John DeLisa is a traveling performer who currently works on Viking Cruise Lines. He is also a recovering alcoholic. This presents a unique challenge to working a program and staying sober.

John knows that sharing stories is crucial to recovery and emailed SHAIR to talk about his experience. Listen as he takes us through his reckless days of drinking to finding sobriety, and how he has helped bring recovery awareness to college campuses.

CLEAN DATE: Sept. 5TH, 2011

Listen to John’s story now!

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

Daily Routine

Working on a cruise ship, John DeLisa must be trained in what to do in case of an emergency. One thing that all cruise workers have in case they have to abandon ship is a grab bag that contains survival gear. Each morning, they pick up their grab bag and put it back down. Whether they need it or not, they must always be ready to take it with them.

John uses the same strategy to stay sober. He has his “recovery grab bag.” It’s not a literal bag, but it is the combination of tools he keeps with him. River, ocean or road, John gets on his knees in the morning to thank God and ask for help. He meditates. He also uses social media, but not in the way most people use it. John checks in with people all around the globe. John can’t physically go to meetings and sit with others face to face, but he knows who to count on the internet. His buddies online are just as close to him spiritually as his sponsor in Orlando.

You can’t rely on four walls to be your recovery.

John began his recovery in the rooms, so when he first took on his job, he was terrified to go abroad without meetings. He and his sponsor sat down and made a plan, the recovery grab bag for being overseas. John was surprised to find others in recovery and Friend of Bill meetings taking place on ships. By bringing recovery with him, amazing people have come into his life.

Recovery is not here to limit us. It’s here to set us free. 

Spiritual Practice

John DeLisa was raised Catholic, which brought him injury and pain. Because of that, he was hard-headed about God for a long time. Now he counts on Him for everything. The main thing to remember is to keep his spirituality as simple as possible. He cites a quote from the movie Rudy that says that there are only two things to know. That…

“God exists, and I am not Him.”

The First Time

John took his first drink when he went to college at Florida State University. He was the new kid and wanted to fit in, so he had to give alcohol a try. The first drink he tried was Samuel Adams beer. He loved the commercials, but ended up hating the beer. He immediately decided that drinking was not for him.

Then a girl offered him rose wine. He loved the sugar and sweetness and proceeded to drink every unfinished glass of wine at the party. John always had a big problem with vulnerability, and alcohol became his potion, his shield. All his problems melted away. He felt indestructible.

John’s Story

John’s family had a background of divorce and trauma. He had a difficult time coping, but his family’s way of dealing with problems was to buck up and carry on. John is the oldest of his siblings, which made him feel like he was under pressure to lead. He craved power his whole life. Alcohol gave him that.

John says he was a musical freak his since birth and was extremely successful in any kind of performance he was involved in. When this combined with his ego, he felt like a demigod. For an addict who was not dealing with his issues, it created a huge God complex.

Looking back at it through the lense of recovery, I was a little asshole.

In reality, John had a deep-seated insecurity that he wasn’t worth anything. He used alcohol to self-medicate and deny his feelings. Eventually, the drinking took over and he stopped showing up for school, for theater, and for life in general. He had to leave school and go live with his parents. There, he continued to drink and was plagued by guilt because all the while he knew he was setting a bad example for his younger siblings.

His alcoholism came to a head on St. Patrick’s Day. He decided to quit drinking, but was going to go out with one last big drunk. That night, John drank so much that blood vessels burst in his face. He experienced delirium tremens and alcohol paralysis.

His step mom finally told him that if he didn’t get help, he would no longer be able to live in the family home. This got through to John loud and clear.

Even though he didn’t go through years of heavy drinking, he was still on the brink of self-annihilation. John urges old-timers to take young newcomers seriously.

Don’t discount the experience and severity of young people in recovery.

John started going to meetings, but he wasn’t facing the truth. He was putting on a performance, just like everything else. He was there to impress. His sponsor was not happy, and told John to shut up and listen.

In meetings, steeped in cigarette smoke and drinking burnt coffee, John began to realize the medicinal properties of listening to other peoples’ stories and began to cherish his sobriety.

What kept John from getting clean?

John says the thing that kept him sober was going to meetings. He urges newcomers to go to meetings no matter how you feel about them.

You think it’s stupid to have to call someone every day, but it’s better than trying to solve your problems by yourself.

That Aha Moment

John recalls moving in with a new roommate who was a cop. John had been newly sober and wondered if he was truly an alcoholic. He wanted to try drinking again and warned his new roommate to watch out. He didn’t know what was going to happen. John drank a beer and felt okay. He had no compulsive urges. Then when he and his new roommate went to get groceries, John found himself standing in front of the liquor section. His new roommate turned to him and said in his stern cop tone, “Is this going to be a problem?” John did not buy that bottle of liquor. He considers this warning from a man he barely knew as an act of God.

Favorite Book

John believes books hindered his process of recovery. He used books to justify his actions and beliefs. He used theology to trap God into their pages.

The best thing I ever read was listening with my ears to others’ stories.

If there was a book he’d recommend, it is the “Twelve and Twelve.”

Best suggestion

John always talked to much and he remembers being told:

Why don’t you try shutting up for 30 days?

He urges newcomers not to take being told to shut up personally. The best thing to do in early recovery is to listen.

Suggestion for the newcomers

Hope came to John’s mind in early recovery and he didn’t think he had it, but it was there all along. Otherwise, he would’ve never made it into the program.

You see the propensity for hope in the hopeless. If you think you’re below bottom and you’re unreachable, just think about what got you in that room and in that chair. Don’t be afraid to have hope because it’s there and you can see if you look for it.


Mentioned Episode: “Invitation to the White House” Arielle Spanvill goes from opiates, crystal meth and jail to recovery and the White House.


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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.