A Talk with Billy Manas, author of Kickass Recovery: From Your First Year Clean to the Life of Your Dreams

Billy Manas is a regularly featured columnist for Elephant Journal, a contributor to Good Men Project and The Fix, a published poet, a working musician, a full-time truck driver and a dad to three daughters. His journey from Adderall-chewing, methadone-swilling, pot-smoking maniac to speaker/author with over nine years of sustained recovery is, as is so often the case, fraught with excitement and a few valuable anecdotes. These anecdotes have found their way into his many talks at jails, detoxes, rehabs, and his new “Kickass Recovery” workshop. For more information, you can visit www.BillyManas.com

Your book Kickass Recovery — is it for the person who needs to get clean or the person who is already clean?

Like most creative pursuits, the idea for Kickass Recovery came to me, not from one idea, but from almost a perfect storm of elements converging together all at once. Myself, and many people I knew, relapsed shortly after celebrating a year of sobriety. I always felt like this was because in 12-step programs, all of the support and fanfare tends to go away after the first year celebration.

The only way I was able to stay with it for so long this time around was because I created my own fanfare after my celebration. I set up goals and pursued dreams in a very meaningful way. So, yes, the book was originally designed for those with a year or more clean, but all of the principles and exercises can be used by anyone as long as they’re open to the information.

What are the top three tips you’d give someone in recovery who can’t seem to “get out of their own way?”

Well, I can remove this from the abstract because I received a phone call a few weeks ago from a young guy who was in this predicament. He was, for all intents and purposes, getting high against his own will. There was nothing enjoyable about it for him and, most of the time, he’d wind up with a lump in his throat and on the verge of tears after he copped. Some people may recognize this for exactly what it is — the obsession and compulsion that accompanies addiction. (continued)

The first thing I suggested was that he try to get used to the idea that the world wouldn’t  dry up and blow away if he checked himself into rehab. Sure, he might lose his dishwashing job, but I reminded him of how available those jobs always were. This is not a magic bullet, but if a person finds themselves spending their entire paycheck every Friday and trudging through the rest of the week broke and sad, this approach will at least stop the incessant hamster wheel. Rehab has a three-fold advantage: you’re physically away from your negative pattern, you’re being detoxed and taken care of by health professionals and you are learning new coping skills and relapse prevention techniques. 

When he got out, I told him to avoid all the people places and things that would put him in harm’s way — unfriend, unfollow, delete. Finally, stay close to a support network. Many people are a little ambivalent about the 12-step programs, but I can’t think of a better place to build a support network and find a sponsor. There’s nothing wrong with trying other avenues along the way (Refuge Recovery, Samahdi), but anonymous programs are a great place to begin.  

How important is gratitude in the recovery process?

There is an expression that has been used in recovery circles for decades—grateful addicts don’t use. Essentially, gratitude is what generally stands between someone who stays sober and someone who relapses. The early days of recovery are fraught with drama and challenges and there are always going to be days when the thought of throwing up one’s hands and giving up might seem totally fine. The logic usually goes, “well if my life is this bad sober, why even bother?”   

When this person has the wherewithal to take a second and remember the misery of waiting around the house all day for the dealer to get there, stealing from family to get the next one, getting the electric turned off, eviction notices, overdoses and all the other prizes that a life of active addiction comes with, most of the time they’ll see that—no, it’s not as bad as before they got clean. That exercise of slowing down and taking an in-ventory of before and after is where the gratitude lives. It’s easy to get used to things we once could only dream of—like sustained sobriety. The key is to never forget what a blessing that is.  

Gratitude is obviously a spiritual principle that will help anyone stay connected to long term recovery. What other principles do you think might be just as important?

Service is the first one I’d like to bring up. One of the biggest challenges for people who suffer from substance use disorder is depression. A lot of the time depression can be minimized by service because being helpful to others is the most effective way for people to take the focus off themselves. The less self-absorbed a person is, the less they will experience debilitating depression.

Humility is the other one I find indispensable. Humility refers to the ability to “right size” oneself. We are not as inferior as we feel in our darker moments, (continued)

nor are we as grand as we’d like to think we are in our moments of delusion. There is a cliché that says that we must learn humility, or we will be humiliated. It sounds terribly harsh, but I can vouch firsthand in the truth of that.

One of the biggest hurdles in recovery is for a person to stay in the moment — is there ever any reason to look back at one’s past? Can it be useful?

It’s very important to glance back every so often — if for nothing else but to remember how bad things were when were still out there using substances or drinking, or to take stock of how far we’ve come in our recovery journey. It’s one of the most useful ways to practice gratitude, but yes, this is not something we want to spend too much time doing.

