Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Open: Ken Williams' Recovery

We will be open today, December 28th and tomorrow December 29th, Closed Friday December 30th, then back with the New Year on Monday January 3rd, 2011!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Snow Closing: Ken Williams' Recovery.

Ken Williams' Recovery will be closed today, Monday December 27th 2010, due to snow. Hopefully we will reopen tomorrow, December 28th.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Christmas Story

She's homeless and pregnant, the man with her is almost, mute, barely says a word. She tries to explain their predicament, but the more she says, the worse it gets.

God is the father of the baby, she says. Not the silent man. She was visited by an angel and the baby was conceived by a holy ghost. She and the man have not consummated their marriage.

I am a virgin, she says. Obviously, she's mentally ill.

She needs medication, pre-natal care, maybe hospitalization. The silent man looks schizoid. She says something about him being a carpenter, but presently unemployed. They have little money; no health insurance.

It's Christmas Eve.

The social safety net is worn thin. No one is answering their phone. The woman is eerily calm as you try number after number and listen to voicemail after voicemail greeting. No one is at their desk at 4:30 in the afternoon on Christmas Eve. If anyone is still working, they are probably in the field dealing with other crises.

A last, bad alternative to the cold of the street, you call a guy you know runs a welfare hotel. He's there. You offer a voucher. He says he wishes he could, but his last bed went an hour ago.

There's a garage out back, though, he says. It's cold, but he thinks he has an old kerosene he can drag out there. Strictly against the rules, but you have to do something. You've spent enough time on these people, there's a guy in the waiting room going into withdrawal and you still have to find a place for him.

You tell them about the garage, feeling an unreasonable guilt, but also with some trepidation. The young woman accepts this graciously, the man with silent stoicism.

She smiles, beatifically, her eyes as deep as if they knew all the secrets of the human heart, and then some.

God bless you, she says.

It's long dark when you leave, hours later, and cold. In the distance you hear a choir, the voices angelic on the frigid wind.

A thousand miles away, a wise man watches a star rise in the East.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

I'm not being ironic or cynical when I write that title, this is a wonderful time of the year. If you put a little energy into it. And by that I mean an infusion of joy. Whether it's Chanukah, Kwanza, Solstice, Christmas or, if you're an Atheist, simply a chance to go to a lot of parties and maybe get an unexpected present or two, the holidays are a celebration of joy. Light in the midst of darkness, warmth in the season of cold, hope in the face of despair. A child is born, a candle is lit, the sun rises. We feel the light and the warmth, and we are grateful.

Gratitude, I believe, is the prerequisite for joy.

Recovery is all about gratitude; recovery is all about joy.

Gratitude makes way for joy, because it clears out the cobwebs. Gratitude displaces meanness and pettiness and resentment and fear. Gratitude opens the door for generosity, and contemplation, and courage and joy. Gratitude makes us better people. Better recovering people.

Now I am not going to suggest any list writing or other homework-like exercises. This is certainly a busy enough time of year without adding more tasks. But I do suggest some simple self-inventorying. Check how you're feeling as you go about your day. Am I angry? Resentful? Tired? What do I need?

Ask yourself what you've got to give, not what you want to get.

When someone says something nice to you, like a thank you, don't blow it off.

If you find yourself brooding over past holiday hurts or  losses, practice forgiveness.

If you feel like drinking or getting high, don't inflict it on yourself, your kids, your family. Get with some other recovering people and talk it through and let it go.

Let. It. Go.

And have fun!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Rock for Recovery!

I'm not sure if today is the fourth or fifth Rock for Recovery concert. In the world of rock, not being able to remember is not all that rare. In my case, the reason is age, not drugs.

Rock for Recovery is the brainchild of my good friend Charlie Doc, aided and abetted by Dawn, Pattyann, Denise, Dani, Mike and many, many others.It's a labor of blood, sweat, tears and love, and produces a semi-annual 11 hour rock extravaganza with a recovery theme.

Did I mention that it kicks ass?

With all due respect to sensitive, singer songwriter types, this is the real deal--loud, raunchy and raucous. And clean. and sober. Over 30 years ago, when I got clean, saying that I wanted to go see the Rolling Stones wasn't exactly greeted with enthusiasm by some of the old timers. And no wonder, the music wasn't part of their generation--it was nothing but booze,  drugs, excess and noise, right? The fact was that there was simply no model for a clean and sober concert. Over the decades that has changed--the Wharf Rats are a fixture at the concerts of the various survivors of the Grateful Dead, recovery literature is usually prominently featured at Clapton and Phish concerts. Rock for Recovery is the next step, a major rock show, produced by people in Recovery, their friends and families, for people in Recovery, their friends and families.

Or for anyone who wants to rock out without worrying if someone is going to throw up on their shoes.

If you are in or near Philly, come on out. The town that brought you the Four Aces, the Dovells, Hall & Oates, Len Berry, Bill Haley and the Comets and Cook E. Jarr & the Crumbs brings you Rock for Recovery.

Be there or be square!

Saturday, December 4 · 12:00pm - 11:00pm

LocationFirst Presbyterian Church of Lansdowne
140 N. Lansdowne Ave. (On the corner of Landsdowne Ave. & Greenwood Ave)
Lansdowne, PA

Follow this link for Details

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Reset

Okay, let's get honest.

Guys like me (counselor types) have gotten a lot of mileage out of Thanksgiving over the past twenty-five years or so. We caution and process. We tell our clients all about the stresses, the relapse triggers, the hidden and buried family tensions. We warn about the dangers of expectations, the cycle of perfectionistic exhaustion, the increase in alcohol use and the post-holiday letdown.

By the time we're done we have infused the holiday with more baggage than than Philly International and all the joy of a revisionist history book trashing the Pilgrims.

So, here's a radical thought.

Have fun.

Let go of resentments.

Expect the day to be emotional, like all holidays. Love the ones who are there as much as you can, miss the ones who aren't as much as you can, too.

Let people be who they are, without judgement.

Stay sober. Contrary to popular belief, the holidays are no worse a time for relapse than any other time. People who want to stay clean and sober take care of themselves, those who don't want to stay sober, usually don't, just like any other day.

