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Monday, April 13, 2009

Author Chat: An Interview with Darryl Hagar

Today, I'm chatting with Darryl Hagar, author of The Man Overboard, a memoir about his

experience overcoming drugs and alcohol. Welcome, Darryl!

Me: Why and how did The Man Overboard book come about?

DH: After a 27-year battle with drugs and alcohol, I finally hit my bottom and entered a rehabilitation center in the spring of 2005. After 2 yrs of recovery and going to hundreds of 12-step meetings, attending a group mental health recovery class, and working with a therapist, I decided I had lots more to offer the world than just my recovery.

I decided to share my experiences, the good, the bad, and the ugly in my memoir in hopes of showing people recovery is attainable, no matter how low you’ve sunk. I began to write
The Man Overboard, not realizing how difficult a project it would be. It took me 2 years to write this 604-page memoir. I poured my heart and soul into it, giving me horrific lows and elated highs. I finally finished The Man Overboard and knew in my heart I had just written an epic book about drug and alcohol abuse.

Me: Have you had any previous experience with writing? Do you consider yourself a reader? If yes, who/what are your favorite authors/books?

DH: I took college courses in high school on writing and then many different classes at Maine Maritime Academy where writing term papers, articles, etc. were required. When I finally got sober in 2005 I began to journal every single day for a solid year, filling notebook after notebook with thoughts, step work, ideas, and prayers.

I was an avid reader as a kid and read Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Chronicles of Narnia. I progressed into J.R.R Tolkien, reading the trilogy and The Hobbit several times. I began to read Stephen King and was an avid fan of his for years. I would take his books out to sea with me and read them on the ship with the wind howling outside and the waves crashing against my porthole. It really added an extra sense of horror. I shared this story about reading in storms to Stephen King one day when I met him at a Boston Red Sox game in Fenway Park.
I moved on to reading Tom Clancy because of the national security and military aspect, which reminded me of my career and working on the ships. I started reading six newspapers a day with a ferocious appetite for current events, sports, and the world. I also became more interested in world history and learning about things that happened in past centuries. Drugs and alcohol had dulled my interest in many things and now I was catching up. J.R.R. Tolkien is my all-time favorite.

Me: How did the writing process go for you? Did you find that the words flowed easily or did it take a lot of effort? Did you stick to a writing schedule or just let the words at their own pace? Did you write outside? Inside? On a computer or longhand? In short, I'm asking, how do you write?

DH: First of all , when I started writing The Man Overboard, I got a big poster board and broke up my life in 2 year blocks from high school on. I wrote down all the major events in my life by date. Then I went to 9 different police departments, 6 or 7 doctor's offices and hospitals to obtain records. I had many police reports, doctor surgeries, therapy paperwork, United States Coast Guard documents, certificates of discharge from every ship I was ever on, which totaled more than fifty. It made the writing easier to first get organized.

After getting organized, the writing went pretty easy for me. I had talked about the events of my life many times to the people closest to me, my fellow alcoholics and drug addict friends. At the time, I thought a lot of these events were funny, rolling over cars while driving drunk, bar fights and medical operations. Stories of running around the globe with ladies of the evening.
The words flowed easily but in sobriety re-living these events took their toll on me. I would have to walk away from my computer totally not believing what had taken place in my life. That slowed the writing process because sharing the stories with the world seemed to suck the energy and enthusiasm out of me. Sometimes I would go a few days without writing and then start writing like a madman possessed.

All my writing was done on a computer both on my desktop in my library and on my laptop outside by the Maine coast. It came out naturally, but because I wanted to really include every aspect of my life to teach the sick and suffering alcoholic and drug addict, it took me 2 years to finish. After completing the book, it was sent to an editor in Los Angeles and was edited. This process was quite long also as we went back and forth cutting the book down, editing some stories out, and finally a completed edited manuscript was sent to the publishers.

Me: Since getting clean and sober, you have "given back" by sharing your experiences at schools, prisons, hospitals, etc.. Tell me about that.

