Insecurities

It seems that quite a few people today, with apparent insecurities about themselves, act as though they have a very high sense of self-esteem. I first noticed this through the arrogant and often outlandish behaviors some of the teenagers I worked with displayed. Although it is, of course, understandable for young people to act in such ways due to insecurities, seeing older people behave like that made me wonder if they really had a true sense of self-worth. I was actually able to talk to my teenagers about their behaviors and my own as a young man, and while many of them admitted to feeling insecure, only a few said they had low self-esteem. This wasn’t much of a surprise, as it was hard to get them to admit certain things about themselves sometimes. After pressing them a bit more, I’d end with the question, “Can you look in a mirror and say ‘I love you’ to yourself and mean it?” This usually made them laugh, but almost all of them would say they could. I would rarely challenge them any further on the issue. I knew time would tell if they were being honest, not just with me, but with themselves. But since then, I’ve talked to people of all ages about the type of behaviors I see today, and I’ve figured out something very important.

Starting in the eighties, changes began taking place in many of our movies, TV shows, magazines, songs, and commercials, and over time, as these changes kept becoming more extreme, they caused two generations of people to display a sense of vanity and self-importance that belies their true insecurity.

First, look at how our movies and TV shows became more extreme. Not only has there been a continual increase in the amount of crime, violence, sex, and drug use shown, but in some cases, these things have actually been made to look glamorous. Also, think about how music has changed. Little by little, more songs came out with lyrics that basically glorified sex and violence and made the pursuit of money and fame seem like the all-important goal that everyone should have. Then there are the TV commercials that few could argue haven’t become more extreme. Although they’ve always been a way for businesses to advertise in clever ways and thus increase sales, they have used a lot more science and psychology over the past several years. Studies show they have the ability to affect people of all ages, making them think they won’t stack up unless they use, wear, or own a certain product. Don’t believe me? Take a look around the next time you’re out and about.

Unfortunately, these extreme (and, I must add, often negative) changes don’t stop there. Our video games have become increasingly more violent and now project a level of realism that can’t be psychologically good for anyone who plays them all the time. Then, of course, there’s the Internet. Although many good things can be found when browsing the World Wide Web, it’s certainly an outlet for extremes of all kinds. From pornography and violence to really outlandish behavior, the Internet became a way for people to watch almost anything they want and express themselves any way they want. Again, there are many good things on it—positive videos to help others and even instructional videos to help people learn how to do a number of different things. But we rarely hear about the good things found on the web. The bad things, sadly, often include the erratic, attention-seeking behavior of people who want (and sometimes need) to feel like someone special. It seems that the bar has been raised to encourage us to be something we’re not. And it has been lowered for academic achievement and family values. Add in the news media and its persistent bombardment of us with awful events, and perhaps you can better understand why we have, in effect, become a desensitized nation and why some people act the way they do.

Although everything I’ve talked about can and does have an adverse effect on us as a society, our youth seem to be affected the most. Young people have become more desensitized due to these extreme changes, and while many show good manners, do well in school, and have career goals they’re willing to work toward, some display behaviors that at one time simply weren’t acceptable. Sadly, still others act out in bizarre ways in hopes of reaching some form of perceived stardom. And while I’m sure the attention they get makes them feel good about themselves, this feeling can be fleeting, and I have yet to see proof that these types of behavior build a true sense of confidence and self-esteem in anyone. I have, however, seen proof that trying to be a better person than before can open up the door to the type of self-love we need to be happy with who we are.

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Overcoming Obsessive Thinking

The word obsess comes from the Latin word obsidere, one meaning of which is “to besiege.” Being someone who has, at times, obsessed over something, I can say that if we’re not careful, thoughts can besiege our minds, take us out of the present moment, and rob us of any enjoyment we might otherwise experience. In my drinking days, I often obsessed about one thing or another, and depending on what it was, I could find myself filled with such emotions as resentment, anger, self-pity, or anxiety. This was always wasted time on my part; I never looked for solutions if there was a problem. And nothing I obsessed over was ever as bad as I originally thought it was. But mostly, I simply could not stop thinking about something once it became ingrained in my thought processes.

