The Diary of Bridgette M. – The Complete Story

by Trey Nosrac


The HRU editors have tolerated dabbling in contests, fiction, prose, book reviews, poetry, satire, playwriting, humor, scientific studies, serious essays, playful frolics, and outlandish concepts. Let’s push the envelope a little further.

The demand for good employees in harness horse racing
never ends. Finding and keeping responsible grooms, second trainers and barn workers is an ongoing problem. Good
workers for racetrack backstretches and training centers have great value. The pay is better than ever, and the job can be rewarding. But the days can be long, and a scarcity of employees remains.

Addictions are complex, messy and rampant. The heartbreak and expense for people with an addiction, their families, friends, and society are immeasurable. Of course, our sport is not exempt. The horse racing industry has its share of addiction. Treatment programs for drug and alcohol dependency are expensive crapshoots with disheartening success rates.

The underlying theme of a series beginning next week is that both problems could benefit from a symbiotic relationship, helping people with addictions recover by working with
horses in closely monitored mentoring programs. A situation like the one presented in the series could benefit people
with a substance use disorder, rehabilitation facilities and stables.

If you ever sat in a quiet horse barn early in the morning listening to a horse rustle in the straw, you understand the positive mindfulness and relaxation some of us feel with horses. Many of us believe there is truth in Winston Churchill’s old saying about the outside of horses being good for the inside of people.

Horses are mysterious creatures sensitive to the emotions and moods of humans. Horses can act as non-judgmental, non-verbal mirrors. Working with horses can be therapeutic for people with low self-esteem or lacking confidence, especially younger people. Equine therapy offers people with a substance abuse disorder a possible route away from addiction. Our backstretches could allow those struggling to learn new skills to address a challenging point in recovery, the day a patient in recovery walks out into the world on wobbly legs, brains in turmoil, without a job on their horizon.

For thousands of years, horses have shown therapeutic value. In today’s times, this wellness from horses uses a fancy name: equine-assisted psychotherapy. Studies demonstrate several benefits for addicted individuals: decreased anxiety, healthy sensory input, problem-solving, improved sense of control, agency, emotional regulation, and confidence. Studies show that horse therapy can be more effective than traditional talk therapy.

Working with horses is among the unique ways people struggling with addiction can develop new coping skills and insights into their behavior, especially if they are in a safe, monitored setting, removed from stress and triggers.

A series that concerns treatment options for addiction will begin next week. It will be presented in diary form from the point of view of a struggling addict. While semi-fictional, The Diary of Bridgette M is based on real addicts, similar programs, attendance at NA (Narcotics Anonymous) and AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings, interviews, and tested therapies.

Every reader has unique eyes. The series may be a path to easing your problem with barn help or spur thoughts about a new outpatient program for a rehab administrator. You may read this through the eyes of a struggling addict or someone close to a person with an addiction. Maybe you are a philanthropic entrepreneur. Perhaps you are just curious. Hopefully, the series will be beneficial and shared outside our racing community.

A bright spot in the dark subject of addiction is that recent class action suits against large pharmaceutical companies have resulted in massive settlements with funding earmarked for state and local addiction programs and therapies. If you feel a program along these lines is feasible, Federal and state funding grants for programs to fight against addiction are plentiful.

This series is not a fairy tale with a happy ending. The road to recovery is long, messy, and fragile. As people with an addiction often say, there is no complete recovery, only remission, and sometimes caskets.


Ellen is our group therapist. Today she gave all eight members of her girl band of druggies a notebook and asked us to keep a journal and write a few paragraphs before bed. Ellen promised not to read what we wrote. She said that she would only glance to make sure we wrote something.

Writing this journal is BS. Beneath your fake smile, you are a judgmental diva. Your gigantic hoop earrings are ridiculous. I have the after-detox jangles, which, as usual, are HELL. I’m shaky and sick. All I want to do is to find a kit and a corner to nod. Whoa, scribbling that paragraph felt good. Maybe Ellen of the Hoop Earrings is on to something.

You may wonder how I got here.

I stole a bicycle from the rack in front of a college library, one of many misdeeds needed to feed my habit. I always nab bikes, and they usually bring about 75 bucks, but this bike had a GPS tracker. The cops strolled into the pawn shop as I was negotiating. Since I made a beeline from the library to the pawnshop, the old “a friend just gave it to me” did not get me a pass. The drug test at the station sealed the deal.

The judge asked me to choose between spending three months in jail or three months at an in-house rehab facility. If you have been in county jail, you know that isn’t a difficult choice.

When that judge asks your mother if she is willing to pay money that she does not have for her youngest daughter to spend yet another stint in rehab, that is a trickier choice, but my mom, bless her forgiving heart, tearfully answered yes.

That’s enough writing for today.


Instead of killing myself over the weekend, I crawled under the black and white checkerboard quilt my mother forced me to take and binge-watched a Danish TV series on Netflix called Seaside Hotel. The series was more juvenile than a fifth-grade play and so sweet it could cause cavities, but the show calmed down my screaming brain and gave me something to do between vomiting into black plastic garbage bags and shaking like the sofa was traveling down a bumpy road.

I showed up at the group session on Monday with blank diary pages. Ellen, the Therapist, was aggravated. She rolled her eyes and said she could not make me do anything.

I yelled that I knew damn well she could not make me do anything and added that she should write that down in HER f***ing diary and shove it.

At 23, I am the oldest in my pod of eight losers. I see it as my responsibility to set a bad example. Seriously, things like yelling at Ellen always come out of my big mouth. The instant it pops out, I feel like a bitchy ventriloquist dummy. I know this is her job, but I don’t see how anyone can stand me at any price.

The small group idiocy continued when Ellen handed us a golf pencil and a sheet of paper with three outpatient choices:

Kitchen work and cooking

Horse Care

Nursing Home Assistant

She told us to write our names at the top and circle one, then she collected the papers but did not read them, looked directly at me, and reminded us to write something in our diary tonight.


Today, things went off the rails in the group session. Yesterday, all eight of us circled horse care as our choice for outpatient work. I mean, WTF? Why did she even bother with the paper ballot? Only a lunatic would sign up to slice onions or rip off dirty sheets instead of horse work.

Any moron could see she was setting up a conflict. Worse, the restaurant that agreed to take a few of us losers closed last night. So, Ellen went to her Plan B. She placed all our names on slips of paper in an envelope, shook it up, and told us the first four names she drew would go to the horse place, and the other four would work at the nursing home. We went from a democratic choice to a dictatorship in 10 seconds.

I drew into the horse group, which was good because I did not need to throw a major hissy fit. I smirked while the nursing home quartet grumbled and bitched. Then Ellen handed each girl in the nursing home group a first aid book, and she gave each of us in the horse group a book as thick as a Bible titled Care and Training of the Trotter and Pacer. She said, “Just read the first three chapters.” Of course, I didn’t.

Well, you might notice I missed a few days. My leg swelled up from an infected vein, and they shipped me to the hospital and hooked me up to an antibiotic drip. On the way out of my room at rehab, I grabbed the stupid horse book Ellen handed me. When I had trouble sleeping, I read a few chapters of Care and Training of the Trotter and Pacer, which was much better than Ambien.


I returned to the rehab place yesterday afternoon, in time for my first day at the horse program scheduled for the next morning. For some reason, we started the program on Saturday. I guessed the employees would not be working, and our quartet of drug cadets would just walk around and look at horses. Not true.

At 7:30 a.m., we took a pee test, and 10 minutes later, the white rehab van picked the four of us up at the front door. The Mexican maintenance man, Gilbert, drove us about a half hour to a farm. My first surprise was that the place was not exactly a farm. There were big barns, about five or six, but in the middle of the barns was a racetrack with horses going in circles. The horses were pulling a person sitting on a weird cart. Saturday was a workday.

A guy in his fifties wearing a ski cap and his arm in a sling met the van. When we got out, he said his name was Ted. He read our names from his clipboard. He waved us to follow him towards a big barn. Four women were waiting near the big open doorway: two about my age, one in her 50s, and one barely a teenager. I was a little nervous, like before getting on a roller coaster.

Ted matched each druggie with one of the other women. He told us to relax, follow our leader’s advice about how to do a few simple tasks and try not to feel overwhelmed. He said our days, for now, would be three hours in the morning, then lunch provided at no cost, and then two hours after lunch. My mom’s rehab bill could probably pay for a condo in Tahiti with lunch and zero work.

At 2:30, Gilbert returned in the van and drove us back to rehab, where we had to go directly into the nurse station for a drug test. The rules were clear: daily testing, one dirty test, and you wave goodbye to the farm.

I will write more about my first day at the horse farm some other time because I’m tired, smell like a horse (which I sort of like), and want to finish the final episodes of Seaside Hotel.


Here is more about the first and second days on the farm, or technically at the horse training center. We work on Saturday, but not Sunday. So far, it’s interesting. The groom that mentors me, Rhonda, is about 45, rocks a backward ball cap, and is as wiry as a greyhound. So far, she is okay, and I have not felt the need to be a smart-assed skank yet, but give me time.

Half of the people call her Rhonda, and the other half call her Ronnie. I have not called her anything and have barely opened my mouth, which is probably good news for all concerned. She does not talk all that much, which I like. She explains things calmly and slowly, like I’m a kindergartener. Which, in horse terms, I am. The only horses I ever met were wooden ponies on a ride in the Kmart parking lot on Fairmont Road with my stepfather when I was about 8. These horses are enormous, have big bug eyes, and scare the crap out of me, and I have seen some bad shit, including a bad car crash, a knife at my throat, and two people OD and die.

I do not know anything about the racing part. So far, my education consists of picking up manure and dirty sawdust from the floor of an empty stall while a chained-up horse watches me. Next, I wheel the waste to a trailer and dump the manure. Then I roll the wheelbarrow over to another pile of clean sawdust, refill it, and then roll that back into the stall, tossing it on the floor and smoothing it out on the floor. My other specialty is filling yellow buckets with clean water and hanging the bucket inside the stall.

So far, I have yet to touch a horse, which is probably lucky for all concerned.

My mother always says, “My Bridgette doesn’t like much.” Well, Mom, you will be glad to hear that this work, the smells, the exercise, and the time to think are not bad. How long this will last, how much I will enjoy working with the horses, or how long I will survive without, you know, is to be determined.


Alice ran away.

She was one of the four in our horse rehab group, a heavyset girl, about 20, with straw-colored hair, a nose piercing, and a permanent pout. I don’t think she said 10 words to me on the van drives back and forth to the horse farm.

This morning, she was not outside waiting for the van. Somehow, in the night, she slipped out. They might have her on one of the cameras, but I doubt they will look for her. Alice may have scored already. It’s weird, but my mind keeps wondering about two things.

Does Alice’s family get a rebate when the patient runs away?

Will Alice’s bolting cancel the horse mentorship program?

So far, today, the van took me and the other two girls to the farm. We worked with our mentor grooms as usual. I am crossing my fingers that they don’t pull the plug on the program.

My jangles are not as bad today. I have hours when the demons go to sleep.


Today, Rhonda showed me how to clean the equipment they put on these horses. They call this leather and plastic, tack, like the word thumbtack. I wonder why? As we cleaned, I asked her how much she made last year. I thought she was joking when she said $60,000, $70,000. I figured these grooms made fast food money. Wrong.

She told me that good grooms are in high demand. She could work in plenty of places but works here because she likes her trainer, and he pays a bonus if one of the horses she is responsible for makes money on the racetrack. Is this BS? Rhonda doesn’t seem like someone who blows smoke, so this is probably legit. Interesting.


