Dave Archambault is convinced that he was addicted to alcohol and drugs before he was ever introduced to either.
“I personally believe that addiction is a disease, and there are symptoms and signs that show before a person ever takes a drink or anything like that,” Archambault said. “I had some of those signs.”
Growing up in a St. Paul suburb, Archambault described himself as a discontented, ill-behaved kid who was on his own and always getting into trouble. His single mother worked full-time, his father only spent time with him on occasion, and his sister, who was five years his senior, was into more mature things.
“From the very first time I drank alcohol, I was addicted,” he admitted, noting how it started with taking nips of a relative’s drink during a holiday celebration. “I knew right away that I liked the feeling. I liked it so much so that when I was 6 or 7, during holidays, I would sneak into my aunts’ room and drink off her Blackberry Brandy.”
At age 8, life got rough for Archambault. His father was making more of an effort to spend time with him. When he arrived at his house for Easter in April 1981, he was told that his father had just died by suicide.
“It just wrecked me as a kid,” he reflected. “I literally got a 104 temperature. I was utterly devastated.”
Upset about his father’s death, Archambault craved more alcohol. “I used it for a longtime as an excuse” to drink, he added.
Also around age 8, Archambault moved with his mom and sister to a new trailer park. There he and his sister met new friends— and new substances. She was dabbling in marijuana and drinking. Archambault and his friends “popped right in there.”
At age 10, he got caught breaking the law. He and friends had broken into someone’s property.
“My friends took jewelry and I saw three bottles of alcohol on top of the fridge and thought, ‘score’ so I took ‘em,” he said. “The incident got investigated, and I got arrested.”
Archambault was placed in a home for juveniles, and there he sat for about a year until his mom’s insurance ran out.
“Right when I got out, I started up with the same stuff,” he said. “I was smoking pot on a regular basis and drinking as much as I could. I was 11 the first time I tried acid. From ages 10 to 16, I was free for maybe two years.”
As his addiction grew, Archambault’s crimes heightened. Truancy, auto theft, burglary— to name a few.
At age 12, he developed an appetite for cocaine. He also got his first taste of chemical dependency treatment.
“I left there on a behavioral contract, and I was honestly going to stay sober. It was my first attempt at staying sober,” he recalled. “I read my devotion book that morning, but then my friends came over and I was tripping on mushrooms by 1 p.m.”
At age 16, Archambault was certified as an adult and sent to the workhouse. When he left there, he attempted to get a job but created one instead.
“At the same I was using a lot of meth, and I started selling weed just to kind of have money. I was buying at least a couple grams every day, so I thought why not sell it,” he said. “I did that until I was 20 years old.”
Archambault never tried to quit during those years. He fully lived his addiction.
At age 20, Archambault learned he was going to be a father. Shortly thereafter, he was arrested for selling to an undercover agent of a newly formed drug task force. This led to his first stint in prison.
“My son was born that June 23,” he reflects. “I saw him through the glass a couple of times. But that was no type of relationship.”
Prison, Archambault said, wasn’t that bad at first. He added that addicts are good at adapting to different situations. During his sentence, he was moved to various facilities. Toward the end of his sentence, he attended treatment during the day only to get high at night. At one point he decided to give sobriety another try.
“I was staying sober, got a job with the union and was doing good,” said Archambault. “I took the bus to work until I got my license back. I didn’t go to meetings or anything. I just stayed sober. I wanted to do it and thought I could do it on my own, but that was part of my problem for years—I thought I could do it on my own.”
He began stopping at bars on his way home from work. He started smoking pot again. Then cocaine. He again tested positive.
“Basically from 20 to 36 years old, I was incarcerated 12 of those years with new crimes: attempted manufacturing, second degree sales, a bunch of possessions, high-speed chases—and all were drug-related basically,” he said.
There was a span of about 24 months in there that Archambault kept clean.
“But once you use once, everything good goes away and denial comes back. It has to run its course now,” he said. “Once I restarted, I knew it ain’t going to be good … I thought I could do it (stay sober) on my own, and I was wrong.”
