MANY LIVES IN ONE LIFETIME‑
A TRANSFORMATIONAL JOURNEY.
My friend Bud Burke is currently Assistant Administrator involved in Human Resources at the Jackson Brook Institute. His unique life experience, special talents and warm personality, combine to enrich his position as an integral connection between the hospital and the Portland community.
Oldest of two boys born in a small community in central Vermont in the early 1920’s, he grew up on a farm during the Great Depression. While he recalls never experiencing any poverty, a ‘do‑it‑yourself’ attitude was instilled early in life and self sufficiency was a major stressedreesed by his parents. He describes his life as in two significant ‘compartments’. The first before his hospitalization for alcoholism; including loss of a marriage with four children successfulessful career after 21 years. And a second which included return to and closure of his career, the establishment of a second family while reuniting with his children and entering a new career, after receiving treatment.
The farm boy who has strived for perfection while giving to others throughout his life, comes to resolve much of this core conflict after he is forced to face his loss of control and accept himself and his alcoholism. In good health today and involved in fbusiness, andss,and civic endeavors, Bud projects an impression of optimism and hope as he challenges his personal journey, experience his “lives’lives in one lifetime’.
Bud: There’s an old saying Tom that you can take the boy off the farm but you can’t take the farm out of the boy, and certainly that’s true in my case.
I was born on the 20th of March 1922 in the little town of Sharon, Vermont which is on the White River…I had the unique experience of being born at home.
When we go by the house that I was born in, and when I tell my kids about the story that I heard, about that early morning of March 20th, and Dr. Munsel came down from White River Junction on his horse and buggy and rather then going all the way down to Sharon and across the bridge, he and the horse forded the White River and got over to our farm and delivered me at home.
Going back a little bit further regarding my parents Doris and Walter. They were a mixture of two different cultures. My father’s family had always been farmers, not too successful in terms of money. My mother came from the Mid west, the Chicago area and I think if they had met in this era, that although they would have gotten married, I think that even earlier on in life they also would have been divorced. But that was an option not easily available to people in those days, and I can hear my mother saying “you make your bed and you lie in it.”
Well my mother’s sister had married a very successful farmer from the next town up the river and my mother cam~out here to visit her. This was right after WW I. They went to a grange dance, and my father was there dressed in his WW I uniform, he was a pilot. He was a very dashing guy, a great dancer. So the dye was cast. What you had was a marriage of the strong silent type from the Green Hills of Vermont to the verbal type from the mid‑west. I was the first child born out of that marriage. I have a brother who lives in Augusta who is four years younger then I am, Bob. And as I look back over the past, certainly the kind of farming that was done back in those days was real subsistence kind of farming. I look upon my early years as very happy years. I became the hired man in our family. My father didn’t have enough money to hire a man to help him work…I was raised with a very strong work ethic. You always had your chores to do and they had to be done before you could go out and do the things you wanted to do as a young person, a very puritanical existence. As soon as school got out in June, it was haying season and the hay had to be gotten in…That was the, ah, first things first if you will. we didn’t have the money to buy hay if you ran short…Very seldom during those first twelve years of my life do I remember having somebody come up to the house to play. The nearest farm was a mile or so away and that boy of my age was involved in helping his father get the chores done so I grew up as a loner with a self sufficient kind of life…
I don’t mean to imply it was all work and no play. I enjoyed fishing, hunting and skiing , had a dog…counselors later asked me, “what did you do when you got upset with your parents?”…My answer was to grab my gun and take my dog and we’d head for the hills, now that’s a pretty healthy activity…then on the other hand there isn’t anybody that you can talk to…There were many unanswered questions in my life, nobody else to bounce them off of and of course there was that perception that everyone else knew what was going on. You had to pretend that you knew what was going on. Not a real healthy way of growing up as I look back on it.
I started in school at a one‑room school house, one teacher and eight grades and probably 30 of us in the room, about l‑l/2 miles from home. I would walk to school and back home…We had one male teacher and he was wimpof a whimp. One year we had a male baseball coach but didn’t have those sports mentors that you would have these days. On our ski team it was a do it yourself kind of an operation. I use that term a lot, there was a real boot strap kind of an operation, life was then. Dad would take me out, show me how to do something, turn me loose, and you did it, and you asked for a minimum of help. AOK that’s ok until you get into trouble. Then it becomes very difficult to ask for help…so a lot of that kind of gutsy approach to life, that stick at it til you get it right, will take you a long darn way but as I say when you get into the problems that I eventually developed, it made it much harder for me to dig my way out.
Tom: So what you had learned from your parents and the work ethic, was later a benefit to you?
