The following is a partial transcript of a conversation Dan Griffin had with Jerry Law as part of his Men in Recovery video series. Jerry is an interventionist and the Director of Family, Education, and Leadership Training at The Meadows. Through his role at The Meadows, he works with families of clients who are in treatment to help them understand how they can support their loved one and begin their own process of healing.
DAN: What is the greatest gift recovery has given you toward being the man you always knew you could be?
JERRY: Really, there’s a one-word answer for me, and that’s freedom. The very first time I drank alcohol— not the first time I tasted it—but the first time I really drank it, I was 17 and I had a blackout. It just kind of went downhill from there.
For the next 30 years, I continued to drink off and on. I’d drink more and then less and then a lot more and a little less—until I was drinking daily. I couldn’t not drink.
When I reached that point, I tried everything I could think of to quit. Like the old joke says, “Quitting’s not hard, it’s staying quit.” Everything I tried didn’t work.
Finally, I found the divine paradox of recovery, that victory comes from surrender. When I finally embraced that and began to do what others who were successful in recovery were doing it really set me free. Now I’m free, not only from alcohol, free to live my life. That’s the greatest gift that recovery has given me.
DAN: Freedom has come up multiple times in these interviews with men in recovery. It starts with the freedom from the addiction, and then you realize, “Oh, my God, I can actually do this.” Your freedom then begins to expand and expand. I’m free to be in a relationship as myself. I’m free to be in this world as myself and mean “yes” when I say “yes,” and mean “no” when I say “no” and live authentically in both my professional life and my personal life.
JERRY: That is so true. Like a lot of us, I grew up with some trauma and learned at a really young age how to shut down and close off and be inauthentic and lie really well. In recovery I learned that it’s okay to just be who I am—what a gift!
DAN: That’s what is so wonderful about The Meadows. You get to look deeply at the childhood piece. You get to look at the artifice that you’ve created and the authentic person within. As men, we get to look at the boys that we were and the men we’ve forced ourselves to become in light of The Man Rules. In recovery, there’s the freedom to be the men we really want to be and not be bound by those Man Rules. I’m free to be the man I want to be; I don’t have to be the man everyone else thinks I should be.
JERRY: The societal definition of what a man is, certainly in the United States, is so warped. It’s based on “Boys don’t cry, and “Man up.” Those rules work in some areas of life, but they sure don’t work in relationships.
In school, we had the debate team, where we learned to spar and verbally defend our position. Those are wonderful skills to have in many areas of life, but when we go into relationships and use those skills they just blow up in our faces. What we needed to have in school in addition to a debate team was a resolution team, because in a lot of cases nobody taught us how to resolve differences. So we try to stumble our way through and we make a mess of it. Then we turn to something—mood-altering chemicals or behaviors—to get some relief from the pain we’re in over these unresolved conflicts.
DAN: Stephen Bergman, M.D. says it leads us to be agents of disconnection. We aren’t relearning how to be in relationships in recovery, we’re learning how to be in relationships for the first time. What is so powerful for me is that we’re constantly moving from connection to disconnection to reconnection. It’s the reconnection piece that is so difficult, particularly for men. The more vulnerable the relationship, the more difficult it is to repair.
JERRY: Absolutely. And the more fear, the more anxiety I have about connecting the more I’m unable to have trust.
DAN: I talk about this in my book A Man’s Way Through Relationships. When we move into vulnerability and intimacy, sometimes we’re not prepared. A lot of men are constantly walking around the landscape of each other’s lives not knowing where the landmines are and never knowing when we’re going to step on a landmine that blows up the relationship. I’ve seen this happen with so many men, where they have a close, vulnerable, connected relationship until one disconnection happens and one person just says “I’m done.”
JERRY: Well, we tell ourselves that if this is what a relationship is, if it’s going to have this kind of pain, count me out. I just won’t do it. I’ll be a mile wide and an inch deep with everyone. But, pain is just a part of a relationship. It just comes with it.
