Ron Golden entered the decade flying high. He had a nearly six-figure income as a collections agency supervisor. A wife and two kids. A nice house in Orchard Park and two cars in the driveway. But he couldn’t kick a painkiller addiction that started a few years earlier after a car crash. “The drugs were controlling me,” he said. “That was my life. I went from Lortabs to OxyContins to Opanas. Once I was doing OxyContins and opanas, that was it.”
By 2012, the job, cars and marriage were gone. Golden fell into a life more reminiscent of his late teens, when he ran the streets of his East Side neighborhood using and selling drugs. His arrest in front of his 10-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son last year – having a Suboxone tablet outside his prescription bottle – set him straight. Then came rehab with Cazenovia Recovery Systems, where Golden, 41, rekindled the love he had in his younger days cooking for his siblings. It became his anchor during a six-month inpatient stay at Unity House. He now looks to go to culinary school as he continues his recovery in the Beacon Center independent living program.
Q. You spent six months at as a resident at Unity House. What was that like?
I didn’t know there were programs like this to help me, that there was someone there to help me. If I did, I would have jumped on the wagon real quick a long time ago.
Q. How did you get involved with cooking at Unity House?
The first day I was there, I looked at the kitchen. Kitchens are beautiful to me. Antonio Person runs the kitchen there. He buys the food. He asked, ‘Do you know how to cook?’ I said, ‘Yeah but I’m kind of nervous. There’s 22 guys here.’ The first morning I had to cook there were two guys for breakfast. I did sunnyside-up eggs, scrambled eggs, French toast, bacon, sausage. The week after that, the kitchen was packed. All the guys showed up. We had a schedule but it got to where Antonio was letting me cook whenever I wanted to cook.
Q. How did the Food Bank of Western New York help?
They would come in and show us quick and healthy ways to make meals. We have a lot of meetings we have to go to and it would be stressful sometimes. There would be days where they would call me Mr. Reliable because I would do breakfast, lunch and dinner. I still would be able to go to my meetings, too.
Q. What were you cooking?
Rice dishes, chicken rice dishes. My favorite is chicken Parmesan. You’ve got to make homemade.
Q. What other healthy tips did they give you?
Try not to cook with too much butter, too much oil. Mix beans with rice. We had a couple of vegetarians in the house, so we learned to cook for them, too. We used a lot of vegetables and a lot of fruits. The Food Bank gave us food, too. They’d give us chicken, fruits, breads.
Q. What were your favorite dishes to cook?
Chicken parm or spaghetti parm, with sauce on the side. I make different sauces. I married a Sicilian women and they like the sweet sauce, so I had to learn to make the sweet sauce. I also make basil sauce.
Q. Your favorite dishes to eat?
Golumpki with a side of mashed potatoes, perogies, and liver and onions. My dad was German-Irish and my mother was Polish.
Q. The cooking helped with rehab?
It’s my passion. I wanted to stay in that kitchen. Now that I’m in independent living, I’m cooking for me and my roommate. To see the smile on their faces makes me happy, and just to bring somebody into the kitchen with me and teach them something is great.
Q. You’ve been clean about eight months. How has the experience changed you and better prepared you for the future?
It will help me find a job I want to do. When you’re doing something you like, you’re not working at all. I want to have some land. I want grandchildren. It helps me have confidence in myself, be able to talk to somebody. I’m not that kid that somebody put down their whole life. I don’t need a drug to make me feel confident.
Q. What comes next?
The SCOPE program, where you work for a year and they put money away so you can have your own apartment. I want to get to culinary school – that’s my dream – and see what my hours can be so I can squeeze a job in there.
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon