Book Looks At Treasures Within Book

October 17, 2011


Many members of United Steelworkers Local 6500 believe they owe their decent wages and benefits to the efforts of their trade union.

One of its former members says he owes the union his very life.

Allan McDougall was 37 in 1987, had left his family and was living in a flophouse off Elgin Street, hanging around under the Paris Street bridge and drowning his troubles in the bottom of a bottle.

He managed to hold down his job with Inco Ltd., working at various mine sites and suffering a back injury, but his "goal" was to kill himself drinking, McDougall says today.

One day he was drinking at the Ledo Hotel and decided, "I couldn't do it any more," he says in an interview.

"So my choices were that day to commit suicide, to keep drinking and end up in an institution or get sober."

McDougall remembers the day and even the hour that he walked in the doors of the old Steelworkers Hall on Frood Road and asked for help from his union.

It was June 3, 1987, about 10:30 a.m. when he began talking with someone from USW's employee assistance program. The man listened to McDougall and suggested they go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting together.

That pivotal moment in McDougall's life is chronicled in his book Breaking Through: Discovering the Riches Within, which McDougall will launch in Sudbury today.

McDougall went on to work at Creighton Mine, worked with the union's EAP, and now lives and works in Pittsburgh as head of the United Steelworkers Emergency Response Team, reaching out to families whose loved ones are killed or injured on the job.

He has never experienced the death of a loved one at work, but he has raised himself up when he was very low.

McDougall says he never would have sought the help of a therapist or dialed an 800 number to access an employee assistance program. Nor would he have attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

Even though "98% of the people I worked with knew I had a (drinking) problem, I was still trying to hide it," says McDougall.

He recalls the first AA meeting he attended was a Wednesday at noon at the Sorrento Hotel. He figured if the meeting didn't go well, he knew the bartender at the hotel and would walk across the hall for a drink.

One man's story spoke to him, McDougall recalls 24 years later.

A man named Mike said that in 10 more days, he would have four years of sobriety.

" That message resonated into my heart of hearts, and made me think that maybe I (could) do this," he says.

If that man had said he had been sober for two weeks or 35 years, it might not have had the same impact.

He never had a drink again. Five weeks later, he spent his vacation at a detoxification/rehabilitation program at the Camillus Centre in Elliot Lake. Rehab isn't "the answer to ever ything," says McDougall, but it gave him time to "look at my issues" and make some decisions.

He met a man there who talked about writing a book, and McDougall decided he wanted to do the same.

He thought, "if he can do this, I can do it. So that was my seed 24 years ago."

McDougall reasoned if he was going to write his story, he had to first live a successful life. He began journaling, later recording some of his writings into a book (he doesn't type), working on the book weekends and during vacation time.

After moving to Pittsburgh in 2006 to head the revamped Emergency Response Team, writing a book that was positive and full of hope helped him find balance.

People have asked him if writing the book has taken a toll on him, says McDougall.

His answer is no.

"Trying to live the 23 years before I wrote it to be of value so I could write a book," was the hard part.

McDougall's book chronicles his life growing up on a dairy farm in Goderich, following him to Sudbury in 1970 when he began working in the mines.

For more than two decades, McDougall says he went 3,000 feet underground to mine riches for someone else.

Exploring the 18 inches between his head and his heart has been more difficult -- and more rewarding.

"It's not about me," says McDougall of Breaking Through. "It's about overcoming struggles. The bottom line is this: 'If Al McDougall can do it, anybody can do it.' "

Since 1987, McDougall has built a successful life, earning a Bachelor of Arts in labour studies and a master of science in labour administration in the U.S.

He has started a company called and works as a motivational speaker.

"I'm a success in spite of myself," he says.

McDougall is looking to connect with old friends and new at his book launch and signing from 4:30-7:30 p.m. at Bryston's on the Park in Copper Cliff. The public is invited to attend.

Leo Gerard, international president of United Steelworkers, will introduce McDougall who will speak briefly about his life.

McDougall is working on a second book, again a book of hope based on vignettes from families he has counselled in tragic times.

Copies of Breaking Through, published by Brewster River Press, will be for sale for $24.95.

[email protected] Twitter: @Carol_Mulligan


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