Think about what you can bring to the day, not what you can get out of it.

But above all, have fun. It's a day all about joy and gratitude. Cultivate them both and you reap a wonderful harvest.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


It's important. Recovery and responsibility are one and the same, and a big part of both is participation. Like a favorite counselor of mine once said, "There's no audience at this movie." So participate--vote!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rough Justice

Drug Court seemed like such a good idea when it came to my little corner of the world.
It took me, and a lot of other people-helper types, by surprise. Delaware County hasn't been known, to put it very mildly, for its enlightened attitudes toward issues of mental health and substance use disorders. But it was a start, right?

The fundamental concept behind Drug Court is that the court acts as a supercharged big brother, empowered to mandate everything from incarceration to rehab, utilizing an in-your-face approach in weekly sessions to make sure that participants are staying on the straight and narrow, as well as compliant with the treatment programs with which they are involved. 

Great idea, isn't it?

Sure, when everything goes smoothly. Which it rarely does in the world of substance use disorders. Then we end up with messes like this:

A 19 year old male is picked up with three of his friends in a parked car, smoking pot. A cop sees one of them throw a blunt out the window, and they are busted. The boy holding the stash gives it up, and the sharp District Attorney realizes that the way the pot is packaged, in little plastic envelopes or "dime bags" means that he can be charged with trafficking, even though the amount is minimal and there is absolutely no indication of any drug dealing going on.

The 19 year old is terrified; a trafficking charge is a felony and carries serious jail time. He doesn't want to go to jail. He pleads guilty to a felony in order to get into drug court and avoid jail time. 

Happy ending?  Not.

Anyone who has worked with young people, knows exactly what I am going to say next. Treatment of young adults is complicated. They struggle, they fail. They take two steps forward and one step back. 

But, you'd figure that a well-trained drug court with a addiction counselor as an advisor would know that and plan accordingly, right?

Wrong. Oh they cut him a couple of breaks, alright. But when that didn't work, the judge decided he had enough, and sent the boy to jail.

To the State Penitentiary at Graterford, for a year and a half.

Six months longer than the District Attorney asked for. 

So, the end result is a boy who is not even legal drinking age is doing a year and a half in a maximum security state prison for smoking pot with his buddies in a parked car.

Enlightened, isn't it?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Walk on!

As I write this, a few thousand of my friends are gathering on Penn's Landing for the annual PRO-ACT Recovery Walk. Most of them are recovering alcoholics and addicts and their families. The Walk is proceeded by an Honor Guard composed of individuals who have been in recovery for over ten years. Families carry banners showing their support for a friend or family member, honoring their battle with the disease of addiction. Some of the names on the banners memorialize those who have lost the struggle.

Everyone involved with the Recovery Walk knows and accepts this simple fact: Addiction is an illness.

Unfortunately, our society does not know this. If you don't believe me, try this experiment. Think of all the slang terms you know for addicts and alcoholics.

Junkie, drunk, dope fiend, crackhead, wino, lush, speedfreak, cokewhore, stoner, alkie....and that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface.

Now think of all the slang terms you know for someone with leukemia. Or heart disease. Or Parkinson's Disease. Or cystic fibrosis or MS. Think of any?

I thought not.

Words are the surface of our deepest thoughts, fears and attitudes. How we talk about something, the words we use, signals our attitudes. And I am not talking about Politically Correct Speech here. I am talking about something a lot more primitive.

A dead junkie somehow seems easier to deal with than a sick child. Face it or not, they do not occupy the same place in our culture, even though they may be one and the same person.

So today we walk on, to illustrate in numbers that addiction is an illness, and to show our City of Brotherly Love that in fact we do recover. We walk on to show that addicts are not disposable people, we are your brothers and sisters and children.

We walk on.

(pictures courtesy of my good friends Annie R. and Jennifer D.)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11 Memory

9/11/2001 broke my heart, and probably yours, too. But not my great-nephew Chase. It was his first birthday. He is 10 years old today. It took a lot of courage for his mom, my niece Amanda to go ahead with his party that year. But it was the right thing to do. In the midst of death there is life, but it needs courage and nurturing and the ability to put one's own grief aside in order to do the right thing. Happy Birthday, Chase. God Bless all of our 9/11 heroes. Even the ones who bake birthday cakes.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What Recovery Looks Like...

This weekend there was a recovery luau sponsored by a 12 Step recovery group here in my little corner of Delaware County PA. Fun food and fellowship, well attended, a good time for all. Nothing remarkable, no drama, just a good time. All the food prepared by volunteers; modest charge at the gate to break even and maybe raise some money for a Recovery Convention here in the County.

This is what Recovery looks like. People working together toward a common goal with considerably less friction than you see, say, at an average school board meeting. It's important to emphasize these things, because in active addiction, a family becomes so crisis oriented that crisis becomes the norm. Luau? Forget it! Not while mom and dad are slugging it out over the missing rent money.

My friend Barri of Myra's Place, a hotbed of recovery in Delaware County, hosts a Karaoke Night several times a month. The sign proclaims, "The Only Sober Karaoke In Delaware County!"

And I am sure she is right. You'll see anxious men and women, boys and girls, egging each other on to get up and give "Sweet Home Alabama" or a Lady Gaga hit a try. Laughter, some raucous reviews and a lot of really bad singing.

All of it stone cold sober. This is what Recovery looks like. A lot of drug use, especially alcohol use, is rooted in social anxiety, often at its most intense in adolescence. The experience of doing something in front of a group, taking a social risk, is a vital part of recovery. And if it involves a unique rendition of Free Bird, so be it.

So remember, when you are thinking what recovery is going to look like, remember: silly counts as much as serious.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Anonymous Does Not Mean Invisible

September is National Recovery Month and all manner of wonderful activities are planned to raise awareness of addiction as an illness, and I could not be happier about it. I will be writing about them here and posting links to them. Anything that makes people aware of addiction as an illness and promotes a positive image of recovery automatically has my support.
Having said that, I have a few other things to say. For one thing, people in recovery need to begin to realize that anonymity, the spiritual foundation of the 12 Step Programs does not mean invisibility. One of our biggest problems is the negative stereotype that accompany words like alcoholic and addict, substance abuser or problem drinker. The public sees us at our worst, not at our recovering best. In my little corner of the world, we have a Recovery Walk each September. Invariably, the response is, "Where did they come from?" Well, we came from right here--we just have a major public relations problem. We don't know how to identify as recovering persons without jeopardizing anonymity.

