Relapse Ruminations and a Trip in the Way-back Machine

While taking a short ride in my car yesterday I listened to an acapella group called Jersey Dream put out by Clifton Records. The lead singer is a friend of mine named Ron Trautz, and as I was enjoying his voice I thought about how much he has accomplished since we ran wild together back in the 1960’s.

Allow me to brag about his accomplishments for a moment: Ron Trautz became a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LCADC), in addition to becoming the Executive Director of the New Brunswick Counseling Center in New Jersey after graduating from Rutgers University.  

Ron has over 40 years of experience in the treatment of Substance Use and Co-Occurring Disorders and is experienced in treating people in both inpatient and outpatient programs. He also had a private practice and worked with non-profit agencies.

That’s pretty wild when I think of the times we got loaded together on codeine based cough syrup back in the early 1960’s.  We made many trips from Jersey to New York City, along with a group of other wild characters in my ‘58 Plymouth Convertible Belvidere with a push-button transmission.

The first drugstore we hit was called Zelnick’s, named after the proprietor.  I remember the first time I walked in there and asked for a jug of Robitussin A-C and the pharmacist looked at me and asked me how many people I was with.  I didn’t understand why he asked that question and I queried him back.

He said, “Look, I don’t want a line of you guys running in and out of my store because it just doesn’t look good. Tell me how many bottles you want and I’ll give them all to you as long as you pay for them.”

I told him that there were six of us and we each wanted two bottles apiece.  He went into his back room and brought out three 16 ounce bottles while I ran out, collected everyone’s bread, and ran back in. Needless to say, we were all thrilled and quite loaded by the time we hit our favorite diner on Route 3 in New Jersey to have a couple cups of hot tea.

Ron and I were still in high school at the time. We used to hang at a friend’s house in Livingston because their parents took off every weekend. If the house wasn’t available we would go to Livingston Lanes and hang out at the coffee shop until they kicked us out.

I remember how the town detectives would always follow us around, but back then they were too lame to make any definitive arrests. They would actually come to the parking lot at the Livingston Lanes and chat us up to see if they could glean any information from us. We were just teenagers, but we thought we had mastered the art of misdirection. 

Some of us got out of the life, Ron being one of the lucky ones. There were others too. I continued on the long road to heroin addiction and never wanted to stop, nor did I think I could.

Ron got clean, went back to school and studied to become a drug counselor and was a success. He kept singing vocal group harmony with his specialty being acapella. His album, Jersey Dream, is just one of the groups he sang with. Ron was the lead vocalist with Jersey Dream and hearing his voice is like a trip in the way-back machine.

I struggled for over three-and-a-half decades with my opiate addiction and now I am about to celebrate 15 years of sobriety with my home group. I actually passed the 15 year mark in September but, because I dislike chairing the meeting, I put it off. Then I realized that it would be a good thing to do in order to show that a once hopeless case like me can actually recover from this illness of the body, mind, and soul.

I have to admit that sometimes I think about picking up but every time I think of it, that terrible Fentanyl crosses my mind. Today I love life, and I realize that if I were to stick the needle in my vein I might not be alive to pull it back out. That’s what happened to one of my heroes, Lenny Bruce, a great comedian who was ahead of his time. He passed at the age of 37 in 1966.  But it wasn’t Fentanyl, it was a morphine overdose, but he is gone except for his comedic legacy.

Ron is the other side of the story. He spent 40 years of his life treating people with addictions as both a counselor and the director of the counseling agency I mentioned earlier.

Unfortunately, Ron is quite ill now with various age-related afflictions, but he is valued by his wife, family and friends. When I think back at how wild we were, I find it amazing that he accomplished so much. Of course, he was one of the brighter people in the club we called the Hats in Livingston High School.

I guess both of us are lucky, Ron and me. I worked as a drug counselor for a few years, but it was at the Cambridge Needle Exchange and it was too close for my hungry monkey. I relapsed on the job.  

Now I work as a writer and soon I’ll publish a book of short stories and poems.  I’m looking forward to it, but I’m continuing to live life in the moment so I can stay drug free. I know I’m not bulletproof. 

Marc D. Goldfinger is a member of the board of directors of the Homeless Empowerment Project, which publishes Spare Change news. Formerly homeless, he serves as the paper's poetry editor.

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