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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I’m Not Sick Anymore

Some people don’t like using the word “sick” when describing someone with an addiction. I get it. Just like the words alcoholic and addict, saying someone is sick can add to the shame and stigma associated with addiction, and prevent a person from getting the help they need.

But was I sick? Yes.

Although I didn’t drink every day and I seemed to be doing well in life, I wasn’t. I had fears and insecurities, not of the normal variety, that made me emotionally sick.

As a result, I was overly jealous of people and an extremely jealous husband. I felt like I needed to prove myself at almost every turn—believing deep down that I didn’t stack up to others. And I tried to be something I wasn’t, often acting out in arrogant and egotistical ways, in an attempt to feel better about myself.

I was also spiritually sick.

I should have been a better person than I was. A better friend. A more loving husband. And certainly a more loving and caring father.

Not that I was a bad person. I tried not to do things that I knew I shouldn’t, and I actually did some good things in my drinking days. But I just couldn’t sustain a better way of living. Sooner or later my fears would overwhelm me. My insecurities would become too great. And I would turn to the only thing that I thought could help me with how I was feeling.  Even when riddled with guilt, I could not stop drinking for a long period of time, and I would return to the behaviors that actually made me feel worse about myself.

Eventually I got help and began living a different way, but I was still emotionally and spiritually sick in the beginning. But as I remained sober, my brain healed. And as I kept trying to be a better person than I was before, I was no longer sick.

I had changed the things about myself that needed to be changed. The thoughts and behaviors that didn’t make me a bad person, but along with my drinking, kept me emotionally and spiritually “sick” and prevented me from becoming the person I always wanted to be.

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I Should Video Tape This

I recently watched several old VHS tapes with recordings of family on them, and cried more than a few times as memories of moments gone by came rushing back.

Some of these recordings were from the family vacations my wife and I took our son and daughter on, while others showed us doing different activities with them. And some were of the kid’s birthday parties and family get-togethers my wife loved to have.

I saw happy people laughing and having fun, while being the camera man and making comments that I thought were funny, but I’m sure some people didn’t. And I saw myself in the videos as well.

The recordings were from an 8 mm camcorder I bought in 1993, and even with poor picture quality due to time and other factors, they were still fun to watch. Well mostly fun to watch.

The recordings on ten VHS tapes show moments from September of 1993 to New Year’s Day 2000. But the first two and half years are from my drinking days. Vacations where I was clearly buzzed on the boardwalk. Stuff I did with the kids, like making funny videos, where drinking beer was also involved. (Just me, not the kids.) And the birthday parties and family get-together my wife loved, where I made sure alcohol was on hand for the adults.

One of these videos, recorded in January of 1996, stuck out though, because it involves my children and was recorded just four months before I quit drinking for good.

I had been drinking for over 18 years and was very unhappy at that time, plus I didn’t have a clue what life was about. But there the answer was being recorded yet again, as I drank instead of truly enjoying moments like this with my kids.

I cried at times while watching it. And it made me wish I had quit drinking much sooner.

Although the video shows a mix of fun, happiness, laughter, and togetherness, it also shows the behaviors of a man who thinks he’s being a good dad, but sadly, like life, doesn’t have a clue what being one is about.

Besides my obvious drinking in it. (I take a few sips of beer on film, and make a joke about it each time.) The fun we were having, while not bad in any way, clearly demonstrates the sometimes subtle and hidden dysfunction within a family that a non-stereotypical drunk like myself, can create. (I didn’t drink every day. Still had a job, a home, and some money in the bank.)

What the video doesn’t show, however, is what contributed to the dysfunction, and to my drinking. The fears and insecurities I had all my life.

Here I am in this video, 36 years old, and you would think I was more of a funny friend than a father to my children. My immature behaviors and sometimes unfiltered words are anything but role model quality. And although no one would shudder or think what they saw was awful. I saw a lack of emotional growth in myself, and someone who used alcohol to face their fears and insecurities.

I don’t beat myself up over my past anymore, and even through my tears I knew I was at least trying to be a good father back then. But I simply was not capable of being a better one. (Thankfully they had a wonderful mother who knew how to be a parent.)

I wrote about my childhood in my book, which was far worse than anything my kids ever experienced. But I know my mom and dad tried to be good parents, and I watched them change for the better through the years. Which brings me to the video recordings after I quit drinking.

Watching those tapes, I can honestly say I slowly improved as a father, and as a husband. I wish I had tapes of family recordings up to now. I know they would show my continual improvement as a father and husband. And perhaps more importantly, continual improvement in myself.

As I remained sober, first through Alcoholics Anonymous and then on my own, improving on myself contributed to becoming a better parent and spouse, and certainly my long-term sobriety.

Actually there is another video that stands out that was recorded in August of 1996. It’s the first family vacation we went on after I stopped drinking. Like the other one, it shows a mix of fun, happiness, laughter, and togetherness, but doesn’t show the fears and insecurities I had.

What’s different, though, is that in this one, I was ready to face life sober, and finally become the person, father, and husband I never knew how to be.

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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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And I Love Me Too

“I was never a lover of hard liquor in my drinking days; I simply loved my beer and how it made me feel. Well for a while anyway. Of course, I always loved my family more, but sadly drinking often came first, even when I didn’t want it to.  Thankfully, I found a way to stop drinking and was able to show my wife and kids more love. However, my greatest discovery was finding a love I had heard about and never experienced, which was self-love. After I learned to love myself, and do so unconditionally, I was able to love people, even though I didn’t like them. Love life, even when I was going through unwanted circumstances. And forgive myself, even when I did something I didn’t like myself for.”

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The People I Love

I never asked to have a problem with alcohol, but then who does?   No one asks to become addicted to a substance.  However, some do, and it’s those people I want to help.

I didn’t get sober to grow as a person, I got sober because I wasn’t happy. I didn’t stay sober because of me, I had help along the way until I was able to remain sober on my own. But I did grow and I did become happier in life.

I didn’t write a book and start a blog to say “look at me, ain’t I wonderful.” I did so in an effort to help others look at themselves and see a wonderful person.

So maybe my growth, my happiness, and my passion to help others was meant to be, I don’t know. I just know it helps me to love myself.   Something more people need to do, especially those who use a substance to try to be happy and it fails them, much like alcohol eventually failed me.

I never asked to have a problem with alcohol. But I’m actually glad I did. While there are some things I might like to change about my past, I’m not sure I would.  How would I know the difference between what was and how I feel today?

I’m happier in life. I’m happy with myself. And I’m happy to be able to help others.

None of this necessarily makes us a wonderful person, but it does help us feel wonderful about ourselves. Especially those of us who never asked to become addicted to a substance, but did.

The people I want to help. The people I love. The people who need to love themselves.

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