After I learned about Rhonda making serious money as a groom, I wondered about MY payment as her apprentice. Rhonda said she didn’t know anything about that. So, when we returned to the rehab place, after my pee test, I walked into the office around four in the afternoon and asked to see the Director. I met Richard Fleck, a tall, middle-aged guy with glasses wearing a sweater vest.

He said that the admitting staff discussed off-campus programs with my mother and me, but at the time, I was unreceptive. I did not ask him to clear up if he meant I was stoned or manic. Then he said that our outpatient programs don’t require the patient to pay anything additional and that every off-site transitional work program is different. The horse farm program is new but is a good deal for the patient. Each day you work, the farm donates $10, and Second Chance donates $10. There is a liability waiver. Your money goes into an account. Twenty dollars is not much, but it is YOUR money, no strings. He said I could use some of the money to repay my mom.

That sounds like a good idea, but most of my ideas end up in my arm.


The rules of in-patient rehab are standard. Classification means a lot. The lower the number, the fewer restrictions we have. If the druggie is level 5, you are probably in a hospital with locked doors and monitored 24/7. If you get classified as 1, you may as well be at the Beverly Hills Wilshire Hotel. I squeaked in at level 3. The five rules everybody understands are:

No leaving the rehab center without permission

No visitors

No cell phones or computers

No violence or weapons

No drugs or alcohol

I could run the table before lunch, but I have toed the line for two weeks. The worst rule for many of us is no phones or computers. I swear, our device addiction is as strong as our drug addiction. When I lose my phone, I feel like I lose my right arm.

The isolation from electronic devices is intentional, so patients do not see triggers; people or events that start cravings. Even television gets monitored. The Netflix series Seaside Hotel was on a list of preapproved viewing. The series is set in the 1920s and is as triggering as Mr. Rogers taking a nap. Then I needed a staff member to boot it up; I had no control, no channel changing, and all I could do was watch. Then, a signup sheet for time. It is a hassle, so hardly anyone bothers.

So basically, in the facility, I climb the walls, bored out of my skull, which gives me time to write this stupid diary. While I have the time, I’m checking out some chapters of the Care and Training of Trotters and Pacers book. The fat book is not what you would classify as a bodice ripper, but some stuff makes a little more sense every day I am around the horses.


Today, I touched a horse, a filly. I was so nervous my hands were shaking. The name of the filly is Sweet Carlina. It’s not Carolina because there is no letter “O” on the wooden nameplate above her stall door. Like me, Carlina has a tattoo on her neck, but the filly was smart enough to get inked up with a number under her mane and not stupid enough to have the words Regret Nothing on her knuckles like me. Rhonda said the horses also have chips under their skin.

Rhonda told me to stand close to the horse’s side, stay away from the back or front, and move slowly and quietly. Then she said to give the horse a few strokes on her back and suggested I stroke her cheek and mumble a few sweet nothings before clipping a leather strap to the halter.

I knew what was next from watching all week. My job was to lead Sweet Carlina out of her stall and reclip her to a pair of chains dangling in the wide walkway between the stalls. There is another set of these two chains that people call crossties. Crossties keep the horse in place so people can do other stuff to the horse and work around the horse.

So far, no problem. It was like taking a gigantic dog on a five-step walk. Then, it was back to the shovel and the wheelbarrow to clean Carlina’s place while she was away pulling the cart.

I felt good doing this. I have problems remembering the names of all the boots, buckles, and Velcro straps Rhonda attaches.


Today, I noticed something about horses. When Rhonda takes horses in and out of the stalls, they are gentle and calm. They are relaxed. Whenever I try this simple task, the horse is nervous. I believe the horse understands that I am afraid and senses my nervousness, which makes me more anxious.

People with an addiction are not necessarily more stupid than the rest of society; what we do is ridiculous, but I consider myself intelligent when not buzzed. These horses get dressed daily in buckles, belts, bandages, clip-ons, snaps, hoops, boots, braces, and Velcro. Grooms put this stuff all over these animals, INCLUDING INSIDE of mouths filled with teeth the size of dominoes and tongues the size of LeBron James’ tennis shoes, not to mention the average horses here come with feet the size of pie pans and rear ends the size of wheelbarrows.

The other grooms automatically slap this stuff onto horses without seeming to pay attention. When Rhonda slowly walks me through dressing a horse, which she has done about five times, I’m okay. But the minute I am alone, I panic, my mind gets jumbled, and I do not remember what goes where. These damn horses are valuable. I’m terrified that I will make a mistake. Plus, I feel so stupid!

So, this means that now I’m not only afraid of the horses, but that I might have horse equipment dyslexia or amnesia, or my brain has been fried by you know what.


Two days ago, a skank at the dinner table whispered she had a delivery scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. The price was a C for a K-packet of dust, no needle. I signed the deal by scratching the side of my nose.

Anyone reading this who does not have a substance use disorder will wonder why I would give her the okay sign, why risk the safety of this place, the job working with horses, and the chance at recovery. The answer is simple. Our want overpowers our why. Nothing tops our needs, not love, logic, fear of death, ego, or shame. We have to have it; you will never understand if you aren’t in our shoes.

Being in this treatment center makes my usual degrading money-making or begging a bit more complicated, but I was working on it when the word came down that the deal was dead.

Here is the K-pack story as I heard it. The skank’s mother showed up in the lobby with a birthday cake for her daughter’s 22 birthday. The staff stretched the rules, summoned the daughter to the hall, cut the cake, and looked into the grocery bag with a can of unopened Ready Whip that would serve as frosting for the cake. Also, inside the grocery bag were sealed packets of plastic forks and paper plates.

One of the staff handed the grocery bag back to the mother and said the center would supply real forks and plates. The daughter got agitated and said she did not want to bother the kitchen with dishes, a total red flag because this chick is a hard case not known for consideration of others. One of the staff members gets suspicious and looks at the paper plates in the sealed plastic, so the staff member opens the bundle of paper plates, and 50 K-packs are in the hollowed-out center.

The birthday girl is on her way to do real-time, and there are no drugs for me today. Back to the horse farm tomorrow morning. I have mixed feelings about this bullet whizzing past my head. Could this be a good sign?


Well, today was interesting at the horse training place.

I was minding my own business, cleaning stalls and water buckets, when the head trainer, Ted, the guy with his arm in a sling who met the van on the first day was there. He’s the guy I later learned oversees about 70 horses and a dozen employees. Today, Ted’s sling was gone, and he had a rubber sleeve on his elbow. He stuck his head into the stall and asked if I had a few minutes. I said he was the boss, and I was used to being fired.

Ted laughed and said he was here to do the opposite. He gathered the three trainees/patients/addicts at the end of a barn and told us that two grooms who worked in barn three were no longer working. He did not say if they quit or got fired, but we will probably find out later. Anyway, Ted needs workers. He asked if we would be willing to work a full day if he talked to the rehab center. He said he would pay us $10 an hour on top of our current arrangement, but everything depended on whether we were willing and if the rehab center would agree.

One of the girls asked him if we would still need daily drug testing, and he said yes. I asked him if this meant working away from the farm. He said no. It’s been a long time since I have been in demand, so I nodded yes, and so did the other two.

Ted said he would make a few calls and see what he could do.


The shit hit the fan this afternoon. Richard Fleck, from the rehab office, called us to his office to tell me the company denied the request from the horse trainer for us to work extra hours at the horse training center. Fleck blathered on about insurance coverage contracts and punctuated his stupidity by saying they were a treatment center, not an employment center.

Sherry and Donna just shrugged.

I erupted with one of my epic rants, magnificent obscenities, and began by calling Fleck a pencil-necked geek, hardly breathing and possibly spitting. I went off on everything from the staff to the federal government, food, and local government. My grand finale was, this isn’t a f—king prison, nobody tells me what to do, I’m walking out and try to stop me MFer.

Fleck had 10 years of running a rehab facility under his belt, so he was used to poor behavior. He barely flinched. When I ran out of gas and deranged shouting, he recommended I take a walk, think carefully, and return to his office in an hour.

I took his advice.

One hour later, I knocked on Fleck’s door. I apologized. And I meant every word. He was right. I was wrong. Fleck is not responsible. Nobody is responsible but me. People are trying to help. I make it difficult.

Fleck, bless his pencil-necked heart, waived off my apology. He acted as if I nudged his shopping cart in the check-out line at Safeway instead of having my irrational insults screamed in his face.

People are good. Me, not so much.

Then I began to cry, a big, sloppy, gulping cry. Finally, I blubbered out that the horse work was good for me, one of the better things that had happened to me since I became an addict, and working with the horses might help.

Fleck pushed a box of tissues across his desk. He was quiet as I tried to pull myself together. After my final nose-blowing, he leaned back in his chair and said he would see what he could do.


Like most addicts, I have a sixth sense of who is using and who is not; this is not a talent to be proud of. I am not picking up any drug vibes at the horse barns. So, I asked Rhonda about the substance problems in racing. For once, she had a lot to say.

She said that drugs are a problem in the sport, just like in real life. She also said, in her opinion, usage was like the sorting hat in Harry Potter. Some outfits had drug use, some were alcohol, some were family-oriented, and some, like this one, were clean. She said she left a few places after getting fed up with the problems.

She said that working in a training center was different than racing. Training centers were daytime, same people, and you went home. You could lead an everyday life. Going to the races at night is a different world, but the money is much better if you do both.

Then, she gave me advice, which was very un-Rhonda-like. “Girl, if you decide to return to the world of racing, start at a breeding farm, a good fairground in the sticks, or a training center. For somebody in your situation, you need more horse and less drama.” Then Rhonda made her first wisecrack and said, “You should try to set yourself up with 10 horses and no people, maybe just a list of chores tacked to the door. That’s my dream job.”


I like working at the barns. Horses don’t talk. Well, they sort of talk. They are each a little different, so let’s say they don’t talk out loud or talk back. One of my many problems is my mouth. Loud and stupid stuff comes out at an alarming rate. It always feels like somebody is pushing me into a corner, and then I do two things: shoot up or talk too much.

The horses take my mouthiness off the table, but here is a strange thing: I talk to the horses all the time. I talk nice, gently. I guess the shrinks say horses are non-threatening, and they are probably correct. Truthfully, the best time is just me and the horses. Even when Rhonda is in the barn, some quiet magic goes away. I clench up inside when three or four people are around, at lunchtime, or when the straw guy is working.


I dropped out of school when I was 15. I headed straight to the streets and the gutter. Boys and men came along. I talk a big game and scoff at regular people, but that is just a front. I blew off all my early years in a rush to get nowhere. I want to say I could write a book about how to screw up a wonderful life, but it is all a blur, and as you see, my writing ain’t that great for a book.

Here is another thing I like about the barn and the work with the horses; it has a nice rhythm to the day. You clean the stalls, do the buckets, brush the horses, dress the horses, wash the horses. I mean, you can’t sit on your ass. It is real work, but unlike many jobs, it seems to make sense.


I never admit I was wrong, which is ridiculous because people with an addiction do something wrong daily and then do worse things to pay for their stupidity.

We discussed this in the group session, and the group leader, Ellen, called it justification. She said that deep inside, we have an innate understanding that what we do is harmful, but we invent elaborate explanations to justify our behaviors and use. We try to deceive ourselves and other people. She asked us to pick three actions in our lives where we were wrong and to say them out loud to another person. Then she said if saying them to another person was too painful, we should write them in our journals.

