My journey to sobriety has made me aware of how many people in the horse world are suffering and how important it is to be available.
A year ago I wrote a very candid and personal piece about my experience dealing with drug and alcohol addiction, which wasn’t easy to do. While I’m very open about my sobriety, there were still lots of people around me who didn’t know. I wanted to spread a message of hope and strength, but putting it all out there still made me very nervous and anxious.
The reaction has been tremendous and really positive. People come up to me all the time and say, “That was really great; thank you for writing it.” I don’t go to a single show without someone bringing it up. The story keeps resurging, and there are some days that three people will come up to me to talk about the article, their experience with addiction, or about “program stuff” as we say in Alcoholics Anonymous.
It’s great. I get lots of energy talking about recovery; it’s transformed from being a burden to being something I can draw strength from. I like to talk to at least one recovering person every day. But even beyond that I think that starting the conversation about addiction is chipping away at the stigma associated with the disease.
Lending An Ear
Some people struggling with addiction who reached out after I came forward are winning that fight and doing well. Others aren’t doing so well. It’s a real struggle and one that I really understand.
There’s one person in particular who read the first article when they were at a very low point in their life. They reached out, and we got together a little while later, and they’re still very much struggling. I try to stay in touch, so they know I’m there when they’re ready to get help.
Drug addiction and alcoholism is a disease that needs aggressive treatment, and it’s hard to make time for it and put things on hold when you’re on the show circuit. But if you don’t do something to help yourself then you may lose your passion, hobby, business or maybe even your life. On the other hand I consider my relationship with my husband Joe Miraglia and my position working with the Lindsay Maxwell Charitable Fund to be two of the biggest rewards of my sobriety.
I talk to people of all ages and all backgrounds. I encourage those who need it to go see a psychologist, a pro whom they can pay to take out their garbage for them. But it’s heartening to see people trying.
The main thing I do when addicts want to talk is listen, which I think is appreciated because people know I understand.
They want to get something off their chest, and I can be there for them, maybe offering my perspective if it’s warranted. I want people to know that they’re not alone, and I’m available.
When people are teetering, I try to make sure I reach out to them just to check in. There’s one young rider who’s doing really well now, but they had gotten in pretty deep in the party scene up and down the East Coast, and for a while things weren’t going well. That person moved across the country and is doing much better, having gotten away from the people, places and things associated with their potential addiction.
People are realizing this is a life-and-death situation, especially with the opioid crisis we’re facing in this country. It’s not just in the news; it’s in our horse world too. As equestrians many of us have had accidents or surgeries and are prescribed narcotics during our recovery, but that can be a fast road to physical addiction if you’re not extremely careful.
I know several riders who are struggling with this now, and it’s scary stuff. You can have all the money in the world, all the horses in the world, and still have this problem. It’s easy to fall into: You have an accident and get prescribed strong pain meds. In your follow-up you’re still in pain, so you get a refill and so on. It’s important to stay aware of the potential to become addicted and keep the dialogue going with your doctor.
That’s not to say there’s never a place for heavy medication for anyone ever. When I went in for surgery recently I initially didn’t plan to take any serious medication while I was recovering, but shortly after the surgery I was in excruciating pain. I talked to my doctor and a good friend in recovery with 42 years sobriety and decided I was being too hard on myself by denying myself appropriate medication. Under a doctor’s supervision, with support from friends in the recovery community, I took narcotics as prescribed for a few days. It was a really personal decision and not one that I thought I’d make. Again, it’s so important to be under a doctor’s supervision when you’re dealing with narcotics and to use your support system to make sure you’re making the right decision.
Supporting Each Other
There’s plenty of stress in our corner of the world. We put loads of time, money, energy, blood, sweat and tears into our horses, and things don’t always work out, which can be tremendously disappointing.
During the Lindsay Maxwell Charity Fund WIHS Equitation Finals I was helping to present the awards. They call the top three riders into the ring before they know the results, then the top three placings are announced. You could see the tension on the kids’ faces. I asked one of my fellow presenters—Taylor St. Jacques, who won last year—about dealing with the pressure, and she said, “Well, you just do it.” I truly admire these young people so much.
I’m not saying that stress in general or the stress we experience in the horse world causes addiction, but if someone is already struggling with substance abuse it can’t help. We need to be aware and support one another.
People ask me all the time how I cope with temptation. After all, I go to plenty of cocktail parties and events at horse shows where there’s alcohol. I have to step back and think about the KennyRogers song “The Gambler” where he says, “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em/Know when to fold ’em/Know when to walk away/And know when to run.” When I start to get in trouble I sing that song to myself. I love going to dinners with friends after the show’s over and parties, but I know that I’ll have a shelf life of about two to three hours before I leave, and that’s OK.
I tell people who are in recovery—as long as they’re not early in the recovery period—that if they want they can still go to these functions, but they should get a group of recovering friends to go. The recovery community is a lot bigger than people think. So you’ll start with two recovering people going to a function, and that turns into four, and that turns into eight. There’s strength and power in numbers.
You can still have fun and see all your friends, and you have a support network right there with you. There is a path forward in the horse world.
BILL RUBE has been involved in the hunter/jumper world most of his life. He and his husband Joe Miraglia live in Merchantville, New Jersey, and Rube works as the executive director for the Lindsay Maxwell Charitable Foundation. He celebrated 35 years of sobriety on July 26.
IN THE FORUM, horsemen are invited to express their views and offer constructive criticism on any topic relevant to working with and enjoying horses. The opinions expressed by the writers are entirely their own and not necessarily those of The Chronicle of the Horse.
This is a Horseman’s Forum article “One Year Later: Continuing The Conversation About Addiction” by Bill Rube, which appears in the Dec. 24-Jan.7 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse. If you’d like to read more great content like this, you can subscribe and get online access to a digital version and then enjoy a year of The Chronicle of the Horse and our lifestyle publication, Untacked. Or you can purchase a single issue or subscribe on a mobile device through our app The Chronicle of the Horse LLC.
If you’re just following COTH online, you’re missing so much great unique content. Each print issue of the Chronicle is full of in-depth competition news, fascinating features, probing looks at issues within the sports of hunter/jumper, eventing and dressage, and stunning photography.