I will never forget the day I met Tom McCall. It was on a Tuesday night, when we had our “drug rap” sessions. (In fact, these rap sessions eventually became the first meeting of Narcotics Anonymous on the island of Oahu). Tom and other young people who were in recovery would come to KMCAS and share their experience, strength, and hope with us.
Picture a bunch of Vietnam Vets sitting in a circle and receiving help from a bunch of hippies. Ironic, isn’t it? But there was something real and right about this encounter at the same time.
When Tom shared his recovery experience, I was impressed and deeply moved. Here was a man honestly and openly talking about his personal issues and shortcomings. He was emotionally free, liberated from his demanding and fearful addicted self. I wanted the personal freedom I saw in Tom. I desired to feel like Tom and I told him so. This admission marked the beginning of my recovery.
Tom became my sponsor and still sponsors me to this very day. (In 12 Step programs like AA and NA, a sponsor is a more experienced member who shares strength and hope with you as you work through the Steps.) As I reflect on the first year of recovery, my relationship with Tom stands out. He saw a potential in me that I was unable to see in myself. He believed in me and had a faith in me when all I had was doubt and hatred. He encouraged me when I was discouraged. He saw worth in me when I felt worthless. I will be forever grateful to this man.
In 12 Step meetings, group members sometimes tell you that in the beginning of recovery they will love you until you can love yourself. This is exactly what I experienced in my relationship with Tom.
So I got “turned on” to recovery. I loved it. Today I believe that one must get turned on to this new way of life to achieve long-term recovery. Fear of what will happen to us if we continue to use alcohol or other drugs can work in the short run but is not enough to sustain recovery.
During recovery I also discovered a passion to help others. I reawakened my silent commitment to ask people the questions that I was never asked when I suffered the simultaneous loss of my father and the ties that bound our family together.
Eventually I was placed on temporary assignment as a counselor at the Drug Information Center, KMCAS. I discovered that I loved working with people. It inspired me to return to school and become a psychologist. Quite an ambitious goal for a high school dropout wasn’t it? But I found that recovery makes the impossible, possible.
I was honorably discharged from the USMC in 1972. I returned to Chicago to start college and take care of some unfinished business. I started making amends to the people I had hurt. This was a very important step in my recovery.
My personal history, my recovery, and my professional development are all part of one story. I could tell you much more about my personal life, of course, but what I’ve tried to describe here are the challenges and joys that impact my approach to my profession. But let me add that I have been married and divorced three times. My second marriage lasted 23 years, and we parted as close friends and remain so to this day. We have two magnificent children, Danielle Berger and Nicolas Berger. Danielle has a master’s degree in teaching from USC and is teaching in the inner city here in Los Angeles. My son Nicolas graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a Bachelors Degree in Kinesiology and played on the men’s tennis team for four years. He continued his education at California State University, Long Beach and graduated with a master’s degree in exercise physiology with a minor in nutrition. He is currently teaching at a Community College, coaching tennis, and helping athletes achieve their optimal physical and mental potential. I am very proud of both of my children and love them very much.
In 2010 I married Dr. Jessica Aaron Fowler. Our love conceived two beautiful daughters. Madelynn Rose and Cecilia Marie. We are blessed to have Madelynn and Cecilia in our lives.
Through my life so far, I have experienced many joys and successes. I’ve also suffered through disappointments, failures, and losses. I have worked the 12 Steps several times, and I have spent many years in therapy. I continue to square off with many of my own demons — emotional dependency, selfishness, fear, false pride, and insecurity. I also know serenity and joy, love and peace, gratitude and humility. My life and my recovery continue to be an exciting and wonderful journey.