LACONIA — Jamie Law has been clean and sober since Nov. 19.
“I just couldn’t do it anymore. I had to do something, and this is where I ended up,” Law said recently in an interview at the Karma Cafe, which is part of the Riverbank House recovery community.
Law, 24, reached a low point as an alcoholic while living on Cape Cod. He planned to kill himself by driving off a bridge.
“But I only made it 20 seconds from my house and ended up driving into a cranberry bog,” he said.
His parents pushed him into recovery.
“I looked like death,” he said. “They didn’t give me an option. They sent me up here. At the time I was very much upset about it.”
Law is one of about 50 men in the community, which opened in 2012 at 96 Church St. Their stay is open-ended, but the average duration is about six months, said Chris Ajemian, program director.
Longer-term treatment and peer-support are two known elements of successful recovery programs, and both are provided by Riverbank House.
”We’ve had guys who have been here four or five years,” Ajemian said. “They can stay here as long as they like.
“Another component is recreation, helping build human connection and making sure guys are not by themselves — we call it ‘solo no more.’ We have a hiking campaign, team activities, challenges, yearly trip to Attitash and Niagara Falls. We want to reconnect to passions that are lost in the throes of addiction.
“One of the things in 2019 is the necessity to be adaptive. There are many pathways to recovery. We try to get the guys whatever they need to be successful.”
Community is the key.
“This isn’t done alone on self-will and determination,” Ajemian said. “It is done with the support of a community founded upon love and compassion.”
Law said his problems with alcohol became apparent when he first began drinking at age 13. From the outside, it didn’t look like he had a problem.
He played football in high school and was a defensive back at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, where he got a degree in economics before moving on to a good job selling real estate in Manhattan.
“I was doing very well in my job and received accolades like rookie of the year from my company at a time when I was in full-fledged addiction,” Law said.
He also began heavily using cocaine and the drug, ecstasy.
“From an outside perspective, I can put it on, but I was getting beaten down so hard mentally. Sometimes drugs or alcohol gave me the courage or connection with people,” Law said.
“I couldn’t go back to real estate. It’s not the most honest business, but when you are drinking or drugging, you feel numb or lose touch with the lies you are telling. You have to do a lot of finagling, and the drugs and alcohol helped a lot with that.”
He ended up getting arrested for destruction of property.
“I broke somebody’s window and I was throwing glass at people on the street,” he said.
After that, he moved to Cape Cod and started lobstering.
“I loved it, but it was not the best job for being sober,” he said. “There was a lot of drugs and alcohol.”
He went through a detox process before coming to Riverbank House. That’s not an easy process, but it wasn’t the hardest part of his recovery.
“The hardest part is when you are off, just you and your feelings, and you come to the realization that drugs and alcohol weren’t the problem – you’re the problem,” Law said. “So that’s a really tough pill to swallow.”
He says the other men at the Riverbank house have helped him immensely.
“You get in with a bunch of people you trust, are close with and are very similar to you,” he said. “That’s a really powerful experience.”
Law says the men have each other’s backs, similar to what he experienced in team sports.
“You get used to that camaraderie and brotherhood, and what that lets you do is let your guard down a little bit and I’ve been able to become more vulnerable than I’ve ever been in my entire life,” he said.
Another Riverbank House client is a former Syracuse University rower who asked that he be referred to only as Ara.
Ara, 35, works in the high tech industry outside of Boston.
“In early high school I started drinking progressively more, got into pot and then hard drugs,” Ara said. “I’d say I was high functioning. I showed red flags through high school and college, but it didn’t impact academics or athletics. I had no run-ins with the law.”
His problems surfaced when he was well out of college.
“Substance abuse caught up with my body,” he said. “I was having health concerns, essentially my liver and kidneys. Different blood tests came back and I was in pretty rough shape from a medical standpoint. I needed to take a close look at my addiction and substance abuse in order to basically save myself.”
He came to Riverbank House five months ago.
“I had already participated in Alcoholics Anonymous, so I picked that up when I came here, but added on additional meditation,” Ara said. “We have a Buddhist monk here, so I added that into my daily practice, along with exercise and a lot of activities.
“Today, I have art class, which I really enjoy for therapeutic purposes, and there are group sessions for processing and team-building activities.”
He’s not sure how long he will stay.
“I’m seeing how the process plays out,” he said. “I’m working through the 12 steps and the weather is getting better, so I haven’t put a timeline on my stay here.
“Being around the guys in the program, seeing their long-term recovery and seeing first hand what that looks like has kind of inspired me and given me hope. To see that in action serves as an example that I could do that too.”