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Older Addicts Face Uncertain Twilight

"It was the right time," Butler said one morning, a book about "the pursuit of happiness" on the restaurant table next to his Marlboros. "I needed to travel all those little side roads and ravines. I just wish the right time would have happened earlier."

His decades of addictions -- of crack, scratch lottery cards, bowling, women -- cost him four marriages and estranged him from his three children and 11 siblings.


Addiction cost Butler four marriages and estranged him from his family. (Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)

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Seniors

Butler grew up in a large family in which there was a lot of drinking, violence and transience. "We'd stay somewhere as long as people could tolerate us," he said.

He joined the Navy, where he became a health worker, giving sailors information about alcohol and drugs. He smoked pot for the first time at 32 at a port in Africa, after a sailor challenged his lectures by noting that Butler had never tried drugs. "I wasn't going to accept that," he said, shaking his head at what identifies now as deep insecurity and anger.

After the Navy, Butler drifted through Ohio and Texas before winding up in the Fredericksburg area, where he was offered crack in 1991 by a man who was always accompanied by attractive women. In the three years before his arrest, he said, he smoked crack every day.

Next month, Butler and Gulick are set to leave drug court for an uncertain future. Both are optimistic.

Before a recent session, Gulick was elated over what he said was a recent milestone; he had called his son for the first time in years, he said, and planned to see him over the holidays. But David Gulick, 32, of King George, Va., said he hadn't received any message from his dad. "But I'd be more than happy to talk to him," he said. "Everyone makes mistakes."

Butler was excited about plans to expand his carpentry business. Despite two heart attacks, he works seven days a week. His goal, he said, "is to get clean to the point that I can live without fear of falling back in."

With the zeal of a convert, he tells his younger peers: "Look at me, I've missed 62 years."

A 19-year-old group member said his sermons are "annoying" -- but she's listening.

"That's not going to be me," said the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I wouldn't be alive if I'm still using at that age."


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