Editor’s note: This is part 1 of a two-part story. Next month: A look at local efforts to help people struggling with drug addiction and recovery.
One look across his tidy desk to the silver-haired man sitting easily back and listening intently to his visitor’s story gives an observer the impression Randy Viers has always been a member of the helping profession. Viers, a Key Peninsula resident, is a program director for Olalla Recovery Centers, with facilities in Olalla and Gig Harbor. The organization provides alcohol and drug counseling on either an in- or out-patient basis to area citizens in need of help and ready to receive it.
Almost two decades ago, when Viers needed help with his own spiraling drug and alcohol addictions, treatment was in its infancy. Having experienced both the devastation of addiction, and the rejuvenation of life after leaving his “drugs of choice” behind, gives Viers a unique perspective into the addict and his/her family. His life story, from the shelter of a parochial grade school, to the bitter reality of life zoned out on drugs and alcohol, and back again to sanity, is a trip with an instant replay still capable of bringing Viers to ruin, if he let it. Instead, he has used truth to build a career and help others afflicted by addiction. He is the first one to say he will always be an addict. The process and promise of recovery is a fact of life, taken one day at a time, minute by minute, with no reprieve for “good behavior.” His hope, professionally and personally, is that by sharing his story, he helps other addicts find their way back to sobriety.
Viers’ story could belong to any shy kid looking for a way to fit in and not finding it. When he was about 15, members of his garage band experimented with sinus-clearing inhalers (nasal over-the-counter amphetamines containing basal restrictors). With the first experience, Viers recollects he was “hooked immediately.”
“All the things I didn’t like about myself went away,” he says.
His parents, struggling to stay together until their children were grown before they divorced, didn’t realize his frequent overnights with friends were drug-induced multiple days and nights of manic energy, followed by crashes of depression and deep, prolonged sleep.
According to Viers, nicotine is considered the “gateway” drug to addiction. He started smoking at 14, outside the church hall with his father. It was an easy transition to drugs, paid for with “really disturbed neuro-chemicals in the brain.” In the endless cycle of drug-binging, crashing, depression, and binging again, something pulled him toward sanity. He says the drug use was dependent upon whom he was with — and he gravitated toward musicians who were “clean.” Looking back, he says some of his best jobs were with drug- and alcohol-free bands. That propensity for self-preservation bought him some time, but it didn’t stop his fall.
Viers found that having a father in sports and a grandfather active in the Hollywood music scene were hard acts to follow. Determined to step in the famous footstep of his elders, he moved to California. What he found, beyond bit parts in movies and a stint on then-popular “Rock-a-Go-Go” on television, were emerging “psychedelic” drugs, more or less freely-trafficked in the hippie/free-love era of the late 1960s. Oddly, Viers says in the music business at the time, alcohol abuse was tolerated, while drugs were not. He gradually tipped the scales toward alcoholism, accepting drugs along the way whenever offered by fans, friends, anyone.
“People just gave them out,” he says. “It’s not in my nature to turn them down.”
During this time, he met his future wife, a drug-free woman; a safe haven for an addict out of control. He became expert at pushing her boundaries. “I played a crummy game,” he remembers, knowing just when to back off to avoid a crisis, only to repeat his “angry and unreasonable behavior” when the air cleared. “Drugs and alcohol weren’t a problem for me. I didn’t notice the grief I caused to others,” he says. “It’s part of addiction; arrogance and denial.” Now married 41 years to that same woman who threw him out, took him back, threw him out and took him back again, he is grateful for a family who stuck with him until he got it right.
“I don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for love,” Viers says today.
From California, stints in Nevada and Oregon, he moved his family to Washington. By this time, he had sworn off everything but pot — a little something to induce a “harmless high” and that kicked-back state of mind he craved. The Christmas Eve move was a symbolic and literal new beginning, a chance for the good life. He figured a change of environment and friends was all he needed to make a clean start last; some new place where he could be in control, finally. Unfortunately, his addiction hitched a ride with the family heading north. Soon after resuming his music career, an offer to try methamphetamine came his way — a “one time” experiment with something new — and claimed his life. What began with snorting progressed to shooting up, and led to manufacturing and selling to other addicts to support his own habit. He was “careful to keep that part of my life away from my family, and off the Peninsula, where they lived.” He believes the entire family succumbed to denial that winter; his addiction was “private” unto himself.
Viers was out of control once again, and tired of fighting with his wife about drugs; his body hurt, depression haunted him. He didn’t care if he was married anymore, decided to “just stay high forever” to avoid the pain and sickness of coming down. Home from work early one afternoon, his wife walked in to see drug paraphernalia laying out where their boys would see it. Something in that “caught in the act” moment snapped Viers sober. Facing the end of either his family or drug use, he wasn’t sure he really wanted to quit. He had an agenda, figured he’d walk into a clinic saying, “Fix me so I don’t shoot drugs — but I still want to smoke pot.”
On a date he remembers, Jan. 5, 1990, four days after Viers made a bonfire in the back yard and burned all his paraphernalia, one of his sons drove him to a hospital. For the first full week of the 21-day treatment, he didn’t believe alcohol was a problem — mentally, he was just there for drugs.
Nearly two clean and sober decades later, Viers knows one truth for certain. “I’m one beer, one joint, one (needle) away from a relapse. I stay dry by doing what they taught me to do 17 years ago,” he says.
This is a message he shares at least once every month in a talk to Olalla Recovery Centers program participants. Sometimes it resonates just right— this hard reality spoken and lived by “one of their own.” Viers is committed to finding ways to assist addicts in recovery and avoid relapse; he knows first-hand it can be done, and that’s why he’s there.