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Sober Grid Spotlight: Joe Putignano

When I first met author Joe Putignano, he was two years sober and headlining in the touring production of Cirque du Soleil’s Totem. In the show, he was known as Crystal Man and, after he heard me share at a 12-step meeting, he walked up to me with a sweet, almost shy grin.

“You’re writing a book?” he asks, pulling back his hoodie and smiling. “I’m writing a book too,” he says. We hit if off immediately.

After years of relapses and stints in therapy and rehab facilities, he’s now eight years sober and the author of a memoir,Acrobaddict. The book is about the connection between addiction and athletics, which he wrote in large part while touring with Cirque du Soleil. He’s currently at work on a second book and has aspirations to attend school to become a physician’s assistant.

Sober Grid spoke with Putignano in New York City and he was open and candid about his life story, struggles with addiction and his road to recovery. Putignano is slotted to appear at the Sober Grid launch party in NYC on Thursday, July 9.

Q: Why is Sober Grid important?

A: In my opinion, Sober Grid is a useful and important new app aiding in my recovery because it allows me to find like-minded people at my fingertips. I traveled the world with Cirque du Soleil, and even though there are 12-step meetings in every country, it would have been much easier for me to find others in recovery, get rides to meetings, and add additional support to my program. I realize many people in recovery can still go to bars to socialize, however, I am not one of them, and I love this app because it has taken all the different groups of recovery and put them on one database. Even though our methods of recovery might be different, we all share the common goal: living a happy, fulfilled life, without mood and mind altering substances. This is a much-needed app and I believe it is going to help many people.

Q: What is your sobriety date?

A: March 25, 2007

Q: Slogan that expresses your current point of view in recovery?

A: “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.”--Margaret Thatcher

Q: As a sober man, any advice you could offer to someone looking to get clean?

A: As cliché as this is going to sound, my advice to anyone looking to get clean is: don’t give up. Addiction has a cunning way of lying to us, convincing our mind that living a sober life is impossible, boring, and arduous. Sobriety, for myself, has been the ultimate key to unlocking my potential and has made most of my goals a reality. Even though I did not do it alone, my sobriety has been the greatest achievement of my life, and I hope it stays that way.

Q: What inspired you to write your best-selling book Acrobaddict and what's next for you?

A: There were many things that attributed to my inspiration to write Acrobaddict, but the catalyst that pushed my thoughts into action was the words from the Cirque du Soleil director Robert LePage. He said, “your story could others avoid the path you have chosen.” These simple and profound words from a man I truly admired gave me the fortitude to take action with a vengeance.

I began writing as a child, since it was my only true communication with an alcoholic mother as she was an avid reader, but what seemed to have come naturally to me was poetry. Throughout my addiction I kept journals blood-stained in poetry. Those words, at times, were my saving grace, for they became silent prayers, and in a few months, I will be publishing a book featuring these poems called, The Poet is Dead.

In addition to this, I’m finishing a horror book with the working title Diabolus Hora, and I’m currently in school trying to become a physician’s assistant. This fall, I will be speaking to high-school and college students about addiction, bullying and following one’s dreams.

Q: Looking back, was there a turning point while using?

A: There were countless turning points. I was truly the guy in 12-step recovery, who kept relapsing, holding up my hand to say, “I’m Joe, and I have one day back.” I had already been through overdoses, homelessness, rehabs, and institutions, and knew that this was going to be my future.

I realized my addiction was never going to go away on its own, and I had to take action, repetitively. I was a chronic relapser, and everyone had given up on me, and this is why I tell people to, never give up. Every time I wanted to give up, I imagined myself an old man with the same problems, and this terrified me worse than death. Imagine living a whole life in the vacuum of addiction? I could, and this is why I continued to try over and over.

Eventually, it worked. If I can, you can.

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