Bill Tierney, Part 1 – Episode 10

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Bill Tierney Interview, Part 1 – Episode 10

I interviewed Jeff Jones recently.  You can hear that interview in Episodes 8 and 9 of the Discovery and Recovery podcast.  Jeff is a therapist specializing in addiction recovery services for addicts and their families.  In these next two episodes, Jeff interviews me for his podcast, Families Navigating Addiction and Recovery and asks me to tell my story of recovery.  This interview is about 55 minutes long so I have broken it up into two separate episodes.  The following is part 1 of that conversation.  Please enjoy.

JEFF: Welcome everyone. So, today my guest is Bill Tierney and I just met him a while ago. I’m excited to have him on the show. I will let him introduce himself. Essentially, the reason why I’m having him on this show is because Bill has been in long term recovery for quite some time. I’ll let him talk about the specifics. However, he has a very interesting part of his journey that, he’s in a discovery phase. And he’s been in AA for quite some time. And he’s been clean and sober for a long time. And he’s just been taking a look at some of what really supports him in his sobriety. So, welcome Bill. I’m glad you’re here.

BILL: Thank you Jeff. Glad to be here. Thanks for letting me be a guest on your podcast.

JEFF: Yeah – yeah. No problem. So, if we could start with you just kind of talking a little bit about who you are as a person and then, you know, whatever you want to talk about as far as like your recovery journey when it started and what that was like.

BILL: Okay. Sounds good. I think the first thing I want to say is that for anybody that’s listening that is a member of an anonymous 12 step program like Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon or NA or whatever program that might be. You noticed that Jeff announced my first and last name and then there’s a couple of reasons that I asked him to announce, introduce me that way. One of them is that I no longer considered myself to be a member of alcoholics anonymous. And that’s not because I decided to start drinking again. I’m still sober. But it was the result of a process that I engaged in last year where I got myself in AA sponsor, probably the seventh or eighth one that I’ve had and asked him to take me through the steps according to the AA big book of Alcoholics Anonymous. And as a result of that process I realized that I no longer can say in an AA meeting or to anybody for that matter that I worked the AA program to get sober and that I worked the AA program to stay sober. And I’m going to share with you what I did do that helped me to get and stay sober and why I drew that conclusion that I no longer could see myself identifying as an AA member.

JEFF: Okay. Thank you. Yeah – yeah. So –

BILL: Let me –

JEFF: Yeah, I was just going to ask you to, if you could just talk about yourself a little bit, just kind of who you are as a person.

BILL: All right. Well, today I’m working in a coaching practice. Self-employed. And I worked with between 20 and 30 clients at a time by offering group coaching to people that are typically they’re in business. And recently, I’ve decided to refocus on working with people that are also in recovery or interested in being in recovery. I’m married. I have three kids. And my wife has three kids. Together we have a total of 14 grandkids.

JEFF: Oh my gosh. Wow. Cool.

BILL: Family’s a big deal. Family’s important. I do a little bit of traveling so that I can see my, two of my children. One of them lives right in the same area where I do. And the other two are six and eight hour drive away. So yeah, it is great. My relationship with all of my grandchildren has improved dramatically over the last, I’d say 15, 20 years or so because of some changes that I’ve made in my own life. And some efforts made to try to clean up my past, which really impacted them in a negative way. Even in early recovery.

JEFF: Yeah – yeah – yeah. Wow. So, can we kind of go back to early recovery, like when you got into recovery and I guess you started with AA. And how many years ago was that?

BILL: 35. It was 1982 and probably hearing about, I guess it’s one month from today, I’ll have 36 years of continuous sobriety.

JEFF: Wow.

BILL: What was going on back in 1982 was that, my wife and I had been together. We’ve been married for five years and we had dated for three years prior to that. And I was a very jealous and insecure husband. By then we had a little girl and little boy. Sarah was three years old and Billy was two years old. I had no idea. I really had no idea that I had a problem with alcohol. My wife had given me an ultimatum about three years prior to this with marijuana. She told me if I ever smoked pot again, she would leave me. And so I quit smoking pot but continue to drink. It surprises me as I look back on it now that she didn’t seem to have a problem with the alcohol as with pot. She didn’t like who I turned into when I smoked pot. I really liked who I turned into a lot. So it was a big, a big thing. For me it was huge to give it up, but I did because I couldn’t imagine life without my wife.

