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Talk with Gary Patterson — Member, SMART Recovery (Part 2)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2017/08/31

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How does your own background tie into them? What lead you to SMART Recovery, and the absolutely wonderful and magnanimous Shari Allwood?

Gary Patterson: My background, at least the first thirty-odd years of it was a dark, chaotic, self-destructive, drug, alcohol, and crime infested nightmare. To even vaguely understand you would have to go back to when I was four years old. My birth parents left me at a card game supposedly to ‘go to the store’ and never came back. I ended up being shuffled around from town to town, house to house, people to people I never had a clue who they were, why I was there, who I was, or just what the hell was going on and where were my mom and dad? My birth father did show up one day when I was ten and took me to live with him which led to the next three years of every kind of child abuse you can imagine until the police finally removed me from the home.

This led to foster care but by this time I was so messed up I didn’t want to be anywhere ‘they’ put me so I started to run away. I’d get caught, they’d put me somewhere else and again I would run away. This cycle of course eventually led me into the ‘Juvie” system. Still confused and by this time very rebellious I chose to live on the streets rather than be ‘placed’ somewhere else I didn’t want to be. I’ve never felt like I ‘belonged’ anywhere. Living on the streets, alone, at fourteen ultimately led me to the mental escape and emotional numbness of drugs and alcohol. At first, to eat I would go into a supermarket, take two slices out of a loaf of bread and put a package of bologna or ham in and eat it in the store just so I could have some food in my belly, eventually got caught doing that and put on probation.

Circumstances after that led to more running, stealing, more lock-ups, and then finally jails and prisons, a ‘revolving door’ type situation ensued for years. I was in a lifestyle where drinking and drugging constantly were not only acceptable, but fully expected behaviours. And so it was for the first thirty years of my life.

By the time I had finished my last stint of eight years the prison system had broken my spirit, beat me down and I knew I had to change my way of life or this was going to be all there ever was. I used that time to learn a trade which gave me the means to legally survive once released, but the drinking continued as always. I had been a heavy user of crystal meth and heroin in my teens and early twenties but by now the booze was adequately serving my perceived needs. I became a very high-functioning heavy drinker maintaining employment, a family, and even starting my own business. Incidentally, I have never engaged in any type of criminal activity since being released in October, 1987.

Then one morning my wife of fourteen years came to me and said “ Gary, I love you but I cannot stay and watch you drink yourself to death, the kids and I will not be here when you get home tonight” And they were gone. I’ve had suicidal tendencies off and on throughout my life with several attempts and now, having lost my wife and kids, home, and business it was something I seriously contemplated but decided instead to take myself across the country to be away from it all and just drink until it killed me.

I didn’t care. I had to retire from working in 2007, the heart attacks I had in the 90’s (five), finally wore me down to the point where I could no longer put in a days work, so that left ample time to actively engage in my morbid persuit. Thus, the five year isolation, which led to detox, which led to SMART Recovery. (in a nutshell)

Jacobsen: What is your main initiative or goal now in personal and professional life?

Patterson: My main initiative or goal in my life today is to pay-it-forward to try to help others find their path to freedom from the ugly, chaotic, self-destructive turmoil that is addiction so they may find some true meaning in their lives, as I have, without the need for mind altering substances or maladaptive behaviours.

SMART Recovery has become my main VACI (Vitally Absorbing Creative Interest), I am also a caregiver to a wonderful lady of 77 years who unfortunately has MS, and back into trying to play this guitar, so my life is more now than I ever thought it would be again, and SMART Recovery is the major reason for everything good in my life today.

Jacobsen: With your current position (if applicable, what is it…), what are your tasks and responsibilities?

Patterson: After an unbelievable ten months of sobriety I decided to take the FAST Distance Training to become a SMART Facilitator. Today, at 23 months sober I hold two regular face to face meetings and one Family & Friends meeting per week with an additional evening Family & Friends meeting set to begin August 25th, and about half way through my SROL (SMART Recovery On Line) training to facilitate one online meeting per week as well. So very busy with SMART in my retirement.

My tasks and responsibilities in this as I see them are first and foremost to maintain my own sobriety and well being so that I am able to inform, promote, and educate people about the SMART Recovery program and to create a warm, open, honest, welcoming, non-judgmental meeting environment where people can spend quality time working through recovery issues to learn new ways to make changes in thought processes and stabilize emotional turmoil to make the behavioural adjustments that lead to a healthier, happier, and much more fulfilling life.

Jacobsen: How does a science-based and non-faith-based — with or without religion as a component — treatment work compared to faith, religiously oriented, treatments?

Patterson: For me, the answer to this question is abundantly clear. A religiously oriented program can work…. for the religious, but, how on earth can we expect such a program to work for the millions of people on the planet with no religious affiliation to draw strength and support from?

Would a farmer consult a dentist on which crop to sew in which field this season? When all physical withdrawal symptoms have run their course, the only place left where an addiction survives is in our minds, this is in the realm of science. I don’t know about you, but I can’t count the number of times in my life, times of total despair and desperation when I have prayed for some relief and none came, so I relate that to trying to change my addictive behaviours by wishing they would go away.

Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Gary.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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