Thursday, December 24, 2009

Contemporary Saints

{{en|Mosaic glass window on East side of Stanf...Image via Wikipedia
Tired of holiday posts yet? We blogger types can get a little carried away when there's a "big" topic, and what could be more timely for a recovery-oriented blog than the holidays? All the elements are there: emotion, expectation, booze, drugs, permission and relapse potential. It lets the blogger (me) give a sermon, preach to the choir, and tug at the heartstrings. How great is that?

For my narcissistic self, constantly craving even more attention and love, it's just swell. For my reader, (and I know you're out there!) it has to be as tiresome as a long bus ride with Joe Lieberman. So, a rest from the holidays, and a thought for the end of the year:

Contemporary Saints.

I don't mean to be sacrilegious or shocking for its own sake, but I believe that we all know saints. Sometimes we know them well, sometimes we only know them for a moment. But regardless how long or how little they are in our lives, they touch us. They make a difference.

A friend tells a story about a night that he was at a meeting, and was talking about how his marriage was coming apart. He wanted out; he couldn't take it any more. It's over, he said.
After the meeting a guy came up to him and talked about how he had felt the same way, got divorced and regretted it. "Don't do it, man," he said. "If I had it to do all over again I would have stayed and worked it out. Hang in there." My friend really took what the guy had to say to heart. He asked if the guy came to that meeting often, said he hadn't seen him before. The guy said, "Oh, I've never been to one before--this is my first one."

A saint? My friend thinks so.

My favorite contemporary saint was my best friend from New York. Call him Felix. We were peer educators in a street outreach program. Felix had been through some hard times, really hard times. From Vietnam to addiction to AIDS. If you looked at his life there would appear to be little to live for: alienated from family, addicted, poor health. He was diagnosed with the Virus while in the hospital kicking dope. He said that someone walked up to him and said, "the bloodwork's in, you've got AIDS. Here's some tissues if you want to cry."

That might sound far-fetched to younger people--anyone who worked in public health in the 80's knows it's true.

They gave Felix less than six months to live, and frankly, everyone, including Felix, doubted that he would make it that long. Why not follow the short road to death that heroin offered, rather than suffer pain and illness?

But, as Felix himself often said, you want to make God laugh, show him your plans.

He went on to live for nearly 10 years, clean and sober every step of the way. His whole life was about service. As a peer educator he was excellent. We used to go together into a hardcore, boot camp juvenile facility. I am pretty good with kids, but these kids were way past my ability to reach them. Felix, a profuce of the same mean streets as them, could have been an older brother. In a pastiche of Brooklyn-accented "Spanglish" he talked to these kids about a world they knew, but in terms of hope. He talked to them about a world beyond the crackpipe and the needle; the Glock and the Virus.

And they heard him.

Felix, who was probably a candidate for an unmarked grave in Potter's Field, died peacefully surrounded by people who loved him. The hospital corridors were so filled with people he had helped wanting to say goodbye, that they actually had to cordon areas off and limit visitors.

Felix leaned on God to help him get clean and stay clean; God used Felix to show that every life has the potential for greatness, when turned to His purpose.

So there is my candidate for a contemporary saint, St. Felix of Brooklyn.

Who's yours?

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Recovering Person's Guide to the Holidays

Some thoughts on surviving the holidays clean and sober:

A&P, COFFEE, SANTA CLAUSImage by George Eastman House via Flickr
  1. If you're fresh out of the rehab, don't feel that you have to hang out with your old friends because it's Christmas. This is especially true if your old friends are anything like my old friends were. Everyone is just going to make each other uncomfortable. When you're fresh out of the rehab, everything is uncomfortable anyway. So don't make it worse.
  2. It doesn't have to be the best holiday ever. It's easy to think that way when the last twenty or so were kind of screwed up, and you're fueled by the desperate desire to make it all  better. But one Christmas (or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa) is just that. One. Hopefully of many to come. Easy does it.
  3. Always have an escape route. Even when it's the most beloved of friends and family, after the sixth or seventh cup of Christmas cheer, Aunt Tootsie from Tobyhanna's hysterectomy story really loses its zip. You find yourself biting your lip and looking longingly at the bottle of Jack D over on the server. It's time to go, preferably to a meeting. 
  4. "But I don't want to go to a meeting on Christmas!" (Or Hanukkah. Or Kwanzaa.) It's going to be nothing but losers!." My sponsor periodically reminds me of when I would go out to a bar on Christmas day to buy drinks for the poor slobs who didn't have anybody. Of course, I did have somebody--several somebodies--all at home, waiting for me while I was at the bar. Just stop whining and go to the meeting. 
  5. It's not your job to educate every well-wisher you meet on addiction in general, and yours in particular. It's hard for ego-centric types like us to grasp, but sometimes when people ask  how are you, they are just being polite. They don't want to hear how the craving to smoke crack is subsiding ever since you began to deal with the childhood sexual trauma issues. Oh yeah, and the self-mutilation's improving too. They want to hear, "I'm good. How are you."
  6. Bottom line, it's just another day. We get through it like we get through all the others, with a mixture of grace and awkwardness, anxiety and exhilaration. Keep your phone handy with all the important numbers on speed dial. Hang in there.
  7. Oh yeah--don't use!
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Friday, December 4, 2009

"Why addicts like Christmas."

