When it comes to the millions of people who struggle with substance abuse, what defines a positive outcome may not be so black and white. Take Artie for example.
Since I first met Artie Conway in college, he had struggled with abusing alcohol. Before age 20, Artie had lost a finger in a knife fight in a Cheyenne, Wyoming, bar, spent time in jail for a second DUI and been bounced out of two colleges.
In the next four decades at “hit bottom intervals,” Artie began numerous addiction treatment programs and joined several Twelve-Step fellowships. He was the yo-yo of recovery, an apparent dichotomy of behavior.
Artie never married, but in his mid 30s conceived twin sons after a first date at a local tavern. Future dates only occurred with the mother’s attorney present. Artie raised the boys in a tiny house outside of a small town in Pennsylvania. He was a volunteer fireman and an avid bicyclist. During healthy periods, Artie worked three jobs at a time. He was a strict, loving dad who sent both of his boys to college.
For decades, I didn’t see much of Artie except for occasional breakfasts (the safest meal to have with Artie). But he would call me at least twice a year, often after midnight, to talk. Half the time, he would tell about his boys and his jobs; the other half he was barely coherent.
About three years ago, the calls stopped and I couldn’t find him anywhere. Then, this Christmas night, I heard from him. He said he was broke, happy and “un-drunk” for 33 months with only a few screw-ups. We agreed to meet in Harrisburg in March. This time, I suggested going out for dinner.
So how does Artie stack up with SAMHSA’s new definition of recovery? Artie believes his life has been saved, in part, by the professional support he’s received over the years. Most studies would designate him as an outcome failure but, as his friend, I’ve always viewed Artie, now age 66, as a success story about to emerge.
Positive outcomes may not be so black and white.