Bud: Yes (pause) I don’t have a clean recollection of that first year in school. I was…always late in getting back to school. I passed 1st grade on condition…was pulled out of that school and started 1st grade all over again in Woodstock, Vermont. So there was a history of being a late bloomer in my life. I eventually graduated from high school with honors at l9 years of age.
My mother’s, reason for being, in life was to raise her 2 boys and to make sure they did not become farmers…I can see now why she wanted us to do something different. Farm life was a pretty rugged one back then. You were always tied to the milk cows…my father would say we’ve got to home and milk the cows.
Tom: Who were your heroes, your guides in childhood?
Bud: First of all my father. He was sort of the epitome of everything I wanted to be. He was a natural athlete. He was very intelligent kind of a person. He was too kind to be a farmer in many respects. When I was old enough to wheeled an axe I was the one who had to go out and cut the chickens heads off for Sunday dinner and I can remember going out in the fields, one of the cows was sick and dad and I had to go out there and kill that cow. I remember catching the cow. I can still see him, he put his arms around her neck and said, “Bud I can’t shoot her. I’ll hold her and you’ll have to shoot her.” Ah, it almost brings tears to my eyes now thinking how what a kind person he was.
Tom: Did that trouble you, that your father couldn’t kill the cow?
Bud: No, not so, for the things that really counted for a farm boy, he got a team of horses that we had, he got more work out of them by treating them kindly, without taking a whip to them. He could plow the straightest furrow of anybody. Sunday afternoon up into his 30’s he was the star pitcher of the local baseball team. I remember the first time, in 1947, at that time he was 52, and took him to a golf course. He had never swung a golf club in his life. He took one out and banged one right out there. so I think that my father was sort of my hero, and this I’m sure since mother and dad weren’t really on the same wave length in many respects. I think my mother sort of dumped on him a little bit. I’m sure that set up a lot of conflicts with me, I wasn’t really aware of as a child. Maybe more aware of it now
Since I was the oldest I became the one that worked closely with my father. MY mother needed help too so my brother Bob ended up doing a lot of the work in the house. I think it had an effect on how both of us have developed over the years…
My relationship with my father was sort of the strong silent type of relationship. I had a great deal of admiration for my father. One of the happiest days of my young life was the first of May, that was when fishing season opened in Vermont and in those last days of April…I would dig up worms…he’d have a tobacco can that I’d keep the worms in. I remember he’d take me down to the brook, show me how to bait the hook and how to catch the fish, then he’d have to go back up to the barn to milk the cows. There was always that sense of loss if you will. He never did any swearing, certainly not around me. There were times he was hurt and I’d never see him cry or swear…
My father was a very bright guy, graduated from High School when he was sixteen and went on to a 2‑year agricultural college, when he got out of that World war I was on and he became a pilot…So that formed a connection, I became a pilot in World war II, ah talk about dreams and aspirations, when I got into the service there wasn’t any question where I was going to go. No, I was going to follow in his footsteps, and my mother was determined that we were going to go to college after High School. we were not going to go to what she referred to as a cow college…I found it very easy in school to excel academically, part of it was there wasn’t as much challenge there as there could have been. I just had some natural abilities and just sort of floated to the top, and people liked me. I didn’t cause any problems in school. My mother was a very integral part of the whole school process. She was one of the few mothers that would come down and visit school. We had a parent’s day at school, and she might be the only parent that would show up. So when I, well there just wasn’t any question as to what my next step was going to be when I got out of college, I mean out of High School. As I think back on it, there wasn’t really, since things did come relatively easy for me, there wasn’t that sense of accomplishment, that seemed to be lacking. It was well you want to go to college, didn’t have any money, got a full scholarship to go to Wesleyan and a lot of that was my mothers digging in and searching the state of Vermont for people willing to sponsor a boy to go to Wesleyan…! I got one of the scholarships…
When you talk about early decisions one thing as I look back, that caused me anguish was, I felt that the decision process was largely out of my hands. I didn’t sit down and say, I’m getting out of High School, I’m going to college, it just sort of happened, evolved, guided by my mother. She had the ideas.
I was the kind of person who wanted to please my parents. I was not a rebellious young man, ever, certainly not vocally or physically, and that effort to please got me into a lot of trouble, cause I wasn’t always pleasing myself. I think I have a message, certainly that I try to pass on to my kids is that you have to feel you have some, you do have control over your own destiny, and you have to exercise that control.