Archambault opted for treatment once again and eventually found a sponsor, attended 12-step meetings and read his devotions. He also had a job doing siding. Attending meetings, however, was short-lived.
“While I say I was sober and was not in recovery, I just wasn’t using,” he explained. “I was still a jerk, displaying the behaviors of a person in active addiction and no fun to be around.”
Due to issues with his mother, Archambault’s son—now 10 years old—came to live with him. He also learned that he was about to become father again.
About two years into his abstinence and now a father of two, Archambault fell from the top of a ladder while siding a house. With no insurance and in pain due to the fall, he turned to a friend for some painkillers. His addictions reignited.
“I was getting high, going to work and talking to people who aren’t there,” he said.
Archambault changed jobs, his son went back with his mother and his daughter was now staying with his mother. Social services was part of his life now too, and he was facing more prison time due to check forgery.
Archambault checked himself into treatment. He addressed his medications and underwent another diagnostic assessment. Once he completed the program, he took his mother’s offer to move to Ely—a far cry from the hustle and bustle of the metro area.
Once in Ely, he contacted a man he knew who had been in recovery for 20 or so years. That man made sure Archambault had rides to and from meetings.
“Here I was riding with this guy I had just met, and he listened to my circumstances,” he said. “He asked me how I’m doing, and while I know it’s a common question, it for some reason blew me away that his guy cared how I felt. I asked him to be my sponsor and started working on a 12-step recovery program.”
At age 34, Archambault took another attempt at sobriety. But would it work?
He was in a new community and new environment. He had support, the appropriate programming and was introduced to Transcendental Meditation.
“I did it, and it was like ‘wow, man,’” he said of meditation. “For the first time my brain had shut down in I don’t know how long. So, I started practicing it.”
Adjusting his meds, and weening off them completely, also proved positive. Archambault said the adjustment led to a slowing down of his thought process and eliminated wasting energy. His head was no longer constantly spinning, he added.
While finishing his time in prison, another family petitioned to adopt Archambault’s daughter. He was duped into attending a court hearing and asked to sign away his parental rights.
“I was losing a child,” he said. “I was somewhat sober and in touch with my feelings. I was feeling for the first time…. It was really hard, but I did it.”
What would have likely been a setback had urged him to move his life forward.
“I was tore up at that point. I was really new in recovery, but I now had some coping skills and was dealing with it,” he said. “I was dealing with it pretty well, but it still hurt really bad.”
Three weeks after the hearing, Archambault received a letter from the family explaining that they’d like him in his daughter’s life on the condition that he stay sober and continue on the right path. Today she’s 13, and they spend time together when they can.
Archambault fell in love with Ely and began to establish himself. He found a minimum wage job, kept up with his 12-step program and fished a lot. He eventually enrolled in classes at Vermilion Community College, joining its chemical technician program.
His sister eventually moved to Ely too, but he said he kept his distance knowing they were not good influences on each other. In 2011, she died of an overdose.
As a result of her death, Archambault felt compelled to do more. He turned his sights on becoming a licensed alcohol and drug counselor. While some told him he wouldn’t make it in the field given his criminal history, he took it as a challenge. He also chose to listen to those who supported his drive and cheered him on.
At age 41, Archambault completed the program online and reached out to Range Mental Health Center (RMHC) for an internship. He had to petition the Department of Human Services to set aside a disqualification. Armed with letters of recommendations and support from RMHC, he received a set aside. He also had to pass through the board of Behavioral Health and Therapy (BBHT).
Archambault met with the BBHT in person, telling them he didn’t know right from wrong as a kid and explained how he’s changed his life. With a nod from the BBHT and his licensure, he began his career with RMHC in 2015.
Today, Archambault is the director of RMHC’s Range Treatment Center (RTC), an inpatient program that offers treatment for persons working on recovery from substance use disorders. RTC also houses a short-term, stabilization detox program.
