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Pulling the Ripcord: Interview with Author Tom Sawyer

By Carin Chea

Tom Sawyer, a counselor and corporate accountant-turned-writer, writes from raw experience.

Humbling himself, Sawyer has pulled from the depths of his experiences as a survivor of substance abuse to write Ripcord Recovery, which chronicles his personal navigation toward complete sobriety.

Unique and norm-challenging, Ripcord Recovery is already the recipient of five awards in the realm of recovery and addiction, and is sure to garner more recognition.

The author leaves no stone unturned as he unearths past hurts, hang-ups, and habits in his treatise dedicated to helping those in need of healing.

Ripcord Recovery by Tom Sawyer

You actually started out as a drug and substance abuse counselor, and also worked in corporate America. Tell us about your journey toward becoming an author.

I went to my first AA meeting at 18 years old. After I finished undergraduate school I focused on helping those with addiction issues and became a drug counselor. At that time, in the 90s, it was disappointing to have a 10% success rate; also the job didn't pay very well, which is why I went back to school and got my masters in accounting.

I became an auditor for 23 years and made it to partner in one of the big 4 accounting firms. In the midst of that, though, I had open heart surgery. After that, I just wasn't willing to put in 15 to 20-hour days anymore. My sales dropped, and they said "see ya." It was no more than a 5-minute conversation.

After 22 years sober, I threw my back out, took pills for the pain and relapsed. And once more I went into drug rehab. But, it just wasn't working. Consequently, I was forced to develop a new system, a combination of AA and medical marijuana.

I re-worked the whole process and now I had a program that worked so well for me I got inspired to put it on paper, potentially helping others as well.

Is Ripcord Recovery your first book?

Yes. I've been writing for 30 or 40 years. My undergraduate degree was in psychology. As such, I had to take innumerable literature, English, and philosophy classes because the school I went to was a liberal arts school.

In corporate America I wrote reports on a daily basis, but they were bland and boring. I wrote Ripcord Recovery for my kids. I thought, If they ever have the same problems I have, I want them to have the same tools I had.

Neurochemically, what I'm doing with medical marijuana is hacking my dopamine center, the epicenter of the disease. I'm putting the dopamine center in a cast and allowing it to heal.

Most of the medications permitted by my doctors, like antidepressants continually mess with the dopamine center. Even though they're designed to be maintenance meds, I don't think they give the dopamine center a chance to heal. That's just my opinion, but I've been doing this for 5 years now, and I don't even have pain anymore.

I figure my dopamine center finally healed and its where it needs to be. My doctors all know what I'm doing and every single one of them has said, "It's working, don't stop."

Describe the moment you became inspired to write Ripcord Recovery.

It was an evolutionary process. Back in 2015, when I started developing this, I started writing to politicians trying to get medical marijuana legalized - unsuccessfully - yet I decided to keep going with the writing.

As I started developing how the program worked, it just morphed and I kept going with it. I didn't want to write a long, lengthy book of every last detail that happened. I wanted it to be short, simple, and to-the-point.

It's like night and day - what recovery is like now vs. what it was like from my 22 years completely clean and sober.

I didn't want to write about the relapses. I wanted to write about something positive, the victories. Most recovery protocols are so strict and regimented on what you can and cannot do. My philosophy now is: If everybody put out what actually works, then maybe we can collectively do something meaningful about this addiction problem.

What was it like, writing your memoir, so to speak? Was it difficult divulging so much of your personal life?

I had a hard time trying to figure out what genre to put it in, which is why I put it as an anecdotal treatise. I wanted to describe what happened to create this change, focusing on the most meaningful truths discovered along the way.

In 2014, after being clean and sober once again after my most recent stint in rehab, all I wanted 24 hours a day, was a drink. I didn't go into a tell-all in this book. I didn't want to focus on what caused me to relapse after 22 years completely clean and sober. Getting sober is the easy part. The problem is, once you get sober there are 2 to 3 years of post acute withdrawals (PAWS) to deal with.

Even with traumatic brain injury, stroke - every neurological trauma - the time frame for healing is 2 to 3 years, and it's no different for addiction. For me, the most aggravating aspect of the PAWS was my fight or flight defense.

It took hours for me to calm down any time I was triggered. That's when I realized: Why suffer through all of that? If there's a medicine that will alleviate this discomfort, why try to muscle through it? That's what I did when I was 22 years old sobering up the first time: I went to rehab, I went to meetings, and everyone tells you "just tough it out."

The writing process was an iterative approach. It helped me a lot in my own recovery. As I tried to define and specify it, it helped clarify in my own mind what I was doing.

I probably deleted as many pages as there are in Ripcord Recovery now. I didn't want to do finger-pointing or assigning blame. I just wanted to identify the problem and the solution as simply put as possible.

The book itself was a very enjoyable process to write. Though at times, it was also pleasantly frustrating due to the fact I'm a dyslexic accountant attempting to write an inspiring short story.

What do you hope your readers will take away from your book?

I was aiming for a short, but gripping book that catches your attention such that you can't put it down. I'm targeting an audience that has a short attention span like my own, and I needed to reach addicts in a hurry.

I hope they'll take away the idea: "Don't give up. Try something different this time but try again nonetheless." I do not believe in a no-win scenario. Failure is not an option.

For me, failure meant death. I've come too close to death, too many times. I destroyed my heart with years of drug and alcohol abuse. You know how, in the old days, there used to be a Gideon's Bible in every hotel room? Well, I'd have this book in every hotel room. It really is designed for those who feel like blowing their brains out.

I can treat addiction; but I can't treat suicide. I've seen too many people giving up and doing just that; commit suicide rather than drink again.

I'm proud to say that I'm in 100% good health right now, and I haven't had a drink of alcohol in over seven years this time.

Are there any upcoming projects you'd like our readers to know about?

I'd like to just get the word out for this book. Ripcord Recovery works.

If you could go back to your younger self and give him a message, what would it be?

There isn't a simple truth I could give my younger self. I would have to cheat and tell myself everything. Although I suppose a simple answer would be to "not give up and keep on going, you will succeed."

But, really, I'd go back to my 16-year-old self, and tell him everything that worked for me, and let him make his own decisions. He was smarter than I gave myself credit for.

To learn more about Tom Sawyer and his book, please visit RipcordRecovery.com.

Hollywood, CA

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