Fortunately, I learned how to turn these types of thoughts around, so to speak. Whatever it was I started to obsess about, with practice, I was able to keep it to a minimum and eventually stop thinking about it altogether. The practice I speak of was to literally redirect my thoughts to something else, something fun, or telling myself how pointless it was to keep thinking about it. And I often talked to someone about whatever I was obsessing over. It took time to break free of obsessive thinking, but it was never as bad as the days when all I could think about was getting drunk. That obsessiveness almost always led to the same conclusion: my mind besieged with worry, distress, and often hopelessness after a night out drinking.

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Introduction to Facing Our Fears

“If you’re reading this something must have caught your attention—and maybe there’s even a reason for it? My hopes are that whatever the reason, the words alcoholic and god don’t deter you from reading the entire book. This is because my story isn’t about alcoholism and addiction and has nothing to do with the God of the Bible. In its most basic form, this is a story of change through growth, both spiritual and personal, and how it helps us become more confident in ourselves, to love ourselves, and to finally be happy with who we are.”                —Darryl Duke

“Is there a god?” and “Why are we here?” are questions I’ve heard answers to many times throughout my life. Some came from people of faith who said there was a God and that we’re here to do his will, while others came from people without faith who said there isn’t a god and that life is what you make out of it.

Although I was never religious, I guess I always believed there was some kind of god who helps us in our lives and never worried about anyone’s answers until I was forty-one years old. That’s when, with everything going good in my life and me being happier than at any other time I could remember, I started doubting this belief and soon found myself feeling sad and afraid. One morning in particular, while feeling depressed and unimportant, I began wondering about my purpose in life, and it occurred to me that maybe there wasn’t a god. A fear like I have never experienced before came over me, and I began to feel empty inside. With help, I was able to overcome the fear I felt, and the emptiness would go away. But over the next few years, the doubts in my belief would still sometimes surface and make me feel afraid. Finally, one day while full of doubt and fear, I decided to seek reassurance that there was some kind of god and a purpose to our lives. Now, at forty-four years old, although I’m still not entirely sure why we’re here, I try to believe that something created life and the universe for a reason, and I talk to it in the shower.

Through that time, I found that reading nonreligious books on what others believed about a god and our purpose in life would bring me some relief from the fear I felt. But because none of those books gave me the total reassurance I was looking for, I eventually turned to science to try to find some kind of proof that there was a god. Several things I read actually caused more doubt and fear when it raised the question, “If there isn’t a god, does life still have meaning?” However, as I continued my search and acquired more knowledge about life and the universe, that question was replaced by these: “Does a creator help us in our lives? And, if so, will it help me end the doubts I have and overcome my fears?” And now, with those questions slowly being answered, not only do I believe more in the possibility of a creator, but I also believe more in myself.

I wonder sometimes, though, if this need for reassurance really did start three years ago, or if it actually began the morning of April 27, 1996. That’s when, hung over and on the verge of losing my family, I decided to get sober and prayed to whatever god I thought there might be for help. When I drank, my life would slowly get out of control, and no matter how much heartache, sadness, or worry this would bring, I couldn’t stay sober on my own. Once, when I was thirty, I even asked a former drinking buddy for help, because I knew he had been sober for a while. He told me that the reason he no longer wanted to drink was because of a more spiritual lifestyle he now tried to live. He also told me there was a possibility that I was an alcoholic and that maybe spirituality was the answer for me too. I tried it. But after only eight months, I decided to drink again—why? Did God let me down? Or did I let myself down? Maybe I just wasn’t ready to quit and live like my friend did. But after several more years of drinking, and more heartache, came that frightening morning when I knew I couldn’t go on living the way I was.

