A lovely man who worked in the addiction sector here in New Zealand passed away recently. His name was David Lyndon Brown and he will be very much missed both by those who worked alongside him in the recovery community and those he helped. David’s good friend Suzy Morrison wrote this powerful eulogy for David and delivered it at his funeral. We are very fortunate that she has agreed to share her words here at Living Sober. Not only is this eulogy a wonderful tribute to a very kind and caring man, but it also brilliantly demonstrates what great things can happen when we get sober.
Suzy Morrison: David Lyndon Brown. Artist; teacher; son, poet, addictions counsellor, playwright, traveller, rule breaker, author, lover, fashion queen, beloved friend, story teller, walker, publisher, gracious host, writer, brother in recovery, mentor, party boy, colleague, roller skating champion and, by his own admission, ‘a recovering alcoholic’.
On September 7 last year, David celebrated 10 years of recovery from alcohol addiction. An extra ordinary achievement. An achievement of great meaning and import. One that he was very proud of. And he celebrated in true David style with friends and good food, beautiful music and the premiere of a very good short film chronicling his recovery journey and his aspirations. Most people can use and enjoy alcohol and other drugs in a way that doesn’t cause them, or others, problems. They know when to stop. Some can’t. David was such a one. As am I. Once we start, we don’t seem to have an ‘off’ switch. With all the best intentions in the world – oblivious to previous experience – we tell ourselves “this time it’s going to be different. I’ll just have one. Or two”, and there we go again, craving the next one, acting out of that compulsion, self-obsessed and consequently creating internal and external mayhem. Burning bridges (and sometimes houses) along the way. Oh what a ride!! The drinking, drugging and the drama. The people. Such great stories. It’s adventurous and exciting and connecting and mad and fun for a few years. Maybe several. And then it’s not. The drugs stop working. Desperation sets in. Life gets very dark and very lonely.
It has been said that the craving for alcohol and other drugs is an imperfect search for spiritual connection. A longing for love. Or, as Carl Jung put it in his letter to Bill Wilson, the co-founder of AA, ‘the craving for alcohol was the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness…the union with god’.
David was a seeker. He loved his spirits. And he was thirsty. He was out there for a long time. And having fun. Mostly. Then the alcohol stopped working. No matter how much he drank, it no longer quelled the anxieties and fears. He came to see it was creating a disconnect with self and others. A terrifying realisation. David decided to take action.
It took at least three stays at medical detox for David to get clear of the alcohol. He was extremely unwell. Deeply wounded physically, emotionally and spiritually. The 13th century poet, Rumi, wrote “The wound is the place where the light enters you”. And David, despite self-doubt, fear and the grief of letting go of alcohol, courageously faced into the possibility of light.
David realised he could not do this on his own and did treatment at the Intensive Outpatient Programme in Mt Eden and he utilised his time there well. He knew what he needed and gratefully received what was offered. He was met with kindness and understanding from the counsellors and others such as himself. He never forgot this.
David found other allies on his search for wholeness in the radical, revolutionary, underground movement known as Alcoholics Anonymous. He attended AA meetings regularly in basement rooms and church halls around Auckland. People gathering to hear and tell the stories of transformation and courage. To listen, laugh and cry together. David found understanding, solace and the beginnings of love and connection in these rooms with his fellow travellers. Other seekers from all walks of life on their own heroic paths. Each other’s mirrors and lights.
With the support of the people in the AA meetings, his then counsellor, and later, sponsor Paul, and the 12 step map and compass, David set out on the radical path of spiritual awakening. One day at a time.
Recovery is not an event. It is a creative process. Each day there is a new beginning. David appreciated the freedom, the liberation, of ‘beginning anew’.
As David gained strength and solidarity in his recovery, he went back to school. He did the addictions studies degree at WELTEC, graduated, and went on to work as an addictions practitioner at Wings Trust in Walters Road and CADS Auckland’s Intensive Outpatient Program in Valley Road. He went back to where it all began. He was an empathic, talented, sensitive, compassionate and skilful counsellor. David absolutely loved working with people seeking recovery from active addiction. Seekers like himself. He knew there was hope; that recovery was possible. He knew that one size doesn’t fit all. He knew that it doesn’t matter what gets people in the door.
David met people where they were at and did not attempt to impose on them a fixed idea of what recovery should look like. There are many paths to recovery. He facilitated groups for new entrants and loved being alongside as people began to transform and learn how to live well, without having to use a substance. The hero, on his journey, is tasked with finding treasures and bringing them back home. David discovered many treasures along the path.
Straight Up was one of the treasures David gave to us. He combined his masterly writing and teaching skills with his recovery experience to serve others. Straight Up is a group whereby people meet weekly and through a series of exercises, go within. The structure David developed provides guidance to safely explore, through the writing, one’s own journey home to self. These therapeutic writing workshops – facilitated by David to groups in addiction treatment and mental health settings in Auckland and to addiction practitioners at a conference in Nelson late last year – are ground breaking. Radical. Teaching and supporting recovering addicts to write themselves right. David delivered many of these groups in recent years, facilitating the awakening and healing of others.
Louise said of her experience in a Straight Up group: “It was powerful and life changing, because I never saw that side of myself before. David brought out a side of me I didn’t know was there. The real me. I found my voice. And he was so kind and gracious. And generous with his own recovery story”. Sax says: “I was fortunate enough to attend one of David’s courses and he was a real treasure”
David’s decision to let go of his dependence on alcohol is a story of transformation. It is the hero’s journey. A spiritual quest. It is the story of venturing into unknown territory, facing into the demons, waking up and bringing the treasure home. It is an inside job. David did this on a daily basis, despite the self-doubt, fear, anxiety and depression he lived with. He did so with great courage, and with humility, perseverance and humour.
Noah Levine, in his Buddhist manual for spiritual revolutionaries, “Against the Stream’, says: “Waking up is not a selfish pursuit of happiness; it is a revolutionary stance from the inside out, for the benefit of all beings”.
So, dear David, thank you for your heroic courage in the face of great adversity. The gifts of your humility, your wisdom and your wit; your empathy, compassion and kindness. Your style and grace. Your generosity and trust. Thank you David for embarking upon the hero’s journey, for waking up and bringing the treasures back home to share with us xx
The journey continues xx
You can read about Suzy’s own amazing turnaround in her Sober Story here.