A Life Upended by Alcohol

Apr 15, 2015

Richard Rose's next step is to find a job and become "a proactive part of society and pay my own way."
Credit Kara Lofton

Alcoholism does not define Richard Rose, but his life has certainly been shaped by the addiction.

He now finds himself staying at Valley Mission in Staunton, where WMRA’s Kara Lofton talked with him.  Richard’s story is Part 6 of our series on homelessness.

The drink of choice for Richard Rose’s father was whisky which Rose says he drank to excess, always resulting in a belligerent, angry and abusive man. Rose grew up adamantly against alcohol of any kind.

When he was 18, Rose attended a fraternity party with a friend. The partygoers were drinking keg beer, not whisky and seemed to be having a great time. Unlike his father, the students were not hostile or violent drunks. Maybe beer was different, he thought. He took a sip.

RICHARD ROSE: It was the best feeling I felt in my life…it was the beginning of a pattern.

I met Rose at Valley Mission in Staunton almost forty years after that first party. He is a quiet, thoughtful man who has spent most of his life moving from one minimum wage job to the next. He never finished high school. By the time I met him, Rose had been sober for seven months. His longest stretch was 2 ½ years.  

ROSE: I’ve always been able to just stop for a little while, sometimes for three months, sometimes for a couple of years. But when I’m in that mode and when I’m drinking, I have very little control over how much I drink.

The control was easier at the beginning. He was working, made some investments, and was able to accumulate a little bit of savings. Until his late 20s, he only got drunk at nightclubs and happy hours. But then he began to burn through his savings and was just living paycheck to paycheck.

ROSE: For most of my life I did work and pay my own way. It took awhile for my carefree lifestyle to catch up with me.

As a young 20-something, he saw people who were homeless in bigger cities, but he didn’t understand how anyone in America could ever be that bad off.

ROSE: And now I know, and I have a perspective that I never would have had if I had not found myself in this situation myself. And I’ll never think the same, I’ll never look at the world the same because of it. I’m forever changed because of it, and I’ll always appreciate being independent and self-sufficient probably more so than a lot of people that maybe haven’t gotten through something like this might.

Before coming to Valley Mission, Rose worked as a caretaker for a large estate in Churchville.  In the past year, the owners sold the property and moved to Virginia Beach.   Rose was left without employment, savings or job-skills. He is originally from Staunton and so he decided to return there and live at Valley Mission while he attempted to restructure his life. For him, it begins with avoiding alcohol.

ROSE: Part of maintaining your sobriety is defining your triggers. It can be feeling really good about something. It can be feeling really sad about something. It can just be going to an event where there are other people drinking and having a good time and I get the inkling to do it and just do it and I end up right in with the pattern again. And it can last anywhere from one night to one month.

Rose now works part-time in the kitchen of a restaurant in downtown Staunton. He also recently started working part-time at Wal-Mart as a nighttime custodian. He makes $8.45 an hour at Wal-Mart and $7.50 an hour at the kitchen.

Susan Richardson is the executive director at Valley Mission. She said they see upwards of 600 people coming through their doors each year. For her, the issue is the combination of a lack of affordable housing and the lack of a livable minimum wage.  

Rose said he feels blessed to be at the Mission and that the employees there have been very supportive in helping him to get back on his feet.

ROSE:  It’s been a real positive experience – an open community environment.

The positive environment is helping him toward his next goal.

ROSE: I want to be employed, and be a proactive part of society and pay my own way.

He says that for the people he has met who are either homeless or alcoholics or both

ROSE:  We all have one common thread, I think, that binds most of us, and that’s that we basically have been displaced due to varying circumstances and each individual case may be different. We all need to take a look and define what the barriers are that are keeping us from being productive, proactive members of the community and define what those are and devise a plan to tear those barriers down and actually go out and do the things, whether they be poor financial management, or substance abuse or whether it be circumstances that are entirely beyond your control… Basically it is not crying over spilled milk, but it’s looking back at the things that got us here.