Episode 6: Jeff R Funny, Inspirational Recovery Journey

Jeff's Recovery Journey: Sobriety, Service, and Self-Discovery.

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Episode #6 Podcast Transcript:

Hello, everyone. Welcome to the “You always have Choices” podcast.
Today we have a very good and old friend of mine - his name is Jeff. Jeff, welcome to the “You Always Have Choices” podcast.
Thank you.
You're welcome. I thought you'd embellish something else knowing you, but that's okay.
It's fantastic. Unbelievable. So happy to be here.
So, I guess I am jumping right into it. Jeff, how did you get into the whole drug and alcohol thing?
You know, pretty young. I say I started drinking in high school and doing drugs way before high school - junior high school. I started with the booze and smoking pot in eighth grade and pills. I mean, I was already shooting heroin in high school, you know, for a brief period - I was shooting heroin in high school.
That's tremendous.
Yeah, we were sticking needles in my arms in my mother's bathroom. I mean, it was insane, you know? And I think about it. I was young. That had to be like 1970, 71, because I graduated in 72. So, it was crazy. I was even doing heroin in a part-time job in a bagel store in high school on the weekends. I even had people, I think myself, shooting heroin in the bathroom in the bagel store.
So that's how prevalent it was back then. You and everybody you were attracted to used drugs and alcohol. Y
Yeah. If you didn't get high, I didn't know you. You were not cool. I mean, you were like, forget about it. I mean, I couldn't trust people like that.
So, starting from the beginning, did it work for you for a while, and when did it stop working? Because it sounds like it wasn't horrible, or was it horrible from the very start?
Well, I tell you, in the beginning, it was fun. I enjoyed getting high, I had to check out. I couldn't deal with life like a human; little did I know that then, but I know that now.
But you know, what really happened was I moved it. I grew up in Queens, and I moved into Manhattan when I was 21, and Hell's Kitchen, which was a complete freak show in the seventies. And I fit right in because I was a complete freak. And it really escalated significantly with alcohol and drugs.
I mean, my next-door neighbor was selling great heroin. I'm living in bars; I'm doing tons of cocaine. I'm hanging around with people that, you know, I shouldn't be with. And quite frankly, it got so bad. Okay. Now, as with like it, it was not good, not fun. It was getting dangerous because when I was 25 – that was like four years.
My mother got me into a therapeutic community, and I was living in Ellenville, New York, for 18 months in this place, which didn't really solve my problem because it didn't address alcoholism. You have a drug problem, you yell and scream, and all these encounter groups, and they give you drinking privileges, which was really insane when you think about it.
Isn't that crazy? That's insanity, you know. When you told me that story, I couldn't believe it.
But what it did do for me was it stopped me from an express train to death because that's where I was going. So, it put the kibosh on that temporarily, you know, but by now, I'm drinking like a fish, thinking I'm straight. I'm not doing any drugs. I'm not doing any coke. No heroin, no pills, no pot. I'm cool. Yeah, I’m just drinking.
So, with that said, when do you think it got so bad that you took the steps to go into Alcoholics Anonymous and get sober and live this new life? Was what happened? Was there a particular thing that went wrong that you said, okay, I got to do something about this?
Well, I tell you, you know, it took about six or eight years of just drinking before I started smoking pot and doing the coke. So, one thing I did know when I did come to the rooms was that if I drank, I would do drugs. s I did not know I was an alcoholic when I did get there.
But prior to coming, I was seeing, you know, trying a million different ways to fix myself. None of it worked. But the last shrink I saw told/suggested, why don't you try a Cocaine Anonymous meeting? Because I was going at it like a fiend with that. And so I went to a Cocaine Anonymous meeting. Never heard of it.
Never heard of AA, any of it. But I went, and I was willing to stop using cocaine. They told me, you can't drink. I said to toodeloo. So now two years go by and I'm slowly, slowly sinking further down. And I was with these two girls in a bar all night doing drugs and drinking. I'm in the apartment.
