Lectures at the fralin biomedical research institute
Lectures at the fralin biomedical research institute
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“I am 58 years old and have 69 years of recovery. Yes, you read that right, I combine 3 recoveries from three addictions. Each recovery was through a different recovery model and in each instance I have not relapsed. I feel very fortunate and wish to briefly share my success.
I was a three pack a day smoker, and the sloppiest smoker you ever saw. My car had 10 packs of cigarettes along the windshield, each with one cigarette in the event I ran out. In 1979 I I decided it was time to stop smoking. I went through a five week behavior modification program. I learned to change my brand of cigarette, change the way I held the cigarette, wait an additional 15 minutes each week after getting up or eating before smoking a cigarette, take hot baths every night to drain the nicotine from my system , keep a butt jar and other behavioral tactics. My last cigarette was February 23, 1979.
I had a problem with marijuana and cocaine. I began smoking marijuana at a small party in the summer of 1969 with about 500,000 friends, called Woodstock and if I missed 20 days over the next 22 years that was a lot. I developed a serious cocaine problem while in law school and would use cocaine 3-4 times a week. In 1991 I was stopped for changing lanes without signaling and the pungent aroma of the marijuana alerted the officer that I had pot with me, he busted me. I decided it was time to get help so I entered an Intense -outpatient facility. I attended from 6 PM to 10- PM 4 nights a week for 6 months, 2 nights for 4 months and 1 night for two months. This was a combination of group counseling, individual counseling, education, art therapy and 12 step treatment. I have not had a rug or drink since February 23, 1997.
I held on to my gambling addiction the longest. I loved all forms of gambling but my favorites were the racetrack and sports betting. My gambling began in high school with weekend card games and daily excursions to the racetrack. My freshman year at college I majored in gambling: backgammon from 2-4, gin from 4-6, racetrack from 6:30 to 11:30 and poker game from midnight to 8 AM. Through law school and 18 years as an attorney I continued to gamble. In 1996 I lost my passion for the law and decided to change careers and decided to becomes an addiction counselor. While going though training I sat in on a six hour lecture on compulsive gambling and heard myself described to a tee. If I wanted to help others didn’t I first have to help myself? I wrote a letter to the gambling lecturer and he invited me to dinner. He then suggested we go to a meeting, I agreed and have not made a bet since that date, January 12, 1997.
I continually address my character defects and go to 2-3 GA meetings a week. I now work in the problem gambling field, helping others with the problem on both a local and national level.
My 3 recoveries have really turned my life around. They have given me direction. They have allowed me to fulfill previously untapped potential. I have made wonderful new friends. I am in a great marriage that would never have been possible. John Lennon once wrote ” How can I go forward when I don’t know which way I am facing”? Recovery has pointed me in thee right direction and made me a productive member of society.”
“HOW DID I GET HERE?
I took my first sip of alcohol at age 13. I pilfered five or six one-ounce airline bottles of hard liquor from a cabinet in my parent’s half-bath and shared them with my neighborhood pals. I can’t say I remember much about that first taste of sin, other than I didn’t like the experience much. I do remember liking the taste of Cutty Sark scotch best. Even then, I had expensive tastes.
My next experience came when a girl I liked invited me over to her place while her mother was away. I plundered the liquor cabinet for another six bottles or so, sure that out of the 200+ on the shelves these wouldn’t be missed. We were maybe 15, foolish and inexperienced, and the alcohol loosened our pubescent inhibitions. But before anything serious could happen, her mother came home quite unexpectedly, and I dove off Tori’s bed and hid underneath it as her mom came in to check on her. She never smelled the alcohol and I spent the next three hours hiding out until she went to bed and I could make my escape.
In high school, alcohol wasn’t an issue. I never drank at parties and had no interest in raiding the booze cupboard again. I was seeing the damning effects of alcoholism on my dad. He’d come home from his demanding, stressful job, pour a water glass full of vodka, drink it all and pass out on the sofa with the TV on. He spent a few nights in the drunk tank due to DUIs. I watched someone I idolized destroy his life, career and family with booze, and swore that would never be me. Of course, my hidden addiction had other plans.
One friend brought a bag of weed to one graduation party, and I remember everyone thinking how cool and exotic that was. What a change from 1971 to today’s world for high-schoolers, where pills, heroin, meth and super-pot are readily available. It was a more innocent time, in so many ways.
