Bill: In this podcast, I have a conversation with my brother, Stan, about what got him to the point of recognizing that he had an addiction problem with alcohol and what he did about it. Please enjoy.
Bill: We’re talking today about recovery and discovery and let me introduce you to the listener. First of all, can I break your anonymity?
Stan: You may!
Bill: This is my brother, Stan. Stan Tierney. Stan got sober, I believe, January of 1982, the same year that I got sober ten months later. I think it’s kind of unique that you and I have stayed sober this entire time without taking a drink. What do you think of that?
Stan: I think out of seven Irish-Catholic children in a very drunken family, that two of us found permanent sobriety is a freaking miracle.
Bill: Nothing short of a miracle, and we have a common friend…I won’t mention his name because he hasn’t given me permission to do so…he also got sober six years before either Stan or I did. And he, too, is still sober. The thing that we all have in common is AA, which is why I’m trying to be careful with anonymity. So, AA works obviously. There are three examples right there how AA works for long-term sobriety. The question would be: Does AA work for mental health? We were just talking about that a little bit with another friend of mine who is studying to be a counselor. And was talking about that he’d heard a speaker one time who said that he had an allergic reaction to recovery. What where your thoughts about that, Stan? You weren’t really part of that conversation, but you heard it.
Stan: Well, I’ll say…clever way of saying that recovery really doesn’t come natural to anyone I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of people get sober and stay sober. So, I think that’s an accurate and a clever way to say how horrid a life of recovery is to the average drunk or drug addict coming into a 12-Step environment.
Bill: So, Stan, how about you tell us your story and I’d like you to just tell it. And I might interrupt and ask you questions along the way. And if it takes more than the twenty minutes that I want this episode to be, what I’ll do is I’ll just splice it up and put it into several different episodes. So, are you willing to share your story?
Stan: Yes, that sounds good.
Stan: Well, Bill and I both came from a very domestically violent and drunken place – our family. And we were not given the best role models in our parents on what to be as adults. So, I was woefully unqualified to grow up. I look back at my late teens, early twenties, and I realize how horribly handicapped I was at doing the deal. But I remember as a little kid I suffered from depression. I didn’t know what it was called back then, but I knew the feelings. There was one point where I went through a couple of years where I would hear things that weren’t there…audio hallucinations. I think they were associated with my depression. They, in addition to our weird family and everything that was going on at the time with the world…this is back in the 60’s with the race riots and the assassinations. and all the horrible things. And the joyful things, too. We got to see the Apollo Program finally land on the moon. But, with all that, I felt the one overwhelming emotion I had, if you can call it an emotion, was isolated – completely and totally alone.
Even though I had five sisters and my brother, Bill, I felt completely and totally alone. And I had no advocates; nobody that had my back. In fact, that was kind of a weird concept. I was crippled in making friends because I didn’t know that was one of the parts of being a friend – that you actually have somebody else’s back. It’s just such an important thing to me.
When I got to be a teenager, I wrestled with the idea, the concept, that it should be impossible to not be able to not do something. So, case in point: I couldn’t understand how my parents and my sister could not not smoke. I mean it takes will to do something, but does it really take will to not do something? So, I ran the average experiment, and I started smoking at twelve. And sure enough, I got hooked and I understood addiction for the first time.
Bill: I did not realize two things based on what you just shared. Number one, that the reason you started smoking was to do an experiment. But number two, that you started smoking at twelve. I had no idea.
Stan: Yep, both of those are true. So, I was a hooch smoker…(you want to take Thunderbird, which is the next light after this.)
Bill: (We are in Phoenix, Arizona, and I just flew to Phoenix for a conference. I’m staying with Stan, and I’m going to borrow his car, so he let me drive the car from the airport to back to his house.)
Stan: And he’s doing good. So far, he’s hit every pothole that he can. I’ll be repairing at least one of the boots, I’m sure.
Stan: By the time I was fifteen, I got really interested in another addiction which my family was famous for. And that was drinking. And the reason I was interested is I impressed the hell out of my cousins during one summer visit to one of our uncle’s house. My cousin, who is older than me, who was actually off in Viet Nam, had left a mickey in his headboard, probably to get to sleep at night. And I drank the whole thing in front of my cousins, and then I had to pretend like I was drunk, because it had no affect on me. And I thought, “Wow, this is crazy. I can drink all the alcohol I want, and I won’t even get drunk.” But I pretended like I was drunk so I’d look cool.