DAN: But, it’s sad. It’s sad that that’s what we’ve done to men. We kind of stand outside and judge men’s inability to connect. I always say to people, if you’re one of those couples that don't fight, that scares me. It’s the ability to withstand the disconnection and the conflict and come back and compromise. I’ve found that in my marriage and in my closest relationships, that’s everything.
JERRY: I love what C.S. Lewis said: “Pain is God’s megaphone.” He didn’t say it’s his club, he said it’s his megaphone. Sometimes we’ve got to have that pain to recognize that something is wrong and the ask ourselves what we’re going to do about it.
DAN: Unfortunately, so many men are socialized to think that the problem is someone else…
JERRY: Particularly when we’re talking about men in the workplace. Men are typically in a workplace environment 8 to 10 hours a day. Workplace culture often promotes disconnection. it promotes being one up, and it promotes power-driven relationships. Then, we leave this environment and walk through the door at home at the end of the day only to find that our dogs have more authority than we do. Everyone at home—our spouse and our kids, they want to be in more connected relationships.
When men are at work, it’s all about power, all day long. Taking off that hat and putting on the spouse/ parent hat is difficult, and we often just don’t know how to do it.
DAN: That is so true. It’s really about how do we teach men how to be congruent in their business and personal lives. One doesn’t have to be that different from the other. Men can be vulnerable and share power at work, but can also translate some of his leadership skills from the business world to his life at home. We can all be more thoughtful about how we connect and how we work together.
JERRY: You’re right, Dan, It really is about congruence, because there are business skills that translate into home life successfully, and there are relationship skills from home life that translate into the business world successfully. You just have to learn with whom you can be vulnerable because not everyone is safe.
That’s what is so great about recovery. When you’re active in a recovery community you get the opportunity to learn how to be vulnerable around other people, and then transfer these skills into home life and work life and the community at large.
DAN: That is so true. The recovery community really shifts how men are allowed to show up. We do get to practice vulnerability and make mistakes and go through all of the pains of relationships.
The work you’re doing with families is so important because no person with an addiction lives in a vacuum, so I think it’s absolutely wonderful.
JERRY: We still live in this society that wants to brand addiction in strictly moral terms. But, it’s not about being bad, wrong, and stupid; it’s about being ill and doing things that may be bad, wrong or stupid. When families get their heads around that idea—“Oh, you mean my loved one isn’t just an awful person? Oh, okay here are some ways I can understand what’s been going on…”—then families get to experience the freedom of recovery as well.
DAN: And then, of course, they get the opportunity to look within which may or may not feel like an opportunity. But, it certainly helps to facilitate healing. Freedom is such a wonderful gift—in our personal lives, in our relationships and in the work that we do. It allows us to live our mission and to have a purpose.
Thanks for taking the time today, Jerry. I always like to let my guests have the last word, so take us home…
JERRY: I always tell families to educate themselves on addiction For me, freedom came from an getting education about the disease of addiction and what it really is. So, I say to families, if you’ve got someone who’s struggling, get help, and reach out. There’s so much help available. In some ways, our anonymity in the recovery world is our own worst enemy because there’s so much help available but many people just don’t know about it. So to men who need help: reach out. And to families who need help: reach out because it’s available.
By Andrea Sauceda, Internet and Social Media Director at The Meadows
It was 116 degrees on the June day my new co-worker Erin and I went to meet The Meadows’ Equine Therapy program directors for a demonstration. It was also our third day of a week-long new employee orientation process, during which we did whirlwind tours of all The Meadows’ programs and talked with staff about the incredible work they were doing.
I would never have admitted it to my new boss, or to anyone, but I was feeling quite disoriented during this orientation. I had already managed to forget my wallet at home after leaving for the airport, had a little “scrape” with the rental car, gotten lost in Wickenburg twice—which must seem impossible to anyone who has been to the tiny, desert town. (In my defense, it seems that even Google Maps has trouble navigating it.)