Celebrating Chinese New YearImage by Dmitry Chestnykh via Flickr
It's simple, really. it's because people are nice to us. You know what I mean.

The family down the street, the ones who usually turn out their lights and pretend they aren't home when you come to the door. All oif a sudden they're saying, "Oh hi! Come on in and look at the tree! Have a drink! What are you doing New Years?"

Of course, in a week or so you'll hear them whispering, "It's him! Don't turn on the light!" But it's nice while it lasts.

But wait, there are other reasons why we like Christmas. People give us stuff! Now, if they have been going to Al-anon or Nar-anon, or remember what that counselor at the rehab said, they usually are not handing out the $20.00's. In fact, to be honest, some of the gifts may have a sort of last minute feel to them, like they weren't sure if you were out of de-tox yet, and didn't check the Gift List you posted at the G.W. Hill Commissary. But c'mon, who doesn't need a new pair of bunny slippers or a slightly used set of rosary beads?

Then there is always unrehabilitated Uncle Frank who just can't figure out what's wrong with  little brandy for Gawd's sake, and the pot you feel only slightly self conscious bumming from your 15 year old neice as you convince yourself that her and her girlfriends think you are a cool old guy. (Uncle Creepy, they call you behind your back.)

I remember when there used to be real office Christmas parties. I was a good young active alcoholic in those days and did some newspaper work, and those people could drink! By about 10 AM almost everyone would be sloshed at the paper, except for one older WASPY senior editor, thin-lipped and taking names in his little black book. Especially the name of the guy from rewrrite who felt compelled to tell him what he thought about working for him for twenty-five years.There was a face we wouldn't be seeing into the New Year.

Which probably had something to do with finally getting clean and sober. Because as much as an addict loves Christmas, recovery from addiction means learning that every morning isn't Christmas morning, and every night isn't New Years Eve. People who arent addicts know there's a reason they only come once a year.

We have to learn that the hard way.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It Rhymes with Attitude

I am as grateful as the next guy, assuming the next guy is a selfish, manipulative, angry little man. 

I'm an addict. An addict in long-term recovery, but an addict nonetheless. During the active phase of my disease, I merrily rewired the receptors in my brain to bypass some of the functions that might blow my high. These included responsibility and conscience, and without them, comes entitlement. 

Entitlement and gratitude don't do well together. Entitlement is such a bully that it tosses poor old gratitude right out of the bus. Who feels grateful for what they deserve?

The Thanksgiving story we grew up with was a gratitude story. The Indians helped the Pilgrims and everyone had a big party and then they went hunting and got some more food to store for the winter. Everyone was grateful as all get out. Then came the revisionist story, where the Pilgrims ripped off the Indians, ate their grub and killed them.

Oh my God, I thought. The Pilgrims were addicts! They acted like crackheads ripping the Indians' bodega to cop some spicy chips! Entitled. No gratitude.

I like the old story better. I like it because it speaks to my best self. The second story speaks to the seriously damaged dude who still lurks in the shadows, ready to steal your wallet and then help you look for it. The old story may not be true, but I want to make it true. I want to be a grateful addict, not an entitled one.

Because, as the man said, a grateful addict will never use.

Now comes the part where I should list everything I am grateful for. But I won't. If I did, I would start padding it and thinking up stuff so you would think what a great guy I am. And if I did begin listing all that I am truly grateful for, it could bore you to death. 

So let's leave it at this: I'm grateful that I'm with the good Pilgrims. Being a crackhead Pilgrim sucks.

Happy Thanksgiving, you Pilgrims.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


teenager-drug addictsImage by kr4gin via Flickr
"Don't get me wrong, I love the Holidays. It's my family I hate." 

