Recovery Rocks – Chris Aguirre

Chris Aguirre is an ex-marketing/advertising creative with a background in graphic design and writing who got sober seventeen years ago and has only recently realized—to his dismay—that he’d been neglecting to pay it forward. He’s trying to rectify this by any and all means under the KLĒN + SŌBRSince Right Now banner as well as volunteering for a local prevention and recovery organization, NCADA. Chris is just another everyday miracle.

Chris Aguirre

Chris Aguirre

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’
Suffice it to say I hit every craggy outcropping on the way down. Physical, mental, emotional, financial, social. Boom! Oooffff! Bammm! Owwww! Fffffuuuuhhh!…damn. I had little, if anything left to lose and I was battered and exhausted.

2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?
The thing that stands out now—and this is only because I’ve recently reread my journal entries from that period—is how much I was still in danger of drifting back. Even though I’d been planning my sobriety for months, I look back now and see the very real spectre of denial still looming over me in those first 30. “I haven’t had a drink for a week! Maybe I’m not an alcoholic after all.” “I haven’t had a drink for almost three weeks! Maybe after a few months I can just go back to taking it easy.” There but for the grace of a H’er P than myself goeth I.

3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?

I managed to have a relatively successful run as a marketing and advertising creative and early on it did wonders for my sense of self-worth. But that does not compare in the slightest to being able to have a mature relationship, then marriage, and ultimately a child with my wife. Without my sobriety I have no doubt I would not be mentally, emotionally—and likely physically, financially or socially—able to have the family that I have now. My daughter and my wife are the two most amazing people I have ever met—and they love me. And that’s THE best thing.

4) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?
—Find someone qualified to help you figure out who you are and why. Then be prepared to act on what you find out.

5) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?

The single most useful thing is this: I do like me. The caveat is, I have to maintain that self that is likable. In my recovery I’ve slipped in that regard and become someone I didn’t like and have had to work my way back to who I am.

6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.
Someone told me that I’m helping them by sharing my experiences, insights, thoughts etc. It gave me the most extraordinarily humbling and moving sensation. Wonderful.

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?
Is this a trick question? “Since Right Now.” Of course. ;-) This latest stage of my recovery has been informed by St. Francis of Assisi’s quote: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” And just this week I was taken by an Arthur Ashe quote: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’
Today, recovery rocks because I’m finally giving it away and it’s a wonderful feeling.

An interview with Arthur Cauty maker of ‘A Royal Hangover’

A Royal Hangover

A Royal Hangover

There is an incredible film called ‘A Royal Hangover’ that has just been released in the UK. The film examines the cultural relationship the British have with booze. Directed by Arthur Cauty, a non-drinker he has been fascinated with the relentless pursuit of drunkeness the British have always pursued. Abnormal drinking has been so normalized in our culture that if you don’t drink you are seen as some kind of weirdo or freak. ‘A Royal Hangover’ reveals the ugly truth behind the delusion that alcohol=fun. This movie is a game changer for a country and a government still in denial about the effects and reality binge drinking is having.
Here is my exclusive interview with the director.

1. What motivated you to make the film?
My motivation for the film lies mainly within the fact that I personally don’t drink, and not only that, but I just never really ‘got’ the appeal of drinking. A lot of people instantly confuse this with abstinence, but there is a big difference – It’s not like it’s against my morals to drink, I just don’t do it for the fact that I don’t find it appealing, much in the same way I don’t participate in the Great British sport of cricket because I find it incredibly boring.

British drinking culture is something I’ve always found fascinating and slightly bizarre. It’s all around you, wherever you look. It’s completely embedded in our culture, in our history, our politics. Some of our most popular TV shows are based around pubs, and then there’s the 18th birthday, weddings, religious ceremonies, all these key life events, marked with alcohol. It’s like the blood in our veins; it oils society, and lubricates us socially. For someone like myself, someone who feels they are outside of this culture looking in, it just looks ridiculous.

So there was always that idea in the back of my head. But it wasn’t until I started travelling around Europe, the USA and Asia, that I realized how strikingly different our drinking culture is in Britain. I started looking into it further, and it became immediately apparent that we have a serious problem with alcohol in the UK – a problem that nobody seems to want to acknowledge or do anything about. And that’s where the idea for A Royal Hangover was born.

Director Arthur Cauty

Director Arthur Cauty

2. What do you hope the film will achieve?
I hope A Royal Hangover will help people all over the World to better understand the harms of alcohol, and for the UK especially to start to develop a healthier and more logical attitude to alcohol as well as other drugs. I know this is not a problem indigenous to the UK, but I do feel that alcohol is more ingrained in British culture, compared to many other countries. To not drink in Britain, is to be ridiculed.

If this film manages to help any number of people to think about how they, as well as the people around them, use alcohol, I’ll feel like I’ve done my job.

3. Do you have personal experience of alcoholism and alcohol abuse?
I actually barely have any experience in drinking alcohol at all. I’ve tried it, but I’ve probably only drank a few pints of alcohol over my whole life. I just never really liked it, or felt the need to drink it. People would say, “you’ll learn to like it”. And I thought ‘Why? Why would I want to learn to like something I find disgusting?”. Take hot chocolate for example – I found that instantly delicious. I didn’t have to ‘learn’ to like that. And so the concept of learning to like alcohol was completely lost on me.