You may not always make the right decision. There may be failures, but their not fatal, and they are not final. That mix in me of wanting to please and do things perfectly, created a lot of problems for me, and I could never see them until I was well into my 50’s. It just so happened that the opportunity that I had to go to Wesleyan was really the right place for me. From an educational point of view there are no better colleges than Wesleyan. But there was that feeling that I wasn’t the one who really made that choice. I can remember that first day…You were talking about a young man who had probably spent maybe two weeks of his life away from home. When you talk about feelings, I remember my mother and father leaving me off in front of the library ‑ seeing them drive away and that feeling of “MY GOD” it just was overwhelming…
…You know, I had to share a room with another boy from
Vermont. I can remember going down to the dean of the college…I just wanted to crawl under the covers and hide. That first year was a very traumatic one for me. I was over my head academically. I never had to study in High School always got good grades. Suddenly I was taking a tough set of courses to boot.
Tom: so you were there for a year?… Bud: I was there a year and a half then I went into the service. I had already made up my mind I was going to be a pilot.
Tom: so you had some decision on that?
Bud: Yes. that was largely cause my father was a pilot in World War I. So when my draft number came up I went and signed up for the Air Corp…that was in February of 1943. There wasn’t any question in our minds in those days as to whether you were doing the right thing, the lives were very clear, there were the bad guys and the good guys and there weren’t any questions of moral ambivalence as to whether you were on the right side or not. So those years after I graduated from pilot school, I had an opportunity to go overseas~ or become an instructor. I didn’t really care which way I went. So happens that I went directly overseas.
That experience was not an unpleasant one. There was some anxious moments, did a lot of flying over a short period of time, never had any real problems, crash landed one time and walked away from that with no aches pains or anxieties as they say.
So you got that feeling that you were more in control of your life and I developed a lot of leadership characteristics in the service and ah, my campus life was…I was very involved. Finally by the time I was a senior, I was satisfied with the kind of academic achievements I was gaining, I was on the honor role. There have always been a lot of, sort of late blooming sort of things in my life, and I suppose that was one of them.
By the time I got out, let see 1947, I was twenty‑five years old. When I did get ready to graduate I still didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do for life’s work. But once again sort of my old way of handling things took over. Rather than sitting down and making rational decision I sort of went with the flow. I don’t know why you really should know what your going to do. There were a lot of job opportunities right after the war and I ended up with a very satisfying one, working with the Aetna Life, selling group insurance with a small group of guys all of whom were in their first job, only qualifications were that you had to be a college gradu ate…and they put you through another six months of training.
Tom: Kind of like the Air Corp?
Bud: Exactly…They wanted you to do it their way. And certainly from my own personal make up I was willing to go down that path, and it was a good one. Got married during that…well in those days you were supposed to get a job first and then get married and that was the route that I followed. You don’t take on the responsibilities of having a wife unless you have some way to support her. I ended up marrying a person I had met when I was in flying school. It had all of the trappings of being a very successful match and it was for many years. Marge and I had some very good times together, raised four nice kids. I think as I moved up some mythical ladder, took on more job responsibilities my focus was more on the job than the family. A lot of my energies… were poured into the job. And then for a Vermont farm boy to end up in New York city was certainly a different kind of a life. And somewhere there in the early 50’s things got untracked. It was like leading two different lives. One in the suburbs where we lived and the other one in New York city where I worked.
Tom: When did you first realize you were an adult?
Bud: Well I think Tom, that the term that a lot of people use often about me is that I’m a late bloomer, and I think there was a big difference between my emotional age and my chronological age. I don’t think it would be stretching it much to say that I was well into my 40’s I think before I had the feeling of being an adult. I think we all go through various rebirths if you will…I feel that’s an opportunity that we all have and, the biggest rebirth my 51st birthday down there in that hospital in Massachusetts and certainly there, from that point forward, sixteen years there has, I look pretty much the same as I did, but I sure as hell am a different person. I don’t think marriage made me feel like I was an adult. There always was sort of that feeling that I wasn’t in control of my destiny. I’ll give you a good example of that. When I got out of college my thought was since I never had a summer vacation…I remember interviewed by the Aetna in June of that year and I said to him, “when does school start?” We had to go to a group school. He said in July. I said, “gee, I sort of thought of taking the summer off,” and this fella said, “Bud you know there is another school in the fall but you’d be six months behind everybody.” I though that over and I said well gee he’s right you know. So I said I’d go along with it. I wish now that I had taken that whole summer off. I’d of been bet~r served I think.
It seemed to me that my life just sorta evolved without having control. And I think that was an important part of all this searching that I did at various stages of my lifetime to find out who I was and where I was going. I can remember when I was probably 37‑38 and a friend and I were having lunch in New York city and he said to me, “You knoBudud that if we haven’t got it made in our companies by now,” meaning you’re on a certain track, he said “You know it’s never going to happen.” I remember thinking my god I haven’t even started to live yet. But he was right.
Tom: You felt you hadn’t come to live yet, you didn’t feel you had control over your destiny?
Bud: That’s right and I think fear of failure was a very integral part of my psyche if you will. You know mother had always put such a strong emphasis on the should’s of life. Tom: How did you come to choose your profession?
