take things apart just so I could put them back together and see what made them work. And every time I was finished, or almost finished, I would get caught and told, ‘Leave it alone because all you do is break things.’ Or I’d be trying out for a team and they’d say, ‘You’re really good.. but.’ Whether it was choir, sports, or an academic program, they would say, ‘You’re almost there’ or ‘You’re almost good enough.’ Because of this, my life was characterized by the idea of being an ‘almost.’
Later on in life, I would ‘almost’ become something in my family, and then I would sabotage it because, in my mind, I was really a nothing. It’s like losing a game by one point. If you’re losing by 20, you didn’t almost win, but when you lose by that last shot, you’re back to that ‘almost.’
And whether that was real or imagined, or a combination of the both, that was my perception. So it’s like nothing’s ever going to change. So why even try yet? There’s that part of you that wants to live so badly that you still try, even though the reality is the best you’re going to be as an almost.
You said that at 27 years old you realized if you didn’t change your ways you were ‘going to die’. How did this come to be? Was there a certain event or day that you recall where you hit rock bottom?
That was my turning point. I turned toward chronic addiction because I had such a sense of guilt and loneliness, and I thought if people knew how bad I was then the rejection from them would be permanent, and that scared me. That’s the insanity of addiction. Despite losing everything, and having all the evidence that any rational person would require, I still chose a path that took me further down towards rock bottom.
I woke up on February 9th of 1986, and I looked in the mirror and I saw myself as dead. Previously, every morning, I would wake up with remorse, and I would see and hear everyone as I looked in the mirror. They would all be saying, ‘Bobby, Bobby, Bobby, what are you doing?’ But on that morning I woke up and there was nobody there.
In your story about your addiction you write, “I was sincerely afraid that you would find out that I was nothing. I knew that if I spoke too much or became too honest, you would figure that out and I would be the first person in the history of a 12-step program that you would ask not to come back” In this passage, who are you talking to?
The ‘you’ in that story is you as the collective fellowship of AA. AA is known for saying something along the lines of ‘keep coming back, it works’ at the end of their meetings. They’ll gather in a circle and say the serenity prayer or the Lord’s prayer, and everyone’s holding hands and it’s like, ‘keep coming back. It works if you work it’ right?
And I would hear that and I would stand there and look at those people and say to myself, ‘Yeah, I’m going to say that.’ And I would tell myself things like, ‘I think that you think you mean that, but you don’t know who I am.’ You don’t know that I’m an adulterer. You don’t know that I purposely moved my children out of the way so I could leave them. You don’t know that I stole from people. All these things are the guilt of this reality of what I had become, which was totally contrary to who I wanted to be.
I became convinced that I wasn’t good enough. And because of this, I would tell partial truths at those meetings. One of the things we learn in recovery is that the only thing more dangerous than a lie is a half-truth. If you mix just enough truth into a lie, I could sound like I was in recovery and could be accepted, without outing myself for who I was. That was the ‘you’ I was addressing there.
How hard was it for you to get help initially?
It was extremely hard. Recovery is the most painfully rewarding thing you’ll ever do. If you try to do it by yourself, the likelihood is you’re going to fail, because there’s no one there to help walk you through that pain. One of the hardest things was to admit to myself that I was an alcoholic.
I grew up in the streets of LA, near places like skid row, seventh avenue, and fifth and crocker. I ‘knew’ what alcoholics looked like. They pushed shopping carts and they had nowhere to live and they drank cheap wine, and I would tell myself, ‘that’s not me.’ I was much more elevated than that in my mind, but I knew what I was deep down.
That morning that I looked into the mirror and saw myself as dead was what made me go and get help. That morning I knew that I was dead, and it created such an emotional fear in me. Everything I had ever done wrong came into that moment, and I was convinced more than ever before that I was going to die. Never had I been confronted with such a reality that I knew I could not escape. After that, I went to the yellow pages and I looked under alcoholism, and I found AA.
Was it harder for you to go back to AA after your relapse?
By that time I had enough clarity in my life, and fortunately for me, I only found it necessary to drink for five days. I was trying to recapture that feeling of being an ‘almost.’ At the end of those five days, I realized that the only place for me was back in the rooms of recovery, and on April 25th of 1986, I walked back into the rooms of AA and I have never left.
What message do you want to send to people who may be struggling with addiction?
My goal is to accomplish what my sponsor Jack Fisher accomplished. Jack sadly succumbed to cancer a little more than two years ago. At the time of his death, Jack had 44 years of continuous sobriety. As I chatted with him in his hospital room and knowing it would be the last time I was to see him alive, I asked him “Jack, what do I tell them? What is your message you want me to share with others?” Jack looked at me with his cancer sunken eyes and said “Bob, tell them it works.”
My message to you – and I want you to hear this loud and clear – is it works. I see so often people in social media bashing one recovery program or another. Here’s the deal, they all work. When you look at some of the programs within the monotheistic religions of the world and other secular programs, they work. There are far too many people who have been successful to suggest that they don’t work. The common denominator of anything less than success is not the program, it is the person applying the program.
I hope that I can pass my story onto those beginning or continuing their journey of recovery. I have been blessed, fortunate, and honored to go from broken to whole, and I desire to teach and guide others to find their way.
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