How'd You Do It, Steve? A Personal Story of Hope and Recovery

Open Field with Tree Line and Sunset

Steve thought the world would come crashing when he packed his bags for treatment. A savvy businessman and CEO, he considered himself too successful, or perhaps too important, to go to treatment: after all, three families relied on him for financial support. Now he admits that was only an excuse, and everything that comes after—hope, healing and connection—are the only accomplishments that matter. Tune in to hear the rest.

I realized that the world did not stop turning because I let it down.

Steve C.

0:00:14 William Moyers
Hello! Here we are, another interview in our podcast series, Let's Talk. An award-winning endeavor that focuses on the issues that matter to Hazelden Betty Ford and matter to you, too. Addiction, research, treatment, and recovery. And today we feature a story of hope with a man whose journey is a hopeful reminder that for many people, the first word of the first step of recovery starts with ‘we.' The antidote to the isolation and despair of substance use and addiction. ‘We' is Steve Chandoin, my friend and fellow traveler whose path intersected mine a few years ago in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. Steve, welcome.

0:00:56 Steve C.
Thank you!

0:00:59 William Moyers
Thanks for bringing your story with us today. Tell us how did you find recovery?

0:01:06 Steve C.
Well I found recovery with my wife's help. One day, after about 24 years of marriage, she came in and said, ‘We need to talk. And we need to discuss your drinking and I have two options for you: you either need to go see Betty at Betty Ford or you need to go. Pick one.' [Moyers chuckles] As a normal man would do, I chose to go to California.

0:01:42 William Moyers
[laughs] Then what happened?

0:01:45 Steve C.
Basically, I got to California, I realized that the world did not stop turning because I let it down. I ran a printing company for twentysomething years here in Atlanta and I basically was—I was the boss, the CEO. And also had my brother-in-law and sister-in-law's family participating in the profits so I basically was leading three families out of the printing company. And I thought if I were to go to Betty Ford, the world would stop turning. It did not.

0:02:29 William Moyers
[laughs] I've heard your story before, I don't think I've ever heard you tell it that way. That's very, very good. What was the most important ‘Aha' moment for you when you were in treatment at the Betty Ford Center?

0:02:46 Steve C.
After about a week, when I arrived at Betty Ford, the fog began to clear and I realized that this program may work. Finally decided to stop talking and start listening. I came from meager means and my father was a Baptist minister. I had worked my way through the University of Georgia, I had worked through several businesses, and had been very successful. And so, I thought I was too successful to be an alcoholic. Therefore I argued with everyone that approached me. And unfortunately, if they had said, ‘Steve, you have cancer,' I would have gone to an oncologist. If they said ‘Steve, you have diabetes,' go to an endocrinologist. But they askebed me to go to Betty Ford and that was the right place for me to go. I knew that I was sick, I just didn't have the right diagnosis.

0:04:02 William Moyers
Did you have any shame around that diagnosis?

0:04:06 Steve C.
Originally I did. And I quickly found out the people I knew best knew I had a problem and were proud and cheering for me to go seek help. The people that I knew less than best didn't know I had a problem. And they didn't really realize I'd gone anywhere. So, it helped to come back and realize that the majority of the shame was within myself. And once I basically forgave myself and realized that I had a disease and I could deal with this disease, then the shame began to dissipate.

0:05:03 William Moyers
You came out of Betty Ford, what year was that, Steve?

0:05:07 Steve C.
It was 2004. My sobriety date is March 31st, 2004. So I came out 30 days later. In 2004.

0:05:18 William Moyers
And you plugged right into the community back home in Atlanta, where you are today, and it wasn't just enough for you to recover. There was more to your recovery than simply recovering. Talk about what matters to you all these years later in recovery.