Bud: (short laugh)
My mother called up one time and said “what are you going to do after you get done college?~ And I said gee, I don’t know. And she said, “you know your dad is very troubled by all this and he goes downtown and sees some of his friends and they will say to him “Walter, what’s Bud going to do with all the fancy education?” And she said “you know your dad isn’t able to give them an answer.” That’s a very subtle kind of pressure. I recognize it now, I didn’t then. But I also felt with four years of college you should know what you wanted to do. So I just started taking some job interviews and I lucked out. I ended up with the right company doing the right thing. It filled a need in me to help other people. Very much as my job at JBI does…group insurance, I was good at it. I had a way of negotiating with the top companies in the country…but I never had that feeling of accomplishment, it all came rather easy. There’s a streak of perfection in me and my mother laid that trip on me, that we were, my brother and I were her guiding light. Her reason for being was to have two good boys who didn’t fuck up (laughter).
.Then when I got down to New York…this was the plumb, the biggest office in the country, that everyone was aiming for, although I never had it in my sights, I was picked to be one of those people to go down there to that office. There was a different type of life style. I’d live in the suburbs. I get on that train in the morning, an hour later I’d be in New York, a complete different world. For all kinds of reason there wasn’t much family, social life involved in New York City, so you had one kind of social life in New York City, which was separate and apart from your social life in the suburbs. I had a group of friends in New York that were just different than the friends at home. All the ingredients were there for getting into trouble.
Tom: Was this overwhelming then to a point after being some what sheltered~
Bud: Yes, I think it was. I didn’t see it that way at the time. The combination of the need to do things perfectly, the ability to see that regardless of how good a job someone thought I did, there was always a way of doing it better,… set up a lot of ingredients for getting into trouble. And my involvement with alcohol, unfortunately I got a cast iron stomach and I drank many years without getting into trouble, never got sick other than hangovers very seldom lost work due to alcohol, hangovers. I remember my doctor down at the VA Hospital saying “Well Bud that’s sort of unfortunate, you know if you had gotten more sick it may have brought you to your senses quicker.” so I went on a high level social drinking kind of a binge for years. But as it does with all alcoholics I com promised my value systems and those should’s, that I grew up with got shot out of the saddle, and that caused me a lot of pain.
I didn’t drink in college or overseas not til I was 27 that I hit New York city. Let’s see I was 25 when I got married, two years in the business, children started arriving right on schedule (short laugh). It was interesting Tom, I never had that thrill that Sherring and I have, saying well we want to have a baby sometime. My first four kids just sort of came…Marge and I didn’t sit down and say after dinner, well after two years or so let’s starting making a family.
Tom: Talk about raising your first family if you would likeBudud: Well let’s see. I’ve been very fortunate with the kids. I have four great kids, in spite of the problems their mother and I had. She abused alcohol also, but I was more the visible person in that family. we had a very loving relation ship in the family. Things that you and I are concerned with at JBI, violence and neglect, that wasn’t a problem.
we had a very upper middle‑class life‑style, nice homes in New Jersey, still had a home up in Vermont, did a lot of things with the kids. I’m also a workaholic. I was atoning for my sins by working my ass off. There was never any let up in my life and I wasn’t one for taking vacations much. we had a very close relationship, the kids and I did. They were very supportive of me when I got into trouble. They were very mystified as to what was going on. we’ve had that opportunity for all of us to sit down and talk about the past, and I had the opportunity of sharing with them my version of what was going on…We are a much closer family now than before. The oldest of the four kids, Walter, who is 37 was the one that was most effected by what went on in the family and it was only two years ago after his mother and I had been divorced for 21 years that he was able to tell me how pissed off he was at me and her because of our actions. What that had done to him Tom, was that he was unable to say to me that he thought I was a screaming asshole (laughter) because that would take away the love he had for me. …The other 3 kids said what a changed person he was, much easier to get along with. Out of all of this sort of mixed up stuff I think we all sort of put it back together, the passion, everybody has pretty much come out a winner.
Their mother has had more problems with, ah, I think her resentments she hung on to them for a much longer period of time than I did. Although Marge and I get along pretty good now, go to family functions together, there’s that reserve on her part…and then my work, my performance also began to suffer. And the home office didn’t know what was going on. Their answer was to take the country boy and send him back to Portland. You and I know that as a geographical tour. I just ran with a different group of people, I didn’t change. Things began to escalate faster and then I eventually got divorced up here. (pause).
Tom: Looking back, did you get a sense the company was trying to protect you?
