DAN: What is the greatest gift recovery has given you toward being the man you always knew you could be?
JERRY: Really, there’s a one-word answer for me, and that’s freedom. The very first time I drank alcohol— not the first time I tasted it—but the first time I really drank it, I was 17 and I had a blackout. It just kind of went downhill from there.
For the next 30 years, I continued to drink off and on. I’d drink more and then less and then a lot more and a little less—until I was drinking daily. I couldn’t not drink.
When I reached that point, I tried everything I could think of to quit. Like the old joke says, “Quitting’s not hard, it’s staying quit.” Everything I tried didn’t work.
Finally, I found the divine paradox of recovery, that victory comes from surrender. When I finally embraced that and began to do what others who were successful in recovery were doing it really set me free. Now I’m free, not only from alcohol, free to live my life. That’s the greatest gift that recovery has given me.
DAN: Freedom has come up multiple times in these interviews with men in recovery. It starts with the freedom from the addiction, and then you realize, “Oh, my God, I can actually do this.” Your freedom then begins to expand and expand. I’m free to be in a relationship as myself. I’m free to be in this world as myself and mean “yes” when I say “yes,” and mean “no” when I say “no” and live authentically in both my professional life and my personal life.
JERRY: That is so true. Like a lot of us, I grew up with some trauma and learned at a really young age how to shut down and close off and be inauthentic and lie really well. In recovery I learned that it’s okay to just be who I am—what a gift!
DAN: That’s what is so wonderful about The Meadows. You get to look deeply at the childhood piece. You get to look at the artifice that you’ve created and the authentic person within. As men, we get to look at the boys that we were and the men we’ve forced ourselves to become in light of The Man Rules. In recovery, there’s the freedom to be the men we really want to be and not be bound by those Man Rules. I’m free to be the man I want to be; I don’t have to be the man everyone else thinks I should be.
JERRY: The societal definition of what a man is, certainly in the United States, is so warped. It’s based on “Boys don’t cry, and “Man up.” Those rules work in some areas of life, but they sure don’t work in relationships.
In school, we had the debate team, where we learned to spar and verbally defend our position. Those are wonderful skills to have in many areas of life, but when we go into relationships and use those skills they just blow up in our faces. What we needed to have in school in addition to a debate team was a resolution team, because in a lot of cases nobody taught us how to resolve differences. So we try to stumble our way through and we make a mess of it. Then we turn to something—mood-altering chemicals or behaviors—to get some relief from the pain we’re in over these unresolved conflicts.
DAN: Stephen Bergman, M.D. says it leads us to be agents of disconnection. We aren’t relearning how to be in relationships in recovery, we’re learning how to be in relationships for the first time. What is so powerful for me is that we’re constantly moving from connection to disconnection to reconnection. It’s the reconnection piece that is so difficult, particularly for men. The more vulnerable the relationship, the more difficult it is to repair.
JERRY: Absolutely. And the more fear, the more anxiety I have about connecting the more I’m unable to have trust.
DAN: I talk about this in my book A Man’s Way Through Relationships. When we move into vulnerability and intimacy, sometimes we’re not prepared. A lot of men are constantly walking around the landscape of each other’s lives not knowing where the landmines are and never knowing when we’re going to step on a landmine that blows up the relationship. I’ve seen this happen with so many men, where they have a close, vulnerable, connected relationship until one disconnection happens and one person just says “I’m done.”
JERRY: Well, we tell ourselves that if this is what a relationship is, if it’s going to have this kind of pain, count me out. I just won’t do it. I’ll be a mile wide and an inch deep with everyone. But, pain is just a part of a relationship. It just comes with it.
DAN: But, it’s sad. It’s sad that that’s what we’ve done to men. We kind of stand outside and judge men’s inability to connect. I always say to people, if you’re one of those couples that don’t fight, that scares me. It’s the ability to withstand the disconnection and the conflict and come back and compromise. I’ve found that in my marriage and in my closest relationships, that’s everything.
Work and Leadership
JERRY: I love what C.S. Lewis said: “Pain is God’s megaphone.” He didn’t say it’s his club, he said it’s his megaphone. Sometimes we’ve got to have that pain to recognize that something is wrong and the ask ourselves what we’re going to do about it.
DAN: Unfortunately, so many men are socialized to think that the problem is someone else…
JERRY: Particularly when we’re talking about men in the workplace. Men are typically in a workplace environment 8 to 10 hours a day. Workplace culture often promotes disconnection. it promotes being one up, and it promotes power-driven relationships. Then, we leave this environment and walk through the door at home at the end of the day only to find that our dogs have more authority than we do. Everyone at home—our spouse and our kids, they want to be in more connected relationships.
When men are at work, it’s all about power, all day long. Taking off that hat and putting on the spouse/ parent hat is difficult, and we often just don’t know how to do it.
DAN: That is so true. It’s really about how do we teach men how to be congruent in their business and personal lives. One doesn’t have to be that different from the other. Men can be vulnerable and share power at work, but can also translate some of his leadership skills from the business world to his life at home. We can all be more thoughtful about how we connect and how we work together.
JERRY: You’re right, Dan, It really is about congruence, because there are business skills that translate into home life successfully, and there are relationship skills from home life that translate into the business world successfully. You just have to learn with whom you can be vulnerable because not everyone is safe.
That’s what is so great about recovery. When you’re active in a recovery community you get the opportunity to learn how to be vulnerable around other people, and then transfer these skills into home life and work life and the community at large.
Families of Addicts
DAN: That is so true. The recovery community really shifts how men are allowed to show up. We do get to practice vulnerability and make mistakes and go through all of the pains of relationships.
The work you’re doing with families is so important because no person with an addiction lives in a vacuum, so I think it’s absolutely wonderful.
JERRY: We still live in this society that wants to brand addiction in strictly moral terms. But, it’s not about being bad, wrong, and stupid; it’s about being ill and doing things that may be bad, wrong or stupid. When families get their heads around that idea—“Oh, you mean my loved one isn’t just an awful person? Oh, okay here are some ways I can understand what’s been going on…”—then families get to experience the freedom of recovery as well.
DAN: And then, of course, they get the opportunity to look within which may or may not feel like an opportunity. But, it certainly helps to facilitate healing. Freedom is such a wonderful gift—in our personal lives, in our relationships and in the work that we do. It allows us to live our mission and to have a purpose.
Thanks for taking the time today, Jerry. I always like to let my guests have the last word, so take us home…
JERRY: I always tell families to educate themselves on addiction For me, freedom came from an getting education about the disease of addiction and what it really is. So, I say to families, if you’ve got someone who’s struggling, get help, and reach out. There’s so much help available. In some ways, our anonymity in the recovery world is our own worst enemy because there’s so much help available but many people just don’t know about it. So to men who need help: reach out. And to families who need help: reach out because it’s available.