Struggles while sober

Cornerstone alumni find answers in going back to basics of recovery

Eric Amburgey, left, director of marketing with Cornerstone of Recovery, chats with Dan Caldwell, president and CEO.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Eric Amburgey, left, director of marketing with Cornerstone of Recovery, chats with Dan Caldwell, president and CEO.

Paul Flynn of Marshfield, Mass., was a recovering alcoholic in September of 2004 with 30 years of sobriety.

At an alumni reunion last weekend, however, Flynn shared his story of being a Cornerstone patient while being completely sober. Flynn did not stumble in his recovery from alcohol. He did find himself in a crisis situation.

Flynn, now 67, was a recovering alcoholic when he started a career working with other alcoholics and addicts in 1976. He had spent time working in half-way houses and hospitals, including Boston City Hospital. He spent the last eight years of his career as an employee assistance officer with AmTrak covering the New England division, which represented 5,000 employees and their families.

As an EAP, he went to conventions where he met hospital and facility representatives. He got to know Cornerstone Marketing Director Eric Amburgey through the convention circuit.

“People would come and ask you to refer people to their hospitals. It was part of my job,” he said. “At the time I was an EAP, I couldn’t refer people to Cornerstone because our insurance wouldn’t cover it. But I ran across both of them at different conventions.”

In 2004, Flynn was going through some personal problems. “I went through a period of depression after working so long with individuals having problems. I started to have the same symptoms and signs of depression and suicide and homicidal thoughts as they did,” he said. “My spirit was broken.”

Flynn said colleagues would come to him for help with their issues, but Flynn had is own to focus on. “People would come to see me, and I couldn’t wait to have them leave. I looked to the fact I wasn’t doing my job, and it wasn’t fair to the people I was supposed to be helping,” he said.

Flynn said he happened to be at a convention in Boston where Eric Amburgey was representing Cornerstone. “I told him how I felt, and that I needed help. He said, ‘Come to Cornerstone.’ I said, ‘I’m 30 years sober,’ and he said, ‘It doesn’t matter. We’ll help you.’”

Flynn was enthusiastic about the prospect of going to Cornerstone. “I thought it was fantastic. I came in September of 2004 with the attitude that I was going to learn and get my spiritual values back and deal with my depression. I was going to deal with issues coming into my life,” he said. “I was happily married with four children and seven grandchildren, and I wanted to get that good feeling back about myself because, for some reason, I lost that.”

Once Flynn arrived, Cornerstone administration and counselors offered him a choice: Go through the traditional detox program, even though he had been clean for 30 years, or participate in a special program they would put together for alcoholics and addicts who are clean.

“They asked me, ‘Would you go into a detox setting, even though you haven’t had a drink in a long time?’ I told them I wanted to go through whole thing. I didn’t want people to think I was something special,” Flynn said. “Trust is the biggest thing for an alcoholic to show. Nobody is better or worse than anyone else. Everyone is on same level. So I went through the detox phase and followed the rules and went to all the meetings.”

Flynn praised lead therapist Dr. Bob McColl and CEO Dan Caldwell.

“Everyone here treats you like you’re special. I like it. I was only supposed to go through in a week, and I stayed the whole month of September,” he said.

Flynn said nobody gave him a hard time about being in rehab even though he hadn’t had a drink in 30 years. “Alcoholism is a three-fold disease. It’s mental, physical and spiritual. I lost the mental and spiritual part,” he said. “I didn’t like myself. I suffered from depression. I had tried suicide once and was on the verge of trying again. I came here, and everyone treated me with respect.”

Recovering addicts often end up on the service side of addiction once they are clean, but Flynn said those can sometimes be stressful jobs for addicts.

“We see the negative side of alcoholism and drug addiction everyday. It is serious business when you put yourself out there,” he said. “You like the people you’re working with, and some of them end up picking up drugs or drinking, and they die from it. That has an effect.”

Flynn said all that negativity was having an effect on his health and affecting his everyday life. “My job was to help other people and in the course of all those years, I forgot to help myself,” he said.

Flynn also feared his depression would keep him from being able to do his job. “Alcoholics and drug addicts can see a phony, and we can tell whether you are serious about helping. I didn’t want people to see I was going through the motions,” he said. “What happened was I couldn’t handle that job anymore and that was why I came to Cornerstone.”

Flynn said he realized he needed help again. “I had to humble myself and ask for help. Fortunately for me I asked Erik, and he said come to Cornerstone,” he said. “What Cornerstone has done for me is it has given me my self respect and dignity back and my spirituality back.”

Flynn treating the disease of alcoholism is a constant, day-at-a-time commitment. “If you treat the illness of alcoholism, there’s a good chance you stay straight,” he said.

Flynn returned to work in the fall of 2004 and then retired in 2007. “My life has changed dramatically since I’ve been here. I’m happier with myself. I realize I have to take care of me first before I can help anyone,” he said. “I retired so that helps me not have to deal with those pressures everyday. My life today is I take care of me and my family and if someone wants help, I’m willing to help. I just don’t have 10 people calling me 24/7. That wears you down.”

Eric Amburgey, director of marketing at Cornerstone, said he was amazed that Flynn reached out and did things just the way it is supposed to happen. “We all have periods of crisis in our lives and times we need help, and I think Paul serves as classic example of how it is supposed to work,” Amburgey said. “He had the ability to ask for help. For a lot of people, especially professionals, it is hard to do that because you are a trained professional and are supposed to know what you’re supposed to do. Having knowledge and doing it, however, are two different things.”

Flynn said it is a very hard decision to come into a facility seeking help. “It is one of hardest things an addict or alcoholic can do, but if you don’t change, you will die out there,” he said. “This is a place that saves lives. It saved my life, and I’ll be forever grateful to Cornerstone for doing that.”

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