Finding Serenity in Sobriety

Richard was smart and always positioned himself for success. He also liked to party and eventually reached a point where drugs and alcohol tore his life apart. After 30 years of battling a substance use disorder and homelessness, an opportunity at redemption granted Richard serenity.

Richard Preston’s recovery story started with his first drink at 6 years old.

His parents were having a holiday party, and he was drawn to one of the many discarded alcoholic beverages in his home.

“I was smelling the booze, and I was liking the way it smelled,” Richard told “So I took a sip of it, and it was game on right then.”

Even at age 6, Richard noticed that the drink made him feel good and took away his inhibitions.

“It was an instant love affair,” he wrote in his book “Serenity Granted,” which tells the story of how he overcame a 30-year battle with addiction.

Richard was born in Jacksonville, Florida, to a middle-class family. His father was a mailman and a World War II veteran. His mother managed the household. As the second youngest of seven brothers, he was known as the “knee baby.”

Richard was never short of love or care. His parents raised him with good values and manners. He enjoyed playing sports and valued his education.

But by age 10, Richard was sneaking beers every Sunday at family visits to his grandparents’ house in the rural area of Jacksonville. He and his brother would steal drinks from the family cooler while the adults were not watching.

“It was easier to do it out there in the rural section rather than in the city,” said Richard. “I started looking forward to going there because I could get my drink on.”

His drinking progressed when he got to junior high school.

“In junior high school, there was a store around the corner from me where the guy would actually sell us beer,” he said.

Richard and his friends would buy beers in the morning and drink them at the bus stop so they could go to school with a buzz. They also started smoking joints at the bus stop while they drank their malt liquor.

In high school, he drank and smoked more often. He even did cocaine from time to time. He never saw a reason to slow down his drinking and drug use because he was successful in every aspect of his life.

“With more freedom, my usage picked up,” said Richard. “The one thing that kept me from stopping was that I was excelling in school.”

Richard was voted most likely to succeed by his classmates. He was the star of the basketball team and the president of senior men at his high school. He graduated in the top 10 percent of his class and earned a full mathematics scholarship to Jacksonville University.

First Consequences of Addiction

College was a different ball game for Richard. What came easily in high school was suddenly proving to be a challenge.

“In high school, I never had to study for anything,” Richard said. “It just came naturally to me. But in college, I needed to apply some things, but I didn’t.”

During his first semester, Richard took a trigonometry exam that he did not study for. He decided to do a few lines of cocaine before the test to stay alert.

“It was wearing off during the test, so I ran to the bathroom like Superman, took a few more hits and came back,” said Richard. “I aced the test.”

He figured he could do the same thing with every test. He stopped studying completely and relied solely on cocaine on exam days.

By his second semester, he lost his scholarship and flunked out of college.

After leaving school, Richard went to work. To his father’s dismay, he became a manager at McDonald’s and started spending time with older co-workers. They drank excessively, and Richard started drinking more to fit in with them.

“I was drinking very heavily, and then a couple of guys I was running with at State Farm were doing cocaine.”— RICHARD PRESTON

“We were drinking on our shifts at McDonald’s,” said Richard. “We had beers and liquor in the ice chest — right where I’d get ice for your nice root beer. We had bottles of liquor and beer sitting there cooling down for the end-of-the-night party.”

Richard worked five days a week, and he partied every night with his co-workers after they closed the restaurant. He partied on his days off too, and he continued to smoke weed and use cocaine.

While working at McDonald’s, Richard reconnected with a girl he’d known in high school whose mom worked at State Farm. Through this girl, Richard was able to land a job with the insurance company.

But his drinking never stopped.

“I was drinking very heavily, and then a couple of guys I was running with at State Farm were doing cocaine,” said Richard.

He was making a lot more money, but he was also drinking at lunch and joining co-workers in the bathroom to snort cocaine.

Richard lasted about six years at State Farm before his drinking became uncontrollable. He was now drinking in the mornings, and it was causing him to miss work and affecting his job performance.

“It progressively started getting worse while I was at State Farm, and I ended up being terminated for drinking.”

His friends began to notice substance abuse was ruining his life. A dear friend warned him countless times about cocaine. He now wishes he had listened.

A New Daughter, a New Job & an Old Habit

While unemployed, Richard had a daughter and moved in with her mom. He was working temp jobs to make money and was performing well.

After working a temp position at Unison Industries, a leading manufacturer of ignition systems for aircrafts, he landed a permanent position in the engineering department.

But the job required Richard to pass a drug test.

“Even though I knew I was going to have to take a drug test to get this job, I never stopped partying,” he said. “So I got this job in the engineering department where I went from making $20,000 to $60,000, and I flunked the drug test.”

The owner of the company told Richard he would overlook his positive drug test because of the great work he had done in the temp position. The stipulation was that he would get sober and be drug tested once a month.

He never took another drug test while working there.

Everything was great in the new job at first. Richard was excelling in the position, but he was also starting to lose control of his cocaine use.

“I was killing the new job and killing the cocaine,” said Richard.

It wasn’t long before a new drug took over his life. When one day Richard couldn’t find any cocaine, a dealer offered him crack as an alternative. Although he knew about the addiction risks associated with crack, Richard thought he was stronger than the drug.

He remembers telling himself that he could handle it. He’d heard that everybody gets addicted to the drug, but he thought he was different. He was too smart for that. He’d been doing cocaine for 20 years, and, he claimed, he wasn’t addicted.

Richard said it took only one hit of crack for him to become completely hooked.

“The first hit, the world sort of just stops,” said Richard. “It’s got this sweet taste to it. It’s very hard to describe, but the world stops, and it’s like you’re in suspended animation.”

Crack took over his life quickly. He was spending all his money on the drug and neglecting his well-being. He often did not eat because he would spend his entire paycheck on crack. Being hungry and addicted drove him to desperation.

The Envelope

One Friday, Richard had spent all his money getting high and had nothing to eat. He was desperate for food. He had the highest security clearance possible at his job because he worked in the engineering department. This gave him access to every other department in the office.

He went into the office after hours to raid the refrigerators for a leftover lunch or forgotten TV dinner. While he was searching for food, he had the idea to go through his co-workers’ desks for loose change or dollar bills to spend on crack. What he found ultimately led to his dismissal.

Earlier that day, the company had passed around an envelope to collect money for the funeral of a co-worker’s child who had died suddenly.

This was total desperation to get high,” said Richard. “I found the desk that had the interoffice envelope with that money for that child, and I stole that.”

On Monday morning, multiple people came forward saying that someone had gone through their desks and taken money. The co-worker who had passed around the envelope reported that the money was gone as well.

“The owner said, ‘Richard, if you had not been such a model employee and done the things for my company that you did, you would be going out of here in handcuffs.”— RICHARD PRESTON

Management used the electronic key-access system to trace the thefts back to Richard. When the owner confronted him about the money, Richard admitted to taking it to buy drugs. He was terminated immediately.

“The owner said, ‘Richard, if you had not been such a model employee and done the things for my company that you did, you would be going out of here in handcuffs,’” he said.

Richard felt horrible for letting his employer down, for letting his daughter and her mom down, for letting his parents down. They all knew he had a substance use disorder at that point, but still, Richard wasn’t ready to give up crack.

After being fired, Richard left with about $15,000 to $20,000 in checks from his 401(k), severance, Christmas bonus and last paycheck.

“I went on a crack binge,” he said. “I went through that money in about a week.”