The speaker was 15 years old, and filled with adolescent angst.
"They're materialistic and stupid, and they don't want anyone to have a good time." He had a point. He had recently been caught smoking marijuana on school grounds, and the stupid, materialistic parents had spent a lot of money on fines and lawyers, had to kiss the school administration's ass during hours of meetings, and fun was not big on their minds.
I pointed out that good lawyers charge multiple hundreds of dollars per hours to keep you out of jail.
"So put me in jail! I feel like I'm there already!" Of course the closes to jail he had been was probably an episode of Prison Break. 
"Listen, " I said, "they're worried about you." He sniffed. I swear, actually sniffed. Like a character out of Remains of the Day. I was getting a little warm.Figured it was time to shift gears.
"Let me tell you a story," I said. 
"Can I smoke?"
He slumped.
"Once upon a time..."
He smirked.
"--there was a mom and dad who were very worried about their son. He was hanging with the wrong kids and getting high, and getting in more and more trouble at school."
He grinned at the word "trouble." If it was a badge he would have worn it.
"They had loved their kid and raised him and tried to instill some basic values. They weren't perfect. They made mistakes. When he became a teenager, they made some big mistakes because they had never raised a teenager before."
I checked. there was some eye-rolling, but also some minimal attention. Of course it was probably because I was doing all the work.
"He got in bigger and bigger trouble, and they worried more, and paid more lawyers, and had a hard time sleeping. They were desperate, and didn't know what to do. But I'm sure you know what happened next."
He nodded, sensing victory.
"Right. They moved. Cut their losses and ran. Threw him to the wolves."
"Pulled up stakes and changed their names. All of a sudden he was on his own, in court with no one who loved him in sight. Funny thing about love, when it's there it's easy to take it for granted, but when it's gone, it leaves a pretty cold and empty vacuum behind it.And suddenly, instead of dealing with people who love him, he's dealing with people who look at him as a social problem to be handled."
"Oh no, I've taken mommy and daddy for granted!"
"There, there, little fella" I said.
The vibe on my cell phone interrupted my reverie.

Okay, that's not exactly how it happened. It would be nice, though. Usually it takes two sessions, right?
Happy Thanksgiving.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Tale Only Addicts In Recovery Will Understand

Excellent repost from Bill Urell's great blog: Addiction Recovery Basics:
A Tale Only Addicts In Recovery Will Understand
(although I know some non-addicts who can understand this just as well.)

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Talkin' bout my generation....

Okay, I'm no kid. I was 58 at my last birthday, and I'm old enough to have learned a thing or two, or so I like to think.
But. And there's always a but.
We don't always know as much as e think we do, do we?
I got hit with a bronchial infection last week, actually probably before lastt week, but finally went to tthe doctor after a couple of days of my dear wife's gentle prodding.
She got tired of my constant hacking and spewing, and, how can I say it, she made me go to the doctor. And of course, once the Doc took a look at me, things got serious--at least more serious than I wanted to admit. You know all those cute little excuses and manipulations that we addicts like to engage in. People think we're deceptive, and we are--self-deceptive.
Anyway, I was sick. I needed X-rays, antibiotics, steroids, and inhaler, etc. I heard about the importance of the flu shots I didn't get. An appointment was made for the following week. Everyone was nice to me, except my wife. She smacked me in the arm and said I didn't listen to her.
We have a plate that hangs in the kitchen. It says, "Don't think of me as your wife. Think of me as your friend who's always right."
So, I went home with the intention of taking some antibiotics and going back to work. Wrong. I woke up the next morning feeling like a truck hit me. The next morning, too. The one after that was a little better, then a little worse. I began to fear that there was some other condition, deadly and undiagnosed lurking behind the symptoms of Bronchitis. I was right, there was.
The scourge of our time, the illness for which there is no cure.
The disease no one wants to be cured of.
The reason most people were so nice to me!
I was the sick old guy.
Now, I may be a little dense (may, my wife would say, skeptically) but I never realized that all of those little spots on tv where they said to check on your older relatives winter and summer, or to make sure they got their flu shots, they were talking about me!
I felt like I did when I found out who my sponsor meant when he would say that some were sicker than others.
And worse, all that "you're only as old as you feel" stuff? I hope not, I felt about 92. I was going to say 80, but remember how spry my mother-in-law was at that age, and I was no where near that good. 92, maybe older.
And, I didn't bounce back. I was always proud of my ability to be back on the job in a couple of days, but this time, I'd wake up each morning, think, "today." And ten minutes later, "not today."
So what does all this have to do with recovery?
I was 25 years old when I walked through the door. My early recovery was the recovery of a young man, with all of the arrogant, egocentric and horny reckless trimmings. My middle recovery was the recovery of a middle-aged man; an expert, a builder of programs, a doer, mover, shaker. Iconoclastic.
And now, another change. My recovery becomes the recovery of an old man.
What's that mean? I don't know yet. So far, at every milestone, my Higher Power has given me just what I needed. I don't often recognize it, frequently forget it, and need to be hit over the head with it, in my Higher Power's rather persuasive way. But I get it.
This time, I really don't know what it is, but I know that I will get it. Excuse me, it will be given to me. Hopefully I will get it. It's time for a change. The change needs to encompass me body and soul and mind, I will need to give myself to it. It will involve change for my family, especially for my wife and me, as we go forward together into some terra incognita. Unknown turf, as we say. We need to learn how to nurture. We need to learn how to practice recovery in ways new and ways familiar.
That's the beauty of Recovery.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Recovery: Joyous, Proud and Noisy

Anybody besides me remember the “Silent Majority”?

