Jan 19, 2011 by


Editor’s note: This is a story born of a deep friendship and great love on so many levels. The story unfolded on Facebook, so I include the conversation that led up to the remarkable treasure that John and his wife, Donna, have agreed to share. All of us would love to hear your thoughts so please leave your comments. When any of us share this much of ourselves, it is good to hear your thoughts.

Valli Keller

Valli to John 11/7/2010 10:30AM

You are a surprising and brave fellow my dear friend.
I would love to know how you quit addictions. Maybe you should publish that!

John to Valli 11/7/ 2:43PM

My dearest Valli; No foolin’ around here, this is serious stuff. I will tell you right out that I have given our formula to others in the past. It worked for some and for some it didn’t, so right off the bat I want to be clear that I am not claiming to have a magical elixir, or curative power, I will only relate to you what Donna and I decided to do in our own lives.

We had just returned from a two-year stint of working in a casino in Sparks, Nevada. While there, I went through the pit, dealing 21 and all of the other things one does in a gambling hall. I also hosted a carousel of slot machines for a time but I finally ended up as a bartender in one of the busiest bars in town. I looked at being promoted to bartender (I had some previous experience but not a lot pouring booze) as a recognition of my personality. Bartenders made more money than the pit bosses. It was nothing to count $250 to $350 in tokes (tips) every night when we got home. Donna was a Keno runner and a good one and she made good money too.

In that environment drinking was a part of the whole casino experience. I began to drink straight shots of VO, increasing from a double to a triple to the point that when I ordered a drink from one of my fellow bartenders they would just fill a rocks glass with booze. I estimate that I was consuming a quart of liquor a day. Well as you can guess, that didn’t last very long. My behavior became nasty, I openly disagreed with my boss on a number of things until one day Danna said, “It’s time to go home Johnny. We need to change our lifestyle.”

We had just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary and I saw her reasoning. We returned to Ventura and I got a job as head bartender in a new dinner/nightclub in Ventura. That lasted until I got into an argument (while drunk) with my boss. I was immediately hired as head bartender at an exclusive cocktail lounge at the Holiday Inn, the “Crow’s Nest”, where once again booze was instrumental in my firing. I then worked as a bartender at a working man’s bar “The Derrick Room” where I not only broke up fights between the customers, I participated in them. All of this time Donna was working as Head of Sales for an exclusive hotel at the Channel Islands Marina. She was doing great. I was on a road to disaster. After a particularly shameful display of drunken arguing about my drinking, she left me. I immediately got out a bottle of Crown Royal (my tastes had improved) and spent two days in our apartment feeling sorry for myself and sinking lower and lower into a death wish.

I am going to shorten the story here as it involves some innocent people that I would not want to harm. The essential gist of the story now is that just after Christmas 1980 I was a 49 year old drunk whose wife had left him, who had no job or prospects and was at the end of his rope. Donna agreed to go out with me on New Years Eve that year, but only if I didn’t drink. I agreed and we went to a party where the celebrants were all mild wine drinkers if they drank anything. While we were dancing, I realized that there was a huge hole in my life. I wanted my wife home with me where we could live and plan the rest of our lives together. I said to her, “I am going to quit drinking Donna.”
She asked, “When?”
I said, “On my 50th birthday.” That was 8 months and 17 days away and I meant what I said, but also in the back of my mind, like all substance abusers, I left a tiny door open. “Perhaps I’ll just not drink as much.” She came home with me that night and we have not been apart more that a couple of hours since.

Now for the promise: When I said those words, they seemed to have come from out of nowhere. I hadn’t planned on saying them, I was only interested in getting my wife back home with me. But the more I thought about what I had said, the more I liked the idea. I am not stupid, I knew consuming that much alcohol was having deleterious affects on my body and it was certainly having an effect on my relationships with friends and relatives, so the more I thought about it the more it appealed to me. Could I actually quit drinking? Then I asked myself, “If I can quit drinking can I quit smoking too?”

Now I am not a particularly organized person. I have kind of drifted through life being reactive rather than proactive, but this time something went off in my brain and it said, “JOHN, IF YOU REALLY MEAN THIS YOU HAVE TO HAVE A PLAN. WHAT IS YOUR PLAN JOHN?”

I said to my voice, “I will wake up every morning telling myself the number of days I have before I no longer drink or smoke. When I do have a drink, I will always precede it with “ONLY THREE MORE MONTHS AND TEN DAYS AND THEN YOU’LL BE HISTORY.” Donna and I did this religiously until it became a prayer, a hymn, our peaen of hope as it was Apollo’s.

Each day that passed enroute to August 17, 1981 was a reinforcement of a plan. It included experimental times of denial of liquor and cigarettes. We would go two or three weeks, then a month, without drinking or smoking. We learned we could live and be happy with out them.

Now the really good part. When we had a sober week under our belts we celebrated by re-enforcing our commitment to sobriety. We did that regularly with each other, with our family and with our friends until it became old hat to say, “Hey Donna, you realize it’s been a year since we had our last drink?”

And it just grew from there. There have been hiccups along the way. We took a story to heart that alcoholics could have a glass of red wine a day and it wouldn’t hurt them. We stopped that when we both realized we couldn’t stop at just one glass. I have smoked a cigar after winning the booby prize of a golf tournament, but quit after a few puffs as it was an ugly experience.

