Tucker R. "crash-landed" into rehab at age 22. It was his fourth try at treatment, and this time, he was ready to do a few things differently. Like actually take suggestions. Listen in as Tucker talks with host William C. Moyers about what it's like to be a young man in recovery from alcohol and heroin addiction. He explains how he's found his people—as part a thriving collegiate recovery program—and why community and connection are so important in building his new, hope-powered life.
0:00:15 William Moyers
Hello and welcome to Let's Talk, a series of podcasts produced by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation on the issues that matter to us, the issues that we know matter to you, too. Substance use prevention, research, treatment for addiction to alcohol and other drugs, recovery management, education, and advocacy. I'm your host, William Moyers, and today we have a story of hope. A story of hope brought to us by my guest, Tucker R. Welcome, Tucker.
0:00:43 Tucker R.
Hi. Great to be here.
0:00:45 William Moyers
Thanks for bringing your story to our listeners and our viewers today on this Let's Talk Podcast. You know we have a lot of people tune in who just wanna hear from people who have been walking that walk and made that journey. Tell us a little bit about your use of substances.
0:01:01 Tucker R.
Well, I guess that would probably start back when I was close to 13 years old. Which is when I had my first drink. And the first drink that I ever had I was alone in my bedroom. I believe I'd been grounded for some reason or another. And I'd like to say that I kinda skipped that honeymoon phase [Moyers chuckles] that a lot of people have with alcohol. Where I just went straight to drinking by myself. And it was an awful night. I got very sick. But the next morning I woke up and it was the first thing that I was thinking about. And from there, it just kinda steadily progressed, you know. I grew up in a very small town. Where, you know, most of the shops close at 9. There's you know a movie theater with two theaters. Generally just not so much to entertain young people. So, what I found out fairly quickly was that what a lot of people do in high school for entertainment was to get high or go out and party. And I was indoctrinated into that really quickly, you know. And it felt like, you know, as I slowly discovered that I had arrived into something that I had been waiting for for my entire life, you know, I felt—I finally felt a part of something. For as long as I could remember you know I was crippled by this anxiety and this worry that everybody else knew this secret to life that I just didn't have. And that—and that set me apart from everybody else. And it was, you know, when I finally, you know, arrived at that party scene where I finally started to feel like I was a part of a group, you know, finally meant something.
0:02:50 Tucker R.
[continued] And like I said it just started to progress over time. And it got just exponentially worse. I put off college, you know, that was under the guise of wanting to get some life experience but the reality of it was I just really wanted to, you know, keep using. And drinking unimpeded. And you know I moved a number of times to try to get the monkey off my back, which, you know, never really worked.
0:03:17 William Moyers
That geographical switch.
0:03:19 Tucker R.
Yeah. Yeah. And I found that in each city it really just kinda continued to progress and get worse.
0:03:25 William Moyers
Like your shadow.
0:03:26 Tucker R.
Like my shadow.
0:03:27 William Moyers
Did you come from a family that had been impacted by substances?
0:03:32 Tucker R.
I did, yes. On my mom's side, she has a sister and a brother who struggle with the disease. My grandfather had 30 years in AA, 30 years of recovery, so it's definitely, you know, it's a family issue. [chuckles, nods]
0:03:48 William Moyers
So when was it you had that moment of clarity when you said to yourself you know what, this isn't working anymore, I need to do something to get help? What was it?
0:03:55 Tucker R.
You know, it was kind of prolonged over time. I gotta say that when I was, you know, even after the first night I realized that there was something not normal about enjoying getting drunk by yourself. And from there, it just kind of—it kind of continued. But I have to say that the real moment of clarity was when I was—it had gone from me partying in high school to being homeless on the street in Boston. Flying a sign. Having no connection, no—with my family, no friends, and just really, I was alone. With—I had nothing left. And that's where it you know it took unfortunately it took that much for it to become abundantly clear [chuckles] that I needed to make some changes.
0:04:42 William Moyers
And how did you make that change, how did you go from that divide between full-blown addiction, your bottom, and that first step into help? What happened?
0:04:52 Tucker R.
I was fortunate enough, you know, to have a family and some good friends and really solid supports who just kind of refused to give up on me.
0:05:04 William Moyers
0:05:05 Tucker R.
