Lifetime Achievement Award Interview with Anne Shallenberger

How did you react when you found out you won The Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award?

There just seemed to be so many people, so to be singled out – it took me aback. I have always worked in the background. When I first came in to AA a woman came to my hospital room. I was hospitalized because I’d quit drinking cold turkey. There were a rough couple of days, and I was hospitalized. Ann Hoy came to my hospital room. She was a friend of a friend of a friend and she came to see me. She took me under her wing and took me to my first AA Meeting outside the hospital. She guided me to The Council. At the time, it was a ground floor office with two rooms and just a handful of employees.

What did it mean to you to have someone you didn’t even know come to support you?

Oh, it meant the world to me. Here I was embarking on this new life, this new lifestyle. To have somebody there to guide you…she guided me to The Council. She said, “The only way to keep something is to give it away” So, that’s been my credo that I’ve gone forward with.

That is profound. Is that what initially attracted you to serving at The Council?

Absolutely. At that time, we started volunteering to do this and do that – book sales and workshops. There were all kinds of activities to volunteer for. Also, all of my life I had been saying, “Does anybody need a piano player?” And they needed a piano player! So that worked out well.

You’ve had more than 35 years of service to The Council and the impact of what you have accomplished is truly extraordinary. What advice do you have for other individuals that are in service?

Keep it up! It’s such a worthwhile cause. There are families that are torn apart by this disease. It is like knitting families back together, whichever member happens to be in need of The Council’s services. And there are so many things that The Council offers to everybody: the family, the person who is suffering from addiction. It’s a win-win.

One of your many contributions to The Council’s recovery community was your role in starting and overseeing the Noon 12-Step Meeting at Jackson Hill.

Oh, not I alone. Really, I think it was several friends and other board members. We decided that it would be great to have a noon meeting. So it was I that volunteered to be the treasurer and take the Monday meetings. It just rolled along, everything was just great for about nine years. I collected the money, and kept up with the rent and quarterly donations to the General Service Office and Intergroup. I had also been the treasurer of the Post Oak Club back in my infancy. I would collect the money from the Post Oak Club, bring it home to count, and then deposit it in the bank. But in the interim I thought, “Oh my God! I can’t keep all this money around!” So, I put it in my extra clothes hamper. And that’s exactly where I used to put the overage of my liquor! I thought to myself at the time, “I used to keep my liquor in here and now I keep money from the AA meetings. Oh dear!” (Laughs.)

One of your most remarkable and lasting contributions to The Council is your role in helping to start the luncheon series. You’ve shared before that when the luncheon began you were charging $50 per ticket, which was considered very expensive at the time.

I remember Claudine Henderson was the wonderful president and director of The Council. When we told her we wanted to have a fundraising luncheon, she hadn’t heard of anything like it. I think it was in the 1980’s that most of these fundraising luncheons started that continue as we know them today, charging a good amount for a ticket. Until that time, all anybody had been doing was having $10 spaghetti dinners, so it was a new concept. I remember Claudine saying, “Do you think anybody is going to pay $50 for a lunch?” So, we were thrilled when we got 300 people or so.

Today, our luncheons attract about 1,000 people per event. What has it been like to watch the luncheons evolve? Could you have ever envisioned such a change?

Never. Never in our wildest dreams. We just thought The Council needed some extra funds, and was not getting enough to do what we wanted to do. So, we thought, “Well, let’s do something!” It started there. It’s been a ride.

We’ve talked about some of your notable contributions: you helped launch our luncheons, have served on various boards, helped start the Noon 12-Step Jackson Hill meeting, and oversaw our capital campaign just to name a few. In all the work you’ve done, is there anything that stands out as your favorite?

Oh gee. They’re all my favorite! Incidentally, when we decided to launch the campaign – I think that was in 1995 – I had just been voted onto the board of the McCullough Foundation, thanks to my brother. The McCullough Foundation was not started by my parents, but my aunt and uncle. So I thought, “Isn’t this wonderful? That I now have this resource available, because I don’t personally have the funds, but I can do this. It just happened. (Points upward) Thank you!

You shared that when you first came to The Council it was a two room office with just a handful of employees. So much has changed over the years. What do you think has been the biggest change in treating addiction? What does the landscape of recovery look like today?

Well, I think it has evolved into treating all facets of recovery from the sufferer itself to the family. It is so important to have treatment for everyone, because it completely changes the life of the family or even the relationship between a husband and wife. There are so many adjustments. All the things families suffer on account of addiction and the addicted person have to be shored up and pointed in a new direction.

Do you feel like there has been a change in the way the community responds to addiction?

Oh I think by all means, addiction and treatment has been accepted by the majority of the public. It had some growing pains in its infancy. Over the years it has been so hush-hush up until probably the 1970’s or 1980’s. People became more open minded about recovery and addressing it.

Do you have any hopes for The Council for the future?

I hope The Council keeps doing what it’s doing. It’s been wonderful what The Council has done under the direction of Mel. He’s been great. I’m so glad he’s in charge.

You hired him! You were on the board that helped hire him. Tell me about that.

I ran against him! Well – briefly. I had a notion that “Oh, I think I can do it,” but I was dissuaded by my friend and mentor! I thought I better just stick with piano and bookkeeping.


What do you think is next for The Council? What do you see in our future?

Nothing but grandness. I think that there are so many avenues to explore in recovery, the sufferer – the one who is seeking recovery – and the family members and friends and associates. I think that the word has really gotten out in the last 20 years to friends and family about recovery. They understand. At first, it was a little bit rough.

What would you say to the people that don’t understand?

Well I think everybody is addicted to something or other. I think you can draw a correlation. I think it’s human nature. It’s something you like and it makes you feel good and you do it some more.

One of the things I’ve heard you mention several times today was family. It’s an important topic, and certainly at The Council we have a family focus.

Well you know, the family is such a close knit group. When one piece is taken out or put back in, it’s confusing. There is conflict. That’s why there are so many divorces after somebody decides to sober up, because it’s not the same person. It’s not the same relationship. The spouse of an alcoholic has learned to manipulate that person because of the alcoholism, and when that is taken out and things are above board – it totally changes. And then the poor children. I grew up as a child of two raging alcoholics. That’s how they operated their lives. My father had a clock in the family room that had all fives on it, so it was always five after five. Both my mother and father were alcoholics till the day they died, so I thought nothing of their lifestyle. They would get together with their friends and meet at the house and have drinks, and then go out and “terrorize” a restaurant, and then come back for the proverbial night cap. That was just the lifestyle, so of course I thought everybody lived like that.

Is there any kind of message that you would share with people that are actively affected by addiction and are trying to face this disease?

Well, I don’t know what message I would send them except: think about how it all plays out. People in that posture can’t see or even look for the light at the end of the tunnel. I just wish them well and hope they will find recovery. Because it is so much more than abstaining from your drug of choice. It’s building a new life. It’s touching into one’s value system. It was the first time for me. It will make you realize what’s really important.

As you are sharing all of these reflections with me, I can’t help but think about how important one person can be. You are only one person, yet you have made a profound impact. And your story began with Ann, and her impact, which in turn rippled down to you.

There are just so many of us. It’s not just one person. I don’t know, it’s the spirt. It’s contagious. You could say, “Oh yeah, let’s do that!” And then we would find out it can be done, so you do it again.

Is there anything else you think is important for people to know?

There’s nothing more dramatic than just thinking of one day at a time. In everything. One day at a time. That’s all we have.