I had a six-month-old baby at home--my second--throwing my household into joyful turmoil. My husband and I had just bought a house and the closing was getting very complicated, prompting multiple panicked and urgent text messages per day from him and my realtor--none of which I could answer right away. Plus, I now had this brand new job and wanted to try to at least appear like I had it all together in order to make a good impression. Plus, I was dealing with some “stuff.” Emotional stuff. Stuff I’ve always tried my best to pretend I wasn’t dealing with.
(And, did I mention that it was 116 degrees outside? I’m Midwestern. We don’t do “dry heat.” We like our summer air to be so thick with humidity you can drink it, thank you very much.)
I had both been looking forward to and dreading this equine therapy session. I was intrigued by the concept, and wanted to learn more about it, but was also worried about the degree to which the “experiential” part of the therapy would apply to me. I was kind of hoping I could just hang out in my comfort zone, from which I like to keep things more observational and less experiential, for better or worse.
As Erin and I walked across the dusty parking lot toward the dusty stables, my fear and dread began to grow. I silently said this little prayer:
“Dear God or Whatever: Please let this demonstration be a demonstration only, requiring no participation or interaction from me. The last thing I need right now is to be made a fool of by a damn horse. Thank you! Amen.”
We were soon met by Molly and Anne, who introduced us to the horses, explained to us the ins and outs, and the whys and how’s of the program.
Then it was demonstration time.
“So, we’re going to have you guys do an exercise with Ernie here,” Molly said.
“Shit,” I thought.
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but if you do want to step on up,” Molly said.
“But, can I really opt out?” I thought. “How is that going to look to my new boss and new co-workers? No. I have to do this. And, I’m going to have to pretend to be a good sport about it when this horse drags me across the stables and everyone laughs. YEAH, I SEE THAT EVIL LOOK IN YOUR EYES, ERNIE.”
The task was to stand behind the horse holding two rope reigns, steer him down a short path, get him to turn around some orange construction cones at the end of the path, and come back to the beginning.
Erin, who had grown up going to horse camps as a child, graciously agreed to go first. And, Ernie was... not exactly cooperative. He wasn’t impossible by any means, but it was clear that he didn’t want this whole thing to be too easy for her.
“Oh my God,” I thought. “If Horse Camp Girl is struggling, what does this mean for me?!?! This is going to be so humiliating. What are these ladies going to think when they see how much this horse hates me? I wonder if this will end up being the worst equine demonstration participant they have ever seen.”
Then, it was my turn. I stepped up and took the reins. Anne gave me some instruction which I didn’t hear at all because I was concentrating very, very hard on not freaking out.
I took the reins and shook them. “Okay, Ernie. Let’s do this,” I said.
Ernie began walking. I said, “Thank you.”
He walked some more and I said, “Thank you.” (Note: I think you are actually supposed to say “giddy up” or something? A cowgirl, I am not.) He kept walking, and I kept saying “thank you.”
Finally, we got to the scariest part—the end of the path, where I was supposed to make him turn. I started scrambling to recall any useful bit of information from the instructions I didn’t listen to earlier. “Which one makes him go right?!?”
But, to my surprise, by the time I made a decision as to which reign to pull, Ernie had already made it halfway around the curve all on his own.
“Thank you,” I said.
Once we’d made it back to the beginning, I handed the reins back to Anne. Molly said that she didn’t think she’d ever seen that exercise go so well for anybody.
“How were you feeling before you started the exercise?” Molly asked.
“Umm.. Scared, I guess? I was sure it was going to be a disaster. I was sure I didn’t have whatever special kind of presence and authority horse people have and that he was going to give me a really hard time…”
“So, what happened, then?”
The smart aleck part of my brain—the part that likes to make sarcastic jokes as a defense mechanism against pesky feelings and whatnot—wanted to say, “Well, obviously, what happened is that I am a natural! Like, the Michael Jordan of horsemanship!”
But, what I heard myself saying before I could stop myself was…
“Well...um...this is weird, I guess? But, I think he knew I needed help.”