That was Spiro Agnew’s description of the “average American”, toiling in anonymity, voiceless and culturally disfranchised by a changing society.

Well, there’s a new bunch in town, and while they are anonymous, and may not yet constitute a majority, I can tell you this: they are not silent.

They are the Recovery Community. They are individuals and their families who have learned to live clean and sober in an addicted society. They are the alcoholics who now think instead of drink, the addicts who help each other stay clean, instead of dragging each other down to oblivion; the gamblers who invest in recovery instead of playing the tables, the horses or the market. They are the kids who are getting an education instead of getting in trouble, running the streets to flee the addiction-fueled dysfunction at home.

They are the people who have learned that change brings healing and that an incurable disease, addiction, can be stopped in its tracks with the right kind of help. Many belong to programs based on anonymity, but that doesn’t make them invisible nonentities. They are the family next door, the co-worker, the cop and the cafeteria lady. They represent every race, creed and color in the county.

And man, do they like to have fun! Recovery is about the joy of living.

So, in that spirit, a group of recovering people decided to throw a party. It’s called Rock 4 Recovery, and it’s a straight-up, kick out the jams, pedal to the medal Rock Concert, with a twist: no drugs, no booze. The bands and the audience will all be clean and sober.

What kind of concert is that? If last year’s show is an indication, it will be eclectic, with 10 bands in 10 hours, ranging from Classic Rock to Metal, with a little of World, Country, Alternative, Hip-Hop—even some Spoken Word. It will also be safe: in addition to the strict no drugs and alcohol policy, that last year it was a concert with no fights, no breakage, no ugliness of any kind. The kind of concert where you don’t have to worry about your kids if you bring them.

Does that mean it was tame? No Way. It’s Rock N’Roll —loud, raucous and rowdy. Lights, smoke, dancin’ in the streets—well, not the streets, the aisles, but you get the picture.

And did I mention the price? $10.00. All of it going to sponsor recovery-oriented young people.

If you’re a recovering person or family member and want to experience something different in the world of recovery, come on out.

If you are curious about life after drugs and booze, and wondering if you can socialize stone cold sober, come on out.

And if you just like a good rock show with people who won’t throw up on your shoes, we’re your destination.

Come on out and join the not-so-Silent Majority!

Rock 4 Recovery:

Saturday, November 14, 2009
1:00pm - 11:00pm
The Garden Church, Lansdowne & Stratford Aves., Lansdowne PA 19050

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Walking The Walk, Even When The Road Gets Rough

A counselor friend says that the best thing about 12 Step fellowships is the worst thing about them as well.


In a spirit of anonymity members don't ask personal questions and respect each others privacy. What we know about each other is what is disclosed. There are no background checks, urine or hair tests, interrogations or membership cards. No one is voted in or out. Taking something someone shared at a meeting outside of the meeting is a serious issue: the Traditions of the 12 Step programs clearly state that "anonymity is the spiritual foundation of our program."

It's so important that "Anonymous" is the last name of all 12 Step programs.

You walk in the door, give your first name and you are accepted at face value. The only requirement for membership is the desire to stop. You are who, and what, you say you are.

When I have written before on this subject, it's been about the impact on the group of taking information out of the meeting and onto the street. But there is another abuse of anonymity that is, perhaps, even more dangerous.

Deception. In an anonymous program, it's easy to do.

Who I am, what my motives are, my clean and sober time--all of these things are unmonitored. For the most part, that works fine, and trusting relationships are formed in a spirit of true fellowship and sisterhood. It truly is a spiritual foundation for recovery.

But what if I am not what I say I am? There have been instances that I have seen firsthand, where someone presents as clean and sober for years who is still in active addiction. He or she may chair or speak at meetings, hold a position of responsibility, even sponsor others, all the while maintaining a dark secret. We encourage each other in the 12 Step programs to "get honest". But when someone who has been living a lie gets honest. the impact on others is powerful. Finding out that your sponsor has been drinking or getting high throughout his or her relationship with you is the psychic equivalent to a punch in the solar plexus. The whole world goes dark.

