By Rich Figel
Just saw a post on Facebook by the son of Andy Anderson that said the former CEO of Hina Mauka had passed away on Sept. 14. I was going to write it was sad news... but anyone who knew Andy would tell you that's not how he would like to be remembered because he always seemed to have a smile on his face, and was so relentlessly optimistic that even when he was posting about his cancer treatments in his final days, I thought he was going to pull through.
Unless you know somebody who has been in rehab at Hina Mauka for treatment of an addiction, or family members that have been helped by Andy and his staff, you might not realize just how many lives he has touched. From the time he got sober while doing military service back in the early 60s to the day he retired in 2006, he has directly or indirectly helped thousands of people get into recovery and reclaim their lives. I owe him a debt as well: when I was struggling to keep going as a writer, Andy hired me to do freelance PR work for the treatment center and encouraged me to go public with my own stories about alcoholism and recovery in columns I wrote for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. He also gave me my first paying gig for video work I did to record and edit some Hina Mauka events, which aired on Olelo.
Now, for most "normies" the business about publicizing the treatment center's good work or my personal addiction stories may not seem like a big deal. But for old-timers and more conservative members of Alcoholics Anonymous, it was a controversial thing to do. You were supposed to remain, well, anonymous in their view. Andy and I disagreed. We felt if more recovering alkys and addicts were willing to tell others openly that they were in the program, it would demystify the process and make it more acceptable for people to admit they need help. Andy was a pioneer in using things like public access TV (Olelo) and the media to build support for Hina Mauka. And believe me, because of cutbacks in grants and state funding for treatment programs, they have had to work exceedingly hard to keep their doors open all these years.
I remember attending one of his last fundraisers, which I believe was called "The House that Andy Built" and chuckling with other attendees about Andy's persistent -- yet always friendly -- way of asking for "favors." It was hard to say no to him when he asked you to contribute or volunteer your services. But he was non-judgmental for the most part (except for politics -- Andy was a progressive type) and always tried to give people the benefit of the doubt. Including me.
When I first contacted Andy for an interview, I was working on an a book and TV series proposal called "REHAB." My idea was to focus on real counselors, most of whom are in recovery themselves, and ask them why do some people get better while others relapse or never get with the program of sobriety. In the process, I got to learn his life story -- and eventually record it on video -- as well as the history of the recovery movement in Hawaii. It's fascinating stuff because back then alcoholism was called "the Haole Disease" and our different ethnic cultures made treatment a challenge. Some day, I hope to revisit those tapes and produce a video about the history of Hina Mauka.
During the interviews, I confessed to Andy that after being sober for so many years, I had stopped going to 12 Step meetings on a regular basis. Most AA veterans will tell you that's dangerous and setting yourself up for a relapse. But I'm more of an introvert and not big on sharing by standing up in front of groups (or posting personal things on Facebook, for that matter). However, not a day goes by that I don't think about my sobriety and how grateful I am for the AA program. Instead of admonishing me for not going to meetings, Andy said that maybe I was meant to share through my writing, or by creating TV shows that could reach even more people than I would in a small group setting. To this day, that remains one of my goals in life.
Ironically, I had meant to write a series of blog posts this month inspired by things I've learned in recovery that I feel could be applied to the homeless issue. To me, there are many similarities between the failed War on Drugs and the current War on Homelessness approach that swats at the visible eyesores, yet doesn't address the root of the problem... which begins with the people themselves: how did they get to this state, how do they get out of it, and why won't they accept the help or services that are available to them? I think a lot of their behavior and responses are similar to what you see in addicts or alcoholics like myself, who are in survival mode and fear change. More on that in a later post.
A couple of days ago, I received an email from Hina Mauka that said Gov. Ige had proclaimed September as National Recovery Month in Hawaii. It seems fitting that Andy chose to say aloha at this time, and although he was far away in Arkansas with his family when he passed away, he will always be in the hearts of many in the islands he called home for so many years. We'll miss him dearly.