In the early 1970s, life for Andy Dodds stretched ahead, rich with promise and potential.
Reared in a happy and stable family in the St. Paul suburbs near White Bear Lake, Andy was a tough left-handed pitcher in the Skyline Conference high-school baseball league and an all-conference shooting guard in basketball. He also was a good student and appeared destined to succeed in whatever pursuit he chose.
But even then, as he looks back now, warning signs were there. Andy remembers being all too eager to seek the buzz, to drink whenever and as much as he could get away with, and to try new mind-altering substances, marijuana being his drug of choice at first. And he did get away with it almost all of the time, paying no severe consequences as a young adult.
His sister, Gini Dodds, says there were also early signs of mental and emotional frailty –his severe over-reaction to “The Exorcist” movie, for instance.
Like so many others suffering from chemical dependency, Andy tried early on to control the demons, and had some success. “I sobered up for about 10 years, and attended Century College, where I graduated with honors and studied the real estate industry,’’ he recalls. A natural born salesman, he developed a market niche by offering lower commissions on home sales and for 22 years was making plenty of deals and good money. He also was developing a social conscience and became a volunteer for the Federal Fair Housing program.
And then, the slip, the slide, and total collapse. “After years of sobriety, I took a drink, thinking this time it will be different. I was drinking high-shelf Grey Goose vodka, after all. But that spurred me into recreational cocaine use, and instant addiction, and a three-year binge, which included three DWIs.’’
Hitting bottom involved turning the business he had built over 22 years to a partner, selling his house, and losing much of what he had built up over two decades. He entered a six-week drug rehab at Regions Hospital and immersed himself in 12-step program, attending at least five meetings a week, a regimen he has kept up for more than two decades.
But to compound his difficulties, Andy’s mental and emotional health worsened and bouts of anxiety and depression threatened to undo his sobriety. Luckily, he sought and got the right help at the right time. He was diagnosed with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and spent 20 months in a Minnesota state hospital, where he received electro convulsive therapy, among other treatments. The ordeal left him with slight speech disability and shakes.
Although disabled and unable to work a conventional career, Social Security disability insurance and other public and non-profit public social services have enabled Andy to survive. He currently lives at the Hamline Hi-Rise and is receiving housing and mental health services from the Wilder Foundation.
“Linking up with folks in the Alcoholics Anonymous recovery community, the right mix of medications, good therapists and not drinking and doing drugs, combined with his search for spiritual and religious understanding, all these together made the difference,’’ sister Gini says.
The most important thing about Andy, however, and what sets him apart from many others in recovery, is his prodigious and sustained commitment to helping others with similar problems, and his constant spiritual searching. He spends most of his waking hours attending meetings, involving himself with religious organizations, and helping others afflicted with chemical dependency or mental disability.
Ever the go-getting salesman and entrepreneur, he’s founded his own mental health project, Andrew Dodds Motivations, through which he has delivered more than 60 presentations to various groups over the last seven years. His website (https://www.facebook.com/doddslove/) includes links to podcast conversations with inspirational community leaders.
Friends of Andy attest to his persistence in calling and checking up on those he’s met and befriended in recovery. Katie O’Connor, a longtime friend he met at a downtown St. Paul AA club, estimates that “he’s got a list of about 85 people he calls almost every day, just to say `how are you doing, you are in my prayers’... He’s got a great sense of humor, is kind and gentle and just very sweet. And consistent, he doesn’t stop calling!’’
Although he still struggles with OCD and is prone to various manifestations of it, his closest friends say it’s impossible to stay annoyed or mad at him.
Andy’s original sponsor from 22 years ago, Joseph Emmer, and who works for the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center, says: “He’s got a heart that can’t be matched. Here’s a guy that’s got the disease of addiction, coupled with OCD, but he stays sober and stays positive and he overcomes. And that’s because of his level of spiritual faith, not just religious conviction, but a spirituality that just flows from him.’’
The spiritual connections include seeking out and attending church services of many denominations, ranging from liberal Unitarian Universalist to more fundamentalist Christian faiths. Dodds currently serves as an outreach director for The Way Christian Fellowship, and he’s a strong ally of that Black-led Christian group on various social and racial justice initiatives. The Way is described on its website as working on “an anti-racism movement through a Christian lens. Both are destructive diseases from which recovery is possible.’’
“We as Christians we want to heal this land,’’ Andy says in one of his podcasts. “And our country has to use a World War II- scale effort to do some healing and solutions.’’
Meanwhile, on the local home front, he persists every day in every way he can to motivate others to find and keep sobriety, and to find their way in relieving their mental illness or traumatic brain injury. This September Andy will again host an annual “Gratitude Dinner’’ at DeGidio’s Restaurant on West Seventh Street in St. Paul, which he organized several years ago, usually attended by 50-60 people in recovery. This fall marks 22 years that Andy has been clean and sober.
“St. Paul is this great river city and already is a beacon of light for those seeking recovery,’’ says the Midway resident. “I want to continue building that reputation through recovery partnerships in coming years.’’
To enlist Andy Dodds for motivational speaking or for other help with addiction and/or mental health issues, call him at 651-699-5092 or e-mail him at email@example.com.
Dane Smith is a retired journalist, a former reporter for both the Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.