Bud: Well they were doing the best job they could. They didn’t ask the right questions. I didn’t have the ability or willingness to tell them what was going on. In analyzing it, it wasn’t very hard to figure out what was going on…You sort of protected people from that. New York people didn’t call up Hartford and say “this guy is in trouble down here, protect him from those people”, and when it finally does get to the home office, you’ve pretty much lost the ball game. I couldn’t stand the thought of getting fired, so I quit, with a faked up reason that I wanted to see another side of something or other.
I left Aetna in ’69. After 22 years I resigned without another job. I had a lot of friends here, eventually got a job, a decrease in pay as a manager of a brokerage firm, three years I was with them, new job, new wife, new hope, never changed the habits though really, continued to drink, made no connection with what was happening with the alcohol, and did a tremendous job with this new company.
Wife and kids had gone back to Missouri~after a year they came back here, couldn’t stand it out there. My daughter lived with me for awhile, they eventually bought a place in Falmouth. I continued to go on down hill. Then I did get fired and it got real bad, it was just a matter of waiting for it to fall. That was in ’72, I lasted three months I think, I didn’t have any money.
In February ’73 I went into the V.A. hospital. It was there that I found out what the hell was going on, I made that connection. And I like a challenge, and was faced with the ultimate one, you either get it together or you won’t be around.
…Alcohol abuse crept up on me so gradually. I had such a strong psychic denial of any problem, and iron physical constitution that I did not acknowledge, even when bad things began to happen. I can remember that first day when I met Dr. D’Angelo. we sat down, and I though before I went into see him how I was going to present myself. I was going to put my best forward (laughter). When he said to me, “Mr. Burke, tell me about yourself.” And I told him all the good things, oh yea I’ve got a few problems here and there, few marital problems, divorce, bad second marriage and some job problems and I down played any reference to the alcohol abuse. And when I got done with my presentation to him, he said, “well Mr. Burke, you know I’m not getting a picture here of any alcohol abuse.” And I can remember thinking Tom, Jesus Christ if I’m not an alcoholic then I must be crazy. I can also remember when we parted company in that patient doctor relationship 6 weeks later he said “well Bud, I know and hopefully you know that alcohol has played a bigger part in your life then you were willing or able to admit.”
When you talk about transitions in your life certainly for me at this age of 51, that was key period in my life.
accepted myself as being able to be less than perfect…
…That was a tremendous burden lifted, accepting myself was the biggest transition in my life and it came rather late in life.
Tom: How was you life different after that?
Bud: Well I think I was much easier to get along with. There was more of~genuine quality to me, not so much of a show quality and I was able to be more open. (pause) For me it made sense to me not to be anonymous, but to be very open. And I was willing to share that with people. That’s made a tremendous difference in my relationship with people. And I think it’s helped other people too.
Just as I share with you and a lot of other people just who I am and what I am, that also gives you the opportunity to share with me if you want…
…I don’t divide my life up into so many different compartments. It~s just a before Bedford V.A. hospital and an after Bedford V.A. ‑ so I came back here to Portland at the age of 51. I didn’t have a job. All those people were still skeptical as to whether I was going to make it. It was as though I was starting in first grade all over again. I had that desire to excel again. It was about that time a year after I was out of the hospital, I met Sherring and I only met her because I had a problem with alcohol. I had that thrill I never had the first time around of sitting down with your wife and saying, “well now let’s think about having a
baby.” My first four kids just sort of arrived on schedule, there was no conscious decision on my part that this was what was going on. So there was control in my life in all aspects of it. She had gone through an alcoholic marriage and that came unglued. We had sort of the same value system. We came from the same part of the country. Sherring, in some respects put a lot of credence on the outward trappings of life, and those were the important things…The things she had put a lot of fate in had sort of fallen apart too. Both of us for two years, we went together, lived together, we were able to share a lot of our own personal growth. It became obvious to both of us that that was the way we wanted to continue life. But on a formal basis.
Tom: So then you got married? Bud: Then we got married.
For an old duck like me it was different. Tom: How was that for you?
Bud: It was a hell of a lot of fun (laughter) ‑ There was an excitement about it. When I met her she was 28. The happiest day in her life she remembers she said was when she turned 30. Somehow it seemed a little bit more legitimate being 30 and going with someone in his 50’s. we wanted to have a baby, she wanted to add to her family and I never thought that I would be interested in doing that again but I was.
This time there was a conscious decision that the two of us wanted to have kids. we got married so we could. Our value system, wasn’t quite daring enough to do this without getting married. Then we went through a full marriage ceremony, we dictated our own ceremony to a large extent, a lot of control over what we did.
