Alcoholism And Addiction

Here’s another excerpt from my book.  We need to keep our eye on the ball when it comes to addiction. Debates and arguments can be both helpful and hurtful. It’s important to keep that in mind when we talk about addiction.

“Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” I think we need to do that more when it comes to alcoholism and addiction. There’s just too much debate and downright argument among people in the field, which can confuse those who need help and even prevent them from getting it.

Although more experts now call both alcoholism and addiction complex brain diseases and present scientific evidence for their claims, others disagree and have valid reasons for their own assertions. There’s also debate on how to best treat individuals who reach a point where they can no longer stop using a substance on their own. They go from using to abusing a drug or drugs and eventually find themselves addicted, which is why I’ve included alcoholism with addiction. Alcohol, like any other psychoactive drug, legal or illegal, can become quite a problem for some people, and while other drugs are perceived to be more addictive and cause greater problems, alcohol is reported to be the most commonly abused addictive substance today.

That said, marijuana, often viewed as a less harmful drug than others and one that rarely causes addiction, is currently reported to be the second most commonly abused drug in the United States. And prescription drugs currently rank as the third category. Opioids, better known as painkillers, stand out as the most addictive and problematic drug of the group to date. When not taken as prescribed, these drugs have similar effects as heroin and are just as dangerous. Current reports show that the number of prescriptions written for painkillers has greatly increased over the years, and opioid abuse, including heroin, is reported to have reached epidemic proportions. I could go on with sadder statistics, like the high rate of overdoses caused by this epidemic, or talk more about the complexities of addiction, including behavioral addictions like gambling. But statics change, and my goal here is to do what Albert Einstein said. Here goes.

Obviously, not everyone who abuses a substance becomes addicted. If everyone did, almost everyone who likes to “party,” as we said back in my day, could develop what some professionals call a substance-use disorder. There are, however, common risk factors for becoming addicted, which include genetics, our family history, age (the earlier we use a drug, the greater chance we have of becoming addicted), family and social environment, a bad childhood, sexual and physical abuse, other traumas, and those we hang around with. And then there is the type of drug being used; some are more addictive than others.

Despite these known risk factors and scientific studies done to help us better understand addiction, we still don’t know exactly why some people become addicted and some don’t. What we do know is that there are varying levels of addiction affecting a lot more people than we previously suspected. These include people from all walks of life who don’t face the dire consequences we see and hear about in the media. So, while it’s gravely important to help those who are destroying their lives, their families, and their health (or, sadly, already have), there’s a larger group of people who need help too. There are those, like me at one time, who don’t fit the stereotype but still have trouble quitting on their own. Getting help through AA or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) usually isn’t a welcome option for them—no help really is. Many don’t believe they have addiction problems, even when experiencing troubles. They can miss work and family events due to hangovers, have their share of arguments with loved ones when drunk, and even receive DUIs during drinking adventures—although people are prosecuted for driving under the influence of other drugs as well. They just convince themselves that next time will be different. Of course, some of them (like me, again) may simply be used to living a lifestyle where drinking is what you do and shit happens sometimes when you drink too much.

It may be hard to understand why people keep drinking in light of personal troubles, and perhaps it’s even harder when an illegal substance is their drug of choice, but many of them have become good at justifying their continual usage and believe their own excuses not to quit. I find that one of the most common justifications for not quitting comes from the comparison these folks often make between themselves and the stereotypes I mentioned. They simply don’t feel they’re anything like the “real” alcoholics and addicts the media seems to focus so much on. They haven’t lost everything. They don’t steal or do other terrible things to obtain drugs. And few experience withdrawal when not using their drug of choice—although some report that they keep using prescription painkillers because of withdrawal symptoms.