I went off to IU in the fall of 1971, where booze, drugs and sex were common. I remember Playboy magazine voting IU the nation’s Number One party school four years running. The subsequent year, the Hurryin’ Hoosiers didn’t even make the Top 10 because, as the magazine editors explained, they refused to rank the professionals with the amateurs. And I started to fit right in with that culture.
I first experienced drugs in early winter 1972 on the night when my birthday was selected as the Number One pick in the 1973 draft. Shocked, scared and only thinking of blotting out the terrible reality of maybe facing service in Viet Nam, I stole a hit of orange barrel acid from my roommate/dealer, Ollie, and spent that night on a bad trip that included having to talk to my parents about my predicament. Needless to say, I remember nothing from that conversation.
Gradually, I progressed to more regular drug use. Pot and I became close personal friends. I made the acquaintance of a few other hallucinogens; other forms of LSD and a variety of native psychedelics including peyote, mushrooms and mescaline. Coke was a rare treat, and once we even smoked opium, but it left me lethargic and bored. Music was my high during this period, and I played often on stage at campus clubs and jam sessions.
Booze was available at mixers and dorm parties, but I could take it or leave it. I do remember my first experience drinking as an alcoholic, when a buddy and I split a full fifth of Cuervo tequila. I spent that night hugging the porcelain throne in the men’s bathroom at Rollins House, Wright Quad, and awoke with my first serious hangover. I never imagined I was on the road to becoming my father.
Out of college, I began working for the Indianapolis News, at that time the state’s second-largest newspaper which published daily afternoon editions. As a reporter and editor, I had to be in the newsroom by 6 every morning, and alcohol wasn’t conducive to early morning alarms. I roomed with two friends from the paper and used pot regularly.
My next step on the low road to alcoholism took place on a ski trip to Boyne Mountain in upper Michigan. At a huge mixer with hundreds of other skiers, I paid a flat fee for an all-you-can-drink wristband. For some reason, I started drinking terrible white wine from 32-ounce plastic glasses, guzzling down one after another. If I hadn’t consumed alcohol like an alcoholic before, I certainly did that night. I started drinking and couldn’t stop.
I wound up sitting on a toilet in the men’s room, passed out, and missed the last bus from the ski resort to the lodge where we were staying. It was below zero, I had no gloves or hat, and it was 3-4 miles to my room. I started walking, barely sober, knowing only where I needed to end up. Fortunately, another late departure from the party drove past and picked me up. I woke the next day with another miserable hangover and the promise not to repeat that stupidity.
Another ski trip led to my next alcoholic binge. I was with a group of journalists on a sponsored trip to Austria, partying in the mountain town of St. Anton, which can be described as a drinking resort with a skiing problem. Organizers held a “Mexican cantina” theme party and rounded up what must have been every bottle of tequila in town. Dancing with a beautiful Austrian doctor under pounding disco lights and music, I drank like there was no tomorrow. Of course, tomorrow came and I awoke so hungover and dehydrated from the booze and altitude, I experienced the worst headache of my life and missed my rendezvous with the seductive blond physician I’d promised to ski with that day.
Still, alcohol played no major role in my 30s. A few beers if I went to a concert or a club, maybe a glass of wine with dinner. In fact, alcohol didn’t taste good to me then. That started changing as I entered my 40s. I discovered that I enjoyed good red wine, and especially appreciated its ability to enhance a nice meal. I found myself coming home from work, opening a bottle of red while I made dinner, plus a glass with the meal. But always, the cork went back in the bottle and I had a half-bottle for the next evening. I thought I was in control.
And that’s how it went. I was raising my kids, enjoying my life and wine was an adjunct to that, not a major part of it. I remembered my hatred of my father’s alcoholism, and saw that feeling amplified as I watched him die of cancer induced by a combination of booze and smoking. Defiant to the end, I remember going to brunch with him after he’d had radiation therapy on his oral cancer. Even as he said he wasn’t drinking any more, he ordered a large glass of vodka and spooned small doses into his ice water so he could ease it past his radiation-burned throat. All I could feel was sad that he was subjected to something he couldn’t control.
But by my 50s, wine was becoming more influential. Many nights, I finished the entire bottle during dinner and after. I still appreciated life, played music and wrote articles at night. But something was changing. If something came up that interfered with my drinking, I started having anxiety attacks. I missed a major magazine assignment because I had to stay sober to do the interview, research and writing and the stress caused me to drink as a relief. Alcoholism had arrived. I was no longer in control.