I was wrong about this journal. Writing these words is NOT stupid. I enjoy writing and putting down what is inside me on paper.

I was wrong about Ellen, the therapist. She is a nice person, and she does care about us. After being a total bitch to her for the first few weeks, she doesn’t hold my words and actions against me. I was wrong that the horse therapy was another money-making scam. I could tell you horror stories about the rehabilitation business, but this is not one. The horses are amazing, the people at the farm are nice, and nobody has an agenda.

Do not expect me to say these three things out loud. I’m not there yet.


I’m slipping.

I can feel it.

I’ve been here before.

Nothing specific has gone wrong; it is the opposite. I LOVE the farm and the horses. The rehab place is the best so far. I’m five weeks sober. Other addicts talk about this time. I remember Natalie; she’s dead now. Natalie got clean a dozen times and said she had reached her walking-on-eggshells stage around the six-week mark. She never knew if it was chemicals in her brain, low self-esteem, or boredom, but each time she got close, she sabotaged herself.

That’s where I am right now, fragile. A part of me screams I don’t deserve a happy life and that the chaos of my using life was better. Is this true? Is self-sabotage around the corner? And here is something strange, my only relief from the eggshells last week and today were the hours around the horses. Maybe I should grab a sleeping bag and move into a stall.


It was stormy and cold today, so we did things in the barn. I asked some questions, and Ronnie, my mentor/coworker/minder, explained stuff that I was wondering about, like what the horses did while I cleaned their stall. She told me that young horses would jog at least two miles daily and go at least a mile when they go the right way.

I was confused about the right way. She said the horses go slow and warm up clockwise and then race counterclockwise. I also learned they have different carts for jogging and racing and that the people at the training center will not drive them in actual races.

Instead of telling me the answers, Ronnie sat beside me on a bale of straw and used her iPad to show me everything she explained. She showed me several things about the animals and people in the sport. Ronnie was a great teacher, and for once in my life, I was a decent student. She said an hour was plenty for one sitting, but I should write down any questions for the next time we have some free time.

Then I began complaining about how it was wrong that the rehab took away our phones and devices. I got a tad snotty about what a raw deal I was getting, how if I had a phone, I would look up horse racing links.

Ronnie wasn’t buying what I was selling. She said, slow and quiet. They know what they are doing, and one of them is keeping you from doing stupid things and seeing triggers that send you into one of your pity party funks.


Ronnie picked up where we left off yesterday. She didn’t yell or scream but stepped into the stall where I was raking, looked me right in the eyes, talked slowly, and said, “Don’t talk down about yourself or anyone. Bitching is annoying and is terrible for business. I think that bad vibes rub off on the horses and other people. Try to give off good vibes. They don’t cost a dime. Now, I know your attitude is part of your issues, and an instant attitude makeover is a big ask, but try. If you can’t be Miss Sunshine, be neutral or mute. Bite your tongue before talking down about yourself or anyone else. I would appreciate it, the staff would appreciate it, and these horses will enjoy it.”

Instead of a pity party rant about how she did not know shit and she did not know me and then throwing the rake at her, it dawned on me that this would only prove her point. I did not say a word. I have heard this lecture at least a hundred times, but her words stuck for some reason, maybe because of the horse part. The rest of the day, as I shoveled, I thought.


This afternoon, an owner showed up at the barn. I knew he was coming because Ronnie gave me a heads-up. I imagined an owner would be wearing a suit and be all uppity, the kind of person who irritates me, or a self-important person who pretends to be regular folks, which annoys me even more. Almost everyone irritates me.

As usual, I was wrong.

The owner, I forget his name, something like Roy or Ray, was a shy guy in baggy shorts and a saggy white t-shirt, maybe in his 40s. He strolled over to the stall door where I was shoveling, stuck his head in, and gently said, “Hi, I pay the freight on this filly.”

He gave off a good vibe and was good-looking in a rumpled Jeff Bridges way, so my antenna started scanning, but of course, he wore a wedding ring. The good ones always do.

Ray or Roy was super easy to talk to, almost shy. We did some jokey small talk while I leaned on my shovel. Ray or Roy was like the second person in 20 years that I liked right away; maybe it was because we were in the barn, which was very strange. After a while, I asked him if being an owner was fun.

He said it was. Despite the ups and downs, he enjoyed owning a few racehorses and learning about the horse racing business. He said he got started as a release from the pressures at his job in a big company that I had vaguely heard the name of but can’t remember. He laughed and said his release turned into an addiction to the sport.

The word addiction sent off alarm bells in my head. I wondered if he knew about my situation, which is always on our minds. We always feel like everybody knows and everybody is judging us. But he asked me earlier if I had come from another horse farm, so I figured he didn’t know my history.

I told him I was a complete newbie and had yet to master the shovel and wheelbarrow.

He smiled and said that five years ago, he didn’t know a trotter from a pacer.

I said all I know is if the horse has junk, he’s a boy.

We went on for a few minutes, bragging about who knew less.

I was beginning to hope his marriage was on the rocks when his wife showed up and ruined my buzz. She was slim and attractive and calm and friendly, exactly my opposite. I hated her immediately.


Ted, the head trainer at the horse place, sat beside me on a bench in front of the barn. He asked me how I was doing.

I told him it was a day-to-day struggle, but I was hanging in there. I mentioned how much I appreciated him letting us work at the farm and that being outdoors was outstanding, even on the cold mornings.

He asked how long my stay at the facility was and my next step.

I told him a few more weeks and then probation.

Do you go to a halfway house?

I told him that’s up to the judge and the courts, but there are a lot more addicts than there are places to warehouse and monitor us.

Then we turned to the horses, and I asked him for the short version of how these horses got here.

He said the horses I work with were born and raised on breeding farms. All of them were born between January and June of 2022, and for the first part of their lives, they are called weanlings. He smiled and said, now it gets a little complicated. On Jan. 1, 2023, they all share the same birthday, and we call them yearlings because they are 1 year old. At the end of their yearling year, they get sold at big auctions, yearling sales. Between January and June this year, they try to go faster as they grow. Then, this summer, all the 2-year-old horses compete against each other and race for money.

Then he said, we, people who have been racing horses all our lives, don’t realize how complicated we seem to new visitors.

Then I asked, trotter or pacer, how can I tell?

He smiled and said not to feel bad. It’s not easy, especially at first. He said to try this, “When they are on the track, if the horse you are watching has a strap, a hopple, or a plastic band around its back legs, it is a pacer. If there are no belts around its back legs, the horse is a trotter, no back strap means trotter.” His phone buzzed, and he walked away to talk. When he finished his call, he returned to the bench, shook my hand, and said, “I hope you make it.”

So do I, but I’m getting jittery about a few things. I am wrestling with some demons.


Richmond County Correction Facility

2587 Co Route 64

Plattsburgh, Ohio, 44127


Ted – Pinewood Harness Training Center

Route 21

Morrisville, OH, 42319

February 6, 2024

Dear Ted,

Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.

I wish I could say it face to face. An apology in an email or text felt sketchy, so I’m using the good old post office. Writing things down is helpful. You don’t know this, but while in the horse training program, I kept a journal as another part of my therapy. Writing a diary and working at the barn did not cure me. Nothing cures me, but they did help me.

Of course, I slipped back to the dark side, as you can tell with the return address, another stupid, gruesome, unforgivable slide into using, selling, stealing, degrading myself. It would be nice if I could make excuses or blame others, but it is what it is. Nobody can understand my ridiculous, hurtful actions unless they have been in my skin. Heck, I don’t understand it.

Thank you.

As I sit here and write this letter, I realize that the weeks working at the horse training center were great. You were kind, your staff was great, and for a while, I saw a glimpse of a better future. Please thank everyone at the training center for me. I miss the horses, those big bright eyes, the smell when I brushed them, the silly little snorts and nuzzles.

Today, I met with a parole officer, and he outlined my release next month, which will, once again, involve a rehab stint. My parole officer said something that stuck: ‘Brigette, don’t think of this episode as going backward. Think of it as going sideways because better times are not as far away if you go sideways.’

Ted, asking for help has always been difficult for me. Accepting help, like the horse training opportunity and other helping hands along my journey, is difficult for me to do. Nobody can help me but me. Still, I am reaching out, asking you to consider something. If you are uncomfortable, I one 100 per cent understand.

When I finish my next rehab, can you find a place for me to work at the center? I will work dirt cheap and pay for my daily drug testing. I will test in the morning and evening. My retired uncle has a big RV on the rear of his property. He has reached out to let me live there. It is less than 20 minutes to the horse training center, and he will drive me to tests and NA meetings and work until I can get a used car and license.

I know this is a big ask. People like me are headaches, but two things might help me stay clean, a purpose and those damn horses that chase away the clouds.

All the best,

Bridgette Malone


Pinewood Harness Training Center

Route 21

Morrisville, OH, 42319



Bridgett Morris

Richmond County Correction Facility

2587 Co Route 64

Plattsburgh, Ohio, 44127

February 10, 2024

Dear Bridgette,

I was disappointed to learn about your relapse. It is upsetting anytime someone leaves. We work hard to create a good work environment, but people have problems. Every person has issues. Those of us on the outside of addiction will never completely understand those of you who live it.

Your return to the racetrack or the training center can’t happen. Due to your incarceration and arrest record, the State Racing Commission will not issue you a groom’s license. You were at the training center on a trial basis. You were a volunteer in a therapeutic experiment, monitored and tested.

Honestly, Bridgette, my answer would be no if you could get a license from the harness racing authorities. My days are full of many problems and disappointments from humans and horses.

While there is a shortage of dependable help at training centers and the harness racing backstretch, the keyword is dependable. While I sympathize with your situation, you would be one more potential problem and disappointment.

I do believe in redemption and recovery. I also believe in the “magic” of working with horses.

I want to believe in you, but employment with me is not an option at this point in your journey.

Keep fighting,



Richmond County Correction Facility

2587 Co Route 64

Plattsburgh, Ohio, 44127



Pinewood Harness Training Center

Route 21

Morrisville, OH, 42319

February 14, 2024

Dear Ted,

I totally understand your letter. I blew my chance at the farm. You have enough headaches.

You and the farm went above and beyond. Sadly, I continue to go up and down.

Here is a little trivia. When I arrived at this prison, I decided to keep writing a journal. I asked for a pen and paper. They said no because pencils and pens are potential weapons. However, at the commissary, they sell “prison pens,” they are made of very flexible rubber and cannot stab through a Kleenex.

Next week, they will release me on parole. The plan is to return to my mom’s house, report to my PO, and attend daily NA meetings. I’m no stranger to NA meetings. Maybe this time, they will stick.

Ted, one of these days, I will be free of my struggles. When I am, I will find my way back to those horses. Those big round eyes, random snorts, and swishing tales are in my dreams.

Dreams do come true.

Thanks for your kindness and support!

Bridgette Malone

My probation requires I attend at least four NA meetings each week, but my case worker suggests going every night. Meetings are easy to find on your phone. This one is in the activity room of a church. The meeting opened like they all do but ended in a way I can’t get my mind around.

We always start with the serenity prayer and then a quick roll call where we go around the room. When it was my turn, this meeting was packed, well over 40 people of every size, shape, and color.

My name is Bridgette, and I am an addict.

The group chants back, “Hi, Bridgette.”

I am nine days sober.

They clap.

