Robert Smith Pathway to Recovery

Even when my life was on the line, I couldn’t stop drinking. – Robert Smith

Robert Smith staggered down the street on a cold morning at 4 a.m. Three guys – one much larger than Smith – wanted to fight. Clearly out matched, when he turned to run away, one of the men hit him in the head. Smith pulled a small knife and stabbed the attacker in the chest.

The man survived, and an unlawful wounding conviction, a felony, soon followed. For Smith, it was the culmination of a life plagued by alcohol and drug abuse. Before the attack, Smith lost his wife, his children and 20 or 30 jobs. In and out of jail for drinking, Smith survived shootings and knife attacks. “I was acting like a fool,” he said. “My life was totally unmanageable, especially when I was young. Even when my life was on the line, I couldn’t stop drinking.”

He had no car, no job and no home. “My lifestyle would have gotten me killed,” Smith said.

Broken in every way imaginable, Smith still didn’t want treatment for alcohol abuse. “I never even had a desire to get clean. I wanted to be able to drink without consequences,” he said. “I didn’t believe there was a life after drinking and drugs that was worth living. I didn’t think I had a problem so I didn’t want treatment.”

“I tell families things will get better if the addict gets better. They will no longer be the center of chaos in the home,” said Smith.

The unlawful wounding conviction and serious jail time hanging in the balance changed things. After a judge forced him into rehab, Smith discovered former drinking buddies were having success in recovery meetings. They encouraged him to give sobriety a shot one day at a time. “They knew the life of a street alcoholic,” he said. “I haven’t had a drink since then. My life is excellent.”

College diplomas and counseling certificates hang in Smith’s office inside Centra Pathways Treatment Center. Sober for nearly 29 years, Smith finished college after treatment and got a job working at Pathways as a counselor in 1988.

He graduated as valedictorian of his class from Central Virginia Community College (CVCC) in 1988. He received a history degree from Lynchburg College. A master’s degree followed and in 2005, Smith achieved his dream, becoming a licensed professional counselor. CVCC presented him with the Outstanding Alumni Award, and he gave the commencement speech.

Smith’s personal relationships are healed too. He and his ex-wife are good friends, and he is close with his children.

“There is something so impactful about meeting with others facing the same journey,” Wade said.

Smith spends his days counseling people battling the same with issues. He keeps his door propped open, willing to listen throughout the day. “It gives me inside knowledge of what the problem was,” he said of his experiences as a former addict. “People don’t feel like I’m talking down to them. I can model this sober behavior. It gives people hope when they can see me doing well in recovery.”

He keeps thank you letters from former Pathways clients and their families. “I feel grateful that I could be part of their recovery,” he said. “I tell families things will get better if the addict gets better. They will no longer be the center of chaos in the home.”

Recovery never ends. Smith takes it one day at a time. “You just have to stay sober for today,” he said. “I pray and ask God for the help to make it through another day safe and sober. I’m hoping sobriety is for the rest of my life. I never want to be back out there again.”

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