Alumnus Celebrates A Decade of Recovery

My name is Judy P. and I was an inpatient at Edgewood during October, November and December, 2007. I also returned the following year for a week of Insite.

I am coming up on my 10-year anniversary of being clean and sober. At 62 years old, I am very happy about this and will mark the occasion in style, I am sure.

My path to become an Edgewood alumnus has been interesting to say the least. I owe much of it to a remarkable woman — my best friend.

In 2007, Kathe, who is now 38 years sober, took me out for dinner one evening and suggested, in a very kind way, that perhaps I was drinking too much. She pointed out that I had told her on a previous occasion I was probably drinking too much wine. It did not go over well. I sat in heated silence, seething with anger, basically wriggling in my seat with zero witty come backs. I went home. I did not speak to her for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, whether I agreed with her or not was not the point. The point was that I could not get her words out of my head.

Kathe truly wrecked drinking for me. I would pour myself a glass of wine in my crystal goblet, take a sip, and her words just kept echoing in my mind, my internal committee debating their merit.

“Do I drink too much?” Well, sure, but so what?

“If you had been through what I’ve been through, you would drink too.”

I even had a therapist and a GP that counseled me. I was told, “Your problem isn’t drinking, your problem is your relationship,” or, “You need to get rid of him.”

I am including this because well-meaning health professionals are not necessarily trained nor do they know a great deal about alcohol abuse. I was having a very hard time admitting I was an alcoholic. I went around and around with that but, in the end, I decided that I just wanted to stop drinking and if that made me an alcoholic, then, fine, I was an alcoholic.

Kathe gave me the Big Book to read. I phoned her one evening after drinking several glasses of wine. She asked me what I thought of the book. I told her I thought it was stupid and had nothing to do with me.

After waking up another morning, feeling hung over and absolutely wretched and driving my son to school, I finally decided I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I emailed Kathe and said I was ready. She was amazing! She booked me into Edgewood. She tried Betty Ford first, but when she told them it was for a friend, the receptionist kept telling her, “It’s alright dear, you can tell me it’s really for you. People do it all the time.” She hung up and called Edgewood. She offered to look after my son for the duration of my stay.

To me, Kathe is the embodiment of all that is good and wonderful about A.A., an amazing human being with whom I count myself extremely fortunate to be friends. She wasn’t just kind and caring. She was knowledgeable and effective. She went with me to see a counselor in another town, and she flew with me to Nanaimo. She brought my son out to visit me. I owe my sobriety, and much more, to her. I was a mess, and she picked me up and put me exactly in the right place to get the help I needed. It doesn’t get any better than that. I will always be grateful to her for having the courage to call me out.

I signed into Edgewood on October 17, 2007, which is my anniversary. I left on December 14.

My memories? Well, my counselor was Dale Burke, who, along with the other staff, was incredible. I can remember very clearly how confused and upset I was when I showed up. I was so bewildered that I had actually checked myself into rehab, and I questioned the wisdom of that decision daily for the first couple of weeks. I questioned Dale so much that she finally drew on a page in my binder for me to look at.

“Judy is an Alcoholic.”

I do remember having a hard time with all the rules. Not because I have authority issues, but because, as a mature business person with success under my belt, I was used to being the authority. I remember complaining to a friend on the phone during the second week, “They keep telling me what to do!”

She replied, “Why don’t you try doing what they tell you?”

Good grief. Apparently, not listening to what others tell me to do was not restricted to my drinking.

The Serenity Prayer also pissed me off immediately. My attitude was, well, maybe all you losers who have nothing better to do can be serene. This was said inside my head, but dripping with sarcasm. Seriously. Who has time for this stuff? I had places to go, people to see, and things to do – except I didn’t. I was stuck in that chair, in that auditorium, by my own admission.

Weeks later, while I was obsessing about my boyfriend, a peer said to me, “Oh, you have the codependent crazies.”

It stopped me dead in my tracks. There was a name for that? There was a condition that other people experience similar to the one I was feeling? That was my eureka moment. Far more than identifying with being like other alcoholics in treatment, it resonated, and I literally reverberated with that recognition. It was a huge turning point for me. The book Codependent No More and its sequel have both proven very influential.

I did not receive a chip when I left, as the counselors felt I still needed more time. However, I did attend aftercare groups for a year. I went to A.A. for 90 visits in 90 days and I got a sponsor. My aftercare plan suggestions continued for years, as did Big Book studies and my Insite stay at Edgewood.

Still, it was not a smooth transition. It was rough and bumpy, and I got in my own way at every conceivable step. Just trying to be honest with myself, let alone the rest of the world, was dicey. My mind was a whirling mass of anxiety spiked with rage, self-pity and blame. I was an equal-opportunity blamer, dumping as much on myself by excusing the bad behavior of others, and simultaneously spewing venom on the unchosen. Again, I was busy doing this inside my own head.

I clearly remember the first time I drowned out the raucous, nasty, noise in my head with gratitude. It seems the two are mutually exclusive. At least, for me they are. It gave me peace of mind. That was, and is, the most valuable thing I learned, or, at least, the one I came to rely on the most.

My biggest challenge in early recovery was an abusive relationship in which I was embroiled, of which I continued to reel in and out for my first few years before ending it for good seven years ago.

But, thanks to Edgewood, having another drink was not an issue. I stayed sober throughout it and have not had a drink since before checking into Edgewood. That relationship signified my rock bottom, and I needed to be living sober long enough to realize my self-worth. Once I got out of the relationship, I felt truly free.

Going to Edgewood and A.A. gave me the tools to do that.

These days, I am retired, happily remarried and living in Pennsylvania. My husband, an anesthesiologist, is a wonderful man — intelligent, kind-hearted and the owner of a great sense of humor. Living on 150 acres in the country with a flowing stream, we are about 90 miles from New York City. Our quiet life is punctuated with trips into the city to see a play or shop, and lots of travel. Life is very good.

