How Not 2 Guide

How not 2 Guide


It’s nearly three years since Brent P. finally got clean and sober.

I say finally because he was first introduced to AA thirty years ago. Back then he went to meetings believing AA might have some preventative benefits. He was young and liked using alcohol and drugs but he didn’t want them to become  problems to the degree that he might one day be compelled to abstain. The idea was not to quit but to learn what mistakes others had made and avoid them.

So it came as little surprise to him some twenty years later, after having done a couple of stints in rehab, the odd night in jail, blown a marriage and alienated a few friends and family, that, in the absence of the preventative strategies he’d so sincerely sought in AA, he had indeed become the alcoholic and drug addict he’d set out not to become.

Now clean and sober, Brent has embarked on a web series that mirrors what he was looking for when he started out thirty years ago. Called The How Not 2 Guide 2 Getting Clean & Sober, it is less a how-not-to-become-an-alcoholic guide than it is a how-not-to-fool-yourself-into-thinking-you-don’t-have-a-problem-when-you-really-do guide.

You really should view the episodes below, currently running on YouTube, to fully appreciate the interview that follows…

A few days ago I sat down to talk to Brent about this enterprise and what he hopes to accomplish with it.

Roger: First off, is this a joke?

Brent: Anything but.

Roger: Having seen the three episodes you have out now and enjoyed them, I thought some people might conclude that you’re having fun at the expense of people we both know have a problem that could kill not just them but others too.

Brent: The goal of the project is to wake people up, particularly young people, to the types of behaviour that often indicate they have a potentially lethal problem. Using humour to do that seemed the most effective way to get their attention. The goal is also to disarm them and the defensive reflexes that are activated when drug and alcohol problems are raised. Besides, the logic that justifies anybody’s drinking or using drugs, when the problem is obviously out of control, is without a doubt so absurd, it’s funny. It deserves to be laughed at. And so do the people who believe it.

Roger: So the humour is a device in a serious effort to educate?

Brent: That’s a good way to put it. When I first attended AA and learned that abstention was the only real solution to alcoholism and addiction, I balked. The prospect of stopping drinking was so unattractive to me that it likely was the first indication that I was headed for trouble. Most normal drinkers don’t go to AA to begin with, and only alcoholics would go searching for the answer to their alcoholism, have the answer presented to them in the clearest possible terms, and then say,  “Thank you, no.”

Roger: Why is that?

Brent: Well if they’re anything like me and just about every other alcoholic I’ve ever met, the last thing they want to do is stop. They want whatever trouble it was that first drove them to AA to go away, but damned if they’re prepared to actually quit drinking.

Roger: Now you’re talking about an alcoholic’s relationship to alcohol. And of course this would also apply to an addict’s relationship to drugs.

Brent: Exactly. I mean the problem is defined as an abnormal, progressive dependence that, if continued long enough, will lead to addiction to alcohol or drugs. So when a person who has come to rely on alcohol or drugs to, I don’t know, help them handle social situations, cope with stress and tension, ensure hilarity and good times, hell, even make a football game more interesting, then they are not going to easily accept the prospect of stopping.

Roger: You’ve said that the How Not 2 Guide is, or was inspired by your own experience. Is what you just said a description of you?

Brent: For sure, but I know I’m not unique. I went to AA and had my problem defined as“powerlessness over alcohol” and I was told that my life “had become unmanageable.” In those early days, I could argue with that definition but what came to haunt me was the promise that, if I indeed was in the early stages of a lifelong problem, my problem would get worse until finally I would not be able to deny it.

Roger: But you set about to prove that wrong, to show that you did in fact have some control over your drinking.

Brent: I think that’s what most alcoholics do unless their first exposure to AA or treatment comes after they’ve seriously harmed themselves or others. I mean I’ve heard of people waking up in jail or hospital to learn they’d killed somebody or broken their own back or neck in a car accident or a fall. If alcohol was the reason for that then it typically doesn’t take a great deal of convincing for that person to accept they need help. But I’ve also seen those same people hobble out of the hospital in a neck and back brace and head straight for the liquor store.

