Today’s Face of Recovery – please meet Patrick Meninga!
There is a great deal of confusion, stigma, shame and discrimination surrounding addiction, addiction treatment and addiction recovery. Yet those who have the disease of addiction (whether to illegal or prescription drugs or alcohol) and are in recovery live healthy, productive, engaged lives — the same kinds of lives as people who do not have this disease. But all the words and definitions and explanations in the world are not as powerful as the people themselves. To that end, we are grateful to the people in recovery who have decided to share their experiences so that we all may put a Face to Addiction Recovery.
Addiction Recovery – It’s real, it happens to real people, and it happens all the time.
It is my great pleasure to introduce Patrick Meninga – today’s Face of Recovery.
How did your addiction start?
I had a very good childhood. No problems, no abuse, nothing bad to speak of. At about 18 years of age I just got curious about drugs and alcohol. Up until that point I had never used a drink or a drug in my life. I started out with smoking marijuana and then quickly discovered alcohol. After that I was off to the races. Later on I would experiment with other drugs as well, but alcohol and marijuana were a daily thing for me.
What was the turning point for you – what made you want to get sober?
I went to 3 rehabs, and I also saw a few counselors and therapists over the years. This was before I was really ready to get sober. I had not yet surrendered. Then at one point I just got sick and tired of it all. I was living with my girlfriend at the time (also a user) and she was out of town with her family for a few weeks. I was truly alone for the first time with just my drugs and my booze. I thought I would be so happy, but I was miserable. That was my turning point. That was when I realized that it was never going to get any better unless something changed for me. So it was then that I changed. I was really blessed to have that happen. It was not so much my decision that made it happen. It was more like circumstances led me to ask for help. That is why I call it a blessing. It definitely did not occur due to any strength on my part.
What was your initial treatment?
I had been to treatment twice before and failed, including a trip to Hazelden in MN. When I finally surrendered “for real” and went to rehab a third time, I went to detox, then residential, then long term rehab. This lasted for 20 months and I have not had a drink or a drug since then. It was 12 step based recovery. I really think that I needed long term treatment and that it saved my life. Nothing else would have worked for me at the time.
Do you do anything differently, today?
This is the story of my recovery! I definitely do things differently today as opposed to the first 20 months of my recovery. I drifted away from AA completely and do not attend meetings any more at all, and have not for over a decade now. This is not to say that I am against 12 step programs though, I just feel like I evolved beyond using them as a daily practice. In other words, I wanted that time back that I would spend sitting in a meeting. But I definitely fill that time with other things. For example, exercise, family, friends, online recovery, writing about recovery, and so on.
Some of my peers in AA were very worried when I left the meetings that I was headed for relapse. This was over ten years ago, and they have since stopped worrying. In fact, a few of those peers have since come to me and admitted that they had relapsed and they wondered “what my secret was” for staying sober without meetings! I found this to be shocking. This is why I write about my own philosophy of recovery online now, because it seems to be unusual compared to traditional recovery in AA. I use a holistic approach to recovery and it seems to be working.
What is your life like, now?
My life is very different today than even during my first two years of recovery. And it is completely different from when I was drinking, of course. It is amazing actually, and I am grateful for all of it.
Specifically, I focus on my family, my friends, and my health today. I worked in a treatment center for many years (actually the one that I got sober at) and I continue to work with recovering alcoholics and addicts online as well.
The big revelation is that my priorities changed. When I was drinking I was selfish and it was all about me and my happiness. It was all about what I could get and how much fun I could have. Today I am just blown away by the joy that I experience from helping other people in recovery. That probably sounds a bit trite but it is really mind blowing. And the tricky thing is that you never could have convinced me of this future happiness when I was a miserable drunk….I would have told you that you were crazy. But here I am, over 12 years later, and my happiest moments are when I connect with someone else in recovery.
