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The Cowboy Way

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By Michael Berg

To Lee McCormick, the percentage of people who relapse in recovery is cause for discussion and action.

“It’s time to open up this conversation, because it’s just tragic that millions of people a year go to treatment in this country and only 25 or 30 percent of them stay in what is defined as recovery,” says the founder of The Ranch Recovery Center in Tennessee, The Canyon Treatment Center in California and Spirit Recovery, which organizes conferences and recovery-focused trips to spiritual destinations.

“It’s said that ‘they don’t want it’ or ‘the disease is too powerful,’ but that’s just a lie, an excuse the industry hides behind,” he says. “We’re completely responsible for what we’re offering people. You’ve got to start questioning (the status quo) because it’s not working.”

Agree of disagree with his opinion, Lee McCormick’s point of view comes from a genuine place. Today he’s a leading light in the mental health and recovery scene, having founded The Ranch Recovery Center in Tennessee and The Canyon Treatment Center in California. He currently serves as CEO of Integrative Life Center in Nashville, and leads Spirit Recovery Inc., which organizes conferences and recovery-focused trips to spiritual destinations.

His belief system, however, strays from the 12-step philosophy. McCormick emphasizes a strong connection to the natural world, as well as a rejection of the idea that an addict is hopelessly flawed and defined by his or her addiction.

That wasn’t always the case. From the time he was a teenager through his adulthood, he dabbled in alcohol and marijuana, then tumbled into full-blown cocaine addiction before he was 30.

He calls it a byproduct of “living the lifestyle” with his country music band early on, then crisscrossing the country — to Colorado, Tennessee and back to his home state of Florida — chasing business interests and trying unsuccessfully to sustain his first marriage, all the while straying further from what grounded him.

“When I was a kid, our farm was only five miles from the beach,” he recalls. “I grew up surfing. I loved being in the woods, being around the cattle and horses, just being in the magic of what I called the ‘real world,’ the natural world.”

The tipping point that changed McCormick’s trajectory came in 1997. After a night of partying, his girlfriend at the time told him he needed to get help.

“I think she was actually pissed because she wanted to hold the coke and I wouldn’t let her,” he recalls, chuckling. “But she said I had a problem and I needed to deal with it. And there was no lie to that.”

Not knowing anything about Alcoholics Anonymous or 12-step programs, McCormick instead turned to a therapist for a series of once-per-week sessions. Four weeks in, she gave him a choice — continue to see her, or try a place in Arizona that “will save your life,” as she told him.

“At that point, I had no concept of addiction, or recovery, of meetings or personal work,” McCormick says. “It had never entered my sphere of consciousness. But I just trusted her, got on a plane and flew to Tucson.”

Once there, he realized something: He had absolutely no excuse to be as messed up as he was.

“When I’d sit in group and work with the other folks I was in treatment with, I would think, ‘Jesus Christ, what am I here for? I’m just a coke-snorting out-of-control cowboy surfer fucking idiot. These people have truly lived through hell.’ It was very humbling to me. And it inspired me.”

To read the rest of this story, check out the latest issue of Renew here.

 

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