Michael's New York Minute in 28 Seconds: A book review

Poking fun at my recovery journey, I like to say that, “I don’t have an AA conference talk. After hitting bottom, sobriety hasn’t looked like a five-star mutual fund mountain chart. The type of fund we want to trust our financial security to, and the life we hope for in recovery, have the same characteristics: Starting way down here at zero, over time, life gently weaves from bottom left to top-right. Our socio-economic status, health, reputation, wisdom and power-of-example currency rises with the odd dip and rally along the way just for good story telling. Who would spend their time and money to come hear a speaker say that, “The worst may be behind me and it may be ahead; there is no way for any of us to shelter ourselves from life’s chaos.”

In so many words I am saying from the podium, “Hey, if your life is overwhelming today and you don’t know if you have the resources to overcome your difficulties, I identify with you. You are not alone.” The moral of our stories is that the Steps and skills of living sober don’t ensure us a carefree pass; they ensure us that perseverance is possible—come what may. Isn’t that what we really need to hear—that the Steps aren’t a test from which a passing mark will grant us the keys to the kingdom? Rather, “… Our whole attitude and outlook will change. Fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively be able to handle situations that used to baffle us … (Alcoholics Anonymous p 84).”

My area delegate reported on the April General Service Conference, “AA gets a B+.” We are passable but neither flawless nor indestructible. One thing AA has going for it is the tradition of teaching and connecting through story telling. That social construction is older than religion, older than modern civilization. What I am looking for in a Twelve Step talk is not that recovery is a better dream than drugs and alcohol. Recovery is an awakened state and I will not fear or be quick to judge the events in my life.

Michael Bryant’s 28 Seconds: A True Story of Addiction, Tragedy, and Hope is such a story. Michael’s bottom wasn’t when he put down his last drink. His family, health, freedom and reputation were intact when he stopped drinking. He was famous, powerful and despite the handicap that alcoholism presented upon his mental and physical health, most of us would say, “Hey, he’s doing OK.” Michael is a Harvard alumni, he was a Canadian law maker and was never uncomfortable as a front-page regular in the national media.

His emotional bottom was 28 unpredictable seconds whereby he was driving, clean and sober, with his wife. He found himself under attack by Darcy Allan Sheppard, a recidivate of correctional institutes, mental health and addiction treatment centers. Darcy’s life would end and Michael would be charged with criminal negligence causing death. Michael writes about his first time in jail:

“Is that really me in that photo in the newspaper, or is this not quite real? Am I really being arrested for a homicide, or is this an illusion? Am I really the first former Attorney General to sit in a jail cell for allegedly killing someone, or is this not quite a bad dream? This is not a trick that can be performed . . . . But a sober 44-year-old can do it sometimes around midnight in a jail cell.


‘I’ll lay me down and bleed awhile, and then I’ll rise and fight again.’ Richard, first Earl of Cornwall (1209 – 1272)

There is no way to turn trauma around quickly. Delude yourself all you want, if that’s how you outfox insanity. But delusion and repression should be used sparingly, for they are boomerangs that come back to whack you, no matter how far or how hard you throw them. The harder the boomerang of delusion is hurled, the longer you repress, the harder the whack at the end of the cycle.”


Nine months later the charges against Michael Bryant would be withdrawn. The cause of Darcy Sheppard’s death would prove to be of his own miscalculations. Michael never blamed Darcy for the life altering ordeal that he and his family would endure. Michael, sober at the time, identified with the chaotic, angry and self-destructive episode that Darcy was experiencing. Like any media-crazed tragedy, people lined up pretty fast in support of, or against, Michael Bryant. Few would let unfolding facts or their lack of first-hand knowledge blur their moral indignation. Later in the book, Michael writes about the fatal intersection of the lives of Darcy, his wife whom he was celebrating a wedding anniversary with and himself:

“The 28 seconds shared by Darcy, myself and Susan had been portrayed as rich vs. poor, influential vs. marginalized, privileged vs. oppressed. However, since regaining sobriety in the years leading up to August 31, 2009, and the years since, I have been a member of a niche of society where such distinctions carry absolutely no weight at all. We are all no better and no worse than the other.

Alcoholism, as with addiction of any kind is utterly democratic. It disregards celebrity, social status, bank balance, club memberships, political office. In the rooms of recovery, people with Oder of Canada pins on their jacket lapels sit beside men who have done hard prison time. You will find women who are accomplished actresses or CEOs, and those who worked the streets as prostitutes and drug dealers. You will find men and women who arrive in high-performance automobiles, and those who come straight from hostels by foot or on the subway. You will find people of every conceivable race, background, religious creed and sexual preferences. You will find people 40 years or more from their last drink, and those still under the influence. You will find people just like me. And you will find people just like Darcy Sheppard. Andy you will find them talking, one with the other…”

The author never returned to his status of political and social influence or public notoriety after he was vindicated. His sagging marriage didn’t rebound into a Hollywood climax. Michael Bryant was forever changed, but not at all regretful. In his book he pays tribute to the life of Darcy Allan Sheppard and paints a picture of a dysfunctional legal, healthcare and political system as the antagonist in this story. An insightful inventory of some of the systemic problems and what sound like reasonable solutions are presented in this book.

This is the third memoir in a row I have read. I read Jowita B’s Drunk Mom and Marc Lewis, Ph.D., Memoirs of an Addicted Brain. I am not known for my love of light reading. Not to rank any of the three of these authors, Bryant’s work shows an uncommon insight and perspective.
My own life has examples of how I have suffered at the hands of my own addiction, history and mental health idiosyncrasies. I have also had suffering inflicted upon me by the demons and darkness of others in my life. It’s tempting to blame. There’s a fool’s gold in the dream of vindication and retribution. In real-life drama such Hollywoodisms might comfort us through the night but they never materialize to uplift us in the light of day.

Peace comes only from perspective, compassion, humility and forgoing the blame-game. If no one has to be to blame, no-win situations have a fighting chance for a new narrative. The story can be reframed without victims, perpetrators, enablers and rescuers. We can let go of our toxic moral indignation, we can love and we can free ourselves.

I have to thank Victor, who insisted that I read this book. I might have judged the book by its cover. I was recounting to Vicotor, my own struggle over another front-page story and the people I loved who were suffering through it. Victor knew that I would find an understanding fellow traveler in 28 Seconds: A True Story of Addiction, Tragedy, and Hope. This is a story told by Michal Bryant, not about Michael Bryant. We all have life-altering New York minutes in our life (28 seconds on the metric scale). This book is the story of real life, of addiction, tragedy and hope. Interview with Michale Bryant - Get 28 Seconds: A True Story of Addiction, Tradgedy, and Hope.

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