At the bottom of the bottle
Richardson was a married father of three boys, an executive with expensive taste and a penchant for strong alcohol. Whip smart and witty, Richardson was never at a loss for words, could spin sell “ice to a polar bear,” and was never without his iPhone, Cartier watch and keys to his Range Rover.
Until the summer of 2015.
Richardson’s father had died 10 years before. A violent alcoholic, Terry Richardson was a lifelong addict. As a child, Richardson witnessed his father verbally assault his mother, tear through bushes in the front yard as he pulled his truck in after a night of reckless drinking, and pass out stone cold on the front room couch, drool seeping from his mouth. Richardson vowed to never turn into his father.
Without even so much as a sip of beer, Richardson flew through his high school and university years with honours. He married his first love, Kelly, with whom he shared three boys back to back: Josh, Randall and Peter. They were the light of his life.
But somehow, in the back of Richardson’s mind, he felt he was running away from something. “I thought that genetically, I was just meant to be an alcoholic,” muses Richardson, now 50. “It was almost like I was running away from the inevitable, white knuckling it even before I’d had an illness.”
When Richardson was promoted to vice president of a multi-million dollar corporation, he celebrated by doing what a 19 year old commonly does in the province of Ontario – go out for a drink. It seemed, to outsiders, such a normal activity. And to Richardson it was too. “I thought, ‘Seriously? This is what I’ve been avoiding?’ It didn’t feel criminal, or addictive. It didn’t feel like anything, other than ludicrous. To me it was like I was a kid who avoided riding a bike just in case I fell down and scraped my knee.”
By 2007, Richardson was comfortably drinking; he bought bottles of vodka for nights out with friends, expensive scotch for work, beers for ball games. Drinking accompanied his favourite pastimes, until drinking replaced his pastimes.
Baileys found its way into Richardson’s early morning coffee. Varieties of aged scotch found a permanent home in his secret office drawer.
“When I was stressed, it was automatic – I had to have something,” recalls Richardson. “I was lying to myself. I told myself it was making things easier, but it was actually making it worse, a little more every day. A lot more every day.
“And then it turned to something I needed to have not just when I was stressed, but when I was happy too. It was like water. I needed it to just be.”
Richardson’s relationship with alcohol strained his personal ones; his kids noted his foul breath and uneven stride, while his wife recoiled from him in their king-sized bed. Still, Richardson failed to notice just how much value he placed on the bottle and how little effort he put on everything else. It had become his new normal.
In 2015, Richardson’s life came crashing down.
“Everything happened all at once,” remembers Richardson. “Bang, bang, bang. The shocking thing is that I was so deep, I was in such darkness… I don’t even really know if I was really feeling anything.”
Thanks to too many missed meetings, too many expensive mistakes, too many distressing errors, Richardson was excused from his high powered position. His wife, who’d watched her husband’s descent for far too long, not so secretly began seeing another man. His children feared getting in a car with him, having been driven to early morning hockey practices with a clearly drunken father one time too often.
In a haze, Richardson began dating multiple women simultaneously, carelessly spending his savings and putting little effort into finding new work. Former colleagues kept their distance, and old friends – those who stuck by him – hopelessly watched as the last traces of his former self withered away.
Surprisingly, Richardson met and fell in love with a nurse, whose experience in alcoholism and addiction is what Richardson credited as prompting change.
“She was like a mirror to me,” he muses. “Suddenly, I saw what everyone else was seeing.”
Richardson attended 12-step meetings, finding value in the friendships. He bought self-help books, burying himself in confidence-boosting exercises and meditation. But it was an in-patient program – a multi-week intensive where Richardson faced his every demon – that ultimately provided Richardson with healing and recovery.
“It wasn’t easy,” says Richardson. “But I had to admit I was powerless. I had to be willing. Looking back, so many people were trying to intervene, but no one could help me because I wasn’t willing to do the work.
“Listen, you can burn through sponsors and waste thousands of dollars on therapy, and not get anywhere,” he continues. “But the truth is that recovery is so different for everyone, and that’s why steps or books didn’t work for me, because if I wasn’t in line with everyone else’s experiences or I wasn’t ticking off those boxes and collecting those milestones chips, I felt like I failed again.
“I learned, through an intense, personal service that was tailored for me, how to trust my instincts, and how to trust myself. It’s not easy. God, no one else is going to do the work for you. But being allowed to have my own opinions regarding my treatment was more empowering than anything.
“And now, three years sober, I’m in a good place. I’m where I always belonged, and right where I should be.” Never would this have happened without going to a inpatient treatment centre.
Richardson is now gainfully re-employed, shares equal custody of his children, and has renewed a harmonious friendship with his ex-wife, while enjoying a deep, loving relationship with himself, someone he had forgotten to take care of for so long.