Are We Showing Up For Our Own Recovery?

[fa icon="calendar"] May 1, 2017 5:00:00 AM / by John MacDougall


There is a Woody Allen saying that is often misquoted as “90 percent of life is just showing up.” What he actually said was "Showing up is 80 percent of life. Sometimes it’s easier to hide home in bed. I’ve done both.” (New York Times, August 21, 1977). I find that showing up is terribly important, because for me it has been difficult.

All my favorite drugs are downers. I prefer whiskey, Valium, barbiturates, and opiates of all kinds. All of them do their best to suppress pain, and make me sleepy. They are best taken while curling up in bed and shutting out the lights, preferably with the phone turned off. While hiding at home in bed, I didn’t show up for anything, except more alcohol and drugs.

The beginning of recovery is showing up inside our own minds by detoxing from all mood-altering chemicals. I did a homemade detox: six weeks of carefully tapering down to zero on each of my drugs, including alcohol. It was so slow that it was painless, even the detox from thirty years of opiate use, and thirty-two Percodan tablets a day. (To detox, I did 32 for a week, then 16, then 8, then 4, then 2, then 1 for four days, then ½ for three days, then nothing.)

A.A. tells us to show up. A.A. people tell us “Keep coming back, it works.” It wasn’t always automatic for me to keep coming back. During the years 2004 to 2014, when I was 15 to 25 years sober, I was working at Hazelden in Center City, Minnesota and living in Saint Paul. My home group was, and is, in Saint Paul, Summit Hill A.A. It’s just off Lexington Avenue.

Most Mondays, as I drove south on Interstate 35E, the voice of addiction would enter my car, because I had a choice to make: keep driving south on 35E to my home, or make the right turn in I-94 west to Lexington Avenue to my meeting. The voice of addiction would say things like: “You’re tired. You worked hard today. You can skip the meeting. No one will miss you. You can make up the meeting later in the week.” These thoughts would persist from about highway 96 in White Bear to about Maryland Avenue in Saint Paul, and then I would say something very rude, out loud, and I would always make the right turn on I-94, so I could show up at my home group once again.

The Retreat, where I work now, is focused on A.A. all the time, so I don’t have those troubling thoughts as I drive home on Mondays now, but the disease will return at another time, in another way, to try to keep me from showing up in A.A.

Even when I was newly sober, I understood the value of showing up. I was studying at Hazelden for a year, both the counselor training program, and a clergy program called Clinical Pastoral Education. For that program, I had to write a “Theology of Ministry” paper. Most students’ papers were about 75 pages long. They spent many hours in Seminary libraries, researching theologians’ thoughts on ministry. As a newly sober student, I was still looking for the easier, softer way in school. So, I wrote just one page for my theology of ministry. I still like it. I wrote:

  1. Show up.

  2. Pay attention.

  3. God will do something good.

  4. Try to be part of it, or at least admire it when it happens.

To my surprise, my paper was accepted. However, that is what I really mean. I need to show up sober for my life. I need to pay attention to what is going on. I need to trust God and God’s will for my life, and I need to do what God wants me to do right now, knowing that that is as simple as doing the right thing, right now.

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Topics: Alcoholics Anonymous, Drug Rehab, Recovery Program, Drugs Adiction, Chemical Dependency

John MacDougall

Written by John MacDougall

John MacDougall is the Spiritual Care Coordinator at The Retreat.
His book, “Being Sober and Becoming Happy” is available from

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