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Real Men, Real Recovery

By: Dan Griffin

Dan Griffin has worked in the mental-health and addictions field for 17 years. He is the author of A Man’s Way Through the 12 Steps (Hazelden), the first trauma-informed book taking a holistic look at men’s experience of recovery from addictions. He is also co-author of the groundbreaking curriculum, Helping Men Recover, the first trauma-informed curriculum to deal with men’s unique issues and needs.

Dan served as state drug court coordinator for the Minnesota Drug Court Initiative from 2002-2010. He has also worked in addictions research, case management, public advocacy, and counseling. In 2010, Dan started Griffin Recovery Enterprises for consultancy and training. 

Dan has been in recovery since 1994, and lives in Minneapolis with his wife and daughter.

How our experience can help others

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Dec 20, 2012

Part of Dan Griffin's series on The Promises.

Promise #5: No Matter How Far Down the Scale We Have Gone, We Will See How Our Experience Can Benefit Others

The hallmark of Twelve Step recovery is sharing our experience, strength, and hope. This, of course, implies that you have something worth sharing. Regardless of how gregariously I acted and how much people complimented me on my talent and skills, I often felt as though I had little to nothing to offer. So, when I found myself at six months sober sitting with Gene, another newcomer, telling him my story I unexpectedly got a chance to quiet the voice inside of me that was constantly diminishing me—telling me I did not belong and never would. Telling me that I indeed had nothing to offer. I decided to take a risk and open up to him because he was newly sober and he looked lost. Underneath the scowl and the sarcasm, he looked lost. And me? Well, I was maybe just a little less lost.

Gene stood out like a sore thumb in the small Virginia town. At the age of 19 he was even younger than I, who until then was the youngest in the club – by far – at the age of 22. He had bleach-blond hair cut in a flat-top style, wore gold chains, listened to gangsta rap, and was from up North (read: A Yankee). The blue-haired teetotalers might as well have been talking to an alien. And then Gene had the nerve to refer to himself as “cross-addicted” because he had also used pills. And this new drug I had never even heard of: meth.

Half of the members of the group protested profusely that he had no business introducing himself that way or talking about some of the things he did because they only ever drank alcohol (because they somehow conveniently did not include all of the “mother’s little helpers” they popped like candy for decades, all of the “harmless” pot they smoked, and the numerous other substances they had ingested over the course of their dance with addiction.) Ultimately, Gene was just another suffering addict in need of love and compassion. I knew that as much as I knew anything.

Lending a Helping HandThe most important line that came to me, through the cacophony of self-righteousness: What would the master do? The answer was clear. Despite the fear, I reached out my hand.

Later that week, I drove him back to his mother and step-father’s home after going out to the local diner with some of our “sober crew” after the meeting. As we sat in the den that was doubling as part of his living quarters, I told him my experience up to that point and how I had gotten into the program. I had no idea what I was doing but I had been told that all I had to do was tell him what it was like for me. We began to talk and something began spilling out of him because it had been backing up for years. He simply opened his mouth and it came out. He had no idea what it was just that it had to come out. I knew that feeling well. 

Surprisingly, when we were done talking and I was leaving, Gene thanked me. I can still remember the visceral reaction of confusion as to why he was thanking me. I had just spent the last two hours thinking of someone other than myself. And, he had listened to me. As I drove away, my tires crunching against the stone driveway, on my way back to my little apartment where I would struggle once again with the cutting feeling of loneliness that had been haunting me for years, I realized there was value to my story – I had something real to offer another suffering human being. I felt connected at a level I had never felt before. Ever. And, it felt good. It was real and it was what I had been searching for years.

That is the gift we are given when we take the risk and reach out our hand to another man who is drowning. Though we may be soaking wet, still catching our breath from having just been pulled out of the water ourselves, we can reach out to the ones still fighting to keep afloat—the ones still not in the boat. And when we do that we realize the whole reason we were given this second chance was to stand ready at the edge of the boat and look for anyone we can out in there in the treacherous waters of addiction and pull them in because there is always more room on the boat.

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