Road to recovery: Great Falls man recalls his battle with alcoholism

Posted at 4:17 PM, Sep 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-25 18:17:16-04

GREAT FALLS – September is National Recovery month. When it comes to alcohol addiction, the numbers are staggering.

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, 88,000 deaths a year are attributed to excessive alcohol abuse.

Alcohol is the third leading lifestyle related cause of death in the United States.

Its the most commonly used addictive substance in the country with one in every 12 adults suffering from alcohol abuse or dependence.

Thomas Risberg, the Outreach Coordinator for Rocky Mountain Treatment Center in Great Falls, said one reason people don’t seek treatment for the disease is because of the stigma attached.

“There’s no question that people know that when they raise their hand and say “I’m an alcoholic, I’m an addict” people’s perceptions are going to change and that’s going to keep them in the dark,” said Risberg. “And we know problems fester in the dark.”

To most, Risberg looks like an average guy who grew up in the nation’s heartland of St. Louis.

“It was the suburban home really, wonderful mother and father, everything but the picket fence,” said Risberg.

But like many who struggle with addiction, Thomas lived in fear, starting a with a violent older brother.

“He would lose a video game to me for instance and he’d decide it was necessary to hit me over the head with the controller until I was bleeding,” said Risberg.

He endured suicide among family and friends and time at a boarding school before graduating high school and going to college. His drinking picked up while teaching in Memphis and going to law school in Washington, D.C. It really picked up while he worked as a clerk on the Missouri Supreme Court.

“That was the first time when I ever had to control my drinking,” said Risberg.

His first stint in rehab was June 2013. He bounced around several jobs for the next three years before hitting rock bottom.

“I spent the next year and a half in and out of rehab, going to hospitals. I was hospitalized seven times for alcohol detox and I had really lost myself,” said Risberg.

He landed at Rocky Mountain Treatment Center in August 2017. His treatment helped him deal with issues including the pain inflicted by his older brother David who died a heroin addict.

Now sober for over a year, he serves as the center’s outreach coordinator, part of a staff that knows firsthand about the dangerous grip of addiction.

“They’re up there with you, there’s 354 years of staff sobriety,” said Risberg.

Thomas said unlike many treatment centers which are more like vacation resorts, Rocky offers a unique type of treatment including equine therapy and a family atmosphere.

“You’re going to come in here and I mean everyone will love you until you can love yourself. And it’s small, in the program there’s 20 people, you’ve got 40 something staff here,” said Risberg.

The center offers detox, 30, 60, and 90 day treatments, and aftercare programs.

While not everyone who comes through will stay sober, with acceptance they can all leave with a fighting chance.

“You have to accept that where you are right now is the reality and that drinking will not make things better. You have to accept that the people, the places, the things in your life will not change until you change,” said Risberg.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, help and information is available through these resources:

Rocky Mountain Treatment Center
Rimrock Foundation
Montana Chemical Dependency Center
Alcoholics Anonymous
Narcotics Anonymous
Centers for Disease Control

Reporting by Tim McGonigal for MTN News