I have one son. He came to visit me in Edgewood one family day. If you ask him about my drinking, he will tell you he only ever saw me drunk maybe twice. I simply did not drink around him. He did, however, suffer through the rollercoaster of emotional upheaval and the chaos of the effects of my drinking and being involved in an abusive relationship. We have talked about this many times and I have made amends; he assures me that all is well. Thank God. He is now 23 and has just graduated with his Masters Degree. He went through university at a prestigious post-graduate school on scholastic scholarships, and, if I was any prouder of him my head would explode. He is kind and big-hearted, and I love him to bits.

In closing, I hope my story can be of some use to our extended family of Edgewood alumni. Over the years, I have recommended Edgewood to several people. It was an amazing experience. Ten years later, I am still very grateful for having had the opportunity to get sober and turn my life around in such a supportive, caring place.

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Baldwin family knows addiction inside and out

 

By Jeff Vircoe

Billy Baldwin may not be the most famous of the Baldwins. He’s probably not the most controversial. But when it comes to the topic of addiction, he is certainly one of the most literate. Been there. Seen that.

Though not an addict himself, the 54-year-old American actor, producer and writer has had a front row seat to plenty of high-profile carnage. His famous male siblings, Alec, Stephen and Daniel, have, at different times, been public poster boys for the chaos that comes with the illness.

Billy is also married to a woman in long-term recovery, the actor, singer and model, Chynna Phillips. Together 25 years – a rarity in Hollywood for sure – Baldwin and Phillips have recently become more public about their experiences with recovery.

Last fall, they spoke at a Healthy Minds Canada gala in Toronto, sharing how addiction and recovery play out in their own lives. Sponsored in part by the Edgewood Health Network, the dinner helped raise nearly $400,000 towards an assortment of research projects, workshops, conferences and various mental health education initiatives.

Baldwin agreed to talk at length about his wife’s and his own journey through the minefield of addiction and recovery, the full story of which appears in the current EHN Phoenix Magazine. Here is a portion of the interview conducted with Phoenix reporters.

What’s your connection to Canada?

My connection to Canada is far more through the film industry – like a million to one – than it is to any of my ancestors. My father’s side of the family came over, part of it on the Mayflower, another part of it in 1638 to Boston. My mother’s side of the family is German and French. They came through Nova Scotia and they also came through Quebec. Her maiden name is Martineau, but they’ve been in upstate New York for centuries. I don’t have a strong connection to her French Canadian side. I do, but it’s through upstate New York, so not really.

So you didn’t spend time in Quebec growing up?

We were too poor to travel and we were too poor to vacation. I was never on a plane in my childhood. Was never on a vacation in my childhood. We used to go up and visit my mother’s side of the family but that was all in upstate New York, in the Syracuse area.

But, Canada? I’ve made movies coast to coast. I’ve made movies or I’ve worked with my wife and her band traveling across Canada. We’ve worked in Vancouver many times. Winnipeg many times. Toronto, I can’t even count the amount of times. Montreal several times. I made a film out in St. Andrews and St. Stephen in New Brunswick. I did a commercial in Quebec City. I must have made a dozen to fifteen films up there. I’ve done some charity events up at the Banff Hot Springs and Chateau Lake Louise. I’ve done some environmental fundraising stuff up there in the Canadian Rockies. So, I’ve been all over the country.

Have you spoken about addiction and mental illness before?

Not publicly a lot, no. Half my family is in A.A., so, yeah, everybody talks about their addiction and personal family issues in the anonymity of an A.A. meeting, but never on a public stage like that, no.

Do any of your family members give you flack when you talk publically about things that maybe used to be left behind closed doors in the past?

Well, there are certain things that I don’t share. I share what I feel comfortable with. But there’s plenty of stuff that I haven’t shared.

In 1999, you made the movie Virus with Jamie Lee Curtis. She’s a well known spokesperson for recovery advocacy organizations. Do you see that kind of role for you and Chynna going forward? Can you use your profile for causes like this?

We could. We could. I mean, I don’t see why not. When I met my wife, she was three years sober. She was 22 and now she’s nearly 50. She’s been sober since she was 19. She grew up in a rock and roll family, so mental health issues and addiction. Her father was a heroin addict for decades and it killed him. If, somehow, I could put that together.

That format we did for you [EHN] guys would be a great platform for us to go around and talk about show business and family and the strength of marriage and addiction and mental health issues. Yeah, I liked doing it in the format we did. I didn’t want to have Chynna give a speech and then I give a speech. I wanted to sit up there in big fluffy chairs [with] an M.C. and do more of a talk show format, and then throw it out to the audience for questions. I’ve done many of those, but not with Chynna and not on that topic. But I’ve M.C.’d and done chats and all that sorts of stuff in the past.

Your description of one of Daniel’s bottoms was riveting. Did you ever get near that level, that environment that your brother was living, in your own partying years?

In terms of my own personal use, I’ve been around it. I’ve been around Hollywood people and I lived in New York for 25 years, so I’ve been around it with friends and family members, yeah. But, no, I’ve never had that kind of appetite for partying at all.

They say addiction is a family disease. So, when did addiction start affecting you? And now?

I didn’t really have to deal with it a lot. My parents didn’t do drugs and my parents didn’t really drink alcohol. We didn’t really have alcohol in our home, but that was more of a function of the fact that they couldn’t afford it.

I mean, we had it in the house. But my father was never that kind of guy. He was a high school teacher and a coach, so once or twice a year he would go out with some of the other teachers and some of the other coaches on pay day. They would cash their cheques and hit a local watering hole in my home town and my father would have a beer or two, but he was not … you know. Not to say that we were totally devoid of alcoholic behavior. But I really didn’t have a sophistication to identify what it was when I was 12 to 15 years old.
In my early adult life, I would say my earliest introduction was through my brother, Daniel, who was married to his high school sweetheart, had a child with her, got divorced, and in our early days in Hollywood, being around Hollywood people, and being around people [who] were abusing drugs and alcohol and then, my brother Daniel.

