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Connections Winter 2013

A memoir of drinking, drugs, friendship, and a fateful few days at Blake Recovery Center™.

As a composer of chamber music, a trained concert pianist, a church organist and a veteran faculty member at Princeton’s Westminster Conservatory, one might expect the silver-haired artist to be attuned to those emotional highs and lows. What might not be expected is that he’d refer to himself as a “boozehound.”

A boozehound is exactly what Eric Houghton had become by the time he reached middle age—one who drove a battered “booze-mobile” stocked with controlled substances; who raided his home equity to buy cocaine and Xanax; who was exiled from the family home to crash with two fellow “booze brothers” in Pennsylvania.

Eric calls it all, “one wild and crazy experience.” Not some prolonged bender, but what came after a life-changing seven days spent as a patient at Blake Recovery Center™.

It was April of 2010 when Eric—fresh from driving his car into a telephone pole and taking a “header” onto the pavement—arrived at the Carrier campus at the insistence of his wife and friends. That week at Blake would become the most important of his life; a credit as much to “the counselors, nurses, doctors who all had their part in the process,” as it was to a couple of characters placed together with him by fate—Ebby, a habitual drunk driver, and Mike, an Elvis-like Xanax abuser described by Eric as “more focused… just crazy. I was able to attach to him.”

Ebby and Mike would become Eric’s lifelines through a process about which he says, “I woke up and I was alive in a way that I hadn’t been in years.” At Blake, Houghton would be thrust into the position of running an AA meeting (“I told my story for the first time…it was an important night in my life”), and would engage in activities that included writing little personal poems words that would play a significant part on the road ahead. Upon returning to the Ewing, NJ home he shares with his wife and two youngest children (his oldest daughter resides in North Carolina), Houghton set out to channel what he’d learned and experienced into a form that would best convey his story. Getting busy at both the piano and computer keyboards, he spent months putting his thoughts to music and continued work on a memoir that would come to be known as Boozehound! Breaking a 30 Year Obsession.

Dedicated to his wife Carol (“you extended your hand one more time, and I took it”), Boozehound is a tale that begins at “the end”—that fateful final weekend of non-stop binge drinking, reckless Eric Houghton composes a memoir of drinking, drugs, friendship, and a fateful few days at Blake Recovery Center™. As a composer of chamber music, a trained concert pianist, a church organist and a veteran faculty member at Princeton’s Westminster Conservatory, one might expect the silver-haired artist to be attuned to those emotional highs and lows. What might not be expected is that he’d refer to himself as a “boozehound.” A boozehound is exactly what Eric Houghton had become by the time he reached middle age—one who drove a battered “booze-mobile” stocked with controlled substances; who raided his home equity to buy cocaine and Xanax; who was exiled from the family home to crash with two fellow “booze brothers” in Pennsylvania. 4 drug use, hospital visits, and irresponsible behavior. Writing in a conversational style that’s free of clinical language or preachiness, Houghton shares the deep details of his stay at Carrier, with an emphasis on the bonding between the three roommates and of the 30-year drinking career that began as a teen growing up in the isolated shore community of Harvey Cedars on Long Beach Island.

Rejected by several major publishing houses, the book saw traditional publication in January 2013 from My Green Publisher LLC, and has since become available in paperback and Kindle edition from Amazon and other major online sites.

Despite the universal, everyman tone of his writing, Eric Houghton isn’t just any guy on the next barstool. He’s an extraordinary artist, as adept at channeling his pain, hope, fears and triumphs onto the printed page as he is at setting it all to music. In 2012, he premiered an original Musical Program of Recovery at Westminster Choir College’s Bristol Chapel, inspired by his experiences before and during his stay at Carrier. The first part, a Sonata for clarinet and piano entitled “Recovery,” is organized around the themes of powerlessness, loss, acceptance and hope. The second part, a set of five anonymous songs that includes “Booze Brother,” features lyrics adapted from the poems that he and his fellow addicts put down to paper.

A certain degree of success has come Houghton’s way from the experience. Both the book and a CD of the concert have been well received; “Recovery” has been presented to live audiences four times and counting, and a writer friend on the West Coast is hard at work on a screenplay adaptation of Boozehound. Even so, all that forward motion wasn’t enough to stop Eric from falling into a three-week relapse, after more than three years of “terrific sobriety”—a setback about which he observes, “sometimes it’s the good times that drive people to drink.”

“I’m an alcoholic, number one…I know I can never control alcohol. I have to constantly remember that,” maintains Houghton, who was encouraged to share his story by Carrier CEO, Donald Parker. “I got a terrific education at Carrier, and it’s helped me deal with life as it happens…it’s a cliché, you know, one day at a time, but it’s true.”