SO MY DARLING VALLI, THERE IS OUR SECRET. I’m sure it is not new. But it is a formula that worked for us and we are supremely proud of ourselves for taking our lives back and becoming better people for it. If there is any part, or all, of this that will work for you for your family or a friend, please use it with our blessings and our blessings to those who still have to find their way out of the morass. We love you dear Valli and we send you our SOBER wishes of our deepest regards and good will.

P. S. Please reply after you read this. I need to know if I expressed my formula clearly. JWSIII
Your friends
John and Donna Strobel

John W. Strobel III November 7 at 3:04pm

Donna wanted to add: When you wish to break a bad habit, set a date in the future when you can declare yourself free of that habit and then concentrate on achieving that goal. That was the overall gist of my story above but she wanted to clarify it so no one would mistake our meaning…JWSIII

John W. Strobel III November 7 at 10:30pm

My dearest Sweet Pea, Vallirella, Cindervalli, and most importantly Editor in Chief; I sent you my last note at 5:25 on Sunday afternoon. It is now 10:00 p.m. and I have had a chance to digest some of the things I told you about our becoming sober. They are all correct and accurate but I have an empty feeling about the sum total of the words I used to give you our formula. Perhaps it is the nightmare you described with your brother that you went through and the differences that led up to our being able to quit drinking and his inablility to keep living.

You see I went to bed thinking of your family. Their cases were so different than mine and yet I had the audacity to write to you as if what worked in my life might help you in theirs. As you saw above it took me three times to get “elixir” right. I hope it doesn’t take that many times to get this well intended account of my path to sobriety correct.

I love you dear Valli and with that statement comes all of the meaning of love. Please accept my foolishness as a reminder that I still have a problem with my intelligence. I can be very dumb at times.

With all of my love and best regards.
John W. Strobel III

Valli Keller November 9 at 10:10pm

You, my dear sweet Johnny, are never foolish or dumb. I asked about your method because I always love to find success stories. Everyone has to make their own life work. My brother could not. He had so many things stacked against him. His substances were only part of his problem. Ironically he died just about 6 weeks before his 50th birthday – the same birthday you used to become sober.

I also know that the 12 step programs don’t work for more than a small percentage of the population that uses them. And people who use 12 step programs are usually addicted to cigarettes, sugar or both. But addiction is so pervasive in our culture. So when someone has a success story, I want to hear it.

Thank you, to you and Donna both, for sharing this rather amazing invention of yours. I wonder if the success had anything to do with the fact that you attached it to a significant birthday. Or if it had to do with the length of time you delayed it – giving yourselves time to really WANT the freedom. What I find most fascinating is that you used sobriety as a reward rather than a deprivation. And, of course, you had each other for reinforcement. That must have been part of the success.

What you gave me with your method was a gift. You never said it would work for everyone or would save any other life. You offered it as hope because it worked for you and Donna. And I will be forever grateful to Donna for leaving you and slapping you up-side the head to get your attention so you are still here for me to adore. I will be even more grateful to Donna for agreeing to come back to help you figure out your method. Maybe this will help others as well!

Has anyone else tried it that you know of? Would you, maybe, consider making this an article? It’s a rather amazing story. It would be a way to get The Strobel Method out there.

Thank you for thinking so much of me. I love you too – so very, very much. You are an extraordinary person, John W Strobel III. To be loved by you is luck beyond measure!

I send my love and gratitude in return,

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  1. The courage for John and Donna to share is especially timely with the ups and downs of alcohol and drug addiction coming to the forefront with the latest media wonder Ted Williams. Alcohol and drug addiction is a disease that is a severe drain on the spiritual, emotional, and mental health of our nation and community. Your walk towards sobriety is commendable. You and Donna are blessed to have the strength and determination and every othr attribute you’ve used to make life better. God Bless you both. Thank you for sharing.

  2. You are and will always be a hero to me. (Vallirella)

  3. William (Bill) J. Nelson


    The manner in which you and Donna defeated your addictions was truly
    courageous – the fact that you willingly aired the story, virtually to the world, was equally if not more courageous. It would not surprise me if it benefits someone out there having a similar problem. God Bless!!!


  4. Great story John! And so well written. I learn more about my wonderful friends John and Donna with every one of your stories. Keep up the good work and I’m rooting for you to get a book published (maybe a bunch).

  5. My dearest EIC (Editor In Chief) Vallirella and Brooke Leigh Sheldon;
    It is 3:30 a.m. January 20th, 2011, a little more than thrity years since we made that fateful decision to change our lives forever. The one thing I left out of the account of our becoming sober was if I ever had any regrets. I think the reader deserves to know that yes there were a few times when I hankered for a swallow of the firey liquid and the friendship of my old drinking buddies, until one of them died of cirrhosis of the liver. He was a talented musician/entertainer with whom I had worked on a nightclub circuit. When I visited him in the hospital, just hours before he passed away, I looked down upon a bloated yellow body of a very creative man for whom I had such great respect. We held hands for a few moments and he muttered to me, “Johnny, stay away from booze, it’ll kill ya.”
    His message is in my heart forever and at least once a day I say to myself, “Thank you Donna, my children and my extended family and friends for supporting me in my efforts to stay sober.” No one can say “I’m cured of alcohol,” it’s a hideous substance whose abuse can lead to untold misery, but with resolve to live a better life it can be controlled.
    We hope our story helps someone find their way out of the mind numbing death wish of alcoholism.
    The last thirty years have been the best of our lives.
    John and Donna Strobel