My job responsibilities added to it. For 5-6 years, I was traveling internationally extensively. Stuck in business class on a 12-15 hour flight, booze became a way to kill the boredom of interminable flights. Alone in strange hotel rooms where there’s nothing in English on the TV, I started emptying minibars. I became an expert at ferreting out the nearest grocery or convenience store in foreign cities where I could buy bottles of red wine and spirit them back to my room. Agonizingly late nights, feeding depression and anxiety, led to sleep deprivation and aggravated my jet lag.
At home, I suddenly NEEDED that first bottle of wine when I got home. I left the office with the back of my throat dry and dusty at the anticipation of that first sip. I made sure I was always stocked up, and often opened the bottle before even taking my jacket off when I walked in the house. My life began to revolve not around family, friends, music and enjoying home, but around always having a bottle ready to open. I started buying box wine because it was cheaper and I didn’t have to open four individual bottles. Of course, that meant drinking four bottles instead of two. Weekends became a drunken blur with the first sip starting as early as 9 a.m. some days, passing up opportunities to be with friends and my son Sean because I needed to stay home and drink.
Saturdays meant always assessing how much wine I had and making sure I could get through Sunday with what I had. On weekend nights at first, then during the week, I was drinking until midnight, passing out, and then trying to go to bed at 3 or 4 to catch a few hours sleep before work. I started calling in sick with migraines to cover my most severe hangovers. At lunch at work, I often would close the door to my office and curl up for a 45-minute nap, hoping no one would knock and open the door to find me flat out on the floor.
I knew serious trouble was at hand. I talked to my doctor, sought the services of a therapist, and tried to quit. I went through 12 sessions of the IOP at Valle Vista, but dropped out when I decided I had learned all I could from them. Arrogant and cocksure, I never went to AA meetings, never found a sponsor. And predictably, I relapsed after six months of sobriety in October 2013.
Fourteen months passed. I drank more, missed more work, skipped nearly every event and activity I has previously enjoyed. I detoxed several times on my own, managing a few periods of sobriety lasting up to 30 days. But I always relapsed.
So the week after Christmas, after laying awake and sweating in bed for hours several nights in a row, I decided I was sick and tired of being sick and tied. I called Fairbanks and came in for an intake assessment, and entered in-patient detox on New Year’s Eve 2014. That experience changed my life, opening my eyes to the impossible task of quitting an addiction on my own. My distaste for AA vanished as I met people in the program and heard stories of how they had benefitted from the support and fellowship AA provides. I emerged determined to do everything I can to build a spiritual life and live without alcohol.
But that’s just the backstory, the sordid little details. I blame no one for my disease. Blame is for God and small children. How I got here is a matter of how I’ve lived my life. I’ve isolated myself from my family, especially my wife. I’ve lived too selfishly, focusing on what I want to do and not sharing myself with those closest to me. My job grew too big and too complex, and I couldn’t face seeing the program I had spent a decade building being dismantled and discarded, turned over to younger employees whom I had hired, trained and mentored. When that world fell in on me, I drank to comfort myself, shelter myself from my own failures and inadequacies, and avoid facing up to the future.
I can stop drinking. I know, I’ve done it many times. But to live a sober life, to really live instead of merely existing, I will need to change fundamental aspects of my persona. I need to open up to the whole world, give back, contribute to the greater good. Only then will I be in a position where staying sober won’t be a goal, an end to a process. It will be the outcome of the growth I’ve made as a father, husband, friend, employee and person. Change is never easy. But if I stay on the path I’m on, I’ll end up where I’m going. And that’s a destination I want to avoid.”
“I was 47 when I suffered my first heart attack. I knew I had to change the way I was living or I would die. I didn’t go to the doctor. I went to my first AA meeting.
I didn’t drink heavily everyday, but when I did drink I drank to black-out. I wanted Scotty to beam me up and out of here. If I didn’t black out I felt like I wasted a whole lot of time and money. I got to where I couldn’t sleep until I drank a pint of scotch. I got a new boyfriend who had 20 years sobriety in AA, so I hid my booze from him and after he left my place I would pull it out of hiding. He didn’t have a clue… until I couldn’t stand it anymore and I wanted desperately to go have a good, long black out.
