SHERIDAN — During his last several years of binge drinking, Rick Gilmore blacked out every night. One of those nights, he recalled waking up to find a note in his handwriting next to his computer.
“Rick, do you remember this?” the note read.
“That scared me, and that had something to do with me finally getting sober,” Gilmore said. “I felt like I was going to do some permanent damage.”
Gilmore is one of many people who have recovered from alcoholism to lead a healthier life. According to Alcoholics Anonymous, 36 percent of its members have been sober for at least 10 years.
After a wild, wandering past, Gilmore has been happily married for about four years and has lived in Sheridan since 2015. His marriage and love of music have anchored him through sobriety. Gilmore has been sober for 13 years and has more recently helped his wife’s son overcome similar struggles.
Gilmore’s path to Sheridan was anything but straightforward. His journey involved hitchhiking across part of the country as a teenager, running for U.S. Congress, performing as a blues musician in California, battling alcoholism and starting his own business.
Gilmore’s parents separated when he was young and eventually, Gilmore moved with his mother and six siblings to Cowley, about 100 miles west of Sheridan.
In middle school, Gilmore swiped small bottles of liquor from his stepfather’s bar. That was the beginning of his drinking, which became far worse later in his life.
“I was involved with liquor in a bad way at the early age of 14,” Gilmore said. “The first time I got drunk, I blacked out. I should’ve known from the beginning that liquor and I weren’t going to match.”
Right before Gilmore’s senior year of high school began, his mother died from surgery complications. After her death, the family splintered and never recovered.
Afterward, Gilmore lived in California, where he often played the blues harp and embraced the hard-drinking blues environment.
Gilmore’s alcoholism eventually spiralled out of control. He developed a reputation as difficult to work with, then bounced around California and moved onto worse and worse jobs.
Partly due to the note he wrote himself, Gilmore eventually checked himself into a rehabilitation center in the summer of 2004, where he spent 30 days working to overcome his addiction.
“(I was) tired of being lonely, unhappy, broke, unsure of my future, depressed, all those things,” Gilmore said. “Now, I am none of those things.”
After three decades of binge drinking, Gilmore said it initially felt weird being sober. He couldn’t concentrate at work and sometimes got lost driving home.
To maintain sobriety, he attended AA meetings regularly and kept telling himself to take everything one day at a time.
“There was no way I could look in the future and see myself not drinking for more than 24 hours,” Gilmore said. “If I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to drink anymore,’ it seemed like I was looking into a huge, dark abyss. It was impossible. It would make me feel tense and very anxious. But if I said to myself, ‘All I’ve gotta do is get to my pillow tonight sober and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow,’ I could do that.”
Less than a year into his sobriety, Gilmore moved to Denver, where he met his now-wife Janet Twohey. Their first date took place over dinner. After the meal, they visited a bookstore. While wandering the stacks, Twohey mentioned she was a recovering alcoholic. Gilmore said he was, too, and an instant connection formed.
Now, Gilmore has been sober for 13 years and his wife hasn’t had a drink for 15 years. However, Twohey emphasized that extended sobriety doesn’t mean she or Gilmore have all the answers for others’ battles with alcohol.
Twohey has two sons from a previous marriage, one of whom, Mark Peacock, has lived in Sheridan for about a year-and-a-half.
Peacock has had his own struggles with substance abuse, which is not uncommon. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, children of alcoholics are about four times more likely than the general population to develop alcohol problems.
Peacock met Gilmore about a decade ago. They didn’t get along initially, but Peacock now considers Gilmore a friend, mentor and confidante. Music helped create an initial connection, which deepened a couple years ago when Peacock began addressing his substance abuse.
In addition to his mother’s support, Peacock said Gilmore’s background and outside perspective have aided his journey toward sobriety.
Peacock also admires the partnership between Gilmore and Twohey, which has helped them hold each other accountable and enjoy life.
“They have a really, really terrific relationship,” Peacock said. “It’s kind of a standard for me.”
Gilmore and Twohey didn’t know many people when they moved to Sheridan but have made friends through work and the local music community. They will likely stay in the area long term.
“I love it here,” Gilmore said. “I love the mountains. I love the people. This is my home. I’m going to keep doing it for a long time.”
Gilmore remains connected to the music community. For the past five years, he has owned Memphis Blues Amps, an online blues harp business he operates from home. He is also president of the Wyoming Blues & Jazz Society.
While Gilmore’s past included blues and addiction, his love for music has brought him purpose in his career and helped create a bond with family facing similar struggles.