Since this is my first meeting here, thank you for welcoming me. I am powerless over my addictions, but I am clean today, and I will…

A chant from the group finishes everyone’s sentence at this point; keep coming back.

I won’t write down personal details of what goes on in the meetings. The wreckage of our lives should remain inside the group, our last names remain private, and this NA group is closed, which means only people with a substance use disorder can attend.

Sometimes, when an NA group has too many people, the group divides into smaller, more personal groups. A woman named Anna asked us to count off by threes and then asked the ones to stay in this room. The twos went to the basement room, and the threes took a folding chair with them and went to the space in front of the church altar. I was in the basement group.

When we were a much more intimate group, an obese, bearded guy in his 50s took leadership and said My name is Paul, so we all said, “Hi Paul” again.

He said again, I am five years and 10 days sober.

We applauded.

Paul read the tract and asked if anyone wanted to share. As I said, I’m not going to repeat anything in this journal, but the first person to share was a lady who used 10 hours ago, and tears fell. It was unusual when the guy beside her hugged her, and we did the same in a sort of group hug.

When we settled back in our seats, Paul nodded at me.

My name is Bridgette. As I said, I am at nine days. Physically, I am in a better place. I lean on my mom and parole officer. I was in an equine therapy group earlier this year, which was fantastic. The place had a hundred horses called harness horses; they pulled buggies around a racetrack. I messed up, but I will never forget the people and the horses. It was a perfect opportunity for me. God, I loved the horses. My screwup of that program is at the top of my mountain of regrets. The other members asked me a few questions about the horse farm, and I answered as best I could.

After the meeting, we returned our folding chairs to a rack in the meeting room and headed for the parking lot. I was walking towards my mom, who sat in her idling car, when Paul tapped me on the shoulder. I was a little rattled because he is a big guy, and it was dark.

He said that it was nice to meet me. A little less nervous, I thanked him and added that this meeting was close so he would see more of me.

He seemed to be having an internal debate because he paused and said he spent most of his life in harness racing. The bad news is that he got kicked out of the sport 10 years ago. He understood the pull of the horses and said that drugs led him to some serious problems.

I was surprised and said his five years of sobriety is impressive.

What’s your best, Bridgette?

Four months.

Paul looked at me and then spoke the most unusual sentence anyone had ever said to me.

If you need a mentor, I’m available, and if you make six months, no, let’s rephrase that, WHEN you make six months, I will get you back to working with harness horses. Then he walked away.

How random was that?


During the NA meeting tonight, we split up again, and this time, I was not in the same small group as Paul. A young girl named Gayle sat beside me and asked if I would join her for coffee after the meeting. I wanted to talk to Paul, but Gail seemed like she needed an ear and a shoulder to lean on, so we sat in a corner, and I listened.


Before today’s meeting, I tapped Paul on his big forearm and said, almost whispered, that I could not stop thinking about his harness horse comment and asked him if he was serious. He said 100 per cent. Then he said that in six months, we will both have more sobriety, and he plans on being 30 pounds lighter. The horses will be waiting. Tell you what, you are now at what, 10 days sober?


Great, okay, let’s leave this as a mystery for now. Just keep with the program and keep racking up the days. At two months sober, 60 days, we will meet before a meeting, and I will answer your horse dreams.


The horse secret and Paul’s background story were killing me.

I was not about to wait two months to see if this horse guy was legit and what he was thinking. It was time to go to the Internet to do some cyberstalking. His first name is Paul. He seemed to be local. He is/was an addict. He is close to 300 pounds. He was kicked out of harness racing 10 years ago.

My first search was — 2012 — harness racing — Paul — exclusion. I found nothing. I went to some harness racing sites; there were not many, and they did not help. My next try was — Pennsylvania — harness racing — license denial. Bingo, I found an official court document.

In The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

Paul T. Weaver: Petitioner. 2013: Pennsylvania State Horse: The Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission (PSHRC) upheld and imposed a lifetime license suspension because Weaver violated several PSHRC regulations.

Now I had a last name. My searches brought up some photos in the winner’s circle of a younger but not thinner Paul. I found some chatrooms that linked his name to terms like chemist, cheat, supplier, beards, EPO, poster boy, and loser.

It was not a pretty picture, but this was nothing new. Paul already admitted that he got kicked out of the sport. What would a search on me, a fellow addict, look like; my rap sheet was worse than his. None of us can un-ring the bells.


After tonight’s meeting, Paul was in the parking lot with a group of smokers. I joined them. When we were alone, he smiled and said, “I’m sure you looked.” I nodded and asked if he looked for me. He said he did not because he didn’t have much to go on and thought that amnesia about our pasts would probably be helpful.

He paused for a few seconds and said some of the stuff was exaggerated, but all his racing problems came from using, and his world just got out of control. He said he was not a victim of the system; he was a user and was responsible for everything. Getting booted from the sport probably saved his life.

I asked if this meant his big secret sobriety carrot and mysterious plan with horses were out the window. He shook his big fuzzy head and said — Girl — the deal is for real. The plan is solid; if you can hang on, the horses are just over the fence.


Susie Maldonado got my new phone number. I don’t know where she got it because only five people have my latest number. Limiting screen time is part of my probation; make fewer on ramps, as they say in the meetings. Susie and I ran together; she had been using it longer than me. She said she wanted to get together and “not really party, just visit a few friends.” I said I would meet her at Cheaters Pub at 8. I began pacing the kitchen floor and then walked to the park by the river.

At five minutes to 7, I called Paul. He said instead of the group meeting tonight, we would meet at the McDonald’s on Fair Road in 15 minutes. He was waiting in a booth with a large milkshake and water with ice. He handed me the milkshake, looked at his water, and sighed.

We talked until 9. I blocked Susie on my phone; another day in my book.


When Paul met me at McDonald’s, we did not talk about drugs. We did not talk about addiction. We talked about politics, which I do not care about, and horses, which I do not know much about.

My first intervention with a mentor did not go as I expected. Instead of survival theories, drug horror stories, platitudes, and slogans for people with a substance use disorder, we just talked. His politics were that everybody should bend and be nice and that nobody should use the word they. He told me that last night, he watched a clip of the Grammy Awards performance of Tracy Chapman, an aging lefty and a young righty who made music together so beautifully it made him cry.

Then, he asked me about the horse therapy program. I admitted that I only lasted a little over four weeks, but I truly believed the program was miles better than most. He had many questions about the program, the costs, logistics, insurance, and what I would change. I answered as best as I could.

I tried to push Paul about his horse promise. He said he was working out the bugs and would explain at my two-month mark.


I keep thinking about Paul meeting me on the brink of my slipping back into the arms of drugs. Why did he drop everything and help me? Why is he suggesting this reunion with horses? What is in this for him? Then I thought about a woman named Gayle from the NA meetings. She is a tough case, really struggling. Gayle has latched on to me four times now, and we chat for at least 20 minutes; she seems to be leaning on ME. The thing is, being a help instead of being helpless feels good. I think Paul is in the same boat, helping me, he helps himself.

My days are falling into a routine: breakfast with mom, a long walk listening to talk radio or music, five hours working at Burger King, meeting at 7. He will reveal the horse project soon. I have some guesses. It will probably be a nothing burger, but the mystery is fun. Ten more days until two months sober. I’m proud and nervous. Eggshells.


At the NA meeting tonight, a big topic was loneliness. The leader asked us to raise our hands if we felt lonely. All 11 people in our small group raised their hands, opening the floodgates. A woman who I did not recognize tearfully said that every drug she took, every drink she swallowed, was because she felt lonely and isolated. A lady named Zola told us that unless she was using, she always felt ugly, awkward, and like a freak. Another guy said that in his mind, he never fit in with other people unless high, and being high made him feel like he was a freewheeling adventurer who was now among friends. We all agree our brains are wired differently, wired in a way that makes us lonely and afraid of life.

These feelings run through my brain all the time. When I am high, for a while, I fit in. Suddenly, I’m lovely and intelligent. Of course, this is BS. Drugs are messy, and addictions are false friends, but they are something, something, that makes fear and isolation disappear. For me, it feels like other people, ordinary people, have this magic connection where they relax and get along, and they have some level of trust. Happy, ordinary people annoy me. I envy them. Except for being with my mom, I’m always an outsider.

I found another exception to my loneliness chasm, alone in the barn with the horses. It was a small sample that gave me hope. In the barn, I could feel myself relax. It was a sort of cocoon, and the horses were comforting. Those big, bug-eyed beasts broke down my lonely feelings. They uncoiled my springs. Horses don’t judge and don’t ask. The horse nonsense Paul is promising has me hoping and praying that they can be an antidote to loneliness.


Every day, I wonder what Paul has up his sleeve that involves horses. I’m ready for a big letdown. It’s probably a scam. He’ll ask my mother to buy a couple of racehorses and assign the horse to a licensed trainer. By the way, I learned that a sham trainer for an ineligible trainer is called a beard, like hiding behind a beard. Asking my mother for money is a non-starter. Thanks to my drug habits, lawyer fees, and rehab, my mother sold her house, and we had to move into an apartment. Plus, what does this do for me? I don’t give a fig about horse racing. I want to be around horses to see if it helps, not watch them race from afar.


Yesterday was a bad day for me. I was very jittery and felt like bees were buzzing under my skin. I almost bailed on Burger King. It was a coin toss for me to call Paul or my dealer. Paul answered on the first ring and said he would pick me up after my shift and stay with me until the meeting. After work, I hopped into his truck. He drove to a park with a playground. We sat on a bench and watched the kids play.

Today was the second time I called Paul for help. Both times, he was available, which is odd. Since we were not at a meeting and he was in mentor mode, I asked him what he did and how he made a living.

Yikes. Paul said there were four horrible years after he got kicked out of horse racing. He went from a semi-functioning addict to a bottom-of-the-barrel addict, living in his car, stealing, dealing, shelters, and rehab programs. His grandfather paid for lawyers to keep him out of jail twice, and he slept in parks. His life was a blur and constant hustle, the usual grinding netherworld where severe addicts live, a world where every thought is drugs and money for drugs.

The fact he had come so far annoyed me. I snapped at him and said, from there, you are five years sober? How? Spill it, please.

He said that on April 12, 2019, the stars aligned. He was in the NA program for maybe the sixth time, 40 years old, a person with an addiction for half his life. He had nothing. His grandfather died that day. He said his grandfather was a great guy. He was the one who raced trotting horses and raised Paul when his father ran off shortly after he was born. He said his Gramps was kind and thoughtful and believed in second chances. He did not believe in third chances, so he kicked Paul out after his second relapse when he stole from him and would not let him back. He called the police on his grandson, and Paul didn’t blame him. When his grandfather died, his grandmother and mother were alone at the family farm in a big old farmhouse. His granny is in her 80s, and his mother has Parkinson’s and needs a wheelchair. They needed him. He needed them, and this was his tipping point. He’s five years without slipping and counting.

I said, so you’re a farmer.

He chuckled and said, ‘Not really. The family leases the farmland.’ He said he spends most of his time caring for his mom and Gran, running them to doctors, taking care of the paperwork, meals, laundry, etc. In his spare time, he renovates the house, barns, and a half-mile racetrack his grandpa carved over fifty years ago. Then, he rarely misses NA meetings after supper.


Now I have some clues. Paul has access to a private track and barns. But he didn’t mention any horses. Paul has a place to live and money, although the farm is probably in his grandmother’s name. The family farm can’t be far away because he attends every night’s meeting, and he has a life, a life after addiction. For some strange reason, thinking about his journey and where he is now makes me smile while I’m crying.