I have however grown up with 3 brothers who didn’t seem to have the same difficulty with enjoying alcohol as I did. I grew pretty accustomed to seeing them throwing up all over themselves, getting into drunken brawls, and even ending up in hospital on occasion.

Whereas I have been fortunate enough not to have any experiences with alcoholism or alcohol abuse myself, the same cannot be said for certain members of my family. My uncle John, who actually features in the film, drinks 2 bottles of whisky every day, and suffers from Wernicke’s encephalopathy, also known as ‘the disease of alcoholics’. He is essentially bed-bound, and doesn’t eat, can barely walk or do much of anything other than drink. He has brain damage, hearing and vision loss, as well as a myriad of other ailments due to his drinking. What is perhaps even more tragic is the effect this has on his wife and 15-year-old kid whom he lives with. They are literally prisoners to his addiction. I’ll never forget turning up at the house for filming, and my uncle not even knowing who I was. He thought it was the first time we had met.

4. Binge drinking has now been utterly normalized in British culture, after making this film what steps do we need start taking to reserve this?

I personally believe a lot of it comes down to how we educate our children in the UK. We’re hardly taught anything in school about drinking, in fact I don’t remember ever having a single lesson about it. I think education about alcohol and other drugs in schools is severely lacking. It makes me think of that famous sketch in South Park – “Drugs are bad, you shouldn’t do drugs, and alcohol is bad, you shouldn’t do alcohol”. That pretty much sums up alcohol education in schools here.

Aside from that, I think their needs to be changes in government policy, more restrictions in advertising, and less sensationalist and more responsible coverage of alcohol in the media. That would be a good start.

5. It seems to me that in our popular culture we have a massive glamorization of alcohol abuse, celebrity culture is awash with it. In the USA ‘not drinking’ is perfectly acceptable but in the UK it is seen as abnormal or extreme, something to be ridiculed. Any suggestions on how we can begin to ‘re-brand’ sobriety as something aspirational and acceptable?

Yes, I totally agree. To not drink in Britain is to be branded a weirdo basically. I myself have never had a problem with feeling like a weirdo – I used wear tights, paint my face, and body slam people for fun, as a former attempted pro wrestler.
Now, I’ve come to quite enjoy the funny looks I get when going into a bar and ordering a coke. It doesn’t bother me. But I can understand how it might bother others to feel like an exception. Peer pressure is such a huge factor when it comes to alcohol, especially for young people. If more people like myself – whether that be parents, brothers, sisters, friends, or people in the public eye like Russell Brand – actually felt comfortable about standing up and saying ‘I don’t drink’, this would encourage so many others to feel ok about doing the same, and be a step towards developing a healthier attitude towards alcohol as a culture.

Arthur Cauty with Russell Brand

Arthur Cauty with Russell Brand

6. Any plans to take the film into schools and youth clubs?

I think the film could be really useful in schools, in showing children an honest and balanced depiction of alcohol, so it’s certainly something we will consider. The first step though is to make an impact on the film festival circuit.

7. Please tell us how people can see the movie when it is released?

You’ll be able to see A Royal Hangover at film festivals internationally. We have literally only just finished the film. In fact, today is the first day in 5 months where I’m not in the edit suite! We’re planning to premiere at the BFI Film Festival in London in October. All screenings will be announced on the website, on our Facebook page, and on twitter.

8. Are their plans to show it in the USA? Although the alcohol culture is different, there are a lot of similarities in college campuses, where alcohol abuse is normalized and encouraged.

There are definitely a lot of similarities in college campuses, but I feel that outside of that, and the whole Spring Break culture, the US is quite different to the UK when it comes to alcohol culture as a whole. I think in general, attitudes towards alcohol in America tend to be a bit more logical. People seem to grow out of it to a degree, whereas in Britain it’s like the whole country is a college campus, and we’re all students going mad on alcohol.

Yes, we are planning to show the A Royal Hangover in the US. We believe the film has a lot of international appeal, as although it’s based on British drinking culture, a lot of the film’s content can be applied to other cultures.

Russell Brand stars in A Royal Hangover

Russell Brand stars in A Royal Hangover

9. What are you up to next?

Trying not to get assassinated by the drinks industry? There are a few exciting things on the horizon which come to think of it I probably can’t talk about. I’ve got a couple of short form projects coming up which will be a nice change of pace after having spent a year and a half (and counting) on A Royal Hangover!

You can see the trailer here:

A Royal Hangover – Review

A Royal Hangover

A Royal Hangover

A Royal Hangover is a film that is long over due. With wit and insight it creates an alarming and frank portrait of Britain’s binge drinking problem.
Interestingly, Arthur Cauty is not some reformed alcoholic on a mission to alert his fellow man about the evils of drinking. But a young British guy who just never liked the taste or effects of alcohol. I mention this because such is the normalization of abnormal drinking in the UK that ‘not drinking’ just because you don’t care for it, is seen with suspicion and as something that is just plain weird. Cauty has been considered ‘weird’ his whole adult life and became curious as to why so many people in Britain drink abnormally and call it fun despite so much evidence to the contrary.
Russell Brand stars in A Royal Hangover