0:05:38 Steve C.
What matters to me most is talking with other people that are on the starting line. [Moyers nods in agreement] When I became sober, I made a personal commitment to myself that I would get my one-year chip on campus at Betty Ford. And so, I went that first year in 2005, to celebrate my first anniversary, and I was able to speak to the patients at Betty Ford that first year. And after I had shared my story, we dismissed, and there was a man and a woman that came up and they introduced themselves to me. And they were both from Atlanta. And in fact, this was on a Friday night, the man was checking out and actually flew back home with me on Saturday. After he checked out of Betty Ford Center. So, it began by me committing to go back to Betty Ford, get my first chip only to find there were two other people from Atlanta inpatient at Betty Ford at that time. I have since tried to go back every year to the patients at Betty Ford on my anniversary. And it has been one of the most rewarding things of the alumni contact person at Betty Ford as well as Center City there at Hazelden. If they have a patient from Atlanta that's about to check out, they will say, ‘Here's Steve's number, why don't you give him a call? And he'll meet you at the airport, he'll meet you at your first meeting, whatever you need, give him a call.'

0:07:33 William Moyers
And you do that! You do that every time you get a call!

0:07:36 Steve C.
I do. I do.

0:07:37 William Moyers

0:07:39 Steve C.
It takes me back to where I began. And particularly when I go to speak to the patients, I see myself in that front row. [Moyers nods] I see myself as starting over and it brings me back to where I started. I've always thought you never know where you're going unless you know where you started. And that helps me remember where I start.

0:08:10 William Moyers
And of course being an alumni contact there in Atlanta has been a critical boost to your own recovery as you talked about but also a boost to us in terms of being able to connect patients who are coming out of treatment into their community. But Steve, you've taken that service work if you will much further than just being an alumni contact. And in fact, that's where I began to run into you. I mean just last week I ran into you in Atlanta, you came to an advocacy event that we did. You've hosted people like me and other alums and donors at your home for dinner and you've actually traveled up to Minnesota, to the campus in Center City, to carry the message. What is that service work beyond engaging another alcohol—what is that service work about for you?

0:09:02 Steve C.
It's about keeping it real. It's about even though I've been sober almost nineteen years—and this is one thing I usually share in my story—it only takes about 45 minutes to lose it all. And people come up and say, ‘I can't believe you've been sober for 18 and a half years!' And I say, ‘Well, I have and I'm very proud of it but at the same time, if I go back to the hotel, I can lose it all.' And so, being with other people that are beginning their journey. Because sobriety is a journey. It's not a destination; it's a journey. And some of the people I've run into have been some of the most inspirational people I've ever met in my life. I had the chance once to meet an 84-year-old gentleman that got sober at 84. He lived three years later and his children could not have been more proud of him. And he was one of the most delightful people I've ever met.

0:10:13 William Moyers
Mmm. What has been, in the last 19 years, and as you said your recovery date is in 2004, and this podcast of course will live on beyond this conversation now or even in 2023, but have you had any tough moments in your recovery?

0:10:32 Steve C.
One of the most tough moments I ever had was nine years in. And I usually speak to this when I share with the patients. I was selected to be on a jury. Here in Atlanta and walked in, sat down, you know how much everybody hates to be called on a jury. And they sat us down and they said, ‘This will be a one-month trial. And you will hear some of the worst pieces of evil you've ever heard in your life.' And it turned out to be a child molestation case. And I will never forget coming home from the courthouse that very first day. And after hearing the beginnings of what I would listen to for the next month, my blood pressure was out the roof and I had no appetite, and I basically came home and said, ‘I really don't need to talk right now,' to my wife, and just laid down. And at the very moment it flashed through my mind--what if I had a bottle of vodka, that would cure my appetite, that would bring my blood pressure down, if I had a bottle of vodka. And so that is always the piercing moment when I think about what could have happened on my journey in sobriety.

0:12:06 William Moyers

0:12:07 Steve C.
Thank God I called my sponsor, we talked for about an hour, and the rest of the month was not easy, but I did not drink over that case of evil that I had listened to.

0:12:22 William Moyers
Mmm-hmm. Thank you for sharing that intimate experience there, Steve. You talked about being the son of a Baptist minister. I also am the son of a Baptist minister [chuckles softly], we've talked about that. Tell us what the role of faith has played in your journey.

