Today we meet Al Richards, the podcast host of The Other Side of Addiction, and a man who self-described “as a weekend warrior, liar, and manipulator.”
Al has been sober since 2009; however, in the past year began to identify as someone with the disease of addiction. Al offers the perspective of not having clarity for himself yet being very aware of his wife’s disease.
In today’s episode, Al shares what has shifted for him to change his perspective on a decade-old habit and how he has learned to take care of himself while supporting his wife in her recovery. Al’s story is not unique; however not commonly shared with such openness.
You can watch Al’s podcast on You Tube.
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See full transcript below.
You’re listening to the Embrace Family Recovery Podcast a place for real conversations with people who love someone with the disease of addiction. Now here is your host, Margaret Swift Thompson.
Intro: Welcome back! In today’s episode we hear from Al Richards, the host of the podcast entitled ‘The Other Side of Addiction.’ Al is a recovering person who began to identify as someone with the disease of addiction nearly 14 years after ending his substance use. As you listen today pay attention to what shifted his self-identification and how he has learned to prioritize his self-care amongst close family members whom he loves battling the disease of addiction.
Please meet Al Richards.
The Embrace Family Recovery Podcast.
So, Mr. Al Richards Welcome to the Embrace Family Recovery Podcast I am pleased to meet you It is kind of fun that I meet people for the first time when we do a recording on a podcast. And I want to ask you to share with the audience who your qualifier is, how did you come to face or identify addiction in your life? And who’s your qualifier?
Wow, that’s a really good question. You know, I would actually have to say the qualifier was actually me, if that makes sense.
Margaret: Tell us more.
Al: And the reason why is because in 2009, I worked for a manufacturing company here in Salt Lake City, Utah, was there 24 years. Had a very, very stressful job. 43 employees underneath me lots of projects as over a plethora of all types of things in the plant. My weekend, Fridays and Saturday nights only. My weekend was drinking and doing cocaine.
In 2009, I was asked to do a drug test, hadn’t been drug tested in 15 years, I failed the drug test. That’s pretty much what started changing things because when I lost my job, I started thinking a lot about life. And I actually had a couple of friends come up to me and go, you know what, we never trusted you. And that frickin hurt. I’m like, what do you mean, you never trusted? I never stole from you. And you know, I always treated you and your family with respect. And they said, no, you’re a liar and a manipulator. And I went no, not.
So, I started doing some really deep soul searching while I was going through depression after losing my job. Because my wife didn’t know I was doing cocaine. She knew I was drinking. But I hid it, the whole time while we were dating for three years, and into when we got married. And I really started thinking about stuff and I went, oh my gosh, they’re right. I have lied and I have manipulated my way through life, pretty much starting from a young boy, all the way into my adulthood. And I started thinking about why I did it. And I had a father who, man, I was getting my butt kicked for everything. Didn’t matter what I did, I was always getting in trouble. So, I learned how to lie and manipulate. And again, I’m not blaming him for it, because I’m the one that decided to go that direction. But I learned how to lie and manipulate my way through life. And I just thought that’s just pretty much how you go about it.
So lots to untangle there and I appreciate your candor and your honesty of sharing your own journey. We do you classify yourself as an addict? At that point?
I do now, but back then I did not
Margaret: got it
Al: because I only did it two days a week.
Margaret: You were a weekend warrior.
Al: But yeah, it was only two days a week. So, I’m like, no, I’m not an addict. I’m just letting life go. So, I could forget about things for a while.
Margaret: It was a release valve.
Al: It definitely was a release valve.
Yes. And didn’t think it was hurting anyone.
No, because, again, no one knew. Nobody knew
your friends when they came up to you. And said those harsh truths that you came to realize were truths. Were they people who you had told or people who once they found out things made sense. And they felt they needed to approach you?
No, they didn’t even know because a lot of people didn’t know why I lost my job. It was kept pretty quiet until after I was gone. Because I was suspended for a while till they were deciding what they wanted to do with me because the plant manager and my manager were fighting for me. They’re like, you know, this guy’s been here 24 years, look what he’s done for the company. And if the owner, the original owner, still own the company, he had sold it a year before this happened. I probably would still be there. Because I was a paid plus employee. I never miss days, I never called in sick. Even when I was sick. I went to work. I worked 13,14,15 hour days until Friday came and then it was my eight hour day and it was time to release. So yeah, they never knew.
