How One Addict Found Help for Substance Abuse Problems on His SmartPhone
Mike Walsh Tried to Get Sober 5 Times with Traditional Treatment
By Rory McAlister
For an addict, 28 days in an addiction treatment center can be a true lifesaver when seeking help for substance abuse problems.
But 28 days in addiction rehab is hardly a perfect solution to addiction. In fact, many experts argue that 28 days is not enough time to provide a significant foundation for what is, ultimately, a lifetime commitment to recovery from substance abuse.
For Mike Walsh, who was addicted to drugs and alcohol for years, rehab offered another problem: A false sense of confidence.
After early attempts at recovery, Walsh walked out of rehab after 28 days with some real swagger, feeling as though he’d conquered his dependence on drugs and alcohol.
“I got this,” he thought. “I can do this now.”
Walsh felt powerful, capable. “I’m in control now. I got this figured out.”
And, feeling strong, Walsh immediately began to tweak the rules to suit himself, and immediately returned to his day-to-day life with his own set of coping strategies. “I’m not going to drink vodka on the rocks anymore,” he told himself. “I’m just going to drink wine. I’m just going to drink beer. It’s going to be different this time.”
It was only a matter of time before Mike was back, right where he started. Ultimately, he ended up in the same place.
Help for Substance Abuse Problems
Mike Walsh has been through detox five times and has completed at least three 28-day programs. He knows the cycle well. “I used to drive myself to detox,” he says.
Relapse seemed inevitable. Walsh would complete rehab in June, for example, then go to a Fourth of July party where everyone was drinking. What was the harm in doing a couple of shots? Before he knew it, he’d finished a bottle of vodka. And he was back, right where he was before. It’s what always happened.
Rehab stuck when Walsh changed his attitude. Rehab stuck when Walsh began to trust the people who’d gone down the path before him, people who reminded him that he was not in control. Rehab stuck when Walsh began to believe that he could recover, and especially when he heard that message from someone like Brian McAlister, who had crawled out of his own dark place 28 years ago. “I got sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Walsh says simply.
“The hardest thing was to admit I was powerless. It’s like admitting defeat.”
No one wants to admit they are powerless. In rehab, most everyone balks at the idea. “I’ll never admit that,” Walsh would say to those in his group. “Me neither,” came back the reply.
Yet, when you do admit you are powerless, everything starts to fall into place.
It’s not that treatment doesn’t work, says Walsh. It’s that he wasn’t ready. He didn’t want it enough.
Walsh began to trust the program, follow the instructions, started following the steps.
Today Walsh is in his early 50s; he is a well-dressed man, his shirt crisp, his shoes expensive. He is newly married, and he talks eagerly and lovingly about his amazing relationship with his 19-year-old son. He is not the angry, bitter man he once was; he is happy, joyful, his eyes bright. Walsh is sober now, and he credits Brian McAlister with recognizing his addiction, treating him with respect and giving him hope.
Riker’s Island or Rehab?
Mike Walsh grew up in Queens, the son of an alcoholic. His parents divorced when he was still a child, but Walsh has a distinct memory of his father cracking open a beer every day at 5 a.m. – do you mean pm? “I became the same person,” Walsh says.
In the neighborhood, hard drinking was acceptable, even expected. It was what Walsh knew. At 15, Walsh suffered a cracked pelvis following a car accident – no one was surprised that alcohol was involved. Walsh was in deep trouble, doing drugs, PCP, cocaine and marijuana, buying and selling. At 16, he was arrested and given a choice: Riker’s Island or rehab.
He chose rehab.
Walsh completed the 16-month drug detox, but alcohol was not considered a drug in that program.
When he was released, he went right back to what he had always known. What chance did he have anyway?
“Deep down in your disease, you don’t feel hope,” says Walsh. Your life is over. You don’t have a future. By 16, Walsh’s dream of becoming a cop was already over. By 16, Walsh was already thinking, “What’s the point?”
This began decades of cycling in and out of addiction.