DH: One of the most important ways of staying sober is sharing your experiences with others. In the 12-step program we call it service work. By sharing our experiences with high school students, college students, prisoners, people in rehabs and recovery centers, etc., we give others strength and hope as well as solidifying our own sobriety. It holds us accountable and almost responsible to resist failure so others struggling will not say, “Look, it doesn’t work; he went out drinking and drugging again.” Of course relapse happens with some people, but if one works a good program, they will have the right defense against a drink and drug.

My experiences were varied with each group. Schools and colleges are very inspiring as most of that is preventative. Going into the jails and prisons is a chance to help men and women re-evaluate their lives, but it is much more complicated with each individual’s personal addictions. The jails and prisons were very uplifting in the fact that these men and women had made mistakes and now were seriously considering a change of lifestyle. Prison bars makes one think about their past behaviors.

The recovery and detox centers are very emotional and can be quite unpredictable. People can start crying at any moment, get violent or stand up and walk out. There are also many in the recovery centers so ready to change they listen and learn at every word spoken. It’s a remarkable and scary process going through recovery, but one well worth it. Speaking to others about my past has been instrumental in staying sober and clean and I would encourage others to participate wholeheartedly. I believe when I walk into a school, jail, prison, recovery center or any other place talking about my alcoholism, drug addiction, and recovery, I am doing God’s work.

I aspire to speak at Maine Maritime Academy, the other maritime academies, the other military academies, the alumni of all these academies, and at US Military bases in the USA and overseas. I believe I have an affinity for these organizations and I know in my heart I can make a positive, significant impact on all involved.

Me: What has surprised you most about these speaking engagements? What has it taught you about yourself?

DH: It always surprised me how supportive and forgiving people are no matter how crazy my stories are. People love to hear stories of others overcoming their demons and I always point out how the alcohol and drugs robbed me of 27 years of my life, but when I was ready, I asked God to help me and he did. I always knew there was a good guy in there somewhere and one day I would live the life of the man I always dreamed of being.

Me: Considering that you were drunk and high in dangerous situations (driving a car, hunting, steering a boat, etc.), it's a miracle that you didn't kill yourself or another person. To what or whom do you attribute your good fortune?

DH: As corny as this sounds, I believe God had a plan for me. My lot in life would be to survive my own self-inflicted substance abuse and share my story of recovery. When I was 20 years old and I got my first OUI from drinking and driving, I was mandated to a state alcohol program. It was held during an entire weekend in Augusta, Maine, and there were speakers that came in and told us of their horrific drinking and driving accidents and arrests. While one particular man was speaking, I had a premonition that either I would die of drinking and drugs or I would recover and help millions of people.

I forgot about this event and in the next 20 years had 2 more OUI’s and wiggled out of several more with a good attorney. I had numerous surgeries, domestic violence arrests, bar fights and various problems in my professional and personal life. I finally couldn’t take it anymore and surrendered. You have to surrender to win. I asked God to help me because I couldn’t do it by myself.

I went to hundreds of 12-step meetings and other therapy and my head started to clear. I then got training at various jails, prisons, meetings and started to go out and share my story with others. At one point, my premonition of helping millions of people came back to me. I had forgotten all about it for 20 years and one day a light switch was turned on. Powerful emotions of healing and hope poured into my body. God had brought me full circle and had allowed me to live through all of the madness so that I could go out and help other alcoholics and addicts.

Me: You talk a lot about wanting a drink (or drugs) and needing a drink (or drugs) - at what point did you cross the line from wanting to needing? In other words, at what point did you realize that you were an alcoholic/drug addict? What was your AHA moment?

DH: I was in total denial for the first 10 years of my drinking and drugging. I like to say “I had fun with drugs and alcohol for 10 years and then they had fun with me." For the first ten years I totally believed I didn’t have a problem with drugs and alcohol even though I had been arrested several times, blacked out from drinking many times, and had deteriorating health conditions.

