Listen in as three people in long-term recovery from addiction talk with host William C. Moyers about reclaiming their lives from alcohol and other drugs. With candor and humility, each describes the hope and healing they've experienced in Twelve Step recovery as well as the challenges they continue to navigate one day at a time. So what's the secret to staying sober? Hint: it has a lot to do with gratitude, giving back and being of service to others.
0:00:15 William Moyers
Hello and welcome to Let's Talk, a series of podcasts produced by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation on the issues that matter to us and the issues that we know matter to you as well: substance use disorders, prevention, treatment, research and recovery support. I'm your host, William Moyers and we come to you today we're on the road from the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California with three distinguished guests today who have been walking that walk for a long time now. We have Ermanno, June and David. Welcome.
0:00:51 Panel Alums
Thank you, William. Thank you.
0:00:52 William Moyers
We wanna talk today about long-term recovery. So often in the field of addiction treatment we often focus on the disease. We talk about what treatment is, it's not often times we get a chance to have three people who've been walking the walk, talking about recovery. And the reality that treatment is just really the beginning of the long journey. Ermanno, how long have you been walking this walk now?
I came to Betty Ford in April of 2003. And I stayed here for three months. So I left the treatment in July of 2003.
0:01:25 William Moyers
I came here September 28, 2006. And I left here after 55 days and it was the day before Thanksgiving.
0:01:36 William Moyers
And David, how long have you been walking the walk from here?
I came here on St. Patrick's Day of 2005 and I was here 'til June 19th of 2005.
0:01:45 William Moyers
Thank you for disclosing that. Tell me what has been the biggest surprise, Ermanno, for you since you left here in terms of your own journey?
I heard when I was in treatment that addiction would have eventually become an opportunity. And I thought it was marketing. I thought it was an excellent way to try to make people accept defeat. And the most surprising and pleasant afterthought was that I realized how true the opportunity is. And I never thought I would reach to a point where I would assume that addiction was the blessing for my life.
0:02:28 William Moyers
So from adversity comes opportunity.
0:02:32 William Moyers
June, what did you expect when you walked out of the Betty Ford Center?
I don't know that I had any expectations, I had hopes—that I would get my family back. Because I lost my family. Before I came here. And I really what happened was I got myself back here and then I got my family back.
0:02:55 William Moyers
And that was—that was the biggest challenge for me was to win the trust back. 'Cause I had lost that.
0:03:03 William Moyers
Their trust in you?
Their trust in me.
0:03:06 William Moyers
Because I felt good and at—from the moment I walked through the Betty Ford Center, I although I wasn't a model patient I actually was on that road of recovery. And I have never looked back.
0:03:18 William Moyers
David, when you came in here on St. Patrick's Day a long time ago now you said 2005, was it? What—what was your expectation of what treatment was going to be and how did that jive with what happened to you after you left here?
I was fearful. I thought that I was gonna come to treatment and learn how to live without substances. And I found that what I got was this amazing life and I left with some fear still, some healthy fear. But I was also really excited. Because they gave me a plan. I had a great Case Manager, the Case Manager gave me an aftercare plan. I was connected with somebody from the Alumni Department in my area. Who I called and connected with right away when I got home. And I hit the ground running.
0:04:10 William Moyers
Ermanno, what about you though? You—did you struggle when you got out of here or did you find it to be easy?
I anticipated to be very hard and I'm very happy I did that. Because it kept my guard very high.
0:04:24 William Moyers
And I didn't do I didn't leave anything undone from the recommendation. You know earlier I said that to me, addiction revealed itself as being an opportunity. I was very concerned that I would lose my creative edge. I almost thought that the—my iconoclastic creative artistic way was rooted in the use of drugs and alcohol. And instead I realized indeed it was the opposite. After fearing to lose all my artistic friends because they were all users, that revealed to be a false problem. I instantly connected with new people. And the creativity's all there. Really for me, recovery delivered everything that addiction had promised. It was—I didn't have to change my way of thinking. I just found a better way to access what I always wanted.
0:05:12 William Moyers
So it's easy to be creative without the substances?
Well, have you ever written a script overnight on a cocaine stupor and read that the next morning? [chuckles]
0:05:23 William Moyers
It's no good. [laughs]
0:05:27 William Moyers
June, so many people who come to—go to treatment or come to treatment at the Betty Ford Center here, come from long distances. But you literally just had to come a couple of miles, right?
