A Veteran Finds Serenity: Rich Hoppe’s Story
Guest Blog By: Richard Hoppe*
It is a chilly February 23rd at 11:37 p.m. and I am falling in slow motion to my knees. I have been cursing at God for the last rage-filled hour. Despite 11 hours of drinking, I am sober and clear minded. I realize I am dying: mind, body and soul; rotting and decaying from the betrayal of myself. As I make contact with the floor I plead, “Jesus, if you exist show me how to live.”
It wasn’t always this way. In the beginning, I had big dreams and even realized some of them. That was before I received my draft notice at age 18.
In Qui Nhon, Vietnam, I stood at the desk of my commanding officer. He pointed to a pair of boots, rifle, and helmet liner and informed me that I would be replacing him, a forward observer in a bastard artillery outfit connected to the 101st airborne. My life expectancy was now under 7 seconds.
“Welcome to the war,’’ he said.
Six days later, in an overnight barrage of machine guns and mortar assaults, three soldiers lay dead next to me. That scene would play itself out many times over the next year, constantly moving throughout hotspots in ‘Nam and into Cambodia.
When I returned from the war, I had some episodes that helped me understand that something wild inside of me lived: I had untreated PTSD.
I recall that once a fortunate son of a prominent doctor passed me on the street. “Where you been?” he asked. “Haven’t seen you in weeks.” I told him I was in the war. “Nobody missed ya!” was his reply. I had to be taken off him by three men or I would have killed him.
But my true epiphany came in 1988 when I sat at the bedside of my brother who was dying from complications of AIDS. He led me to God over nine months of care and teaching. Over the past quarter century, I have become a husband, father, grandfather, teacher, prison minister and most proudly, the pitcher for the legendary King and His Court barnstorming softball team.
My name is Rich Hoppe, the pitcher and the painter, and I am happy to say I have not had a drink since that chilly February day, 24 years ago. I never miss a day of praying on my knees, writing a letter of thanks to the One I called that night, reading from a litany of spiritual books and mostly being of service. He did for me what no man could do: lifted my madness, rage and loss, and filled my massive hole within. If in any way a veteran is in need of anything I may have, I’m all in: anywhere, anytime.
Vietnam veteran, Richard Hoppe, is author of The Pitcher and The Painter, his true story of finding his way back from addiction, suicidal thoughts, and of the relationship with his brother that taught him that serenity is possible. Rich was the baseball pitcher, his brother Robert the successful painter, and a man who’d found faith. As Robert lay dying of AIDS, he said to his brother Rich, “pitch me a painting every night”. Rich Hoppe took up a paint brush for the first time and became an artist himself. He found his way out of addiction and into a life of helping others. Rich Hoppe tells his story in his book The Pitcher and The Painter, available from lulu.com.
*Guest blog: Each Mind Matters provides a platform for open dialogue and varying perspectives about mental health. The opinions of the author of guest blogs don’t necessarily reflect those of Each Mind Matters. If you have questions or comments about a blog written by a guest writer we encourage you to continue the discussion with the author by contacting the organization listed in the bio.