The difference between abstinence and recovery


Paul Haney is an active member of the SHAIR Recovery Network. He used to drink up to 36 beers a day until he ended up in the emergency room. Paul has never worked a formal recovery program like NA or AA, but his recovery is solid and he has over 9 years of sobriety.

Paul uses online resources and takes what he needs from each program. His mission is to live happy, joyous, and free, and his unique story proves that there is a pathway to recovery for everyone.

CLEAN DATE: June 22, 2009

Listen to Paul’s Story

Here are a few highlights from our interview. To get the full story please join us on the podcast now!

Paul Haney was born in Winona, a small town in Minnesota. He was the youngest child with two older twin brothers. When he was a baby, his dad got a job in the suburbs of Minneapolis where they lived and idyllic 1970s middle-class life.

Paul’s father was involved in the city government and the commander of the legion club, where he did a lot of drinking. Paul says his dad was a happy drunk, but he was an alcoholic for many years. Paul’s mom was the ‘normie’ who kept everything together.

While Paul’s older brothers excelled in athletics, and he did not. He felt inferior to them and he only played baseball to appease his parents. Paul was introverted, and his dad was worried about his shyness.

When Paul was fourteen, he went back to Winona to visit family. He bonded with an older cousin named Randy who was close to his age. Paul remembers the exact date of his first drunk. On May 24, 1980, Randy got them a six pack of beer and a bottle of Boone’s farm. Paul didn’t care for the wine, but he took care of the six pack and thought:

This is it. This is what I need.

The sensation of alcohol hooked him that quickly and he chased that first feeling into adulthood.

Paul wanted to be a radio broadcaster and was accepted to go to college at Winona State. He now lived close to his drinking buddy Randy and he also made new friends at school. As Paul got older, he was introduced him to the hard stuff like rum and gin.

During his 2nd year in college, he experienced his first ‘lost weekend.’ He woke up with blood on his head and had no idea why. He had dry heaves, and that afternoon Paul believes he suffered some kind of seizure or stroke. He couldn’t talk. Half his body was paralyzed.

The fit passed. He was stubborn and didn’t go to the doctor. But the incident scared him off hard liquor. He stuck to beer through college, but that didn’t prevent him from landing his first DUI at the age of twenty-two.

When he went for his alcohol assessment, he lied about his drinking habits. But Paul was alarmed and took the summer off of drinking.

After graduation, he got his dream job working in radio. The more he worked at the radio station, the less he drank. He thought he grew out of it.

In, 1991 the radio station was sold, and Paul got back into drinking while he was out of work for three months. He had nothing else to do, but he wasn’t unemployed for long. Paul was into music research books and wrote to the publisher, landing another dream job at the company where he still works to this day.

The drawback was that Paul had to move to a new town. He was alone and didn’t know anybody, so he went to the bar in search of kindred spirits. His boss was anti-drinking, so Paul tried to stick to weekend binges. But he was having a good time. He didn’t suffer any repercussions. At this point, it took about ten beers for Paul to get into the zone.

I’m not an alcoholic. It’s just beer, right?

Then Paul began working 12-hour days. After a long shift, he felt he deserved a reward and he began drinking every night. He had to pound down his beers to get his buzz in before bedtime. On the weekends, he started cracking open a beer in the morning and ended up drinking 24-36 cans of beer a day.

Then Paul got his second DWI. After a night drinking at the local gentlemen’s club, Paul was stopped by the police. They gave him a breathalyzer test and he blew a .38. Luckily, Paul was acquainted with the prosecuting attorney. His license was suspended but he didn’t have to go to jail. When Paul went to his alcohol assessment, he lied again about the way he drank. He was scared enough to quit for 3 months, but he always thought he might start drinking again.

I never shut the door on it.

Once he started drinking again, it was only a week or two before he was back in the old routine. He promised himself it would be okay as long as he didn’t drive anymore. This further isolated him. When his hours were cut at work, he was happy because he had more time to sit at home and drink. This sad lifestyle went on for a long time.

In 2008, Paul down the steps and bruised his rib. When went to the doctor, he was asked about his drinking. His liver enzymes were elevated. Paul lied again.

I like a couple beers after work. (A couple twenty.)

Paul was always a positive guy. He was a highly functional alcoholic who never missed work and was always on time, but soon he began noticing he was full of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

Nobody knew the extent of my drinking other than myself. That was a big burden for me to carry.

By this time, Paul’s dad was sober and lived a life in recovery through AA. When Paul called him, his father could sense something was wrong even 6 hours away. The last day of drinking was Father’s Day. Paul called his dad an agreed to go to Winona for a family visit, even though he had no idea how he’d get through it without giving himself away. After he got off the phone, he was shaking. He downed a beer to stop it, but he began shaking again. He couldn’t get drunk.

The next day he got up and went to work with thoughts racing. By the time he arrived, he was in a full-blown panic attack. He thought he was dying, and he frightened the staff. By noon, his coworker took him to the ER.

Once again, the nurse asked Paul much he’d been drinking. This time, he finally told the truth. The huge amount didn’t faze her at all. He wasn’t the first alcoholic they’d seen. She admitted him into the ER and hooked him up to an IV. His liver enzymes were now through the roof. The doctor remembered him and asked if he had ever cut down his alcohol intake. Paul was completely honest for the first time in his life.

Paul was left alone for 5 minutes and experienced his first moment of clarity. He looked up at the fluorescent lights and said to himself, if I get out of here, I’m never drinking again. He felt the world was lifted off his shoulders. Somehow, he knew it was true.

What kept Paul from getting clean?

Paul once heard that abstaining was to not drink and hate it, and recovery was to not drink and love it.

I was abstaining, I was not in recovery.

That aha moment

His moment was in the emergency room looking up at the fluorescent lights.

Call it whatever you want, I call it the moment that saved my life.

Best suggestion

Paul never knew what gratitude was when he first started. It took him a while to figure it out. His mom always told him to count his blessings. Now that he is in recovery, he know what that means.

Suggestion for Newcomer

Don’t ever give up on yourself.

There were times Paul was ready to pack it in. On some nights, he was so out of it he didn’t care if he woke up the next morning. That was no way to live. No he lives joyous, happy, and free in recovery.

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HP Baby!

Disclaimer – The opinions shared on this show reflect those of the individual speaker and not of any 12 step fellowship as a whole and though we discuss 12 step recovery and the impact it has had in our lives we do not promote or endorse any 12 step anonymous program.