Kitchen Table Conversation with Leonard Buschel

Leonard Buschel CADCA, has years of experience working directly with people suffering with addiction. He is a former California State Certified Substance Abuse Counselor and publisher. He is the Founder of Writers In Treatment, which helps individuals in the writing profession suffering from any self-destructive addiction get into a good treatment facility.

He is the Founder of The New York City REEL Recovery Film Festival & Symposium, a 7-day event showcasing first-time filmmakers and experienced professionals who make films about addiction, treatment, recovery and sobriety. Leonard is the editor/publisher of the weekly Addiction/Recovery eBulletin.  He also produces the yearly Experience, Strength & Hope Awards at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.

Leonard is in his 23rd year of sobriety.

Kitchen Table Conversation

Liv: As this is a conversation with Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, I’d like to know what you have had for breakfast today?

Today I had homemade miso soup, one poached egg and two rice cakes. And in an hour, I’ll have a double macchiato with an inch of hot milk.

Liv: Moving on to your story, you entered the [Hazelden] Betty Ford Clinic, on 4 August 1994, and you will celebrate 23 years of recovery later this year. How inspiring. In a recent interview, when asked if you could tell the general public one thing about recovery, what would it be, you said:

 Recovery is, first and foremost, a decision; then it’s a lot of vigilance, service, self reflection, self discovery and developing a joie de vie while using all the tools of recovery.  For me, I put those tools in alphabetical order: Attention, Brains, Consciousness, Defiance, Enthusiasm, Friendliness, Gratitude, Humor, Introspection, Joy, Kindness, Love, Mindfulness, Navigation, Observation, Playfulness, Quiet, Resolve, Sharing, Talking, Understanding, Vitality, Wonder, X-ray vision, Youthful and Zestful.”

What decision did you make in 1994?

I needed to see if I could spend a month without using pot, ecstasy, vodka, Valium, shrooms and my favourite little yellow synthetic morphine, Percodan. I had already stopped using cocaine after daily use for thirteen years because a woman I was in love with said she didn’t want me to do it anymore. So I quit for love.  But within weeks I snorting ecstasy. Eventually, while experiencing a gnarly nervous breakdown, I called the Betty Ford Center, filled out an application on the phone and since my insurance covered the entire month stay with no co-pay, I couldn’t say no. When they told me my insurance covered the whole 28 days, I starting sobbing, knowing the jig was up. I had reached my nadir. One would have thought being dead and brought back to life once should have been my bottom, but it wasn’t. This was my bottom, no longer being able to control my need to be intoxicated. So I drove there myself to BFC, and gave them my car keys (I had another set hidden in my sock in case I wanted to leave).

I stayed for a month, got struck sober after 26 years of using, and I’ve stayed clean and sober ever since. Six years later my 19 year old son went to Betty Ford for a month, and he just celebrated 16 year sober. WOW.

Liv: And, how did you navigate finding a zest for life whilst using all the tools of recovery? Tell me how the two can happily co-exist?

By participating whole heartily in AA and realizing that sobriety is the true hero’s journey as taught by Joseph Campbell, not being afraid of the silence or the Oneness. And when you are strong in your sobriety, it might be helpful to engage in non-drinking and non-drugging edgy behaviour.

Liv: You have declared being a proud member of AA. I particularly enjoyed your post for The Fix, The Never-Ending Argument Against Anonymity in AA, in which you posed the question why do we continue to deny our association with this life-saving program? You quite rightly point out that times and attitudes towards addiction have changed radically in the past few years. Over your years in recovery, how have you seen attitudes change?

People who get into, and stay in recovery share a mutual sense of pride, accomplishment and gratefulness just to be alive.  We’ve worked hard and we’ve been blessed. Certainly worth sharing with the suffering or unconscious masses.

Liv: And, would you say A.A. is changing with them?

AA is not changing with them nor should it necessarily. As a spiritual program, they understand that even if you’re about to die from addiction, it doesn’t mean you’re willing to learn the Lord’s Prayer, or make amends to people who screwed you over first.

Liv: Moving on to Writers In Treatment, you state that your mission is to help men and women in the writing industry suffering from alcoholism, drug addiction, and other self-destructive behaviors get treatment for their disease.  You produce free educational and cultural events that celebrate sobriety while reducing the stigma of addiction.

Why writers?

Books have saved my life. Men and women who devote their lives educating, inspiring, spending half their lives hunched over a notebook, or keyboard are the ones I idolize. Would you rather live without music or without literature?

Liv: And, how does educating about, and celebrating, recovery reduce stigma?

Taking a cue from the late, great Harvey Milk, who implored all homosexuals to come out and tell family and friends that they are gay, thereby letting every American know whether they knew it or not, that they did know a gay person and probably loved one. If people in recovery shared their message of sobriety, or difficulty with addiction with everyone they know, we would no longer be pigeonholed as the ravens of excess, irresponsibility and destruction.

Liv: You feel that rebuilding one’s life need not be a solitary effort.  Thus, your vision is to provide the treatment and support individuals need to take their first step toward recovery. You say,

‘We believe it’s important for people in recovery (and for those on the cusp of recovery) to have entertaining and culturally stimulating events that inspire enthusiasm for living clean and sober.’

What has been your experience of under stimulation, and boredom, in affecting one’s recovery?

I told my clients at the rehab, that in order to stay sober, they had to find their inner nerd.

Liv: And, conversely, what does an enthusiasm for living clean and sober look like?

It looks like Robert Downey Jr.

Liv. Writers In Treatment is host the REEL Recovery Film Festival. A multi-day event, which is a celebration of film, the arts, writing and creativity. You showcase filmmakers who make honest films about addiction, alcoholism, behavioral disorders, treatment and recovery. How does showcasing these films provide a context to the lives of people in addiction, and recovery, to the outside world?

Most therapists who come to the film festival might treat addicts professionally. However, they have never really seen the brutal realities and the spiritual rollercoaster that addicts and alcoholics actually ride every day. So, I believe they can understand and comprehend the unique challenges that exist for the active and recovering alcoholic/addict.

Liv: How would you say it affects perception?

The way great theatre always does, it magnifies life to be observed more accurately and compassionately.

Liv: Moving on to physical recovery. What has been your relationship with food in recovery?

I believe to eat naturally, mindfully and moderately. Dark chocolate only, no frozen food, organic when possible, lots of green tea and never end a meal by having to say “I ate too much.” Feel satiated, not bloated. Never use a micro-wave unless you are in a cheap motel, and you’ve lost all hope for salvation.

Liv: Penultimate question: what is your favourite meal/dish?

Anything that’s home cooked and not still alive.

Liv: Last, what are your top five recovery tools?

My top five recovery tools are meetings, fellowship, contemplation, introspection, and some exciting cross-addictions. 

Be sure to check out Leonard’s Addiction/Recovery eBulletin

Thank you for taking part in Kitchen Table Conversations.