Tonight, at the NA meeting, Paul brought a cake with white frosting, two candles, and the word Bridge scrawled across the top in green icing. He set the cake on the table next to the coffee pot but did not make a speech or anything; he didn’t need to. Everyone got the picture. Through tears, I asked him if there was a limit of six letters at the bakery. Someone, I think it was Dennis, said he liked it; Bridge, like a bridge between two months, then two years, and then infinity and beyond. I heard laughter, a beautiful sound.


Paul slipped a note in my hand; Tomorrow morning. Pick you up at 9.


When I climbed into his pickup and shut the side door, he said, 10 short. I was confused until he tapped his belly and said his target was losing 30 pounds, but he only made 20. Then he added that he would make his goal between the Ozempic injections and barn work.

Are we going to your farm? He nodded. Horses? He said no, but there would be four in two months. We were silent on the six-mile drive. He slowed and turned into a blacktop drive between a white fence, which led to a picture postcard scene. It was a two-story, white farmhouse with a wraparound porch. To the right were three barns. Behind and between, I noticed a strip of a racetrack.

Paul stopped the truck halfway down the driveway, did not look at me, and said that what we do here is private. I can never participate in harness racing. My ban is a lifetime. I deserve it and could have gone to jail, but that is a long story for another time, another life. Today is about what we will do. His use of the word WE sounded good.

He explained that the plan was straightforward. Yearling sales are in two months. Yearlings are 1-year-old potential racehorses. Using my mother’s married name, I will purchase four filly trotters. The money is from the 20 acres we sold. We will train them, but we won’t race them. In early June, we will sell them using the internet and videos of their training. I asked him what my part was. He said this was also straightforward; when the yearlings arrive at the farm, I could switch my Burger King job for a job tending to the four horses.

Several questions popped into my brain. What if I relapse? How do I get here and home? Do I live here or at home? What happens in June when he sells the horses? Who is going to drive the horses? Am I ready for this responsibility after only four weeks of cleaning stalls? Paul seemed to read my mind and said he knew my mind was buzzing, but this is good buzzing, much better than hunting drugs.


Daily NA meetings are tricky. At first, I did not enjoy going, but then I was okay going. At some point, if you are lucky, the NA meetings are a blessing. We are never out of the woods. The failure rate is high, very high. When we relapse, the ordinary world eventually loses patience with us, but the NA group is always there and understands our failures. A guy once said in a meeting that we are all broken people, but for an hour or two in NA, there is enough unbrokenness to feel a little more together. He OD’d two weeks ago.

Regarding brokenness, let me tell you about Paul’s family. Of the six closest members of his family, the only one who did not carry a suitcase filled with problems is dead. His grandfather, the horseracing man, was a solid citizen who amassed a large dairy farm but branched out into other ventures. His 84-year-old grandmother is a television religious fanatic whom Paul said is screechy and preachy. His grandparents had two children, a boy named Richard, who died driving home drunk from a high school graduation party, and Paul’s mother, who got pregnant at 16. His unidentified father immediately skipped town. Paul’s mother stayed at home all her life because of mental difficulties. She also has weight issues and uses a wheelchair.


This morning, Paul repeated that his grandfather was his connection to the sport. His grandfather raced on the county fair circuit. Paul was a willing student. He said that the best days of his life were until he got out of his teens and into crystal meth. His grandfather had high hopes for his grandson and took it hard when Paul got kicked out of the game.

I asked what we would do for the next month or two until he bought the rest of the yearlings. He answered that we would have plenty to do since the barns and the track had been idle for about 10 years. I asked who the third person was; he just said it was a guy from town. Then he handed me a list.

I remember some of the list: overhaul tractor (sent to Ray Peterson), overhaul Kubota, refurbish graders, work on the track, barn #2 for horses, cut a window in the rear of each stall, build hinged window covers, new stall gates, rubber mats on walls of all stalls. Build two turnout paddocks in the infield, organize harnesses and equipment, and clean out Barn #1. Inspect the path to the rear of the property and into Jim C acreage, and order hay and straw.

There were other items on his list. Some made sense, but some of the items raised questions. I pointed to the “inspect path” item. He answered enthusiastically that he always believed horses got bored going in circles. There is a straight path from the barn into the neighbor’s property, and it’s over a half mile. I’ll ensure its smooth and safe so I can take the horses straight.

I thought going straight sounded pretty good.


Today was power washing day at the farm, a heavy-duty, gas-powered sprayer. We took everything in Barn #2 out into the climbing sun and spread it out. I mean everything: tools, equipment, jog carts, a refrigerator from the tack room. Paul blasted everything. Then he went inside the barn to hit the ceiling, walls, and floor, blasting off old paint, cobwebs, decades of dirt, and grime. He finished by blasting the outside of the barn. He turned off the motor and said that we would put them back together as things dried tomorrow.

When I told him that it was kinda fun, he nodded and said that fun was what he wanted. Last time with horses, he was chasing the dragon every day. Day after shitty day, scrape up the money, shoot, and snort. I know how that goes. Nothing matters except the next high, nothing. We get where stealing, dealing, and hustling are all that matters.

I added that he forgot to mention lying. One of the worst side effects of addiction is lying. Paul nodded again and said that his horse plan was simple this time. Get some babies close to racing and sell them. In horse racing, this is called pin hooking. We could be growing three-foot pine trees and re-selling them to the public when they are six-foot Christmas trees. The money doesn’t matter with these horses. It’s all covered. If the horses don’t sell for profit, so what? He said that when you take money from the equation, this little sport is fun and interesting, and the horses are special.


My name is Bridgette, and I am 10 days sober. Yeah, I relapsed. The NA group replied, “Hello, Bridgette.”

Sh – -. After a sleepless night when my brain raced, and my skin crawled, the following morning, I was irritable and did not feel like going to my shift at Burger King. Taking a couple of OxyContin from my stash (yes, we always have a stash) to take the edge off my uneasiness seemed like a good idea. After over two months sober, the pills hit me with a jolt and brought back the feeling of slipping into a warm bath of milk. I fell back into the familiar embrace of Morpheus and the first step on the well-worn path back into hell.

A few hours later, very high, I was working the drive-thru pay window, running credit cards and taking cash. My shift supervisor was keeping an eye on my less-than-stellar performance. To get out of this mess, I did what most junkies do, slipped into the bathroom, and took two more pills. The supervisor asked me to go home, but I did not have a car, so after a ridiculous scene protesting my innocence, I called my mom. My mom finally got me home despite the usual tears, yelling, lies, and excuses flying out of my mouth. At six that evening, my mom had to go to work waiting tables at Leonardo’s Spaghetti Palace. I had calmed down and promised to stay in my room and sleep it off.

Five minutes after Mom left, I walked three blocks to Rocky’s Bar and ordered a double shot of Dewars. Of course, I know dam well that mixing oxy with booze always makes me nauseous and sluggish. After several drinks, who’s counting, I made it to the surprisingly clean restroom and began to vomit. I am proud to admit that my aim was true and I left the facility tidy. Two drunks helped me to a table, where I fell asleep until my mom woke me, and a few patrons poured me into her Honda.

The following five days, I was sick, sicker than usual. At some point, my mother took me to Urgicare, where a stout woman with a European accent suggested that I wasn’t only dope sick but that I had a nasty virus that was going around. She gave me a Z-Pac (note to readers: withdrawal is like a bad case of the flu). So, it has been 10 days without writing in this journal, without working (the Burger King job is toast), without NA meetings, and with a lot of bad, boring television for anesthesia, just lying on the couch feeling like shit. Back where I started. For the second time, I screwed my chance at working with horses.

I found myself standing at the NA meeting and saying I messed up, but I am here tonight, and the room joined me in saying, I will keep coming back.

The thing about NA is nobody was surprised at my screw-up. I did not need any explanations, excuses, or justifications. Everyone in the room had been there and back many, many times. Each person had a trunk full of stories and heartbreak. The getting sober part is terrible but doable because there is an endpoint. The problem is staying clean, or as somebody said in a meeting, when we’re clean, we can mess up every minute of every day of every week of every decade. The opportunities to get high are endless.

I know Paul called my mother at least once during my lovely 10-day excursion. I had not seen anyone since the relapse. At the meeting, we split into smaller groups, and he was not in mine, so he slipped a note into my hand during the chaos of people dragging chairs and shifting rooms. I read the note when I got settled in the basement session.

I will pick you up at noon tomorrow; dress for barn work.


I was waiting on my mom’s front steps when Paul’s dark blue pick-up truck pulled into her driveway at 11:55. I hopped in. He did not ask any questions, and finally, I broke the ice and asked if he fired me from my imaginary horse job. He smiled and shook his head. That was a relief because I never lost a real job and a pretend job on the same day.

We drove in comfortable silence to his grandmother’s farm. He steered toward the first barn, stopped the truck, and I followed him into the barn. In the first stall was a young bay horse, beautiful, with bug eyes and a white dot on the forehead. The horse cautiously dangled its massive head over the stall gate.

Paul said I was looking at a yearling filly. Her name was Stagger LeAnn, but we could change her name. He asked if I was ready, and I nodded.


Paul picked me up today at 10 in the morning. I told him my mother would bring me to his farm every morning. He nodded and said that was fine, but he hadn’t worked out a schedule, and things would be flexible until the other horses arrived and we got into a routine.

I asked him why and how Annie ended up in the stall (it took me 10 seconds to nickname her) before the yearling sales. He explained.

He noticed a yearling was going for sale at an online auction. The owner’s comments included pictures of a battered front leg, a swollen rear leg, and a sentence saying that this yearling got into mischief in the field and tangled with a fence. The advertisement said they were selling before the upcoming sales, and anyone interested should check out her pedigree. Paul said he drove two hours to inspect her before the auction, and she was okay, but her legs were a mess. Paul offered the owner $10,000 for the horse. The owner said he thought she would bring more in the online sale scheduled for three days.

Using his mother’s last name, Paul was ready when the bidding began at noon. The opening bid was $5,000. His winning bid was $7,400. Paul drove out to get her and pay the owner that day.


My mom had a group of three from her church over to play Pinochle, but one lady got sick at the last minute, so they recruited me to play. It was fun. We played until midnight, so I am not writing much tonight. When the ladies gathered their things, I stretched and said I had to get up early tomorrow and take care of my new horse. I do not know why I said such a random thing, but somehow, saying those words felt awesome.


Paul never mentioned my relapse. He did not set up any more goals for me to reach in rehab. Unspoken was that we would go to NA each night, and I would help him at the farm. My world was about to become more horse-oriented now that a real horse was in the barn. I have a lot to learn.

Of course, I fell in love with the yearling filly that I nicknamed Annie and dreaded the idea she would probably only be in my life for six months. This morning, a new guy arrived at the farm. Paul introduced him as Bart and said he would be part of our motley crew. I guessed Bart was in his 30s, a wiry guy with a protruding Adam’s apple and a backward baseball hat with long black hair falling over his protruding ears. He was bowlegged in his tattered jeans, reminding me of a weathered young cowboy. After our introduction, Bart just nodded at me and did not say much. The men went into the tack room and came out with some equipment. Paul draped a harness over his shoulder and told us to go outside. I watched Paul slowly enter the stall from the barn door, whispering to Annie.