So, you shared candidly that you didn’t think you were an addict. You now identify that you were. And I think it’s really important to put a pinpoint on that because there are many people out there who have stereotypes of what an addict, alcoholic, looks like, what kinds of behavior they’re engaged in, how often they’re using, what kinds of consequences they have. What I hear from you is even while you’re using secretly, and covering, manipulating, doing whatever you had to, to keep it secret, you did not think you had the problem. Because of all the functionality in between the use.
Margaret: When did you switch to believing Hmm. I wasn’t just a weekend warrior. I had a problem.
I would say probably three or four months ago.
Margaret: That recent?
Al: Yeah. Well, it took all that time for me to realize it. The reason why is I decided, Margaret, that I didn’t want to work for corporate America again, after I lost my job.
I also realized it was time for me to do some really deep soul searching, who was Al Richards? Who really doesn’t want to be.
So, as I was doing this, there was a lot of things that happened. My wife and I got married in May of 2009, July of 2009. I lost my job, August 2009, she lost her dad to a heroin overdose a year later, we lost our home. That was her tipping point. So, as I was coming out of my stuff, and figuring out who Al Richards wanted to be, she was falling off the edge, she started getting into the alcohol extremely heavy.
I kept it from my family and friends for a long time because I didn’t want them to judge my wife. And I was also ashamed. Right? We feel ashamed when we’re on that other side,
Margaret: For sure.
Al: And it wasn’t until I started sharing my story. And I started doing some public speaking events. And then I started doing the podcast. Even though I share little tidbits of my story on shows. It wasn’t up until, yeah, that few months ago where I started going, my gosh, I was an addict too and didn’t even realize it. And it’s just because of the guests who I’ve had on the show. I’ve interviewed hundreds and hundreds of people on the show from the UK to Canada all around the United States. And I always heard this other story, you know of trauma and different things that’s happened. And I really start thinking heavier on it. And I’m like, oh my gosh, I fall in that category, just like they did.
So, your window there when you lost your job, had to face the consequence that that presented to you. Your wife losing her father, which I am so sorry, that is incredibly painful. To her than declining into her own medicating herself. Could it have been that because you were so distracted by her use? It kept you from having to really look at your own.
I would say yeah, yeah, you probably nailed it right there. Yep. I had a friend tell me once on the show. He was actually a guest co-host. He said Al if think about it. You were addicted to your wife’s addiction. And I thought about her I’m like Oh my gosh. He’s flippin right. I am. So, all my focus was on her.
It’s like my daughter told me about three weeks ago. She’s always been a huge supporter of mine and wanted to support me with the podcast and everything. But she found herself wanting to support the podcast, but not me. And the reason why is she goes dad. You had your own issues, and you know it. And she goes, you always played the victim. And she goes, I just finally heard one of your podcasts where you finally came out and told your story. And I get emotional thinking about this because it’s the parents who are supposed to tell their kids how proud they are. My daughter said, Dad, I am so frickin proud of you. And she goes you were a victim during Jenann’s thing, but she goes That’s all you talked about was oh, poor me. Poor me. This is what I went through. So yeah, it really opened my eyes. Yeah, I basically saw the light. Ah, as you see little rays coming through the screen.
Margaret: Yes. As the sun is setting in Utah.
Yeah, yes, it is.
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So, did you manage to put the substances down before your wife’s disease progressed? Were you using concurrently, and still secretly? How does your story unfold around once you got tested positive and the consequences happened?
Yeah, so I quit everything. I quit drinking, I quit doing coke. Everything came to a complete halt.
Al: It was in 2009. Right after I lost my job. I just basically just dropped everything. And I had done that for quite a while. And then it got to the point where my wife’s addiction was, I was getting wound up into it, so, so heavy. That’s it’s almost like I was willing to do whatever I could to get her to get off the alcohol.
Because my wife is like five, two, I think she weighed probably about 105 at the time, and she’s putting all this alcohol in and just like she turned into someone that I didn’t even know. And so, as I started doing some suffering as well, I’m like, well screw this. So, I started calling people back up. And every once a while I do some it wasn’t a weekend thing anymore. It was basically if I had the money, a little extra money. That’s what it went to because it’s like, I can’t deal with this anymore. And it even got to the point where I was offering it to her. How frickin crazy is that?
To me that’s not crazy. That’s the progression of the illness.
Al: Yeah, yeah.
Margaret: We get sick. And we do whatever is necessary to justify, excuse blame our disease manipulates us and everyone around us so what I hear is money was a big trigger. When I had a little extra, under my stress level of watching her slowly deteriorate or quickly deteriorate my disease said well geez, this is a decent thing to do to get away from the pain.