And prior to you know my final treatment, I had been to three others. And each one kind of progressively pushed me in the direction that I would eventually end up in. You know the first treatment was to kind of just appease my parents and get them off my back. The second treatment it was you know started to become clear that, you know, maybe there's something that I need to do to change my lifestyle. To—to be, you know, a better person. But I'll—I'll figure it out down the road. The third treatment was like okay, I, you know, very clearly need help. I need the help of some sort of program, a number of supports, but I'm gonna do it my own way. You know, I was still—I still was really hanging on to my own will. And it wasn't until the fourth treatment that it was like okay I'm ready, you know, I'm ready to finally surrender. And take some suggestions.
0:05:57 William Moyers
And that—and surrender for you was not about giving up. But it was about taking responsibility and picking up those tools, right? And you came out to Minnesota and you found those tools and you picked them up and you started using them. When was that? How old were you when you did that last treatment?
0:06:16 Tucker R.
When I arrived, crash landed I would say, crash landed in Minnesota, I was 22. It was about two years ago. And I was broken and I was—I had, you know, over the past four years watched my friends graduate college, go on to live and start to thrive in successful lives. And it was, you know, at 22 I was finally, you know, in the right place and at the right point in my life where I was ready to make the necessary changes.
0:06:46 William Moyers
And was your drug of no choice as we say, was it just alcohol or were you using other substances as well up to that point?
0:06:53 Tucker R.
Initially it was alcohol that was—that really brought me to my knees. But when it got to the point where I was ready to make some changes with alcohol, I had—one of my best friends died. And instead of processing and dealing with that grief, it was just so unending and unreceding [sic] that I—I needed to find—the alcohol wasn't working anymore. And I needed to find something stronger. So that's when I ended up turning to heroin.
0:07:22 William Moyers
And then very quickly you went down, you came and you got treatment. Was the use of medication one of the tools that you found in your program of treatment in recovery?
0:07:32 Tucker R.
It was. Maintenance has played a pretty significant role in my recovery. It was initially something that I was really hesitant to take that step.
0:07:43 William Moyers
0:07:44 Tucker R.
Because I didn't wanna feel like I was trading in one addiction for another. And that I was becoming, you know, relieving one of my dependencies just to become dependent on something else. And it's unfortunate that I hung onto that for so long. Because I think if I had maybe, you know, turned to—to maintenance a little bit sooner, I maybe could have fixed my life up a little bit quicker. But I try not to focus on that too much. What matters now, what I like to focus on, is that this is a battle of life and death. And maintenance, you know, has just been one of the tools that—that I needed to utilize. To—to take the step in the right direction. And for that I'm unbelievably grateful.
0:08:33 William Moyers
And so you found recovery here in Minnesota. And you didn't go back to Boston?
0:08:38 Tucker R.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to when I first—when I first got out here. [Moyers chuckles] But you know it—it became clear, you know, after not too much time that this is where I needed to be. This is where, you know, I was gonna find solace within the destruction that was my addiction, this is where I was gonna find my peace.
0:09:01 William Moyers
So now we're in the fall of 2019 and you are 24 years old. The ripe old age of 24. [Tucker laughs] Two years of recovery. What's it been like the last two years?
0:09:14 Tucker R.
It's been—you know, it's been a journey. And I—I'd be lying if I said there wasn't some—some really low points that it hasn't been tough, but, as opposed to the life that I was living two years ago, it's—it really is night and day. You know I wouldn't—I wouldn't trade this in for anything. And I—I realize that, you know, even as I say that, that sounds sort of like a cliché, but it's something that I've been thinking about the last couple days. After this you know wonderful summer break that I've had off of school. And I've traveled—I've done a lot of traveling this summer. And you know some of that has taken a bit of a toll on my recovery. But even as, you know, things slow—it got tougher over the course of the summer and over the course of my travels for me, I was always able to hang onto the fact that, you know, as long as I could get back to Minneapolis, I would be able to get back to the thing that—that initially had saved me. You know? I would say I would be able to get back to the community, to the meetings that I know and love, to my sponsor. To my supports at Augsburg. You know? That's—that's what I was able to hang onto. And having that, you know, having a group of people, having a community that I can point to when times get tough, is really something that I would—wouldn't trade for anything.
0:10:37 William Moyers
And that community as we talked off-camera, that community includes a lot of young people! [Tucker grins, nods] Like you. And you said that that was one of the big "wow" moments for you to realize that there are a lot of people in their teens and twenties who are actually in recovery.