Brian McAlister Understands Help for Substance Abuse Problems
Walsh built a life working here and there, sometimes sober, often not. In his 40s, he was convicted of a white-collar crime. When he was released, Hurricane Sandy dealt him a harsh blow; his sister’s basement, where he’d stored all his possessions, filled with water. Walsh lost everything. He was out of work and had no prospect of work. It was no use, he thought. He began drinking again.
But if Hurricane Sandy destroyed his life, Brian McAlister helped him rebuild it.
Walsh had known McAlister for years. They had met at work. Walsh had been a sales representative and McAlister the CEO of Full Recovery Wellness Center in New Jersey.
McAlister knew Walsh had a drinking and drugging problem, even if Walsh wasn’t ready to admit it. But McAlister treated Walsh gently, and with respect.
“You went out last night?” McAlister would say.
Today Walsh laughs when he retells the story. Everyone always knew when Walsh went out; it was written all over his face the next day.
Brian McAlister is an expert in recovery. He has written a best-selling book on addiction and recovery, and has helped many individuals, with a specialty in helping members of law enforcement address trauma and sobriety. Brian has studied the disease of addiction and its causes, he knows the language of recovery strategies. Yet to Walsh, what’s most important is that McAlister has lived it. He was an addict and now has 28 years of sobriety under his belt. He has walked the walk. “That’s more important than anything,” says Walsh.
In rehab, Walsh often met with counselors, who were scholarly experts. They had book smarts, but they didn’t have a drug problem.
Getting help from McAlister was different, says Walsh.
“A counselor is just someone who went to school,” says Walsh. “McAlister is somebody who has been through it. I relate to that.”
McAlister walks you through everything, Walsh says. How sobriety is a job. How you need all the tools you can get.
A gift from a friend
After that last time in rehab, Walsh received a gift from McAlister. Freedom 365 Virtual Recovery System™. Walsh was one of the early users of McAlister’s Freedom 365. It allows addicts to track their day, reach out for support, record their moods, watch inspirational videos. Freedom 365 offers round-the-clock support from the convenience of your cell phone, or any device, anywhere, anytime.
Today Walsh is eager to demonstrate how Freedom 365 works and helped set the foundation for long-term recovery, how he uses the 500+ interactive videos that kept him away from that one first drink, and how the relapse prevention tools help him through moments when he wanted to give up.
It’s not easy to think you can get there, says Walsh. McAlister proved to me that it can be done.
Walsh is particularly grateful for all the anger advice offered on Freedom 365. Addicts are often angry and bitter, and for Walsh that was especially true. Anger was an everyday emotion. Walsh could fly into a rage over traffic, a comment by a coworker, a remark by a family member.
Anger, bitterness and resentment are emotions that burn hot from within and they are exactly the emotions that, for many addicts, lead directly to relapse. Managing anger is a significant aspect of recovery.
Freedom 365, says Walsh, has taught him how to control his anger. Indeed, a significant percentage of the hundreds of inspirational videos that are featured on Freedom 365 are dedicated to managing anger, bitterness and resentment.
Today, Walsh admits that he still has his moments, but he’s no longer a man angry at the world.
Always watchful when trying to stay sober
Even after years of sobriety, addiction is always right there, ready for battle. Encounter a life emergency, and your mind plays tricks on you.
Walsh’s mother died in July. It was unexpected, a sudden diagnosis of cancer, followed by an announcement from the doctors that it was too advanced to treat. She was gone within weeks.
These are the times, says Walsh, when your brain will try to coax you into using again. “This would be a good excuse,” you tell yourself. “People would understand.”
After the funeral, Walsh and his wife went away, they booked an all-inclusive cruise to the Bahamas. Walsh kept his phone with him always, knowing that if he were feeling sad, or if he was tempted to reach for a drink, he’d have immediate support at his fingertips.
During the trip, Walsh remembers a particular moment, a trip to the bathroom after an afternoon sitting by the pool. Inside, a man was on his hands and knees throwing up. Walsh could think only one thing:
“Thank God that isn’t me.”