Watch this space for further discussion of that issue.

Another issue, which I am going to touch on briefly here, is that following September (National Recovery Month, remember?) is October and then November. The season of campaigns and elections. In the spirit of democracy let me write a few words about that:

I live in an area where kids are dropping dead from prescription pain medications at an epidemic rate. Where a new soccer stadium opened while the town was on an emergency curfew lock-down due to the rising violent crimes attributed to (guess what?) drug use and narcotic trafficking.

I have been watching those highly unpleasant political ads, and I hear about who is a socialist, and who is in the pocket of the "big interests" and who supports big government. And the Mosque. I hear about the Mosque.

Do I hear one single shred of compassion or intelligent thinking or even a lousy mention of the children we are burying every day because of drug overdoses? I do not. Do I hear anything about the deteriorating conditions that promote drug trafficking and its attendant crimes? I do not. Do I hear any indication whatsoever that any of the candidates has even spent five minutes reading up on the subject? I do not!

I hear about the Mosque. I don't want to hear about the Mosque. I want to hear who is going to try and do something. I want to hear a plan. I want to hear that at least one of the politicians running for office gives a damn.

Do that, you don't even have to talk about the Mosque. You will have some real issues to talk about it. And maybe if some more recovering people are willing to not be invisible, you'll have supporters, too.

Supporters who vote.

Like this recovering person who isn't the least bit invisible, and isn't going anywhere.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Identity Crisis?

Hey everyone, just want to thank you for your patience as I experiment with a couple of different "looks" for the blog. It's not an identity crisis (at least I hope it isn't!) What it is, is a friend pointing out that they would never have recognized me from the profile picture (what is it? 10 years old?) and my realization that the page was beginning to look a little tired, maybe in need of a makeover. So for a while, it may look different from one visit to the next. Feedback welcome, as always.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What Is It About 20-Somethings? -

A few years, I noticed that my work was beginning to shift from teenagers to young adults. What I now recognize is that this wasn't just an anomaly, it was the beginning of a major social shift. Why? I don't have the answer. But this piece from the New York Times certainly has some thoughtful observations.

A Dutch City Seeks to End Drug Tourism -

Apparently legalization does not put an end to all the marijuana problems.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Over-Diagnosed + Over-Medicated = Overdosed

It is the Eighth month of 2010. Since the first of the year I have helped about a dozen individuals--addicts, family members, friends--deal with the aftermath of an overdose.

In some instances the overdose was fatal. In all instances the overdose was devastating. Children find siblings and parents unconscious and not breathing; parents who think their kids are only smoking a little pot discover them unconscious with blue lips.

This is awful, a horror beyond anything a family should have to endure. But here is the biggest part of the problem. We are not talking about overdoses on street drugs, we are talking about prescription drugs. Straight from the friendly Walgreen's or CVS and ensconced in the medicine cabinet.

Sooner or later, we've got to ask, are all these meds really necessary? Does anyone really need Oxycontin for a toothache?

What got me started on this rant, surprisingly, was not something about drugs; it was a New York Times article on Grief. Specifically, grief that has found its way into the DSM, the diagnostic bible of the mental health field.  Not that grief isn't painful and isolating, but is it a diagnosable illness, or simply part of the human condition? And unfortunately, in the post-therapeutic age we live in, what's the treatment?

More prescription drugs. Of course they will be non-abusable and non-addictive.

Just like we thought benzo's were safe, back in the 70's. At least until Betty Ford went public with her Valium addiction, and founded the treatment center that bears her name.

Anyway, I would just like to see us slow the roll a little, and think about some alternatives to a pill. Talk therapy isn't the answer for everything, sometimes meds are exactly what the situation calls for. But let's don't through the alternatives out the window.

After all, no one ever overdosed on talk.

Link to NYT article:
Link to Samhsa's Prescription Drug page:

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Please bear with me as I offer some amends and an explanation, hopefully of the "not-to-bullshitty" variety.

I have really neglected you lately. The blog has slipped down my list of priorities as this ongoing battle with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder) drags on. I have relied on posting articles that I thought might be of interest, told myself that I was doing this because I was too sick and tired to write. Recently I realized that it wasn't illness keeping me from writing, it was dishonesty.

I try to only write about what I know, and what I know right now is that this process of recovery from pneumonia and COPD is much more than I thought it would be. In a sense, I came out of the hospital like a guy fresh from the rehab and feeling "cured" only to find out he was a lot sicker than he thought he was. And like rehab guy, I have to start at Step One.

I am powerless over this illness. It has impacted every area of my life, on a day to day basis it affects everything from my sleep to my mood to my ability to work and play. I can't deal with it on my own. My wife, my Docs (both medical and alternative) my family, my friends--I rely on them all for help, and trust that they are decent and forgiving people who can put up with my moodiness. (Which, by the way, had been enhanced by big doses of steroids. Mercifully, that's over.)

Powerlessness doesn't mean I am helpless--quite the opposite. It means that my work is to do the best I can to help myself: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I believe that my Higher Power doesn't reward laziness. His will is not to do for me the things I need to do for myself. It's to support me as I try my best to do my best.

So now you have it, the straight skinny as we used to say. I sincerely apologize for the long silences, and resolve to do better.

Thanks for letting me share.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Give a damn.

Of the stories I reposted from other sources this week, two really stand out in my mind. The first is the profile of my good friend Barri Pepe and Myra's Place, the center she founded for abused, addicted and traumatized women. The other is the story of Jenna Lord, the young woman who disappeared, only to be found dead by her family in a vacant lot in Camden.

The irony, of course, is that Barri founded Myra's Place for young women like Jenna. But for one tiny shift in circumstance or the whims of fate, Jenna could have gone to Myra's Place instead of that weed infested lot in Camden.