Daniel has married and divorced several times, and, more often than not, it has been drug addiction that has destroyed his relationships, and that is something that I was dealing with very early on. Even when I was in the latter years of undergraduate, and the early years in New York City after I’d finished college. I was dealing with bullshit related to his addiction. So, I’ve been running and growing and struggling with it myself – not my own addiction – but struggling with how to deal with [his].

The key being that, you know how, sometimes, when you think you’re helping someone, you’re not helping them. You’re enabling them. Trying to find that balance is always pretty tricky. It’s very challenging because you know you don’t know how to strike a healthy balance. A lot of times people will draw the line in the sand in different places.

Some people had been through this with friends and family for a lot longer than I had been at that point in my life, and they were very hard, very militant about it. ‘You gotta shut em off. You gotta shut em down. Fuck them. Don’t help them. Don’t give them an inch.’ It’s hard. When they are suffering and struggling, it’s hard when it’s a blood relative. It’s hard when they’re married and they have children. That’s something I’ve always struggled with. When children are involved. You want to try and find a way to help the kids without enabling the addict, you know?

Would you say co-dependency is one of your things?

On some level, everybody is. But, how much do you learn? How much do you evolve? How much do you grow? How much do you learn from past co-dependent mistakes? I think I’ve gotten pretty good about it.

You once had a house about 10 minutes away from Stepping Stones, which was Bill and Lois Wilson’s [the founders of AA and Al-Anon] place in Bedford Hills, New York. What are your thoughts on the 12 Step movement?

I think Bill Wilson should posthumously be awarded a Nobel Prize. Tell me where any one individual, unless you discovered penicillin, who else in the history of humanity has saved more lives than that guy? It doesn’t work for everybody. That’s okay. But the 12 Steps, across the board with narcotics, alcohol, with eating disorders – I can’t even quantify – millions of lives this guy has saved at this point.

What is the answer to the addiction crisis facing our two nations, in your mind?

It ain’t fucking Donald Trump, I’ll tell you that. But, I don’t know. I don’t know. This whole heroin thing, the way police departments are dealing with it now. I know a lot of lives are being saved because the cops are now carrying this Narcan [Naloxone]. That’s helping to save a lot of lives. It’s a Band-Aid [solution], but I like that it’s becoming more standard operating procedure. There [are] a lot of police departments that were fighting that, because I guess they didn’t want to be in that business. But they’ve saved quite a few lives, so I’m all for [it].

They say education is the key to this fight. So, what does the average North American need to know about addiction?

I think it’s one part education, one part economy and jobs, and it’s 10 parts God, if you know what I mean. Even then, you’re going to have [a lot] of people slipping through the cracks. But, I’ve never seen the epidemic as bad as it is now.

Even when heroin was chic, back when I was a teenager in the Seventies. The stuff that they have out there now with pot and with heroin, what they’ve done to it, I don’t know what they hell they put into it but, literally, the pot today – you take one or two hits of it and it’s like being on an acid trip in the Seventies.

I don’t do it – but that’s what I hear. It’s incredibly powerful and incredibly addictive. Between heroin and the benzo problem and the painkiller (opioids) problem, you could do heroin one time and no looking back. You’re hooked. It’s scary.

What do [workers] in the field need to know about the importance of what they are doing for a living?

I’ve never been an addict, so maybe it would be better for my brother, Daniel, to answer. He’s a professional in the field that you are in now. He’s still making movies, but he’s professionally doing interventions and putting people into recovery. He’s been doing that professionally for the last 10 or 15 years, particularly in the last five years.

It’s an epidemic. It’s worse than ever before. A lot of the services are being cut. A lot of the funds are being cut. And it’s coming at a time when you guys are needed now, more than ever. It’s stunning to me when you hear people like Trump talking about cutting services for the addicted. Cutting services for mental health. Cutting services for the National Endowment for the Arts, but then giving the Defense Department a $56 billion increase.

What does the term dry drunk mean to you? Have you ever seen it in action, and what does it look like?

Oh, of course. Of course. Dry drunks are frustrating to me. But, at least they have an excuse. The excuse is they are not in the program and they are not working the steps. What is more frustrating for me is somebody who is a raging alcoholic but they don’t do drugs, they don’t do alcohol, they don’t use at all.

They still go to meetings every week. Sometimes only once a week. Sometimes twice a week. They’re 25-30 years sober. They’re going to meetings, but they’re not really working the steps and they are letting or allowing their alcoholism to manifest itself in various ways in their life. It’s almost at an intolerable level and they are making people’s lives absolutely fucking miserable, and they don’t see it. They’re not doing coke. They’re not drinking alcohol. They’re not getting shitfaced. They’re still going to meetings. They go out with their buddies for a cappuccino after the meeting. They check that box. But they’re not really working the steps.

If they were working the steps then they would not be, in terms of OCD, in terms of control, in terms of rage and anger. A lot of times, the disease, when you’re not drinking and not working the steps the right way, you know, there’s transference, [there are] substitutions. A lot of people put it into exercise or sex. I’ve seen a lot of people are still going to the meetings and are raging alcoholics and it’s raging through their personality.

It’s not like I want them to go out and have a drink. But I wish they could see … they don’t see it. So dry drunk – that can be very dangerous. And, in most cases, that can be very unhealthy for somebody to not be using but to not be sober and not be working the steps. That can be upsetting and frustrating, unhealthy and dangerous.

Are you talking friends and family here?

Both. I have extended family and friends sure. And [in] all the experiences of my life, I’ve seen it many times. It’s very rare that I see somebody [who] is truly, truly sober. I see people [who] don’t use. People [who] go to meetings. And people [who], beyond going to meetings, really honestly attempt to work the steps. But, it’s such a challenge to allow that to transcend all aspects of your life.
I’ve rarely seen somebody [who] is sober who [has] allowed it to access and infiltrate and transcend every aspect of their life. Usually, you see the “ism” finding its way through some tributary; it finds a way to work itself into some aspect of their personality. Whether it’s eating, exercise, sex … I don’t know if there’s any such thing as the perfect 12 Stepper.

