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The Road to Recovery

How did the star of the Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods turn his life around?

By Andrew Zimmern, Edina, Minnesota

As appeared in

I was walking a tightrope. I got kicked out of my apartment, then another one. One morning a restaurant owner I was consulting with found me passed out on the floor of his establishment.

“This isn’t working,” my partners finally told me. “We’re through, Andrew.” I was screwing up my own life but they weren’t about to let me screw up theirs.

That night I went to a dive bar, drank myself senseless, then followed a group of drunks back to the building they were squatting in, in lower Manhattan. I stayed there for almost a year, watching all hope drain out of my life. I was a loser. I couldn’t take it any more.

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That’s when I went to the flophouse. I lay in bed and guzzled vodka till I passed out, woke up and started again. Days went by. I was down to my last bottles of booze. I couldn’t understand it. I had nothing to live for. Why was I still alive?

Then one morning my eyes slowly, groggily opened. There was the bed. And the floor littered with empty bottles. But...everything was different. I couldn’t explain it, but it was as if someone turned a light on. Was it hope? Was it real?

The Ace bandage of anxiety and misery I wore around my chest wasn’t there. The ache to make the day go away wasn’t there. The fear just wasn’t there, for the first time in 15 years.

I grabbed the phone and called the only person I could think of who might listen to me, a publisher who’d been my best friend for 20 years.

“I need help,” I pleaded. “Please. Please come get me.”

“Don’t go anywhere,” he said. “I’ll be there in half an hour.”

I had escaped that hotel with my life, but I was still an addict. By the time I got to my friend’s house I was already backpedaling, scheming, telling him I didn’t need anything more than a loan. I could fix my problems.

The next morning, not five minutes after he left for work, I broke into his liquor cabinet. This time I would stay in control.

Each day for three days he asked me what I was going to do. He asked me to meet with another friend who’d been sober for a year or two. I agreed to meet her at a restaurant for coffee. When I got to the restaurant the back room was packed—filled with people I’d thought had long since forgotten me.

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“We’re taking you to the airport,” one friend said. “You’ve been admitted to a Hazelden treatment center in Minnesota. They’ll be able to give you the help you need.”

Jimmy slapped his hand on the bed. “You had an intervention,” he said. “Me too, once. But it didn’t take.”

Mine either, at least at first. I went willingly to the airport because I had nowhere else to go, but after several days in treatment I was a mess.

All I kept hearing about was a spiritual solution to my human problem, a new way of living that would put my life on a different footing, if only I could find a way to turn my life over to a power greater than myself. Seriously? I was supposed to believe there was someone out there looking out for me?

C’mon. If there was an almighty anything in charge, he was doing a pretty lousy job. So day after day I filled the pages of my workbook where I was supposed to write my feelings with one word: HOPELESS .

One day my counselor came into my room. “I know you don’t believe in anything, let alone a God who is personal to you, Andrew. I get that. But you better find something you can believe in or we’re just wasting each other’s time here.” Then he turned and left.

Were they going to kick me out? I was in Minnesota in the middle of winter! I didn’t have any place to go. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with a terrifying sense of desperation, of utter separation from the world, of complete isolation.

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Once again the rules had been laid out. Find a Higher Power, and you will get well. And once again I knew that the solution to the problem would elude me.