Paul Polly is a name you hear a lot around Fellowship RCO. Being one of the first residents of Fellowship; it is always a pleasant sentiment, antidote, or story. People gravitate toward his beaming personality and humor that makes even the most serious person laugh. Regardless of a lifetime of struggles with substance use disorders, Paul’s faith is unwavering today and he has a great impact on our community.
I had the privilege to have dinner with Paul this week and I got to hear some of his story, and it is an honor for me to share it with you now.– Michelle Kaplan
Paul was born in Ohio but moved to Margate, Florida when he was 8 months old. Literally, a few blocks away from where Men’s Fellowship would one day be. He talks about how 441 a 2-lane street essentially ended at the corner of 441 and Atlantic. Margate was full of bean fields and ranches. As a kid, he would hunt, fish, surf, and ride horses. For those of you that know Paul, you know he has trouble reading and writing and it seems as though it was because he was too busy living. As a young adult, his struggle with drugs and alcohol found him getting into serious trouble with the law and landing him in the penitentiary 5 times throughout the course of his life. In 1990, he even found himself on an episode of COPS in their first season. Paul’s substance use disorder had him acting out in ways that were out of character. His lawyer told him “If you don’t use or drink, you will never go to jail again” and that resonated with him.
Paul had 9 ½ years sober before he found himself at Fellowship in Fort Lauderdale, Florida which is now the Women’s House. Prior to his relapse he had made a life for himself and family. Raising a son, going to meetings, and working his program to the best of his ability. “The thing about relapse is all about entertaining a thought. The thoughts are always going to be there, but it really is what you do about them. It is how this disease works and it can get you at any time.” They say the key to keeping you clean and sober is to be of service to others and Paul believes this whole heartedly. He helped with the beautification of Fellowship in ways that have lasted to this day. He stayed at Fellowship for a couple of years then he and 2 of his friends from the community got their own place behind the 12 Step House.
An alumnus of Fellowship, Jerry N, would make frequent visits to the house to check in with Paul and his roommates to see how they were doing and to stay connected. Paul had been clean and sober for about 8 ½ years when he lost one of his roommates and best friends to this disease and he had a hard time dealing with the loss. Paul relapsed, but thought that nobody would be able to notice except Jerry because of his frequent visits. On July 1, 2017, Paul found himself in a hotel calling out to God because he wanted to die, and Jerry’s call comes through. Jerry convinced Paul to come back to Fellowship by telling him, “give it a try and if you don’t like it, you can kill yourself later.” Jerry Reached out to Rick Riccardi on behalf of Paul, and a life changing moment was set into action.
Rick called Paul and asked, “do you want to get sober?” Paul said “yes,” so Rick and Susan came to the hotel to pick Paul up. Paul knew he would have support if he reached out to people, but he was afraid of admitting failure over this disease. He felt guilt and shame for letting himself down, his friends, and the people who loved him. Rick and Susan brought Paul to the hospital. Paul was worried about being locked up and Rick calmed his nerves and told him, “you need to go in there and tell them if I have to live like this, I don’t want to live anymore. And then call me on your way out.” Paul did what he was told and was baker-acted.
When Paul came back to Fellowship, he shared with his house managers that women are a problem, and he needs to be held accountable to staying away from them. He also did not want to take all the suggestions, but he realized that he needed to. “No one gave me a suggestion that was wrong.” Part of the program at Fellowship is to journal every day, but because Paul has issues with reading and writing so he had to get creative. To this day he creates a voice memo on his phone as his journal. His sponsor told him to create a meeting schedule and he did that too. He would bring others to his meetings with him. “It got easy when I surrendered. I fought it for years and it was misery.”
Today, Paul focuses on working a 10th step every night. Even though Paul has had some relapses, the foundation of his recovery and program were always with him when he came back, and so was God. “This time is different, not because I had to start all over, I still have people who support me in my recovery, people with serious time and it is not like I forgot all the things I had learned about in my sobriety, but this time I felt the psychic change that Rick always talks about. I do not ask God for much, but when I do, my prayers are answered even if it is not in my time. Anything good has God in it”
Idle time can be really harmful for people in recovery. Isolation and being lackadaisical with daily routines is how we live in active addiction. “Finding hobbies you enjoy is really important and should be added to your routine as part of your new way of living.” Paul works a lot, but when he is not working he is most likely fishing. Getting to do the things your really enjoy helps you stay sociable and it is more rewarding than staying idle. Paul also loves to spend time with his family and friends. Paul’s spirit is like no other. Meeting him for the first time feels like you have known him your whole life.
Paul has been clean and sober for 4 years and is still a part of the Fellowship community. Fellowship is his home. He continues to have a meeting schedule, journal, and now he sponsors other men in recovery. He has his family in his life today, including extended family. “Every time I use, my family wants nothing to do with me, but sober I have family in my life.” I have my son and I have 3 grandkids that I get to spend time with.” He even dresses up like Santa for them every Christmas.
“You can’t be in this program with a closed mind. It does not matter how old a person is or the time they have, you will always learn from them. I think our stories are written already for us and we are just the actors. God’s not done with me yet. Maybe I am supposed to tell my story to save the life of the guy sitting in the back of the room.” We do not always know the why behind things, but Paul can let go and let God do his thing. Paul serves this community, helps others with things that were freely given to him, and he strives to leave something or someone better than when God wrote them into his story. It is his purpose in life.