Change Anything QA

Change Anything: Overcoming Addiction-Part Two

Michael Vitali

In last month’s Change Anything column, we published an inspiring story from Michael Vitali. This month, Michael shares the specific strategies he used to overcome his addictions.

I started smoking cigarettes when I was eleven years old. Since then, I’ve abused every drug on the market: speed, heroine, meth, LSD, prescription drugs. You name it—I’ve been addicted to it. My pursuit of temporary freedom started me on a twenty-year downward spiral in which I alienated my family, lost friends, sabotaged my career, experienced homelessness, and served multiple jail sentences.

After years of denial, I finally admitted that I was an alcoholic and drug addict, and realized I could not continue my current lifestyle without suffering the consequences. When I was released from prison, I started making changes I knew would be necessary to get my life back on track. To change my life I knew I had to make changes in every area of my life. Here’s how I succeeded.

Personal Motivation: Love What You Hate—In prison, I found myself saying, “This is not your life!” I cried to God for help and made a commitment to never lose control of my addictive personality again. After my release, my sponsor gave me advice I’ll never forget: “Anything you put before your sobriety—whether it’s your family, friends, or job—you will lose.”

I remind myself of these experiences often and make my sobriety my number one priority and focus. Whenever I see people drinking, I say to myself, “Drinking is not for you. You can’t handle it. It’s not an option.” I try to focus on what I really want out of life, and that picture doesn’t include drugs or alcohol.

Personal Ability: Do What You Can’t—I began attending AA meetings three times a day. I also engaged in group therapy and counseling. In these sessions, I learned about chemical dependency and the techniques needed to live a joyous and substance-free life. Specifically, I learned how to relate to other human beings, basic life skills such as making coffee and cleaning, and most importantly, how to control my anger and emotions through talking through my problems rather than taking drugs and alcohol.

I also went back to school and earned a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. I started a successful career doing leadership development for an organization that provides housing and treatment for youth with behavioral and emotional problems.

Social Motivation and Ability: Turn Accomplices into Friends—I stopped hanging out with my partying friends—or rather, they stopped hanging out with me because I only wanted to go to AA meetings or out for coffee. My friends from AA became my support network. I learned from them how to behave and interact with people again. In fact, one of my AA friends offered me my first post-prison job.

I also called my sponsor daily to report on my progress and receive encouragement. My mother sent “I Believe in You” cards to me. They simply said, “Dear Michael, I.B.I.Y. Love, Mom.” Among other things, support from friends and family motivated me to stay straight.

Structural Motivation: Invert the Economy—I recognized the physical and psychological costs of my bad behavior and decided I did not want to lose control again. The fear of returning to prison constantly motivated me to stay sober.

Structural Ability: Control Your Space—After prison, I moved in with my mom. I knew she was the only one who would get all of the drugs and alcohol out of the house. In college, I lived alone so I could maintain control of my environment and be less stressed. I never went to bars or parties where alcohol was served, and I always made sure I had a car or a bike so I would be able to get to my AA meetings.

I have not had the compulsion to drink or take drugs in twenty years. I use my past experiences to constantly improve the quality of my future. The changes that have taken place in my life are difficult to put into words. When I reflect on my life over the past few years, I can honestly say I like what I see. What was once dark, foreboding, and full of despair has become a joyous and rewarding life.

Editor’s Note: Similar stories of inspiring change will be featured in our upcoming book about personal change due to be released Spring 2011. If you have an inspiring story of personal change, please send it to and include “Change Anything Story” in the subject line of your e-mail.

Trainer QA

What insight can you provide around Questions 32 and 33 of the Style Under Stress assessment (concerning crucial conversations and decision making)?

Emily Hoffman

Emily Hoffman is a Master Trainer and Senior Director of Client Training and Employee Development at VitalSmarts.


Q In the Style Under Stress assessment, question 32: “I find myself in situations where people get their feelings hurt because they thought they would have more of a say in final decisions than they end up having” and question 33: “I get frustrated sometimes at how long it takes some groups to make decisions because too many people are involved” have a “correct” answer of False. I don’t understand why. With both questions, that answer does make sense if you indeed have any power to choose the decision making approach, but in my industry, we are often told how to do things and there is no choice. That being said, people do get their feelings hurt and the wrong people can participate in the decision making process, so it seems as if True would be a valid answer depending upon the situation. What insight can you provide about the rationale for the best response to be False?

A This is a great question. I’ll give you my two cents and then we can see what additional responses we get from other trainers on the blog.

First, I don’t usually consider the answers to the Style Under Stress as correct or incorrect. These are simply measures of tendency. With the Crucial Skills scores, the score can point you to an area where you may be weaker, or an area where you may want to pay extra attention. And I would probably steer clear in the training of using the terms right and wrong.

Now, let’s look at each of the questions in turn. Question #32 – anyone in the group can speak up and clarify how the decision is being made, not just the decision-maker. Let’s say there are some people on my team who are frustrated because they think they will have a say in the decision and then don’t. For example, imagine us in a meeting where we are discussing an idea. Justin has lots of great input and is under the impression that we will be making a consensus decision. In the past, he has been frustrated when he thought his ideas were going to be a part of the decision and then weren’t. Now, here is what happens: Steve, another team member, speaks up and says, “Hey Emily, we are happy to give our ideas. And, I’m curious—is this a consult decision or a consensus decision?” At that point, I clarify that it is a consult decision. Now, Justin may be a little frustrated that he doesn’t get to be a part of a consensus decision, but it is not because he thought he would have a say and then didn’t. That was made clear. The key to understanding question 32 is that the problem is not “People are frustrated because they want to be part of a decision that they are not a part of.” The problem is “People are frustrated because they think they are part of the decision-making process when they really aren’t.” This gets to the skill of clarifying up front what type of decision-making process is being used, and anyone in the room can do that.

Question 33 is a little tougher, and I can really see your point here. What we are trying to get at is whether this issue is addressed. When decisions are taking too long because too many people are involved, do I bring it up or suffer in silence? Do I go to the meeting organizer and share my concerns, or just live with my frustration?

I hope some of these thoughts help.