Anthony Ruffo: A New Life
Presumptions, precognitions, and preconceived notions: all a part of the human condition. They are rooted in our experience, prejudices, and what our culture tells us about a person, place or thing.
When you hear the word “addict”, what presumptions, precognitions, and preconceived notions come to mind?
We live in a culture where drug addiction, whether legal or illegal drugs, is rampant, and alcoholism abounds. The news focuses on the problem, the causes, which celebrity is in rehab, often capitalizing on others’ misfortune.
Less popular in our media-saturated culture is the focus on the solution; the stories of individuals battling addiction, maintaining their sobriety, and carrying a message of hope to their families and others still stuck in their disease. The story below is one of those stories: a man who battled his addiction for most of his life, and now stands humbly in his community, clean, and willing to share his story in hopes that someone still in the grips of addiction will find encouragement, hope, and gratitude. Meet former professional surfer, Anthony Ruffo.
Across the table of a local coffee shop in Santa Cruz, California, I listened to Anthony’s story. One hour was not enough. A few weeks prior, Anthony and I met at a fundraiser put on by Darryl a.k.a. “Flea” Virostko, for his sobriety project FleaHab. From the limited knowledge I had of Anthony’s past, I knew I wanted to learn more. As I listened to his chronology of addiction and recovery, I understood why his eyes and smile shine so bright. Anthony is a miracle.
Anthony, thanks for meeting me, and for your willingness to share on my blog. Can you tell me about life growing up, and your experience as a surfer?
I grew up in Santa Cruz. I loved surfing. By the time I was fourteen, I’d already gotten into partying. Back then it was a lot of pot smoking, and later on cocaine. My main focus was surf, girls, and using. I got sponsored as a short board competitor, and took 1st place in Santa Cruz’s 1985 O’Neill Coldwater Classic, and 2nd place in ’97 and ‘02. In the 90’s, competing changed a lot, and more professional training and dieting were required to keep up.
What was the turning point in your life where addiction really held a grip on your life?
I could feel that I was getting phased out of professional surfing in 2001. I had no plan, felt inadequate, low self esteem, and that’s when methamphetamines came into my life. Meth changed those feelings, and took away my fear about life. But, it caught up with me, and created more problems—daily problems—especially when I started dealing it. At the time, I didn’t think about what I was doing to myself, kids, families, my community. I was caught. Being so high profile, it didn’t take long until my lifestyle caught up with me.
While I don’t want the focus of this interview to be on what went wrong, can you share the consequences? Then we’ll move on to what changed and what worked to move you into recovery.
I had my first brush with the law in ’06. I went to rehab, and had to do community service. But, the rehab part didn’t stick. I guess I wasn’t at my bottom yet. Then, in 2010, I was raided, and this time I had to go to jail. I served nine months in the Santa Cruz County Jail, and wore a monitor for five months with parole. This time was different, though…this time I was ready to take responsibility.
People in recovery talk about moments of clarity, hitting bottom, or a jumping off point in which they know they need help, and their denial is faced. What was that point for you?
A couple of things hit me. One was the loss of a close friend, Peter Davi. We were surfing together in Still Water Cove in Monterey. We hadn’t seen him in a while, and then spotted something floating in the water. I paddled over to him, and found him dead in the water.
The other was the death of world surf champion, Andy Irons, who died of heart failure due to a drug overdose. He was only thirty-two.
You had a unique recovery, in that you don’t practice a traditional 12-Step program, but something associated with breath. Can you tell us about your program of recovery?
I don’t think there’s one way for people to recover. If the 12-Step method works for someone, then great. It wasn’t for me. My recovery program began with Genie O’Malley. Her project at the time was called Clean Mind & Healthy Planet, and is now called Living Breath Project. She found me due to my being high profile, and asked me to come out to New York and stay for thirty days. It got me away from the drugs, my environment, and I learned to practice her three-part breath technique. It involves breathing and positive word sequences that cleanse negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions that are part of self-destructive behaviors. (For more information on Living Breath Project, see http://www.livingbreathproject.com/).
When I finished her program, we both returned to Santa Cruz and she spent one week there helping others in their addiction.
I also attend a weekly therapy group with an addiction-trained psychologist who works on self-esteem, communication, and the balance between behavior, feelings, and thoughts.
A lot of what I’ve learned is that drug and alcohol isn’t the problem, I am the problem. I need to work on myself, build good relationships with others, let go of negative perceptions, and not focus on others’ perceptions of myself. People have a right to think and feel as they want, and I don’t have to agree with it or internalize it. This is a huge shift for me.
Talk about life now…the new Anthony Ruffo.
I feel more peaceful now. I’m less argumentative, and don’t have to be right. I feel gratitude (as demonstrated by the tattoo of the word “gratitude” tattooed on his neck).
I have positive relationships with my parents, the surf community, and friends. Giving back is important to me. I can show other addicts that it’s not hopeless—that they can move forward and get back up.
Part of my recovery involved going into juvenile hall and talking with kids about drugs, addiction, where I’ve been, and how I am now. They listen to me when they hear my story. That I can make a difference in somebody’s life after where I’ve been—it’s amazing.
If you or someone you love are caught in the trap of addiction, the following are some helpful links:
Narcotics Anonymous: http://www.na.org/
Alcoholics Anonymous: http://www.aa.org/lang/en/subpage.cfm?page=1
Living Breath Project: http://www.livingbreathproject.com