Four years ago, Rick Wenner took his last hit of meth, and it nearly cost him his daughter, Madison.
At the time, Wenner, now 57, was preparing to get full custody of Madison from his soon-to-be ex-wife, who also struggled with drug addiction and was facing incarceration. To do so, a judge ordered Wenner to do what he feared most a few days after that high: take a drug test. After he failed, the judge threatened to take Madison away unless he could kick the habit that had plagued him for more than a decade.
“I couldn’t do it for myself at that time, so I did it for her,” Wenner said Friday.
With the help of a 12-step community program, Wenner, a Longview resident, stayed clean of drugs and alcohol and kept custody of Madison. On Friday, he celebrated four years sobriety, and he’s completed other milestones as well. As a graduate of Lower Columbia CAP’s job-training program, Wenner found steady work for the first time in years as a cook at Freddy’s Just for the Halibut.
He’s grateful to the people who’ve helped him turn his life around from addiction, but he gives most of the credit to 10-year-old, brown-eyed Madi.
“You just get to a point in the disease when you hate yourself, you don’t like yourself. The only thing that I had to keep my head above water was my daughter,” Wenner said.
After graduating from R.A. Long High School, Wenner joined the U.S. Navy and served stateside on aircraft carriers from 1975 to 1978. He returned home when he got out of the military, uncertain of his next step. He said he considered studying respiratory therapy and getting into the medical field, but he never made much progress on that plan.
He drifted, working odd jobs and partying too much. First it was alcohol, then pot. Wenner eventually graduated to meth. He avoided getting arrested and said he never stole to support his habit, but he knew his life was spiralling out of control.
He has an adult son from a previous relationship, and Madison came as a surprise when he was 48 years old. He said he shudders to think what would have happened if she hadn’t come around, late in his life.
“Realistically, I’d probably be in prison. Or dead,” Wenner said.
He was directed to CAP’s job skills program while seeking state welfare for Madison. He is a graduate of Lower Columbia CAP’s Grounds for Opportunity program, where he learned cooking skills in professional kitchens. Last week, CAP celebrated the one-year anniversary of a downtown Kelso coffee shop, where trainees gain real-world practice to help find jobs in the private sector.
Wenner was hired at Freddy’s in April 2011 and he told the owner, Fred Kamp, all about his past in his first interview. As a single man, he’d picked up some cooking skills, he said, but he learned a lot in the CAP kitchens at the old Broadway campus.
“You got out of it what you put into it,” Wenner said.
More importantly, he said, he gained real work experience after a lengthy gap in his work history, a key step that tends to trip up many job seekers.
Wenner lives with his mother near Willow Grove. He now shares custody of Madi with his ex-wife, and he said their relationship has improved because they both look out for Madison, who will be in the fifth grade at Mint Valley Elementary School this fall.
He and Madison go to church regularly now, and Wenner said he’s content to have a regular routine.
“I keep my life simple. I go to work, go home, I take care of my daughter.”