I recently had the pleasure of speaking by phone to Séan McCann, founding member of the Canadian band Great Big Sea. Many people, including me, think of “Ordinary Day”, “Mari-Mac”, or another signature song upon hearing his name, but we spoke about something quite different: his recovery from alcohol addiction.
Now over five years sober, Séan shared some insightful reflections on his recovery journey. Here are some that really stuck with me.
“I buried my secret under a blanket of alcohol.”
Séan is open about experiencing abuse in his youth and how that contributed to his drinking. When under the influence of alcohol, he didn’t have to think about what he’d experienced and how angry he felt.
Like the blanket that we curl up under to leave a stressful day behind, alcohol was Séan’s comfort and what he used to hide away from what the real problem was. But, it also kept him stuck with that real problem because he wasn’t willing to move forward and resolve it as long as there was alcohol around.
“I was hiding in plain sight.”
Someone on a stage, under the bright spotlights, surrounded by fans is about as “in plain sight” as it gets. But Séan still felt he wasn’t being his true self as long as he kept his abuse a secret.
How often do we do this? We go to work, go to school, parent, and whatever else fills our day thinking -and sometimes fearing – that everyone can tell when we’re struggling with a mental health, addiction, or other problem. We put on the mask and go about our business feeling like they can see right through us, and it can be exhausting.
“I want to share how powerless something dark can be when it’s out in the open.”
Séan’s “something dark” was his abuse, and we may all face darkness in different forms. And it’s sometimes the worry of others finding out, the fear that they may judge us, the loss of how to even share it that keeps us immobilized and struggling to cope.
For Séan, things started to change when his darkness was out there and the weight of keeping the secret that kept him tied to alcohol began to diminish. That’s when he was ready to move forward.
“It’s still work on a daily basis to stay in the light.”
It’s true – recovery is work. You don’t just wake up one day, decide you’re recovered, and never give it another thought. Recovery is what you do consciously every single day to keep moving forward, and it usually isn’t an easy or straight path.
For Séan, sharing his journey is part of the work of his recovery and what helps to keep him in the light of health and wellness after the darkness he’s experienced.
“You have to start by accepting that you’re worthy of love.”
Séan hated himself for a long time. And it was when he realized that he didn’t just want a better life, but that he deserved it, that things began to change.
This is a big step for many. Often, negative thoughts and feelings about ourselves become ingrained and we don’t know how to challenge them. But, as Séan says, “the first step is helping yourself”. Even if we just start with wanting to change something, we can learn and do the work and get to feeling like we are worthy of that change. It’s a process, and a process that can be nothing short of life-changing.
Want to hear more about Séan’s journey? He will be the featured guest at the CMHA-HRB Annual Mental Health Week Speaker Series presented by Mercedes-Benz Oakville on Thursday, May 4th, 2017 at The Meeting House in Oakville. Hear him talk about his recovery and perform some of his acclaimed solo songs. Find out more about this free event and register here.