LH Blog: The loss of Eddie Quinn, a recovery legend
Quinn himself struggled to stay sober for years but also died with years of clean time under his belt last week. The man will never be forgotten by those he helped fight addiction.
“Mix it with air” was a piece of advice for everyone who came into contact with the late Eddie Quinn.
It may seem like an odd thing to say. I thought the same thing when Quinn, who died peacefully in his Philadelphia home Wednesday at the age of 70, first told me that while we smoked Marlboro cigarettes in the parking lot of Steps to Recovery in Levittown, Pennsylvania, where I went to treatment last summer for the first time.
In reality, the message was simple: When in distress, talk about it openly and honestly.
Quinn, who himself struggled to stay sober for years but also died with years of clean time under his belt, could be heard offering the sentiment to both clients at Steps to Recovery and to those at meetings such as Cocaine Anonymous.
"‘Mix it with air’ as he preached is a reminder to never be alone and talk it through. This is tremendously sad and the loss is immeasurable, however, Ed’s passing is overshadowed by all the good he has done,” said Steps to Recovery Executive Director Manny Rivera in a statement last week.
“No one will ever know how many calls this man took in and out of work. I remember many conversations where Ed would tell me at 2am taking calls to people looking for guidance. Ed was always on and always a beacon for help. He believed in our mission through the hardest times, and I can assure you all, that will never perish. We will keep his memory alive forever through our everyday work. Thank you Eddie for being the absolute best person I could ever know."
I first met Quinn last summer as I struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction but came to the realization once again that I needed to get clean and sober.
I was instantly taken aback by his raspy-voiced advice when he first approached me. He knew I was struggling. But he also told me how a life of sobriety was possible to achieve.
The man never seemed to be without a cigarette in his hand — something I could relate to. I noticed some burn holes in his shirt and pants; he seemed like my kind of guy.
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“You know what your problem is? You’re too smart for your own good,” he often told me.
But one quote in particular had the most impact. It didn’t make sense at the time, but I soon could not get it out of my head.
“I don’t care how you feel,” he said. “I care what you do.”
Quinn told this to many struggling addicts, whether it be in meetings or during brief talks over a cigarette in the summer heat.
“Ouch,” I initially thought. “This guy is kind of an asshole, but for some reason, I can’t help but like him.”
Quinn often offered this advice along with some cuss-filled rants about getting the courage to accept that one was an addict and relegate the addiction to a higher power, always making it clear he wasn’t a therapist.
He said he was not technically qualified to talk about a client’s trauma and feelings — by traditional therapist standards. But he made it clear that he respected someone who was willing to take the actual steps to get clean.
Quinn was a devout follower of the 12-step program, and he could cite every word verbatim from the literature of Alcoholics Anonymous.
He built many relationships through the program and shared unforgettable experiences with some of those he met.
Upon the news that Quinn had died, which was posted on a Facebook page shortly after his death, stories about Quinn flooded in.
I will quote some of the social media posts, although I will keep names anonymous to protect the identities of Steps to Recovery employees, current and former clients and others who may not wish to be named.
”When he passed down his 10 year medallion to me on my anniversary… so special. I push myself to be a better person because of Eddie,” one individual said.
I wasn’t that kind of 12-step guy. I rejected what I thought to be a religious-based program.
But he insisted it wasn’t about religion; it was about spirituality and following a strict program to accept one’s addiction, acknowledge a higher power and make amends to those whom people had harmed amid active addiction.
I still was hesitant.
I didn’t participate in 12-step meetings at first. But after fighting those feelings, I finally came to the realization those at the meetings were doing exactly what he suggested: mixing it with air.
“Eddie had that stage-like presence; someone who always knew exactly what to say, even when his humility conceded that ‘the only thing I do know is that I don't know anything,’” one individual said. “His mission was inspirational and I can only aspire to touch a fraction of the lives in my career as he did throughout his tenure at STR and in (Cocaine Anonymous). Eddie, you will be missed greatly but remembered eternally, and your legacy will be carried on by all of those who love you.”
One individual may have stated it best: “RIP to the man, Eddie Quinn.”
“Often caught myself thinking about him and hoping he was well,” they continued. “Eddie talked me into going to church with him on Father's Day, the year his son had passed away. Being that I'm not very religious, I jumped at the chance to follow Eddie outside to smoke and talk for the remainder of the service inside. Just a good memory. You'll be missed, Eddie.”
Another individual credited Quinn with keeping them in treatment.
“The man who stopped me from running away from treatment March 22nd 2016. This year I had 7 years sober,” they said. “He introduced me to my sponsor and helped me realize I could never ‘think my way out of a feeling.’
“I owe my life to that man and every life I have touched in the last 7 years has been a direct result of him spending a few extra minutes after a shift on Radcliffe’s porch with me a day before my 21st birthday.”
When battling addiction, one often wants to run away. It’s a terrifying experience.
Many want to give up, go back to their old habits and resume a tumultuous life despite oftentimes recognizing the devastating effects of addiction on those around them.
Quinn was an individual that every recovering addict deserved. I’d like nothing more than to hear his raspy voice again tell me to “mix it with air” or to admit I had no power over my addiction.
Quinn impacted the lives of an innumerable number of addicts. No one who met him will forget his strong-handed approach to recovery, cuss-filled comments and infectious laugh.
I love you, and I’ll miss you, Eddie Quinn.
I may have fought with you over my refusal to accept anything that even remotely seemed religious, but I hope to see you again one day.
You were one of my greatest mentors, and many others can say the same. You did what we all should strive to do: live sober, enjoy life sober, and move on from this physical world while being able to say you didn’t drink or drug that day.
At the end of the day, all I can say is that I hope you rest in peace.
Quinn’s obituary can be found here. His viewing and Mass of Christian Burial took place on Sunday at Tomlinson Funeral Home in Bensalem, Pennsylvania.
“In order to honor Edward's memory, donations can be made to STR (Steps to Recovery), 400 Veterans Highway Levittown, PA 19056,” his obituary states. “To plant trees in memory, please visit the Sympathy Store.”