The program that saves your life now seems like a dangerous and untrustworthy place. You feel betrayed.

In a sense, you have been betrayed, and it is certainly to be expected that you are going to be hurt and angry, but it's important to remember that the very thing that allowed for deception, anonymity, is going to be your ticket to recovery.

Because, if you can step back a little, you will see a room full of people who are exactly what they say they are and are ready, willing and able to help you walk the walk to recovery. In the Programs, while we may have different lengths of time, or different addictions, or different higher powers, we are all there to help each other to get another day. Even the lapsed member has something to give, not what he pretended to be, but what he or she is, a sick individual who needs help, and hopefully, has a desire to stop. We can show what that is by example.

Keep coming back.

Monday, October 5, 2009

BBC NEWS | Health | Young adults 'anxiety overload'

Here is a link to a very good article about stress and young adults. I have found that the 18 to 30 population is bombarded with stress--from school, the economy, employment and the war--they are really taking it on the chin. We expect a lot of our young people.

BBC NEWS | Health | Young adults 'anxiety overload'

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Addiction and Recovery News: The Sunday ritual

As an addictions professional, but more so as a recovering person, I've reached a point in my life where some of the "harmless" rituals of the past are not so entertaining anymore. Binge drinking is a serious issue everyday--not just on Sunday.
Addiction and Recovery News: The Sunday ritual

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Disgrace

The Front of the SAMHSA building at 1 Choke Ch...Image via Wikipedia

"The national data released today confirms that untreated alcohol and drug addiction remains at pandemic levels, with 23 million Americans suffering from the disease, approximately the same number that suffers from type 2 diabetes," said Victor Capoccia, director of the Closing the Addiction Treatment Gap initiative. "But you wouldn't know it from the way our country responds to the problem. Only one in ten Americans affected by addiction is treated, as opposed to four out of five people with diabetes." --Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

This can't be okay.

We have had "wars on drugs"; we have had "just say no"; we have had boot camps; we have had zero tolerance policies.

Not one of them, frankly, has been worth a damn. Like the man said, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is a definition of insanity.

Let's try a little common sense.

  1. Get serious about the fact that we are talking about a disease. Not bad habits or behavior. Not a lack of "will power". Note some personal weakness, but a disease. An illness. A malady. Like cancer. Like heart disease. Like schizophrenia. A disease.
  2. Make treatment available on demand. No crap, no managed care nonsense, no nothing. If you ask for treatment you get it. Plus, let's look at some of the highly successful ways of getting someone into treatment, like intervention.
  3. Let's redefine the role of the Criminal Justice System. Is there any other illness in which the courts take such an active interest? Criminal Behavior should be where the courts come in, and rightly so. We are all responsible for our actions, and have to face the consequences. But, let's not criminalize the fact of the illness itself. It does nothing more than to force the addict further underground into a subculture promoting ever more anti-social and deviant behavior. Someone commits a crime--robs a store, shoots someone over a drug deal or during a theft, then they deal with the law and accept fair punishment. But regardless, if drugs are at the heart of the crime, then treatment has to be a part of their rehabilitation. Somewhere along the line, we forgot that most of the people in jail are not hardened criminals, they are excellent candidates for a second chance.
  4. Listen to families, they want help and they want to help. Families need education in addiction and help to deal with the devastating consequences of addiction. Substance Abuse Treatment, unfortunately, is not family friendly. Not that there are not exceptions, but where I live, there is exactly one (1) family education program run at no cost. In case nobody noticed, that's not enough.
Addiction is an individual's nightmare, a family tragedy, and national health emergency. The limitation of treatment to the point were less than 10% of individuals impacted by the illness are receiving treatment, is a national disgrace.

We are so much better than that.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Sacred And The Profane: Spirituality in Recovery

I was having a cup of coffee the other day with Grateful John. He said that he was angry with his daughter over her arrest for drunk driving, and described what options he had. It went something like this:

"I wanted to bust her blanking face in and slap some blanking sense into her but my blanking conscience kicked in and told me to call my blanking sponsor. I did, and he said to pray on it. blanking pray? I'll blank pray, I said. But I did, and I asked my Higher Power to take the whole thing over because I couldn't blanking deal with it. I had to turn it the blank# over to God as I understand Him and get out of the blanking way. I'm not ready to deal with that, I look at her and see myself, my own blanked up excuses and I get angry, not at her. At me for being a blanked up father because of this blanking illness. Thank God I called my Sponsor"

Only he didn't really say blank

I am not thinking that Grateful John is likely to be helping the Pope draft his Christmas Encyclical this year, but I do believe that his faith and trust in God, and his willingness to do God's will, are as strong and valid and true as any more pious, and less profane individual's.

