Addict misses son's birth to re-enter treatment 'Hardest decision' for Frederick man

July 19, 1993|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Staff Writer

Roby Lewis "Chip" Shipley Jr. gave up the opportunity to watch the birth of his son in favor of beginning a new life of his own.

He checked into an addiction treatment program at the Shoemaker House in Westminster roughly 45 minutes before the birth of Garrett ended Lisa Lavitt's 28-hour labor.

"That was the hardest decision I ever had to make," said Mr. Shipley, 29, a recovering alcohol and drug addict who now lives in Frederick. "I did not want to leave.

"I remember at the hospital, when I was thinking about leaving, my grandmother said, 'Go ahead and make yourself well,' " Mr. Shipley said.

"I realized that was the most important thing I could do for both of them," said Mr. Shipley, referring to Ms. Lavitt, his fiancee, and the child.

Although Mr. Shipley said Garrett's birth was a nudge toward rehabilitation, his wake-up call really had come a few months earlier.

On April 27 -- two weeks after he quit an addiction treatment program at the Maryland Counseling Center in Frederick -- Mr. Shipley was arrested on his fourth driving-while-intoxicated charge in 10 months.

The first three DWI arrests came between June 24 and July 15, 1992, two in Carroll County and one in Frederick County.

"I couldn't believe it, but it didn't stop me," Mr. Shipley said softly. "I was still drinking and using [drugs] and sneaking out doing what I wasn't supposed to."

Last Tuesday, Carroll County Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. convicted Mr. Shipley in the two Carroll cases. The judge suspended a one-year sentence to the Carroll County Detention Center in one case and placed Mr. Shipley on five years of probation in the other.

The cases in Frederick County are scheduled for trial today.

Mr. Shipley said he was arrested on the first DWI charge after he was stopped for speeding on Interstate 70 near New Market.

About a week later, he was arrested on a DWI charge after he was stopped for speeding again on Main Street in Mount Airy.

His third DWI arrest came two weeks later on Maryland Route 27 as he was going home from a carnival. Driving 95 mph in a 55-mph zone, he saw a police car behind him. He pulled his car off the road, jumped out and ran through woods to a friend's home. Police arrested him after his friend brought him back to his car.

"It didn't take them long to figure out I had been drinking," he said.

His last arrest, in Frederick on a charge of driving the wrong way on a one-way street, made him decide he needed help, Mr. Shipley said.

"I wasn't sure why I was drinking, but I guess it was just the fact that the hurt and the bad feelings I had inside that I couldn't express," he said. "I never really got in touch with myself until I went to Shoemaker House."

Most of Mr. Shipley's 29 years have been spent on an emotional merry-go-round.

He said instability, insecurity, drugs and alcohol figured prominently in his life, offering no hope of grabbing the brass ring.

Roby Shipley said that when he was young, "I just went through a lot of depression and fatigue during my parents' separation and divorce. I needed some way out, and I guess what I decided to do was use the drinking as a way to hide."

He said his behavior had destroyed his marriage in 1991, severed his ties to his 3-year-old son from that marriage and placed his future in the hands of attorneys.

"I stole checks from my mother to pay for drugs and alcohol," Mr. Shipley said. "I was writing checks to myself to pay for my cocaine.

"When I ripped off Glenn and Lynne [Schweitzer, his fiancee's parents, who own the Frederick garage where he works], that was a turning point, when I knew I needed to get some help."

At the suggestion of one of his lawyers, he committed himself to Shoemaker House. There, for the first time, he felt that he had a chance of recovery.

"It was the best experience of my life. I had never known that what I had was a disease," Mr. Shipley said. "I learned more about the disease. They talked to me and I figured out what makes me tick."

Gail Trinite, who Mr. Shipley described as his primary addictions counselor, said many addicts may feel they have a chance to recover, too, if they see the right examples.

"[Mr. Shipley] is going to be like a walking advertisement that addicts can get well," Ms. Trinite said. "Recovery is a process. They don't get back overnight what it took them many years to lose."

Judge Burns also ordered Mr. Shipley to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting weekly, complete the Shoemaker program and stay alcohol-free on probation.

Mr. Shipley said he plans to be alcohol- and drug-free for the rest of his life.

"If Roby Shipley is serious about getting well, probation is going to be a joke. Not a joke as in not to be taken seriously, but that he's going to take probation as routine," said Charles S. Lazar, Mr. Shipley's attorney. "And routine is a big part of his alcohol treatment. Instead of drinking, he will have responsibility."

Mr. Shipley agrees.

"The way I look at it is, people have to realize first that they have a problem," he said. "Check yourself into a good rehab program, and then take it one day at a time. I'm in this program for the rest of my life."

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