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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 walked outside and stared up at a tree near the building, its skeletal branches stretching toward the sky. “If you’re out there, you’re going to have to show me something,” I said, looking up, begging. “I need to know I can really do this. That you’ll be there for me. You have to show me something, anything.”

I was from New York. I needed something real, like a burning bush.

But all I heard was the freezing wind whistling through the branches.

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I went inside. It was dinnertime. I sat down next to a guy I recognized from the in-house meetings. I didn’t know him well. He nodded. “How’s it going?” he said. More like a grunt really. I doubted if he cared.

“I don’t know,” I said. “This stuff just doesn’t make sense to me. I mean, I can’t believe...”

“Look,” he interrupted, somewhat rudely, I thought. “Recovery is like a recipe. There’s the twelve steps, there’s God and there’s you. Put them together and maybe you can stay sober.”

I explained I didn’t know how to find God, and he told me about the promises of the 12 Steps. That by following Good Orderly Direction and the wisdom of the sober community I would come to believe. I didn’t need to believe at that moment, I just needed to believe in a future where I would.

I didn’t know if I should feel insulted or enlightened. There was a recipe. I could understand that. A phrase I’d heard over and over, “Keep it simple,” finally made sense. Read the instructions and follow the recipe. Stop fighting it. It all came together in an instant.

“No, Jimmy,” I said. “I didn’t get a burning bush. I got a grumpy dude who finally got through to me by saying the thing I needed most at the exact moment I needed to hear it. It saved my life.”

I put my arm around Jimmy. His eyes turned to the pictures of his family. “They haven’t forgotten you,” I said. “They’re just waiting. Don’t give up. It gets better. Way better. Even if you can’t imagine how.”

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We walked back to the common room together. “Thanks,” he said. “I’m grateful that you came by. I was a soldier once. I’m not going to give up.”

I don’t know what happened to Jimmy. I haven’t seen him since, though I pray often for him. I am grateful every time I can share my story with another addict or alcoholic.

I am grateful to have my life back and for the friends and family who never gave up on me, for a God who was there when I was ready to find him. I am grateful for so much, that every day, one day at a time, is Thanksgiving.

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