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Substance Abuse



“I believe in guardian angels – my dad is one…

Grew up in a alcoholic home. Mom was Bipolar, a musical and intellectual genius. Dad was a travelling wholesaler for Krylon spray paints; WW II vet, fighter pilot, flew out of Malta against Rommel and then got transferred to eastern Italy where he flew missions into what was then Yugoslavia. He met an Italian girl and sired a half-sister I’ll never know [’cause the secret died with his squadron buddies]. Mom and Dad divorced when I was 11. Dad committed suicide with alcohol, codeine cough syrup and barbiturates when I was 15. My drinking and drugging took off at that point. Suffice it to say that if the drug was made before 1981, it’s been in my system – with a vengeance… I spent roughly 12 years on and off the road with a bunch of different bands – most of them pretty good ones, but none you’d recognize by name. [I jammed in Boston with T-Bone Walker a number of times; warmed up for Paul Butterfield, the Drifters, Sly and the Family Stone]. Had a lot of fun, in Boston, San Francisco, Boulder and Maine, but slowly spiraled downward. Was partly responsible for losing a marriage and the opportunity to raise a lovely daughter…

Hit bottom Nov 1st, 1981 after a huge Halloween bash. My band was playing at in a warehouse in the South End of Boston. Woke up the next day looking at the blood in the toilet again after throwing up several times. Couldn’t keep down the customary pint of frozen Cossack Vodka or the two Schlitz tall boys I’d saved for the hair of the dog. Drenched in sweat, shaking all over… So here’s the guardian angel part: I heard my dad’s voice in that moment, saying, “It’s not your time to go. Get help now.” I was alone in the apartment, but I felt someone picking me up with hands under my arms, pushing me into the living room toward the phone. The phone book opened directly to Alcoholics Anonymous. They called me back after finding a bed at Kenmore Detox – then part of the Salvation Army next to Fenway Park on Brookline Ave. My roadie Bruce took me there. I spent five days in that detox, chain smoking Camel non-filters and reading a science fiction anthology.

They had AA meetings every day in the detox. And I don’t remember what they said, but I remember how they looked. They had a light in their eyes that I couldn’t explain. They seemed happy. As I left detox, the head nurse affectionatelty kicked my ass and said with a smile, “Good luck, kid. Hit ’90 in 90′. We don’t wanna see your ass back here again.” I have stayed sober ever since. I hit 180 in 90. After that my sponsor said, “Do another 180 in 90.” She died after retiring from John Hancock in early spring that next year – complications from alcohol and diabetes. I got another sponsor, but we never worked the Steps. I stayed “abstinent” for seven years, got a resentment against my home group and left AA for 9 months, staying “dry” that entire time. Don’t know how it was that I didn’t drink or drug. I went nearly insane, angry and suicidal. My second wife filed for divorce. I went to see a counselor who immediately urged me to get back to both AA and Al-Anon. I finally started to work the Steps – about time huh? Please don’t do it the way I did it! That’s a recipe for disaster…

Somehow I’ve survived to this day, but only through following the suggestions of fellow AA/Al-Anon members, working through the Steps , more than once in several programs, holding service positions in my home groups, and working with others that helped me stay sober. I quit smoking those Camels in 1991 using the 12 Steps and Nicotine Anonymous. I’ve also been part of a men’s group that has met every Friday morning at 6:45 for the past 18 years. We all happen to be in recovery. We have saved each other’s lives more than once. One member died in early March of 2011 of brain cancer. We were with him every step of the way. I played guitar and sang it his wedding. I was fortunate enough to be asked to lead the prayer circles outside the hospital prior to each of his surgeries. There were over 1200 people at his memorial service, and the two men’s groups he was part of were included in that service.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked in the field of recovery for the past 20 years. I got to be a consultant/counselor for a couple of months at Crossroads Centre, Antigua – the house that Clapton built. The real gift is that I love to watch the lights come on and watch people come home to themselves. That is a true gift. I have a fabulous relationship with my daughter too – a direct result of recovery… I met Wally P. in 2009 and broke bread with him several times after that too. He did an awesome job with “Back to Basics” – don’t know about it? Check it out. It’s the way old timers took people through the Steps in the 40’s and 50’s, using 52 cherry-picked paragraphs from the Big Book. Their success rate? 50 – 75%. I’m a heretic you say? Read Appendix II in the Big Book. It basically warns about “contempt prior to investigation” i.e., don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it… I’ve watched a ton of newcomers catch fire doing the Steps that way. They run right out and start working with others. And guess what – they stay sober!! So don’t forget what Dr. Bob wrote on his prescription pad: Trust God; Clean House; Help Others. Bill W. verified that working with others is “the healing circuit.”

Keep on trudgin’ that road to happy destiny! Yours in recovery, Howlandwoof”

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