Unfortunately that book title has already been taken, Michael said after I swooned.
“By some housewife.”
It would be a clever title to introduce Michael’s story, though. His heart is sweet but the dark part of his soul used to be thirsty and strong. In his 20s and early 30s, he fed it with alcohol and, eventually for a short period of time, meth.
“You spent your 20s…” I started.
“Wasted!” he said. “Higher than christ!”
Shooting the shit with angels.
When you’re addicted, nearly nothing is sacred. Actually, for most addicts, nothing is sacred. But for Michael, Dolly was. He refused to listen to her when he was drunk. Embarrassed. He knew she, his idol, would be disappointed in his actions… his refusal, inability to take care of himself.
If Michael’s potential book title were more accurate, it’d be that these guys saved his life:
These are Michael’s best friends, Andrew and Christopher, who has been by Michael’s side for 15 years.
One day they showed up at Michael’s door with a few other of his friends.
And his mother.
It was an intervention. Michael remembers the tears. The letters. The cigarettes. The dealer that was sitting in his living room when they walked in. The urge to take one last hit before he went to rehab (“If I’m going down, I’m going down big”). The sickening sea of hurt and fear in his mother’s eyes… a sea in which he had been drowning for more than a decade.
Michael Bishop has been sober since Dec. 27, 2010.
He turns 40 in November and goes to AA three times a week. Some days he hates it and the people who are there, but it has become a necessary part of his routine. AA is as important to his health as sleeping and eating.
Earlier this year Michael studied to become an intervention specialist. He wants to help addicts recover and move on and live happily; one of his awesome ideas is to have a sober tent at Columbus’ Pride festival for attendees who wish to celebrate but are looking for trigger-friendly activities.
Most of all Michael just wishes to do good with the rest of his life. He knows addiction survivors–and to some extent people who have loved/ love addicted people–are connected. They need each other. They can spot each other. They can help each other.
Plus, now he can listen to Dolly whenever he wants.
Following is a Q&A with Michael about the details of his addiction and recovery. (Editor’s note: There are more than 10 questions here so this headline is misleading. Got a problem with that? Get your own blog.)
Do you remember the first time you got drunk?
I don’t know if I remember the FIRST time I got drunk, but I remember sneaking beers when I was in junior high and high school, I started sneaking into bars around the age of 19 and drinking with people I didn’t now as a means to find myself. Growing up gay in the late 80’s/ early 90’s was very different than it is now. Homosexuality was not as accepted as it is today and it seemed, at least to me, to be the only way to be around people that were like me.
Was alcohol immediately an issue for you or did it build up into a problem?
I don’t know that I would classify it as an immediate problem, although I believe that any and all underage drinking is an issue; however, my personal insecurity led to more drinking to try to fit in… with friends, people around me and relationships I was so desperate to form. I achieved the exact opposite, I lost friends, I didn’t fit in, people didn’t want to be around me, and I couldn’t maintain any sort of personal relationship.
Why do you think it became a problem for you?
I honestly believe that alcoholism and drug addiction is hereditary, but I also believe that my surroundings played a VERY large part in my addiction. In my eyes, it was “just what people did,” and I didn’t have the knowledge or experience to practice any sort of moderation or responsibility. That being said, while environment was a key factor, I also take full responsibility for my choices. No one forced me to do the things I did.
What does life feel like for an alcoholic who is living in his addiction?
What’s ironic is that I think most people drink to forget feelings, or to not feel at all. The crazy thing is, you then open yourself up to an entirely different wave of emotions. I felt lost, sad, ashamed, scared and hopeless for many years. At many points in my life of addiction, I didn’t see a way out, didn’t think I deserved better and began to believe that my life was going to end leaving a very sad and pitiful legacy.
What was the saddest moment for you as an alcoholic?
I don’t honestly think I can pick just one. Many people in recovery speak of their ROCK BOTTOM. I hit that bottom more times than I care to remember, each time thinking that things couldn’t get any worse, only to find out that as long as I chose NOT to heal my life… things could, and did, get much worse. My addiction cost me jobs, friends, homes, belongings, freedom (I was in jail twice) and most importantly my belief in myself. My family and friends tried desperately on several occasions to help, through conversations, ultimatums, and formal interventions. I wanted to stop at several points in my life, but I didn’t have the faith in myself that I truly needed to be sober.
What finally made you get help getting sober and how did you get sober?
There were several defining moments of sobriety for me, and several lengths of sobriety that all unfortunately ended in relapse. My best friend Andrew organized a formal intervention on December 5, 2008, as I was weeks, possibly even days, away from dying as a result of my crystal meth addiction. At that time I truly believed that I wanted the nightmare to be over, but I found myself trying to stay clean for others and therefore relapsed. On December 27, 2010, I ended up in ICU after an overdose and a pretty serious fall. I decided that I was ready to commit to a life a sobriety, and ready to do the difficult work it would take to achieve it I didn’t want my two best friends and my mother watch me die. I have been sober since December 27,2010.