And, then the worst possible thing I could imagine happening right then, happened. I started to cry. Just a few hot tears, streaming out of the corners of my eyes, but still. I tried to hold on to those tears so hard because I was trying to be a professional dammit, and I halfway succeeded. I was standing there, listening to Molly, gritting my teeth and hoping it looked like a smile, and crying and hoping it looked like I just had some desert dust in my eyes.
I spent the rest of my week at The Meadows—and the rest of the past year—returning to this incident and wondering why I had such a strong emotional reaction after only a few minutes of equine therapy. I still am not sure I fully understand, but I do know this—that one brief experience with that horse, drew into sharp focus many of the self-defeating beliefs I have and have always had about myself. It made me realize how often I face a challenge or difficult situation in my life by...
I wish I could tell you that these realizations have eliminated all the fear of being vulnerable I’ve carried with me throughout my life—a fear that I think is closely tied to my bouts with depression. But, as they often say at The Meadows, “It’s a process.”
I do think I walked away that day, at least a hair less fearful of showing up and being seen than I was before. And, each day since, I’ve gotten another hair or two less fearful. Today, I was finally fearless enough to write this essay—though not without a few days worth of self-doubt and agonizing, and a last minute pep talk from a couple of friends.
If you’re struggling right now, don’t be afraid of what people will think if tell them you need help. Sure, there’s a stigma out there for people who struggle with mental illness or addiction, but the people in your life who love you are going to understand. And, they are going to want to support you so you find the help you need, and instead of feeling ashamed of you, they are likely to be proud of you for having the courage to take charge of your life. Plus, there are many wonderful therapists out there and treatment programs like the ones at The Meadows available to help you. Keep holding on to the reins, but let them steer.
And, thanks again, Ernie.
Now that I’ve shared my story, I want to hear yours. What does being #fearless mean to you, and to your recovery? Tell me in a short essay (500 words) or short video (2 minutes), and I may feature you on our blog or Facebook page!
Email your submissions to email@example.com, or share them on Twitter and mention @AndreaSauceda in your tweet.
If you submit an essay between now and October 31, and we publish it, you’ll receive a special gift!
Also, the intake specialists at The Meadows are happy to answer any questions you might have about treatment options or workshops available to you. (Trust me. I’ve met them. They’re great.) The right program or intensive may help you overcome the issues and false beliefs that have been preventing you from living fully and authentically. Call 800-244-4949.
Meadows CEO Sean Walsh recently sat down with Dan Griffin for a conversation on faith, spirituality, relationships, leadership, and recovery as part of Dan’s “Men in Recovery” video series.
In the interview, Sean talks about his childhood trauma, and how the biggest turning point in his sobriety was the third step (i.e. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.)
Sean and Dan also talk about how faith gives them permission to experience feelings like doubt, fear, and insecurity—feelings that men in our society are often discouraged from admitting that they have.
“We can’t have much faith when we are operating in fear,” Sean says. “To really operate in faith, means walking through those fears.” To Sean, having faith also allows you to have a personal identity that is not tied to status or positions or materials things. Through faith, you can rest in the knowledge that you are not defined by your social status or profession, or by the fears and insecurities you have. Instead, you are defined by your higher purpose.
Watch Sean and Dan’s entire 15-minute conversation for even more insights and inspiration.
If you need help with addiction or mental health issues—for yourself or a loved one—please don’t hesitate to call us at 866-350-1524. We can help you find the faith and courage you already have within yourself and heal from trauma and emotional pain.
We want to hear your story and share it with others. What does being #fearless mean to you, and to your recovery? Tell us in a short essay (500 words) or short video (2 minutes), and we may feature you on our blog or Facebook page! Email your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or share them on Twitter and mention @AndreaSauceda in your tweet.
by Michael Lewis
What does being fearless in recovery mean to me?
It means not walking away before you get a chance to know who you are.
