After Long Battle With Alcohol, Bethesda
Man Becomes Hopeful in Full-Time Rehabilitation Program
By Hortense M. Barber
|David outside the
Interfaith Clothing Ministry where he volunteers
(Maryland Newsline photo by Hortense M. Barber)
Monday, May 7, 2007
GAITHERSBURG, Md. - Standing at a little bit over 5 feet tall,
41-year-old David is affectionately referred to as “lil’ Dave” by
His frequent smiles cause his eyes to squint.
But it’s his outstretched hands, shaking
that reveal the history of his struggle in many ways.
Decades of drinking caused so much nerve
damage that even after some time away from alcohol, he still has
the shakes, he said.
At the tender age of 13, David snuck his first
alcoholic drink while working as a bus boy at a Montgomery County
restaurant, he said.
Now, after about 27 years of blown pay checks,
hospital visits and a period of homelessness, David is recovering
from alcohol addiction at a treatment center.
Alcohol might have robbed him of a lot of
things, including his health, thousands of dollars and a potential
But after years of troubles, David, who asked that his last
name not be used, is thankful to still be alive.
As the youngest of six, with four brothers and
one sister, in what David calls a strict but dysfunctional
household in Bethesda, he was always eager to fit in, according to
childhood friend Shawn McCord.
David reunited many years later while both were in treatment for alcohol
“His older brothers were crazy,” McCord
“So Dave was always trying to keep up with them.”
But David also had a strong work ethic that
allowed him to obtain the bussing job at the now-closed restaurant,
Michele’s, in Bethesda, while a 13-year-old junior high school
At the age of 15, he started working in the
kitchen of Michele’s, cooking and doing the dishes, he said.
By the time he was 18 he was one of the head
cooks, he said, cooking for parties with more than 200 guests.
He ended up keeping the job until he was 21,
dropping out of high school with just two months left until
He did not see alcohol addiction as being a
problem for him through most of his teenage years - despite the fact
that he had begun supplementing it with marijuana.
But his 19th year brought a change.
He began to realize he was drinking excessively, he said.
“By the age of 19, I got took over by alcohol,”
Passing Out, Again and
The next two decades were filled with stints at food
and automotive jobs, bar hopping, getting drunk, blacking out and
hospital visits, David said.
He had girlfriends, here and there, he said.
But because of his alcoholism, he could never settle down.
“I stayed in the bars
until they closed,” he said. “After passing
out the previous night, I would get up at 7 a.m. and continue to
In his early 20s, he said he enjoyed drinking
and had fun doing it.
But by his mid-20s, his tolerance levels were getting shot -- his
small frame heavily burdened by years of heavy drinking,
“Everytime he drinks, he falls down and blacks
out,” McCord said.
And the frequent blackouts turned into frequent
hospital visits, McCord said.
“My friends worried about me a lot,” David
David, too, was worried about his liver, he
the addiction had taken over.
“I was too physically dependant on that drug,”
he said. “I would quit for a couple of days, then I’d get drunk
In February 1994, after a night of drinking,
David crashed his Suzuki Samurai and broke his neck and shoulder, he
said. He was charged with a DWI, Montgomery County District
Court records show.
After David pled guilty, a Montgomery County District Court
judge in October 1996 sentenced him to 10 days in jail and 18 months
of supervised probation. The judge also ordered him to submit to
drug screening tests and attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
But David said he
went right back to drinking.
At that point he had been drinking for almost
half of his life, and it was as routine as waking up to take a
As years went by, David was charged with a few
offenses, including a 2002 offense for possessing an open container of alcohol.
He was fined $45 for that the following year.
During this period in his life, he managed to
get jobs, hold them for a couple of months, then, after saving
enough money, go on a 30- to 40-day alcohol binge, he said.
Homeless in Frederick
It was 2003, during a time he was commuting
from his home in Bethesda to work in Frederick, when David suddenly
found himself homeless.
“I had a good place to live, I had a job, I had
money, and because of my drinking -- BOOM” -- evicted, he said. Because he had spent his money on alcohol,
David had problems keeping up with the rent, he said.
“I went from 70-degree weather inside watching
TV to out on the street with my head down on a piece of wood. There
were times when I woke up face to face with a raccoon,” he said.
His eyes moisten when describing his time on the
streets in Frederick. “Whenever I see someone homeless on the side of
the road, I really feel bad for them,” he said.
While he was homeless, to keep up appearances
at his job, he would go to the bathroom and wash up in the
sink, and buy clothes from Goodwill.
“I would always try to hide it. It was like a
full-time job,” he said of the deceptions.
He would get food from the grocery store,
making sandwiches, then eating them in the store without paying, he
While out on the street, he hardly ever slept
because of the noisy traffic.
“It scares me to death just thinking about it,”
he said. “I’m scared to death to be homeless again.”
While he was still homeless, and after a couple
more failed rehab attempts, a stranger told him about the
Recovery and Wells/Robertson
In Gaithersburg, across the parking lot from
city hall, stands a nicely sized house with yellow siding and green
trim, two porches, a small garden with a bench facing the house, and a
The house is the privately and publicly
funded Wells/Robertson House, where 14 adults battling addiction
live while participating in a highly structured two-year treatment
Residents, all in recovery, are encouraged to
interact and support each other in the small community, despite
“Older residents learn from the younger
residents and vice versa,” said Crystal Carr, human services
director at Wells.
The program focuses on
topics ranging from credit repair to employment as well as
recovering from an addiction, she said.
It is at Wells where David remains sober; four
months and counting.
So far, he said, this is his longest time sober since he
“I needed to be in a long-term program,” he
He credits Wells for saving him.
“Without Wells, I don’t want to say I’d be dead. But I would
probably be in jail or institutionalized.”
He added, “I feel safe here.”
McCord, also recovering from alcohol addiction
at a halfway house in Montgomery County, said that he and David keep
tabs on each other constantly.
“He is new in recovery. It’s hard for him,”
David, however, constantly displays a positive
attitude. Between his Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and volunteering
at the Interfaith Clothing Ministry three days a week, he manages to
keep himself busy – and away from alcohol.
“I have to stay busy,” he said. “Idle hands
are the devil’s workshop.”
2007 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of
Banner graphic by Hortense
Barber and Diego Mantilla.
Banner photos of homeless person's cart and homeless man
sitting are courtesy of Greg Sileo.
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