Recovery Notes #7

“The mind is a dangerous place, don’t go in alone”

Even though the alcoholics kept telling me to “hang in there” and that “things would get better,” nothing seemed to improve in the first months of my sobriety. Without alcohol and drugs to dim the mental noise, I now had a ringside seat to my own insanity. My mind continued to spin out of control with its obsessions and fantasies. I became acquainted with “the committee,” what alcoholics called the imaginary voices that found fault with everything I tried to do. On top of it all, feelings I didn’t know I had began to come to the surface and I often found myself weeping for no reason.

“The mind is a dangerous place, don’t go in alone,” one of the sober drunks liked to say. They told me that if I continued to keep everything to myself, I was likely to start drinking again. I had to open up, to talk about what plagued me. In other words, I had to connect

The alcoholics were far from perfect. They often said upsetting things that made me cringe (and I suppose some of what I said had the same effect on them). Yet, when the chips were down, these drunks spoke from their hearts in a way that I had never heard before. They would admit to being confused, frightened, rejected or foolish – all familiar feelings that I kept buried. They would unflinchingly divulge horrifying truths about themselves and even manage to laugh at them. And in sharing these hidden truths they built community and stopped being alone. They learned to be “one among others,” not better than, not worse than.

I had been lonely ever since I could remember. Alcoholism is a disease of disconnection and the more I drank, the deeper I locked myself into my own world, and the lonelier I got, the more I drank… It was this haunting loneliness that had driven me to thoughts of suicide. I longed for deep connection but I had always been too frightened to let anybody close to me, had never been able to risk making myself vulnerable. Now, the prospect of no longer being alone with the burden of myself seemed like the most wonderful thing in the world.

At the same time, the temptation to run back to the bar was nearly overwhelming. I had never spoken honestly about myself in my entire life. I grew up in a European family at a time when child-raising was considered to consist of providing food, clothing, shelter and education, not responding to the feelings of an oversensitive kid. My childhood had taught me to repress feelings, not to acknowledge or share them.

Pain is a great motivator for change and it was only the feeling that my back was to the wall (if I didn’t open up, I would drink again) that made me push through the fear. Like so many aspects of recovery, this was simple (but not easy). I tried, to the best of my ability, to drop my defenses and be more honest with people about who I was. It was difficult at first because I had no understanding of honesty. But I got better at it in time and it eventually became a way of life. As it did, my sense of connection grew and my loneliness diminished.


This blog has been inspired by reactions from readers of “Free Love,” my novel about recovery from alcoholism. I have often been asked why I chose to write about that particular subject. While there are several answers to that question, the most honest one is that I’m a recovering person myself. That opened the door to more questions. So I have started this blog to share some of my thoughts about alcoholism and addiction, based on my experience and observation.

If you’d like to read or gift Free Love, check out my SALE PRICES!

The landscape of “Free Love”: Hamilton

Even though the protagonist in my book Free Love, Marissa, is a fictional character, I have given her some elements of my own biography (it was easier that way). In particular, when she was a young girl, she and her family immigrated to Canada from Holland, as I did. And  Marissa grew up in Hamilton, Ontario in the same era as I did: the 1960s.

Unlike Marissa’s, my family moved around a lot in Hamilton when I was growing up. There was one neighbourhood where I lived for a few years, starting from when I about 7 or 8. It was an inner-city neighbourhood full of working class families. Hamilton was known for steel production and just about everybody’s dad (except mine) worked for the steel company. It is this neighbourhood that comes to mind when I remember my childhood, and this is neighbourhood where I have placed the young Marissa.

I haven’t walked the streets, where young Marissa and I ran around, for more about thirty years. So when I was writing the scenes set in that neighbourhood, I relied on memory and imagination. But Mike Clark, an old friend in Hamilton and a photographer, was inspired to photograph it after reading Free Love. Much has changed from when I remember. It is more rundown and many of the big maple trees are gone. But the streets have that same gritty feel. Here are some of Mike’s photographs of Marissa’s and my old neighbourhood as it looks today.

IMG_0149Ford Street: “I turned the corner onto Ford Street, raced past the field and Mr. Smithers’house (making sure to keep my fingers crossed to ward off evil spirits) until I came to a stop in front of Nina’s grey stucco house across from the railroad tracks.”

IMG_0157The tunnel: “…when I got to the tunnel and peered into its gloom, it looked empty. Holding my breath against the stench of piss, I dragged my cart through the debris of broken glass and flattened cigarette packs.


IMG_0154The field: “Both the field and Nina and George’s stucco house that had stood on the corner were gone. In their place was a sterile apartment building.”


IMG_0151Yonge Street: “He jumped on a flatbed when it was still going fast, before it slowed down to take the turn into the Yonge Street underpass.”