Russell Brand stars in A Royal Hangover

In may respects ‘A Royal Hangover’ begins the necessary process of dismantling a faulty belief system that has enabled binge drinking to entrench itself so much in our culture. The documentary starts with a brief history of British alcohol habits and then compares our relationship with booze to that of other countries. Our problem with alcohol is not unique but our cultural relationship with alcohol is.
There are similarities in the Spring Break/College campus culture in the U.S. But ‘not drinking’ is far more accepted by the wider population there than it is in the UK.
The film highlights how open container laws and less public acceptance of public drunkenness has curbed the eruption of inebriation that British towns centers endure every weekend.
The movie takes us into the ‘belly of the beast’ as it were and there are several scenes taken from an average Saturday night in Britain. It makes for unpleasant viewing. I am a reformed alcoholic, so for me it was like looking at myself 20 years ago and it wasn’t pretty. The participants adamantly state they are having ‘fun’ and ‘there is nothing else to do.’ However, it is clear to the viewer that as people lie passed out in the street and groups wobble by clinging to each other spouting nonsense that this really isn’t the definition of ‘fun.’
British towns prepare for the onslaught of carnage the nighttime economy unleashes. Local health services and policing are focused on limiting the damage that is wrought on an average Saturday night. To the point that 50% of the violent incidences that police deal with are fuelled by alcohol. At one point the film crew were so alarmed by a young man who was passed out covered in vomit that they called an ambulance. The paramedics arrived and then dismissed the potential patient as ‘just drunk,’ they had seen it so many times before they didn’t even raise an eyebrow.
The film creates a convincing picture of British culture that supports, encourages and celebrates alcohol abuse on every level. Try buying a birthday card for an 18 year old that doesn’t have a reference to getting drunk. Or celebrating an event without everyone assuming that alcohol abuse is necessary for the event to be enjoyable. It’s impossible.
With commentary from Russell Brand and various professionals throughout the film they convey the point that the reason behind our alcohol abuse lies in the ‘numbness’ that alcohol promises. It is this aspect of binge drinking that needs further examination in our culture. Why don’t we want to feel anything?
Arthur Cauty with Russell Brand

Arthur Cauty with Russell Brand

The film does offer solutions to the problem of binge drinking by outlining how research has proven that tax increases on alcohol can limit some of the damage drink causes. Minimum unit pricing can be effective in reducing the amounts people drink. Limits on advertising would also prevent the alcohol industry creeping into all areas of our lives. Alcohol certainly has a place in our culture but drinking and being drunk has come to dominate our free time, our celebrations and has redefined what the word ‘fun’ means.

The message that ‘A Royal Hangover’ conveys so brilliantly is just how silly the British really look in their pursuit of doing something so dangerous with such delusional abandon. It clearly lays out the answer is not prohibition but balance. Our culture needs to reflect back alternatives to binge drinking such as moderation. Being ‘alcohol free’ in 2014 Britain must be like being a vegetarian in the 1940’s – who had heard of such a thing? Now vegetarians are catered for everywhere and no one bats an eyelid. Why can’t ‘not drinking’ be seen the same way? What’s the problem?
The alcohol industry, that’s the problem. The self-regulated alcohol industry that lobbied the government to reverse its decision on minimum unit pricing. An industry that relies on us consuming as much of its product as possible to be profitable.
An industry that tries to insist that it’s only a small portion of the population that has a problem with alcohol and any regulation would unfairly impact the large amount of drinkers that enjoy its product sensibly.
Once you have seen ‘A Royal Hangover’ you will be unable to believe that anymore.

Recovery Rocks – Terry Martin

Terry Martin

Terry Martin

Terry Martin is an accountant and group financial controller. He is also the founder of the charity AlcoHelp, an alcohol awareness charity primarily aimed at children aged 8 – 17. Appx every eighteen months he raises funds for the charity by international cycle rides. He has cycled to Egypt, Mexico, India, China, Panama, Costa Rica, Russia, Vietnam and Cambodia.
All of this is impressive but what is extraordinary about Terry’s story is how low his bottom was. He was about 2 weeks away from death when he finally got sober. He is just one of those sober alcoholics that you can’t believe is alive let alone functioning and embracing life the way he is.
Read his extraordinary story here.

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’
The decent to my rock bottom was a steady decline from 1991 to 1998 and then a steep free-fall until the day I got into recovery on 21st September 2000.
I had been drinking daily and taking virtually anything else I could lay my hands on since the late ‘60’s. I stumbled through life, thinking I was “it”. I was self-will run riot . I used people and things for my own motives and thought I had got it made when I became owner of my own company in 1991. I was unaware and didn’t care about the carnage I was leaving in my wake. Two failed marriages and a third on the way. Lifelong friendships tossed aside. I was a liar a cheat and a thief. What I couldn’t buy with my own money I stole from others.
I married my third wife in 1991, I know now that I was fixing- doing geographicals with people as well as places and things. My barometer of substance misuse was rising on the alcohol front- other drugs were becoming less available – alcohol was safe, legal and soon became my sole drug of choice. I was drinking a bottle and a half of vodka a day. In 1994 alcoholism took my sister, In 1998 I had a brain hemorrhage because my blood was so thin – I had a successful operation..and went straight back to drinking. By now I was not eating, I was losing weight- only getting energy from the calories in the vodka, my brain was starting to shut down, I was having audio hallucinations –hearing whole orchestras in my head, I was getting weaker and yellower. I was hardly able to get in and out of my car, or the bath, I was barely sleeping and I was bleeding from my gums, my nose, when I was sick and even from my ears. My personality had changed and irrational anger against people and things was becoming commonplace. I had begun to drift in and out of consciousness -at my desk at work, I would take a telephone call and immediately forget who I had been talking to and what was said. In June 2000 I went on holiday with my family to Majorca, I got the DT’s the day we arrived and I was in intensive care for a week- a week of horrific hallucinations, screaming and insanity. My wife was told to arrange for return of my body to the UK as I had less than a 50% chance of surviving…but I did, we returned home and I to my vodka and for the next 10 weeks I lived in an alcohol fuelled hell..On the morning of the 21st September 2000 I was collected from my company by my wife and taken to a treatment centre . I was told there that if I continued drinking I would be dead within two weeks….