God knows I must have been swimming in my clothes. And I went into the bathroom for, I guess, for whatever reason. And I looked in the mirror, and it was like a God thing because I just couldn't do it anymore. I literally just couldn't do it anymore. I don't know where that comes from because 3 minutes earlier, killing myself with this stuff, 3 minutes later, I can't do this anymore.
So, was that the moment? There was a moment. I never had a desire to get high after that ever again. From that day to this day, and you know, it will be 27 years. I’ve been in the store many times over the years to purchase AA coins, gifts, jewelry, all sorts of things for people in the program. Its something I love to do, to give back, to help encourage.
So, tell me a little bit about going into AA and Cocaine Anonymous. Did you grasp it right away, or did it take a little time?
No, no, I never relapse or anything like that. And I was very, very broken, and I was, you know, I had a lot of willingness because I never wanted to go back to where I came from. And I really was afraid of alcohol because I knew if I drank, I would do drugs. But after a little while, you know, I started going regularly to AA., and I still didn't know what was wrong with me.
You know, I was doing everything they told me, tons of fellowship. I was listening to my sponsors, but there was like something missing. And I really didn't know what it was until – here’s how God works, in mysterious ways. There was some girl I couldn't even remember her name or what she looked like. But I was going to follow her to this new meeting that just started with at the ‘mustard seed (meeting). And it was a big book study, it was a Joe and Charlie format. I walked in there, I heard the message of AA, and I wanted to soak it up like a sponge. And I asked one of the two women who were facilitating that meeting if she would sponsor me. She was gay, so there was no conflict, and it changed my entire life.
My entire life was changed from that book and that woman passing that message on, I understood, and I got to understand exactly what was wrong with me and what I could do about it.
So what I'm to understand is you're saying you were in the program, but until you worked the 12-step recovery program, going through the 12 steps, that's what helped you achieve the happiness, the peace, the frame of mind you're in today.
Absolutely. Yeah, I went to three Joe & Charlie Big Book studies with those guys, and Charlie would always say AA is a life-changing program, not a non-drinking program. I see plenty of people in AA abstinent, but they're not - the problem is in my freakin mind – If I don’t take care of my mind, I'm not doing anything. So, I know people who don't go to doctors, they smoke 2 packs, they're walking around on eggshells. I wanted everything I could get out of this thing.
You wanted success. I know myself, and I've been to meetings, and I've also seen people speak, how they act, and their personalities; I wouldn't want anything they had - not one thing. I think that is what you're saying - there are people who just show up for the meetings but don't do the work.
They don't understand. A lot of people, I think, don't understand, and I'm very grateful that I do know - how sick I am. I know I'm very sick. The AA literature says that all day long. Many do not comprehend - the alcoholic is a very sick person.
I know I'm completely out of my mind. You know - what an advantage because I went through life for decades not knowing that I was out of my mind. I'm out of my mind!
I can attest to that!
There was a woman last night telling a story to me and this other guy that she was coming from the doctor because she banged her wrist with a bracelet on, and it was this and that. She went to a surgeon, doctors – he said, you’re fine, don’t worry, you don't need physical therapy or anything. I'm looking around going. - you have wrist cancer - it’s wrist cancer. Ya know, because we go right to gloom and doom. She doesn't have a sense of humor because she's wound too tight. But I'm laughing because that's how I am, it's not a pimple; it’s a tumor. And I know that out of my mind because it's a disease of perception. I'm swearing it's blue, but it was red. Good recovery has shown me how wrong I've been about what I thought about a million things. So, I need to be sponsored. I need to get guidance, I need perspective.
I've learned to accept a lot of help and listen to those who know better. Yeah, that, for me, has been the secret of my peace of mind.
That's beautiful because it also helps me segue into what I wanted to talk to you about next. Because as a good friend of yours, I see how much work you put in and how much of your time and life you put into recovery.
So, for instance, once in recovery, what keeps you successful? What are some of the greatest and most wonderful things that you contribute not only to AA but your life? What are you doing differently today?
You know, to sum it up simply - is to think about others. I mean, I was just sucking the life out of the planet for myself, thinking, I'm such a great guy, you know?