.But when Sherring and I met, she had a three year old son, who I have effectively been the surrogate father of that boy, Teddie, who is 18. I tell you Tom it is a hell of a lot harder being a step‑parent than I thought it would be. The old saying that blood is thicker than water. I think that’s a reality. I’ve tried to treat the two boys even handedly. Teddie is much different personality than Hiram is. He is more like his mother (laugh) sometimes you have to treat her with kid gloves you know…
…Now Sherring and I can tell each other that, can get mad at each other and can say I don’t like what you’re doing but that doesn’t mean we don’t like each other. I never had that ability. I equated getting mad at somebody, sort of in effect by saying you didn’t like them. My responsibilities are the same as they were thirty years ago…but if I don’t take care of myself I won’t be any good to anyone else. I got to get out there and participate. I want to enjoy with Hiram some of things I’ve enjoyed with his brothers and sisters. So I think this whole family situation again has been a very positive one (pause)
Tom: Talk about your relationship with Hiram and his mother, your new family. He’s ll now?
Bud: Heis ll, he’s such an ego trip for me, it sometimes gets in our way, with Sherring and myself. I suppose in a very real sense that everything that I wanted as a person is poured into Hiram. Much the same fashion my mother did with her two sons. Hiram will continue on my lineage if you will. I don’t put a lot of credence in that but that’s family stuff. The reality of it, hopefully I have the ability to let him go and be his own person too. I don’t want to smother him to death but he’s just a neat little guy. There’s quite a strength to Sherring that I didn’t have with Marge. I think our goals, certainly I know more about my goa~ then before. I didn’t have any goals before. Things just evolved. I mentioned that is of lack of control…
.We each have our own weaknesses. We are careful not ~ ~read on them, cause we could do a number on each other. But we try to nurture each other. When the going gets rough we both don’t get down at the same time. When she’s feeling down I’m able to offer some support. Those are things I don’t think I ever realized in my first marriage. On a social basis you can drop me in the middle of the Waldorf Astoria ballroom and I survive. Neither Sherring or my first wife would be able to handle that, and I wasn’t very sensitive to that especially with Marge. It’s interesting how we treat the two boys. She’s very gentle with Teddie I’m very tough with him. She’s tougher with Hiram than I am. I find that very inte resting. I think that Teddie is, has a hide of an alligator, hard to get though to him at time. But he’s evolved into a very likable young man after several years of very tough times. There was sort of a love‑hate relationship between the two of us and we’ve evolved to getting more off the hate business.
It will be interesting to see what Hiram does with his life. Right now he’s very turned to people especially to older people.
Going back a bit to my life with the Aetna after being away from them for seven years. I got rehired and when they did that I got all the privileges of the prior 22 years restored, vacation, sick benefits. That was a very satisfying thing to have had happen. They all knew what had happened. I kept in touch with my friends all during the time I was flopping around. In effect they said, “we don’t care what happened. Where are you today?” I spent another 7‑8 years with the Aetna before I took early retirement. At that point I was doing a lot of volunteer work here in town. Jackson srook’s people had come to one of the organizations I was president of and they were asking for our support and they said how about coming to work for us. So If youRego needed some bolstering up, mine sure has had it over the last 16 years.
…There’s been these times I’d take one step ahead and two back and learn to sort or just sit on my hands and not do anything foolish.
Tom: What was it like for you to take early retirement after a short period back?
Bud: Yea, that didn’t bother me.
It was a unique opportunity to combine a v~cation and an avocation at a relatively late stage of my life. I was 62, yes 62 to do that sort of thing.
Tom: So that was timing?
Bud: Timing was good. I was in the right place at the right time and I filled a need that JBI had. My credibility in the area was high. My experience was high. The kinds of things that JBI needed, somebody to be a, ah, formal connection between local community and Jackson Brook.
Even though I had done a lot of my screwing up here in Maine, I’d been very open about~,Everybody accepted it, they sa~ the changes that had occurred and nobody was at, everybody was happy for me. I’ve had maximum support from all levels of the Portland community in what I was trying to do. It makes you feel good.
It was exciting when we first opened JBI. I did some minor league counseling, made out the payroll. I like people, I like interviewing people. And I formed that connection between the business community and JBI which is a very crucial piece, because JBI wasn’t an accepted commodity. It surely wasn’t the sort of things alcoholics did, to go to a psychiatric hospital.
I think my credibility was very high even though I had screwed up here in Portland, I was very open aboutit.I made a decision when I came back from the hospital that I was not going to be anonymous. To me it didn’t make any sense and it was easier for me to keep track of what I told people if I just told them the truth.
Tom: So this was a major turning point?
Bud: Yes, in effect…I would tell them about the gap in the resume’. I never got that feeling that I didn’t get a job because of that. It’s had some very interestinq repercussions. I get calls from people that I know. I’ve been able to be honest with them and they say, help.” Lot of job satisfaction. A unique that I have.