Roger: But without a definitive experience like that, you suggest that most alcoholics, because alcohol is so central to their lives, are going to do everything in their power to control or manage their drinking.

Brent: Right. And that’s when the rationalizing, strategizing, justifying, theorizing and so on comes in to play. It’s when alcoholics go searching for the flimsiest alternative explanations of their problem and give in to absurd misconceptions, all in an effort to not have to stop. And that, essentially is what the How Not 2 Guide is all about.

Roger: Identifying those rationalizations, strategies, justifications and so on, to expose them as nonsense: that’s what the Guide is about?

Brent: That’s a big part of it. But I’d elaborate a bit more.

Roger: Please do.

Brent: AA talks about alcoholics “hitting bottom.”

Roger: That’s the shorthand that’s used to describe the moment when we consciously or unconsciously realize, “This is it, I’m done.”

Brent: Right. It’s a life changing moment, even if you don’t recognize it that way at the time. Yet in reflecting on my experience, especially as a chronic relapser, I didn’t experience a bottom. For several months after my last drink, I had no idea if  I was finished or not. It wasn’t until I’d reached about seven or eight months, by far the longest I’d gone in the previous decade, that I realized that not only was I staying clean and sober, but I was entirely free of  the obsession and the compulsion to drink or use drugs. While I couldn’t say for sure why this was the case this time, I did make an informed guess.

Roger: And that was?

Brent: That I’d finally reached my threshold for self inflicted pain at the same time that I’d run out of the lies and strategies to justify drinking or doing drugs “just one more time.”

Roger: So rather than hitting bottom, you just kind of ran out of rope?

Brent: I couldn’t come up with one more good reason to put myself through the horror show that drinking and using were certain to inflict on me.

Roger: So how does that relate to your How Not 2 Guide?

Brent: Because prior to the end I must have justified my drinking and using a million different ways. It was like moving men on a chess board. “Oh I haven’t tried the mix-alcohol-with-cocaine gambit yet, so lets see how that works.” That sort of thing. The How Not 2 Guide is really a collection of the strategies I employed, strategies that inevitably led to more and more epic fails.

Roger: AA’s Big Book talks about that, all the different strategies that alcoholics use to gain some control over their drinking, and says that some alcoholics will chase the illusion of control to the gates of hell.

Brent: It does. But what it doesn’t address, at least to my satisfaction, is the thinking that allows these illusions to persist. That’s the insanity of addiction. And I’m certainly not the first to identify that. In fact A&E’s Intervention has done a great job of portraying just how hopeless and tragic the alcoholic/addict can become. But I frankly think that show works against enlightening those who may be in the early stages of  alcoholism and addiction. I mean if I’m 17 and quaffing beers with my friends on the weekend, and maybe sparking up some dubes, I am not going to relate to what I see on Intervention. Furthermore it’s a bit of a buzz-kill.

Roger: A buzz kill?

Brent: Yeah. I mean unless you’re a fan of  the human train wreck, you know, seeing bodies mangled in the machinery of seriously damaged brains, it’s hardly something you’re going find fun or entertaining, especially if you’re high.

Roger: So the How Not 2 Guide is meant as entertainment for people who are high?

Brent: High or not, if they are entertained, then they will watch it to the end. They may or may not identify with what they’ve seen. But if indeed they do have a problem, the day will come when they either do the same thing they’ve seen on our show or something similar. That’s when it comes back to them and there’s a sort of uncomfortable shiver because they know they’ve done something that was clearly identified as symptomatic of someone who has a problem.

Roger: And you think that will stop them?

Brent: No but I do believe that we will have robbed them of at least one of the multitude of excuses people use to keep going. So we will have moved them at least one step closer to the truth.

Roger: You said “we” a couple of times there. Are there more people involved in this than you?

Brent: I have four partners. One who financed the project so we could hire really good actors. Another who did the editing, camera work and handled all the technical stuff. One who directed each episode and another who will handle the sales end of things. And I came up with the idea and wrote each episode.

Roger: Okay. So I take it there’s more to come. What we’ve seen so far is just a taste, a preview of the real thing.