0:12:44 Steve C.
In all honesty, my faith has strengthened at times and waned at times. As I tell in my story, one of the most happy moments, one of the best summers of anyone's life, is the day after you graduate from high school and you know you're going away to college at the end of the summer. Well, I graduated on a Saturday, next day was Sunday, and my parents were there for my graduation, and my father announced that he was leaving the ministry. My mother didn't know, I didn't know, and at that point in time, we had to leave the church house, pastory, and in all honesty it turned out my father was asking for a divorce. And my faith was severely challenged. Over the years, it has returned. And one of my greatest successes in sobriety is putting aside the resentment towards my father. And that happened at Betty Ford. That happened at Betty Ford. In 2009, I had the ability to take my father who had never been out of the country to Turkey. And we went to the ruins of Ephesus. And my father stood on the stage where Apostle Paul preached. And that was truly making an amends to my father.

0:14:42 William Moyers
Would you have done that had you not been a man in recovery?

0:14:47 Steve C.
No. No. Actually, my son—and I only have one child—my son probably was about five or six years old before he met his grandpa. So, no, I don't think it would have happened outside of recovery.

0:15:07 William Moyers
Point being that recovery is much more than just not taking that drink or that drug; it's about dealing with those things that we deal with in life. And recognizing that we have—that our drinking is but a symptom of the disease.

0:15:23 Steve C.
To me, with my drinking, I always think of emotional pain and physical pain. I had both and I tried to drink for both. But neither of which gets solved.

0:15:40 William Moyers
[smiles, nods] Steve, we only have a couple minutes left—let me ask you why it's important for you to stand up and speak out the way you do, just the way you showed up last week again at the advocacy event in Atlanta. You know, you're gonna be featured in our Impact Report for Hazelden Betty Ford, you're not shy about putting your face and adding your voice to these issues beyond, you know, the Twelve Step meetings or beyond the lecture to the patients. Why is that important around smashing that stigma?

0:16:16 Steve C.
In my opinion the more people that speak up, the more people will listen, and the more people might recognize their problem as well. As I did. Just today I had coffee, again a business transaction, this morning at Starbucks. And the situation was such that I let them know that I had to be home by 12:30 because I was doing a podcast for Hazelden Betty Ford. And was able to share with the lady who probably needs some insight that I was sober and was going to do a podcast. [Moyers chuckles] I told her I'd never really seen a podcast much less making one. And of all things it was on alcohol.

0:17:20 William Moyers
Man you're good at it! I must say I've interviewed a lot of people over the years of doing this podcast and you're good. [grins]

0:17:30 Steve C.
Well thank you. Thank you very much.

0:17:32 William Moyers
Before we go though, we've gotta go in just a minute but what's your message of hope for somebody who's listening and doesn't have any hope?

0:17:45 Steve C.
I don't know when it came to me but alcoholism is so much like The Wizard of Oz. You see I was Dorothy and I was caught up in this hurricane and I was taken away from my home to Kansas and I landed in an unknown place. And somebody keeps saying, ‘Follow the Yellow Brick Road.' And the Yellow Brick Road is the way back home, the way back to normalcy, the way back to peace. And I, through sobriety, have found the Yellow Brick Road took me back. And so I'm trying to take on the action of showing others the way back down the Yellow Brick Road.

0:18:44 William Moyers
Steve Chandoin, we are so grateful that you have followed that road and brought us back home to the reality that treatment works, recovery is possible, it happens, and that giving back is the greatest that we have. Steve Chandoin, joining us today from Atlanta, Georgia—thank you, Steve!

0:19:05 Steve C.
Thank you so much for having me.

0:19:07 William Moyers
And thanks to all of you for being with us on this podcast, Let's Talk. We hope that you will find hope and help and healing in this conversation today and in all the conversations we have on this Let's Talk podcast. And we hope to see you again soon. Take good care.

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