However, what is quite common between them and the stereotypes they sometimes show disdain for is that they either deny they have a problem or rarely stop using even when they know they do. Science explains why these things can be common among people who abuse drugs, but again, in keeping with the idea of making things simple, I’ll sum it up like this: long-term drug use affects different parts of the brain, including those responsible for reasoning, decision-making, and behavior, and most drugs of abuse target the brains reward system. Basically, when a person uses an addictive substance it floods the system with a naturally occurring chemical called dopamine, which results in feelings of pleasure, and while this is why most people like drugs, some of us fall in love with the euphoria we feel. It may even seem like we’ve found a new friend, but eventually, that friend lets us down. Our drug of choice no longer provides us with the same feeling it once did, so we use more of it but still find ourselves unable to be happy and unable to quit.

I can certainly relate to this situation. As you know, I was blind to the fact that I had a problem and definitely found it hard to quit. As you also know, my drinking was a way to escape the fears and insecurities I felt. In fact, sometimes just planning to go out and get drunk helped with my fears and temporarily made me feel better. I know that drinking temporarily helped me feel better about myself, which is why I believe a lot of people use drugs to begin with. They can be confident in many areas of their lives and have a high sense of self-esteem, but they still aren’t as happy as they want to be in life or with themselves. This is why I sometimes ask people who want my help, “Why do you need a drug to be happy?”

Thankfully, I got the help I needed to figure that out, but sadly, this isn’t the case for a lot of people. The successful businessman or businesswoman, the politician, the schoolteacher, and other confident types you would never suspect of having a drug problem in fact do, but they are too ashamed to seek the help they need.”

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Family

We don’t get to choose our parents—the moms and dads who are supposed to guide us and love us. And some of us wind up with parents who clearly should never have had children. But, if we can, we should find a way to forgive them. I did this by understanding that my mom and dad never had the skills they needed to be better parents, and I focused more on what they did right—like let me know I was loved. I also encouraged my own kids to do this, and as a result, they too know they were greatly loved as children and always will be.

Still, like most parents, I wish I could go back in time and make up for the things I didn’t do right, especially when it comes to my son. My work with teenagers taught me what I didn’t know how to do as a father with a young boy (and later a young man), but he survived with his mother’s help and loves me today. My wife may not have been able to fully make up for my lack of parenting and neglect, but the job she did raising our children was quite remarkable, considering I could be like a child myself at times—although my immaturity did help in some situations.

My humor and antics made my kids laugh and helped cushion the blow of having a father who drank. But that doesn’t change the fact that, like me, they sometimes had to make the best of their family situation while growing up. But I’m living proof that it’s possible to become a better parent and make up for what we didn’t do right when our children were young. And I promise to continue doing this until my last breath.

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Why I Needed A False Ego

From Chapter three of my book. This was a few years before I started drinking on a regular basis and the beginnings of a false sense of ego that I used to feel better about myself for many more years to come.

“I believe that having role models when we’re young can be of great benefit, depending on who those role models are and how they behave. I couldn’t count on either one of my parents to be a role model, but I ended up having two as a teenager that greatly influenced me. The first was a famous boxer named Muhammad Ali, the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. And the second was the uncle who was like a brother. Now, I realize there’s a big difference between these two people, but make no mistake about it, they both had a big influence on how I behaved as a teenager.

Muhammad Ali was actually the reason I decided to start boxing. Not only was he famous and always the center of attention, but he was also very confident in himself, and people just seemed to love him. And at that point in my life, I wanted to be just like him. So much, in fact, that after deciding to be a boxer earlier that year, I found a local boxing gym to go to that opened in the fall and religiously worked out on my own all summer. I’d get up every morning at six o’clock to run, and in the afternoon, I’d throw punches at an army duffel bag I filled up with all kinds of stuff. It had been my dad’s from when he was in the army, and it was so heavy that he had to help me hang it on a large wooden beam that ran along the ceiling of our small, unfinished basement.