Brent: What we have now are really condensed demos. We expect to get a TV series out of it while the long term goal is a comprehensive website that will house these episodes but also include a place for people to send in their own stories, whether filmed or written. We are associated with a very well known addiction counselor who himself has been on television many times and will provide the clinical perspective. There’s more, but you get the idea.

Roger: So you’ve done your homework as well. You’re working with professionals in the field of recovery.

Brent: Without their support and encouragement then I think we are simply making fun of addicts and alcoholics. Our objective for this has always been “edu-tainment”. But if experts look at it and don’t see any value in it, if they don’t see the validity in either the approach or the content, then we’ve failed.

Roger: I like it, Brent, very much. I was at an AA meeting a few days ago and the group was doing a particularly quaint reading from the Big Book. I thought, to myself, “What are the chances anyone under 50 could relate to this reading?”  I think your approach is fresh and I think the humor is relevant. It just might get through to a tough audience: younger people, boys and girls, if you will, younger women and men. If you have the opportunity to expand on it on the web and TV and get it out to a wider audience, I believe you will be contributing to the growing body of our knowledge and understanding of addiction and recovery.

Brent: Thanks for that. And I do want to say that despite the seeming irreverent tone, I have taken this very seriously. We call it the comedy before the tragedy, because we’re all aware of the horrors that await when addiction and alcoholism aren’t addressed before an individual is truly trapped. I wished that I had been better informed when I was young. I’m not saying that would have stopped me but if something like this had been presented to me when I was in my earliest stages, then I think I would have felt more comfortable talking openly about the insanity of alcoholism and addiction. Ultimately, if you’re going to get anywhere with young people, they have to feel they can talk openly without fear of any sort of reprisal and in their own language.

Roger: Many thanks for this interview, Brent. Best of luck with this project and please do keep us informed about any new developments.

Brent: Thanks, Roger. Will do.

17 Responses

  1. DonB says:

    OMG! Brent, where were you 45 years ago, when I really needed you. That poor guy peeing in his roomies drawer really brought back the memories. I was in a small hootch in Vietnam with seven other guys on a casualty team. It wasn’t much fun, but the one thing we did have was lots of booze and high test marijuana, laced with opium.

    After over-indulging one evening, I did just like the guy in the movie, got up, went to another room (not the john), and pissed all over some guys clothes he had laying on the floor. He did get a bit torqued and not so politely asked me to find another place to sleep. I did, but didn’t stop either the drinking or the drugs.

    Fast forward to 1981, I was shoved into AA against my will, and spent the next 21 years in and out – mostly out. Like Brent said, I did not hit bottom, I just reached a point where I couldn’t keep it up; I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror and pride myself for not losing a job or not getting a DUI anymore. As much as I wanted to continue, I just couldn’t. I just gave up, went back to AA and haven’t had a drink or a drug since. That was 12 years ago.

    BTW, I fought the god thing in 1981, and I still do. Only now I don’t hide my beliefs or my non-beliefs. I say what I believe and sometimes get criticized, but that’s OK. Thanks to folks like Roger and AA Agnostica, we started our own little group, and it’s doing fine. We are the “Freethinkers of the Low Country” and if any of you visit Charleston, SC, stop in for a visit – 6:30 pm every Monday.

    Thanks guys, for everything.


  2. life-j says:

    I cant find the link to the youtube, can we please have a link posted where it says we really need to see it?

    • Roger says:

      I don’t understand your problem, life. If you click on any one of the three videos (Eddie Gets Triggered, Josie’s Marijuana Maintenance Plan or If Stephen Ever Gets That Bad) in Brent’s How Not 2 Guide, you will be taken directly to them on YouTube.

  3. Lenny says:

    I’m thrilled to have found this website and with each new discovery that appears. These clips were perfect. The third one was my story with a minor change(my housemate’s girlfriend woke me up in time to prevent me from pissing on them in their bed). Too funny. I look forward to seeing many more and hope you get your TV show.