In my life, I’ve had traumatic experiences that ultimately resulted in an eight year run with addiction among other diagnoses. At one point in my life, I identified as an addict to such an extent that I thought I’d never be anything else.
It wasn’t until I decided to give myself a chance to get to know myself outside of my shame that I discovered something I thought was long lost, and to some degree, nonexistent.
I discovered a person that doesn’t believe this world is just some purgatorial dimension where I’m supposed to drown in misery for all eternity. I discovered a person who could once again look up at the stars and see the light shining through the darkness, illuminating the path I once thought to be a desolate road. My journey allowed me to see where my heart truly lies.
In the time of the Tang dynasty a Chinese philosopher and teacher named Confucius said, “If you look into your own heart, and you find nothing wrong there, what is there to worry about? What is there to fear?” I believe this quote to mean that a good heart lies within every person, and once you get to know your heart there will be NOTHING left to fear.
It’s fairly common for people in recovery to accept the labels of their life struggles as their identity. I’ve learned in my own recovery process, and now being a therapist myself, that we’re not defined by our diagnoses or symptoms. Both could very well be a big part of who you are, but we don’t walk around saying, “Hi! I’m addicted and mentally ill Mike, nice to meet you!”
If anything it would be more like, “Hi I’m Mike and I’ve struggled with addiction, trauma, and depression. I know what it’s like to walk the unseen path. How can I be there to help?”
A psychologist by the name of Erik Erikson once said, “The more you know yourself, the more patience you have for what you see in others.” To have patience for others is to have compassion, and to have compassion, is to be enlightened, and to be enlightened is to be unwrapped from a shroud of fear and darkness.
This is what being fearless in recovery means to me.
By Peter Charad
It's one of those memories that feels like it happened yesterday.
Tuesday evening, October 5, 1976, I had checked into the Sheraton Hotel in Hong Kong. As I arrived at my room I heard the phone ringing.
I was excited as I assumed it was my Hong Kong pals phoning to tell me what the arrangements were for the evening.
I have never been able to describe the feeling when, as I picked up the telephone, my ex-brother-in-law told me that my brother had taken his own life.
Colin was the family hero; my personal hero. My belief was that when all else failed he would be there to catch me⎯and he was gone!
I couldn't breathe, I felt nauseous, and then an enormous, scary howl screeched out of me. I started sobbing uncontrollably. I felt so alone and in dire stress; completely out of control.
A colleague had been phoned before I was phoned and very shortly arrived at my door with a bottle of XO Brandy. He poured out a very large glass for me. Those powerful feelings began to subside.
Early the next morning I bought the first 10mg Valium tablets, of many to come, and booked my journey to Johannesburg for the Friday funeral. There was no direct flight so I was booked to leave in the evening via Australia, a 37-hour journey that I survived on alcohol and Valium!
I made it to the funeral and returned back to Hong Kong two days later to continue on as if nothing had happened. The reality was that it hadn't happened on a “feeling level.” I had gone way up into that space where I couldn't feel hurt anymore and I continued to live up there for another 12 years surviving on alcohol and drugs.
I entered a treatment facility in November 1988 to help me stop using these substances. It worked; I was there for five weeks and thankfully haven't found it necessary to use alcohol or any other substance since.
However, little did I know that all the feelings I had numbed before, over and over again for those 12 years were waiting to be felt and processed. It was overwhelming at times; I did not think I would get through it. But, little by little, those enormous feelings began to ease and slowly, after three and a half years of sobbing and screaming I began to surface feeling calm⎯not high, just calm.
It allowed me to emotionally bury my late brother with love and then start healing from all the pain and find the real person under all of that trauma. I am so grateful that I stayed and found mentors who shone lights for me when everything looked so dark.
In honor of National Recovery Month, we want to hear your story and share it with others. What does being #fearless mean to you, and to your recovery? Tell us in a short essay (500 words) or short video (2 minutes), and we may feature you on our blog or Facebook page! Email your submissions to email@example.com, or share them on Twitter and mention @AndreaSauceda in your tweet.