Your brother, Stephen, actually runs ministries. Your wife is a Christian. So where are you at with God?

I talk about that with my wife. I don’t talk about that in interviews.

Thank you for your time Billy.

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This too shall pass: timeless advice when the going gets tough

By Jeff Vircoe

It’s not exactly something we say to ourselves when the landlord or the dealer’s buddies are pounding on the door.

This too shall pass.

But it is a slogan, a jingle, or an adage that many in recovery use to get through difficult patches. A death. A deadline. A health crisis. A traffic jam.

Though some in the 12 Step fellowships have taken it as their own, “this too shall pass” has a history steeped in wisdom as well as spiritual and philosophical context. The adage can be definitively traced back to the musings and writings of Hebrew, Turkish and Persian scribes, in particular, poets like Sanai (1080-1131) and the Attar of Nishapur (1145-1220).  The saying grew from a fable about a powerful king who was in search of a ring which would bring him happiness whenever he felt sad. His sages presented such a ring, with words to the effect of “this too shall pass” etched on it.

Over time, many story writers, poets and hymnists have created vehicles for the sentiment that sponsors love to use to comfort the rattled or grieving.

In the 19th century, English poet, Edward Fitzgerald, was writing about it. In 1852, he crafted the fable Solomon’s Seal, explaining how the adage had the power to make a sad man happy but, conversely, a happy man sad.

American newspaper editor and abolitionist, Theodore Tilton (1835-1907), reworked the concept when he wrote The King’s Ring in 1867, which noted that, though one could lose anxiety with the passage of difficult times, one should also expect the end of the good times, too. “This too shall pass” waves a double-edged sword.

The great Roman Stoic philosopher and statesman, Seneca, perhaps explained that side best.

“It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself for difficult times; while fortune is bestowing favors on it is then is the time for it to be strengthened against her rebuffs.”

In other words, change is coming.

In modern times, former Led Zeppelin frontman, Robert Plant, recorded a song in 2010 with fellow musician, Buddy Miller, based on Tilton’s poem, Even This Shall Pass Away.

In one of the more widely circulated explanations of the slogan, before he became the United States’ 16th president, even Abraham Lincoln took a run at explaining the story of the Persian king who needed a ring to pick him up when he was down.

On September 30, 1859, the top-hat-wearing, bearded, up-and-coming Republican icon gave a 4,800-word speech to a collection of farmers in Milwaukee and dropped the mic with this:

“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction! And this, too, shall pass away.”

While Lincoln was referring to the debate over slavery, modern techniques in agriculture such as the steam plow, and the importance of farming and using the land and labour smartly, the point he was making was that, good or bad, history moves forward. Nothing remains the same. Things change every day.

One of the reasons the adage resonates so much with the recovery crowd is it reminds them that situations which may seem like a dead end – marital, employment, legal – can, and often do, turn on a dime. Some call them acts of providence. Some call them miracles. Others call them coincidences. No matter, changes happen.

“We, who have recovered from serious drinking, are miracles of mental health,” Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill Wilson wrote in the Big Book in the chapter A Vision For You (p. 161). And in his own story on page 11 in the same book, “My ideas about miracles were drastically revised,” Wilson says.

Another popular saying may sum up the essence of “This Too Shall Pass”:

“Don’t quit five minutes before the miracle happens.”

“The world is a wheel always turning,” American novelist Anzia Yezierska (1880-1970) once said. “Those who are high go down low, and those who’ve been low go up higher.”

The post This too shall pass: timeless advice when the going gets tough appeared first on Edgewood Health Network.

KEEP IT SIMPLE: A mainstay slogan for addiction recovery, but one with time tested roots

By Jeff Vircoe

Leonardo da Vinci is often credited with saying that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Albert Einstein put it this way: If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.

The message behind both? Keep it simple.

The history of recovery from addiction tells us that if ever there were two men who had reason to be losing their minds to sophisticated chaos, it was William Griffith Wilson and Robert Holbrook Smith.

The two co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous (pictured above) launched an anything-but-simple, volunteer, not-for-profit organization with no rules and no president. Through growing pains, which included rejections, salutations, anonymity breaks, scientific and religious praise and plenty of scathing reviews, too, there was nothing simple about it. With membership including rubbies, rummies, pill-poppers, atheists, agnostics and mentally disordered crackpots from all walks of life, it wasn’t exactly a recipe for success. Yet, somehow, though they didn’t get to see the current version, the baby which Dr. Bob and Bill W. birthed blossomed to over 2 million members around the world.

Yet, as complicated as the story of A.A. has been, the Keep It Simple slogan has become closely associated with the fellowship that has saved countless lives.

Variations of the Keep It Simple term were not invented by Da Vinci (1452-1519) nor the A.A. co-founders, of course. They weren’t claimed to be. The concepts and origins of the value of simplicity are thousands of years old. Around the year AD 55, the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:3, “But I fear, lest somehow the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”

Half a century before that, in 551 BC, the great Chinese teacher, Confucius, had this to say: “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” He also advised to “Keep it simple and focus on what matters. Don’t let yourself be overwhelmed.”

So, the idea of keeping things simple has long been in the lexicon of mankind’s languages. Contemporary advocates of keeping things simple included the prolific author Tom Clancy, whose complicated novels included The Hunt for Red October and Clear and Present Danger. Though his stories were teeming with complex political and military intrigue, the writing of the books themselves required a whole lot of simplicity.

“I do not over-intellectualize the production process,” he once said. “I try to keep it simple: Tell the damned story.”

One look at the online store eBay will tell you how popular the slogan Keep it Simple is; Judge Judy Sheindlin wrote a book titled Keep it Simple Stupid about amusing true crime cases. Keep It Simple was also the name of books from Weight Watchers, gardening buffs, breast feeders and even NFL quarterbacks – Terry Bradshaw wrote Keep It Simple in 2002.

