Editor’s Note: Modern Addiction Recovery will periodically post personal stories of recovery in an outpatient setting with the aim of making the process – which can seem both private and obscure – more accessible and understandable. Among the issues that Mac’s story illustrates is the central role of involvement with other people who are working on the recovery process. That is the reason that group therapy is the primary treatment modality in most addiction programs. It is also the reason that one of the ultimate goals of treatment is to help people settle comfortably in the recovery support community of their choice. I am grateful to Mac for overcoming his reticence and being willing to share his story with you all about his lifeboat to recovery.
By M.W. “Mac”
One evening, a bright young lawyer showed up at our after-care group, excited about a book he had read that promised a recovery program based on a series of principles. If the alcoholic followed and applied the principles, the idea went, recovery would follow. The lawyer animatedly described the program and then asked Dr. Kolodner what he thought. After a brief silence, George said, in his calm, authoritative way, “We don’t have enough data to know whether the program described in the book is effective. We do believe, though, that ideas don’t get people sober. People do.”
People have kept me sober for nearly 25 years. I vividly recall the night I first reported to Kolmac, on K Street in downtown DC to find total strangers sitting on couches, waiting for rounds to begin. From the outset, I sensed that we were in a lifeboat together bound by our common addictions. Here, as my experience with the group developed over subsequent days and weeks, were real people dealing with real issues, of life and death.
For many years in my legal career, I had talked with and (occasionally) listened to colleagues, clients and friends all day, every day. I thought that the work I did was important, and I’m sure that it served its purposes. But there was a nagging sense that I was missing something, that although I was surrounded by people I was fundamentally isolated. Getting drunk every night contributed to the feeling of isolation, yet at the same time made it bearable.
The great wisdom of the Kolmac program and its counselors was to steer me into AA meetings. As George would comment, “We don’t know how or why it works, we only know that it does work.” I discovered to my surprise shortly after beginning my sober journey that I was a morning person and found a 7:00 a.m. meeting in Georgetown that I began attending six days a week. The regulars at that meeting became my family. They stood by me as I dealt with years of wreckage. They sympathized with my predicaments, they laughed at my pitfalls, and in general, they patted me on the head and kicked me in the butt. Over time, as I accumulated years, I began to serve the same function for newcomers.
I have attended the same Saturday morning AA meeting here in Florida for many years. The men attending the meeting offer intense testimony to the issues that confront each of us during our lives. They range from the everyday annoyances of dealing with fools in traffic to the somber grief of losing a spouse or child. I know some of the men at this meeting fairly well and others hardly at all. Still, in all cases, we have a community of interest and experience that we simply do not find among civilians. Yes, we have to deal with the picayune issues of daily life, but we are keenly aware that larger issues, serious issues, await us and will pounce if we fail to pay proper respect.
Over the years I have become less interested in the Big Book and the 12 Steps and more interested in what attracted me to sobriety in the first place: people. I remain in the lifeboat with people. I am forever grateful to Kolmac for showing me to a seat.
M.W. quit his job as a lawyer to begin a new career as a project manager for energy system restructuring projects in the former Soviet Union, living and working in the Caucasus, the Balkans, and Central Asia. He now lives with his wife and teenage sons, neither of whom have ever seen him take a drink, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.