This is a good example of the way that the sacred and the profane co-exist in the 12 Step Programs. As my Uncle Jerry the Bartender, sober over 30 years in AA, once said, "a lot of us aren't exactly Choirboys when we come in."

It's true. It's also true that very few addicts and alcoholics seek out the 12 Step programs because they feel a sudden need for spiritual growth. Addicted people go to meetings out of fear and desperation. Sometimes desperation for something that will work and fear that they have found it. The illness of addiction so utterly takes over an addict's life that in a pathetically perverse paradox, the thing destroying them (the addiction) feels like the only thing that makes life bearable. To threaten the addiction with recovery is like threatening life itself, and every corrupted survival mechanism kicks in. Addicts come to their first 12 Step meetings in fight or flight mode.

And yet, there they are, usually hanging right on the wall, or in case someone missed them, read out loud at the beginning of the meeting:

The Twelve Steps of Narcotics Anonymous
1. We admitted we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

It doesn't leave a lot of room for doubt that this is a spiritual program with a Higher Power at the heart of it.

So, how does the world of the active addict and the world of the spirit co-exist?

Pretty Good, actually. Ask Grateful John why he's grateful?

(More to come)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Do The Right Thing.

Acceptance and Commitment TherapyImage by Leonard John Matthews via Flickr

Sometimes, you just have to do what's right.

A couple of years ago a friend of mine, Stacey Gill, approached me with an idea for a group for kids from families with substance abuse issues. I was skeptical at first, but eventually realized the importance of doing something to help some kids before they got into trouble.

Also, as anyone who knows Stacey would agree, she can be very persistent.

Anyway, with the help of a grant through the Healthy Communities Initiative and the County Office of Behavioral Health, we got this little group off the ground, and for over a year some kids were able to come to a safe place to talk about whatever was on their minds without fear of retribution or resentment. They laughed, cried, played games, learned meditation and stress management techniques, and got a snack. They learned about addiction, family roles, skills to help survive in an addicted family. It became a very rewarding group to do.

Until I got the news last week that because of the budget crisis in Pennsylvania, no one knew when or if the grant would be renewed.

Now, I know that there are more inportant cutbacks and shutoffs than Stacey and my little group. I have talked to out of work fathers and mothers whose unemployment has been held up, families who are waiting for some relief in the areas of health care and fearful of cuts in school programs and vital public services like fire departments and police stations.

Against that backdrop, how important can one little group for Children of Substance Abusing Families be?

Well, considering that kids from families with drug and alcohol problems are more likely to become addicts themselves, to get arrested, to have unplanned pregnancies, to contract STD's, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis and the variety of illnesses related to cigarette smoking, not to mention the fact that their kids are at higher risk of addiction and alcoholism, maybe more important than one would think.

At any rate, Stacey and I have decided that it's too important to shut down. So, we aren't shutting it down.

Grant or no grant, funding or no funding, this group is going to continue. Every Thursday, 4:00 to 5:30 PM, Stacey and I will be doing the group at Ken Williams' Recovery, 300 W. State St., Media PA 19063.

We won't charge for it, and we won't get paid. It's not that we don't care about that, neither of us are independently wealthy, but as we are faced with hard choices these days, sometimes the choice is, simply, to do the right thing. And the right thing is to stand by our words. We told these kids from families of chaos that we would be there for them, so there we will be.

And the snacks are on us.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Recovery In Action

The City of PhiladelphiaImage via Wikipedia

On September 12th, 2009, Philadelphia will be invaded by addicts and alcoholics.

They will not be hiding in alleys or committing petty crimes. They will not fill the bars, or the crack houses, or shooting galleries. They will not hide. They will be in plain sight, walking en masse down the streets and boulevards of Philadelphia.

And they will bring their parents, their children, their spouses and their loved ones. They will be of all races and colors and faiths, as well as atheists and agnostics.

They will be walking to celebrate recovery.

This will be PRO-ACT's Annual Recovery Walk.

We walk to let Philadelphia see that the face of Recovery is as diverse as the city itself. That individuals and families from every walk of life recover from the ravages of the disease of addiction.

We walk to show that, as it says in the Basic Text of Narcotics Anonymous, We Do Recover. Last year there were almost 5000 of us. Let's make it more this year. Check out and to find out more.

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Art of the Intervention Part III

What's a Professional Interventionist?

As of this writing, that's a tough question to answer. There is no one certification or license; no one specific training process, graduate school of Intervention. So here are some things to look for. Don't be shy, ask questions. Ask a lot of questions, if you need to. And ask for references. Any of us who have been around for a while should have no problem furnishing you with several family members who have participated in past interventions and are willing to share their experiences.