It is a mixed blessing that you cannot really explain this to someone who is miserable and stuck in addiction, they just have to summon the faith to take the plunge into sobriety and learn it for themselves. But it takes time. And I had to give it a chance to work. I can remember, for example, still being very emotional and frustrated at 6 months sober. But it gets better if you give it a chance.
Do you have anything you’d like to share with someone currently struggling with a substance abuse problem or an addiction? How about anything you’d like to share with their family or friends?
To the struggling alcoholic or addict:
Go to treatment. I know you have excuses why you should not go, or why you don’t really need to go, but I really believe in treatment as the foundation for recovery. Of course there are other paths, but I stand firm in the belief that none of them are as strong as inpatient rehab. When you go to a 28 day program you at least get those 28 solid days under your belt. After that it is all up to you, but at least you get a foundation. No other treatment method gives you that much of a foundation (except for longer forms of inpatient treatment).
Now you may not be ready to go to rehab. If so, I have a second suggestion: You must break through your denial. There are two levels of denial when it comes to addiction, denial of the problem and denial of the solution. If you are here reading this then you probably know that you have a problem already. But have you accepted a solution and surrendered to that solution? Probably not.
So here is what you do:
Start measuring your misery. Start a journal. A written journal. Write down how happy you are. Every day. Keep writing it down. Your happiness, or your misery. Write it down. It will not be clear to you exactly how this will help unless you actually do it. Doing it will reveal the truth. If you are alcoholic then recording your feelings each day will help you to move past denial. Because you are denying the fact that you are actually miserable. Trying to maintain the idea that drinking can make you happy when it really doesn’t. This cannot just be a thought exercise. For it to work you actually have to write your feelings down every single day. This is growth.
Most alcoholics get past the first level of denial fairly easily….they can admit that they are alcoholic. But do they do anything about the problem? Not if they stay in denial of the solution. I was in denial of the solution for a long time. I was afraid of AA meetings and I was convinced they would never work for me. Therefore, why should I go to rehab? Better to just drink myself miserable every day. This was my denial. It was not denial of the problem, it was denial of the solution. And if you want to move past that denial then you need to get honest with yourself about how truly miserable you are in your addiction. So start writing it down.
For the friends and family of the alcoholic:
My suggestion is to get to an Al-anon meeting. Share your story and your honest feelings at an Al-anon meeting and get support for yourself. Learn how to set boundaries and limits. Learn how to detach and disengage when the alcoholic is irrational and unreasonable. Learn how to love yourself, how to take care of yourself first and foremost. I would bet that many people have excuses about not going to Al-anon meetings as well….but you are doing yourself a disservice by not going.
What is the best part about your recovery?
The best part about my recovery……can that really be summed up in a single paragraph? I guess it is the simple pleasures of living without the misery of addiction hanging over my head. So it is everything. It is the fact that exercise is now an invigorating activity that I look forward to. It is that I can enjoy a gourmet lollipop from the grocery store as much as I used to enjoy drugs or booze. It is that I get excited and genuinely interested in other people who are trying to recover. It is that I actually care about others, whereas in the past it was only about me, me, me.
The best thing about recovery is that I have cast away my fear. I can live without fear today. This is an amazing transformation and is worth the price of admission alone. And the price of admission? That is all the hard work that you have to do to get and stay sober. In the end it has all paid off a thousand times over. Life is amazing today!
And Lisa, I want to thank you for the opportunity for this interview. If your website can help just one person to transform in recovery then this can create a powerful downstream effect (pay it forward). As my grand sponsor likes to say: “Healed people heal people.” You are definitely doing the work Lisa, so thank you for that!
Thank you, Patrick, so very much for sharing your story, and CONGRATULATIONS on 13 years RECOVERY!
Patrick currently writes at www.spiritualriver.com and also participates actively in the discussion forum there.
You may also wish to “meet” others sharing their recovery stories with BreakingTheCycles.com by clicking on this link, Faces of Recovery.