Yes. Yeah. I live ten minutes from here. And that was a blessing and a challenge. I—I do know that God had a plan for me and that was to live in this area so that it was the Betty Ford Center that was close for when I needed it. But the challenge was that I was on a restraining order when I was a patient here. And that was really a challenge because I couldn't see my children or communicate with them. And somebody else was taking care of them as I was here with my little card—the grocery store getting my groceries for me. And so that was really, really difficult. And it was my brother that said would you go to any lengths? And he's not in the program.
0:06:22 William Moyers
And that helped me to stay and to—to go through it. Yeah.
0:06:28 William Moyers
David, what has been the—the greatest wisdom that you've gleaned from this long walk of yours now? What is it that you've grabbed onto and held onto?
Being of service.
0:06:41 William Moyers
Tell—talk more about that service.
Being of service was something I watched other people do growing up. My mom was involved in doing a lot of volunteer work. Other family members. And yet it wasn't something I had connected with until I—my road to recovery began. And I—I quickly realized how much I was getting out of it when I was giving. I've been able to connect a lot with the Betty Ford Center as well as doing some other service work. And it's just I get a glow from it. It's magical.
0:07:10 William Moyers
Well all three of you—it's magical.
0:07:13 William Moyers
That's what a lot of people say. And all three of you have never been very shy about standing up and speaking out and revealing your own journeys. You've all—well here you are [chuckles], you know, sharing in this Let's Talk Podcast. But as a person in recovery and now as a person in long-term recovery, how do you experience the needs of other people? In other words, surely others have come to you and sought counsel. Yes, Ermanno?
Yes, yes. And it's very strange. Somebody defines our way to recovery as self-help. And I find that very misleading in a way. Because certainly I cannot really help myself. And but I attract what I'm ready for and I can prime myself to attract something in line with my desire and what's good for me. So I—this relationship with sponsee or other people in the program or family member that just are in your life, takes a turn for the better. And all of a sudden you go from being a pariah to being a revered opinionist. You know? It's wonderful.
0:08:16 William Moyers
[laughs heartily] June, you went right back into the community where you'd been actively using and certainly lots of people knew how you "used" to be. Was that hard to step back into the same arena so close to where you know you'd been using and so close to treatment?
I actually didn't really step back into the arena.
0:08:39 William Moyers
What happened for me was I had reached a deep level of introspection and reveal—revealing of myself. That I couldn't do the small talk. When I first got sober. And so I chose to—to not go back to my job. Which is I'm in the restaurant business.
0:08:57 William Moyers
And I just couldn't do that small talk. So, it was then my choice to take some time away and to spend time on building my sobriety and building the trust back in my family.
0:09:11 William Moyers
David, did you step right back into your career or how did you manage that interaction between leaving here and those early days, early months and even those early years in recovery with your profession?
That's a really good question. I was unemployed. [other alums chuckle] and I was unemployable when I got here. And I went back and I had to search out what I wanted to do. And one of the things that I wanted to do is I wanted to move from the Los Angeles area out here to the desert. Because I found that I could remain connected and stay sober. So while I came out here, I figured out what I wanted to do. I actually work in recovery now.
0:09:48 William Moyers
And it's a wonderful thing. [nods]
0:09:51 William Moyers
They talk about people, places and things. And the—the reality that it in long-term recovery, or even in those early days especially, we have to change a lot of things about our lives as it relates to people, places and things. How difficult was that for you, Ermanno?
Well the reason endemic resistance to change that I think is rooted deeply in the domain of my disease. That makes me believe that change is uncomfortable. But at the same time, every time that I evolved it was due to the fact that I'd been confined to a—an uncomfortable setting. So, some time [sic] I negotiate with my disease. You know my disease says things to me like 'You are late, don't go to the meeting.' Or those types are—archaic language. And I say 'Okay, you guys have a point there.' But as long as you express that, I go anyway and I work the Steps anyway. So I had to sort of in a strange form of controlled schizophrenia, address each part of my personality.
0:10:50 William Moyers
[chuckles] June, you did take a break from the restaurant business but ultimately, you went back to—and I know I'm biased here and this is not an advertisement for Gillian's but it’s a great restaurant not too far from where we're sitting right now.
0:11:03 William Moyers
The best, yes, David. How did you decide when and how to return to the business or to the industry?