“Bud I need some kind of position I’m given a very free reign, although people often say “what is it you do do here Bud?” I don’t have a job description. It’s hard to get some play back, are you doing a good job or a bad job. A lot of the work that I do just doesn’t get reported ‑ its hard sometimes.
You know Tom, I’ve always, ah, gotten a certain amount of thrill out of being able to do difficult things, especially if someone said well you may not make it. I say hell I won’t, I’ll make it. That real stubborn kind of attitudes gradually got replaced with a more enlightened way of looking at things, ah I accept the fact today that all of us have more control over our lives, who we are and how we grow…
.Then we realize, and sometimes it takes a very painful experience to make you aware of that. What is it that causes people to change? If things are going along in pretty good shape you might never change, really change. (pause) Tom: What gives your life meaning and purpose today?
Bud: Well I think that, (pause) First of all, ah, a selfish way of looking at it, first myself. I give myself meaning and purpose. I accept the fact that I must have my house in pretty good order or else nothing else is going to happen, really for those people I care for. So I try to do the maximum I can from a physical point of view, keeping myself in relatively good shape, being a participant not sitting on the sidelines, ah, I do a lot of reading about things say psychological to address that other side of us. I also do a lot of reading on the spiritual side of who we all are, and try to come up with a game plan for me.
The next thing I suppose gives me…(purpose) my ~family is my prime consideration, whereas in the other life the job was more a prime consideration.
I think now that probably those two are on a parallel sort of basis. I get a lot of satisfaction ~Ut of this work I do…It gives me an opportunity to help people with some of the same problems I had. Having gone through so many of these problems we all have to face and having done it personally, I know a lot of the ways to get out of a tight box, and I’m willing to share those with people. (pause)
Tom: You had mentioned earlier about some advice you’d give to a younger generation. What kind of things would you offer? sud: …say well like starting with Hiram, ah, (pause) try to teach him to ah, one thing I said to him and obviously he is a very important part of my life, “you know Hiram there are two things I want you to remember, that will make you a better person. Always say thank you to people and have the ability to say sorry if you hurt somebody.” If you keep those two things in mind you know, I think its invaluable. And I see that in him…So I think those are important building blocks for him to build on. I think he’s going to turn into a great husband. I hope somebody appreciates him.
Heck, I’d say that to most generations It’s so difficult to be honest with yourself…to recognize that you don’t have to be perfect.
Tom: So would you say that your definition of success has changed for you in the last 15 years?
Bud: Ah, I think I’ve always had that, that definition has always been the way I’ve operated from a business point of view .
…On a personal level its turned more inward. From the time I started in on this selling game, I’ve always approached things on the basis of, oh perhaps damning your competition, with faint praise, if you will, acknowledging them. They have some good points, we have some. I think ours are better and emphasizing the positive side of things. There’s always been a part of who I am, a necessity to be on an intellectual level, to be honest.
.When your talking about honesty , my involvement with alconol made it impossible for me on a personal level to be honest with myself. Develop a value system you’re comfortable with, that makes sense to you, an ethical code of conduct that you believe in. Keep in mind the important thing is making yourself happy…in a good healthy nurturing way…don’t spend as much time as I did trying to please other people. Somebody said, I think it was Vern Johnson, that, the person who goes down the path of alcoholism violates their value system. That’s a hallmark of who an alcoholic is. Whatever your value system is~get’sshot out of the saddle, certainly mine did.
I began to do those things that you were brought up believing you shouldn’t do, and that created a kind of pain that was hard for me to deal with. More of a psychic pain than physical. I think what happens is you want to escape from that pain and alcohol certainly has that ability to do that. Never solves anything. You just get further down the road. I think that the sort of trap that I got caught in. When I was younger, a mixture of that need to do something but also an inability to be honest about what was going on. I was on a tread mill going faster and faster and falling further and further behind and couldn’t get off the damn thing either. For me that was a very good definition of where I was in my life, and finally I got knocked off. That was bottom. You know at the VA hospital, I wasn’t too happy with the first few days down there, but when I really found out and accepted what was going on, it was one of those really great growth periods for me. Here was the opportunity to get well, and I bought it, hook, line and sinker, and its worked out. (long pause)
Tom: Anything you would like to add?
Bud: I see so many of my friends and contemporaries, in effect they’ve given up on themselves. A lot of people from a job point of view, or a financial point of view, a lot of my friends who were very successful…when I stop in to see these friends of mine we sit down and we talk about what’s going on in their life, what’s going on in my life, ah, so different than what it was when I was in New York city. These people, when they get into trouble, whatever the trouble is from them, the only way out for them is to work harder, make more money.
