David Peterson, 60, is a recovering alcoholic who obtained his nursing degree.

CHIPPEWA FALLS − David Peterson might not be the typical addiction and recovery nurse.

The L.E. Phillips-Libertas Treatment Center colleague rides to work on his Harley motorcycle and considers himself a little rough around the edges.

That’s because David never dreamed of becoming a registered nurse. For 30 years he owned and operated his own construction business.

Peterson also never dreamed of becoming an alcoholic. Among many things, his faith got him through as he began recovery in 1998. When he landed a job at the treatment center nearly 18 years later, after obtaining his nursing degree, working for HSHS St. Joseph’s and Sacred Heart hospitals spoke to him because of its mission- and faith-based culture.

“The mission statement is what hooked me to come and work here,” he said. “Working here is a perfect fit. It’s a miracle, really. It’s been a blessing and it saved my life.”

His journey

In his early 20s, Peterson dabbled in drugs but said they gave him horrible hallucinations. He switched to alcohol, which quickly became his drug of choice.

For 20 years, Peterson, now 60, struggled with his addiction and with life. His wife left. His personal relationships were imploding. And then he was incarcerated for his behavior.

“My drinking addiction took over my life,” he said. “I felt stuck – helpless.

“I got down on my knees and said, ‘God, I need help. I don’t know what to do or where to turn.”

After a few relapses, he remained sober. Carpentry took a back seat to his passion of helping people who are where he used to be. He went back to school in hopes of becoming an addictions counselor, but was swayed to shift his focus to nursing to help people through detox.

“I’ve been a blue collar carpenter for all my life. I’m not that smart, but I know people, I know the streets and I know addicts,” he said.

He was “in shock” when he passed his board exams, but it spurred him to sell his house and move to the Chippewa Valley with his eye on the prize. He wanted a job at L.E. Phillips-Libertas Treatment Center and the treatment center wanted him.

“As someone in recovery, Dave brings an understanding in his work as a registered nurse that cannot be taught,” said June Pikulski, nurse manager at the treatment center – a service of HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital. “Dave is able to connect with the patients as someone who is trustworthy and inspirational because he has gone through many of the same things that they are going through. He gives them hope and offers emotional support while delivering excellent evidence based nursing.”

Moving forward

David landed the nursing job three years ago, but he was a bit out of his element – never having been an employee of someone else’s before. However, his passion for the work and his faith in the Sisters’ mission gives him a sense of calm in the chaos.

“I’m so passionate about what we do,” he said of the treatment center.

Peterson said being a recovering addict gives him credibility with patients, and it also shows them that there can be a future without drugs and alcohol. He’s a living example.

“I tell them I’m an addict and that breaks down some of the barriers,” he said. You develop a rapport and there’s that instant bond. I know where they’re coming from.”

Being successful in his recovery has given Peterson a vehicle to help people, he said. “I see pain, hurt and hopeless people, and I get to tell them there is a way out. There is hope.

“I’m honored to be here. I was made for this job,” he said.

Alyssa Van Duyse is a marketing specialist with HSHS St. Joseph’s and Sacred Heart hospitals.