It was in God's time. And it came in the way of a—a staff member that had taken some a leave of absence. And couldn't come back in time. And I had to go back to work. It wasn't really a choice on my part the job needed to be done. And when I went back to work, I—I realized that that's where I needed to be. At that time.
0:11:34 William Moyers
Was it hard?
It wasn't. No, it wasn't. I mean I was still doing things behind the scenes. And by that time, it was two and a half years. So I was really very firmly rooted in the AA recovery unit. And also I was coming back here. I—I didn't leave the center and not come back. I left and I would come back on Monday night for therapeutic aftercare. I brought my children here on Wednesday evenings for their aftercare 'cause both of them went through the programs that are offered here. The Family Program and the Children's Program. My husband went through the Family Program three times. So I have support from my family. And I think being open about my sobriety has helped me as well because I'm able to be of service and also I don't have a secret anymore.
0:12:28 William Moyers
Right. Right. And addiction is an illness of isolation with a lot of secrets—
0:12:32 William Moyers
—And the antidote to it is togetherness and sharing.
0:12:34 William Moyers
And giving back and David you've been—you talked about it earlier. You—you've given back. How important is it as people in long-term recovery to help other addicts and alcoholics along the journey?
I think it's really important. I—I mean I place it up there with my connection to—to a power greater than myself. I think the way that I can spread love to other people and the way to get the message out is through service work. And one of the things that I was blessed with like I mentioned earlier was this aftercare plan that I got from here. And I know it's not one size fits all and your mileage may vary, however, I was desperate enough when I got here that when I left I was willing to take some direction. And when they told me to—to get to meetings and get a sponsor and work the Steps and do service work, I threw myself in and the Betty Ford Center also had gentlemen that had come here before me and they were the ones that passed that to me. And I've been able to pass that along to others through them.
0:13:33 William Moyers
Do you help other addicts and alcoholics? [to Ermanno]
Yes, but I for a long—in the beginning I thought that helping other [sic] was out of altruism and other—out of giving back I thought was rooted in value for reciprocate, gift received.
0:13:54 William Moyers
I had a whole—I had a whole concept [Moyers chuckles] that was probably conditioned by my religious upbringing. And I realized why pride is in it, it's not like that at all. Helping others is really a vital function for me. I'm really very selfish when I do that. Although reluctantly sometime [sic]. Never fails to better my life. So once I got contaminated with the virus of service, I gladly embraced it.
0:14:22 William Moyers
Does that work for you too, June? I remember when I—one of the first times I met you, I—I believe it may have been at the restaurant. Or at the front door, you were at the front wherever it was. And do you find that people gravitate to you asking for help or for counsel or insights, knowing that you know what you know?
I do. I do. I feel when being open and sharing and and not having a secret, I think has been valuable in having people feeling comfortable coming forward and asking for help.
0:14:55 William Moyers
I love being of service. And it's—it's what keeps me sober.
0:15:02 William Moyers
In the interest of full disclosure, I think I can say that none of us in here is under the age of 30. So, and I'm not—I'm not violating anybody's confidentiality, but I'm just saying. So we're all people who've been walking this walk for a long time and we're also getting older. [chuckles] As we tend to do. Whether you're in recovery or not, you get older. David, what has been the biggest challenge for you as you have begun to age in recovery?
That's a really good question. I—
0:15:31 William Moyers
Physically, mentally, emotionally, financially?
I honestly, I can't think of anything right off the top of my head because things—everything is in my life has improved.
I would say where maybe the biggest challenge has come in where I've also been able to overcome that has been the relationship with my 27-year-old son.
0:15:50 William Moyers
Explain more about that, please.
Okay. It used to be when I would speak to him, I would try to be controlling and tell him what to do and direct him and he didn't really wanna listen too much. And now I just listen and then I ask him if he would like some feedback. Sometimes he says yes, sometimes not so much. But now you know he calls every day to check in and see how I'm doing. And that's been a blessing to be able to be there for him.
0:16:17 William Moyers and Alums
And be a man and be an example. That he can look up to.
0:16:21 William Moyers
And June, you've talked about too the restoration of the family dynamic.
Yeah, I did wanna share something. My oldest daughter got a tattoo I mean when she was 18 years old which was I was four years' sober at that time. [David chuckles softly] She was 14 when I got here. She was the one that was most affected by the disease. And so she got this tattoo and I found out about it on Facebook. And I was really upset in the beginning when I saw it. And then I realized wow. So the—the tattoo is on her ribcage and it has the word 'Serenity' and my sobriety date.
