Founder of Flow Recovery Retreat
Matt Dunne’s Addiction Recovery Journey
“Everyone likes a success story, but what everyone really loves is a comeback story. And so, this is mine. My comeback story began on February 27th, 2017, the day I got sober.”
From 1995-2017, Matt held various roles in corporate sales and business development for companies such as ADP, Microsoft and IBM, as well as start-ups in the advertising technology and pharmaceutical consulting space.
In addition to his duties as CEO of the Flow Recovery Retreat, Matt is the performance psychology instructor, helping clients develop the mental skills for optimal performance in recovery and in life. With the awareness, discipline and patience to use the mental skills tool kit, Matt helps clients engage in the process towards mastery.
Relying heavily on Cognitive Behavior Therapy approach, he also teaches the Relapse Prevention at Flow Recovery Retreat.
Matt holds a Masters in Science in Sport and Performance Psychology with a concentration in Positive Leadership from the University of Western States, in Portland, Oregon.
He is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Education in Sport and Performance Psychology from the University of the Western States (Spring 2024).
Matt holds a B.A. in American Studies from Fairfield University, Fairfield, CT, USA
Like so many people before me, once I surrendered to my powerlessness over alcohol and pills, my life changed for the better.
Prior to getting sober, I spent 22 years in sales and business development roles for Fortune 100 companies ranging from ADP, Microsoft and IBM, as well as advertising technology and pharmaceutical consulting start-ups. On paper, my life was fantastic. I had well-paying jobs, a great apartment in New York City, a condo at the beach, a wonderful, caring, beautiful, funny supportive girlfriend, a good set of friends, and a caring extended family.
Inside though, I was profoundly unhappy. I drank and used pills to deal with my thoughts and feelings around my fears and insecurities. Now, looking back, I realize that’s why I drank from the time I was in high school and college.
As a friend of mine from AA says, “Drinking used to be fun, and then it was fun with problems and then it was just problems.” Eventually, at the age of 44, and many years of “just problems”, I was cajoled into going to rehab. After 28 days in rehab, I was sure I was done drinking. But I half-assed Alcoholics Anonymous, didn’t commit to an aftercare plan, and within two months I started drinking again. And as anyone in the sober world will attest, when I picked up again, my drinking and life only got worse.
Eight months after I left my first rehab, I was entering my second. That was February 27th 2017.
This time I took the suggestions of my counselors. After rehab, I continued outpatient care. I participated in a relapse prevention class to help me understand the thoughts and feelings that lead me to drink or take pills. I still credit this class as one of the main reasons I am still sober. (Thank you, Grady!)
However, in those first few months I was sober, I had no idea what to do next. All I knew was I needed to continue to improve on my mental, emotional and spiritual growth. I also knew I couldn’t go back to the “people, places and things” that contributed to drinking. Alcoholics Anonymous was, and still is, fundamental to my recovery. Without sobriety, I know I have nothing.
But as I started to accept that part of myself, I was having an existential crisis. I kept thinking, “OK, now what? What do I do next?”
All of my adult life I kept thinking “if I could just find the right job, then I will be happy.” But it wasn’t just about work. It was a mindset I had cultivated my whole life. Fear and insecurity were the primary drivers of my decision-making. Fear and insecurity, masked by my addiction, impacted my ability to perform my best at work, in my relationships, and in life. Fear and insecurity took on many forms, but more often than not, that fear was disguised as practicality. “This job pays well, has great health insurance, a 401K and stock options, etc.” How else was I supposed to pick a job? How else do most of us pick a job?
I would happily pursue something I enjoyed doing, if only I knew what that was. Rare is the person who finds a calling to work. I lacked the drive and devotion of an old girlfriend who pursued acting as a career. I lacked the determination and dedication of my roommate from college who became a doctor. At least that’s what I thought. But what I truly lacked was the internal motivation to pursue something I enjoyed doing or more importantly, pursue a life that had purpose and meaning.
In my first year of sobriety, I did a lot of self-reflection. I returned to the stacks of nonfiction and self-help books I had accumulated over the years, reminiscing about where I was living, who I was dating and where I was working when those books entered my life. In the past, when I read those books I would think, “Well good for them, but I don’t have the character traits they have. That’s just not me.” Now, through the lens of sobriety, I was looking through these books again and thinking, “I can be better. I want to be better than I have been.”
I found myself gravitating to the biographies of exceptional leaders, athletes, coaches and philosophers like the Stoics. I read about their vision, what they wanted to accomplish, their mindset and where they found the motivation to achieve great things. Having gone through my own personal failures, I was particularly interested in how these leaders and athletes responded to setbacks and failures. Where did their resilience come from? When things looked hopeless, how did they bounce back?
So, purely for myself, with no agenda, other than to cultivate a stronger mindset, I began pursuing my masters in sport and performance psychology and was inspired by the core principles:
- Finding a greater sense of purpose
- Cultivating intrinsic motivation
- Focusing on process rather than outcomes (routines)
- Developing distraction control strategies to improve focus and attention
- Regulating anxiety
- Practicing visualization and imagery
- Nurturing mindfulness
- Creating the conditions to achieve a “flow” state
- Committing to mental toughness and resilience
I realized the guiding principles behind sports and performance psychology could be applied to help people in recovery, especially as a guide in the early days of sobriety. The seed began to germinate, and I started thinking about sober homes and sober communities.
The traditional sober home model usually serves as a safe place to stay with other people in recovery. They may offer some activities and encourage attendance at 12-step meetings. However, some lack structure, neglecting their clients, leaving them to meander and stagnate while others can suffocate their clients, isolating them from the community, encouraging dependence. Very few provide a more holistic approach to addiction recovery.
I came away from rehab thinking, “everyone should get the chance (regardless of having a substance abuse problem) to go away for 30 or 60 days and work on themselves. Do yoga. Get some individual counseling to get better self-awareness. Go to group therapy to have a shared experience and get some perspective on your challenges in life. Practice mindfulness. Workout your body to exhaustion.
So, I decided to create a sober-living community where performance psychology informs the overall philosophy and structure of our environment and how this mindset can be applied to your recovery and your life. The traditional sober home model is usually a safe play to stay with other people in recovery. While they may offer some activities and encourage attendance at 12-step meetings,
The primary objective is to use the principles of psychology to enhance human performance, in every area of your life, especially in your recovery.
Let me help you with your comeback story.