Of course, we can never know. Mysteries have truths buried in them, and this mystery is exactly that kind. I could write for pages about all the factors that create tragedies like this but the truth is so simple it hurts.

We need more places like Myra's Place.

We need to begin to take addiction seriously as an epidemic in this country that is destroying a generation.

We need to treat addiction like the illness it is, and stop trying to cure it with jail.

We need not to wait for someone else to do something.
Barri & Myra

We need to give a damn.

Life on the streets that claimed Jenna Lord | Philadelphia Daily News | 07/24/2010

Life on the streets that claimed Jenna Lord | Philadelphia Daily News | 07/24/2010: "'You would think overdosing would be hitting rock bottom but I've seen people get hit with a shot of Narcan [a remedy often applied to addicts who've overdosed] wake up right up, and get right back out there,' he said. 'A lot of times, rock bottom is cold and blue.'"~Police Captain Mark Nicholas, Camden County.

The Value and Harm of Religion � Digital Dharma

Excellent post on religion, atheism and spirituality. The Value and Harm of Religion � Digital Dharma

Friday, July 23, 2010

Myra's Place in Collingdale offers women hope and help | Philadelphia Inquirer | 07/23/2010

Every day we hear tragic stories about women beaten, raped, abducted, killed. We need a thousand places like Myra's Place! Thank you, Barri Pepe, for all your hard work, but most of all, for your vision.
Barri Pepe, Founder of Myra's Place
Myra's Place in Collingdale offers women hope and help | Philadelphia Inquirer | 07/23/2010

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Keeping it simple on Independence Day

Nothing gives us blogger types a case of ego inflation like a holiday. We think deep thoughts (or think we do) and feel compelled to share them whether you like it or not. So this year, let's keep in simple.

Aside from being our National Birthday, the day on which we set standards for ourselves that continue to challenge us to this day, it is the Summer Holiday. We celebrate with parades, barbecues and fireworks. For people in active addiction, with the exception of the presence of flammable material and explosives, it's pretty much business as usual. For people in Recovery, however, it presents some challenges. As always, on holidays, the everyday rules are suspended and permissions are granted. There 's nothing wrong with that, except that for some in early recovery it presents some unique situations.

Let me break it down:

  1. Your Recovery is your own responsibility. Don't assume that anyone understands addiction, especially a bunch of people involved in their own festivities. If it's hard for you to refuse an offer of a drink or a drug, maybe you would do better to go to a meeting than a barbecue.
  2. Watch the temptation to tell war stories. I'm not talking Valley Forge, here, I am talking about glorifying binges and other addiction related behaviors. Euphoric Recall is dangerous for recovering people, because it allows the mind to do essentially the same thing that drugs do. Pain is dulled and pleasure is enhanced. The funny story is only funny when divorced from the painful realities surrounding it. The wild, drunken beer run isn't quite so funny once you acknowledge the kids in the back seat. So keep it real.
  3. Remember the support available to you. All those numbers in your cell phone? No, not the guy with the Oxycontin connection--you were supposed to get rid of that! The numbers that you got from all those great people at the 12 Step meetings? Now's the time to use them. Phone Therapy has been one of those mainstays of the 12 Step programs from the beginning. A phone call has made the difference between disaster and relief more times than anyone can count. If you think, should I call? Call.
  4. Plan B. You know what that means, right? Plan B is what you use when Plan A doesn't work. It's the strategic retreat. It's making sure that you have an open back door and a ride in case the situation turns out to be a lot more difficult than you expected. Remember that a strategic retreat has won many a war. If the going gets tough, the tough get going, right? Plan B is the way you get going alright--right out the door!

That's the short list. Talk to other clean and sober people and you will have 10 ideas for every one presented here. Independence is the freedom to choose. It's self-determination.

Let this be your Independence Day.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Luzerne County 'cash for kids' defendants finding wheels of justice spin slowly | Philadelphia Inquirer | 06/27/2010

The most heinous abuse of power I have ever seen. For years, teens were abused in a flat-out money scam by a crooked judge. The kind of thing we expect in a Third World country. But not here, in the United States of America.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

My Old Man

It's all my father's fault! 
Well, no, not really. He is the guy on the left hand side of the picture, standing next to my mother. He's wearing a uniform, but I have it on good information that he was not a happy soldier. He had tried to enlist as a teenager, was turned down, then got drafted during the Korean War. He didn't go overseas, saw no combat, and just wanted to get out of the Army as soon as he could, and get back home. 

I don't blame him. I probably would have felt the same way. It isn't a lack of patriotism; the Williams clan is as patriotic as they come and more or less bred for service. My Uncle Howard was a decorated Marine, serving in the Pacific during WWII. My Dad and me, more a matter of temperament, I think.

Anyway, he and my Mom, the lady on the right hand side of the picture, were happy newlyweds. The Army experience was not going to last long, and Dad was going to return home, graduate from the Wharton School, become the youngest VP in the history of a major manufacturing company, father me, and sadly, die from a heart attack at age 29.

It is strange to refer to him as my old man--the truth is that in the hereafter, I would be introduced to someone nearly half my age as my father. Wait a minute! He has stopped aging. If I go on for another ten or twenty years, he would be like a grandson!

Too weird.

I was less than two years old when he died, so on a conscious level, I never knew him. He cast a long shadow over my childhood, but like all shadows it lacked specifics, was only an outline, filled in with darkness. There was a time when I would make up wild stories about my dad, so that he life and death seemed dramatic and somehow more important (or maybe just more interesting.) Of course, this was before I had any grasp of the heroism of an ordinary life. 

So here is my appreciation of a man who fathered me, but a man I never knew. I know how much my Mom loved him, and so, I love him, too. I am long over any of the adolescent resentments of abandonment or any of the other dramas engineered by early loss, and am free to love him paradoxically, without apology. He did not abandon me, he died.

From what my Mon told me, he was a straight shooter, a real square, who did not cheat, saved his money, believed in hard work and education. I am sure that had he lived, he would have done his best to foster those same qualities in his son.

So, here's to you, Dad! Happy Fathers Day, Ken Williams, Sr. I wish we could have had more time together, but we didn't. All things considered, I've turned out pretty good.

