A friend reminded me this week that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, The opposite of addiction is connection. That is a very popular saying in the recovery community. Never before have I felt as connected to my community as this past week when my wife, Sheri, and I closed our whole grain bread bakery after dedicating fifteen years of our lives to the business. You might think the grief, failure and emotional finality would threaten me with an alcoholic relapse. No way. Not even close. In this final week with our customers, there was simply too much connection.
We have always enjoyed our customers with their many eccentricities, mannerisms and vibrant personalities. But something changed in our relationships with our customers about three years ago. That’s when the employee turnover we were experiencing got so bad that we decided to shorten our time open for business by three-and-a-half hours a day and do everything ourselves with the help of just one well compensated employee. Prior to that, my working hours were dominated by managing our dozen or so employees including constant hiring, training and firing. The stress and disappointment that resulted from the turnover was particularly unmanageable as an active alcoholic. Consistent booze consumption creates massive anxiety that when coupled with my uncontrollable negativity at work made me start to hate the bakery. I loved the bakery far too much to tolerate my loathsome feelings. So we fixed it. We turned our small business into an old-school, “Mom & Pop.”
Even though I was still drinking alcohol daily at the time, my anxiety decreased significantly as I turned my attention away from hiring and training and focused on making the best whole grain bread in Denver. Major decisions such as a change in business strategy often have unintended consequences, and this one was no exception. When Sheri and I went from managing the business to being the business, we got to know our customers. We got to know them very well.
Along with our manager, Sarah, we know almost everyone who walked in our bakery door. Maybe we didn’t know them all by name, but we knew what variety of bread they most enjoyed, if they wanted their loaves sliced or unsliced and which free slice of bread they would be munching on as they walked back to their cars. Our patrons transformed from customers to friends. We shared stories about our kids, our jobs and local events in our little southeast corner of Denver. We had long been important to each other because they needed our bread and we needed their money. But that changed over time. We came need each other for connection.
In our last week in business, we really felt the love from our customers. One woman brought of a copy of her newly published book to help us remember her and her husband. A man in his early twenties stopped in to tell us that while he had rarely been to our bakery, his mom had bought loaves weekly his entire life, and he teared-up a little as he told us how important we had been to his upbringing. There were lots and lots of trips around the counter for Sheri, Sarah and me for long, squeezy hugs as our neighbors made their last of many trips to the bakery.
Probably the most heartwarming part of the end of our business was the outpouring of support for our Feed the Knead fundraiser. We asked customers to make donations so we could donate our bakery equipment to non-profits in the community who were serving the hungry and homeless. We met what seemed just a few short weeks ago like an unattainable donation goal. Some people donated because the causes that would benefit were important to them. Many other people donated because my family had become important to them. For whatever reason our loyal customers participated in Feed the Knead, once again, our little bakery’s ability to raise funds for worthy causes wildly exceeded my expectations.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about my connection to my neighbor, Barb. Barb stopped into the bakery to see me in our last week. She wanted to tell me in person that her eighty-eight-year-old husband had died the previous night. She told me how she held his hand while he drifted peacefully to the other side. Tears rolled down both our cheeks as I held her and thanked her for coming to see me and asked what I could do to help. It occured to me that had I been working in an office building downtown or traveling for business, I would not have been there for Barb the day after she lost the love of her life. Again, the bakery facilitated a most priceless connection.
We set out to make a living and feed our family baking a product in which we could be proud. We did all of that and more. In the process, we made lifelong friends.
Unintended consequences are often negative. Not this one. Our little bakery on the southeast side of Denver gave me so much stress and challenge that I was thirsty enough for my beloved alcohol that I fell into the grip of addiction. But thanks in part to the love of our customers, the connections we made were strong enough to help Sheri and me beat my alcoholism.
If you are struggling, my advice to you is to spend less time thinking about not drinking alcohol, and more time reaching out to your friends and neighbors. The cure to your addiction can be found in the love of those connections.
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Now featured on the Untoxicated Podcast: Ep6 – Relationships in Recovery with Therapist Melissa Ryan