Yeah, exact and it would be like, here, why don’t you try this because I know this will turn you into the devil. And yeah, it kind of started doing that. And then it finally got to where life started changing. She’s over two years clean now.
Al: Or sober, I guess I should say. And it took a switch. And it took me to finally open my eyes. And stop doing what I could to save her because the saving that could only be done was through her, not by me, I could be there to support, you know, that being the husband. And the person who loved this other person will do everything that we can to a word, my wife doesn’t like to fix them. Right? When really in all reality, I still was actually broken in certain pieces myself.
Did either you or your wife seek treatment, recovery resources, or did you just stop?
I did not. I just stopped. For my wife, yes, she went in and out of recovery, went to recover, I think about eight times seven eight times in and out of detox, of course, because alcohol is something that you need help with which I didn’t believe that either. I thought it was just her way of manipulating me. So, I’d buy her another bottle and come to find out. No, she was right, she could die.
It’s a little-known fact, unfortunately, despite the levels of insanity around addiction, especially with alcoholism, a lot of people do not realize it is so high risk for seizure and fatality in withdrawing oneself from chronic use.
Margaret: So, I would give yourself grace that you didn’t know that. Because I don’t think a lot of people know that even if they’re living in it. And when we live with someone who’s under the disease, there’s this question of am I talking to the person or their disease? Who’s here and how am I being lied to or manipulated in order for the disease to get what they want?
Margaret: That’s a tough one. That’s a tough one for family members to discern the difference between
it definitely is big time. I even argued with one of our therapists once when she was in recovery centers, she goes out I’m telling you, there’s nothing you can do. And I got a little heated under the collar and I says, You know what? BS, you watch me? You watch me? I’ll get her to stop. You watch me. Never happened. It actually took me about a year to finally realize, oh, crap, she was right.
Margaret: Pretty humbling, isn’t it?
Al: Yeah. Very humbling. Yes.
And it’s not for lack of loving someone or for not wanting and well intention really, truly wanting to be helpful. And to make sure the person is alive and well.
Margaret: The disease is their journey to heal, just like you have a journey to heal from being the partner, and also now facing your truth about your addiction.
Do you ever consider seeking resources for now this news that you’ve come to be truthful with yourself about, having the disease of addiction? Have you ever considered support community for yourself?
No, I really haven’t. And I had someone asked me that once too, on our show. And they asked if I’ve ever gone through recovery, gotten help? And I says, No. And I said, You know what? Yeah, I have and they’re like, Oh, so you have Where did you go? And I says, Well, I’m here. Like, what? And I’m like, I’m here. Like, what do you mean by you’re here, I’m like, this is my support. This is my recovery, I get to sit down with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met in my life, who have dug themselves. Literally, if I can say, hell just literally dug themselves out of hell to be who they are today. And if you saw them on the streets, you’d have no clue that they were battling addiction or alcoholism. And basically, when, I like to call it my therapy Thursdays, because I learned so, so much from our guests.
So, you’ve kind of created a hybrid of your own form of recovery through being amongst people who are working the program and learning from them.
Al: Yeah, pretty much. And it’s helped me so flippin much, and it’s even helped me help my wife. I know now that there are certain times instead of me trying to be her therapist, I can be her husband, and just say, you know what, I need to step out of this. I’m not qualified to do what you’re needing right now. Maybe you should call this person or this person. Where before I was her therapist. Not a very good one, but I was their therapist.
Yeah, I would think that that’s not an uncommon role for partners to take on either become more parent like or therapeutically involved than is healthy for either party when we’re in the illness together. So, if Al’s having a hard day and a craving or a little money in his pocket, and you know, it’s a tough day, who do you call?
Al: Really no one. And I’m not saying that I’ve conquered, okay, because I know, through all the people that I’ve interviewed, plus, I still see my wife, she still has her certain triggers. She still has her bad days. Does it come across my mind? Oh, yeah, absolutely. It’s like, heck, yeah, man, I just need to pick up the phone, I don’t even know if they’re still able to do it or whatever, because it’s been so long. However, I’m sure someone could direct me in the right place.