2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?
…I was detoxed and for the first time in my life I started to listen, my anger quickly subsided and I was beginning to feel better. I was not only listening but working on recovery and attending self help meetings. I met some good people in the treatment centre and I started making new friendships. My mother and father were very supportive. My mind was clearing and I realized I wanted to live. On day 27 of recovery I lost my business & my wife asked me to leave. Shortly after I lost my house and a little girl that we were adopting. I was told “we take children away from alcoholics we don’t give them to them” almost all of my old life was gone.
Day 27 was my “FEAR” choice day – F… Everything And Run or Face Everything And Recover. I chose wisely…

3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?
Since I’ve been clean and sober every day is the best thing that has happened to me. Even though they may not go as I would like they are all good days. Among the highlights of my recovery are being there for my parents. Getting to see some amazing places in the world- The Taj Mahal, Chichen-Itza, Moscow’s Red Square, The Pyramids, The Big Five on Safari, The Great Wall of China, Victoria Falls, The Collesium, The Vatican and The Panama Canal. I met a lady in recovery and spent nine happy years with her. I have at last managed to buy my own house and live in a beautiful village in Essex. UK. None of this would have been possible unless I was clean and sober.

4) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?
Wow, that is a difficult one! If I would listen!.. I would tell myself to stop because I was killing myself, that I was an addict and my using could result in losing everything. I would tell myself to get honest and think of others…I would point out the unmanageability of my life.

5) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?
That I am an ok guy! That I have the capabilities of doing stuff that I only ever dreamed of. I have learned that I have drive, passion, a sense of adventure, humor and integrity. I now get a huge amount of pleasure out of the smallest things.

6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.
Last October it was 50 years since I started at high school. We had a school reunion, six of us got together after ONE rehearsal and played a concert for the reunion guests. None of us had played together since 1966… 47years before. It was incredible. The photo of me was taken there. We played some Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, The Who, Al Stewart etc etc. If I has still been drinking I would never have gone to this reunion let alone play in a band…sober!!

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?
“This too shall pass”
“Let go, Let God”

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’
In early recovery I never thought I would be able to appreciate music like I did when I was “high”…as time has progressed I have realized how untrue this is! My iPod has over 17,000 songs on it. I put it on shuffle when I’m driving and it’s always exciting to anticipate what’s coming up. I’m sure people seeing me think I’m nuts ( which of course I am!) bopping around and singing at the top of my voice…yep, Recovery certainly Rocks !!

A Royal Hangover – LA Premier

I’ve just returned from LA where I was able to attend the premier of the documentary ‘A Royal Hangover.’
The movie explores the unique relationship the British have with alcohol. I am publishing a full review soon but wanted to share a couple of photos from the red carpet with filmmaker Arthur Cauty and producer Gabrielle Weller.

Gabrielle Weller, Arthur Cauty, Veronica Valli at LA premier of 'A Royal Hangover'

Gabrielle Weller, Arthur Cauty, Veronica Valli at LA premier of ‘A Royal Hangover’

Binge drinking is at epidemic proportions with no real signs of changing, the health and criminal services are hugely affected but there is still no sign the government is ready to do anything. Drinking alcohol excessively is the norm in the UK.
I took part in the Q & A’s after the film and was really saddened to hear Arthur (who is 28) describe how his peer group has always described him as ‘weird’ just because he doesn’t drink. Luckily Arthur had enough self-esteem to weather this pressure. He always had so many other interesting things to do that getting drunk was just never attractive to him. But what about other people? How many people drink just to fit in? The change I am advocating for is most certainly not prohibition; it is simply balance and honesty. More honesty around the reality of binge drinking (the movie clearly shows that no one is really having ‘fun’) and more acceptance of people who just don’t drink. I would love for someone like Arthur to not experience any reaction when he says he doesn’t drink.
That being ‘alcohol free’ is as acceptable as being vegetarian.

With Amanda Valli - my lovely step-daughter

With Amanda Valli – my lovely step-daughter

Recovery Rocks – Dawn Nickel

After surviving colon cancer in 2005, a breakdown from workaholism and a subsequent layoff from a job that she loved in 2011, it didn’t take much soul-searching for Dawn Nickel to decide that what she really wanted to do for a living was help other women to recover.
Dawn has been in recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol since 1989 and is well-qualified to work with women who want to recover their lives and pursue their passions. Building on her degrees in women’s studies, women’s history and a PhD in health care policy (all earned in recovery), Dawn completed life coach training with Crossroads Recovery Coaching in 2013. Dawn’s true passion is for her work as a researcher (mental health and addiction, families with complex needs). With this in mind she created a community of nearly 50,000 people on her Facebook page, She Recovers. What started out as a daily meditation practice using social media coupled with a heartfelt belief in her own life’s purpose has since turned into a business called She Recovers that, at the present time, offers international yoga retreats and workshops for women in recovery.

