Michael tried to get sober on his own several times before coming to Mountainside. Now, he knows that community not only helped him take those first steps in recovery but help keep him going. Community and spirituality are key to his success in recovery. In this month’s Alumni Spotlight, Michael also shares with us his biggest successes, the best part of recovery, and the advice he would give to his younger self.
Q: What excites you the most now when you get up in the morning?
A: I get to wake up every morning filled with gratitude for all of the things I could have lost from my addiction: the love and trust of my friends and family, the support of everyone around me, my girlfriend and my dog. It’s a good life.
Q: What is your motto? And what about this motto appeals to you?
A: “If you want something you have never had before, you have to do something you’ve never done” This keeps myself – and others I preach to – reminded that the life we once lived, although sick and demented, was comfortable. Retreating back to drugs and alcohol is our safe haven. If we want to successfully change our lives, we have to shake things up. We have to try new things we’ve never done before. I always mention that it’s crucial to stop and take notice of times of comfortability as these are actually opportunities for learning moments and spiritual growth.
Q: What has been the best part of recovery for you? Why?
A: Every day I get the opportunity to work with others in early recovery. The feeling of being able to give back to the program that saved my life is indescribable. Amazing!
Q: What would you say is the biggest success – professional or personal – you’ve had since leaving Mountainside?
A: Spirituality has been my biggest success since getting sober. Through working the 12 Steps of AA, and 2 trips to Mexico with the Ruiz Brothers (The Four Agreements), spirituality has completely altered my perception of everything around me. I used to believe that wealth and success could only be measured by the size of my paycheck. Today, my idea of wealth and success is my own personal fulfillment. Helping others is what makes me truly happy and fulfilled, and through community service, sponsorship, and helping the newcomers, I can honestly say I am the wealthiest and most successful I have ever been.
Q: What has been your biggest hurdle in recovery, and how did you learn to overcome it?
A: Letting go of control and turning my will over on a daily basis was the hardest for me at first. My previous career as a construction project manager gave me the instinct to always have the answers and to have absolute control over everything. In recovery, I’ve come to believe that addiction is a whole new beast and is something I cannot control with my own will. It was suggested to me to get up every morning and turn my will over to my higher power by praying before I do anything else. I did not understand it the first day, or even the first week. But eventually I began to accept that there are many things I cannot control, and life is a whole lot easier when my higher power in in charge, instead of me.
Q: What was the turning point that led you to get help?
A: I had attempted to quit using multiple times on my own, none of which were successful. After about the eighth weekend of trying to detox myself, I had given up entirely. I could not tell anyone around me exactly what the problem was because I feared I would lose everything. My using then spiraled out of control, which led to a family intervention. I thank God for that day because it saved my life!
Q: If you could, what would you tell your younger self?
A: As an early teenager, I had plans of my own that did not include the family business. As I got older, I ended up working for the family business in summers. I became accustomed to the image as the “future owner,” and in trying to live up to that expectation, I lost my way. I lived the next 15 years taking the path of least resistance and lost the drive that I needed in my life, which ultimately created the void which we all know we can never fill. If I could go back and give some advice to my younger self, it would be to follow your dreams, not someone else’s.
Q: What would you like people who are afraid to receive treatment know?
A: I would like them to know that they do not have to go through this anymore. That I know what they are going through and that I have lived to tell about it. That there really is a solution. I have found it in the 12 Steps of AA.
Q: What suggestions do you have for the newcomer?
1. Sober living saved my life, do that.
2. Don’t drink (or use), go to meetings, get a sponsor, get commitments, make those commitments, and ask for help.
Q: What is the best advice you have been given?
A: When I first got sober, I picked up a sponsor right off the bat. I told him I know there are 12 Steps and I was sure I could bang them out like 12 questions out of a textbook. I was eager to get better and wanted him to take me through the steps as fast as possible so that I could get on with my life and regain the things I had lost. He gave me the best advice I could have ever gotten, as it was given to him by his sponsor. “Well, why don’t we just not drink today and go to a meeting.” He was given that advice for 6 years, and in that 6 years, he slowly regained everything he once had and much more. Although I am still relatively early in recovery, I have learned over the last year to just take things slowly and everything will come in good time. Once I completed my fourth and then fifth step, I had more appreciation for the steps than I ever could have imagined. I found myself dragging my feet a bit over the next 6 months, trying to stretch them out a long as possible.
Q: What is the one item you can’t do without?
A: I currently have so many commitments in and around Mountainside, my appointment calendar in my phone is basically the only thing that keeps me on time every day. Without that, I’d be totally lost.
Q: Would you rather be an inventor or a leader? Why?
A: I am a leader for sure. I lead only through experience, and I try to only preach what I know firsthand through experience. Don Miguel Ruiz Jr. taught me that “we cannot give what we do not have.” I think about that every time I’m giving advice. I cannot give advice on speculation or hearsay; I can only give advice on what I truly know about and have experienced.
Q: Who — dead or alive — is on the guest list for your ideal dinner party?
A: My entire family, all of my friends, and my dog Stella.
Q: What’s the one thing people would be pleasantly surprised to know about you?
A: I actually enjoy meditation. It helps keep me grounded. I usually takes about 25-30 minutes to clear everything going on in my mind, but when I clear my mind, it’s very enjoyable, even for a few minutes.
Q: What are you currently reading or what song have you enjoyed recently? What do you love about it?
A: I am currently reading The Mastery of Self by Don Miguel Ruiz Jr. I really enjoy all of the Ruiz family’s books. Having experienced two workshops in Mexico at Teotihuacan with the Ruiz brothers, I love reading their books because I have the advantage of actually having visited and have firsthand knowledge of some of the sites described. I also enjoy seeing the close similarities between the 12 Steps and the spiritual rituals of the Toltecs.