  4. Pete O. says:

    There is something refreshingly wonderful about someone simply being honest about the ups & downs in their life. Indeed, I am finding these episodes humourous and captivating with very important and serious messages. It takes courage to find new creative ways to talk about the age-old topic of alcohol & drug addiction. I am very impressed … way to go, Brent! (& all your colleagues)

  5. Dave says:

    Still too PSA for me …….you guys need to up the ante…..a crackhead once tried to sell me a baby out of his trunk at a gas station in Detroit and the little guy peed all over him when he held him up….now that was funny!!! (And yes he went to jail) …. I liked Aristotle…..reminds me of a guy I know.

  6. kieran says:

    way to go brent. from your portage buddy

    • Brent says:

      Kieran. Great to hear from you. I’m guessing from your posts on FB you’re back in England and you’re a dad now. Congratulations to you.

  7. John M. says:

    Yes, well done Brent, and like John K., your story is very, very much like mine.

    I cannot know what kind of drive, initiative and creativity you would have if you were still drinking. Would it be the same as today, as is evident from these videos? Only you would know of course.

    But I seem to run across quite a few folks who say they are so much more productive since quitting the alcohol and/or drugs. I know the last 5 and 1/2 years of sobriety have seen me accomplish things I never had the drive nor the nerve to try.

    These videos are wonderfully imaginative ways of “speaking” to others — no matter where they are in recovery, or thinking about recovery — and a testament to the innumerable ways of reaching out.

  8. Thomas B. says:

    Yes, excellent, indeed. As someone in my 41st year of recovery from alcohol and drugs, as well as a retired “professional in the field of recovery” — so much nicer a turn of phrase that in the field of addiction, or alcohol and/or drug abuse, or chemical dependency, or what have you — this is an auspicious augmentation to what’s currently available as “edu-tainment.” Best of luck in your pursuits and continued recovery, Brent.

  9. Barbara R says:

    Fabulous! I am so thrilled I found this website less than 2 weeks ago and have “passed it on” to many already. If you can grab someone’s attention through humor, perhaps it will save them some time. Thank you ever so much. I anticipate further episodes of “How Not 2…” and further posts from AA Agnostica.

  10. bob k says:

    I am a huge fan of all things imaginative, smart and funny. These vignettes reminded me of SCTV and the SNL of the Belushi era. My problem is that these three pieces were SO BRILLIANT that I must bow humbly before Brent P., and I am NOT such a huge fan of bowing humbly.

    I loved seeing Sean McCann as “Aristotle.” Sean is a fabulous Toronto actor who played the judge in the Oscar winning film “Chicago” (Best Picture). It is rumoured that he MAY have some knowledge of the subject matter. All the actors were outstanding – I LOVED the host.

    The idea of creating a comical story that exposes the errors and silliness of some very real messed up thinking is something I can completely understand. We’ve all had some of those genius strategies about moderating or, in tribute to Frank Sinatra, doing it “my way.”

    Every day, there are people in 12 Step meetings saying “Good to be here,” but thinking, “What a bunch of pinheads – these people are WHACKED!” When some sober guy gets away from the sanctimony and tells a funny story about his own cynicism, it can have some shock value. I’ve been doing that for years – just not NEARLY as well as this. BRAVO – I am a fan!!

  11. Pam L says:

    Found it fresh and interesting.:)

  12. John K says:

    Wow! That story instead of Brent could as easily said John K. I, like Brent, was introduced to AA at 23 years of age. I’m now almost 54. MY addiction also grew to include drugs like cocaine in all forms, snort to IV to the destructive abuse of crack cocaine. To say abuse is a misnomer. Like those rats in research conditions: the rat will continue to use until it literally dies. So much for this being a disease of spitituality. Rats act on instinct, not because they are sinners. Rats and human beings need abstinence and a format to deal with any mental health issues that may predispose a person to addiction. Please remember I an only a person that is giving his interpretation. I don’t mean to upset any God believers. I wish someday the God Squad will embrace the freethinkers, atheists, agnostics, nostics and those who practice the doctrine called Buddism etc. Thanks to all.

  13. Dave H says:

    Well done, Brent.

  14. Eric T says:

    I really like the out of the box approach on this, as well as the youth engagement potential. Creative and relevant – thanks to all involved!

  15. Sparrow says:

    Absolutely fantastic ‘How Not 2’ guide.