Dawn Nickel

Dawn Nickel

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’

The most dangerous and most active period of my addiction was during my teenage years starting at 15 and ending at 20 when I became pregnant with my first daughter. I had hit many bottoms during those five teenage years of reckless drug and alcohol use, but never contemplated changing how I lived until my pregnancy.

I started to “quit using” from the time of that first pregnancy – my beautiful daughter, born in 1981, was my soul’s incentive, and another daughter followed in 1985. Although I managed several periods of extended abstinence from alcohol, cocaine, and other drugs during parts of the 1980s (being pregnant helped) I still battled with periodic binging and struggled with regular marijuana use. After trying to quit “everything” on my own and failing I finally went into treatment in 1987 and gave up my primary drugs of choice (alcohol, cocaine and pills). Unfortunately – I decided that marijuana was still okay for me, something that was proven to be untrue after two years of nearly-daily pot smoking.

By April 1989, I felt completely defeated and desperate for my life to change. By that time I was a single mom of two beautiful daughters, my marriage to their father had ended when I went into treatment two years earlier. Ironically, given the heavier drugs that I had abused so long and hard as a younger woman, it was the pot that finally brought me to my knees. One day I just collapsed into an absolutely hot mess over not being able to stop smoking pot, and I couldn’t stop crying for several days. I was finally hospitalized and diagnosed with acute melancholic depression. In retrospect, it was my Step One. I surrendered and came into recovery.

2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?

I wish I could remember, but I don’t remember too much. I was in treatment. There was a lot of crying, and not the pretty Julia Roberts’ type of crying, either. I started to attend a 12 step fellowship and what I do recall is that I felt different – I had somehow found the hope that I needed to believe I could succeed at recovering. It wasn’t easy – I was still insane in many areas of my life (I find many of us women who come into recovery have boy issues – go figure). I made some friends in those early months in recovery who are still precious and active in my life today.

3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?

Raising my two beautiful daughters in recovery, marrying a recovering man and building a life with him (we celebrated 22 years of marriage in December 2013). I went back to school and earned three degrees, including a PhD in health care policy. I was present for my mom when she was diagnosed with terminal leukemia in 1998. Unfortunately, she died in April 2000, and I relapsed on pills for two days. It was a quiet relapse, and nobody knew about it but me, but I did eventually recognize it for what it was and changed my recovery date to May 11, 2000. I celebrated 14 years of complete abstinence in May 2014. The best thing overall that has happened to me is that I have recovered my potential, identified my dreams and continue to realize them. I like myself, I love my life, and things just keep getting better. I’m involved in recovery advocacy in my community – and love the work.

4) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?

I would tell myself that I was worthy of living a better life, that the drugs and alcohol were killing me and that I needed to learn how to live without them. I would tell myself that I needed to take better care of myself, and that I needed to forgive myself for the mistakes that I was making, but that I needed to stop making them.

5) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?

I am smart! I have a lot of compassion for people, but still have to work hard to have it for myself, sometimes. I have learned that I am a control freak, but I work on that too. I have learned that I can do anything – if I set my heart, mind and my actions to it. I have learned that I love recovery, and doing something with that passion is part of my life’s purpose. Not ‘zactly sure what, yet. What I know for certain is that:

Firstly, I think that as women in our addiction, we are the same. Regardless of where we are at along the spectrum of addiction, we are very likely to share the same feelings of insecurity, low-self worth, guilt, sadness and despair.

Secondly, I feel strongly that being alike in our addiction does not mean that we need to follow identical pathways to and through recovery.

6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.

In just the past two years, I have organized and ran three women’s yoga and recovery retreats in Mexico and one closer to home on beautiful Salt Spring Island, British Columbia – with another one coming up in November 2014 in Mexico. I run the retreats with my youngest daughter Taryn (she’s a yoga teacher specializing in teaching trauma-informed yoga for recovery) and a dear friend who lives in Mexico. The energy at our retreats is mind-blowing – we focus on getting in touch with our “selves”, on extreme self-care, and connection with one another. Working with my daughter and sweet friend is amazing. The other wonderful piece related to the retreats is that my husband and I have started to spend a few months in Mexico after the fall retreat ends. I have built myself a research consulting business that allows me to work from anywhere! I wouldn’t have gone back to school if I hadn’t come into recovery – and my life options would have been minimal in terms of a professional career. (Not that I wasn’t a good bartender but…)

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?

Stop the behavior.
Let go.
We do recover.

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’
That’s easy –the people who I get to meet and learn to love in recovery are the reasons that recovery rocks. It is those people who have taught me this way of life – who have inspired me to live a life that matters.

You can follow Dawn on Twitter here.

An interview with the creator of ‘Sober’ – Gareth Bowler

I recently posted a brilliant short video titled ‘sober’ by Gareth Bowler. Gareth is interested in people who have transformed their lives and the journey and process that this involves. I was intrigued about Gareth’s own story of transformation from obesity to fitness:

You went under your own personal transformation when you lost 10 stone, could you tell me a bit about what your life was like when you were that heavy?

The first thing that springs to mind is I was miserable, but there were good times, it’s confusing looking back, for those 10 or so years I just didn’t feel like a complete person, a proper human being. I never got comfortable being that weight but I felt so far gone I was just powerless to do anything about it.

