I fell off the wagon during my vacation. Then I got right up and hopped back on.


I fell off the wagon during my Florida vacation after almost three years of sobriety.

At a place called “The Wreck Bar,” no less. During a mermaid show.

And then I was interviewed by a pirate. With a news crew.

But nothing tragic happened. In fact, I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit I had a darned good time.

I was never “a wreck” during vacation. But I’m climbing right back on the wagon anyway.

Nothing terrible happened, but drinks Friday turned into drinks Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. I had fun all three nights, but as it goes with us alcoholics, I progressively drank more each night. By Tuesday morning, it was obvious what was happening, as I had a hangover for the first time in almost three years.

My therapist had suggested I attend meetings while here. I’m not a huge fan of AA. They are a PTSD trigger for me (long story), so, in fact, I avoid them completely while at home. I did reach out to another person in recovery as soon as I got here, and had hoped to set up a time to attend an AA meeting with her, but I never heard back.

The morning after landing, I got up to go to breakfast downstairs in the hotel. The main restaurant is not open yet (the hotel has just been remodeled) and the U.S. Men’s Soccer Team had the smaller restaurant, in the lobby, exclusively to themselves the whole week.

So, that left the rest of us in the “Wreck Bar” for every meal unless we ate outside at the beach grill, and that closed every night at sundown, and did not open until 11 a.m. each day.

I knew I would have an urge for a beer, especially on vacation, in an oceanfront resort in Fort Lauderdale. I figured if the urge just got to be too much, I would have an O’Doul’s, although even those do contain tiny amounts of alcohol, despite the belief that they do not.

No O’Doul’s at the Wreck Bar.

Interviewed by a pirate – with a television crew — during the mermaid show

While live-broadcasting the world-famous mermaid show at the Wreck Bar on my Facebook page, I was having a grand time with the other guests. What the hell I thought, I’ll have a beer.

I mean, it’s a mermaid show. At the world-famous Wreck Bar.

But it gets better. Suddenly, a “news crew” approached me after the show ended. The next thing I knew I was being interviewed – by a man dressed as a pirate – about my opinion of the mermaids.

Oh dear.

It probably was obvious that I had had a few. So, I’m not even going to mention what “news” organization it was.

I could have just not told anyone I fell off the wagon after almost three years. But why would I conceal it? It’s a big part of the recovery experience. It happens. A lot. It’s rather incredible I went almost three years.

Writing about these issues is my livelihood (which is why some suggested I not say anything about it).

But that’s not how I roll. I believe in honesty and authenticity. If anything, maybe some people will find me easier to relate to now that I had a “relapse.”

I once had a colleague who had a gambling problem. So much so she trespassed herself from all the local casinos.

When she relapsed, she wrote about it. It was one of the best columns she ever has written, in my opinion.

I don’t always see eye to eye with this person. So, in a way, falling off the wagon, for me, was sort of a reminder that all of us have shared experiences in life.  It’s important to be authentic and to own your sh*t.

And to be kind. For it sounds cliché, but everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

Life really is just too short. The world is not going to end because I “relapsed” on my Florida vacation, and it does not make me weak or a bad person. I’m not “going to die,” as some like to tell people who relapse, particularly if their form of recovery doesn’t jive with theirs.

Recovery is a personal journey. There is no one way for staying sober.

I wish I had not drank. Especially four nights in a row, even on vacation.

But I’m owning it. I know I’m an alcoholic. And I love myself way too much to slide back down that slope.

Uber snafu takes me to Laundromat instead of SMART Recovery meeting

Tonight, I tried to go to a SMART Recovery meeting. I had my first experience with Uber. It was a cluster, and I didn’t make the meeting. I ended up at a coin laundry instead. You can read all about that by clicking here.

The second Uber driver took me back to my hotel after the first driver took me to the right address, but in the wrong city. I was visibly upset about the snafu, though not necessarily with Uber. The driver explained how getting frustrated and upset over something I could not control would only upset me some more and cause me to drink even more.

That’s exactly right. Smart man.

So, when I got back to the hotel, I spoiled myself with snapper, went upstairs and gave thanks for this beautiful vacation, and went to bed. Sober. At 8 p.m. Much as I have done every night in the Quad-Cities beginning two and a half years ago.

Many people have not been able to relate to how I’ve maintained sobriety with what appeared to be relative ease.

Now I know it’s not as easy as it looks, and just how slippery the slope can be.

With that said, I’m even grateful for my “relapse” (hate, hate, hate that word). There’s nothing wrong with a wake-up call that could have ended up much, much worse than a hangover after four fun nights. But if I don’t stop now, my luck could run out.

I’m SMART enough to know that.

