By EMMALEE C. TORISK
The way Matt Glover tells it, taking that first sip of alcohol was like finding himself.
He was a socially awkward 19-year-old from Brookfield Township who had dropped out of nursing school after a year and a half, and was still struggling to figure out where he fit in after graduating from high school.
“It made me dance, it made me sing, and it made me part of the ‘cool group,’” Glover said.
But Wednesday morning, in the midst of reflecting on his struggles with alcohol addiction in front of a group of ninth- through 12th-graders at Lowellville High School, Glover explained that he never would’ve picked up that first bottle of beer if he’d known where it would lead.
That singular action led to what he referred to as “a $20,000-a-year drinking habit,” which “skyrocketed from that day forward. It also led to two DUI convictions — and spending more than $10,000 in court costs and fines, along with five years’ probation and 90 days under house arrest.
In his presentation to students — part of the school district’s celebration of Red Ribbon Week, which aims to raise awareness about the dangers of drugs and alcohol — Glover admitted that it wasn’t uncommon for him, at 19, to spend seven days a week in bars, drinking a 30-pack of beer and a fifth of liquor every day.
Despite this clearly abnormal behavior, Glover still didn’t see himself as an alcoholic.
“I wasn’t a bum. I wasn’t that guy on the side of the street that we all consider to be a drunk or a druggie,” he said. “I still didn’t think I was affecting anybody else. I said, ‘I’m in my 20s. I’m supposed to be doing this. They’re all
trying to steal my fun.’”
And even when a doctor told him that his liver had begun to shut down and that he would surely die if he didn’t stop drinking, Glover remembers actually pausing to weigh the options — then deciding that he was ultimately fine with death.
Glover, who is now a behavioral health technician at Sharon Regional Health System and a social-work major at Youngstown State University, told students he’s been in long-term recovery since August 2010.
His mission, he said, is to share his story and hopefully prevent even one person from making the same mistakes.
Aaron O’Brien, who also spoke during Wednesday’s presentation, echoed Glover’s words, telling students that he was both scared and insecure while growing up.
Much like Glover, O’Brien as a teenager turned to alcohol for the confidence he needed to dance or to talk to girls. That wasn’t a good excuse, O’Brien admitted, but he just never thought anything bad would happen as a result of those poor choices.
In 1999, while drunk, O’Brien ran a red light, killing a 27-year-old woman. He was charged with vehicular homicide and DUI, and spent the next nine years in state prison in Georgia.
O’Brien added that he’s been out of prison for seven years, but still faces six years’ probation. And though his life was irrevocably changed when he ran that red light in 1999, he’s sure that even if it hadn’t happened, he would’ve continued on his path of destruction, hurting more people and thinking that nothing was wrong.
“I can’t take that back. That didn’t need to happen,” he said. “But I have the opportunity now to share that with you guys. I want you to be careful. I’ve taken too much peace from too many families.”
Susan Stigliano, a 26-year-old from Sharpsville, Pa., also shared her story of alcohol and drug addiction, telling students that her problems began in high school and followed her to college.
Stigliano also said that alcohol made her feel more comfortable — and taller and prettier — and was a way to make others like her. So, every chance she got, she partied. Her grades suffered. She wrecked cars and got into bar fights.
“You don’t have to have a probation officer or DUIs to realize you have a problem,” she said. Her abuse of drugs and alcohol “became every single day, and I couldn’t stop. I was stuck. But nobody has to worry about me today.”
Other speakers were Tom Gatto, a probation officer with Adult Parole Authority in Canton, and Brad Windle, a parole supervisor at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
The event was put together by Crystal Henderson, the high school guidance counselor; Liz Cavalier, the elementary school guidance counselor; Lowellville Police Chief Ryan Bonacci and Capt. Stacy Karis, school-resource officer.