Recovery on Parade

This was originally published for Hazelden Betty Ford’s monthly Recovery Advocacy Update. If you’d like to receive our advocacy emails, subscribe today.

Left: Sober St. Patrick’s Day parade marchers in NYC on March 17, 2022. Right (L to R): Nell Hurley, William C. Moyers, Nancy Moyers and Mitch Byers.

By William C. Moyers

It rained on my parade and I don’t care. Because what matters is that the newest milepost in my long journey from addiction to recovery now includes marching with people just like me in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City.

Ours was a small contingent among the 250,000 people who marched by invitation only in the largest parade in America. But ours was unique too; for the first time in the parade’s history an organization representing people in recovery from substance use disorders was represented. Sober St. Patrick’s Day is a nonprofit based in Connecticut that advocates sobriety as an alternative to the alcohol-infused celebrating that has become synonymous with the wearing of the green on March 17th. And as the organization’s honoree this year for my work as an advocate at Hazelden Betty Ford, I was invited to lead the contingent up Fifth Avenue in the heart of midtown Manhattan.

The mournful cry of bagpipes and the steady cadence of drums has always touched a chord of my Irish lineage; no wonder I had a lump in my throat and a few tears amidst the raindrops hitting my face as we marched. Yet there was much more to the emotion of this unique moment when it struck me that I was marching only a few dozen city blocks from where my journey had begun 33 years ago. Caught in the grip of addiction, I had hit bottom and wrecked my whole life. But I was saved by my parents and a friend of our family who sent me to treatment at Hazelden in Minnesota, in August 1989.

The fact that my wife Nell Hurley, my daughter Nancy and her boyfriend Mitch were also marching with me only deepened my gratitude. They, too, have each overcome substance use problems and were proud to share their recoveries with the crowd of more than a million people lining both sides of the street.

And what a reaction our sober group received! Many in the crowd cheered and waved as we passed, though often I could see in their reactions a perplexed surprise as soon as they spotted the “Sober St. Patrick’s Day” banner.

“I’m not,” a young man cried out, laughing at himself as he pointed to the banner and toasted us with his bottle of beer in hand. “Tomorrow I’ll be, I promise,” shouted a woman standing next to him.

An older woman wiped the smile off of her face and quickly hid her insulated beverage can behind her back when she realized who we were, as if somehow one of us might be tempted to bolt the procession and snatch her drink.

“I’m sober too,” waved a man about my age, who gave a thumbs up. A lot of other thumbs went up along our way, and at one point a New York City policeman edged over to me to share “I’ve got eight years now” and shook my hand.

When our parade ended a mile-and-a-half and 90-minutes later, I was tired, exhilarated and wet all at once. As we took the subway downtown to SoHo for a sober celebration, I noted my daughter Nancy listening as an off-day firefighter in dress uniform intently talked to her. The noise from the train made it impossible to hear what he said. But later Nancy told me that he had noticed her “Sober Sash” and was inspired to share that his wife was at home struggling to hang onto her new-gained recovery. “It is her first St. Pat’s without a drink,” he offered. “It’s hard for her. It’s hard for me too.”

It’s been a third-of-a-century since I began my journey at Hazelden. My counselors never promised me a parade. But they did encourage me to walk the walk a day at a time, and all these days later my journey up Fifth Avenue on St. Patrick’s Day reminds me of how far I’ve come. And how far we have to go at Hazelden Betty Ford and throughout the country to ensure everyone who needs help like I did, gets it.

William C. Moyers is the vice president of public affairs and community relations for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.

William C. Moyers
Left: With Hazelden Betty Ford colleague Kelly Gieser. Middle: With spouse Nell Hurley. Right: Receiving 2022 Emerald Spirit Award.
Left: With Grand Marshal Bill Reilly and 2021 Emerald Spirit Award winner Ellen Morehouse. Right: With daughter Nancy Moyers

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As a force of healing & hope for those affected by addiction, we feature insights and views from leading voices on prevention, treatment & recovery.

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