It's all your fault.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

R.I.P.Dennis Hopper

Dennis Hopper died this morning. He was 74, best known as the director of  Easy Rider, the best known film about the counterculture of the 1960's. Breaking the boundaries of life and art, he lived as radically as one of the characters he created for many years, before going into de-tox and joining AA in the 1980's. He continued to work in movies and television for many years, proving that there indeed are second acts to American lives.

I always felt an affinity for the man. He wore his recovery lightly, honest and willing to discuss it, if asked. But he also did not seem to feel the need to completely repudiate his life prior to recovery as so many people do when they get sober. He clearly enjoyed some of his adventures even as he recognized the need to change his ways. At least, that's how it seemed to me.

Now, in that world of coincidence that I really do not believe in, I feel compelled to mention this. This Memorial Day Weekend is also the 33rd anniversary of my Recovery. I am clean and sober 33 years this weekend, my date is Memorial Day 1977. What does that mean? Not much if you are looking for something tangible, but in the intangible world of my eccentric spirituality, it means that someone I have never actually met, but felt close to, crossed over during a very special weekend to me. I'm just getting over a long hospitalization and a life threatening illness. I felt cold winds at my back, too, but as it turns out they weren't for me, at least this time.

Jung called it synchronicity. I don't know what to call it, but trust that more will be revealed.

Anyway, I used to joke that my dream 12th Step call would be for me and Dennis Hopper to get a call to take Keith Richards to a meeting. Looks like that's probably off the table now. So Dennis, wherever you are, I hope the coffeepot is full and they have a Cohiba waiting for you.

Save me a seat.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Loose Ends

I know that a lot of people who write, write about their illnesses. You can get away with it if you are a really great writer. But if you are just an okay writer, like me, you know what happens? You whine. And, man, oh man, the only thing I hate worse than whining in general, is me, whining.

So here is the short version: I am a hardhead who didn't:

  1. Stop smoking until three years ago (after 40 years as a serious smoker.)
  2. Listen to my wife who had been telling me since December that there was more going on than just a cold, and that I needed to get to the Doctor.
  3. Listen to my Doctor, who had been trying for a month to get me to go into the hospital.
Because of this, I:
  1. Ended up in the hospital for two weeks.
  2. Am taking a raft of meds.
  3. Will be convalescing for a while longer.
  4. Learned that no matter what you try to do with it, a hospital gown is ugly.
That is about it except for a couple of loose ends:
  • What got me into the hospital was, in essence, an Intervention. My Doctor and my wife, Connie, forced the issue, and I went into the hospital that night. So remember, what "being a hardhead" actually means is "being really good at denial." 
  • Patients are called patients because that is about 99% of the healing process, learning to be patient. (Learning to be a patient patient, actually.)
  • Nurses and techs make the world go around.
  • The world goes on quite nicely without my active participation.
Now, of course, I could go on and on, what I learned and what illness teaches us and my own personal awareness that I have developed and, as they used to say on Seinfeld, ya-dee-yadda-ya.

From Ann LaMott to William Styron to John Berryman there are a thousand writers who have done it better, with far more intelligence and wit than I ever could. And with a lot less whining!

Next time, back to the business at hand.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hiatus over--I'm back!

A funny thing happened on the way to this post.

Okay, not so funny--Pneumonia. I collapsed. spent two weeks in the hospital, returned home with the energy level of a newborn and a bucket of medications to keep me breathing. I am just beginning to get back to work, slowly and cautiously. Three days a week are the best I can do for now; I hope to step it up to four next week.

My wife has been great, and so have my friends. People have stepped up in ways that are truly humbling to me, and fill me with gratitude. I could write all day and never be able to express the relief that I got because people were looking out for me, my wife, the families I work with. I can only hope that I could be half as good and loyal a friend when it's time to reciprocate.

So, cautiously, I am saying that I'm back. I hope you haven't lost interest, because I am ready to resume the conversation.

Let's talk soon!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Hiatus; brief

I am dealing with some health issues that are probably going to interrupt the ongoing dialog for a little while.
Talk with you soon!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Sometimes Good Intentions Aren't Enough Part II

I've been talking with kids about painful and scary stuff for a long time, and there's no easy way to do it. Human nature is to avoid pain, and the more we avoid, the scarier it gets. If you add to this the prevailing cultural view that teens are emotional time bombs just waiting to blow, then the task becomes impossible. So let's deconstruct some myths and talk some common sense.
According to the most prominent TV shrinks, teenagers' brains are not fully developed, and they lack certain critical faculties like judgement, conscience and the capacity to think about abstract issues.
What a load of crap.
Obviously teens brains are not fully developed--they're kids. But if you follow TV shrink logic, then all adults with fully developed brains are sound in judgement, have nicely developed senses of right and wrong, and find abstractions like, say, Health Care Reform easy to think and talk about.
It makes you wonder if any of these guys ever actually watch the news, or stand in line somewhere, or even eat at Denny's!
Sure, the brain does continue to develop throughout adolescence, and further, but conscience and judgement and critical thinking are not just tissue functions, they are also learned. And I don't mean necessarily learned in school, I mean learned at home, in church, from peers, etc., etc.
Kids tell me when I get a little too conscious of all this developmental stuff that I am talking down to them. Know what? They're right. So, thought number one is:

  •  Say it straight. If you're talking about death, talk about death. Approach it like you would talking to any other human being, with a mixture of sadness, respect and awe. Don't assume that you know what your teenager feels anymore than you would a friend. How many times have we expressed condolences to someone about the death of a loved one, assuming this was a heartfelt loss, only to have the person shrug it off, and say, we weren't that close. It can be the same way for kids, but then again, sometimes just the presence of sudden death among the young is, of itself, a terrifying intrusion.
  • Suicide sucks and the closer you are to the person who died, the more it sucks. You feel all the things that you feel with any death, but with the volume turned all the way up. All violent deaths are horribly painful, but suicides have that extra, is there anything I could have done, factor. The way to talk about it is to acknowledge that getting over a death like that is a process, and it is going to take as long as it takes. Let me repeat that: as long as it takes. As Long As It Takes. I had a parent not too long ago who said to me, about his kid dealing with a friend's death, "but it was two weeks ago!" He is not a mean or callous man, he is someone who hates seeing his kid hurting. It's tough, but it takes as long as it takes.
  • Start the dialog now, not when the trouble starts. Some parents seem to have that intuitive way of talking with their kids. Not at them, with them. They disclose, they don't just interrogate. They wear parenthood lightly, not like a suit of armor. Whenever someone tells you that you can't be a friend to your kids, take a look at that person's friends. Because if friends support, confront, push each other to excel, offer help when needed, then guess what? Not only can you be a friend to your kid, you damn well better be. Because if you are not doing those things, then what are you doing?
  • Some grieving has to be done with peers. When you lose a friend, do you only grieve with their parents or your parents? Of course not. You want to get with your friends who were also friends of the person who died. The teens are no different. Keep your eyes and ears open in the event that the grieving process is turning into a drug or booze binge, but let them get together and grieve. 
  • Easy on the counseling. Some of the kids I have been talking to since the recent spate of suicides in my area really resent the whole "you need to see a counselor" thing, usually initiated by the school. One went so far as to say that they didn't believe the school was interested in him at all. "They were just covering their ass," he said. Smart kid.
  • Educate yourself. Anyone with a computer can find a lot of resources, some of them linked to this page. Explore them, check them out, see what is helpful for you. One of the things you are likely to learn is that overall, as a society, we don't grieve very well. It's an important thing to learn, because in life, we are all going to encounter things we will grieve over. Guaranteed.
So, to sum up, the kids are not time bombs nor are they made of glass. They will dialog with you if you open it respectfully and allow them their feelings. Don't let the whole "cluster suicide" thing drive you crazy. It happens, but you would do well to look at all the times it doesn't happen, too.

Most important, remember, life goes on.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

It Starts with Self.: Religion in Schools

Cori Trice is a young woman who thinks deeply, sees clearly and writes with eloquence and warmth. This post on religion through the eyes of a young person, is a great place to become acquainted with her writing

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sometimes Good Intentions Aren't Enough Part I

My little corner of the world has gone through a lot in the past few months. We have been in the national news because of the four deaths involving teenagers at a local high school. The first, a car accident, appears to be linked to the next two, the result of a pact in which two girls stood in front of a train, together. The fourth, a suicide by hanging, does not seem to have a direct connection to the other two.

Of course, the school has brought in counselors who have done a heroic job of helping the other students to deal with the deaths, and there has been an outpouring of public support for the families of the dead teenagers. There have been articles in the press about how to discuss the issues with your teens, what to look for as indicators of suicidal thinking and what to do if you fear that your child is suicidal. Everyone working with teenagers in the county is urging them not to keep a peers suicidal leanings a secret; to tell a responsible adult.

All of this is good, and right, and the way to handle such things. In no way do I want to discount or minimize any effort that anyone is making to help our kids deal with this and to prevent it from happening again.

I do have a few issues to raise, however.

How willing is a kid going to be to talk to someone about were they are hurting when they are going to a school where they have to dress a certain way or be punished; where drug-sniffing dogs roam the halls (and perhaps there is even an in-school police station or probation office)?

How often is a teenager going to open up about insecurities, fears, drug use, sexual pressures, intimidation and all of the myriad emotional hurdles of adolescence in an environment that seems to value only achievement?

If that makes you uncomfortable, or defensive, or angry, think about these statements made by kids I have worked with:

  • "I tried to talk to my counselor at school but they won't let me out of class to do it."
  • "They don't have much time for me because I'm stupid."
  • "I'm getting threatened every day but I can't fight back because I'll get arrested."
  • "The counselor said that I could talk to her in confidence. Then she called my parents."
  • "I don't want to get in trouble!"
I don't mean to sound as though I am pinning it all on the schools, but let's be realistic. Public education has not exactly been the best place to foster an atmosphere of mutual trust. Frankly, I don't like to go into public schools much anymore. They don't feel like schools. They feel like lock-ups. Something about the dogs and metal detectors, I think.

And before anyone jumps to one of those worn-out arguments that measures like that are necessary, think about this. There are several excellent schools, right here in our county, that operate on a completely different philosophy, and they are doing just fine. No drug-sniffing dogs or metal detectors. Just trust and a mission of instilling a love of learning in their students. In my perfect world, the Public Schools would spend the money on a staff psychiatrist or other trained and independent mental health worker, instead of the metal detector and the drug dog or the in-house cop. Imagine that comment.

So, while there are excellent people in the public school system, the system itself is less likely to inspire the trust of a kid than the Juvenile Probation system.

I'm afraid the job of addressing issues like suicide and other tragic deaths with our teens is up to us.

(to be continued)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Empty Rooms: A Film By Tara Acquesta

This is an excellent film by a very talented young woman about the impact of a family member's addiction. Please watch it!

Empty Room from John Clements on Vimeo.


Heaven knows, I like to beat a dead horse as much as anyone, and because of a few things that happened this week, I am going to take a few more whacks at this one. Insurance. Specifically, health insurance.

When I am working with a family or other group of appropriately concerned individuals to develop an intervention, one of the questions that invariably arises, is who is going to pay for treatment? In the past, it wasn't much of a concern: the insurance company. After all, isn't that what we pay those premiums for? As an addiction counselor with many years experience, I certainly wasn't going to make an inappropriate referral. An experienced intake worker and solid treatment team would do the rest. The individual at the center of the intervention would receive the treatment they need at the appropriate level of care, for the right amount of time. The family would be included in the treatment plan; there would be a good, well thought-out aftercare plan to take the individual and the family through their first six months to a year of recovery.

Treatment like this is available, it exists, and surprisingly, it is not as expensive as many people think. But here's the thing: insurance won't pay for it. It sounds like a bad joke, but insurance companies have figured out that if you rake in the premiums, but don't pay out more than a fraction of the income, you make one heck of a lot of money. It's nothing new. I think Myer Lansky first defined the principle in the 20's, and the Casinos have run on it for decades.

In short: over a period of time, the house always wins and the mark always loses. Always, ever, forever, 100% of the time. Exactly the way your insurance company plays, with one exception. Casinos operate on the up and up. They will show you exactly the odds that they will pay. Insurance companies don't.