I was curious around the time I turned about fifteen. I wondered if I could drink enough to actually feel what these people tell me they felt.
I was really lucky at that time. We were living in a place where the older teenagers got to stay downstairs, which had its own kitchen. That’s where Dad kept all of his beer. So, I got to, after school every day, have a few beers. Sometimes I would have more than a few and I finally got to know intoxication. I fucking loved it. It was the answer to all my prayers. I no longer felt isolated; I no longer felt friendless; I no longer felt like the kid who nobody wanted to associate with because my parents were drunk. I felt awesome! Then it became a habit quickly. I would say I was a full-blown drinking alcoholic by the time I was sixteen, drinking around-the-clock by the time I was seventeen. And that really is true. I went to my first AA meeting at seventeen because my girlfriend at the time, who later would become my first wife, she absolutely insisted. She said, “You’re a lot of fun, I love you to death, but I can’t date you anymore because you drink too much. You gotta’ go to AA.”
So, I went because my wife was unmanageable, that is what I’d tell people, even though we were just girlfriend and boyfriend. It was in the basement of an old, Catholic church downtown Great Falls, Montana. Everybody was old there. It was almost all men, and by old, I mean that everyone in the room seemed to be older than thirty years old…just decrepit. I didn’t like it a bit. I couldn’t relate to anything. One guy looked at me, and he said, “I probably spilled more than you ever drank.” You know, he kind of implied that I wasn’t qualified to be there. And I replied in my head alone, “If you hadn’t spilled so much fucking booze, you might have got here at my age,” but I didn’t say it out loud because I didn’t know how to do that. So, that was my introduction to Alcoholics Anonymous, and by her insistence, she would absolutely thrown down and have a fit unless I would go to a meeting at least once every 6 months. I got serious about it as we got engaged, got closer to the wedding. I was nineteen, she was seventeen, and she said, “There’s no way I could marry a drunk. My grandpa was a drunk, and the family just won’t tolerate it. You’ve got to get sober.”
I started going on a regular basis and it took me from the time I was nineteen until I was twenty-four to get a ninety-day chip. Talk about an allergy to Alcoholics Anonymous! That was my introduction to sobriety, to sober living, and I thought it was the end of the world.
Bill: Let me interrupt for a second. Did you say that you went to AA between the ages of nineteen and twenty-four?
Bill: And didn’t get ninety days until you were twenty-four years old? So for five years, you continued to drink, relapse, get sober, relapse, get sober, relapse.
Stan: Yes, and we would get in these fights. I would actually generate the fight, so that my wife would know how fucking miserable she and AA were making me having to live without alcohol. She would always cave and bring me alcohol. You know, I could never go out and buy the next slip. She would do it for me, and it was perfect. The 12-Step program where all they do is talk, talk, talk, talk…it’s called on and on and on and on-Anon.
Bill: I think that’s called Al-Anon, Stan.
Stan: Oh yeah. That’s what it was; Al-Anon. She never went to that until I got sober, which was at twenty-four. So, that’s my story getting into sobriety.
Bill: Gosh. I guess I just never put together that math that you were only twenty-four when you got sober.
Stan: I was.
Bill: Now let’s stop there for a minute.
Bill: So, you’re twenty-four years old. You’ve been trying to get sober for five years. You finally get ninety days together at that point. How? What happened? How were you able to do that?
Stan: I got a drunk driving conviction, DUI, up in Kalispell, Montana, because I’d been to my brother’s house. We were playing the guitar at some wedding…I didn’t even know those people. He had a keg in his back yard which would have seen abnormal to me today, but it was normal.
Bill: Did one of our sisters get married or something?
Stan: No, but it was normal for Bill to have a keg in his backyard. We drank all day while we rehearsed. Actually, I drank all day while we rehearsed. And I decided, “Oh, fuck the wedding.” I don’t think my brother wanted me to play there anyway because I was so drunk. I decided to go from Kalispell to Columbia Falls to see my parents, because you know how it is; once you’ve had thirty-six beers, you urgently need to see your parents.