It’s a pretty flexible slogan. In the 1960s United States Navy, Keep It Simple was a design principle advocated for weapons systems. Their Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS) acronym was a way of saying most things work better if made simple instead of complicated. According to Wikipedia, lead engineer Kelly Johnson was credited with coining the saying after handing a team of aircraft designers a handful of tools and explaining that, under combat conditions, the average mechanic had to be able to make repairs with just the barest of equipment at his or her disposal.

To those who owe their lives to the fellowships of recovery, the term Keep It Simple comes with some serious historical 12 Step cache. It’s one of the most revered sayings in the history of Alcoholics Anonymous.

It goes back to at least two instances of note, both involving the co-founders.

The first happened in the summer of 1950. Dr. Bob Smith was dying of colon cancer. Alcoholics Anonymous was hosting its first ever International Convention, in Cleveland, Ohio, just an hour’s drive from Dr. Bob’s home in Akron. Many thought he was too sick to speak at the event.

Al S., a friend and A.A. member from New York, drove Dr. Bob to Cleveland.

“All he said was, ‘I’m tired. Please excuse me if I don’t talk,’” Al recalled in the A.A. book Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers. “I didn’t think he was going to make it.”

Nonetheless, though he had been bedridden for five of the past seven months, Dr. Bob steadfastly stood at the podium in front of 3,000 people on July 30th for his farewell talk to A.A. members.

In a speech which lasted mere moments, he explained how he could not miss this first convention. And he shared on the slogan on which this story is based.

“There are two or three things that flashed into my mind on which it would be fitting to lay a little emphasis,” he said to a hushed crowd. “One is the simplicity of our program. Let’s not louse it up with Freudian complexes and things that are interesting to the scientific mind, but have very little to do with our actual A.A. work,” he said. “Our 12 Steps, when simmered down to the last, resolve themselves into the words ‘love’ and ‘service’. We understand what love is, and we understand what service is. So let’s bear those two things in mind.”

Seeing the man who had saved so many lives in that condition was not an easy sight, the book reports.

“As he finished, those who watched could easily see that the exertion of saying the brief words had left him physically weak and spent. Try as he would, he was forced to leave. In consternation, thousands of eyes followed him as he left the stage.”

Dr. Bob was to succumb to the illness less than four months after that talk, on Nov. 16, 1950.

The second moment of clarity, as far as Keep It Simple goes, happened when Bill Wilson, the other co-founder, got a final up-close and personal sense of Dr. Bob’s energy a few weeks later when he went up to Akron to see his old friend. Wilson was forever struck by the vision of his peer dying.

In his book, Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, written in 1957, Wilson recalled that final meeting, when he and the doctor agreed that an annual conference featuring sober A.A. delegates from around the world was the way to lead the fellowship into the future.

“A few hours later I took my leave of Dr. Bob, knowing that the following week he was to undergo a very serious operation,” he writes on page 214. “Neither of us dared say what was in our hearts. We both knew that this might well be the last decision that we would ever make together.”

“I went down the steps and then turned to look back. Bob stood in the doorway, tall and upright as ever. Some color had come back to his cheeks, and he was carefully dressed in a light gray suit. This was my partner, the man with whom I never had a hard word. The wonderful, old, broad smile was on his face as he said almost jokingly, “Remember, Bill, let’s not louse this thing up. Let’s keep it simple!” I turned away, unable to say a word. That was the last time I ever saw him.”

In closing, Keep It Simple was a classic Dr. Bob saying. He urged members to stay away from overanalyzing the program, and to stick to love and service and spiritual matters as the answer to their dilemma.

 

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The therapeutic value of Keep It Simple

By Jeff Vircoe

The Akron surgeon probably knew the therapeutic value of the term as well as anyone.

But when Dr. Robert Smith offered Keep It Simple as prescription for the good health of one Bill Wilson, he probably had no idea how profound that little slogan would become.

Keep It Simple was one of the most frequently used slogans by Dr. Bob. On record, he offered it up on the railway platform when Bill left Akron to return home to New York after the summer of 1935. He used it again during his last talk to the membership at the 1950 Alcoholics Anonymous International Convention in Cleveland. And, he encouraged Wilson to pay attention to the simplicity message the last time the two cofounders of A.A. spent time together, just weeks before Dr. Bob died in November 1950.

Sixty seven years later, in countless meeting rooms around the globe and in thousands of treatment centres like Edgewood in Nanaimo, B.C. (part of the Edgewood Health Network) the slogan Keep It Simple is still considered a fundamental slice of the recovery pie.

Apparently, addicts need that simplicity. It makes sense.

“Drug addiction is a complex illness,” reads the first page on the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) website.

As one of the world’s leading researchers into the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction, NIDA is about as scientific in its definitions and vocabulary as any organization. Its credibility is impeccable. With articles on diagnostic methods, pharmacology, and use of heady terms like endogenous and cardiac arrhythmias, organizations like NIDA help scientists and doctors, treatment centre counselors, and you and I to figure out the mechanics of what is wrong and what is fixable with our brains. Yet, with scientific language about as exciting as watching grass grow, it’s not exactly Keeping It Simple. So, by telling readers that, first and foremost, “drug addiction is a complex illness,” NIDA’s intro speaks volumes.

If drug addiction is a complex illness, it probably goes without saying that addicts are complex people. But are they?

Not necessarily so, says one woman with a decade of working with and studying addicts.

“I believe there is not a huge difference, sometimes, between the life problems that addicts face and the life problems that somebody without active addiction faces,” says Dr. Christina Basedow. “One of the main differences that I see is the amount of obsession that is given to those types of problems. So I wouldn’t say that addicts necessarily complicate things, but I think the obsession that comes as part of addiction complicates things.”