You can’t go out in your back yard in West Hartford and raise a pig, for instance, that’s against the rules. There are so many more options that are available to me, ah, the way my life is now, the way Sherring and I lead our lives together. we try to go back to the basic values in life, that are important to us, that gives us satisfaction. A desire to be self sufficient in many ways, having a garden, raising pigs and chickens, sort of comes from my farm background. My mother might say you’ve turned into a farmer after all. We just built a barn up there, and we’ve got a horse you know.
I remember some of my New York friends came up to a party we have every year and I was raising pigs up there…they are very clean, great pets, very social animals and I got out there in the pen with these pigs, was down on my hands and knees, you know scratching them on their stomach and they just roll over and grunt and I was talking with them and all and one of my very sophisticated New York friends said, “would you look at that guy. Can you imagine he ever sold insurance to General Foods in New York city.” (laughter)
The interesting thing is that most of these people wished, I think, they’d had that opportunity of doing what I’m doing. so I guess I can say I’m happy that I am where I am, in spite of all the bumps and waves that I’ve caused for myself. Things look good. There finally comes a point in your life that all that accomplishment sort of stuff doesn’t make all that difference. That is, if you’re happy with yourself and you accept yourself and ah, that’s the important thing. You can…realize everybody is struggling, nobody’s got it made even though they like to present themselves that way.
…or that life is a bowl of cherries when often its like a barrel of prune pits. (long pause)
I would like to think that is the kind of journey I am on and have been on for the past 15 years, although I wouldn’t suggest anyone go down the path I went down with substance abuse in order to reach the point I was 16 years ago…for me that was the beginning of wisdom if you will. I learned that there was an answer to the problems that I had.
Bud and I met five years ago while I was interviewing for a job at Jackson Brook. I was immediately impressed by his level of disclosure and his ability to share with others. It was late in the day on a friday. We spent two and one‑half hours together and he not only gave me the complete hospital tour but shared with me his recovery from alcoholism, the joys of his new family~and the optimism, hope and dreams for his continued involvememt with human resources at JBI.
When I eventually came to work there two years later, Bud was instrumental in helping me come to terms with and accept help for my addictions. This personal involvement in his life’s journey has been enriching and has revealed several themes. As his story unfolds one theme that is recurring throughout is the perception of himself as a “late bloomer”. He communicate the sense that he has made these transitions not without some struggles and delays. He relates having difficulty in grade school and again later in college before settling down and making the honor role, feeling he was well into his forties before he “felt like an adult”, and sensing the fear of ” not making it in our profession by the time we were thirty‑five”. I got the impression that like a tulip that has been sheltered fromm the cold rains of April, Bud’s life would burst forth again with blossoms as the warm sun’s rays emerged in May. The biggest season of his life was to culminate in rehabilitation and recovery.
He identifies other significant turning points in his life where decisions seemed to be made for him. He had done many of the things in life that were expected of him without much thought of options or choice. College, the Aircorp, marriage, family and career had “just evolved’l. A sense of destiny was unfolding with out his permission.
Another key to Bud Burke is the sense of self sufficiency instilled early in life and an adjacent inclination toward perfection, traits that had been passed from his parents. He communicates conflict between perfectionism and altruism, and a pervasive underlying lack of control of his journey. “My emotional growth was well behind my physical growth”. ~or him life is a series of challenges and he shared with me that by outward appearances his life seemed to be on track and moving as expected, while privately there were fears and doubts that perhaps he could not live up to t~e expectations that were placed on him.
They say that alcohol is the great remover. It seems that for Bud it removed his family, job and eventually self. “If I’m not an alcoholic, then I must be crazy”, he remembers saying as he reflects on that first day in the hospital. This was a beginning of a realization that he was not in control of many of the aspects of his life that he had so strived to be in control of and that for him the simple personal choice had manifest itself in an addiction to alcohol. It is at this elemental level that I have come to so closely identify with him.
There remains for Bud today a strong sense of challenge to life. ~he difference in his ability to relinquish control, to accept being less then perfect, and to shift the emphasis ~rom outside accomplishments as self serving, to happiness with self is based on this transformation. He speaks of an attitude of accep tance of life on life’s terms, a return to spiritual thought and reflection, and a renewed repect for his personal value system.
~ his shift from an emphasis on accomplishment to one of happinessiin the seeking of quality relationships with family, a p~rsuit of altruistic vocational goals, and the sharing of oneself with others in recovery, is reminescent of Erikson’s later Stages of Identity Development. It’s as if in his transformational journey and recovery there has been a migration from Isolation to Intimacy of family, from Stagnation to Generativity(working with others in recovery), with an emerging sense of Integrity or personal reconciliation(~oevinger’s Integration), an acceptance of self and one’s reemerging value systems.
For Bud, wisdom has been an acquisition of knowledge of self, an acceptance of his limitations, his mortality if you will.
A wise man never loses anything if he has himself.