Outside, I asked Bart what was going on in the barn. He said one word – breaking. I gave him a “duh” look and spread my arms. Bart explained that the filly needed to get used to wearing equipment, and they were unsure if she had ever experienced wearing a bridle or a harness. At that moment, snorting, neighing, and a few solid thumps of hooves on wood echoed across the farm. Then it got quiet.

Bart listened for a minute or two, saying she didn’t do too bad, and sometimes horses go ape-sh – -. He said this filly has probably had some handling. Paul will get a feel for her, and we might even put her on the line today. He asked if I ever line drove a young horse, and I said no.

Fifteen minutes later, the three of us walked Annie outside the barn. Paul was 10 feet behind the horse with the reins in his hands while Bart and I held a long strap, a lead line, on each side of her; the idea was to get her to relax, walk straight, and enjoy things. Paul said to hold my line, and it would be fun.

IMHO, it WAS fun. Annie did okay except for one time she did a lone ranger dance on her back legs, and a minute later, she did a two-hoofed back kick, which was quite impressive. It was almost like she just wanted to get a few things out of her system, and then Annie thought, this isn’t so bad.


Today was much like yesterday. I was amazed at how much more relaxed I was. The only new twist was that Paul hooked an ancient wooden cart between him and Annie’s rear. Then we just walked around in the grass. Annie fussed a bit, gave a few mini kicks, and came to a complete stop a few times. I think she just enjoyed her feet on the grass and the breeze in her face.


Today was like yesterday. I am beginning to feel like a pro. This time, we went a little further, and we walked Annie out of the grass and walked a slow lap around the racetrack. Back in the barn, Bart said he had to fix a toilet in town, would see us tomorrow, and headed for his bicycle. Yes, he rides a bike with a motor.

As Bart disappeared over the ridge, I asked Paul if Bart had an addiction.

Paul said yeah, but Bart won’t admit it. Even though it was none of my business, I asked if Bart did drugs. Paul answered he wasn’t sure, but he didn’t think drugs were part of Bart’s problem. After a pause, Paul said Bart’s problem was with alcohol, but the guy is not a typical alcoholic. Most of the time, there is no problem. Bart has a sly sense of humor and is polite. But then Paul’s voice trailed off. I waited for him to continue. He said that around supper time, Bart will stop at a bar for a few beers every evening. No problem, he has two, maybe three, and goes home to his trailer in a park just outside town. He does this nine times out of 10, so he doesn’t believe he has a problem or needs meetings or help. Nobody knows when or why the problem is the 10th time, but the 10th time is a flat-out, black-out bender for a couple of days. Paul said once he found him in a stall under the straw.

When I asked about the bicycle, Paul explained Bart had crashed his car twice and lost his license. He can’t keep a job. His nickname is Bart-time because he needs to work part-time. His days at the track ended when a trainer scheduled him to drive a trailer with six horses, but Bart never showed. It was a mess; a few no-shows like that are poison to an employer. So, for us, he is strictly hourly. We are in a situation where a bender will not screw us up.

Two things flashed in my brain: addiction can come in many forms, and Paul used the words our and we.


Auction day, when Paul will buy the three other fillies, is getting closer. He showed me a book as big as a bible with names and information on all the horses for sale and said I could find the catalog on my iPad or phone. Honestly, he wasted his time. The numbers and information went right over my head. TMI!

I am trying to stay away from my drug friends. Drug friends are pretty much the only friends I have left, so I’m out of the loop for loopy losers. My mom had some news about Betty Feldman, one of my high school friends. She was always quiet and friendly, a year ahead of me. She died from Fentanyl. I had not seen Betty since she left for some college in Arizona after high school. I did not know she dabbled. Sad.

Around noon today, we had a good laugh, not one of those maniacal laughs from the third line of coke or drugs in our bloodstreams. We had an old-fashioned belly laugh from three people who had not had much to laugh about for a decade.


On Monday mornings, Paul takes his grandmother grocery shopping. Before unloading his truck today, he assisted his grandmother, Edith, out of his Ford Ranger, handed her the black hooked cane she uses, and steered her into the barn where Bart and I were cleaning equipment and filling water buckets. Edith had met Bart at some point in time. Paul introduced me as Bridgette. Instead of saying nice to meet you, she referred to me as the girl from the drug place. I shook her bony hand, flashing my best fake smile. She did not smile back.

Edith examined me with beady eyes. Then she wobbled over to a stall and examined Annie, our rehabbing horse. She sighed loudly, then, using her high-pitched cackle like the witch in The Wizard of Oz talking to flying monkeys, Edith screeched: “If I understand the situation correctly, I am financing a pipe dream business idea with racehorses, cooked up by three people with addictions who don’t have real jobs, one lame filly, a granddaughter with multiple problems, a hip that doesn’t work right, and my farm falling to pieces around me.”

Edith took a breath and jabbed her cane into the soggy ground with such force that it stuck. She almost fell over when her cane popped out of the mud with a slurping sound. Edith gave another hefty sigh and began to head towards the house. At the barn door, she froze, looked back, rolled her watery eyes like a silent movie damsel in distress, and said, well, screeched to the heavens – “Ain’t my life one big blue sky.” Then she continued to her house.

It isn’t easy to describe her tantrum or our reactions, but we began with snickers that grew into hysterical laughing. That minute of laughter took away some tension. The silly moment was cathartic. We laughed some more when we settled down and replayed the Edith scene.

Paul suggested we should name our little business Blue Skies For You. I shook my head and said no, we would need to introduce ourselves as representatives from BSFU. Bart chipped in and said we could rename the farm Red Flags Flying.


We had a guest speaker at the NA meeting tonight. He was from Minnesota, an addict in long-term recovery with a long grey beard. His topic was feelings of shame in recovery. As he spoke (and was a good speaker), I thought about the three of us and the horses at Paul’s farm.

Like most good speakers, the man with the beard had a good opening line, part bombast, part question. He said we were all ashamed and guilty and asked if we knew the difference.

The guy startled us so much that nobody made a peep. Then, he began to talk gently and answered his question. His point was that shame and guilt are entirely different feelings, and both play a huge role in recovery. Guilt means you realize you deserve blame for bad things you did. Shame means you feel inferior and unworthy because of things you have done. Guilt means you feel you screwed up. Shame means you think you ARE screwed up. Understanding and overcoming these two are crucial in any recovery.

The speaker lost me when he went through a rather corny list of coping mechanisms using 10 well-worn flashcards. Concentration has never been one of my strong points. But three of his flashcards stuck in my mind. It dawned on me that I was already DOING three with the horse farm experience without thinking!

Live in the present – Try to focus only on today.

New Adventures – Attempt to learn new things with new people and focus on positive things.

Build or rebuild positive relationships – Spend your time with people who care about you and accept you as you are. Look for associations with nonjudgmental people with whom you are comfortable. Animals and pets can be sources of unconditional love


At the barn, I asked Paul what he thought of the speaker from last night. He said that he felt he had done an excellent job. We talked as we did chores.

Paul was unusually chatty today, so I learned a lot. Paul is going to keep a low profile during his pin-hooking project. He is filled with both shame and guilt and cannot separate the two. He doesn’t want to see people, racing people, and he is not ready to apologize or mend fences. He knows he will need to interact with some blacksmiths, vets, and eventually customers, but he plans on flying under the radar as much as possible. He has concerns about the harness horse racing organizations coming after him. The sport is a small world. He is a pariah and always will be, so he views what we do as entirely out of the sport.

Paul believes that being a persona non-gratis in the sport may help him in some ways. People remember the bad, which is uncomfortable for them and him, so isolation makes life easier. Also, his troubling reputation might help him overcome the biggest obstacle for others who have tried pin-hooking. Buyers are wary of any owner or trainer parting with promising yearlings ready to qualify. A racehorse on the cusp of a career is difficult to find. In Paul’s situation, buyers will know he can never race another horse, so he MUST sell.

I think I understand his plan with the horses. I know he carries the same shame baggage that I do.


Paul is very excited. He has an iPad with the horse catalog for a big horse auction next week and studies it with the enthusiasm of a teenage girl on a Taylor Swift fan blog. Five times today, he walked over and showed me names, numbers, and videos, which meant nothing to me. I could have been looking at a molecular biology chart, but I kept making approving sounds and nods of agreement, which seemed to please him. At noon, Bart showed up to work on the tractor and took some heat off me. For the next two hours, they sat around looking at the iPad and speaking excitedly in a language only known to horse people. It was nice to see them both happy.


Over the past eight years, I have done a lot of damage due to my addiction. I swear that I never meant any harm to anybody. You would think I am a monster if I wrote down all the wrong things I did, the people I cheated, and the scams I ran. You would say, ‘How could anyone do that?’ Where is her willpower or common sense?

My answer is you will never be inside of my brain or the brain of any severe addict. We get to a point where the pull is so strong that we need drugs not just to get high but not to get sick. Imagine the sickest five minutes you’ve ever spent in your life. That’s what is going to happen if we don’t hook up. And the clock is ticking for users. Why, when I get clean, do I go back? I cannot explain.

I can understand how Paul torpedoed his future in a sport he loved in two words: drug money. Today, for the first time, Paul tiptoed around his past transgressions. He admitted to “giving some stuff” to a couple of horses when he desperately needed money. He quickly got caught, but getting caught and getting a bad reputation was the best thing for drug money. The reason, and this happens on the streets as well, is that we spend money on drugs and then cut them way down and resell them. It’s an old game for the bottom dwellers. The buyer doesn’t get a full boost; they complain, and then you, as the seller, act mad that somebody cheated on you, and round and round it goes.

Paul said that most of what he moved in the racing and the human drug world was watered-down and sometimes just fake nothingness. When pressed if a horse didn’t fire, he always said he had to cut it in the horse world to avoid a bad test result on the horse. I believe him. In the drug world, you do what you have to do. Little makes sense, is fair, or keeps us from running a million miles an hour in circles chasing the dragon’s tail.


He bought the horses online from a horse auction this afternoon. A trailer will haul the remaining three horses for Red Flags Flying Farm from the sales arena to the farm this evening. Paul texted to let me know he would not be at the NA meeting tonight because he needed to meet the shipping truck. We are excited. The guys agree that new yearlings are one of the best things about this sport, a day when each horse has a clean slate.


Hectic day. The three horses climbed down from the trailer. Paul said two did well, but the middle one went wild. Here is some simple but crazy math. For over two weeks, I took care of Annie, one horse. Today, I began caring for four fillies, which felt like 20 times the work and confusion. A lot was happening simultaneously; Annie was jogging, two fillies were getting used to wearing gear, and one was in a paddock. She stepped on my toe as I walked her out. Paul and Bart, in and out, it was like all hell exploded; it was fun. My toe is killing me, but I’m looking forward to tomorrow.


Bart did not show up this morning. Paul said if Bart went on a bender, he would probably not show up tomorrow. Bart not being at the barn was a problem because the schedule for the rest of the week said: BREAK NEW FILLIES TO CART. Breaking a harness horse is a two-person job, but it is probably better with three. Now, we only have two people, and I am worthless. Or so I thought.

My day was holding a lead line while Paul walked behind the cart. We were very quiet. Eventually, Paul slid into the cart’s seat, and I walked next to each horse as an insurance policy. After an entire lap around the track, Paul motioned for me to sit next to him above the fender of the cart and ride sort of side-saddle. Seated behind a real horse was interesting as heck. I could almost feel the young filles thinking, learning, and feeling safer by the minute. Paul was patient for a big, burly guy who looked like a mountain man. He never wrestled with the fillies. When they made a fuss, he just waited and murmured instructions. I considered the day a success. If Bart is a no-show tomorrow, I was anxious to help Paul teach the fillies more.