Today, no matter how unfavorable my current circumstances are, I try to believe that everything will be all right and remain grateful for what’s good in my life. And I also have a lot more confidence in myself now than I had before. I do wonder, though, what’s been different this time than when I tried to stay sober before. Has some kind of god finally decided to help me now that I’m trying to lead a more spiritual life? Or have those things come about because of my own ability to create them? My hopes are that the answers to these questions will unfold as I write this book and try to achieve other things I want in life. For example, I want to try to love people even if I don’t like them. I want to keep growing spiritually and as a person, and become less fearful and insecure. I also want to be OK with not having all the answers to life and enjoy it even more. And finally, if there is something to explain our lives after we die, I want it to help me explain to you why I’m searching for reassurance and purpose.

So, if you’re like me and don’t believe in the God of the Bible or a devil or hell, then read on. And if you’ve also been searching for something more in life, then please read on.

This isn’t an autobiography, but it does contain the parts of my life that helped shape who I am and filled me with the hopes and beliefs I have so far—ones that make me realize that although my journey from fear to belief in myself has been a long one, it’s far from over as I set out to find my purpose.

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Putting Ice On The Black Eye Of Alcoholics Anonymous

For those wondering if any bad things they may have heard about Alcoholics Anonymous are true, well, let me say that some things could be better about it. However, the black eye many give to AA isn’t always fair. Self-promoting authors may put down this program, but it has saved countless lives over the years. Usually, such an author is trying to sell a book about how best to recover from addiction, and sometimes he or she even has an alternative program that costs money. (AA is free, so their way has to be a lot better, right?) There’s even a film being made about the horrors of AA. What has perhaps hurt AA’s reputation the most, though, is the often mandated attendance of meetings for those charged with DUI violations. These are people who would never have gone to meetings on their own. They include good people, not-so-good people, and those with criminal backgrounds.

Another fact is that people have changed a lot since 1939 when the first official book, Alcoholics Anonymous, was published. Also referred to as “the Big Book,” it could be said it was like a bible for many alcoholics. I use that word because, despite the mention of a higher power that people can use to help them remain sober, there is a lot of talk about God in it. I’ve personally met people, with and without substance-abuse problems, who shy away from conversations about God, and others who get angry if you bring up the idea that there is one. Imagine how people like that could feel if they’re told they have to go to AA meetings, on top of the fact that they don’t even have drug or alcohol problems. The truth is, getting a DUI isn’t proof that someone has a problem. In fact, statistics bear out that people who get DUIs usually learn from their experiences and drink more responsibly after that. Statistics also show that many people get sober on their own. No counseling. No therapy. And certainly no twelve-step meetings.

Alcoholics Anonymous worked for me because I did exactly what was suggested in another book written for AA called the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. It was published in 1952 to help people who were high-bottom alcoholics—they didn’t drink every day or lose everything. They were people like me who remained in AA long enough to be emotionally well on their own. Not perfect people, but ones who became stronger, more confident, and more caring in their lives through meetings and by practicing the Twelve Steps as presented in that book.

There are different paths that people with alcohol and drug problems can take that better suit them than Alcoholics Anonymous. As I said, there are some things that could be better about AA. But the same can be said about the whole recovery field in general. All I wanted to do here is to put some ice on the black eye that Alcoholics Anonymous has received, in my opinion, somewhat unjustly. This black eye they won’t try to take care of themselves, because they won’t change with the times. For example, among other outdated ideas, they still believe in the principle of attraction for the organization to survive (rather than promotion).

I get it. What they had to offer definitely attracted me. I liked the idea of there being a god of some kind, and I liked the idea of living a more spiritual life. What I don’t like is when any program that can help save someone’s life is attacked. In this case, it’s a program that hasn’t done anything wrong except for pretty much staying the same all these years.

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Humor Me

Although I’ve made progress in not being the “funny guy” all the time, I never want to completely stop being one. It’s helped me to see the humor in many circumstances that used to upset me, and I believe that laughter can actually be a healing experience. Today I realize how important it is to be able to laugh when things go wrong and also to be able to laugh at ourselves. Being able to do that is a sign of growth. It shows we can be happy with who we are, even when we do something goofy. And it’s a great asset to have in sobriety.