Well, she’d gotten a job working at a pizza place that had around till two or 3:00 in the morning. And my magical imagination of a mind would create all kinds of horrible things that were happening either to her or with her. And I thought for sure that she was probably having an affair with her boss who she had really befriended. And her boss and his wife were, became frequent guests at our home for dinner and for social socializing. And I felt more and more separate and apart from my wife and of course from her boss and her boss’s wife. And I just to me it felt very awkward. I was absolutely convinced in my mind that my wife was having an affair with this guy. And I couldn’t believe that his wife was going along with it and that she didn’t see all the writing on the writing that I saw.

JEFF: Wow.

BILL: So, he invited me one evening. He invited me to an AA meeting. And I was really angry that he would invite me to an AA meeting with him. It seemed really presumptuous of him that I might even consider that because of the assumptions he must been making about me having problem with alcohol. You know, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to me anytime he saw me I was drinking, but I didn’t say no when he asked me to the meeting. In fact, the thought came to me that it might be a really good idea to go because if I went with him to an AA meeting, then he would be with my wife. And I could kind of figure him out and learn more about him. And figure out for sure whether or not he was having an affair with my wife.

So, this was in 1982 and he asked me that on the 14th of November to go to this meeting. And asked if I could manage to not drink between then, when he asked me, and 8:00 the next night when I went to the meeting. And I said that’s not a problem. And I really was, I was able to just put down my beer and then after I got off work, I worked in a grocery store at the time I just didn’t drink between then and the meeting. And to my surprise, I spent an hour with a group of people who were just as crazy as I was afraid I was.

JEFF: Oh my gosh.

BILL: These people in this AA meeting we’re telling on themselves. They were saying things about the way that they thought, the way that they felt and the things that they did that I thought were all my secrets. I didn’t think anybody felt, thought, and acted that way. And if we would be willing, it didn’t make sense to me that they’d be willing to talk about it. So, I was very attracted to how transparent and willing people were to tell about themselves. And for the first time really in my adult life, as much as I can remember, I felt like I can relate to this group of people on a level that I didn’t. I don’t know that I even was aware of the results level in me that existed that can relate it to people. So, It was very refreshing for me and I wanted to come back. I wanted to go back to more meetings. And almost immediately Jeff, I switched my addiction from alcohol to AA meetings. And I started going into two and three meetings a day and work full time. Needless to say, my wife and kids didn’t see much of me.

JEFF: Wow. So what I heard you say is I switched my addiction from alcohol to going to AA meetings.

BILL: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely.

JEFF: Can you say more about how you see that Bill?

BILL: I needed to go to a meeting. And I couldn’t have told you at that time what it was that I was getting out of the meeting. But, and believe me, I certainly tried to figure this out. Why for my entire life was I able to go without an AA meeting and now that I had been introduced AA I couldn’t seem to go a day without one. Part of it I think was my fear, which I heard the message that alcohol is just outside the door doing, alcoholism is just outside the door, doing pushups, getting stronger and stronger everyday that I stay sober and then I need to do to avoid it at all costs. And the safest place to be in the world was in an AA meeting.

So, I heard that. That was my motivation for going. But I think what I mean by being addicted to meetings is that I was getting something there that I really wanted and needed. And what I understand it now to be is connection, relatability, community fellowship, all, all very, very important things. But maybe because none of my inner life had been touched, let alone healed, let alone acknowledged and developed since none of that had happened yet. All I knew is that I felt better in an AA meeting than out of one. So, and I believe for me and many of the addicts that I’ve met over the years, that how we feel determines so much of the choices we make about how we spend our time, what we do with ourselves and what we become addicted to. If in fact we are still in this state of becoming vulnerable, being vulnerable to addiction

JEFF: Yeah – yeah – yeah. So, kind of what I’m hearing then is that you, you know, just going to the first meeting. It sounds like you were really struck with a level of transparency. The level of sharing people, were talking about things that you could relate to that you kind of assumed were your little secret. And there was something really important about that, something that drew you back to that kind of environment, the connection, the community, the relationships.

BILL: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. I just felt like I was a part of something finally.

JEFF: Yeah.

BILL: To that point in my life, I had just felt really alone. Like nobody got me. Nobody understood. I didn’t get other people. I didn’t understand.

JEFF: Yeah. Yeah. So at this stage, how did this affect your family? You know, you were saying you had two small children at that time, a wife.