“I work as part of a larger team and we make sure people are getting the best services they can possibly get,” said Archambault, noting he also stays on top of procedures, policies and staffing.
“In the big picture we want everyone who comes through that door to have the best possible chance at recovery. Through education, therapy and counseling, we want to send everyone out that door with the best chance of long-term recovery.”
RMHC CEO Janis Allen has known Archambault since he first started at RTC as an intern. “He has steadily grown into this place of leadership at RTC and risen as an example to others around him in recovery,” she said. “I find his insight, knowledge, steady support and intelligence an integral part of the administrative team at RMHC. I know if I need something to be done in the agency, I can call on him. He is always learning, researching and bringing information to me to improve the recovery environment at RMHC.”
Archambault has also done some teaching in Mesabi Range College’s LADC program.
“He finds pride and accomplishment in helping others learn and work toward becoming licensed alcohol and drug counselors,” Allen confirmed. “RMHC is lucky to have Dave on board, and we appreciate all he brings to the chemical dependency program and Range Mental Health Center.”
The goal of RTC staff is to poise those they serve for long-term recovery. Some have been to RTC multiple times, while others don’t quite know what to make of it when they arrive for the first time.
“We have a pretty good program and curriculum set up to where it doesn’t matter where you are at in treatment. The info we give you is good info, and we can show them that they can be successful doing this if they choose to,” said Archambault.
“Hopefully we can instill a little bit of hope into someone,” he added. “If they have the tiniest bit of hope and are willing to do the work, there is nothing that can stop them.”
Having lived it, he now fully believes in recovery.
“When I started going to the 12-step meetings, I started caring about other humans, which I hadn’t done my entire life,” he said. “All I thought about was me, me, me, me, me.”
He reflects back, stating his father’s death and being misdiagnosed as antisocial with sociopathic tendencies at 10 years old had a lot to do with it.
“In recovery, I really got in touch with my feelings and had empathy for others for the first time,” he said. “I was able to forgive myself for all the stuff I did and able to forgive others for how I thought they were to me, which was mostly my fault anyway. But I want everyone to have this thought: ‘If I can get this, everyone can get this.’”
Addiction, he’s learned, is a chronic disorder— not a personal failure. “I believe there’s a gene in my body somewhere or something in my brain, and I believe this for everybody,” he said. “It’s just the kind of personality I have.IwasdoingasmuchasaIcould. And for a long time, there was nothing more important.”
Now age 46, Archambault is at the helm of a treatment center—a place he had never dreamed he’d be. “I always laugh and pinch myself,” he said. “I’m coming up on 12 years sober this November, and I sometimes drive past Lino Lakes and think about how much of my life I spent there. At the same time, I realize I could go back there any minute.”
Archambault relies on his coping skills and his support system, surrounding himself with people he’s comfortable talking to. He is confident he can wade through the trying moments and has a strong belief in a higher power.
“I just have too much going good in my life,” he said. “I’m married to a great woman. I have a good relationship with my son and the two grandchildren he’s given me. I have other things too that I’m just not willing to give up.”
September was National Recovery Month, a time to reinforce that recovery is real and is possible. Archambault said it’s good to acknowledge and talk about recovery.
“The more that society as a whole looks at individuals in recovery, the better we will be and the more people we can get into treatment,” he said. “Let them know there is a way out of this. Many think they know about the 12-step programs, but they don’t. Part of having that bit of hope in recovery is seeing some other bozo who’s done it, who’s lived it.”
Archambault is proud to be a bozo.
Range Treatment Center is located in the Judge Frank Donovan Building at 626 13th St. S. in Virginia. For admission/referral information or for information regarding outpatient chemical dependency counseling, call 218-741-9120. In times of crisis, call RMHC’s Mobile Crisis hotline at 218-288-2100.
Kelly Grinsteinner lives in Hibbing. She is the communications and marketing specialist for Range Mental Health Center. She can be reached at email@example.com or 218-749-2881, ext. 1249.