Originally hailing from Dublin, Ireland and now a resident of Tacoma, Washington, William Flynn is the author of A Year of Days—a 365-day series of recovery-oriented devotionals originally sent as a daily inspiring text to men he sponsored in his 12-step program. The texts spawned emails, which ultimately became a Facebook page and now a published work and a devoted following. We spoke to him recently about this own recovery journey, the book and why he thinks his readings resonate with so many.
What did you do before you ventured into writing professionally?
My background was in the technology industry. In the 90s I was in the computer networking business and the original wave of dotcoms. I am quite savvy technically and am online a lot.
How long have you been in recovery?
I have been in recovery for over 25 years. However, my current level of sobriety is about six and half years. Two weeks shy of 17 years without a drink, I decided I would celebrate a very successful business venture with a few drinks, and that did not end well. It was remarkable to me that within a few weeks, I was drinking a bottle or two of vodka a day. I ended up in a horrible state of affairs after two or three years and I realized I needed to go to treatment. I went and was able to quit drinking but then I struggled for almost 18 months with drugs. Finally I was able to successfully become stabilized in recovery. June 14, 2010 is my sober date. It was a real journey. It was humbling having gone so long without a drink and having success in my life to really be brought to my knees by addiction.
Did you do 12-step the first time you got sober?
I recognized myself quite quickly and realized in my early 20s I was an alcoholic. I was not very involved [in 12-step]but I had family members [who were]very involved. I was on the fringes. I had a lot of other things going on. When I removed the alcohol from my life, I was successful. I didn’t have a problem with drugs particularly at that time.
What about the second time? Did you take advantage of what’s now known as “online recovery” or read any blogs?
Not so much. My disease had really progressed. The difference between how I looked when I got sober the first time and how I looked the second time was profound in terms of how far my disease had advanced. The second time around, I was certainly an alcoholic but also a full-blown drug addict. I struggled with that for a long time. Every time I drank I ended up in jail. The courts were all over me. It was ridiculous. I knew I couldn’t drink but I still had these ideas that maybe I could smoke crack on weekends or chip away with a small opiate habit. I wasn’t willing to surrender. I was so trapped. I thought that I was afraid of leaving that life behind but really what I was afraid of was not being able to be successful in a sober life. I’ve learned in recovery, that old life is always there for me. It’s right there. The challenge was overcoming feelings of guilt and shame, [and the fear of]not being good enough and fear of failing to be successful in recovery—the horrible fear of not being able to live a life in sobriety. I was able to finally take that plunge and really let go of my old life and frankly, fully grasp hold of the idea that my own thinking wasn’t working, so I needed to ask for help, and get the help of other people. I think it’s a testament to the powerful effect of 12-step recovery and any sort of peer-support recovery in that it is crucial to have the help of others in early recovery. The impact on the mind after years of active addiction leaves one incapable of rational thought.
You have to retrain your brain.
Yes, it took a while for the neurochemistry of my brain to stabilize for me to be clear to build experiential reference points to life in recovery. So it changed from the situation of “play the movie forward” or “don’t use drugs or alcohol” that left me sitting there with stack of movies that I couldn’t play anymore. I needed new movies to play; new life experiences in recovery.
When did the text group start?
Three years ago. I was sponsoring a few guys. Increasingly it’s difficult to get on the phone with everyone every morning. I’ve been blessed to sponsor quite a few men. I started trying to find a mechanism that would enable us to be in touch every day. That’s how the text messages started. At first they were small and brief but they continued to grow. The real value was that they occurred every day, every morning. Not everybody would respond or participate but everyone would receive. Friends of friends wanted to be included.
Did you write this in “real time” so to speak, as if it were a daily journal?
I’d get up and have my own coffee, meditation and reading. I would flip through readings of the day. Typically, there’d be some theme or idea that would resonate for me. I would text about it. Given I was texting out to my guys, I would try to relate some of my own experience and knowledge around whatever that little thing was that came up. I would sit in the corner for 10 or 20 minutes typing this thing in phone. Then I realized, “This is killing my thumbs, I should write this on the computer!” I would email it to myself, copy and paste from email then text it out. Once I started doing writing each morning on the computer, I began to create something that was a little more organized and concise. They went from 150 words to 250 words. Each of those daily posts has probably been rewritten several times now. Ones in the book are on Facebook page.
What made you want to put it in book form?
People kept asking me for it. I could relate to that. Not everybody is interested in reading it on their phone from Facebook. Some of my content is really complex and deep. I thought about that in terms of at what level am I going to write? Where possible, I want to use language available to most readers but I don’t hesitate to use complex terms or language. It short shrifts some of this stuff if one tires to over simplify it.
Why do you think reading about other people’s experience is so powerful in helping someone stay sober?
The keystone of the alcoholic and addict is belligerent defiance. None of us like to be told what to do or listen to someone telling us what to do, or giving us their opinion. In recovery, we have the ability to hear others’ experience. When I share my experience, you can take it or leave it. I’m not telling you what to do. It’s not my opinion; it’s just me sharing the facts of what happened to me. It leaves the person listening or reading finding that they’ve had similar experiences. And they can relate to what’s being said. It engenders hope and a sense of knowing the person knows what it’s like to be where they’re at; it leaves people thinking that they too can overcome their disease.
Any final thoughts you’d like to add?
I am planning on writing more. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to share in this way. And I’m really grateful for the support and feedback I received from readers when they talk about how my writing has positively impacted them. That’s a big part of the story for me. I also enjoy speaking. I’m a good public speaker. It’s been a pleasure to connect with people on my travels on these topics. Ultimately I think recovery is a personal thing and it is that personal connection that’s at the heart of recovery for many. In the post-modern world, some of the traditional formats of recovery are difficult for people to connect with so the idea that there are approaches that are flexible and secular yet still contain the core quality of one person sharing their experience with another, one addict helping another is welcome. I think what I’ve really enjoyed is the opportunity to participate in a way that shares the insights of recovery. We all struggle through these similar paths and everybody has a different sort of insight around it. When we share insights about our internal understanding of how we show up in the world as recovering addicts, that insight can be really helpful for other people in navigating their own way to their own understandings.
Photo courtesy of William Flynn; used with permission.