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Dr. George Mann and Mel Schulstad were like bookends on opposite ends of the row. Their perspectives came from different positions. But their intent was exactly the same. George stood up for the family, while Mel did the same for the family's alcoholic or addict. Between the two of them, they did wonders to keep everyone from falling down.
George died earlier this month, and a few weeks later, Schulstad passed away. George was 88, and Mel was 93. I'm not sure whether they knew of each other, much less ever met, though such giants usually sense the ground the other walks even if their paths never cross. Both had a profound influence on me and thousands of others like me and my family. Their commitment to the cause lived to the end of their long lives.
In an earlier column, I told you about Mel. He was my hero, twice — first as a bomber pilot in World War II and then as a mentor who taught me a lot about recovery and the importance of publicly sharing our stories with others who still suffer. Mel died with 46 years of sobriety.
George, an anesthesiologist, was personally affected by addiction, too. Alcohol had made a mess of his wife, Marion, the mother of their seven children. Everything was in turmoil, but after she got treatment in 1967, both of them quickly realized how her recovery helped them all.
"As a physician, he was totally frustrated by addiction in his own family. He didn't want other families to have to go through it that way," recalls John Curtiss, who worked alongside him for many years. "His heart really was about family recovery. He knew it was a family illness and a family solution."
George took the "Minnesota Model" of 12-step-based treatment pioneered at Hazelden and put it to work in a new program at the Minneapolis hospital where he practiced, the first of its kind in a state already renowned for effective treatment.
Then he went further, recognizing that not all addicted people could afford or even required help the way it typically was offered, in licensed facilities. This was especially true for those in relapse who already had been through several treatments.
So George, with John's help and the stout commitment of longtime members of the sober community in the Twin Cities, opened a new access portal to recovery, one outside the very program he had started at the hospital and outside the licensed treatment facility where his wife had found help decades earlier.
The Retreat in suburban Minneapolis is George Mann's true legacy, exactly because it isn't treatment. It is an innovative program designed to immerse addicts and alcoholics in the 12 steps, and it does the same for their families. As I always emphasize, the principles of recovery locked away in the head won't work unless they are practically applied in the heart. The Retreat makes this transformation happen for many people who are out of all other options. We need more Retreats. We need more licensed treatment facilities, too.
George's legacy with me is more personal. In my darkest days of sobriety — the second half of last decade — he called me often. "So how is William doing today?" he'd ask. And he'd listen long enough to make me feel better before signing off with a couple of tips to keep me sane, not just sober. He did that for a lot of people, just as Mel did on the other end of the bookshelf.
William Moyers is the vice president of public affairs and community relations for the Hazelden Foundation and the author of "Broken," his best-selling memoirs, and "A New Day, A New Life." Please send your questions to William Moyers at email@example.com. To find out more about William Moyers and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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