With a PhD in Psychology, Basedow is the supervisor of the continuing care team at Edgewood Treatment Centre in Nanaimo. Her team of counselors treats patients in extended care – a typically three-month phase of treatment which follows two months of inpatient residential treatment. In extended care, patients continue with the group therapy in which they’ve been extensively involved in inpatient treatment. But, they are also transitioning back into work or school, volunteering, and attending 12 Step meetings in the community. It’s a transition back to the outside life awaiting them: bills, relationships, jobs, kids and health issues. You know – life. Everyone’s got problems, and everyone has their own way of navigating through them. But, by the sheer nature of addiction, the level of obsessiveness with which addicts roll into recovery makes dealing with life, well, complicated.

“There’s a belief that addicts think that ‘normal’ people don’t have all of these [life] issues,” says Basedow, “and they think, ‘There is something wrong with me – there’s something different and I’m sick.’ But, really, it’s not that ‘normal’ people don’t have issues. It’s just that they don’t obsess to the nth degree about them.”

With a decade of experience studying and helping addicts, Basedow explains how the addict can’t necessarily help him- or herself when it comes to how they process information.

“Addiction has definitely got a brain disorder component. We’ve seen that. If you look at it from a hereditary perspective or a thought process perspective, the cognitive distortion perspective, there’s definitely something that’s dysregulated in the brain when it comes to active addiction, especially when someone is using. It can re-regulate when we get into recovery. But, in the active phases of addiction, there is absolutely a cognitive dissonance component and a brain component to it.”

The idea of interfering in the crazy-making, obsessive, compulsive mind of an addict means hope is available, but it requires a complete overhaul of how addicts approach their lives. A rerouting of the brain patterns and responses to issues. The 12 Step movement offers one way. Psychotherapy offers a way. Medication management, diet and exercise, pet therapy, religious programs – many suggested avenues appear on the map toward recovery.

At Edgewood, what has been found to be successful is taking an honest inventory of what has been going on in active addiction, studying the story told by the addict brain and comparing it to the facts. So, a lot of time is spent on assignments like Step One, and on questions like how have chemicals placed your life or lives of others in jeopardy? Have you lost self respect due to chemical usage? What is it about your behavior that your spouse-friends-family object to the most? Questions like these, truthfully answered, can start the process of rewiring the complicated web of half-truths, full on lies, or imaginary instances with which many addicts have been living in their un-simple world.

Dr. Basedow says the assignments and plenty of group therapy are about getting to the truth and changing the story.

“It’s about sorting out what the story is that this person has been telling themselves sometimes from childhood onward, what has kept the lies alive, what has kept them disassociating or kept them complicated or kept them using. Re-narrating the story into something that’s a lot more simplistic. It could be something as simple as, ‘I had a lot of stuff happen in my childhood, and some of them were really traumatic. And, because of that, I didn’t connect with people. And, because of that, I told myself that I was unworthy and unlovable. And, because of that, I was …’ It’s about asking, ‘How do I re-narrate all of these thoughts that I’ve had into a story line that has led me to use?’”

“That’s why we use group therapy, because, then, more people than just one can help re-narrate the story and confront the masks you wear and the different types of stories you’ve created for yourself and the way that you keep yourself away from people. And, just the lies you’ve told yourself, whether it’s the victim stance or whether it’s a different type of role.”

Once the honesty aspect – the truth about our situation – is established within us and with others, then recovery can grow from a spark into a life filled with ups and downs.

Keep It Simple means understanding that life is not always up or down.

“When you get into recovery, everything feels different. You’re not using a substance of process or choice. And because you’ve used it to regulate your emotions for so long, you don’t know that this flood of emotions, this roller coaster, is a normal part of early recovery, and the problems that people in early recovery are facing are not abnormal. People out there [who] don’t have substance abuse issues are also struggling with things and also don’t know how to cope. They just don’t pick up [an addiction] to get through them,” says Basedow.

Perhaps no item provided by Edgewood staff to patients is as useful as the Aftercare Plan. A one-page document which describes in simple detail a list of items to follow each day to maintain the spark of recovery embedded in treatment, the Aftercare Plan keeps things in a simple order.

Meetings. Sponsorship. A home group. Aftercare. Exercises to look after physical, spiritual and mental health. Nothing too complicated, the Aftercare Plan is Keep It Simple in action.

The willingness to enact their plan is on the addict.

If you’ve spent money and time on feeding your addiction and it led you to a point of devastation and you or your loved ones chose to spend money and time getting help, including treatment at one of Canada’s most widely recognized centres, then Keep It Simple means carrying on the process of recovery, bumps and all.

“I think there is solid therapeutic value in Keep It Simple,” says Basedow. “Really, what we are saying in Keep It Simple is don’t trust your mental obsession. Don’t trust the constant reoccurring thoughts as your brain is rewiring itself. Don’t trust that all of those ideas are good. Don’t trust that [you] should act on every impulse. Don’t trust that [you] should re-engage with every person that [you] thought that maybe [you] shouldn’t have. Basically, don’t act on impulse is what keep it simple is all about. Keep it grounded. Keep it connected. That’s the whole purpose, really.”

 

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Digesting the religiosity of some of the language of recovery

 

By Jeff Vircoe

“There are only two things you need to know about the spiritual side of the program. There is a God and you’re not it.”

To anyone who has been sober in A.A. a long time, as in 20 or more years, they will likely have heard this admonishment in smoke-filled rooms.

It’s a slogan that brings smiles to the faces of many old-school members. It is also about as polarizing a statement as you can find in the program. It is the line in the sand for those who struggle with “the God thing”; it’s saying on the surface that, in this outfit, we believe in a supreme deity. And, since it is supreme, it does not need your assistance. You need it. That scares the bejesus out of some who have God issues.

But really, should it?

First off, there is no record in any literature of A.A. or any other 12 Step program where “There is a God and you’re not it” is conference-approved. It just isn’t. So, when someone makes such a statement, they are not speaking for A.A., N.A. or any A at all. They are merely voicing an opinion. No different than if someone were to say, “There is no God, nor am I it,” or “There is a God, and I’m pretty sure Morgan Freeman is it.” It’s an opinion. Though some folks in recovery believe there are too many opinions, the truth is people are allowed, and even encouraged, to express theirs – especially in a meeting setting.

