I had the opportunity and privilege to speak at Hazelden-Betty Ford in Rancho Mirage, Ca a few nights ago. It just so happens I live about 15 minutes away from the facility, I have what is known in recovery as an H&I Panel, which stands for “Hospitals and Institutions.” This is something that is a gift for all of us who do it, it’s part of the 12 th step where we get to carry the message to the still suffering alcoholic/addict.

Every 4 th Monday evening of the month I take a sober friend of mine to talk with the people who are new in recovery; this commitment will last for 6 months then be passed along to someone else. I met my buddy Dave there and for 15 minutes we each shared our stories of recovery. It’s referred to as our “Experience, Strength, and Hope,” including what the disease did to us, how we came into recovery and the many ways the 12-step program of recovery has impacted our lives. Thank goodness it’s a new crowd every thirty days, as I would hate for someone to have to listen to me twice in one month!

At the end of our stories, we open up the panel for Q&A, giving everyone there the opportunity to ask questions pertinent to recovery. This is always my favorite part as we get to hear so many different perspectives as I too can recall when I was in a treatment setting and some people came in to talk with us about how recovery was working in their lives. One of the patients asked a fabulous question, one that I have heard before, but one I don’t hear all that often. She asked, “I have 17 days of sobriety but cannot stop thinking about drinking or using. It’s making me crazy, I want to leave, but don’t want to drink or use drugs anymore. When will this thinking stop?”

We were able to open up and respond to this honest question, one that requires an honest answer with a lot of support and encouragement to go along with it. I am a huge believer in sharing my love for recovery, the love for the people who saved my life, and the overall sense that I still don’t stay sober on my own. So, I am often careful how I choose my words when responding to something like this.

I do not share with the group that I am an interventionist and addiction specialist, that has no part of doing an H&I panel. The patients are amongst counselors and therapists all day long, they don’t need to hear about what I do professionally. What the patients do need to hear is how we personally have recovered and the things that are necessary for us to continue doing to maintain our sobriety. Back to the question, this person was referring to what is known as the “obsession to drink and use.” This is something all of us alcoholics and addicts can relate to as it was a driving force in our lives for many years, that’s what we do, we drink and use drugs.

When getting sober I have to point out that it is totally normal to be thinking about drinking and/or using. It essentially has become a part of our fiber and it’s all we know, until we have had enough and reach out for help. I shared with the group something like this, as I can only base the answer on my own experience:

“Thank you for asking this question about the obsession to drink and use. In my case, I drank and used drugs for 24 years. For 17 of those years, I was addicted to opioid painkillers: Vicodin, Norco, Oxycontin, and Fentanyl, as well as cocaine. When I came into recovery, I can honestly say I had no desire to ever touch a drug again, but as I very slowly detoxed I often thought about drinking alcohol. After being in the ocean in Laguna Beach a few beers often sounded really good to me. I always shared about this with other sober men, they would laugh and say they completely understood, then we would either have coffee or go to a twelve-step meeting together. I always felt better after being honest with someone else about what I was thinking. To come back to the obsession, I did not lose the obsession to drink alcohol for almost 22 months. When I say this, I do not mean I was salivating for alcohol every waking moment. But the idea of a drink would come through my mind several times throughout the day, and it would go away by going to meetings, doing some service work, going to a lot of detox centers, and most importantly doing step work with my sponsor. That is my story, but I know many people who lost the obsession to drink and use very quickly.”

Now this sounds like a total buzzkill for a second to many people, because they think, “Ah shit, it took this guy almost 2 years to lose the obsession to drink? Screw that!” I wrapped it up like this:

“All of you are on your own timeline, which is between you and God or your higher power. I can assure you that if you do the step work with someone who has working knowledge of the steps you will be relieved of the obsession to drink or use. It’s a wonderful thing to have happen, when that obsession leaves. This has not only been my experience in recovery, but countless others who I know or have met. Please give yourself the chance to recovery, when you leave here get a sponsor and a home group of recovering people. You will be glad you did.”

The coolest thing happened, which to me is what this whole thing is all about. About 8 or 9 people came up to me afterwards and said, “I too have those thoughts, but I also believe that I can recover because you guys shared so many things I can relate to, and you don’t live that way anymore.”

Special moments like this happen, where you feel that maybe just for a moment you impacted others, or even just one, that makes them feel not only welcome, but they can also have an amazing sober life. I look forward to being back there in another four weeks to do the same thing, the results of showing up never fail.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *