I remember feeling terrified, sitting on the floor as each and every resident in the rehab began to spill into the small office and try to find a comfortable spot to hear the news that preceded the ringing of the bell. I was sitting Indian style on the floor. I was twenty years old, and the year was 1996, and with a shaky voice and trembling body, I came clean with my peers: "I'm gay.” You could almost hear a sigh of relief wash over the packed room of twenty or so individuals also in the process of working their way through the 30-day inpatient rehab in Elmira, NY. My disclosure was followed by a steady flow of supportive and affirming comments like, "Thanks for telling us,” "It's no big deal, we got your back,” "We still support you, no matter what.” It was a profoundly emotional experience for me, and after my peers had exited the now warm but empty room, my counselor looked at me and said, "Do you feel better?" I said, "I do." She gave me a big hug, and we walked out into the hallway to join my peers in early recovery.
Fast forward twenty years, and it appears I have come full circle in a way, this time ringing the proverbial bell to say, "My name is Chad Putman, and I am in long-term recovery.” In 2016, it's much easier to be openly gay in upstate New York than it is to be someone in long-term recovery, especially when you’re a candidate for the 49th NYS Senate district.
Regarding equality for gays, lesbians and bisexuals in the last two decades, basic human rights protections have been extended to include sexual orientation, and same-sex marriage became legal in New York State. Most recently in a 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court same-sex marriage became a guaranteed right across America, and in celebration, the White House was awash with rainbow colored lights, which was a scene I never imagined was possible.
As for recovery, I have remained "anonymous" for nearly twenty years. My actual sober date is April 19, 1997.
After completing my first rehab and turning 21 in a halfway house in Binghamton, NY, I relapsed on a half-glass of champagne. In less than a year I was back in rehab, this time in Glenville, NY, and this time I was ready for what recovery from addiction had to offer.
Just like with any recovery, it takes a great deal of hard work, determination and time. Starting out in my early twenties I benefited from Medicaid, public assistance, and food stamps during my early recovery, and because of this, I am forever indebted to the taxpayers of this state. The available safety net programs provided me with food, clothing, and shelter during the early days of my recovery so I could focus on the difficult work of addressing my addiction and related issues.
The late 1990s ushered in welfare reform and with it mandatory employment or workfare. My first "job" in recovery was at the local Salvation Army outside of Binghamton, NY. Soon after, my first paid job was at Burger King, working the closing weekend shift as I continued in a supported housing program and enrolled in Broome Community College to start an associate degree in Human Services.
With a growing base of support within the recovery community, I went on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Human Development at SUNY Binghamton with the help of student loans, PELL and TAP. I was also able to find employment in my field of choice as a residential counselor at a local children's home working in a short-term diagnostic unit for youth with behavioral problems. Succeeding in ways I never thought possible in my academics, I applied and gained acceptance into the Masters in Social Work program at SUNY Albany. Leaving behind my safety net of recovery supports and allies who had stood by my side for the last eight years was terrifying, but I was too excited about what possibilities were ahead not to pack up the truck and head northeast on Route I-88.
Settling into the Capital Region was easier than expected to a great part because of the built- in recovery community which I could find at a meeting just blocks away from home, almost any night of the week. Grad school, on the other hand, turned out to be a bit more challenging, and what started out as a two-year plan turned out to be a six-year adventure. However, even with all the unexpected twists and turns, I remain grateful for each opportunity which has helped me to prepare for today. Including five-years of case management experience working with people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, along with internships with senior and veteran populations. These experiences followed by my first post-graduate position as a professional social worker working with individuals and families in outpatient substance abuse treatment in Latham, NY.
As for my personal life, I met the love of my life, and after purchasing our first home in Schenectady, he and I got married on our tenth anniversary in 2014. I was also recruited for employment by the City of Schenectady nearly four years ago, which is an incredible honor. As the Deputy City Clerk, new doors have opened concerning macro-level social work assisting the City Council and the Mayor as they take on day-to-day issues impacting our community. My passion for organizing and volunteering led me into local politics, community organizing, and social justice activism. Seeing the need for comprehensive and engaged representation in the NYS Senate and following in the footsteps of mentors and community leaders, in 2016 I announced my candidacy.
I'll never forget what a guest speaker once said to a group of us spread out in a classroom during one of the many sessions during my second rehab. "Beyond your wildest dreams,” he said. I remember thinking, sure anyone can say that, but reality is far more likely to disappoint than inspire, I thought, with limited expectations about what it meant to be sober the rest of my life.
However, one's life in recovery has a funny way of challenging your perceived status quo and lifting you up and beyond your expectations of yourself. I know this because if you had told me 19 years ago that I would return to that rehab facility to do an interview with a local reporter and photographer as a viable candidate for the NYS Senate, I would have responded, "no way!"
However, it's true, and it happened, and I can’t even begin to tell you what’s next. What I do know is that I am not anonymous. My name is Chad Putman, and I am in long-term recovery, and we have lots of work to do!