Joe McQuany, a Little Rock native, dedicated most of his adult life to helping alcoholics get sober before his death in 2007. An alcoholic himself, he was an active sponsor, ran a men’s treatment center for many years, and added a women’s treatment center days before his death.
Joe was a big deal. He had the capacity to bring out the best in people who sought his help overcoming their addictions. And he was funny. He took a serious subject and made us laugh at ourselves in our pathetic efforts to overcome our addictions without God’s help. We miss him, and we may never see his like again, but others have stepped up, and we must build on Joe’s legacy.
One of his achievements was to found both a men’s and, later, a women’s treatment facility. Following his death, both facilities, despite local efforts to keep them running, failed, and the empty buildings still lie dormant on Roosevelt Road.
But many of Joe’s contributions continue to thrive and help people overcome their addictions.
A case in point is the Wolfe Street facility which provides AA and Alanon meeting rooms and a refuge for those seeking help with their addictions. Wolfe Street, founded by Joe and two other men in recovery, grew out of its 12th Street location and moved to a larger building almost a decade ago. Wolfe Street is qualified to develop into an even greater factor in helping Little Rock contend with the drug abuse epidemic afflicting our community and others.
Serious but simple
Joe helped me in my recovery beginning in 1979 and continuing for many years. Like many recovering alcoholics in Little Rock, I knew him best for his hour-long Monday night 12-Step meetings at the Wolfe Street, where newcomers and AA veterans sat in rapt attention while he patiently explained with chalk and blackboard how they could get well
Joe frequently used the family car as a metaphor and often referred to the wisdom of his wife of more than fifty years, Loubelle, a woman of considerable grace and charm and a significant influence on his life.
Name a state; Joe had spoken there. Name a foreign capital; he had spoken there. Paris, Rome, London—you name it.
Books? He was the author of two—The Steps We Took and Carry This Message—and was one of three who wrote the widely circulated Recovery Dynamics counselors’ manual used by treatment centers both in the U.S. and abroad.
Joe, who was black, was also a leader in integrating AA meetings in Arkansas back in the early sixties. At his funeral I joined with others—black and white—in mourning his passing at the packed Pulaski Heights Methodist Church in Little Rock.
Keys to Recovery
For those who heard Joe, the following excerpts from his lectures will be a trip down memory lane, and for others, it will provide a refreshing sample of his wit and wisdom and their relevance to recovery.
First throw out the ballast. Then go up
“Everyone thinks change is based on what you’re going to get, but change has a lot to do with what you’re willing to get rid of—like a hot air balloon that goes up when you throw the sand out of it. A lot of people don’t want to throw the sand out; they want to keep the sand and still go up.”
Practice—not theory—makes perfect
“There has been a lot of discussion about these steps, but they are simple, basic tools of change. They are based on one of the oldest laws of human nature; whatever you practice, you become good at. Whether it’s baseball, piano, or typing, you learn that skill because you work at it. You can’t go to typing class, learn the theory of typing, and become a good typist.”
The search for truth can be hard sometimes
“Another part of our insanity is our blindness to reality. There is a story of a guy who had two horses. It worried him that he couldn’t tell them apart. So finally, he cropped one’s tail, and he said that worked for a while, but the tail grew back. Then he thought he would mark one horse’s hooves with chalk, and that worked for a while, until the horse walked through some water. Finally, his son got a letter from him saying, ‘Well, son, I’ve finally figured out how to tell those two horses apart. I’ve discovered that the white one is four inches taller than the black one.’”
In a maze, the mouse has the advantage
“When we are searching for a way out, we are like a mouse in a maze. You can put a mouse in a maze, and when he comes up against a wall, he will search for alternatives until he finally works his way through the maze and gets out. If you ever put him in there again, he will remember the way and go right through. That’s how we do it, too. Our believing might be wrong, but if we believe wrong and decide wrong and run into bad situations, all we have to do is come back and change what we believe and try again until we are finally successful. One advantage the mouse has, though, is that once he makes a mistake, he won’t make it again.”
Two different things—decision and action
“Three frogs were sitting on a log and one of them made a decision to jump into the pond. How many frogs were left on the log? Someone will almost always shout, ‘Two!’ My friend will say, ‘Nope, there were still three. He just made a decision jump. He didn’t do anything yet.’”
What makes happiness?
“I believe the happiest an individual is going to be is when he is in this pattern of living, relying on God and on other people. This is the design of life—to rely on others, as well as ourselves.”
Freedom or bondage—it’s up to us
“When we don’t do the daily things we need to do to live and be free, when we don’t face things and deal with them, when we don’t admit our faults, when we sweep things under the rug, we give up our freedom. We are then in bondage, and this is manifested by, expressed by, all kinds of problems: alcoholism, drug dependency, codependency, and so on.”
Sometimes the truth hurts
“Sometimes getting self-awareness is painful. We’ve heard it said that the truth will make you free, but at first it will most likely make you miserable.”
Trading in good ideas
“We’ve learned that our lives are like a business; we have a certain stock-in-trade and our lives are based on what we have on hand to trade in. If we are trading with better ideas, they’re going to bring better returns into our business of living. As they bring in better returns, then we’ll buy into these ideas even more and make them part of our personality.”
Self vs. God
“I look at the battles that go on in life, and I look at the resentments and fears, guilt, and remorse, and how these things block us from God and shackle us to the self. Then I look at love, tolerance, patience, courage, and wisdom. These qualities have come from God and they are always within us. In our outer and inner conflicts, we can see the powers of self-contending with the powers of God.”
Praying for potatoes
“Somebody told me once that when you pray for potatoes, the next thing you do is go get a spade and start digging.”
Ignorance isn’t bliss
“We do have self will—we can do what we want to do—or we can choose to live by these principles expressed in the 12 Steps. I think the reason more people choose to live miserable lives, indulging self will, is not because they are evil or bad or sinful or anything like that. I think they are just ignorant; they just don’t know.”
“The truth is that many of the problems we have in life we can’t fix. We are powerless over a whole lot of things…sometimes we have to say, ‘I can’t fix it.’”
“To illustrate the necessity of giving up, I often ask people the question, ‘What is the first thing you have to do if you want a new car?’ Usually, they say something like ‘Go to the bank,’ or ‘Go pick one out.’ I say, ‘No it isn’t. The first thing you have to do is give up on the old one.’”