What has been the most rewarding thing about living as a survivor of addiction?
There isn’t one thing that I can say has been the most rewarding as there have been monumental victories and tiny blessings along the way that have motivated and inspired me to continue on the path I am on. Knowing that my mother sleeps at night without worrying is amazing. Knowing that my friends and family respect me, trust me and are proud of me is something I could never put a price tag on. I went to Savannah in January of this year to begin my training and certification process as an interventionist, and THAT is one of my proudest moments. I have done things I never thought I could, and I have accomplished things that I never thought I would, and to be able to say that I am PROUD of myself is probably the greatest gift I could have ever given myself. So many people come up to me to tell me how proud they are, how I inspire them and motivate them, and those words are things that I hold close to my heart every moment of every day.
What is the most difficult part about being a survivor?
I think the most difficult part of being in recovery is learning not to put myself in a dangerous situation, and knowing when to remove myself from a situation that might become dangerous for me and my recovery. No one is responsible for my recovery but me. I think it takes a great amount of strength and determination to maintain sobriety, it doesn’t get ‘easier’ as time goes on, I have just taken the tools given to me and made them part of my behavior. I believe that I have a choice in everything I do… And my choices are what make me stronger… every day!
Is it difficult to meet people but not drink, especially while working in a bar?
Probably the most difficult decision I made was to keep working at my job in a bar atmosphere. Most experts would say that that is a HUGE mistake and a VERY dangerous environment for someone in recovery to be in. In fact, the statistics and odds are DEFINITELY not in my favor, but many of the people I work with and around have been instrumental in my process, so I feel that I am blessed to be surrounded by love and support on a daily basis at work and at home.
The LGBT community does have a large population that gravitates to the nightlife atmosphere, but that is by no means a representation of the entire community. I have friends that don’t ever go out and are still just as active. I think modification is a key factor. I chose not to remove myself from that environment, so it is my responsibility to adapt to it when present.
There is a huge population of sober LGBT people, and I am fortunate enough to have contact with many of them on a regular basis!
I have also learned that complete honestly is my best friend. When out and about, I can say “I don’t drink” because I don’t. If the question as to why arises, I am MORE that open about my life and my history and I find that most people in the LGBT community are extremely supportive.
Is addiction something you battle daily?
Yes, addiction is something that I deal with on a daily basis. That is the key to sobriety: There is no cure and there is no endgame. It’s about constantly maintaining, learning, educating and sharing. Sobriety is a living thing and I have to feed mine every day. At the beginning I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to do it, but I have learned that the gifts I have in my life could never, and would never, be bought with another drink or drug.
How do you find peace now when you crave something?
I find peace in everything around me, and I have learned to not take the little things for granted. A short phone call or text from someone is what brings me peace. Reading and educating myself brings me peace. Reaching out to someone else that is struggling brings me peace. I’m a very spiritual person, and I find that taking the time to give thanks to the power that has allowed me to continue my journey is key! Humility is a wonderful thing. I find strength in words, actions, music and all the sights that enter my life on a daily basis. When I am feeling the weakest, I find that nothing heals me like a good ol’ Dolly Parton song and a hug from someone that I love.
Do you think we as a society should treat addiction differently or do you have any thoughts on how we could better handle or help addicts?
I think we are making some wonderful headway in the field of addiction research and treatment. There is ALWAYS more that can be done… as long as there are still people suffering from this disease, there is work to do. I think that society is really coming along with recognizing that addiction IS a disease and not just a matter of willpower or weakness. I think that there are certain celebrities that have used their platform to raise awareness and I applaud their actions. I could go on and on about the media and “reality shows” and their role, but that’s another conversation. I think addicts need to be treated just like anyone else that is fighting every day to find their way and find their light…. with love, respect and kindness.
What is the most valuable thing you have learned from recovery?
I have learned hundreds of thousands of valuable lessons since I began this journey, and I hope to learn hundreds of thousands more. I think some of the most important things that I have learned are that I deserve all the good things that come to me, that I can do anything I put my mind to, and that if I use my voice, and my gifts to help someone else find THEIR voice and THEIR gifts… than I am TRULY living my life the way it was meant to be lived.
What do you want to do with what you have learned in your recovery?
I don’t hide that fact that I should have died on several different occasions during my life. What I have learned is that I am STILL here for a reason and that there are lessons for me to learn and lives for me to touch. I hope to take the gifts that I have been given and use those to inspire and motivate people to find their light… life is a journey, and the day I stop learning is the day I die. I believe that I have so much work to do, and so much good to do… and if I leave this earth having helped ONE person change their life for the better, then my life was worth it all. I truly believe that there are MILLIONS of my brothers and sisters out there, some suffering, and some succeeding, and I know that I am connected to all of them on a greater level. I pray for their healing and victory every day.