Research explains how my writing, not lots and lots of meetings, got me sober



Originally published Aug. 19, 2015, on Healthline Contributors, which no longer is live. Reprinted with permission. This piece had almost 8,000 page views on Contributors as of Dec. 3, 2016.

By David Heitz

My sobriety has left a lot of people speechless.

After all, I took my first sip in 1984 at the age of 14 and, off and on, drank heavily for 30 years. When I wasn’t drinking, I was in the throes of a crystal meth addiction. When I escaped the wickedness of meth, I ran right back into the arms of booze. For many years, cocaine was in the mix, too.

So how have I gotten sober? And has it really been as easy as I say it has been?

It has, and for me the key to getting sober hasn’t so much been a higher power, but for the first time in many years, having meaning in my life.

I got wind this week of some groundbreaking research published last year in the Journal of Social Service Research titled “Attachment Style, Spirituality, and Depressive Symptoms Among Individuals in Substance Abuse Treatment.” Naelys Diaz, associate professor in the School of Social Work at Florida Atlantic University, and colleagues studied a group of 77 people receiving substance abuse treatment at Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches in Florida.

Read more: When is it time to thrown in the towel on AA, and what other options are there?

They found that those who reported having meaning in their life were less likely to suffer from depressive symptoms than those who reported a perceived “closeness to God,” otherwise known as “a higher power” in 12-step programs.

People who report secure attachment styles – people with positive views of both themselves and others – long have been known to be at a lesser risk of depression. They are more likely to form trusting, intimate, emotional bonds with other people.

The Realities of Insecure Attachment Styles

But it is people with insecure attachment styles who are more at risk for substance abuse, and the depression that leads to relapse when trying to get sober. People with insecure attachment styles fall into three subcategories:

  1. Preoccupied. These people have a negative view of self, but a positive view of others. Their insecurity stems from feelings of low self-worth, anxiety and fear of abandonment by others.

I’ve been in this terrible place. It’s not a good place to be if you want to make good choices about who you hang out with, as opposed to hanging out with just anyone who will pay you some attention, even if they don’t have your best interests in mind.

  1. Dismissive. People with dismissive styles are likely to have a positive view of self, but still often have a negative view of others. I admittedly am trying to crawl out of this category and develop a secure attachment style.
  1. Fearful. People with fearful styles have negative views of both themselves and others. Their lack of personal worth coupled with expectations of abandonment interfere with the possibility of developing healthy intimate relationships.

Why Meaningful Lives Are Critical in Sobriety

So, if meaning in life is more important to the success of people battling substance abuse and depression (which often leads to relapse), why all the focus on God and a higher power?

“People need to find security in terms of their relationships,” Diaz said. “If they don’t find it with their relatives, they’re going to look for that sense of safety and community elsewhere. For people with an insecure attachment style, a relationship to God is the next best thing.”

The problem is that if the perceived relationship with God or a “higher power” isn’t enough to keep them wholly satisfied, it won’t ward off the depression that likely will lead to relapse.

I have more meaning in life than I’ve ever had. That’s because I feel like my health reporting truly makes a difference and helps people. I don’t have HIV or hepatitis C, for example, but I know that when I write about these topics it helps people not only who have these diseases, but who may be at risk for them. To me, that provides much more satisfaction than I ever got writing or editing stories in the newspaper about road work. I can say the same about how I feel regarding my reporting on elder care and caregiving.

In 12-step groups, they describe this sort of satisfaction from helping others as “service work.” It may come in the form of volunteering at a nursing home or a school, for example.

Second, the writing process for me is a form of creative expression, and those creative feelings just make me feel generally good – a fix, if you will. Others enjoy such creative benefits by cooking, gardening or building things, for example.

Read more: Renowned addiction writer says shaming doesn’t work, nor do 12-step programs for opioid addicts 

Third, living by myself, in a quiet neighborhood, and even working in solitude, gives me a feeling of peace and calmness that I never before have had the opportunity to experience.

 A Three-Pronged Path to Staying Sober

All of these things have helped create a sober David, and that’s no surprise, Diaz said.

Soon, Diaz will have a paper published in the Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Social Work along with colleague Gail Horton outlining how service to others, moments of solitude and creative activities can help people find meaning in life and get them on the path to recovery, she said. They call this model the “three-leg stool.”

“AA works for many, many people,” Diaz stressed. “But some people have no relationship with God, or their relationship with God is hurting them at this point in time and needs to be addressed in treatment. In those cases (the relationship with God) can be more connected to the symptoms.”

Diaz said treatment centers need to work harder to foster creative activities (painting, drawing, writing, dancing, gardening), solitude (praying, meditating, walking a labyrinth) and service to others.

Is it really a surprise that people who have meaning in their life are less likely to be engulfed by drugs and alcohol?

For many people, sobriety needs to be about more than meetings.