BILL: Yeah. Yeah. You know, sad to say I can’t really report accurately about the impact on. They certainly didn’t see me nearly as much physically, but I don’t know that that was such a bad thing for them. I wasn’t a very loving dad. I mean, I love my kids, don’t get me wrong. I love them. And I played with them. And I enjoyed them until I didn’t anymore, you know. And as painful as this is to say out loud and to admit, they were pretty inconvenient. And so, I lose my patience and my temper with them. And my wife kind of played the role of protecting them against me. Some of it was verbal and some of it was physical. I would call myself an abusive parent at that time. I’d spend some amount of impatience and anger. I would handle them in a real rough manner and I would shout at them. And that was the way that I was raised. I really believed that I was doing better than my parents were, but the truth is, it was shameful behavior. And no kid needed to be, deserved to be treated the way that I treated my kids.

JEFF: Yeah.

BILL: It hurt actually. I absolutely loved them. I adored my kids.

JEFF: Yeah – yeah – yeah. Wow. So, then like the evolution of your own. Like what you were just talking about is when you started AA and, you know, kind of the relationships you had with your kids and your family then. And so, can you talk a little bit about what you remember of the evolution of like five years, 10 years, 20 years in or whatever, kind of how that journey unfolded for you?

BILL: Sure, sure. Well, I think it’s important to report just that although I was successfully abstaining from alcohol and any other mood altering drugs. I believe that my program consisted of watching people that I admired and wanted to be like, and then trying to emulate them, in other words, pretending to be like them. And so, there was really no internal work being done. I wasn’t examining my inner workings. I wasn’t looking at my own thinking. Examining my own judgments, my own values. I was noticing people that were living life the way that I would have liked to have lived. And all I knew about how to live that way was to pretend that I was like them. I would talk like them. I’d laugh like them. I began to value the things that they valued.

And these were all people in alcoholics anonymous. I had a lot of respect for the people in AA because they were so transparent and vulnerable and honest. And so that was in the early days that’s what recovery look like for me, but my body knew better. When I was clean and sober about seven months and I was working in the grocery store and my body said: “You know, this is now time for us to begin to feel all the emotions that we’ve been packing away for the last 28 years.” It was 28 years old at the time and I was [inaudible] toilet paper display in this grocery store. I began to weep and convulsively sob. And I could barely get myself back into the bathroom to try to collect myself and I failed to gain any kind of composure. My body just went into this process all on its own of beginning to release all the – what I understand now is to release all the emotions that I’d been suppressing for most of my life.

JEFF: Yeah. And was there anything like that you remember that contributed to that release or did it just at one point that’s what started happening?

BILL: That’s– it’s just that it was that ironic. I there, I didn’t have a thought any different than the thought that I’d had an hour before or the day before. I wasn’t focused on anything that I hadn’t been already focused on. I mean, all of this time I still was obsessed with the idea that my wife is probably having an affair with this guy [inaudible]. And that really tension.

JEFF: Yeah. So there wasn’t anything different in your family or your environment or?

BILL: No. No.

JEFF: Wow.

BILL: Your body had not had the assistance of alcohol to deal with my emotions. Alcohol did such a great job of keeping my emotions at bay.

JEFF: Yeah. Wow. And so how many years in was did you –

BILL: It wasn’t. It was only seven months.

JEFF: Oh, I see. Yeah.

BILL: And I had a buddy who had been sober already in AA for six years who just happened to be in town, looked me up and found me locked in my office upstairs in the grocery store, hiding underneath the desks so that nobody can see or hear me as I’m having this huge emotional breakdown. And unable at all to understand what was going – I was really scared. I thought, what is going on that I don’t have any control of my emotions here?

JEFF: And so, were you bringing that into AA meetings?

BILL: No. This is like something that happened one day. It wasn’t over days. It happened one day. And by the time my buddy showed up, it had been going on for about four hours. And it wasn’t going away. It just continued, kept role, like, would roll over me that in waves and then the next wave would come and the next wave would come. And I just, I thought I was going crazy.

JEFF: Yeah.

BILL: And when he suggested that I agreed to go off to treatment. I thought great. That sounds awesome. I didn’t care if I had a job when I came back or not. I didn’t care if I was still married when I came back or not. I just didn’t want to continue to feel this out of control with all these pain and all these emotions. So I went off to a 28 day treatment center and miraculously was just fine once I got there.

JEFF: Yeah. Wow.

BILL: I was starting to teach people about AA. And people thought I was a counselor there at the treatment center.

JEFF: So you were clean for seven months and your emotions came out and then you went to a 28 day treatment center.

BILL: That’s right. That’s right.

JEFF: Wow.

BILL: It’s a bit of an unusual story.

JEFF: It is a bit of an unusual story. Yeah. Yeah. Wow. And so, what was, I mean, can you talk a little bit about like what was happening with your family then, do you recall? Or?