  1. Experience: If anyone can hang out a shingle and say that they are an interventionist, then you have to ask a lot of the hard questions. How many interventions have you done? What was the outcome?
  2. Education: What specific training have you had in addiction? Remember, training or education as a counselor does not automatically qualify someone to do addiction intervention. Any good Interventionist will be able to identify a specific course, training or other educational process directed toward competency in Intervention.
  3. Cost: Do not be squeamish about cost. There is a broad divergence in the cost of Intervention. My personal belief is that Interventions can be made available to any family at an affordable price. Talk about the cost with an interventionist and if it seems excessive, move on. In Pennsylvania PRO-ACT can recommend Interventionists who charge reasonably, and locally, in my little corner of the world, The Delaware County Interventionist Network is committed to finding affordable ways to help families in need of Intervention.
Why do you need a professional?
Family loyalties, problems, tensions and arguments are extreme. Feelings run deep, resentments, too. Trying to organize all of this into a focused and specific intervention can be like trying to nail jelly to a tree. What begins as a well-intentioned talk about a loved one's problems turns into a free-for-all.

A professional Interventionist will:
  • Help the family to understand addiction as an illness.
  • Work with the family to master the art of effective confrontation.
  • Plan an effective post-intervention strategy for both the subject of the intervention and the family.
Interventions are not events, but processes. An Interventionist is someone who knows the process, and can help the family to negotiate it.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Art of Intervention Part II

The Drama Triangle, as Karpman described it, is an ongoing, series of rigidly patterned behaviors, driven by unfulfilled needs. See for more information on the Drama Triangle, including an excellent piece relating the triangle to classic alcoholic and addicted family roles.

At any rate, if we use the Drama Triangle as a starting point, we see the roles to which we are relegated in the disease of addiction. We become reactive; our actions dictated by the behaviors of the sick addict. We can scold, extravagantly rescue, feel abandoned and guilty. We can experience mood swings based on someone else's drug use or drinking.

We get sick. Literally.

In The Medical Aspects of Codependency Dr. Max Schneider identifies a variety of medical issues that develop as someone becomes enmeshed in a codependent relationship with an addict.

Most importantly, we lose the ability to act. We can only react. We cannot act in the best interests of the addict. We cannot even act in our own best interests. We either continue in the downward spiral of emotional addiction or we run away, filled with anger and shame and traumatized by the experience.

Is it any wonder why a family member or other loved one of an addict gets butterflies and sweaty palms at the thought of confronting the addiction? Not at all. Because when we do, we are not only intervening in the person whom we love's addiction, we are also intervening in our own codependency. We are reclaiming our ability to act, with all of the risk and responsibility that implies, in our own self-interest, and the interest of the addict.

Enough to make anyone nervous!

Next--why you need a professional interventionist.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Art of Intervention

"Let me talk to you for a minute...."

We all know the feeling, speaker or spoken to, the rise in the anxiety level, the catch in the voice. We know what we want to say, we know what we don't want to hear.

Why is it so difficult? I mean, we're adults. We should be able to talk about anything. (Unless we are adolescents, in which case we can't talk about a lot of things, but we sure can text, message, facebook and twitter about them!)

It's anxiety-producing to venture into any area that is emotionally unpredictable. The old fears about abandonment come to the surface itching poison ivy. What if he can't handle it? What if he kills himself? What if it just makes her drink more? What if I'm wrong?

And on the receiving end: oh, man, this is it. I'm getting thrown out! They're putting me away. I'm done for!

We take care of each other out of love and become co-dependent out of fear. The fear spurs resentment, then guilt, then more fear. Stephen Karpman postulated years ago that each of us us capable of only one of three existential roles when dealing with an addict.

Rescuer, Persecutor or Victim.

The Rescuer feels bad because of the physically or emotionally impoverishment of the addict and tries to help, maybe with a loan. Sure, people have warned him not to give money to an alcoholic or addict, but he seems like such a good guy and only needs something to help him get back on his feet. A Rescuer is born.

What?? Oh no, he couldn't have done this to me! He used the money for drugs? How could that be? What have I ever done to him to deserve this? Victim.

That lousy rat....just wait, I'll show him, trying to put one over on me! I'll just wait until I get a good chance to take a shot at him and..... Persecutor.

Rescuer, Victim, Persecutor.

More to follow

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Recovery Manifesto: Part Two

When does Recovery begin and when is Recovery achieved?