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Changing Ourselves For The Better

An emotional excerpt from my book. I was writing about an AA speaker’s meeting in 2004, where I shared my story to celebrate my eighth year anniversary sober.

“I would also reach my eighth year sober that month and once again share my story. This time, however, not only was my wife there, but my daughter as well, and it would be a very emotional day for me. I was fine in the beginning, but when I got to the part about how I often chose drinking over being with my children, I began crying and had to stop for a few seconds. I was still quite emotional as I told everyone that despite this, my daughter was still a daddy’s girl when she was little, and after explaining how this changed as she grew older, I once again had to stop as I sat there and cried. I finally regained my composure, and confessed how sorry I was for not spending more time with both of my children, and then talked about other regrets I had because of my drinking. Although my daughter and son weren’t exposed to every argument I started with my wife, they both heard more than they should have growing up, and as I was telling them this, tears once again came to my eyes. Other people started crying too, including my wife and daughter, and after a few moments passed, I went on to explain how my drinking had affected the whole family.

I also shared what my daughter had recently said about my drinking and the impact it had on her personally. She moved out when she was 18, and she said it took her a few years to come to terms with certain things from her childhood. I then added that what was important to me now, was that she had forgiven me, and that my relationship with her and my son was good today.

I then went on to say that I believed this was made possible because of how the Twelve Steps helped me stay sober and change as a person, and explained how this change also helped me believe in the possibility that something created life and the universe for a reason. After that, with time running out, I pulled a piece of paper out of my pocket and told them that another reason I believe what I do is because of this poem my daughter wrote for me last Christmas. I then cried a little as I added that even though she may never be a daddy’s girl again, this poem shows she loves me and has forgiven me.

If  you taught me just one thing
It is to love with all you have
But you taught me so much more
Through the good times and the bad

You showed me how to feel
Or at least passed this along
Even when I felt pain
You taught me to hold on

You proved that anyone can change
If you look within yourself
Even if you are feeling lonely
There is no need for someone else

You see the good in people
And have no tolerance for hate
I keep this in mind wherever I go
Even if I am always late

Genes have given me your sense of humor
I am goofy just like you
But you have made me realize
I can laugh at myself, too

There is no shame in crying
But self-pity is a waste of time
You and I have learned together
The power of the mind

You encourage me to believe
In more than just this life
Even when things look all gray
I know it will soon be all right

You are aware of your past
And have learned from your mistakes
You have taken your weaknesses
And turned them into strengths

You have shown me how to face your fears
And always tell the truth
Everyday heroes do exist
And you are living proof

The times when you thought you had failed
The times when you didn’t know what to do
These are the moments you had no idea
That I would learn so much from you

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Relapses Of The Emotional Kind

Although statistics show that less than half of those who remain sober for a year relapse, and less than 15 percent relapse after five years of sobriety, you should still realize that it is a possibility, especially if one is prone to having relapses of the emotional kind. This is when our thoughts and behaviors become similar to the negative ones we had when using a substance and we find it hard to reverse them. Personally, I don’t worry about drinking again when I have an emotional relapse—my behaviors aren’t nearly as bad as they were back then, and I’m able to change my thoughts to more positive ones. And although I do have a healthy fear that under the right circumstances, I could find myself thinking about getting drunk, it would take a lot for me to do so. Along with some huge resentment, tragic circumstance, or complete nervous breakdown, I’d have to entertain the thought of drinking for a long time first, and then decide to drive to a bar, go inside, order my first beer, and then actually pick it up and drink it.

I’m not trying to be arrogant here. I’m fully aware that some drugs are more addicting than others; heroin and prescription painkillers come to mind, as do the unfortunate deaths that can occur from abusing them. However, I don’t believe that relapse is a part of recovery but a part of addiction. It’s a part with the power to kill, which is why I believe it’s important for people to hear that not only is recovery possible, but so is finding greater happiness in life. Today, I know that drinking wouldn’t make one thing better in my life or replace what I’ve found in my sobriety.

I also know that even after all these years sober, it still doesn’t make sense to me to have only a few beers, so I’m sure I’d get shitfaced right from the start.

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