That’s when I had my heart attack. It scared the beegeebees out of me. When I went to my first AA meeting I still wasn’t sure I was an alcoholic, but I wanted to find out. They gave me a Big Book and told me to read it, so I did. (Sometimes I do what I’m told.) I read pg 32 where it said something about if you’re not sure you’re an alcoholic try going to a bar several times and see if you can just drink one or two drinks on a regular basis. If you can’t, then you’re an alcoholic. I didn’t have to try that. I already had. I had broke numerous promises over the years by saying I was only going to have a couple of drinks and then leave. I always had every good intention of doing just that, but good intentions fly right out the window after an alcoholic has that first drink. I knew right then and there I was an alcoholic.
I wasn’t too sure I could go the rest of my life without a drink. That took me some getting use to. Even though I grew up in a family that taught me how to have a lot of fun without the aid of alcohol, I suffer from a metabolic disorder besides alcoholism, so I have anxiety problems associated with that. The alcohol helped calm that down and let me rest. I still couldn’t imagine not being able to drink to calm my nerves. But, someone in that first meeting said “Just do the best you can one day at a time.” And that’s what I have done for over 6 years now.
I have been through the death of my brother whom I was close to, the long lingering illness of a boyfriend, two relationship break-ups, ill health myself, and 2 major job losses and I have been able to stay sober through them all with the help of my higher power and by following the 12-steps program that AA offers.
When my anxiety kicks up, I get feeling sorry for myself, or I get feeling like life sucks my sponsor showed me what I have to do. I go to meetings and/or I meditate. It works every time. With the help of my fellow alcoholics we are able to stay sober no matter what.
And life just keeps getting better and better all the time.
I currently have a job that I love writing from home. I have a new, wonderful boyfriend who is 23 years sober. And I have some of the best friends a person could find who love me no matter what, unlike my fair weather friends I had while I was drinking.
Sobriety really is rebirth to a new and better life.”
“I am the 12th of 13 children. I was 4 years old when the Marines told my mother my brother was killed in Vietnam. This changed our family dynamic and also caused my first instance of post-traumatic stress. I was 9 when my sister first smoked pot with me. I didn’t stop smoking pot until I entered recovery in 2005 at 40 years old.
When I was 16, one of my older sisters had a schizophrenic break and stabbed my mother to death. I came downstairs and found my mom with a knife in her chest. I began trying other drugs to escape the memory and the pain. Alcohol and cocaine were the drugs I used most often. One day, the pain of using became more painful than the pain of dealing with the trauma of my mom’s death. I needed to learn how to deal with life on life’s terms. On May 17, 2005 I entered my first and only rehab. I have not used anything since then. I still smoke cigarettes, I have tried to quit, but have not been successful. I attend 3-5 NA meetings a week. I have a sponsor, a home group, a higher power to whom I pray and I work the 12 Steps of Narcotics Anonymous.
Since coming into recovery, I have gone through a lot of life situations. When I had 11 months clean, I watched my mother-in-law die from lung cancer. In March of 2009, I had to have a hysterectomy. In September, I found out I had to go on dialysis. In October I had another surgery to put the access in my arm and started dialysis. I was put on pain meds after the surgeries, but I listened to people in NA, and I gave the meds to my husband. He gave them to me as prescribed, not that I think I would have abused them, but I refuse to give opportunity and obsession the chance to meet. I don’t ever want to go back to the dark place of addiction again!
I received a kidney in June 2010. I am so grateful for this life I lead. Even when things are tough, it’s better than anything I ever thought possible! I am content with life. Today, I am a good wife, mother, friend, sponsee, sponsor. The glass is always half full. Most importantly, I AM me, happy, joyous and free.”
“In 1989, I was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder. I disagreed and fought all forms of treatment until 1993. Standing on the curb to unlock my car, the voice that I had heard for about 2 years told me gently, “Take your medication.” This voice was the only thing I trusted in those days. I was too detached from the reality of life to believe in anything else, especially people. I had been hurt – maliciously – both emotionally and physically, to the point I trusted no one. This day was a turning point in my recovery. I began immediately taking the medications and in short order, I noticed a change. While the voice never disappeared, the paranoia lessened as did some other symptoms.
At this point in time, I was drinking quite heavily. For the better part of 6 months, I had settled into a routine of picking up a 12-pack after work. By nightfall, it was gone. Again, the voice said, “Quit drinking.” I still trusted this voice; attributed it to God the Almighty, Father of Jesus. Wanting to honor him, I immediately quit drinking, until my sister called a couple of weeks later asking me to go out to the bar with her for a few drinks. It was a crossroads. Whom do I serve? While I considered my commitment to God, I bargained that this was not a big deal. A few social drinks, what could they hurt?
