HUNTINGTON - Looking around his new office as publisher of "Herd Insider" at Kindred Communications, 50-year-old Huntingtonian Greg Perry is very aware it all shouldn't be happening.
Perry founded "Herd Insider" in 1998 with the hopes of creating the "Sports Illustrated" of Marshall University sports. In 2010, alcohol consumed his life and forced him to leave the magazine.
"This has to be a part of the story because it is the story," Perry said. "I had rental property here in town, and all the pressures of life anybody has. Everything just came to a crescendo. Alcohol became the answer. I drank like a normal person for 20-some years until one day I didn't. Once you cross that line you can never, ever go back. You think you can, but you can't. My life started to fall apart."
Perry graduated from Marshall and started working as a professional photographer in Eastern Kentucky immediately after. He spent time as a freelance photographer in Louisville, and one of his clients was "Cats Pause" magazine, for the University of Kentucky sports. It was the owner of "Cats Pause" that suggested Perry start a similar magazine for Marshall fans.
"So I moved here, borrowed a little bit of money - actually we did the loan with First Sentry Bank before First Sentry existed," Perry said. "Before the building was built over there on 8th Street, it used to be Dwight's Drive-in. It was a drive-in restaurant, a lot like Sonic these days. We did the first loan documents in the old Dwight's Drive-in in a booth."
Perry had to teach himself how to design the magazine. The magazine struggled the first few years, but Perry said he thought it was something Marshall fans deserved.
"I always wanted Marshall fans to have a 'Sports Illustrated' of their own," he said. "Great photographs, just highlighting what this program is and what it does."
In 2002, Perry sold the magazine to Mike Kirtner and Kindred Communications.
"In a company like this, you have sales people, and you have all the things a one-man band didn't have," Perry said. "Prior to Kindred, it was basically just me and my parents going to pick these things up at the newspaper when they were printed and putting them in the mail, and doing that every Tuesday."
Perry left the magazine in 2012.
Before, Perry said he could drink like everyone else - two or three drinks and he was able to stop.
"It's a very subtle thing the way it creeps up on you," he said. "You don't even realize it's happening. You just start drinking a little bit more or a little bit earlier or a little bit more frequently and then all of a sudden one day you wake up and if you don't get something by 8 or 9 in the morning, you start getting sick. Then it's 'Groundhog Day.' You wake up the next morning, and again. The next day, again. Every day you wake up and you go, again. Day after day. That's the hell of it. It's a living hell. Once you cross that line you can never go back. And nobody tells you when you cross that line."
His life began to fall apart - professionally, financially and personally. The final blow was when his wife and daughter left.
"They say hitting bottom is when the next thing you are about to lose is more important than the alcohol," he said. "Mine was when my wife and my daughter left. They said, 'We can't take this anymore.' I am nothing without my wife and daughter. They are my life. That's when I learned about what is now Recovery Point of Huntington."
Perry was on his way back from visiting a treatment facility in Arizona when he heard a 30-second ad for Recovery Point, then called the Healing Place.
"I had never heard of it before, and I listened to that radio station all day, every day and I had never heard of this place," he said.
In visiting the Healing Place, he found peers in recovery.
"It seemed to be working for them, so I wanted it to work for me," he said. "I had to completely drop my entire life. This job, which was one of the greatest things in my life, I had to drop my relationships; I had to drop everything in order to figure out why I could not stop drinking."
Perry said there is a crushing of an ego that needs to occur in order to do that, and the ego does not want to be crushed.
After a few weeks of showing up to show how much he wanted it, he got a bed.
"I can tell you for a fact the education I got at the Healing Place is a master's degree level in me, and I got it in seven months and 10 days," he said. "I'm fully armed with the facts about myself today. That opened up this whole new world of recovery."
Finding his next step
After graduating from the Healing Place, Perry then had to figure out his next step.
"What do you do when you wake up one day sober and clear thinking for the first time in your life, but your career does not exist?" he said. "I had to find out where I could put the skills, gifts and talents that I have to work. That was hard. One of my first jobs was working minimum wage. That was hard. You go from a salary publishing a magazine then ten months later making minimum wage. It's very humbling."
Perry eventually ended up working at the Healing Place, and was part of the organization when it changed its name to Recovery Point of West Virginia.
"In some ways, a lot of people think working in recovery makes your recovery better, but it doesn't - it actually makes it worse," he said. "It's still a business. It still has all the pressures. So now the place you found sobriety is trying to take that away from you as a job. I learned a lot of great things that helped me be a professional under stress but also be a person in recovery. It's called boundaries."
One of the boundaries he has now is he doesn't check his email after 7 p.m. When he is at home, he is at home. In general, he practices living in the now.
"Alcoholics have a preoccupation with the future and the past, and I can't do that," he said. "I'm right here today. That's the process of this. It's a different way of looking at life. Thank God I was shown by a lot of other guys. That's called peer-to-peer. That's the flavor that worked for me."
Perry says today he feels useful.
"I remember a few years in my life when I felt useless," he said. "If you've ever felt useless to everybody in your life, you are very grateful when you feel useful and people actually want you to do something. They want me to publish my magazine again. That means the entire world to me because it shows recovery doesn't mean you are limited to going to work at a minimum-wage job and you are condemned to low earnings or low expectations. You can go on and be a professional."
Perry said that turnaround happened very quickly, but not before he had completely let go of the idea he would get to be back with the magazine.
"Once you get to that point you are free, and then you get a call from a guy like Mike Kirtner as you are about to get on a plane to go visit your parents in North Myrtle Beach for a few days," he said. "He said, 'Things have changed. You and I need to talk.'"
After a quick lunch before he got on that plane, he had accepted the offer to come back. He said there was no chance he would have said no.
"I knew if I said no I would never get that opportunity to come back again," Perry said.
Perry said his first question to Kirtner was "How can this benefit Recovery Point?" He said the company is on board with spreading the message of recovery.
There are hundreds if not thousands living in recovery in Huntington, but Perry said if he has to be the one to point to as proof recovery works that's OK because it's his passion.
"That's what it all sums up into," he said. "People can screw up. People can make mistakes. Bad things can happen, and you can recover from that seemingly hopeless mind and state. I've been there. That being said, recovery is ongoing. It's the rest of my life. I've been given my life back."
Perry said, being honest, if he would have continued along his path of drinking, he would probably be dead today. Which is why, as he sits at his new computer redesigning the magazine he founded 18 years ago, all he feels is gratitude.
Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter @TaylorStuckHD.
Name: Greg Perry
Family: Wife, Jennifer; daughter, Julia, 11; stepdaughter, Audrey, 26
Hometown: St. Albans
Education: Bachelor of arts from Marshall University
Hobbies: Shooting, aerial photography/videography
Favorite book: "The Spirituality of Imperfection" by Ernest Kurtz