I mean, I’d buy people dinner thinking, “I'm such a great guy.” You're not eating alone, and you want to eat what you want to eat; you're just so freaking selfless.
You know, I had no clue as to what was going on. It's all in the giving, not only in AA but in life. To be aware, to think of how what I'm going to do or say is going to affect the other person.
I never thought like that, you know, And I'm trying my best to look at the good in everybody because it's so easy to look at the bad. That takes nothing. It's like a no-brainer. I mean, I could tell you how everybody screwed up, and I'm great, you know, what is that accomplishing? It's a full sense of making myself try to feel better.
I want to feel good about myself without the need to have to do that. Because the reason I had a drink and the reason I had a drug, very simply, is to change the way I feel because I didn't like the way I felt about myself. So, if I change that solid, I'll never have to drink or do drugs. I'm high on life.
Beautiful, beautiful. Going into it a little deeper once again because I know you, I see how much you give back. You always have told me sponsorship is one of the most important things. You can have service, but you can't keep it unless you give it away. Talk about what you do for the community of Alcoholics Anonymous and for your own individual people that you help.
Well, I'm always, when I go to a meeting, I'm always looking to help people. I mean, you don't have to sponsor people to help people. So, you know, I'm always looking to mentor the younger people is a lot of young people. And a lot of people come over to me and ask me for guidance; even my friends in Aruba, whom I’ve been going to for decades, call me up for help.
It's a good form of just giving back, you know, and also taking alcoholics through the program of recovery and seeing them change. There's one guy I sponsor. I mean, I got a picture with him in the emergency room after he relapsed in a gown. And like, you know, he's married, and he's about to be a father.
You know, I mean, all kinds of things going on - a whole life, you know? So, it's really wonderful to see the change in people. But, you know, even with service commitments and everything I've learned - I try to be an elder statesman, you know, there's other people. I've done a million commitments. You know, there's other people who do them, and sit back and just be a guide and give help when asked. I've learned not to throw my opinion on stuff unless it has to do with the group conscious. It's another story because it's, you know, I mean. it's just I've learned to rely on a power greater than myself. I've always believed in a God, never relied on any. I relied on me – I’m going to bust a move, I got it, I’m good, all that crap. It doesn't work. It really doesn't work.
I even had something scheduled, an MRI, and I really didn't need it before I canceled it. I called my friend up and asked, you know. Well, you know, it's one thing about doing, you know; she agreed, whatever. I just learned not to act on my own with many things. It makes my life more manageable and peaceful.
I don't need to know everything. I just need to know who to rely on or ask.
But I think that's fantastic. Two things. One is that relationship with God. A lot of people believe in God, but they don't have a relationship with God of trusting, a faith that, you know that if I do the next right thing and trust in God that things can work out well for me.
I mean that it's not written in stone, but it's been my experience. If that's what you do, it normally works out well.
I mean, I'm a neurotic, hypochondriac nut job. Okay. About eight, about ten years ago, I had to get surgery. Right? So, they wheeled me up onto the gurney to do the operating room because they said you're ready, but they weren't ready.
So, they park me on the side of these big, huge steel double doors. Right. And I'm laying out there. And then there's the button you push to open the door, which is right behind me. I'm laying out there for 30 minutes before surgery. Now, if I didn't have a God in my life, I would be worrying about worrying about worrying.
Yeah, I'd be a basket case. I'm opening the door for people. I'm doing stand-up, lying down on a gurney. I mean, I'm having a blast. That's the beauty of what the AA program did for me.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I do understand that. And I think that one of the greatest things that I'm getting out of this conversation is, no matter what, you're not in charge. And you should always try to find out, as you said, I didn't need this MRI, but let me ask someone who can say, yay or nay, or I'm going through a life experience that I don't have much experience with. Let me ask someone who has that experience. So I think that's really important that, you know, you're not in charge and that you can always find the help that we may need in any life situation in AA or out, you know?
But the next thing I would like to ask you is, you know, one of the things that I loved in Alcoholics Anonymous was like some of my favorite sayings are “This too Shall Pass,” “One day at a time,” and “Easy does it.”
Have you, especially in the beginning, any of those phrases stuck with you and that you use to this day almost 30 years later?
