I had a chance to talk with former hard rock miner and alcoholic-turned-motivational-speaker Allan McDougall, author of Breaking Through: Discovering the Riches Within, which I recently reviewed on this site. His inspirational story of his personal cave-in to finding redemption and hope is helping thousands of others transform their lives.
In your book, you write that your descent into alcoholism was a way of dealing with self-loathing. Do you believe most alcoholics or addicts have a poor self-image?
Their lives dictate their self-image. My mother and father, who were emotionally missing, dictated my self-image. I never thought I belonged or was good enough. I had people say, ‘You won’t amount to anything.’ All that adds up. For my first 37 years, I believed them.
Did your lifestyle as a hard rock miner help mask your alcoholism?
Yes, in both the physical and the mental sense. As a miner, you’re your own boss. Having so little supervision, I could mask my alcoholism. Mentally, working 3,000 feet underground and seeing people killed, I needed to drink. Everyone I worked with drank; if you didn’t, others thought you couldn’t be trusted.
Breaking Through is much more than the story of recovery after 22 years of alcoholism; you’ve lived two separate lives. What drove your success in becoming an author and motivational speaker?
I was in rehab for six days and a guy came in and told his story. I thought he’d talked to my friends and was telling my story! He was exactly like me. He said he was going to write a book. I figured, ‘If he can, I can.’ But I realized that, first, I needed to live a life of value. I had to be more than the guy who used to sleep in ditches — there are plenty of them out there. My sponsor gave me a cassette of the motivational speaker, Les Brown. His message went right to my soul. He said that what you need to do isn’t easy — it’s hard, but it’s what you have to do. It gave me the momentum to become a motivational speaker. Given my previous lifestyle, I shouldn’t be alive. I want it to count. Les Brown says, ‘Don’t let someone’s interpretation of you become your reality’ — maybe, subconsciously, I’m proving that what people said in my past was wrong.
In Breaking Through, you describe the “psychic shift” that allowed you to move past your addiction. What brought about that shift?
Going into my first AA meeting, I was beaten down, angry, and physically and emotionally bankrupt. But after going through the program, I had spiritual footing, purpose, hope — therein lies the psychic shift. The catalyst that finally got me in touch with my emotions was in rehab when I got a letter from my son. It made me want to change. Another catalyst was hearing a person in one of my first AA meetings say he’d been sober for four years. I didn’t think I could stay alcohol-free for two hours! I realized, ‘Wow, this is possible.’
You wrote that you were glad to have had the month between starting AA and going into rehab. Is there an optimal timeline to follow when seeking treatment?
I believe, to be successful, there should be a 90-day timeframe from getting off of drugs or alcohol before going to rehab. Otherwise, you’re in a fog, and it could take a week to even know where you are. Everyone today wants the quick fix. I’m very leery of people saying, ‘We’re sending them to rehab and in 30 days, they’ll be fine.’ That’s setting them up to fail.
You acknowledge that people don’t like to confront someone with addiction — or don’t know how. What are some tools or messages to use?
It’s very hard to approach someone — it really is. It’s a work in progress. The 20-question assessment from John Hopkins University I included as an Appendix in Breaking Through can be a starting place. Also, I’ll sometimes incorporate the four CAGE questions. CAGE questions include: Are you Concerned about your drinking? Do you get Angry when someone brings up the subject? Do you feel Guilty the next morning? Have you ever had an Eye-opener in the morning to get you going? It’s difficult to touch on that subject when you’re emotionally involved, but families or companies can use someone who has experience as a buffer.
How can someone learn more about how you escaped from alcoholism and reclaimed hope?