The report on Bart was not good. He was in jail. The story we got from the vet who came to inspect the fillies — Paul wanted to go over them — was that Bart left the Roadhouse in Centerville on his motorized bicycle and crashed into a parked car. When the police arrived, he was incoherent and belligerent, so they took him to jail.

Today, Bart meets with social services before being released. This news inspired Paul, the vet, and me to debate whether or not Bart would receive another DWI for driving a bike while drunk. The vet, whose name is Harris, googled it on his phone, and the answer is complicated and depends on the state laws. Possible bad news for Bart is that the vet looked up which states can give a DUI for intoxicated cycling and the list was California, Colorado, Florida, and (gulp) Pennsylvania.

Bart’s AWOL and DWI put me back in the side saddle holding the rope, which was an instant replay of yesterday. You know what I like? When one of the fillies keeps her mind on business, I love the rhythmic, clop, clop sound. The clopping makes me spellbound and I want to get off the uncomfortable passenger seat and climb into the driver’s seat. Wishing to drive is surprising because when I arrived at the farm on the first day of the therapy, the thought of me sitting behind one of these monsters was science fiction. Things change, I hope.


Now that we have four young fillies in the Red Flags Flying Farm, we have set up a daily routine. Each filly goes into the paddock for an hour while I clean their stalls. Then Paul brings them back to the barn, and we put on the equipment. They go out for two miles on the track. Paul goes the two miles in various directions, speeds, and groups. He does not like to take a horse out individually. After the two miles, I undress them. Then, I usually give each horse a quick hosing down and drying, then lead them back into their clean stall.

At the training center where I went for therapy, they started work early in the morning and finished around two in the afternoon. A standing joke at that training center was that some grooms and trainers had tee times to make. Red Flags is different; we start at 2 in the afternoon and aim to finish in time to make the nightly NA meeting at 7. This schedule is working out great. My mom can bring me to the farm, and Paul brings me back to town for the meetings.

Paul schedules doctor appointments and errands for his mother and grandmother in the mornings. When the weather turns cold and snowy, Paul can work on the track with the tractor in the morning if it needs plowing. The 2 o’clock start means Bart can schedule his part-time work in the morning and takes away my danger zone of time for shooting up. Afternoons were always long and troublesome in my old world (hopefully my old world).

All my years with drugs were chaos. I never felt stable or secure. This new routine (which has only been a few weeks) has smoothed out those jangly feelings. They always discuss purposefulness in therapy, which never stuck in my brain. This routine keeps me busy. I am not bored. I have commitments. I hope my routines centered around horses and NA meetings help me out of the hole I have dug. Still, I also remember a therapy session that pointed out that for a class four addict, it takes at least two consecutive months of a new routine to begin to take root and for brain chemistry to begin re-wiring. Two months? Take root? I do not want to brag, and I am knocking on wood, but I am ahead of schedule.


Bart jogged horses today at the farm as if nothing had happened. He did not mention his bender and any resulting problems. We had a rough moment when I asked Bart if it was a tough few days. Instead of opening a door, Bart, ordinarily soft-spoken, snapped back at me — I got it all under control — and stomped away. His off-and-on usage is unusual, but I can relate. Even after being arrested and in rehab, nobody could tell me I was out of control or had a problem. The suggestion that I needed help irritated me. Admitting you can’t control yourself is an uncomfortable thing to do. Many people are in denial for a long time, maybe forever.


The leg of Annie, my favorite filly, seems to be healing. She never limped, and as far as I can tell, neither of her problem legs bothered her. Every day with Annie is like the sand in an hourglass because she will be for sale in June. Deep in my mind, I have thoughts of buying her myself, not to race, to have. Today, while Paul and I were in the barn, I asked him what he would do if nobody bought the horses when he put them up for sale.

He explained that he planned to buy an online advertisement for these four yearlings in May before the racing season began. He told me the fillies were staked but I do not know what that means. He will have videos linked to the ad and say that any potential buyer who wants to bid can come to the farm and sit behind the horse. Then, he will place a minimum bid on each horse and see what happens. I asked him what he would do if he did not get anyone to pay what they were worth. His answer opened a little door for me. He said if he felt the breeding was strong enough, he might keep a broodmare. Hmmm. I must pull out my old Care and Training of the Trotter and Pacer book and investigate the broodmare side of things.


Problems in all directions. Last night, Paul’s mother fell in the bathroom, possibly a stroke. She could not get back into her wheelchair. She is a large woman, and it was a real mess, so they called the EMT squad that came and took her to the hospital. Paul is at the hospital with her now. This information was relayed in her squawking voice by Grandmother Edith at the house door. She finished the report by saying, “You are on your own,” and shut the door in my face.

Then it began to rain. I paddocked the horses and did the stalls. Horses don’t seem to mind rain or snow. While I worked, I wondered if I should dare try to jog one of the horses myself. And where was Bart? I put Annie back in her stall and noticed that her back left knee swelled up.

Then, it began to pour rain outside. It was almost six o’clock, and Paul was not here to take me to the NA meeting. My panic level was high, and for the first time in months, using seemed to be an answer. I was losing it. I began to hyperventilate. I took deep breaths, muttering that this was not a big deal. Calm down. Mercifully, I did not have any oxy with me. Paul pulled into the driveway.


The news today was mixed. Paul’s mother did suffer a slight stroke. Bart-time was fine. He did not reach the farm because the rain was too heavy for a bicycle. A vet came to examine Annie and said there did not seem to be any structural damage and said something about a blister and a few days of stall rest. Since the track was soaked, we just paddocked the other three. Another piece of news, and I don’t know if this is good or bad, is Paul said that because of his mother’s situation, the family lawyer was coming out to review some options.

There is some more mixed news. Yesterday, the stress of simple events rattled me and showed me how vulnerable I am.


Since late Thursday afternoon, I have been mentally in a lousy space.

Imagine walking across the street, and a speeding car loses control and barely misses running you over. This near miss scares you. Your heart races a million miles an hour, and then you get wobbly and sit in the grass thinking about the close call. Eventually, your feelings of fear, shock, and anxiety fade away, and you get back to normal. Thursday at the farm was a close call for me. Three days later, I’m not close to getting over it. That is sort of what people deep into addiction feel.

My problem was not a speeding car. It was a day with a handful of what should have been minor things; two people not showing up, being alone with an injured horse, a door slammed in my face, rain on the roof, and other fears all clenched me into a trembling ball. I am not good at handling stress, but the part that scared me the most is that if I had drugs available in that barn on Thursday, I’m almost sure I would have used them.

My experience alone at the horse farm reminded me of Angela, a lady from NA, not my current NA group, but another NA group. Angela was about 30. She looked a little like the actress Kristen Wiig. Angela was sober for over a year and seemed to have her act together. She only came to NA once a week for what she called her tune-up. Then Angela relapsed. When she relapsed, her system was clean, and her usual intake damn near killed her. She told us what triggered her unraveling in an NA meeting; a flat tire! A flat tire! An event part of everyday life grew complicated with heavy traffic, her phone not working, traffic whizzing, and a sketchy guy stopping. A bad day with a bunch of small events made her so stressed and rattled she needed a few pills to chill; boom, sobriety was gone, addiction was back.


This diary entry is about money.

The morning at the horse barns was like a business meeting. Paul was a very open and direct CEO. Paul, Bart, and I sat on straw bales in the barn. Paul told us several things using simple sentences. Bart and I will make $16 per hour, but we do not need to sign in. We will each receive a 10 per cent bonus from the net profit of any yearling we sell. At this moment, we do not have health insurance, but Paul is looking into coverage and hoping that our preexisting addictions will not be a problem. He said insurance is tricky since we are not members of a horseman’s association. He is looking into care for his mother, but he is unsure if she can stay at the farm.

Then he told us the big picture about his family and this farm. Grandmother Edith was first in ownership, his mother second, and he was third. However, due to his mother’s stroke, his grandmother’s advanced age, and his five years of sobriety, he was now the family trustee. The farm consists of 646 acres in two parcels. Last year, his family sold 70 acres to a development company. That money is in an account that he uses to pay family bills, pay himself, pay taxes, pay operational expenses for the horses he bought, and pay for the renovations of the farm.

Then Paul finished his little speech with a few tidbits. He considered himself very fortunate because he OD’ed several times, and twice NARCAN brought him back. Despite massively screwing up most of his life chasing drugs, today is good. His late grandfather would be happy. He also said that he had a master plan for the farm that might involve non-profit status. And finally, he repeated, ‘Call me day or night, anytime the dragons in your mind roar.’


The four fillies now living at Flying Flags Farm are beautiful creatures. FYI, we dropped the word red from Red Flags Flying Farm because Paul didn’t think selling a horse from a place named Red Flags was a strong selling point for a horse.

Another red flag for me was the future. As I understand the yearling project, if everything goes according to plan, all the horses will be gone in six months, so what will Bart and I do? I asked Paul about it, and he did not answer. He said we would cross that bridge when the time came. Just like sobriety, let’s take one day at a time.


My comfort level handling the fillies is outstanding. Who’da thunk it? Each of the fillies has a particular personality. I have no idea if they will be fast racehorses. These four fillies are ridiculously perfect to my rookie eyes, but Paul explained they are not. He said that the three things that buyers look for in yearlings are conformation, pedigree, and the racing performance of siblings. Paul told me that middle-tier buyers like him were like the Rolling Stones song You Can’t Always Get What You Want.

He said buyers in the $20,000 range needed to make sacrifices, and his wiggle room was horse conformation. While he would not bid on a little horse, he would bid on a horse that did not stand perfectly. He said that his grandfather’s best horse toed in (whatever that means). Then Paul took me to each horse and noted something he was not wild about. I did not see a single problem; they all looked perfect.


Solo flight with Annie today! I, Bridgette Malone, harnessed my favorite filly, Annie, climbed into the sulky (actually called a jog cart), and took a two-mile spin in the morning sunshine. I was nervous for about five seconds, but suddenly, it was terrific. The rest of the world faded away, the sounds, the smells, the peace; I could have driven Annie to Alaska. For once in my pathetic life, I knew where I belonged.


My struggle to get out of my drug hole and make a new life is a solo trip. Still, I have plenty of crutches; my mom, the rehab program at the horse training center experience, the NA meetings, the horses in the barn, Paul for a mentor, a lot of structure each day, and this diary in the evening.

I write in this diary in my bedroom after the nightly NA meeting and before going to bed. I write in a spiral-bound notebook, like students use in school. I never show anyone a single word in this diary. I write in cursive using a cheap pen. This pen came from Hartman’s Funeral Home. I thought about using a computer and typing this journal, but there is something about putting my pen to paper that feels good. The paper and pen make me feel like I am drawing a picture and not just emailing somebody. Why do I write? I’m not sure, but it calms me. Writing makes me think. The experience is like the difference between looking at a horse and touching a horse. Writing on a page like this shows I am making progress; hey, it’s in ink! Another thing about writing this is nobody judges me, and I do not need to lie or put on a performance. I don’t know if any science backs up the value of writing a journal or a diary. I am glad the rehab center put the idea in my head, and my writing seems to get more positive daily.


