Connecting with substance abuse groups

Facilitating substance abuse groups and designing substance abuse worksheets to help the chemically dependent admit that their powerlessness and unmanageability over substances has been the peak experience in my long career as a psychologist. I believe that developing a therapeutic alliance and using effective interventions leads to recovery. I also believe that my personal history as an alcoholic and the long journey to sobriety helps me make a connection with substance abusers. Here’s a story of a man from Alcoholics Anonymous that changed my life.

A connection with substance abusers

I had been picked up for drunk driving twice. At that time, thirty-five years ago, DUI was treated with significantly less seriousness, and after my second arrest, I was required to attend a two-hour seminar on drinking and driving.

It was a warm and sunny early spring Saturday afternoon and I found the new high school in Livonia, a suburb of Detroit, without trouble. Sitting amidst other offenders, one of whom was amazingly attending the meeting in an obviously intoxicated state, I found myself listening to a middle-aged and dumpy-looking guy, Bob, from Alcoholics Anonymous. His non-descript appearance was misleading, for I was quickly astounded by his clarity and forthrightness in describing his life of alcoholism and debauchery. I had never heard anybody speak with such remarkable candor, facing the reality his life then and now with accountability, and, at the same time, casting the past aside and forgiving himself with complete abandon. During the break, smoking cigarettes and shuffling around on the pavement of the parking lot, a few of us chatted with him: I asked him more about his life and A.A. I was deeply drawn to him: I knew his message was important for me.

I got home and told my roommate about the meeting, about this man who talked to us, and about the guy who was arrested for drunk driving and came to the meeting intoxicated. I said, “Can you imagine that, going a seminar on alcoholism, hammered?” Ted went to fridge, and turning around, asked, “You wanna a beer?” “Sure,” I said.

Gratitude for counseling mentors

I now know that I was no different from the guy who was drunk. It was a long time between that Saturday afternoon in Livonia and the Thursday in February of 1986 when I stopped drinking and started attending A.A., but Bob had left an unconscious but transformative impression. As I write this, I realize that Bob’s voice was a latent catalyst that eventually led me to sobriety and catapulted me into a graduate program in counseling psychology. He helped me to enter a similar role as a mentor and teacher, incorporating his values in my work with men: authenticity, candor, and compassion.

Gratitude is a frequent topic at A.A., and when it’s my turn, I sometimes speak of my appreciation for Bob’s words on a spring day, over four decades ago, when the new leaves were just beginning to appear. Now retired from daily clinical practice, I write to carry the message.