Gareth Bowler - before

Gareth Bowler – before

I got to the point that I was so miserable with it that change was the only option, I’d tried many times to loose weight but every time I’d fail, quit and put it off until the next week or the start of the next month. This time I somehow just accepted failure as part of the journey, it’s a case of accepting that you will have bad days but it’s just having less bad days and more good. When you’re that unhealthy fitness and healthy living is an acquired taste and I’d say it takes about 3 months to acquire the taste for it, 3 months of battling yourself, after that it feels sort of easy like you’re on autopilot, after all eating real food and exercising is what a human beings supposed to do.

I think lots of people are motivated to change but it’s sustaining the change that can be hard, how did you keep going?

If I eat what is the correct diet for me and exercise I feel good, if I eat bad food and don’t exercise I feel horrible, I just want to feel good so I do what feels good. However that doesn’t mean that I don’t eat crap now and again, ask my girlfriend, she has to hide biscuits or chocolates because if they’re in the house I’ll eat them all and I don’t think that will ever change. I’ll always be a fat person around food just hopefully in a thin persons body.

Gareth Bowler - after

Gareth Bowler – after

The video ‘Sober’ is stunning and brings tears to my eyes every time I watch it. Are you planning other documentaries? If so on what subjects?

Thanks, it’s amazing to hear that sort of response. I’d love to make one about a weight loss journey I just haven’t found the right person, I’m currently editing two films centred around performance nutritionist Ben Coomber which should be online by the end of the month, one that’s short and punchy about change and another about nutrition. The big one I’m shooting next is about the strongest person I know whose twin sons have tubular sclerosis, I’m hoping I can get across what life is really like for her to raise awareness and hopefully money to build a respite centre.

What do you hope people will get out of watching your films?

I think we tend to feel the minutiae that goes on inside our heads is unique and individual to us but in fact it seems to be the case that the more specific and honest you get about those details the deeper you connect with people. I hope that one day through watching my work people in a dark place can feel less alone, people wanting to change are empowered to do so and people that have changed will enforce that change and be reminded of what they’ve achieved and overcame. That may seem a bit grand and pretentious maybe but that’s what I aim for in making a film these days and it feels like the first time in my life that my filmmaking has had real direction and purpose.

What kind of response has Kenny received from his story being public?

Overwhelmingly positive, zero negative. We were both taken by surprise with the response, the film really just came from a place of honesty, I’m just glad that the darkest part of his life can bring such joy to him now as he sees it making a difference in people’s lives.

What did you learn about Kenny that you didn’t know before you did the film?

I grew up with Kenny so really this was just putting down on film what we already knew and had talked about but when he really opened up in the interview it was comforting to know that all that time growing up we had the same insecurities, at one point he started talking about how he felt people must see him like Mr Burns off The Simpsons frail and weak and as crazy as that sounds I could relate massively to those abstract projections of how the world sees you, you’re not confident in who you are so what you are is kind of malleable, looking back I feel like I was walking round imprisoned in a fat costume for ten years, it’s amazing how liberating it feels to have some self-esteem.

Here’s Gareth’s latest video on ‘change.’

Recovery Rocks – Holly Jespersen

Holly Jespersen had a successful 14-year public relations career including jobs in Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago, and Connecticut. But she also had a drink and drug problem. Hitting rock bottom turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to her because she not only got sober she became the PR and Social Meida manager at Shatterproof an organization dedicated to ending the stigma and suffering caused by addiction.

Holly Jespersen - taking on the world

Holly Jespersen – taking on the world

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’

I had two—one was when I was using cocaine daily (my cocaine habit lasted six years), constantly missing work, not sleeping and lowering my standards. I was seeing a therapist who suggested I seek treatment. I ended up going to detox for five days and never picked up cocaine again. But, I was convinced I only had a drug problem. A few months after leaving detox I lost my job in NYC. I was given no choice, but to move home to CT. Once home I was unemployed, living in my childhood bedroom and drinking vodka starting in the early afternoons. I never thought alcohol was the reason that my life was so screwed up. Here I was 36 and living at home with no job, no car, very depressed, yet not connecting the dots. I honestly went on like that for almost an entire year-my parents had no idea what was going on bc like all good alcoholics I was sneaky and put up a good front-before I had my spiritual awakening. June 29, 2011, I woke up around 5 a.m. to a voice clearly saying “you are going to die if you keep drinking”. I stopped drinking that day over three years ago and have not had a drink since. I had no intention on June 28th that the vodka lemonade I had while watching the 10 o’clock news would be my last. I get chills thinking about it—absolutely had no plan to stop drinking as I did not think it was a problem or that it was abnormal to drink around the clock, hide booze, carry it with you wherever you went, etc. So that was my last drink unbeknownst to me.

2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?

My first 30 days were hard, but honestly my obsession and compulsion to drink were removed day one. I can only attribute this to my God because I was a daily drinker since age 22. I ate a lot of candy and ice cream (I never had a sweet tooth before) and read a lot of addiction memoirs. My first week sober I had a family vacation which was hard bc it was on that trip over lunch when I did not order a drink that I told my family I was done drinking, they were shocked, bc they did not realize I had a problem. I also relied and still do heavily that month on my friends and my pastor.

3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?

