Thomas Donovan, M.A., LCMHC
Chief Operating Officer
My recovery process was good fortune. I had a brother-in-law who had recently entered sobriety and he invited me to reach out if I ever wanted to quit. I also had a friend who was constantly asking: “When do you want to get sober?” I was tormenting my family and I was tormenting my children. I didn’t go into a detox like I should have. Part of the reason was because my wife had leukemia. I had to pay the bills and my wife couldn’t work, so I white-knuckled it at home. The withdrawal symptoms were terrible. I got a phone call – I thought it was a work-related meeting – and as soon as I pulled into the Dunkin Donuts – this person said: “So, I hear you want to quit drinking?” This person became my sponsor and started taking me to meetings.
It was a painful time. I had emotional problems and I also lost my brother. There were a whole bunch of things that happened. At first, I was doing the program my way. I wasn’t taking any of the suggestions. I was sober but I wasn’t living. The motivation for me to change was the network with which I connected. Connection is key for me. I was a big isolator. I saw how people were happy and enjoying life…and I wasn’t. I wanted what they had so I started listening. There was a point when I decided to become open minded, follow direction, and start living. The twelve steps were key for me. Everyone has their own program, but that’s really what worked for me.
When I finally started working a twelve step program, I decided I had to change the person I was. I decided to change careers. I thought I knew how to live and how to interact with people, but I didn’t know anything. I said: “Alright, if I’m going to do this thing, I’m going to commit to it”. So I went back to school and I got my Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. I left my twenty-five year public service career and I started working in a clinical capacity. What I’ve learned in recovery is that my goal in life is happiness. I didn’t realize that before. It was all about materialism: more, more, more, more, MORE. Getting satisfaction from my work is what’s truly important to me now.
Today, I am definitely comfortable with who I am. I’ve found skills that work for me. I pray and I practice mindfulness. Gratitude is another big thing for me. I’m very grateful for what I have and I do something for my recovery and something for my enjoyment every day. I try to enjoy life. I think that has made a difference. I can’t say I am perfect but, the majority of the time I have peace and serenity and, when I don’t, I know how to get it. People could see the anxiousness, irritability, and temper in the old me. I had a really vicious temper. It doesn’t happen any more.
There are a lot of things I have learned about behavior in my studies. A lot of our behavior is passed down from generation to generation. Even trauma is passed down. It changes the body and it changes the mind. In my case, it seems to apply. I can see how some of my behaviors emulate my parents’ behaviors. Today, I catch them and I do things differently.
My appreciation for life has changed and my focus has changed. In recovery, you realize what’s really important. It’s difficult because of the society in which we live. Everything is generated by greed. I had to say: “What is important to me?” I need to have a purpose. Purpose is key for me. The old me creeps in every now and then, but it’s the awareness and acceptance that I think are the most important. I can catch myself and say: “You know what? Life is good”.
Life is something to be enjoyed. You CAN change. You just have to realize that your way of doing things hasn’t worked. You have to listen to others and become openminded. It starts with willingness. Unless, you’re willing, nothing is going to change. Nothing changes if nothing changes. We have all these little clichés but they’re so important.
Addiction is a disease. It’s more of a thinking problem than a using problem. Addicts need treatment to get well and they can get well. People who use are good people; they just have a problem. Our behavior is a direct result of our substance abuse, and our substance abuse is usually secondary to something else. In a way, addicts are no different than anyone else. Everybody struggles with some level of anxiety and depression, it’s just that some of us cope with it differently. Some people use because that’s the only thing they know. Trauma is another big issue. Some addicts have never had a safe, stable home environment. The stages of development are key. People learn from their environment. Without positive surroundings, people will try to find some kind of escape, whatever that may be.