If we look at Recovery as a lifetime process, then we have to recognize that this is something that is going to look different at 30 days, 90 days, a year, 10 or 20 years. It's also going to vary from one person to another. Someone who shows up at a meeting or treatment center having had no experience whatsoever with Recovery, who has never known a Recovering person, who has no understanding of substance use disorders as diseases and who is overwhelmed with cravings for drugs is going to need a lot of education and support. The phrase that some AA groups used is that a shaky newcomer will need someone to "walk with them." However, someone who shows up having had some experience with treatment, meetings, church, whatever they have done or tried to do to stop drinking or drugging, may be in a very different place. They may not have internalized the process of Recovery, but they have a clue what it is about and what it involves.

The key factor, to me, is hope. Hope is too much of a luxury for many active addicts to even go near. The pain of failure and disappointment has made it excruciating to entertain any hope at all. What we don't have, we take, and the Recovering people who "walk with" the newcomer are the ones he or she takes hope from. In a sense, they have to learn to dare to hope.

The person with some experience, though, may walk through the door with hope. Not a lot; just enough to look around and think with a degree of sanity, not all of these people are liars and predators. Maybe they are just what they appear--ordinary people, getting on with their lives.

Because in Recovery, we share. Not that most of us have all that much materially to share, but there is one thing that we all possess. If we comment, if we are having bad days or good, if we make coffee or put away a chair, or do one of the readings, we share, and what we share is hope, if only because we are doing these things as part of something bigger, a fellowship of Recovery. And that translates into hope. Not a raging inferno of hope, maybe, but more hope than burns on the end of a torch or a zippo. Enough that when it's nurtured a little, begins to burn warm enough to melt some of the ice around the heart, and let the newcomer feel the warmth.

Didn't know you were an Ambassador of Hope? Think again.
More to come.

A Recovery Manifesto: Part One

I've been a drug and alcohol counselor for a lot of years--over 30 years, to be more precise. I am also a drug addict and alcoholic (and many other things!) in long-term recovery. Talk to any longtime addiction counselor and they will complain about the treatment field, what it's become, how it is insurance-driven, how much it has changed for the worse, etc., etc. That's not all that surprising, as we get older we are always aware of how small Snickers bars have gotten. I think that, while there are many legitimate aspects of substance abuse treatment to criticize, what I have seen happen over the past twenty years is a philosophical shift that has had some dramatically negative repercussions.

I do not believe that the treatment field understands Recovery.

This is not a criticism of individuals. (Well, maybe a few.) Most of the people I know working in Addiction Treatment are dedicated and hard-working individuals who spend every day going above and beyond the call of duty for their clients. They do whatever they can to help their clients begin to recover from substance use disorders. And much of the time, they are criticized, written-up, and even fired for doing it. In a field that was founded on the concepts of rigorous honesty and social advocacy, counselors in some facilities are discouraged from even identifying themselves as being in recovery, on the basis of some misinformed beliefs about the character of the clients. It's hard to tell who is more demeaned, the counselor or the client. And ask any counselor off the record about the treatment plans they submit to managed care entities in order to get inpatient days and outpatient sessions--a college should offer a class in how to do diagnostic spin doctoring.


My intention here is to write a series of notes based on my beliefs about Recovery. I believe that Recovery is a lifestyle that promotes the physical, emotional and spiritual health of the individual, the family and the community. I believe that the needs of Recovering people are different from those addressed by the treatment establishment.

Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts and feelings.

More to come.

INTERVENTION: Not a "Reality Show"--Reality!

I've been doing Interventions for over 25 years and have a couple of things to get off of my chest. First of all, any comparison between the reality of Intervention as a process to help families deal with a potentially terminal illness and what is portrayed on television is absolute rubbish.

The tv show is simply one more negative stereotype of the addict as a comic/tragic figure, so degraded that others have to emotionally manhandle them into acting in their best interest. The thought that any reputable Interventionist would allow the subject of an intervention to be photographed and exploited for entertainment purposes is disgusting (and unethical.) It would be the equivalent of basing a reality show on the entertaining factors in radiation therapy, radical surgery or perhaps amputees adjusting to their new prostheses. The absence of integrity, concern for the well-being of the addicted individual is appalling.

Real Interventions are a process in which people who love someone with an addictive disorder are educated in the facts of the disease; they learn to recognize their own patterns of dysfunction, such as enabling. The empowered family then learns positive confrontation--addressing the addict from a place of love and appropriate concern. It takes a few sessions, but it is extraordinarily effective.

Oh, and did I mention that it doesn't cost a million bucks, either? The truth is that Interventions are well within the means of most families, and scholarships and arrangements are available for families in need.

At any rate, if you need any information on real Interventions, please email me at

Love & Peace

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