BILL: Well, I can only guess that my wife must have been very, very relieved that I wasn’t drinking and while at the same time probably resentful that now that I wasn’t drinking, not only was she not getting a benefit from that, from me being a better guy, you know, I’m paying better attention to, more attention to her and the kids. I was just absent all the time now. Culminating in a four week vacation at the treatment center where she was left to fend for herself. So, I’m thinking that she just became more and more resentful. We’d had intimacy issues throughout the entire marriage. And I won’t talk about her side of what was the cause of all that, but we have, let me just say that we both brought issues into the marriage. And so, when I came back out of treatment, we started going to marriage counseling and that was my introduction to counseling and therapy. And really my introduction to beginning to address my own issues for the first time ever in my life. It wasn’t happening in AA meetings, not because AA didn’t provide a way to do that, but because I just wasn’t interested. I was just interested in looking good, making it look good.

JEFF: Yeah, – yeah – yeah. The image peace. So, but it sounds like what was attractive though too, is to have people around you being very transparent and talking about what was going on for them. So you got to see a lot of other people kind of going through that process.

BILL: I did. And it was inspiring. And I just didn’t have the, I had the willingness to be transparent and authentic like I saw them being. I just didn’t have the ability. So what it really was, was me pretending to be authentic. As funny as that sounds. I was pretending to be authentic and transparent until I began to get some therapy and counseling and actually be able to access that which I was hiding from the rest of the world.

JEFF: Right.

BILL: And just even see it myself.

JEFF: Right, right. Yeah. Yeah. So then what I heard you say initially was that you didn’t work the steps and AA didn’t help you stay clean and sober.

BILL: I would say that the program that’s described in the basic text of alcoholics anonymous was not the program that got me sober. What did getting several was the fellowship –

JEFF: Yeah.

BILL: – and [inaudible] alcoholics anonymous in the meetings.

JEFF: Yeah – yeah – yeah.

BILL: And that’s what keeps me sober for that and combination with the work that I then finally began to do outside of AA with therapy and counseling is what kept me sober for all those years.

JEFF: Yeah – Yeah – Yeah. And so here you are like 35 years later. And what I heard you say is that you’re in like, you’re at this place of self discovery.

BILL: Yes – yes – yes. I, you know, I wouldn’t say that I’ve ever been somebody that had a lot of confidence that I had an answer, that may not be true. There may have been a time that I was way over confident about the answers for myself and other people. But, I’ve always had a questioning mind. I’ve always been very, very curious about the truth.

JEFF: Right.

BILL: About what is actually true, which is paradoxical since I was such a prolific liar for so long, for so long. I was such a great liar. I had myself convinced that I was telling the truth for years and years and years. But –

JEFF: Even when you were in AA –

BILL: Yeah.

JEFF: – you were seeing yourself as well as lying and not telling the truth.

BILL: Well, yeah, for the longest time I was — I didn’t seem to have the ability to tell the truth. This is something that I got really nailed up on in treatment at seven months sober. They really just began to peel away all my lies and exposed to me how this was so shameful to me at that time. So embarrassing to be found out as the liar that I was. Just simple things. I would lie instead of telling the truth when it would’ve been just as easy, it would’ve been much easier just to tell the truth. There was no advantage in lying. Like how many kids do you have? Three. No. Only had two. Just ridiculous things. How long have you been working on your job? I would say 10 years. I’ve been there for four. How long have you been married? 12 years. No. I’ve been married five. I could not tell the truth.

JEFF: Wow. So there was just kind of a habitual pattern.

BILL: Yes. Yes. Absolutely. Reality. I think reality is just too uninteresting, so I had to, in my own mind, make things up.

JEFF: Creating. Yeah. And so like before you got into the drinking or smoking pot, was it any different with the not telling the truth or, you know, making a high priority image?

BILL: Well, I certainly did work on an image before I discovered alcohol and before I started smoking pot. I had a different kind of image that I had developed. Shy. I was very, very shy. People, especially women just terrified me. I was a loner. I isolated. I didn’t have a lot of, I used to say, and this isn’t far from the truth that before I got to Alcoholics Anonymous, I couldn’t complete a sentence. I just was not a skilled communicator at all. I pretty much just kept to myself. And speaking out loud was too risky. So I guess, didn’t have conversations with people. I avoided them at all costs.

Please check out Jeff Jones other episodes at  You can subscribe to his podcast at Itunes and Sticher.  Look at show notes for links to Jeff’s website, his contact information, and his podcast.  This interview is continued in Part two captured in the next episode.