The best thing hands down is my incredible job at Shatterproof. Shatterproof is new national organization committed to protecting our children from addiction to alcohol or other drugs and ending the stigma and suffering of those affected by this disease. I handle their PR and social media and could not be more passionate about my job and this incredible organization. I have always been in this line of work, but now I am using my skills to help others. It feels great to be passionate and have such meaningful work. I never dread coming to work. I also appreciate that I am a responsible employee and citizen. I can be counted on these days. I take my work seriously. Most of all my sobriety comes first before anything else in my life, bc without it I would have none of the other blessings in my life. I am immensely grateful for the gift of sobriety.

4) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?

That I wish I could have learned to love myself and be confident in my youth. It took me 36 years to reach a point where I love myself and believe in myself. 36 years to be confident and not scared or concerned about what people think about me (for the most part). Wish I would have listened to my parents and the values that they did their best to instill in me. I wish I did not compromise my morals and values. My past is painful, but I know that it is made me who I am today.

5) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?

That I need to fully rely on God-I can’t do this alone. That I am enough-for years I was trying to be someone I was not-I cared so much what people thought of me, I was fake, I was so obviously (to others) not sure who Holly was. Now I know who I am and I am proud of the person I am today. I am OK just the way I am. People love and accept me for who I am. It is good to be authentic and real—for so many years I was trying to be someone else-I would do anything to fit in and transform myself and in the end, through a lot of pain and a lot of work, I am proud to just be me.

6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.

I have incredible friendships, real, authentic friendships. As a kid I felt like I never fit in, girls bullied me, I turned to starving myself at a young age. I was always insecure and never felt secure in my friendships. I also was always trying to be “cool”. I was so materialistic and shallow. Today I value my friends and they value me. I never have to worry, like I did in high school or college, about having plans. I have a very active and fun social life these days. It feels good to know that I can rely on my friends and that there is lots of fun and laughter in sobriety.

Another wonderful thing is that I rappelled a 22 story building for Shatterproof and raised 4K from my family and friends. I never would have done something like that, I was always fearful. While it took guts, I felt so good once I got over the edge of that building and I had my dad and two dear friends cheering me on at the bottom. The fact that I did this one month after my 3 year anniversary is pretty awesome!

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?

Progress not perfection and FROG (Fully Rely on God)

I am not perfect and I am nothing without God in the driver’s seat. I did it my way for 35 years and life is a whole lot better with Him in charge—that does not mean I don’t do the work, but it frees me up for that horrible anxiety and stress of thinking it is up to me. It is most definitely NOT.

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’
It rocks because I have an awesome career at Shatterproof, am able to help others, have authentic relationships, lots of laughter and the respect of my family and friends. I am who I am—no more lies. I am grateful for the life I live these days-it is so full of such amazing people. I am blessed with an incredible recovery and church community. Bottom line, it is the relationships in life that matter to me. I am not ashamed of my past. Some may say I should not “air my dirty laundry” by speaking openly, but if I can help end the stigma of addiction or help a fellow alcoholic or addict, than it is worth it. It is time that we end the stigma of addiction.

When friends stop drinking…..

Steve Whiteley for many reasons decided to stop drinking. It just didn’t agree with him anymore, he’d stopped enjoying it and the idea of getting drunk was boring to him. He’d just turned 33 and the whole cycle of going out at weekends and getting drunk and then being hungover had just run it’s course. Plus, he was beginning to realize how much money he was spending on going out and partying. So he stopped and here is a video of how his friends reacted:

It’s brilliant isn’t it? The Magaluf intervention – genius! Anyone who has ever quit drinking will totally relate to the reaction of his friends….
Steve is a comedy/actor.producer and has recently launched the YouTub channel OffKey.

Recovery Rocks – Justin Donner

Everything you need to know about Justin Donner: Born and raised on the Washington coast, the oldest of three children. Attended college after high school before moving to Sacramento, California. Following a difficult battle with addiction, another move was necessary to escape trouble, relocating in Motely, Minnesota before treatment led the way to Fargo, North Dakota, which is now home. Recently published a memoir about sex, drug and alcohol addiction, am currently employed as a chef, about to enter year two of graduate school, and, most importantly, am the father of an amazing six year old boy. (Read his fabulous blog here).

Justin Donner

Justin Donner

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’
Which one?! It was not until there was realization that “rock bottom” was unique, that there would always be an “it could be worse” moment, could I look at my own life and decide that enough is enough. As far as singular events standing out, dropping out of college before medical school because of opiate addiction, being forced to relocate from two different states because all bridges had been burned, forcing homelessness, or even being drunk during my son’s birth and spending the first few years of his life intoxicated, any of these could easily be an understandable “rock bottom.” Anger throughout using led to an episode of unforgivable domestic violence which remains the most brutal reminder of how low addiction can take a person, however that was not enough to find long-term sobriety.
Spiritually, emotionally, being unable to feel better through the vices that contributed to the agony to the point of suicidal contemplation forced a choice: get sober or die. It was simple. The last 24 hours of my using (sex, drugs, alcohol) were spent with a call-girl in a hotel room while making plans to buy a plane ticket to Hawaii with her to end my life. Desperate for relief, a bottle of scotch was purchased to sustain intoxication, lying on the living room floor writhing while trying to drink, vomiting every twenty minutes or so, unable to keep anything down as she watched, waiting for what would never come. Nearly an entire fifth of liquor was consumed, hundreds of dollars were spent on female company, and the pain inside was only worsening. Desperate, a cab was called to drive to a psychiatric hospital for what would be life’s final chance. Thankfully, mercifully, that chance has turned into the most satisfying years imaginable.