I later added a speed bag, which I put up myself, and learned how to hit the small, fast-moving, pear-shaped bag without missing a beat. Finally, the local gym opened up, and I nervously went there, not knowing what to expect. I was fortunate that the person running the boxing program turned out to be a wonderful human being and knew how to deal with a fifteen-year-old like me. He encouraged me to work hard every day. He must have seen potential in me, because he introduced me to a person who had won a few different amateur titles when he was younger, and he became my new trainer. He liked Muhammad Ali too and didn’t seem to mind that I imitated Ali’s boxing style, which was to dance around the opponent, throwing quick jabs and right hands, and leaning away to avoid punches. I also boxed this way because I was afraid to get hit. Of course, when you only weigh 115 pounds and everyone you spar with is a lot heavier than you, getting hit can be scary. He knew this, though, and helped me hone my boxing skills and become more confident in my abilities. In only two months, I had my first amateur fight, and even though I was extremely nervous, I won the match.

Though I was so skinny, I dreamed of someday weighing 160 pounds and becoming the middleweight champion of the world. And after I won that first fight, I started acting like Ali in school. I did this by bragging and writing poems and showing people how fast I was, throwing multiple punches in the air. And I loved the attention it gave me. It even helped me feel good about myself. But, deep down, I knew I didn’t really have the level of confidence I was displaying. I also didn’t believe I was someone important, and soon, I developed a false sense of ego to help me feel that way. This false ego not only helped me to pretend to be something I wasn’t, but it also enabled me to temporarily overlook the fears and insecurities I had. For instance, when I walked through the halls in school by myself. I often felt left out and alone as I watched other teenagers walking together, laughing and talking about stuff. It almost seemed as if I was in a foreign country and didn’t know how to speak the language. Naturally, I would try to talk to the other kids, but I simply didn’t have the social skills to carry on a serious conversation and often felt nervous. The only place I felt comfortable was in class, where I made everyone laugh, including the teachers. However, as I said, being a boxer made me feel good about myself, and I would continue improving.

As a matter of fact, by April 1976, with only three more amateur bouts under my belt, the gym entered me and two other boxers in a Golden Gloves tournament. Our gym was only an hour and a half away from where it was being held, which was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and boxers from other states would compete as well. I won my first fight fairly easily, beating a strong kid from Philadelphia, and because there weren’t many entries in the weight class I fought in, all I had to do was beat some guy from New Jersey to win the tournament. However, he was a lot tougher than my last opponent, and I was really nervous before the bout. I had seen him score a first-round knockout in his last fight, and my trainer knew he was a seasoned fighter. (I found out later that he had more than twice as many fights as me.) But because I was in tremendous shape and didn’t want to lose, I beat him by a close decision and was declared the 112-pound Mid-Atlantic AAU Golden Gloves Champion. I had my picture in both the school and local newspapers, and all the attention I got me made me feel better than any drug I had ever taken.

However, like a drug, the high I felt didn’t last. School ended in June, and so did the attention. But even though the gym was closed for the summer, I was able to combat the sadness I had initially felt by having fun with my uncle again. I had actually spent some time with him the summer before, but unlike that one, I hardly worked out over this next summer, and when the gym opened back up, I was really out of shape. As a result, I didn’t do so well sparring with fighters I had had no trouble with before, and it immediately shook my confidence. I at least tried to get into better shape, but something in me had changed that first week back, and my heart was no longer in it. I decided to quit boxing.

I remember coming home one evening and going straight to my room where my boxing trophies were and staring at them until tears came to my eyes. I had already decided that if I couldn’t be the best boxer in the gym, I wouldn’t box at all. My dream of being middleweight champion was now over, and I didn’t know exactly what I was feeling as I took my trophies down and put them away. I believe that with a little guidance or reassurance from one of my parents, I might have rethought my decision to quit or at least understood what I was feeling, but like other times in my life, neither one of them picked up on my emotions. My decision to stop boxing was something I regretted for a long time, and although I had one more bout when I was seventeen and won another trophy, I would never box competitively again.”

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Insecurities And Self-Esteem

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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