0:16:57 William Moyers
And so I got all puffy and you know and so I called her and I said, Gillian, I'm so honored that you would put my sobriety date on your body. And she said 'Mom, get over yourself.' She said, 'That day was when we could all begin to breathe.'
0:17:18 William Moyers
So, when I got sober, it didn't change my life's—it changed the life with the people that—that surround me.
0:17:30 William Moyers
Thanks for sharing that. Ermanno, what—in your journey, what—what's been the biggest challenge all these years later?
Well, it is still a challenge. It's complacency. I—my uh—
0:17:45 William Moyers
0:17:47 William Moyers
My disease is learning everything I learn. And every now and then, I become certain of something. And every time I have a certitude, my disease loves it. Because I stop learning right there and then. So to keep this fresh, to keep this challenging, to know that I will change my mind for sure no matter how much I believe what I believe today, I maintain in attunement with the type of volition that keeps happening. Some time [sic] it's challenging because I'd rather know what's going on and be in control of the situation—it's a big delusion. [Moyers chuckles] So, I get reminded of that. And it's a contemp—at the same time, it's a challenge as well as a great reminder.
0:18:29 William Moyers
David, what about the all these years later do you ever find yourself contemplating a drink or a drug or is that obsession long gone?
Well I have to say the obsession was removed a long time ago, but thoughts come all the time. I could be sitting in a restaurant and see something pretty go by [gestures to suggest a drink on a tray] on a tray and think about it, but very quickly recovery part of my brain kicks in immediately. 'Cause I know that it's not something that I can do today.
0:19:00 William Moyers
You could be sitting in a restaurant but June, you're working in one.
0:19:03 William Moyers
And the hospitality business, the restaurant business, is one that often times emphasizes alcohol.
0:19:12 William Moyers
Is that hard for you to be around it? Do you ever find that moment when you—? [gestures with a finger up as if to order a drink]
No. No, I have my dinner at the bar every night.
0:19:19 William Moyers
And the bottles are there but I just don't see them anymore. Like David, the obsession was removed a long time ago. I believe that the obsession was removed the day I walked through the doors here.
0:19:28 William Moyers
The day your surrendered. Yes.
Mmm-hmm. I did, I surrendered. And like David, I you know there—sometimes there may be something that will jog a memory like there was a bottle of Vermouth that somebody had left in my guest house. And it brought back memories of drinking that when I was a teen—you know, a teenager in—in Scotland where I grew up. And you know there was that fleeting thought of what it tasted like. But I cannot romance that. And I know that. And so I got rid of the bottle, took it to my restaurant, we'll pour it there. [Moyers chuckles] So, being—being in recovery, it is one day at a time. And I live in that day of try to anyway living in the sunshine of the spirit. And staying connected [gestures to people around her] and being of service and going to meetings, having a sponsor, all the things that are suggested or were suggested to me when I was first sober I practice today. Still.
0:20:27 William Moyers
Ermanno, do you ever get that fleeting ping of maybe just one line or one drink?
Of course, of course. And every time they say I have to do a surgery I kind of become very interested in that.
0:20:39 William Moyers
Right. Because of the threat of pain medication. Yes.
Yes, yes. But you know, really, drugs and alcohol were never my problem. My problem was this delusion of what it took to fix myself. Of being capable of doing something to implement my state. And that delusion persists today on other aspect of my life. Some time [sic] it's just the going to dinner with somebody I don’t know and imagine this I start fantasizing about naming our grandchildren before I get there. Or sometime, it is like to stop at the mall on my way home to buy something I don't need with money I don't have to impress people who don't care. [Moyers and Alums chuckle] You know? It's—it's—
0:21:18 William Moyers
You suffer from that, too? I'm glad I'm not the only one.
It's hard to—it morphs, it adapts to recovery.
0:21:22 William Moyers
Right. Yes and I think that's a really interesting point. You all have each touched on it but so many of us crawl into treatment or find our bottom and think that we need to stop using. And of course we need to stop using 'cause we have a baffling inability to just say no. But what we discover further down the road, do we not, that this is much more—recovery is much more than just not drinking. Right, David? David, what is it? What is it? It's more than not drinking, what is it?