Yeah, well, two of them. You know, this too shall pass because everything passes. It really does. I mean, I found that I had hepatitis C many years ago, and I did the Interferon and Ribavirin, which is a nightmare. The side effects are horrific. Most people could never do it. And I did it, and I got rid of it. And I knew each time, you know, it'll pass. Everything will pass.
But the one slogan that really, I loved the most, from Dr. Bob, “Keep it Simple” because, man, we could turn, you know, you know, dialing a phone number into a Warner Brothers production. Just keep it simple. Just keep it simple. Say less. Just keep it simple. Less is more. I learned that in sales, less is more.
And to go through a whole song and dancing, there's always questions newcomers have. You know when people ask - why you're not drinking? you know, it's because I don't drink. Why? Because it doesn't agree with me. I had to go into a whole story: “Because I don’t drink - what do you want from my life?” You know? I mean, I've learned to keep it simple because it works a lot better because I can get so deep and complicated with things, and it helps me to help a lot of people that way because there's a lot of people that come in with a monologue when all we need is two sentences.
Got it. I got it. And that brings me to the next thing. So, what would you say to the person that's listening to this? And they're just not sure. They know that it's not working for them, but they're just not sure they're afraid. They don't know what to do. What would you say to the person that is on the fence?
The one thing I would say that the literature talks about and that I've learned myself is “contempt prior to investigation.” I've made up my mind about what I know with no information, no evidence, no nothing, pure fiction. I don't like that guy. Do you ever talk to him? No. I don't want to eat there, I don't like that food. Did you ever eat it? No.
You know, so people do that really easily with alcoholism. It's like a main feature. So how do you know AA doesn't work until you work it? I've gone into many detoxes over the years with meetings a lot. I've heard so many people say, “It didn't work; it doesn't work for me.” Yeah, well, have you ever gotten a sponsor, sat down, gone to the big book, done what it says and helped other people, done service in a home group, and prayed and meditated every day? Tell me, did you do that? No.
You know, so I mean, you know, there's a program of recovery. There are people in AA who don't do AA. So, you know, it's either you do it, or you don't do it, but it works. People don't work. The programs are boilerplate, it's solid. So, you got to give yourself a chance because we outsmart ourselves very quickly. I've done it a million times in life. I've seen people do it in business, you know.
And if you, if you're listening to this, you probably have a problem. Okay. Normal people aren't listening to a podcast about drugs and alcohol. Well, you know, I was going to watch Will and Grace, but what the hell, I figure I listen to this instead.
So I mean, they’ve always said 90 meetings in 90 days. Is that a good way to get started?
Yeah, you’ve got to listen. The whole ballgame is complete surrender. You fight, you lose. You surrender, you win. It's just that simple. You're not going to win fighting in Alcoholics Anonymous. No way. Because you know, I am my problem. I spoke fluent “victim -ease” - my whole life. It's you. It's it. It's this, it's that.
I used to think I didn't have a girlfriend because I live in Queens. Queens was the problem! Yeah. The fact that I was deathly afraid of getting rejected had nothing to do with it. You know, we're insane, and we don't know it. That's the biggest problem, is that you don’t know you're insane when you're insane, which is why you need a sponsor. And you need to listen to a sponsor. Just having one ain't going to do the trick. It's in listening to those who know better.
It's like people in AA; they get Derek Jeter as a batting coach. He tells you how to swing the ball, and they say, I don't, I don't agree with you. I mean, yeah, okay, because you know better. you know, when that's where absolutely nuts, and if you surrender, you're going to win. Surrender means to join the winning side, not lose.
Jeff, I loved it; I loved your answers to my questions. I think you really made it clear on what to do and how to do it. And I appreciate that immensely. You know, I love you dearly. I've known you for many years, and I just want to thank you for coming on the podcast. And listen, I hope in the future we have you again as a guest.
Anytime, my brother, I love you dearly.
So, this is Jay DePaolo saying another day at Choices Gifts and Books, where “You always have Choices.” We look forward to seeing you and hearing from you in another week. Thank you and have a great day.