“There is a God, and you’re not it” may be just an opinion, but it is one with sentimental and historically contextual background.

It is important to remember that Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith did not sober up in A.A., they found abstinence in an organization called The Oxford Group, an evangelical Christian fellowship founded by an American Lutheran minister named Dr. Frank Buchman. Originally called A First Century Christian Fellowship, at its peak in the late 1930s The Oxford Group had roughly 50,000 followers in the United States.

Buchman, who believed that the root of all humanity’s problems was fear and selfishness, was not shy about the solution to these problems.

“The world is anxiously waiting to see what Jesus Christ can do in, by, for, and through one man wholly given to him – God led,” he told prospects. “You can be that man.”

Amongst other things, Buchman and his followers believed that sin was the block between God and a person, and selfishness and self-centeredness were primary problems to be dealt with. The theory was if you surrendered your ego to God, sin would leave.

Through a process of conversion, which included confession, conviction, confidence, and continuance, members aimed towards practicing absolute honesty, unselfishness, love and purity – considered to be the moral principles espoused by Jesus Christ.

There is no doubt that the Oxford Group, which accepted Bill Wilson into its midst in New York City and Dr. Bob Smith in Akron, Ohio, believed there was a God and His name was Jesus.

A.A. co-founder, Bill Wilson, always gave credit to The Oxford Group for being the foundation from which A.A. would stem.

“The early A.A. got its ideas of self-examination, acknowledgement of character defects, restitution for harm done, and working with others straight from the Oxford Group,” Wilson wrote in the book Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, first published in 1957.

Dr. Bob’s expressed attitude about Bible study, prayers, and use of devotional Christian literature, as well as his unrelenting advice for new A.A. members to join a church, are legendary. In his mind, there was no doubt about God. To have someone say, “There is a God and you’re not it” wouldn’t have rankled him, or many in Akron Oxford Group circles, one bit. Things were different in New York, where Bill was struggling with the religiosity of the program.

Up until the moment of his so-called “hot flash” (what he called his vital spiritual experience) in the detox ward at Towns Hospital in December 1934, “I still gagged badly on the notion of a Power greater than myself,” Wilson wrote in on page 63 of Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age. But after his experience in which he says “the room lit up with a great white light. I was caught up into an ecstasy which there are no words to describe,” things changed. He believed he had experienced God and knew he would never drink again. He set out from there to apply the Oxford Group principles as best he could.

Of course, long serving members of the Oxford Group, like Henrietta Seiberling, who introduced Bill to Bob, weren’t necessarily sold on Bill’s brand of recovery. She agreed Wilson was a catalyst for the movement, especially being the promoter that he was, but she believed more along the lines of faith first and foremost.

Henrietta’s son, John F. Seiberling (1918-2008), was an eight-term Akron member of the U.S. Congress who released, in 1973, transcripts of a talk he and his mother had shortly after Wilson’s death in January 1971 about the early days of A.A. and the Oxford Group. It contained an interaction she once had with the two co-founders, in which she said to them, “We are not out to please the alcoholics. They have been pleasing themselves all these years. We are out to please God. And if you don’t talk about what God does, and your faith, and your guidance, then you might as well be the Rotary Club or something like that. Because God is your only source of power,” she wrote.

Again, in her mind, there certainly was a God and the alcoholics were not it.

“Not-God – A History of Alcoholics Anonymous”, published in 1979, is the title of what may be the most comprehensive, non-AA conference approved book ever written about the fellowship, by the late historian Ernest Kurtz. The Harvard educated Ph.D had this to say about the importance of the concept.

“The fundamental and first message of Alcoholics Anonymous to its members is that they are not infinite, not absolute, not God,” he wrote. “Every alcoholic had first been, according to this insight, claiming God-like powers, especially that of control. But the alcoholic at least, the message insists, is not in control, even of himself; and the first step towards recovery from alcoholism must be admission and acceptance of this fact that is so blatantly  obvious to others but so tenaciously denied by the obsessive-compulsive drinker.”

The forefathers of the fellowship certainly understood who was in charge. Remember the early members of A.A. were surrounded by strong, religious Christians. The alcoholics who arrived at the Oxford Group meetings looking for help were getting a strong dose of the Judeo-Christian God talk, like it or not.

“The last A.A. dinner that I went to, over 3,000 people were there,” Henrietta Seiberling wrote. “And it was the first meeting that I went to which I was disappointed in. There were two witnesses there, a man and a woman, and you would have thought they were giving you a description of a psychiatrist’s work on them. Their progress was always on the level of psychology. And I spoke to Bill (Wilson) afterwards and I said that there was no spirituality there or talk of what God had done in their lives. They were giving views, not news of what God had done. And Bill said, ‘I know, but (the speakers) think there were so many people that need this and they don’t want to send them away. So there again has come up this same old bugaboo – without the realization that they have lost their source of power.”

Seiberling said, “It is my great hope that they will never be afraid to acknowledge God and what he has done for them.”

If you do not believe in God, this slogan may make you cringe. Perhaps that is why it is one of the slogans rarely heard in the rooms anymore. The idea of a God, and certainly a Christian, heaven-and-hell, keeping-score kind of God, is passé.

But it wasn’t passé at all for the first wave of sober alcoholics who came to develop the fellowship.

Clarence Snyder, who, when he died in 1984, had the longest A.A. sobriety in the world at the time, sobered up under the guidance of Dr. Bob in Akron in 1938. Snyder would go on to found the first group, not under the auspices of the Oxford Group, but instead using a portion of the title of the newly published Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous as the group’s name in Cleveland in May 1939. He was completely sold on the principles of the Big Book as expressed in the first 164 pages, according to longtime A.A. historian, Dick B.

