There were many dark moments – any one of which should have turned things around for me. There were times when I just couldn’t stop and thought that I was going to continue to use until I died. After being on a 6-week run, I received a call from my therapist Nancy. She left me an emotional message, which said, “Alan – it’s time to come back -you are going to die.” For some reason, listening to that message over and over again struck me in a way that I never felt before. I began my recovery after that.
You share your message of recovery with audiences worldwide. How has this transformed you?
I have spoken in many cities across the globe. I speak from personal experience when I say that no one is too far gone to turn things around. Whenever I share thoughts about my journey, and specifically the message that recovery is possible for anyone, I get goose bumps and deep inside I know how lucky I am to have been given so many chances, and how fortunate I am to have succeeded.
What are the 5 tools that helped bring you back to life?
Persistence (Never give up – no matter what.)
Focus (Pay Attention-Focus on what is the right thing to do.)
Willingness (Go out of your comfort zone. Be willing to make mistakes.)
Faith (Believe in yourself, listen to the voice inside.)
Humility (If you need to, ask for help – Be grateful for what you have.)
How does your story provide hope to addicts and their loved ones?
It proves that no one is too far gone to get better. I struggled for years with my inner pain and demons. Deep down however, I believe that I never truly gave up on myself. My story also drives the message home that you have to have faith in yourself (even when your loved ones have given up) and use that faith to live your life instead of destroy it.
What lessons can anyone learn from your life story?
I believe my life story shows that we are all human and we all suffer. Some of us live with fear, anxiety, depression, addictions and many of us even live behind a mask. We all suffer in some way, but there is a pathway to get through anything. You always have the power to change your situation and start over.
After triumphing over obstacles you believe your life is a miracle. Why?
I was at a point where I believed that only a “Miracle” could save me. Towards the end I was resigned that I was not going to be able to stop using. I rationalized that this would eventually kill me and that was my fate. The thought of suicide made me very angry (as that is how my father died) yet here I was basically doing the same thing… I overdosed numerous times, stayed awake for as many as 7 straight days using, so I don’t know how to explain why I have been spared other than to say it is a miracle!
Your rehab counselor said, “It’s not your fault. But it is your responsibility to get better.” Do you think that all addictions are not the fault of the individual?
Although I can’t speak to all addictions what I do understand is that at the beginning your “addiction” is a recreational activity and at some point you cross a line where you have lost the choice and no longer have the power to stop that specific action/addiction. Cocaine changed my brain chemistry – I craved it all the time. I lost the ability to make the choice NOT to use. This is why my counselor said that it is not my fault. What he meant is that the addiction is not my fault. The original choice to use it was of course my fault.
After rehabbing a couple of times, you called your personnel department to say you needed help again. After this time, you were fired. Do you feel your company was justified in doing this? Wouldn’t this make others afraid to come forward for help?
I do believe I was wronged. While I do understand from their standpoint, I was very sick and needed help. I do hope that if someone else has the courage to come forward and ask for help they would be treated differently.
“I am living proof that no one is ever too far gone to get clean. If I can get sober, everyone can get sober”. Do you still believe this?
I absolutely believe it. I was at the lowest point where death was the next obvious place. I am fortunate to have survived and know if I could rise out of the depths, anyone can. It takes a lot of strength, a willingness to lay yourself bare, an acceptance that you must allow yourself to be vulnerable. If you do this with honesty and faith, you can get better. But you must take the plunge. Close your eyes and jump.
You’ve led an interesting life. What were some of your most memorable highlights?
Pitching in my first professional game in the Dominican Republic – the feeling of an incredible accomplishment – with lots of gratitude. Playing professionally with former major league players. Driving my first race, a winning one, at Yonkers Raceway, a place where I went every night while in high school, and one that held so much meaning for me. Winning against some of the greatest harness racing drivers of all time. My comeback to harness racing after being gone for a number of years. Performing with my favorite singer – Barry Manilow at Radio City Music Hall.
I knew I was going to write this book 25 years ago. My life has always been a little different from my peers; I seem to have a tendency to get into adventure after adventure. I came up with the title after I was 2 years sober. At that point I believed that I finally had a grasp of recovery and realized that I had crossed over a line and walked out the other side addiction-free. That is how I came up with the ending to my book and as I thought about it, the name jumped out at me!
Was your addiction related to the trauma you experienced in childhood? Do you believe those traumatized are more vulnerable to addiction?
I am not a doctor but I do believe those traumatized are more vulnerable to addiction. I believe there are many contributing factors. I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Under hypnotherapy, I disclosed numerous times as a 10 year old where my brother would attack me in my sleep and leave me bruised and bleeding. This is just one of the traumatizing events of my childhood and could be a possible factor in my addiction, but there was much more. Trauma is not a comparable state. It is different for everyone. It is however unfortunate that therapy is not universally accepted. I believe if it was, more people could be saved from addiction regardless of what caused it.
Was spirituality important in your recovery? Why?
In a sense – yes. The recovery program is a spiritual program, which is centered on believing that you are turning your will over to something more powerful than you and having the belief that things will get better. Without the program I don’t know where I would be. Many things played a part in my recovery and I believe that I needed all of them to be successful.
Not everybody beats his or her addiction. Were you one of the lucky ones?
I absolutely was one of the lucky ones. I have seen so many people get sober for a short period of time only to go back out, use and die.
Can therapy be the key to helping addicts? Did it help you?
Therapy is a key factor in helping addicts and it certainly helped me tremendously. I had a wonderful therapist who was patient and guided me towards making the right decisions to get better. The trouble is that you really need to find a wonderful therapist and sometimes it can take awhile. Someone who clicks with one person may not click with another. There is no question however that it is worth the time.
There are many who want to keep their addiction secret. Why did you decide to go public with yours?
I lived a major portion of my life hiding behind a mask. I lived with fear and anxiety, unable to connect with anyone. Loneliness has also been a recurring theme in my life. I got better because I fought to come out from behind the mask, to let people see the real Alan. I know there are so many who may be going through similar situations – I understand the pain – and want to help others to face their challenges, resolve the pain and find happiness.
Eight years sober, do you ever worry about going backwards?
I think it is important to recognize that addiction is a disease that can be rendered dormant. However, it is always lurking and thus you need to be aware of the triggers that can potentially put you back on the addiction path once again. I’ve come to a place in my life where the things I learned early in my recovery allow me to lead a very full life. I go to meetings, I reach out to others who need assistance and I feel a sense of gratitude every day for my second chance. Using all of these tools and the knowledge I have gained through this process, I am confident that I will only go forward.
What is different about how you feel about yourself now as compared with before?
I had always used drugs and alcohol so as “not to feel” anything so changing that was a challenge. Today, through the program and therapy, I am able to express myself in ways that I was never able to before. Now that I can face life dealing with my feelings, rather than running and hiding, it makes me feel good about myself every day.
If there’s one message you want readers to take away from your story, what is it?
Anything is possible. Strive to find the beauty around you that makes you want to live sober. Ask yourself if your happiness should only occur artificially. Never give up. The next miracle might be right around the corner.