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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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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Don’t Fear Your Happiness

I’m wishing everyone a Happy New Year. And a sober one should help ensure that. When I look back over my 21 and a half years of sobriety, I can honestly say that the biggest obstacle I faced was fear.  Fortunately many of the fears I had turned out to be the boogeyman, and the ones that turned out to be real, helped me to grow and become a stronger person. So while not everyday may bring us happiness, we cannot fail to be happy by facing our fears, knowing that we will find greater strength in doing so.

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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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Almost Done

I’m still working on my book, plus it still needs to be edited. I had hoped to have it done and published much sooner, but that’s OK. I couldn’t have added some of the things I did without the experiences I had over the past two years. They say good things take time, and although my book is already good, with a little more polishing, it promises to be a very good book. I’ll try to add a few new posts in the meantime, and I want to thank all my blog readers for being patient while I’m still polishing. 🙂

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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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Facing Fear Of The Unknown

I like this song; it fits in with my message of overcoming our fears and insecurities. I discovered the song through a Facebook friend I went to school with who commented that they love the unknown. Apparently like me, they’ve learned how to face their fears and grow stronger from the experience. I honestly can’t say I love the unknown yet, but I can say I’m not as fearful of it today.

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