I said, “Yes”.
God said, “No!”
The ensuing fear of God shook me up as a televangelist immediately reported, “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner that turns around than in 100 that never left.”
I looked at the TV and saw a woman smile a sinister little smile at the camera and felt it was directed at me. I made a call to my sister and that nearly ended my drinking career.
We were raised on alcohol. It was present for Christmas, baling days, at parties, and we drank it with communion one Sunday a month. It was prevalent. Therefore, that Christmas, I drank with my siblings. Not drunk. I drank with a friend in the next town and drove home on New Year’s Eve at 3 a.m., sometime after the usual bar crowd goes home. I was plastered. The next morning, so shaken by ‘what might have happened’, I resolved never to drink and drive again and I haven’t.
I finally gave up drinking in 2009, the day we gave my son a going away party as he left for war. Guilt over what I was doing to God and my relationship with Him overcame me. It was the end. I didn’t attend meetings. I didn’t follow any of the twelve steps as they are ascribed. I followed Jesus. I do believe in the 12-step program and as I sought to quit smoking later, I joined a group to assist in that department. Still, it was God that gently/fearfully/wonderfully made the road smooth. I haven’t smoked in nearly a year.
I am currently seeking a degree in alcohol and drug counseling. Therefore, I occasionally attend AA meetings.
I was addicted to alcohol. I’ve overcome gambling in the same manner; with God’s help. It’s not to say it was easy. The fear of God – righteous fear – changes a person. The devil tried to depress, frighten and conquer my resolve at the same time. God is and always will be the Victor. I seek now to lose weight I’ve gained since quitting smoking. I seek to limit or eliminate caffeine from my diet. I will do this – by following Jesus. And in the meantime, I will be strengthened inwardly.
I look like a person who may not be all there. I may not have every hair in place and on my lot not every weed is picked or mowed, but inwardly my garden is well-attended. I still fear and have concerns, but I know when this life is over who it is that will take me home. Jesus.”
“I started at 13 with cigarettes, beer and pot. Little did I know at that time that that would progress until I got to the end of the road at 49. I liked the idea of escaping from reality. As I tried stronger drugs, I enjoyed the high more: hashish, mushrooms and LSD. I went on regular ‘trips’ for about 6 years. Regular use of LSD ended about 1989. However, I still see (from time to time) tracers and other hallucinations last for a couple of seconds. Then I went on to powder as LSD got scarce. In 1999 I was diagnosed with AIDS and thought I was going to die for sure. I started smoking rocks shortly after until 2006 when I found myself homeless and penniless. I moved to Wisconsin thinking that would solve the problem only to find they had crack here too. I went to my case manager and she hooked me up with an AODA counselor and a friend suggested to go to an NA meeting down the street. That was the best thing I did for myself in a long time. NA has helped me save me from myself. I realize now how bad my addiction problem was and how it started way before age 13. Today I have over 5 years clean and stopped smoking (squares) almost three years ago. I am very involved in service work in NA. If you are struggling with your addiction, try NA. It will improve your life far beyond your problem with drugs!”
“What Do I Do When
· My Stomach turns….I sit with it. What did I use to do? Drink
· The rush of tears well up in my throat and pour out of my eyes…I turn to God and talk to ease the pain What did I use to do? Turn to alcohol to be my friend.
· I lose a relationship with someone I’m in love with… I get busy and get involved with helping others or I volunteer for charities.
· I feel like a total loser in life….I begin the process of ego checking, and attachment of false desires, I go into the 12 and read step 6. What did I use to do? Drink alone and cry
· I don’t get what I want…I write about what is really underlying in the want, and the importance of meaning behind the want. What did I use to do?…Drink, Drink, Drink and feel sorry for myself.
· The unexpected happens…I pause, I pray, I breathe and then I act with calm control. What did I use to do? React, freak out and lose control and drink.
· I want a hug and no one is here to give me one….I pick up the phone and call a friend, I get in my car and go to a meeting, I call someone to come over and visit, I go see someone in the hospital, I make dinner for someone, I call my brothers or go and see them and give them a hug. What did I use to do? Have affairs.
· I’m afraid of losing what I have…I step into the steps and inventory my fears. What did I use to do? Feel sorry for myself and become a victim.
I have learned so much more than any therapy session could have ever given me. Sitting in that chair for all these years have given me friends that are priceless. I am very grateful to be among the greatest group ever established in the world.”