It’s been said that all families are dysfunctional, but Peter Rotelle’s seemed to be functioning just fine—at least on the surface. “I had a great childhood and upbringing,” says the Blue Bell native. “I knew right from wrong. I had the best intentions in the world.”
But there was a dark side to the Rotelle family. Rotelle is convinced his mother drank herself to death at age 49, and he was headed that way. “I partied hard as a kid and all through college. It was normal for my group,” Rotelle, 53, recalls. “We had a lot of unbelievable times—crazy stuff, laughter.”
Losing his mom so young was a blow, but it wasn’t enough to make him stop and examine his own behavior. At the time, he never drank alone or even at home—and he was laser focused on becoming a successful developer. Twenty-five years later, Rotelle Development Company serves the six counties surrounding Philadelphia and is currently building in Schwenksville, Boyertown and West Chester. “I drank for decades without any consequences,” he says. “But once you’re a pickle, you can’t go back to being a cucumber.”
In his 30s, Rotelle discovered cocaine— and that only accelerated his drinking. The people he knew and loved confronted him. “Everyone saw it,” he says. “And alcoholics are good fakers.”
The turning point was Rotelle’s 40th birthday. He spent the day alone by choice. “I’d become a person I didn’t like,” he says. “Internally, it made me feel horrific.”
Ten days later—on Nov. 11, 2008— Rotelle had his last drink. He’d reached out to a friend, “a pretty smart, straightlaced dude” whose spouse had a heroin addiction. He knew someone who’d helped thousands of people get sober. “He was a Svengali with it,” says Rotelle.
Rotelle’s Svengali (who’s since passed away) knew that he had a big ego and “wasn’t going to be told what to do.” So he’d casually check in and ask how things were going. “He knew who needed to be grabbed by the ear and dragged to recovery, and who needed something different,” Rotelle says.
One morning, Rotelle called his sponsor. “I’m in front of a liquor store. It isn’t open at 8 a.m., and I need it to be open,” he told him. “I’m done. What do I do?”
Rehab was the only option. Rotelle pushed back a little, but he went. Since then, he’s had some difficult days. “But I believe in God,” says Rotelle. “He had different plans for me—and I haven’t looked back.”
Rotelle has lost a few friends along the way. And these days, he doesn’t mind if the ones he has left drink around him. He remains sober and goes to meetings. And wherever he goes, he’s there for others. “You can’t keep it if you don’t give it away,” he says.
One of the many people Rotelle has helped is married to Heather King, owner of Argyle Floral Bouquet in Haverford. “Peter came into our lives early in my husband Taylor’s sobriety, and those are bonds that are pretty tight” she says. “He’s an amazing, funny guy who made my husband realize that sobriety wasn’t a death sentence for fun.”
Rotelle purchased a former Girl Scout camp as a site to host recovery meetings, holding them around a campfire. “Peter does nothing in moderation,” says King “He basically built out the camp with an amphitheater, and he can get anywhere from 50 to 100 people there now. It’s amazing, and the meetings are open, so [spouses] can attend. I consider myself in recovery, too. I was nuts. I was never more than a half-drink-a-month kind of girl— but I was relationship nuts.”
Rotelle serves on the board of Heather’s Way, an organization founded by King. Its mission is to help people maintain sobriety and find stability during recovery. He recently helped Heather’s Way with their first golf outing, which they raised $200,000 for sober-living houses in the area. “[King] is all about reintroducing someone into the community,” Rotelle says, adding that attending meetings at places like Alcoholics Anonymous are essential to getting and staying sober. “If you’re the one who’s struggling, don’t go into a meeting looking for what’s different. Look for one thing that’s similar—that one thing you can identify with.”
Rotelle recommends giving it 10 meetings before deciding if it’s for you. “If you don’t really want to, you won’t,” he says.
Fortunately for Rotelle, he wanted to.