Holland Landy is a teacher. He is also a recovering addict and alcoholic. And while much of his story is painful and a quintessential example of the frustration and chaos that addiction brings to bear on relationships, it is also a story of triumph, courage and paying it forward.
Landy’s decision to go public and share his addiction story with his students, his colleagues, and the world is brave. He can’t give back what was lost to his students or his colleagues when he was spiraling down to rock bottom. But he can do his best to make up for it by being the best teacher and colleague he can be now that he is healthy.
Holland Landy, In His Own Words
My name is Holland Landy. I am a father, a fifth grade teacher and a recovering drug addict and alcoholic.
I am the guy that no one ever thought could be an addict or an alcoholic. And yet, I am both of those things. I’m an outgoing and personable guy who also happens to be a 34-year-old elementary teacher in Providence, Rhode Island. People will tell you that the halls of West Broadway Middle School are often filled with the sound of my loud voice and laughter and that I have a knack for making others laugh, too.
But during the times when my addiction was spiraling out of control, I was laughing on the outside and completely tortured on the inside. My demons were drug and alcohol addiction and it almost cost me my job and my family.
Until my own struggles started, I was that guy, convinced that drug and alcohol abuse are a choice. I routinely trash talked addicts, mocked any sort of counseling, and pounded my chest as if to say, “that could never happen to me.” I was pompous, cocky and totally full of my own ego.
And just three years later, there I was at rock bottom and begging for help. I will never judge a drug addict or an alcoholic again.
My relationship with my son’s mom ended in 2011 and within three years, my son was out of my life and I was $50,000 in debt. I lost my job and my priorities were totally upside down. While I hadn’t hit rock bottom yet, I was falling fast and my dad and brother were extremely concerned. But I found a new teaching job and it really felt like things were turning around. But I was an addict. And a new job, no matter how great, wasn’t going to be enough to fix what I had.
The simplest way to say it is that I was suffering. On the days I actually showed up to work, I put up a front for my students and my colleagues. We had just opened up this awesome new school and my heart wasn’t in it. I was too distracted and worried about how quickly I could get home to drink and take pills.
My passion was gone. I started calling in sick for days and isolating myself. I would put myself in quick treatment programs – spin dries I like to call them – but they didn’t work. I continued to show up for work to collect a paycheck but the brutal truth was that my work performance and my life were a disaster. I was a slave to my addiction and I missed close to 50 school days that first year.
I had started using heroin. My principal, who had no idea what was going on, told me that he was seriously considering not renewing my contract for the following year. I found myself in near death altercations. And my family intervened. The year was 2015. With the realization that my addiction had moved far beyond anything that could be overcome in a five-day spin dry, my dad and brother reached out to the Herren Project for help. I was extremely fortunate that my brother was a longtime friend of former Celtic and addict Chris Herren and that Chris agreed to have his organization pay for my treatment.
April 21, 2015, I quite literally disappeared from work without a word and flew to Great Oaks Recovery Center in Egypt, Texas, where I spent 30 days. Finally, and for the first time, I had committed to taking my recovery seriously. I attended counseling and did everything the program asked of me.
I was discharged from the program a month later and since then, and for the first time in years, I returned to being the person that family and friends remembered before the addiction had taken over. I was happy and passionate about life again. I had made it out the other side.
I am now back teaching at West Broadway Middle School and loving it. My principal Bill Black has been a huge support though he admits it took him a while to overcome the fear that I may just disappear again. My erratic behavior and consistent absenteeism before I entered recovery made his job so much harder. It’s hard to express how grateful I am that he has given me a second chance to make him and the school proud.
I had no idea what was going on with Holland during that awful year but from my perspective as a middle school principal, the situation was an absolute mess. Even after he came back from treatment ready to hit the ground running, I was very hesitant to let my guard down. It’s as if I was waiting for the next shoe to drop. But over time, he has proven himself to be a star in our building. Holland has given us so much since his recovery that I’ve been able to let down my guard and embrace all that he brings to our students and our team every day. Because of his actions and the commitment he has shown, I am a true believer in Holland Landy. -Principal Bill Black, West Broadway Middle School
My former 5th graders have also noticed a huge change in me. It is hard for me to hear their observations but I have to own what they remember of me, not only because it’s their truth but also because it’s one hundred percent true.
I’ve noticed Mr. Landy is doing so much fun stuff with his 5th graders now and I always wondered where he was when we had him.
I see Mr. Landy every day in school now and it seems like he cares about his job so much more now.
I find that it helps me to talk about my addiction and recovery and my hope is that it will help others as well. If I can spare even one person from going down the path I did, it will all be worth it. I am a living example that addiction doesn’t discriminate and that even a friendly fifth-grade teacher can find himself stuck in the jaws of addiction.
I am working hard in recovery, speaking at meetings, working the recovery steps, and praying and meditating throughout the day. I am proud to say that I have been a recovering and sober addict and alcoholic since April 22, 2015. The gift for which I am most grateful is the opportunity to be a proud father, son, brother, friend and teacher in the Providence Public Schools.
Paying it Forward
I am committed to doing whatever it takes to save others from the hell of drug and alcohol addiction. In a way I see myself as a sacrificial lamb now poised to help others avoid the road I took. I recently arranged to get Chris Herren of the Herren Project to come speak at my school and the reaction of students was overwhelming. You literally could have heard a pin drop while he spoke. I am also hoping to start an Ala-teen group at school to raise awareness and provide support to our students who are caught in the crosshairs of addiction at home.
But this is a marathon for me and something I take day by day. I am so grateful for my second chance and without family, friends, colleagues and my faith, I would not have made it out the other side.
I am a teacher. I am an addict. And I am more committed than ever to getting this life right.
This piece also appears at Huffington Post here.