After winning his own battle against the bottle, a former Penticton therapist has written a book he hopes will make the case for more help for addicts.
Having spent most of the past six years in the Vancouver area, Mike Pond was nervous about facing old friends when he returned here last week for a reading of The Couch of Willingness, which details his troubles and subsequent recovery.
“These are people I used to party with and hang out with. These are long-term friends, and when I left here it wasn’t pretty. I was an ugly mess…. I know that there’s a lot of people that (know) how much I hurt my boys, how much I hurt their mother, but that’s not my character,” he said.
“I just had this disorder that took over my life.”
Pond moved to Penticton in the 1990s with his wife and three sons — now in their 20s — and later opened up a counselling business that counted public sector agencies among its larger clients.
Besides being genetically predisposed to alcoholism, Pond thinks that vicariously living his clients’ trauma led to his downfall, as did having extra time on his hands when his boys became adolescents in the early 2000s.
“The business was running almost by itself by then — I had four or five associates — and I just started drinking more and more.”
While he kept on counselling, Pond, who later had his credentials temporarily suspended, acknowledges his clients rarely got his best.
“I’d go in really hungover and still stinking and probably three of four hours without a drink, but I had this rule I wouldn’t have booze at the office,” he said.
“I was just a hypocrite.”
By 2008, his business had fallen apart, he’d separated from his wife and was in a new relationship with a fellow alcoholic, whom he followed to the Lower Mainland.
After a few unsuccessful attempts at recovery, Pond spent 29 days in hospital, where he nearly died from pneumonia brought on by inhaling his own vomit.
It was while in hospital that he finally understood he needed to help himself.
“I’d been to AA, I’d been to treatment, I’d been to rehab, and I just finally absorbed that and integrated it into my being that this was up to me,” he said.
“That was basically the paradigm shift that I had, but that first year was brutal. I slipped into depression, anxiety disorder. I was still very ill mentally.”
The name of the book comes from a sofa at one of the recovery houses where he stayed. The couch, stained with vomit and urine, was left that way for newcomers who slept on it to demonstrate a desire to surrender to the house’s program.
In the book, Pond, who did 20 days in jail for impaired driving offences, recalls a suicide and attempted sexual assault at the house, which he said was unregulated and based on a dated 12-step program.
“I got sober despite the recovery house. I got sober, I believe, because I said, ‘I’m not going to let you… take me down,’ and I just got very defiant,” Pond said.
Twelve-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous are “based on religion and folklore, not science,” he continued, and while great for camaraderie and support, “it’s not treatment.”
Pond, who has re-established his practice in North Vancouver, is now calling on government to treat addiction as it would any other disease, and begin pumping money into finding ways to curb it.
“We spend billions of dollars on law enforcement and corrections, and we spend peanuts on prevention and research and early intervention. That’s where the money has to go,” he said.
“The little guy, he’s got to stand up, and I’m going to be a voice for them.”
The Couch of Willingness, written with the help of Pond’s partner, Maureen Palmer, is available online at www.amazon.ca and at most local book stores.