“At the very outset of his recovery efforts, Clarence accepted: (1) A.A.’s original insistence on a belief in Almighty God, the Creator, (2) the necessity for coming to Him through His Son Jesus Christ, and (3) the Bible as the main source of all for religious truth. He also understood and espoused Akron’s emphasis on the Book of James (the healing book, as he called it), the Sermon on the Mount (which, as stated by Dr. Bob and Bill W., contained the underlying philosophy of A.A.), and 1 Corinthians 13, which epitomized A.A.’s emphasis on love). Nonetheless, Clarence was quick to recognize and absorb the life-changing ideas of the Oxford Group and its four absolute standards – honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love.”

However, not everyone was into the God thing, even in the early days.

When writing the Big Book, Bill Wilson asked the first 100 or so members of A.A. in Akron, New York and Cleveland to review the manuscript, which would become the final nail in the coffin of the relationship between the Oxford Group and its “alcoholic squadron.” One member in particular was prominent in convincing the author to make changes to tone down the old-time religious talk. Jim Burwell (1898-1974), whose story appears in the Big Book as “The Vicious Cycle”, is credited as being the one who convinced Wilson and Smith and the others who were sober in the winter of 1938 to change some of the wording in the Big Book, especially as it pertained to God. Burwell’s self-proclaimed “militant agnosticism” facilitated the use of the phrases “Higher Power” and “God as we understand him” in the Big Book instead of anything specifically pertaining to one religion or another.

Clarence Snyder, whose own story appears in the Big Book as The Home Brewmeister, told his biographer this about Burwell:

“Jimmy remained steadfast throughout his life and ‘preached’ his particular [non-God] brand of A.A. wherever he went.”

The God question is not one that will leave A.A. anytime soon. Some members have no problem with the obvious Christian bias of the literature. Others are frustrated with it, especially given the A.A. Preamble, which supposedly assures members that, “A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution”, including Christianity.

History shows us that those divisions between the God-centered crowd and the Easy Does It bunch are anything but new. One old-timer used to say this at a Calgary A.A. meeting: “Some people call it luck. And God doesn’t mind.”

One thing is for sure. “There is a God, and you’re not it” is one slogan that doesn’t work for everyone. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to.

 

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Seventh Annual Recovery Run brings hundreds together to raise hope, help others

Thousands are already part of the Edgewood Treatment Centre family. But one seven-year-old member is doing plenty to make sure that family keeps growing.

The seventh annual Run For Recovery, a twilight tradition along the comfortable mulch shores of Nanaimo, British Columbia’s Westwood Lake, is set for another instalment next month.

On Friday, June 23, alumni, staff, their family members and members of the Nanaimo and Central Vancouver Island community at large will come together to raise funds to combat addiction and raise awareness that recovery is possible and available.

And if you are connected to the Edgewood Health Network, or if recovery advocacy is your thing, then if you’re on Vancouver Island in June, come on down!

This year’s Run For Recovery features all the perks that have helped raise over $100,000 in the first six years of the event. First, there’s the food – what would a warm evening out on the lake be without scrumptious food? Throughout the event, Edgewood’s own Bridges Dining Kitchen crew will be under the big tent on-site, flipping burgers and hot dogs. A high-end Silent Auction features all sorts of items and events: BC Lions football game getaways, fishing charters, Harbour Air flights, items, gift baskets and certificates from local businesses, and more. While fun bidding battles get going over the big packages, there are plenty of little skirmishes on the dining, golfing, arts and other categories of gift items too – all for a great cause, and all in great fun.

While music sets the mood, the family atmosphere always includes a competitive side of the event. Though many people choose a leisurely walk with their children and/or pets, some have a lot of fun trying to beat their run time from years gone past. Others just try to beat their buddies. Either way, there will be prizes awarded for fastest times in Men, Women, Youth, Family and Team categories. And for the zanier, outside of the box crowd, prizes will be awarded for Costumes.

A Bouncy Castle donated by an alumnus keeps the little ones giggling, while face-painted youngsters grin and wander about. All in all, it’s a full-on Edgewood family fun event.

The sobering message behind the event, however, is not forgotten in the fun, given the brutality of the current opioid crisis across the province and in the Central Vancouver Island. Last year, 912 died in illicit drug-related overdoses, 153 of them on Vancouver Island. In the first two months of 2017, another 219 more are gone, 39 from the Island. This March alone there were 120 suspected drug overdose deaths in B.C. – up 51.9 percent from the previous March, according to the BC Coroners Service, most between the ages of 19 and 50. The Times-Colonist Newspaper reported last month that although more than 7,000 Naloxone kits have been distributed on the Island, in the past 13 months there have been over 1,676 overdose-related emergency room visits.

In years past, the funds raised from Edgewood’s Fun Run have been targeted to the Edgewood Foundation, educating people about addiction, and clearing the way for free treatment at Edgewood for several fortunate applicants. But this year, given the critical situation with opioids, Edgewood has teamed up with the mid-Island chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association and their efforts to combat the crisis.

With its vision of mentally healthy people in a healthy society, the CMHA will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2018, as a nation-wide leader and champion for mental health.  The CMHA’s mid-Island branch provides mental health promotion and mental illness recovery-focused programs and services for people of all ages and their families. Services include housing and homeless outreach, employment support, a social centre in Nanaimo and a frozen meals program in Courtenay.

“Given the seriousness of the opioid crisis, it just seemed like the right fit to team up with, and donate the funds raised at the run, to CMHA,” said Colleen Ward, director of the Edgewood Health Network’s western operations.

With this family fun event set, a great cause to get behind, and a location like no other in the central Island, the benefits of taking part in the Edgewood Fun Run can’t be beat.

The whole event costs a grand total of $30 per person, with a check-in time of 6 p.m. for the 7 p.m. race start. Please consider helping out by registering early, and if you have a smashing gift idea for the Silent Auction, please donate it by calling Bonnie at Edgewood at 1-800-683-0111 or 250-751-0111. Call the same numbers to register or go to www.events.runningroom.com for more information.

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