Bill: Well, everybody knows that.
Stan: Everybody. So, I got in the car, and I started driving. I would put one hand over my left eye so that there were only three center lines. And I guess from what the officer told me, I was navigating using three lanes on a two-lane road. He was really, really prissy. I was a belligerent drunk, so I was belligerent as hell, but he was really nice and sweet. I’m sure he’s dead now, because he was over thirty-five by then. That woke me up and my wife said, “If you ever want to see your boy again,” (my son, my oldest boy) “then you can never take another drink.”
Bill: So let’s stop right there because the miracle of sobriety, if we want to call it that, didn’t come about because God struck you sober. It came about because you were scared of losing your family.
Stan: Oh, actually, it didn’t work that way either.
Stan: So, I went back to Bill’s. He still had the keg. We were drinking beer and talking about what a bitch my wife was. But I got sober enough to take a bus.
Bill: Just for the record, I wasn’t talking about what a bitch she was.
Stan: No, I was. Bill’s never had a flaw in his life. (You’re going to go all the way to Fifty-first Avenue and turn right. And for those in the Washington area, Fifty-first Avenue is in a town called Glendale, Arizona. Home of the Arizona Cardinals.)
So, I got home on the bus, this is in Missoula, Montana, and my wife’s resolve had not softened. I saw how serious she was, and I said, “Well, shit, I guess I better go to treatment.”
And it just so happened that we were at that one thirty-second time period in our lives where we had health insurance that actually covered treatment for alcoholism. I had planned on getting sober January 1, 1982, my son’s birthday, and found out they don’t accept patients on a holiday, so my sobriety day is January 3, 1982, Great Falls, Montana. I spent sixty or ninety days, I can’t remember, in treatment, was given the emphasis of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and the steps. I really poured myself into the program.
Bill: In Great Falls? I thought that was in Missoula. What was the treatment center?
Stan: I don’t remember.
Bill: It’s Hank, Hank somebody.
Stan: No. I know which one you’re thinking of. This one only in business a short period of time. Anyway, I got sober there, and when I came out I had almost ninety days of sobriety. I got ninety days of sobriety at my next AA meeting in Missoula, Montana, and I decided this is the first ninety-day chip I’ve ever been able to get. I’m neverm ever going to get another one, one way or the other. I stayed sober, I got an AA sponsor that took me through the 12-Steps. I decided that my intellect was still very good. I would become a scholar of not only the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, but all of the AA literature, and I would quickly get into service work, which I did. I made a lot of mistakes, had some wonderful experiences, sponsored a lot of guys. I used to take meetings into the Montana State Prison. It was really a fantastic launch and stayed in Missoula for the first, I guess, little over two years of sobriety.
Bill: Can I stop you there because I’m very curious about what caused sobriety. For the alcoholic, for the person that’s addicted to alcohol, who has not been able to put together sobriety in the past, something changes. What changed for you?
Stan: You know, it’s weird, because I hear a lot of people say that they have a spiritual awakening. I did not. I never have. In fact, I’ve been agnostic or even atheist through most of my sobriety. So, it wasn’t a God factor for me. That’s not a real popular place in AA. In fact, up until real recently, because I’m Jewish, I refused to say the Lord’s Prayer at the end of the meeting, because it’s a Christian prayer. One of the lines in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous is we cease fighting everything and everyone, and I just, like within the last six months have surrendered, to quit fighting that and join the group, so I say the Lord’s Prayer now just to be part of the group. Same reason I started smoking.
Bill: Back when you were twelve years old?
Stan: Yes, back when I was twelve years old. But anyway, I moved out to California as soon as I divorced my first wife. We divorced because our entire structure of the marriage was based on alcoholism, and I was a real selfish bastard.
Bill: Would you say that again, there was a lot of noise.
Stan: I would go to three or four meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous a day and my poor wife; by this time, she’d had our second son, and I would, without a ‘thank you’ or a ‘please’ left her in charge of the kids. She would have to work full time and when she got home, she’d get the kids from daycare, take care of them all by herself, and I would come walking in, sober, expecting a fucking parade because I was sober! Anyway, the marriage collapsed pretty quickly.