They lie.

And here is how they do it. They publish a list of what they pay for, very thorough, very comprehensive. In Pennsylvania, the say in their benefits that they pay for 30 days of inpatient substance abuse treatment. That's what they say. What they do not say is that they pay this according to their criteria of need. In other words, they will pay it, but first, that means they have to decide that it is needed, that it meets their criteria.

Now, let me give you a little primer in addiction and alcoholism. Addicts and alcoholics are often in denial, they tend to be dishonest and unreliable reporters, they may not remember what they have taken, in what quantity or when. They may be motivated once the car ride to the rehab starts, change their mind fifteen times before they get there, (and twenty after admission.). When threatened they can become manipulative, panicky, and sometimes just run away. The effects of many of the substances they ingest can mimic other mental illnesses, from depression, to bi-polar disorder, to schizophrenia. The only way that their immediate treatment needs can be assessed is by a thorough, eyes on, in person evaluation. 

So, one would think that an experienced assessor meets with the client, relates the outcome of the interview to an insurance company rep, satisfies the criteria for admission and that is that, treatment begins, right?

Wrong. It is just the beginning of an agonizing, time-consuming process that drags on and on and on. More information is needed. Then more. Someone hasn't consulted with the psychiatrist that the client saw ten years ago, and how can we admit without that?  Did he take diazipam or Dexedrine? Is he compliant with his blood pressure medication? 

I have seen families sit in the lobby of a rehab for over 12 hours going through this crap, only to finally be told that their patient is authorized for 3 days of inpatient care. Or worse, that they are referred to an Intensive Outpatient Program 10 miles away and have an intake appointment for next Wednesday. The client will go three days a week--shame about that DUI, someone will have to drive him, and, oh yes, the co-pay will be $50.00 per session. But you can use a credit card.

These are things I have seen, over and over again, to the point where I find it hard to believe that this is not intentional. Aside for denial, addicts and alcoholics have notoriously low frustration levels, and are extremely prone to just get up an walk out.

And if you think about it for a minute, that is a really nice windfall for the insurance company. Then they don't have to pay anything at all. As for the client--he was unmotivated. As for the family? Insufficient support.

It's a disgrace. So, for now, do what I get my families to do. Learn to be a negotiator, a persistent advocate and a squeaky wheel. In therapy, we learn to ask for what you want. In this setting, learn to demand it! If we tolerate a broken, dysfunctional system that allows us to pay top dollar for virtually nonexistent treatment, then we get what we deserve. Shame on us.

But if we truly believe that addiction is an illness, then let's demand the kind of treatment that we would expect from any duly licensed facility; and let's demand that the insurance company pay for it, without qualification.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sometimes you win....

Nobody likes to lose, that's for sure. I just got finished watching a very exciting ice hockey game between the U.S. and Canada for Olympic Gold. The American played catch-up, ultimately tying in the last seconds of regulation play, forcing the game into sudden death overtime, where they lost.
Does that make them losers?
Maybe, to some. That's a word we hear a lot these days. This one, or that, is a loser. It's ubiquitous, and vague, but no one wants it applied to them. No one becomes more attractive, or important, or socially desirable, or wealthy. No one has more friends, or plays the hero, or gets the girl by being a loser.
But then we come to the 12 Step Programs. And all that talk about surrender. Surrender? Now just a minute, here! We don't surrender!
Oh yes we do. We "lose to win," we "keep it by giving it away." We "let go and let God" and "turn it over."
Are we "Losers".
No. We are Winners. And what were Winners?
Easy, they are Losers who kept on trying.
Losers who didn't give up.
So, let's not look down our noses at the losers.
Let's thank them and encourage them to keep on trying.
That way, we all win.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Friday, February 26, 2010

Who loves you?

When I saw the heading to the Join Together article, "Friends and Relatives Provide Nearly All Oxycontin to Abusers", I have to tell you, I had a moment. Never say never, they say. I try never to say "I have heard it all" because the second you do, you hear something so beyond the pale of human logic, reason or experience that it makes you want to scream. Scream loud and long, and run like hell into the night. It makes you want to blame the messenger and curse the truth and kick a dog--anybody's dog. It brings out the worst.
But I felt like I had now officially heard it all.
Let me put it this way. The heading could have read : "97% of all sudden childhood deaths linked to friends and relatives providing rat poison to children", and it could not have hit me any harder.
I am not going to quote extensively from the article. Join Together is an excellent newsletter, committed to bringing the best and most current news in research and policy to anyone interested in drug and alcohol issues. They have been around a long time, and if they reprint research, you can take it to the bank, as we used to say in the good old days before the economy went in the tank.
I say this simply to make it clear that this is not some wild piece of tabloid crap. This is the real deal.
And what it says, in essence, is like what old Walt Kelly used to say in Pogo:
"We have met the enemy and they are us."
We're the bad guys.
That guy lurking around the schoolyard to get the kids on dope? Us.
The guy drawing in his guillible pigeons with the offer of the first one for free? Us.
The guy comforting the wounded veteran with a drug that will turn him into a zombie? Us.
Us. Us. Us.
Feeling about as crazy as I do right now?
Let me explain.
Oxycontin is a marvel of Big Pharma, containing a large dose of narcotic pain medication in a time release caplet. For people with extreme or chronic pain, it began as a godsend. It allowed people to function who had been debilitated for years by pain.
All good, until someone discovered that the time release could be beaten by snorting it. It moved into the blood and brain much faster, essentially replicating what happens when someone snorts another narcotic, popularly known as heroin. That's right, heroin: 100% addictive, tolerance increasing exponentially so a bigger dose is needed almost from the beginning; agonizing withdrawal symptoms that cause the addiction to progress so rapidly that someone using it may not realize they are addicted until they begin to experience withdrawal. Which, by the way, can come on only hours from the last use. From there on out the addict isn't using to get high anymore; he or she is using just to keep from getting sick.
Heroin. Oxycontin, both equally addictive, equally progressive, equally devastating to individuals and families, and ultimately equally lethal.
Most of us, though, are not too likely to have heroin in our medicine cabinet.
Not so with Oxycontin. They are prescribed for everything these days from headaches to backaches to kidney stones. Originally, the idea seemed to be that this was a good med for people with crippling arthritis or fibromyalgia, or some types of cancer. But like any good drug, it soon became much more widely prescribed.
And like any good mood changing drug, it began to be abused.
It seems harmless enough at first. It meets the big caveats of any denial system. It's pharmaceutical and a Doctor prescribed it. Well, darn, that's good enough for me!
Remember when Doctors endorsed cigarettes, back in the 50's? I do. But enough of that.
We are a society that takes it to heart the old dictum that we pursue pleasure and avoid pain. And man, do we avoid it. We are constantly bombarded with sophisticated advertising that tells us that physical and emotional pain are unnatural states. We take extra strength and super strength. We take meds that improve our dopamine and serotonin levels to the point where we are probably way too happy for our own good. (My old mentor as a therapist wouldn't accept happiness as a goal of therapy. History, he would point out, is full of happy ax murderers and dictators.)
So here is the bottom line. You have things in your medicine cabinet, or your night table, or bureau drawer, that are as addictive as heroin. You don't give them to your kids for sleeplessness, or your neighbor for a headache, or for a guest who drank too much (God forbid!). You don't keep them because you paid for 'em, dammit, and you might need them again. You dispose of them responsibly when you no longer need them. Your doctor can advise you about that, or the cops, or a drug counselor like me. You don't dump them down the toilet. Never mind why, just don't do it.
Become an educated consumer. Ask your doc about prescriptions, read those little inserts, look them up online at one of the many good medical sites. Do not give them to someone, or share them. These are not lightweight drugs we are talking about here, these are deadly.
And if, as the survey strongly suggests. we are the enemy, that's the news right now. It doesn't have to be the news next year. And if, by then we are the good guys, look at all the good we will do. The largest supplier will have left town, and maybe we can begin to close the book on what has been a long painful chapter--The O.C. Chapter.