2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?
Tumultuous. Was admitted into a psychiatric hospital after deciding enough was enough, and spent the first few weeks getting adjusted to medication and handling behavioral issues beyond substance abuse that were inhibiting wellness. Inappropriate relationships with women were more challenging, at the time, than abstaining from drugs and alcohol. However, with the help of some fantastic counselors, this element of addiction was handled with as much seriousness as chemical addiction, helping pave the way for a holistic approach to recovery that was missing in the past. Changing the thought process that had been contaminated since high school and understanding the relationship between acquiring and abusing things in order to feel better, complete, and able to deal with life without actually dealing with anything at all, was what made recovery lasting. There was a move from knowledge to understanding and putting that knowledge into action as surrender was given up to a high power made those first 30 days so imperative and impacting. Sobriety must be all-encompassing.

3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?
The list of blessing since getting clean and sober is too long to believe, of which I will be eternally grateful! First and foremost, my relationship with my son has forever changed. Now present, not just physically but emotionally, I was there to comfort him recently when he got his immunization shots before the upcoming school year. Being able to hold him, just letting him cry until he was better, providing nurturing that was absent in my childhood, has easily been the greatest reward of sobriety.
Beyond that, since getting clean I was finally able to finish college, earning a degree in political science and psychology from North Dakota State University. Following graduation my education continued at the University of California, Irvine, working toward a master of advanced study degree in criminology, law and society. Fortunately, the program is offered online as well as on-campus so my son’s living situation remains unchanged here in Fargo.
My most ambitious goal ever attempted was finally completed after getting clean: writing a novel. A sex, drug and alcohol memoir, more precisely, which began years ago when efforts at sobriety were made. While in treatment and during earlier bouts with recovery, scores of books and movies were obtained trying to relate, to understand why it was I did what I did. Unfortunately, nothing out there reached the scope and reality of my addiction. But I knew I was not the only one, it was simply a matter of somebody telling this tale. Reliving the past in such vivid detail, using literally hundreds, if not thousands of pages of notes and journal entries and other documents to compile a gritty, truthful account of addiction that was never available to me during my active addiction, has been more cathartic, relieving and spiritually beneficial than any other phase of recovery. That my story of addiction and domestic violence has helped at least one other addict or family member of an addict is something that really punctuates the great things that have happened since getting clean and sober.

4) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?
You will never be smarted than your addictions!
For years, through both court-ordered treatment and voluntary attendance to anonymous meetings, all the knowledge in the world was gained but never put into action. Self-will was incapable of derailing the train. Logic was used time and again to rationalize how foolish it was to continue drinking, using, sleeping around, and just living a selfish lifestyle devoid of spirituality. Not until the “god” problem was understood, when that light clicked that there was a higher power that was in control beyond what I could do as a person, was recovery possible. If only that problem would have been addressed years ago… Knowledge is important, but action is vital. That my actions and behaviors affected others was rarely considered. If able to tell myself anything beyond surrender to a higher power, it would be that there are, in fact, lasting impacts as a result of the way I treated people. It cannot be drank, smoked, injected, or suppressed away. These emotional consequences are very real. You are not only hurting yourself, but others as well.

5) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?
That the person I was in active addiction is not the person I am today. It was difficult to reconcile that change, to let go of the anger and resentment I held toward myself for the things done to others, the pain (sometimes intentional) and harm that was inflicted on friends, family, or total strangers. Like many addicts, the notion that I was a person of value and worth took time to accept, but that has been the most important thing learned throughout years of recovery; it does not have to be as it was and progress and growth are possible. Justin Donner is not a bad person.

6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.
Participating in this interview! Getting the chance to work in the community to bring about awareness and improvement. In recent weeks I have been working on involvement with a local rape and abuse crisis center to participate as a speaker, sharing my story about how domestic violence can come from even the most unassuming people with the least likely background. Although domestic violence was not a recurring issue throughout my addiction, it did manifest itself during a particularly troubling winter and has haunted me ever since. Over eight years removed from those events, I feel as though now, clean and sober, I am ready to give back by sharing what abuse is like from a man’s perspective, to let others know about behaviors and actions that occur throughout the years that are warning signs, red flags that may culminate in violence. Because of geographical and privacy concerns, I will never get the chance to make direct amends to not only the woman I assaulted, but to all those I treated badly. Through this program I can hopefully help prevent at least one person from experiencing the terror of domestic violence. Without recovery, I would never have that outlet to hopefully be of help to someone, somewhere.

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?
“Religion is for people who are afraid of Hell. Spirituality is for those who lived through it.”
“Compliance is not enough. Knowledge is important, but action is vital.”
“Alcoholism can never be cured, but it’s up to you if it kills you.”
“Faith without works is dead.”

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?”

Life has too much to offer to live without recovery. Dealing with the consequences of last night, last week, last month as a direct result of using behaviors are absent, allowing now for that time to be spent enjoying life. Being peaceful, mindful, attentive, appreciative, giving, hopeful, caring, selfless, productive and loving are attributes rediscovered that affirm, indeed, that Recovery Rocks!

You can follow Justin on Twitter here.