Every Recovery Starts with a Storm
I do not remember my first drink of alcohol, but it was surely before the age of 10. With permission from
my Italian Grandmother, Naunnie, I used to sip the foam off the top of her beer. We used to sit at her
kitchen table and play cards for hours with my siblings and cousins. We had a blast.
About once a week she would call my parents and ask if her grand kids wanted to come over and play cards. We would run through the woods, jump the stream, go charging up the hill and through the back door. She always had soup and a half a sandwich, chips and a pickle waiting for us. She of course, would have cold beer in the fridge. She would pour herself the ice-cold beer into her tiny juice glass and let me sip the foam.
The tiny juice glass was her way of control drinking. It didn’t matter if she filled it 5 or 50 times, it was still just a tiny little juice glass. Sipping the foam from the top of a beer didn’t get me drunk, but I truly don’t remember ever turning it down when it was offered.
I do however, vividly remember the first time I got drunk. I was a 14-year-old freshman in high school. It
was the third weekend of school and the night of the big high school dance. I was extremely nervous and
self-conscious like many, if not all teenagers.
As a yearly tradition, our seniors would buy the underclassmen booze from a local liquor store. A senior suggested that I sip a half-pint of blackberry brandy, but my alcoholic mind suggested I needed a pint instead. So after a few sips, I decided to chug the rest of the pint. I soon had the spins, had to lie down before falling on my face. I then proceeded to vomit. Next up was the ever-frightening blackout. During this blackout, I was driven home and poured onto the front steps of my home. Needless to say my parents were not very happy with my first night out as a high school student.
The next morning as I lay in bed, not knowing how I got there, with a mind-splitting headache and the fear of parental grounding until I was 100 years old, I knew I needed a better plan.
From that first drunk and that morning in hangover hell, I had to learn how to hide and control my drinking. More importantly, I first had to get rid of this awful hangover. I surely wasn’t going to stop drinking but the headaches and nausea had to go. So I kindly asked God to “please stop these hangovers because we both know that I am not going to stop drinking”.
Be careful for what you pray for, you just might get it.
My hangover prayer was soon answered as they miraculously disappeared after a hard night
of drinking. I controlled my drinking during high school to summers and then only on the weekends until the last football game of my senior year. As I walked off the field, bruised and beaten again by our arched rival and after capping off a depressing 0-10 season, I knew that I could finally become that daily drinker I had always wanted to be.
My teenage drinking took me from keg parties in Massachusetts called “woodsies”, to the parking lots of the weekly Saturday night rodeos in Texas. My employment career, along with my drinking career, started during high school, where I cut lawns, made pizzas, pumped gas, fixed flat tires, changed oil, and worked the counter of the local auto parts store.
From there, I started working in the oil field as an electrician’s apprentice and as a welder’s helper along with sandblasting railroad cars, water tanks and oil derricks. I even spent a summer painting the inside of a prison, bars and all. My drinking again took another step up without parental supervision through all five years of college. Having spent the last seven years as a daily drinker and bouncing from job to job, industry to industry, and having to leave school due to lack of funds, a lack of interest in academics and a pink slip to see the Dean, I knew my collegiate career was over and I needed to settle on a career and focus on making money.
So, I packed a suitcase and headed off to New York City in December of 1986 to interview for a clerk
position on the floor of the NYSE. I was asked “Are you afraid of numbers?” I said, “I’m not afraid of
anything.” Years later, it was revealed to me, that my reply was the deciding factor of my hiring.
My career on the floor of NYSE was like playing in the “Super Bowl” every day. It was an exciting, thrilling, intense, pressure-packed roller coaster of emotions. The pressures of having to be right hundreds of times a day, all day, every day, would make some traders crack. Thankfully, I was able to handle the controlled chaos. The NYSE had a pulse of its own back then. You could feel the market turn from the roar of the crowd, the speed of the tickets spitting out of the DOT machines and the immediacy of the floor brokers.
We laughed, we yelled, we screamed, we fought, we won and we lost. But after every 4pm close, we would go to the bar and we would drink. My drinking career did not start on Wall Street but it sure did
My last drunk was a five-day bender after getting paid an extra weeks salary before Christmas of 1995. I
started on a Wednesday night and ended Sunday afternoon. At the end of this last run I had $30 in my
pocket, six beers in the fridge, bottle of Smirnoff in the freezer, no phone, no cable, an eviction notice on
my studio apartment door and thousands of dollars in debt.
None of that is a reason to stop drinking of course, especially with more alcohol at your disposal. The reason I knew I had to quit drinking was two thoughts. The first one was that at some point in the near future I was surely going to die. The other was the thought that jumping from a 10 story building for the first time in my life didn’t sound like such a bad idea. I pondered the thought of jumping during this last run until it occurred to me that what happens if I change my mind half way down. Too late for a do-over and surely out of luck this time.
As luck would have it, I worked with many people who had recovered from addiction and was told that
every recovery starts with a storm and during every storm there is a beacon of hope. My beacon of hope
came through the kindness of a coworker when they asked me if I was ready to get help with my
alcoholism. My answer was an immediate yes. I was ready to do anything to stop drinking. I had reached
my physical, mental and spiritual bottom. With a simple one word answer of yes, my life started to
change. From that moment to today my journey of living life to its fullest is my goal. I chase recovery like
I chased the next drink. Helping others recover from addiction feeds my soul and fills my heart with
gratitude. I am Always In Recovery and I hope you are too.
Charlie Della Penna
Charlie has spent the last 30 years on Wall Street as a trader. He has recently changed careers and now
works as a certified addiction recovery coach as well as a nationally certified interventionist. He is the
founder and owner of Always In Recovery, a drug and alcohol mentoring program. He is married with two middle school aged children and one high school student. He lives in Bedford.
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