For me, now, I just keep my mind occupied. You know, when I start feeling those things, there’s so much that I’m working on right now. As far as the addiction stuff, I’m getting ready to start a full networking group that falls under the addiction umbrella. I work out five days a week, I go early in the morning, spend about an hour and a half to two hours at the gym working out. That really helps me if I’m sitting at home because my wife’s working and I start feeling that, you know, basically, all I do is grab a book, I’ll pick up a book and read or I’ll turn on some music. Whatever I need to do to get my mind away from it. I believe I’ve done pretty well at training my mind now to when I am feeling in that way, it doesn’t take me very long to sweep at the very back of my head, it doesn’t take very long at all. Now, if I sit and do nothing, it’s knocking on the door constantly.
When you look back over your journey, because when we first chatted, it was very much my experience of you and our few conversations through LinkedIn or emails, it was very much about navigating being the partner of your wife, who was battling her disease. And because of current changes for you, it seems like that’s more present, that you’ve identified in yourself. When we look back over your time, with your wife’s illness, before she got into recovery. Let’s talk about what it was like as a husband of someone who was an alcoholic. What was the hardest part of that for you?
Watching my wife slowly kill herself. And not been able to do anything about it.
Margaret: Though you tried.
Al: Though, I tried for seven years doing the same thing over and over. And I had someone asked me once Well, how did it turn out for you? It’s like it didn’t turn out where the crap?
So in those seven years, what did you try to do to help your wife?
Again, as I mentioned earlier, I was a therapist, you know, I thought I knew everything there was to know. And I believe that’s a mistake a lot of us on the other side, when we have a friend or a loved one that’s battling addiction. We think we know. We don’t have a clue. My wife even said to me once I love ice cream. My wife said, what if I told you, you could never ever have ice cream ever again the rest of your life? How would you take it? My answer was I justified it right? Just like an addict does I justified? Like, it’s not bad for you. I mean, it can make you fat, you know, or too much sugar. But it’s different. Well, is it? It’s not, I know that now. She hit it right on the head. But not to be able to help. That’s that was the hardest thing for me because I’m the type of person and my mom says I’ve been this way ever since I was a little kid. If I see someone that’s needing help, I’m there. What can I do? Here, let me help you up, or let me give you this or whatever I could do because I don’t want to see someone suffer. I was watching my wife suffer. And I didn’t know what to do. I was lost.
If we had met a month, a half ago, and I had asked you who your qualifier was, what would your answer have been then?
I think it still would have said me, I believe. Yeah. And I don’t know, maybe I’m answering it the wrong way. It could be all the guests that we have. It just really resonates with me that first thing that pops in my head that it was me.
I don’t think it can be wrong. It’s you. It’s your story. I’m just curious because it’s so fresh to you to identify as having the same disease whether it would have been different prior to you getting to that truth.
So, your daughter said to you how proud she was when you started sharing your own battles with substances. Do you think your daughter knew more than you thought she knew?
No. My daughter heard why I lost my job, one of her friends was my boss’s son. And my boss was a guy that couldn’t keep his mouth shut. I mean, I probably could have went back and I don’t know, could have took the company, I could have put a lawsuit against him because that stuff is supposed to stay hush hush.
My oldest daughter and I were very, very close. And I’ve always asked her to give me the truth no matter what, and that I would never get mad at her. And she expects the same thing for me. Which she deserves it. So yeah, she knew the whole story. She knew it.
Did she ever share with you how your use affected her when she found out? Like you’ve been gone? or absent or preoccupied on the weekends? Did she share that with you?
No, because she was not around. She was already an adult daughter.
Al: So, when I was doing that, both my daughters were grown women. Okay. And, you know, they had their own life. So they wasn’t around at all.
They weren’t exposed to the in the home part.
Nope, nope. And they had no clue. Again, they had no clue I kept it very, very well hid. And I wouldn’t get to the point where you hear the word tweakers you know, where they’re gritting their teeth, and they’re constantly fidgety, I wasn’t like that. I could do it and just as long as I maintained you know, when you’re on the weekend, though it it’s that little different where you could do it for a little while but then of course you spend the rest of the night maintaining yourself you try to keep that needle as close together as possible. So as soon as I started feeling like I’m getting too amped up, pound some alcohol brings me right back down as soon as I start feeling that alcohol getting me where I’m getting kind of woozy, do some lines level myself back out. So that’s what I did pretty much throughout the whole weekend on Fridays and Saturdays.
Outro: Join us next week as Al and I finish discussing his journey into recovery where he shares with us the most helpful tool that has helped him separate his lovely wife from her disease.
I want to thank my guest for their courage and vulnerability and sharing parts of their story.
Please find resources on my website,
This is Margaret Swift Thompson.
Until next time, please take care of you!