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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Am I ‘Two’ Insecure?

I’ve found that when it comes to having doubts in life or in ourselves, we can be insecure in one of two ways. We can look up to people who are confident and strong, and be inspired to grow and be like them. Or we can be jealous of them and act out in ways that we think make us look confident and strong.

I was the latter of the two during my drinking days. But once I stopped drinking and admitted I needed help staying sober, I was fortunate to find people in Alcoholics Anonymous who understood me. People who loved me unconditionally, and explained how my pride and ego were to blame for my vain and pretentious behaviors, and my unhappiness.

I didn’t always like some of these people, but I listened to them anyway because I wanted to be like them—happy and sober.

In time I began to see that what they called ego was really fears and insecurities, and although I eventually stopped going to AA meetings, I still continued to change the things about myself that prevented me from growing both spiritually and as a person. (Mostly my negative thoughts and behaviors.)

I don’t pretend to be the most confident person today. Nor do I pretend to be the strongest. But I have grown enough to continue looking up to people who are, and try to be like them.

I’m just grateful that all those years ago (almost 21 now) that I found the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous and people there who wanted to help me stay sober. People that expected nothing in return, and were still growing themselves.

People I will always remember.

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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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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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That Idea Just Doesn’t Fly

“In the early years of Alcoholics Anonymous the word pigeon was used as a term of endearment for new members who carried the message of hope and recovery. That’s fine. But with the shame and stigma of addiction still so prevalent in today’s society, the idea of calling someone a pigeon just doesn’t fly with me.” ~Darryl Duke

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Being Happy Without Being Special

“I’ve been sober for over 18 years, and the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous as they are written in the book Twelve Steps And Twelve Traditions were an instrumental part of my early recovery. I would read them everyday and I memorized most of what I read. I also practice them, of course, and even though I’m no longer a member of AA, I still try to follow the last three Steps as best I can today. It doesn’t make me special, but it does make me happy.”

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Understanding The True Meaning Of Love

Have you ever noticed how we use certain words to express ourselves without really thinking about their true meaning? We use the word insane to describe a person or some situation without regard to what true insanity can be. We say we’re depressed when we’re really just feeling down or sad. And we say we hate something when a simple “I dislike that” is actually closer to the truth. We do this with the word love as well. We say we love a certain food, some song, doing something, or some celebrity we don’t even know.

We can also overuse the word love, and perhaps take away some of the meaning to it. Have you ever felt almost parrot like when telling friends or family you love them every time you say goodbye on the phone, after a visit, or when leaving the house? Although I tell my family I love them all the time and mean it, I will admit there have been times when it was simply out of habit.

Another word we overuse without thinking about its true meaning is addiction. I hear people say things like “I’m addicted to Facebook,” “I’m addicted to chocolate,” or “I’m addicted to…” You can add your preference of video game, hobby, outdoor activity, or inanimate object here. Depending on your age, you may even remember a song called Addicted To Love. “Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love” went the chorus, and boy did I love that song when I was younger. Whoops there I go again.

Despite my attempt at humor here, as a recovered alcoholic I take addiction very seriously. Although I wasn’t like the stereotypes you see in movies and TV shows, I did drink without control at times and I often chose drinking over being with my family. One could say that the love I had for alcohol was stronger than the love I had for my family, but when I think back to the many attempts I made at getting sober, love for my family was almost always the reason. I know it was certainly a factor in my last attempt, which resulted in a continuous sobriety of over seventeen years now.

However, while it may be true that love helped me to get sober, it’s also true that had I not found Alcoholics Anonymous, I may never have come to realize that I needed more help than what love alone could give me. This is because love has very little to do with addiction. I was unable to love myself, I was unable to give my wife and children the love they needed, and near the end of my drinking career, I no longer loved drinking.

The thing was, though, that I still continued to drink and at some point the word insane, defined as “a state of mind that prevents normal perception, behavior, or social interaction; seriously mentally ill,” became an accurate definition of my thinking and my life. Perhaps this sounds like a harsh description for someone who didn’t drink everyday, did well at work, and had a few dollars in the bank. But even when I was desperately close to losing my family for good, I still couldn’t stop drinking on my own.

Fortunately what I found in AA, and especially in The Twelve Steps, was a way to change my thinking and my behaviors, and begin to understand the insanity behind my actions. I also found a love that I never had before, which was self-love. It was in doing so that I realized when we love ourselves, we can express it to others more easily and fully understand the true meaning of the word.

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