For the second ten years my denial softened to, “Maybe I have a drinking and drug problem, but I can handle it." I believed it was manageable even though it was totally out of control. I dodged bullet after bullet of drunken arrests, medical procedures, black eyes and broken bones. In the end, after 20 years of drinking and drugging, I needed to use. I would get up in the morning and have coffee and then switch to beer, then vodka, then cocaine. I would ask friends to go to the beer store for me because my hands were shaking too much to do it myself. I was in late-stage alcoholism.

My aha moment came after 27 years of self inflicted substance abuse. I was crying on the inside and got on my knees and told God to either save me or take me. I promised I would do everything in my power to help others if he helped me. I knew I would be dead soon if I continued on the same path I had been on for well over two decades.

Me: Alcoholism/drug addiction is a major problem in America. What can we as a society, especially we as parents, do to combat the problem? What, if anything, can the government do

DH: Education is the answer for the younger kids. Have people like me talk at their schools. If they are starting to have problems with substance abuse, attend a 12-step meeting with them to let them hear stories of alcoholism and drug addiction.

College-age kids can be encouraged to read The Man Overboard and go to my website, as they will learn a lot from this site. Don’t lecture, but talk about the dangers of alcoholism and drug addiction. Have people in recovery speak to the kids and adults about substance abuse. Everyone wants to sweep this subject under the rug when just the opposite is the solution. Speak openly about the reality of substance abuse.

I believe the government should promote more people in recovery to go out and visit all segments of the population. Because the 12-step programs are anonymous, the alcoholic and addict has to go to the 12-step program. I believe there has to be more people in the 12-step program reaching out to the alcoholic and addict. Sure, some people in recovery relapse and set a bad example of recovery. But what about the thousands that don’t relapse? They need to have their stories told to help the masses still sick and suffering.

Me: What, in your opinion, is the biggest reason people turn to drugs and alcohol to deal with the stresses of life? What are the signs that a recreational habit is turning into a dangerous addiction? How can someone avoid the "raging storm" that you experienced?

DH: People turn to drugs and alcohol to ease their worries of a stressful life or traumatic experiences. When my father committed suicide, instead of seeking therapy, I turned to drugs and alcohol. Whenever you or your loved ones have major trauma in life, i.e. loss of a parent or child, rape, incest, murder, drunken driving fatality, etc., seek professional help. I didn’t talk about my dad’s suicide for 23 years, keeping it bottled up inside. It ate me up, little by little, until it turned into that raging storm I write about.

When a person starts drinking every day, whether happy or sad, mourning or celebrating, an alcohol problem is surfacing. The key is that some people can drink socially but the alcoholic can’t. They will get worse and worse until eventually they will have to drink and drug.

Abstinence is the only safe way for the alcoholic and addict and that starts with admitting that we are powerless over drugs and alcohol. When we take a drink or drug, all bets are off. Once we have admitted that to ourselves and others, we then can get a program of recovery i.e. 12 step programs, therapy, journaling, sponsor, support system through sober friends and telephone numbers to call in difficult moments. The alcoholic/addict needs to learn to make that call before taking that drink or drug, not afterwards.

Me: What's next for "The Man Overboard?" Will you be writing another book?

DH: "The Man Overboard" will go out and speak across the country and participate in my own sobriety and program of recovery wholeheartedly and gladly. I love my life in sobriety and I told God if he helped me get sober and clean, I would in turn help others for as long as I lived.
I think there are more books to follow and I hope people will get a copy of The Man Overboard:
How a Merchant Marine Officer Survived the Raging Storm of Alcoholism and Drug Addiction
on or from The Man Overboard website. And learn from my past mistakes and copy what I do now to stay sober and clean. You can do it!

Me: Thanks so much, Darryl.

1 comment:

  1. Author Chat: "An Interview with Darryl Hagar"

    Hi Darryl:

    Your writing is very interesting. My question is. What are some of the best ways to get in touch with different authors and journalists for getting their interest in writing a story about news worthy events and personal stories.

    See A 'New" Social Value Network site.

    Interactivity that promotes successful pursuit of life goals.

    Thank you


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