The reason most 12-step programs try to drill it into our heads that we need to focus primarily on the moment at hand is because most people caught in the grips of addiction live everywhere but the moment.

I remember sitting down in my first meeting with so much noise going on in my head, I couldn’t even pay attention. How was I going to get home when this was over? What is that guy looking at? Why did she say that to me? It is impossible to savor life or even to experience it on any meaningful level if we are not able to be in the moment. So, looking back can be useful but only in small doses.

If you could come up with one main message of Kickass Recovery what would it be?

The most important message that my book is attempting to convey is that a life in recovery can be so much more than white-knuckle abstinence, meetings in basements, and the deprivation of fun. If a person can get themselves to be open-minded and willing and put these personal development principles into practice, I’d venture to say their new life will far exceed the fun they had in their old life.

If we can be completely honest with ourselves, it won’t take long to remember that drinking and using substances ceased being fun shortly after the first few months of habitual use, anyway. Many of us have the experience of staying in that lifestyle for several years — sometimes decades — after the fun was over. Getting in touch with our dreams that have been deferred for most of our adult lives, and seeing them come true through our own effort, goes beyond fun. It is the purest joy one can experience.

 There is a section in your book called “Name Your Why.” What, exactly, does that mean?

Usually when you talk to someone and ask them about the possibility of setting goals and accomplishing them or chasing their wildest dreams, their biggest concern is usually “how” they can go about doing something like that. It seems intuitive that this is where the planning begins; however, from my own experience (continued)

I have learned that “how” is secondary. If we can get clear about why—and not just get clear but become obsessive about why we want to see our dreams come true — the “how” will appear all on its own.

That sounds like magic thinking but allow me to elucidate: when I decided I wanted to go from being a blue collar truck driver to a published author, I had no idea how I would go about making that happen. What I did know was that I wanted that worse than I ever wanted anything else. My “why” was what was most important. We all have computers. Anybody can Google how to do something. Why, on the other hand, that comes from that place inside of us where our inspiration is. Our soul.

You talk about the importance of keeping a journal — what are the benefits to this?

Goals and dreams that don’t get committed to paper oftentimes get lost in the ether. As I think most people who have ever studied for a vocabulary test in grade school can attest, there is a part of the mind that can only be activated when we put our thoughts—or really anything for that matter on paper.

In Kickass Recovery, we go way beyond just goals and dreams. We write down what it will feel like when we wake up five years from now in the same financial situation they’re presently experiencing. It’s important to do this because people tend to block out unpleasant thoughts like this, for obvious reasons. Putting this in a journal will strengthen our “why” as I mentioned earlier.

To loosely paraphrase Tony Robbins, when something is in your head, it’s an idea. When you put it on paper, it’s a plan.

There’s a chapter in your book that explains how people who are new in recovery can find vocational opportunities. How did that work for you and what are the top three things to do to land a solid job?

The states have vocational rehabilitation agencies. They are vocational programs for people with disabilities. Substance use disorder is a disability, so I requested assistance with the tuition for commercial driving school. After jumping through a few hoops, the people at the agency were more than happy to pay for the full tuition and this enabled me to go from being a taxi driver that was lucky to take home $375 week to a truck driver that takes home sometimes as much as $1,200 – 1,300 per week. The gratitude I had for such a significant change in my life is where the seeds of inspiration came from to write Kickass Recovery in the first place.  

The top three things that helped me in landing a great job in this field were: 

1. Make a wise choice. There are numerous possibilities for vocational training. Of course, you’ll want to pick one you’ll enjoy doing but also keep in mind that some pay better than other and some have a higher demand. In my case, being a surgical technician sounded exciting but truck driving took exponentially less time to train for and the money was almost twice as good.

2. Do the research. Right now there are plenty of positions available for drivers and not all jobs are created equal. I was able to get a union job that included great health insurance that I don’t have to chip in for and I go home every night. Some guys get a lot less and live in their trucks. So, obviously don’t just take the first thing that comes along.

3. Take it seriously. Out of 12 of us in my commercial driving school class, only two of us went on to earn our living this way. Ironically, we were both the worst drivers when we got there. Both of us had been to college and could not find suitable work that paid anything. My point is, the only reason the other ten are not doing it and earning a great living right now is because they had been pushed into doing it by the labor department. They had no real interest in it. Like anything else, vocational rehabilitation is a resource. How one uses it is up to them.

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Kickass Recovery:

From Your First Year Clean to the Life of Your Dreams

By Billy Manas

Foreword by Liberty DeVitto, former drummer for Billy Joel

Category: Self-Help * Pub Date: April 7, 2020

Price: $15.95 * Pages: 216 * ISBN: 978-1-60868-650-6

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