I had a crazy idea this morning and thought about it all day at the barn. After writing in my diary on Saturday, I might keep a diary about Annie, my favorite filly yearling. It may seem like every day is the same for her; feed, paddock, dress, two miles on the track, shower, and back to a clean stall. A diary about this beautiful 2-year-old filly could go deeper. Maybe a daily notation of how far and fast she trained, specific notes about those troublesome legs and the treatment she receives, quirks in her personality. I’m thinking about this. If I do it (write), I could write as an observer or as if I AM Annie from inside her brain. Hmmmm. What stops me from writing about Annie is if (when) she is sold, which could be a matter of months. The writing would make my heart break more.


Working in a horse barn is strange, different than most jobs, and not only because you work with live animals. For the most part, my chores are the same daily, but my interactions with Paul and Bart can radically differ. About half the days, I go into a mental bubble, just me and the horses, period. I can go all day and say 10 words. However, and I don’t know why, when I talk with one of the guys, the talk can be, not always, but can be serious-minded.

I am not sure why this is. Because we are addicts? Because the horses are there? Because of our personalities? Because we are broken and tired of BS? A lot of the time, the subject matter in the barn becomes more reflective. It’s strange.


Yesterday, I wrote about how sometimes we talk deeper as I work in the church-like quiet of the barn. Today was a good example. It started after I complained about these horses going up for sale in the summer. I would be back to square one, with no job and no horses, and the six months until (if) Paul bought new yearlings was always on my mind. Paul answered with his standard ‘One day at a time.’ but then he said something unexpected. He has doubts about the future of the entire sport of harness horse racing. He said the next few years could be a brand-new ballgame. He said the loss of gambling revenue and common sense made him think a new future was coming fast, so he was working on one plan to train harness horses for a new world.


Yikes, what a day! This morning, Paul fractured his hip in a freak accident. A wheel fell off the oldest jog cart, and Paul hit the ground. The accident did not have anything to do with his weight (Paul was bragging a couple of days ago that he was down to 221, never felt healthier, and was looking into surgery to remove excess skin). The fall was not spectacular. I was watching from the barn. He was merely jogging Annie slowly, and it looked like he slid off a desk chair. The EMT people came, and they did not do anything medically. They were pretty sure he broke his hip, so it was just a matter of stabilizing him and getting him into the ambulance.

Now what? The incapacity of Flying Flag’s CEO creates all sorts of issues for the next two in command, one of which is me. As they loaded him into the ambulance, Paul asked me to tell the NA group tonight about the situation. He said that I might need to moderate the NA meeting if Rachel was not there and that he would call Bart and me tonight.

He called me at 11 tonight. I told him that Rachel had led the meeting that night, and everything had gone fine. He told me the x-rays showed he was lucky. His right hip had a hairline fracture. Paul would not need an operation, but he would have pain for a few weeks. His diagnosis put the admitting doctor in a jam. Paul’s extensive medical records showed him as a person with a substance use disorder. They both agreed to skip Percocet or other pain medication and lean into Advil. He hopes to be released from the hospital on Saturday afternoon but will have minimal mobility and will not be able to drive his truck, let alone a horse. Paul asked me to check on Edith and paddock the horses tomorrow morning. He said he would call around noon, and we must put on our thinking caps.

What a mess.


We are in scramble mode at the farm. Horses always need to be taken care of. You can’t just decide one morning to hop on a plane to Bali for a few weeks, or fracture a hip like Paul did yesterday and forget about the horses. Paul told me that people in the harness racing community are usually very kind about helping each other, and even a pariah like him could make a few calls, but he did not want to ask for help.

I was on fire this morning with good suggestions. They just kept popping into my head.

My first idea, which Paul and Bart gave a big thumbs up, is that I need to renew my driver’s license. My license expired three years ago. As a member of the severe drug user’s society, I never renewed it. Why should I? I did not have a car, was afraid I could be a menace under the influence, and could not afford a car, insurance, gas, or even the money to take the test. I needed every dime for you know what.

My mom will take me to the DMV on Monday morning before she takes me to the horse farm. Paul is arraigning insurance so that I can drive his truck. The guys seemed astonished that I have a clean driving record and have no problems driving a large pickup truck. Paul asked if I would check on his grandmother a few times daily. He will have limited movement when he returns to the farm today. In the meantime, we will both keep our phones handy.

Another idea came from a chat my mom and I had. Alice Riggins, one of her pinochle friends, volunteers for an organization that brings daily meals to families in need, and while Paul’s family is not in need, the meals are delicious and homemade. Plus, now that his sister is in a nursing home, the person who delivers the meals can offer some socialization for Grandmother Edith. I told my mom they might want to make the delivery person a saint because Edith is prickly.

More ideas were that Paul rent or buy a golf cart to get around, and Bart could use the boards and plywood from the old barn to build a temporary ramp to the house’s front door. All this chaos takes my mind off using drugs. I can’t help but remember that Paul got clean when all hell broke loose after his grandfather died, so maybe, just maybe.


Today was good. I passed the written driver’s exam but needed a live driver test. I lucked out because things were slow at the DMV, and I took a guy for a spin around the block in my mom’s car with a tester who had an opening in his schedule. No problem. I am ready to roll. I will drive Paul’s pickup. It feels good to have “wheels” and not be dependent. Paul stayed in the house today, but Bart and I took the fillies out for a brisk two-mile drive. When I finished tidying up the barn and filling their feed bucks, I felt accomplishment and satisfaction wash over me as I walked to the truck to drive to the NA meeting.


It is official. I will train two of the 2-year-old fillies, Annie and Lady M, the two most sensible horses. Bart will train the other fillies. Paul hopes to train or call a friend as they progress towards qualifying speed. Until then, I have been confident and anxious about being an instant horse trainer with Paul as my full-time mentor.

A new problem popped up. There seem to be problems every day in horse racing and horse training. I went one lap with Annie in tandem with Paul jogging “Miss N Tooth” (isn’t that the worst name ever?) Paul waved me to come off the track. I did not know what was wrong. After all, I did not know what I was doing, but he did not like how Annie was trotting. He looked closely at her knee and asked me to feel the right and the left ankles and see if one was warmer. The right one was warmer, no doubt. Paul muttered to himself. I picked up words like: ice, blister, pin, fire, wrap, and x-ray. These words do not sound good.


Owners can change a horse’s name. “Miss N Tooth” is now officially “Miss Chievous,” I suggested changing it to one word: Mischievous. Owners who want to change names need to come up with a name that is not the same as another horse, and Mischievous was unavailable. So, we tinkered around, and Miss Chievous was the result. The name change was fun.

Not so much fun was a woman passed out in her folding chair just before we sat down for the NA meeting. She hit the floor with a clunk. Rachel, the moderator, a former nurse, checked her breathing; it was okay, but she went into spasms. An emergency room is less than a mile from the church, so two guys drove her in a car. We all had seen similar scenes, but this happening at an NA meeting rattled us.


The vet visited Annie this morning. It was interesting. The vet took an x-ray right in the stall. It was also interesting that the vet, whose name I forgot, said he was unsure what the problem was with Annie’s leg. When the vet said to “rest her for a few weeks,” I thought, well, that won’t run up your bill. But I respected his honesty.


Today was a fun day. Paul’s hip makes it uncomfortable to get into and out of his truck and sit. The weather was sunny and warm. He had a list of stops I needed to drive him to, such as stores, doctors, pharmacies, and the post office. I tossed a few bales of straw into the bed of the truck. He scooted his rear end into the truck bed and made a little nest to rest his leg and hip. We communicated using our cell phones as I drove and darted from place to place. We got every item on the list and were back with plenty of time to get the horses out.


I began using Oxycontin when I was 18 years old. I have been an addict for seven long years. I’m lucky to be alive. The inside of my brain is still a battlefield. The demon still lives. Maybe the best I can say is I am keeping the demon at bay, but the demon still terrifies me. I know if I do not make it this time, the odds are I never will. Today, I am six months sober, my longest stretch by far.

I went to church with my mother this morning. Sundays are tricky days for me. Not going to the barn and seeing the horses give me too much time to think. When we got home from the church, I went to my bedroom and read this diary. I cried several times, strange tears. Some were tears of sadness, and others were of gratitude. Gratitude is not an emotion I am familiar with. So many people helped me, well, tried to help me. I have been horrible to them.

If I had to name a turning point, it would be the horse therapy program at my last rehab. Yeah, I messed it up, did not finish the program, and relapsed twice, but being around good people and horses planted a seed.

When I was using, everything in my life was designed around one thing – filling my need for drugs. My relationships with people, what I did from the moment I woke up until I passed out, drugs were the center of everything. Everything that went wrong was someone else’s fault, and my need squashed any iota of empathy. My life was me, me, me, drugs, drugs, drugs.

I am hopeful that I may make it out of the darkness. I feel a crack in those walls because I am beginning to feel grateful. My mom is a rockstar, the one person who has never wavered. The drug programs and NA did not fail me. I failed them. Paul, a disgraced addict, has shown me a path. And the horses, God, those horses, they are magic. No more writing today. I’m getting misty – damn empathy. (LOL)


I have a dream. Right now, the dream is like me, fragile as a soap bubble. I am afraid if I say this dream out loud, it will burst and disappear, so I have not told anyone, but I will write it in this diary. That way, the dream can stay alive, and I can think about it before I suggest it to Paul.

I believe that there is a particular ingredient that allows people with an addiction to reach the stage of sobriety that Paul has reached. I think that a person with an addiction needs to progress from needing crutches to becoming a crutch.

I see this in Paul every day. Before I knew him, he was a total mess and should be dead after years and years of drug abuse. He was an overweight pariah with zero self-respect. Like me, he tried everything and was a lost cause. Both of us were getting older and using in an endless circle. The most significant change I see, which is not scientific, is that Paul somehow shifted when his grandfather died.

The main difference in his life was that he needed to care for his mom and grandmom. Somehow, someway, this purpose allowed him to pass that test he had failed many times. Each day, he was sober and purposeful. His sobriety led him not just to attend NA meetings but to lead the meetings. Again, another purpose for him was to help others. Then he took ME on as another opportunity to help. Each day, he had a reason to rise and not an excuse to use.

Six months sober is a LONG way from sobriety, but I am feeling some pangs of benefits from helping others. One little thing I am doing is gently, very gently, nudging Bart, the alcoholic who works at the farm, to attend meetings. Bart is a good guy. He is in his 30s, and I see goodness in him, but his drinking is destructive and getting worse. It’s weird being in my mental space, the twilight between using and not using. People with an addiction are, in a way similar to politics, separated into tribes – users and non-users. Users resent the non-users and have a hard time listening. But Bart and I have reached a little breathing space. He doesn’t bark at me to mind my business if I approach him with a joke instead of a flat-out suggestion. Bart is a stubborn, prideful guy. Maybe my nagging will help him, or it won’t help him.

A germ of an idea got planted when I reported for the rehab horse project. I knew nothing about horses, farms, or horse racing. But on the first day, being around horses made a difference. When the dust settles from Paul’s pin hooking experiment, I will see if any horses remain in the barn. The gist of my idea is to bring a few addicts struggling with sobriety to report to the farm and work with horses. The structure of how this could work is unclear, but I know that ever since the fentanyl scourge, money has been on the table for treatment options at the federal, state, local, and municipal levels.

I want to try helping a few recovering people with a substance use disorder. Retired racehorses need good homes and are donated. I keep thinking about plotting a project involving some form of equine therapy. Oh well, one day at a time. One thing is for sure — we will never run out of people with addictions