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Tempering addiction with humor

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Deep in the Big Book, the operations manual of Alcoholics Anonymous, a too-often-overlooked point is highlighted.

"We aren’t a glum lot," the passage from the 1939 book says of the earliest AAs. "If newcomers could see no joy or fun in our existence, they wouldn’t want it. We absolutely insist on enjoying life."

David M., a 46-year-old recovering addict from Sayville who puts out the popular and acclaimed "Dopey Podcast," a weekly program on addiction, has been adding levity to this discussion for five years, with heartening, harrowing results.

A popular saying on addiction goes, "At first my using was all fun. Then it was fun, but with consequences. And then it was all consequences."

At the core of "Dopey" is the belief that the humor in active addiction can be valuable to people in recovery. With addiction raging through the pandemic, his approach is needed more than ever.

David believes the entertainment value of the mishaps and the consequences shouldn’t be lost. That’s not new: the best 12-step groups have hilarity in their DNA. But it is a truth many people considering recovery need to hear.

In 2016, David and a fellow recovering heroin addict, Chris, whom he’d met in rehab in 2011, birthed the idea for a podcast featuring discussion of the hilarity in addiction and leaving out the "boring" stories of recovery.

It's a hit. The "Dopey" podcast has been featured on "This American Life" and detailed in Vice, with tens of thousands of downloads a month and guest stars like Andy Dick, Artie Lange, Marc Maron and addiction specialist Dr. Drew Pinsky. David, who lives with his partner and their two children, pays a lot of bills via "Dopey," supplementing that income working at a legendary Manhattan deli.

But the show and David also took a tragic hit in 2018 when Chris died of a heroin overdose, secretly relapsing after taking painkillers for an injury.

"I didn’t want to stop doing the show," David said, when I interviewed him in a Blue Point diner. We met when I was a guest on episode 262; he is about to record the 300th.

"I loved having the audience," he said. "It was my dream, and some people counted on their weekly dose."

But the emphasis changed a bit, with the humor of recovery given space next to tales of using, and more interviews to make up for the back-and-forth that died with Chris.

The show has become more popular than ever during the pandemic. "DopeyNation" offerings now include 28 Zoom meetings a week and scholarships that have sent nine people to rehabs for free.

And now, more than ever, it can resonate with an addict seeking connection.

Addiction is, at least partially, a disease of isolation. It’s not surprising that COVID-19 has heightened problematic use, with deadly overdoses on Long Island up about 50% in 2020 compared to 2019.

Meetings have moved online or to backyards, with limited attendance due to COVID rules, and are harder for newcomers to find. Desperation, loneliness, fear, stress and anger are crescendoing.

It is a glum time, and it has fueled addiction and relapse. But those in recovery generally are not a glum lot. Those in active addiction often are.

Recovery is better than active addiction.

And "Dopey's" message, delivered in a gritty New York voice whose truth resonates with many addicts, is unique and powerful.

Lane Filler is a member of Newsday's editorial board.

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