Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Before Any Fixing, He First Had to Break

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Before Any Fixing, He First Had to Break

Article excerpt

After two decades of alcohol, marijuana and cocaine abuse, 44- year-old Michael Richker had finally landed in a detox center. He was there because his family had finally had enough. But he hadn't.

"I didn't want any part of it," says Richker, now 69. "I was in such denial, I didn't care about anybody or anything."

When they brought his bathrobe from home, he carefully scraped the cocaine remains from its pockets, rolled a page torn from his recovery manual, and snorted a line, lint and all, at the treatment center.

Two weeks later, after relapsing again during a brief leave, he was back. This time something broke.

"That's when I prayed to a god I didn't believe in to take this obsession away from me," he says. "And a miracle happened."

November 26, 1989. He's 25 years sober now, but Richker still prays to a higher power every morning and makes the choice to share his "experience, strength and hope" with others where he once was, rather than succumb to his disease.

One afternoon a week, he's a counselor at Resurrection House; once a month he brings a 12-step program to the jail and a detox center. He volunteers at his synagogue, serves on the board of a nonprofit that provides funding for residential treatment and works on solutions for Sarasota's homeless. He's grateful, but also realistic.

"Recovery has to be the most important thing in your life because the disease never stops. It's incurable and it's progressive."

The stars for Richker were misaligned from the start. He grew up in Houston, the only child of a difficult father who showered him with recriminations and a mother addicted to diet pills and "drinking vermouth straight out of the bottle."

When he was 16, his father died an ugly death from cancer; at 18, his mother announced she was getting remarried and moving to Chicago without him. At 20, he got married to his college girlfriend because that's what you were supposed to do. By 22, she'd left, too, ("She was a smart woman") and he'd added marijuana to his out-of-control alcohol habit.

"I used to say I only smoked once," says Richker, "but it lasted from 1969 to 1981. And that's when I found cocaine. …

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