To me it's again it's a spiritual connection to something that I didn't have before.
0:21:58 William Moyers
It's knowing that things are gonna be okay. It's—it's a lessening of the fear in my life.
It's a—a growth of being able to take people in and be helpful as much as I possibly can.
0:22:13 William Moyers
You still have those challenges, the fear is part of being human, right? Anger is part of being human, shortcomings.
Oh sure. Oh sure. Absolutely.
0:22:19 William Moyers
But you—better—you have the tools to deal with it.
Absolutely, William. I've been through divorce, I've had some financial problems, there's been legal issues, money comes and goes and there's relationship things that—that happen as well. People die, there's a lot that goes on. That's life in session. And everybody deals with that. I just don't have to deal with it and get high anymore.
0:22:42 William Moyers
June, you mean it's not an end of the rainbow when you go to treatment it's not the end of the rainbow?
No. No, I thought it was. And like I said before, I came here with the—the hopes of getting my family back. And you know I found it I mean I didn't know that I could live without alcohol. I didn't know that I could live without meth. But I can. And life is so beautiful today. I have such a beautiful life. And I'm so grateful for it. And I think that's one of the things that helps me is to remain grateful.
0:23:19 William Moyers
We have about a minute before we have to wrap this up and it's too bad we could go on for an hour here. This is very powerful. But I wanna touch—I wanna give each of you an opportunity to speak directly to the newcomer. And by the newcomer I mean somebody who's listening to this or watching this who wants what each of you has. Which is years beyond that last drink or drug. There is a reason why they say it 'a day at a time.' And a day at a time does add up after a while. But Ermanno, we'll—we'll start with you. What—what would be your concluding message to somebody out there who isn't struggling with substances, they've actually made it in the door literally or figuratively, but they're struggling with what's next. What's your message for them?
Well, obviously, being in recovery improves my present time. And by doing that, it'll most likely better my future as well. But what I find very remarkable is that also, it fixes my past. And what I mean by that is I have an opportunity to use every bad experience I had, every unnecessary suffering I caused to myself and others, turns into an asset for redemption. Because it gives me ground to help somebody that is going through the same thing. So all that devastating—shame and guilt-ridden memory of my life, all of a sudden gets used. And comes to fruition. Because through that, I can through helping other [sic] I can gain redemption.
0:24:48 William Moyers
It's—it's very nice to feel.
0:24:53 William Moyers
David, to those out there today who are counting days or even counting weeks or months, what's your message? What's your message of hope to them?
My message of hope to them is first of all I plea for them to stick around.
0:25:06 William Moyers
For them to stay no matter what's goin' on in their life, stay with us. Come and arm wrestle over your issues and tell us why it may not be working for you. Because what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna sit down, I'm gonna love them unconditionally, be as patient as I possibly can, and let them know that there's an amazing life out there for them. That it changes significantly. It becomes different. There's more than meets the eye. And that's what attracted me. And that's why I'm here and that's why I continue to stay. If I get connected and stay connected, I get another day.
0:25:39 William Moyers
Yes I would say the same thing. And I would also say that work the Steps. Work the Steps. That are in the Big Book. And get a sponsor to help you with that. Somebody that you can be accountable to. And just keep coming back. I like to say don't keep coming back, just stay. [Moyers chuckles] Because the answers are here. And we'd rather have you inside the fellowship than outside the fellowship. And we're here to help. I love being of service. It really does—it is the bright spot of my day. And it's just one day at a time. And it isn't easy. It's not easy. But it—it is simple.
0:26:28 William Moyers
And it sure beats the alternative.
It sure beats the alternative. Yes.
0:26:32 William Moyers
June, thank you for sharing. Ermanno, thank you for sharing your strength and wisdom today. And David thanks to you too for reminding us about the importance of giving back to others. Each of you is a shining example of the fact that a day at a time does add up to weeks, and months, and years and that you can do as you said take that adversity and turn it around into the opportunity that each of you has shown and shared with us today in your own experiences. Thank you all very much for joining us today and standing up and speaking out. Not on the problem, but certainly on the solution. Recovery. Long-term recovery. A day at a time.
Thank you, William.
0:27:13 William Moyers
I'm your host William Moyers, thank you for joining us for another edition of Let's Talk here on the campus of the Betty Ford Center. Join us again when we talk about the issues not just around the problem but also the solution. Thank you.