0:10:52 Tucker R.
Yeah. Yeah. It was, you know, that was—going to my first young people's meeting out here was a spiritual experience in and of itself. For so long, I had told myself that there was no reason for me to get—to get clean, to get sober, because, you know, when I looked around in Vermont, in Boston, I didn't see any young people doing the deal. I didn't see any young people thriving in recovery. And to me, that was just another excuse to not, you know, make that—make that jump.
0:11:24 William Moyers
0:11:25 Tucker R.
And coming out here and finally seeing, you know, a number of young people just thriving and—and loving the life that they live is really, you know, where I knew that there was not—I wasn't gonna be able to make any more excuses about it. And that—that connection that I've made with so many people close to my age is one of the other things that really gets me out of bed every morning.
0:11:50 William Moyers
And being with other young people for you is included—the collegiate recovery program—the StepUP program at Augsburg University here in the Twin Cities. [Tucker nods] Where young people en masse, young people en masse in recovery, are pursuing their academics. What do you want to—what's your field of interest in terms of academics?
0:12:08 Tucker R.
Right now I'm studying Communications with a minor in New Media. My dad is a lawyer. And eventually I wanna go to law school. You know initially I came out here and when I got accepted into Augsburg, I wanted to pursue Journalism.
0:12:24 William Moyers
0:12:25 Tucker R.
As a—as a way to you know another platform to get the message of hope out. Whatever that looked like. But after a lot of reflection and you know as my relationship steadily grows with my dad, I realized that I feel like that's just you know my calling to follow in his footsteps. And—and hopefully, you know, get into a good law school. And maybe even one day work for his firm.
0:12:54 William Moyers
We only have a couple minutes left but just share with our viewers and our listeners today the role that spirituality has played in your journey.
0:13:04 Tucker R.
[takes a deep breath] That's a great question. So I grew up in a religious—a religion-free household. My mom was raised a Jehovah's Witness. And you know it was something that she got out of when she moved away from Connecticut. And that kind of I'm grateful for it but she—that led her to a point where she wanted to let my sister and I kind of figure it out for ourselves. You know? She didn't want to impose any—any belief structure on us, she just wanted us to kind of, you know, wander and figure it out on our own. And I would say that's one of the things that has helped me so much within—within the, you know, the rooms, is I see so many other young people, men that I work with in the program, who are driven away or you know struggle with the idea of accepting some form of spirituality into their own lives. And that—that was something that when I got into the program because there was, you know, this gap that needed to be filled because I had never been exposed to anything else, I just kind of opened right up to it. And that was you know—now it plays a big role in my life and it's—it's, you know, it helps me live in the present moment. It helps me relieve a lot of the anxieties of the future that used to plague me day to day. And you know would keep me stuck in—in the hole and keep me, you know, turning to substances to use, so.
0:14:39 William Moyers
Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm. There will be people who are listening to you talk and share your story who are desperate. At the moment they tune in to this podcast. They want what you have but they don't know how to get there. What is your concluding message for people who are struggling? Young people particularly who are struggling with substances?
0:15:07 Tucker R.
Over the past two years, I've thought a lot about that. You know I have a lot of close friends who share my own struggles. And I wanted to figure out the best way that I could get the message out to them initially. But then it just became okay how can I get this message of hope out to other young people in recovery? And, you know, if I could—the few choice words that I have over it is you know if you're in a place where you feel like you can't find the connection, or you can't find the hope that you're looking for in terms of resources and community, that there are—there are other places out there where that community and those connections are so prevalent. You know? Just because it's not happening for you in the place that you're in doesn't mean it won't work anywhere else.
0:16:04 William Moyers
Tucker R., thank you for bringing your story of hope and your story of help and your story of healing to our listeners on this podcast today. [reaches over to shake his hand]
0:16:13 Tucker R.
Absolutely, it's my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
0:16:15 William Moyers
We appreciate it. And on behalf of our Executive Producer Lisa Stangl, I am your host William Moyers. Very touched today by a young man who's walking that walk. You've inspired me.
0:16:26 Tucker R.
[smiles, nods] Thank you.
0:16:25 William Moyers
As well as you've inspired all of our listeners today. And we wanna thank you for joining us for another edition of Let's Talk, a series of podcasts on the issues that really matter to people like [nods at Tucker] you, people like me, and people like you [points to audience]. Join us again, thank you.