Ed Bullio started drinking when he was 12 years old, he said. By age 13, he was using other substances and his early drug use snowballed into a life largely spent drinking and partying.
About three years ago, he decided he’d had enough.
“One day, I just said I needed to clean up and get my head on straight,” said the 49-year-old Brockton man. “But I was getting bored. I found myself not being around anybody. It was kind of like the old saying, ‘If you wanna find out who your real friends are, quit drinking.’”
A motorcycle enthusiast, Bullio ultimately founded a motorcycle club exclusively for sober men called the Last Chance Motorcycle Club. Bullio says he was the sole member of the club for a time – he didn’t know anyone else in the clean and sober community – but he soon met Tom Ventosi, of Quincy, who helped expand membership.
“It basically started to help other alcoholics and drug users in recovery get a little more out of life and find a niche where they belonged,” Ventosi, who has been sober since 1986, said. “Anybody that reaches out, whether they ride in the club and have a patch or want to ride and just hang out, or are sober and just need someone to talk to, we’re there.”
For the club patch, Bullio borrowed artwork by cartoonist Shawn Dickinson of a skeleton riding a motorcycle, and added a coffin behind it. The final image depicts a rider “ripping out” of his coffin for his last chance at living.
“We have a club saying, ‘Back from the dead,’” Bullio said. “Before, we were dead because of alcohol or drugs. Now, we’re really alive.”
The club’s primary goal is to promote biking, brotherhood and sobriety, and it is not meant as a replacement for Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous, Bullio said. To get a full member patch, bikers need to have been sober for at least one year. Otherwise, members are considered “a prospect.”
Chris Murphy, 55, said he discovered the club at an event for veterans almost three years ago. He followed the group on Facebook for a bit and eventually, even though he was only two months sober, they took him “under their wing.”
“It was exactly what I needed,” Murphy said. “They kept me active, checked in every day and kept me from getting in my head.”
Murphy said he initially struggled to stay sober, but he hit three years of sobriety in March.
“They became my family,” he said of the club. “They gave me what I needed.”
The Last Chance Motorcycle Club now has chapters in Massachusetts and Maine that host events for local riders, such as an annual “Blues Without the Booze” concert. The clubs also give back to the community, members say, particularly to veterans and families in need.
Ventosi is the president of Quincy’s Families Assisting Families Foundation, which the club supports by donating food, clothes and financial assistance.
“The motorcycle club has been huge in this for the last three Christmases. They’ve done everything they can, buying presents for the kids, sorting toys and helping out,” Ventosi said.
The club has also been life-changing for the families of its members.
“I think it was an amazing thing for (Ed) to come up with,” Heather Bullio, Ed Bullio’s wife, said. “The direction he was going in could have been deadly. Then he made the choice, a hard choice, to completely change direction.”
Heather Bullio said she’s found her own support system by connecting with other wives or partners of members.
“It’s important for us to also bond because we have our own struggles and stories in being in relationships with somebody who has had a problem,” she said.
Currently, the club is open to men only. When asked why, Ventosi said, “It’s old-school tradition,” and that women are welcome to start their own club, though it can’t have the same name.
“It’s really amazing what they’ve done and all the guys are so amazing. They should all be proud of themselves for winning the fight,” Heather Bullio said.
Ed Bullio credits the club with changing his life and giving him the chance to make up for some of the “crappy” things he’s done.
“My whole life I was raising hell and now I’m doing something a little different,” he said. “We’re still the same knuckleheads, we’re just sober and all there for each other.”
Last Chance will host its annual “Blues Without the Booze” dinner and show Sept. 12 at the Emerald Hall in Abington.
Source: The Enterprise by Anastasia E. Lennon