Friends and Relatives Provide Nearly All Oxycontin to Abusers

Friends and Relatives Provide Nearly All Oxycontin to Abusers

Sunday, February 14, 2010

What We Talk About When We Talk About Codependency

If you read Raymond Carver, you know that I cribbed the title from his story, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Raymond Carver knew alcoholism and he knew relationships, and he wrote about both with great clarity and heart. Most of all, he wrote about them simply. He didn't use jargon, or cite theories, he presented his characters as full blooded human beings, not as clusters of behaviors. I go back and reread his stories often to keep me "jargon honest."
There are recovery concepts that it's important for addicts and their families to learn because they help them to conceptualize their problems differently. Instead of "I don't know what happened.," the issue becomes "I shouldn't hang around with those guys anymore. I get in trouble every time I do." (People, places and things.)
Here are some examples:

  • Codependency: Valuable concept if it helps a couple to understand that there are areas where issues of responsibilities and boundaries blur, and genuine intimacy suffers as a result. Meaningless when used broadly: "Codependent relationship," tells absolutely nothing about the actual issues and problem areas, and in fact, leads to a lot of unnecessary anxiety. Every relationship has codependent aspects to it; no relationship is entirely free of codependence.
  • Nominalizing: This is when we make a thing out of a process or person. Shiela is a "Codependent". Harry is "resistant to Treatment." Susie is "The Lost Child." Somebody around here has to be "The Scapegoat." Is anyone an "Anything?" I don't think so. Jane stands up in a meeting and identifies as a "Alcoholic" or "Addict", she is stating something essential about herself to people empathic and understanding, not calling herself a name. I tell little Johnny that he is the "Family Scapegoat", I have done nothing remotely helpful at all.
  • Enabling: Shocker: enabling is not intrinsically bad. If  I enable my kid to go to college, or my wife to open a studio, or my dog to go to a groomer, or my DVR to catch LOST, have I done something wrong. No, and neither have you. Enabling is recovery shorthand for behaviors that either facilitate an active addiction by financially subsidizing it, or by interfering with the logical consequences of addiction. That is about the extent to which you can generalize about enabling. Anything beyond that isn't much more than a name to call someone. Instead of helping someone to empower themselves, it gives them something to feel a little guilty and ashamed about.
I hope this gives an idea of what I'm trying to say. If Billy's mother has been paying his rent and car payment while he rocks out on OxyContin, she needs help and support to learn that she can risk the anxiety inherent in the situation to withdraw support for Billy's addiction, while actively increasing pressure for him to get into recovery. In other words, she begins to understand how an addiction is enabled. By doing this, she can begin to check out her actions, in advance, with friends, a counselor, an Al-Anon or Nar-Anon sponsor, to determine if what she is doing enables active addiction or enables Billy to begin a process of recovery.
She doesn't need to hear jargon; she needs to feel empowered to use her own intelligence and her own judgment, and not feel guilty for doing it.
I like to think Raymond Carver would approve.

The Shirtless Dancing Guy Theory of Leadership

Courtesy of my friend Jim Stiles. Real leadership made simple:

Silent Killers � Chaz’ journey back.

A must-read for Valentines day, from Chaz:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Extra, extra, read all about it!

I have been snowed in.
That doesn't happen too often in Philadelphia. Here in the City of Brotherly Love & Cheesesteaks, we aren't exactly in the middle of the snow belt. We get a really good storm once in a while, but--well, look at it this way: the three snowstorms that we have had since last Friday have dropped as much snow on our little burg, as we have had in the whole last four years combined.
More than Buffalo, NY.
So, things have slowed down quite a bit. And as you can see if you scroll down a little, I have been traversing the blogosphere. There are so many good recovery-oriented blogs out there that you could take days and days just to get caught up. By no means are the selections below inclusive--quite the opposite! They only scratch the surface of the rich and deep treasure trove of discussion, disclosure, near-despair and spirituality, that are the every day reality of the addict and their families. Some, like An Addict In Our Son's Bedroom, and Fight Of Your Life, are so good that I get the Intervention families I am working with to read them in order to learn about enabling, addict behaviors, the values of faith and support, the disease of addiction and the importance of sharing. It works, too. They come back after spending some time with the blogs saying things like, "I never knew that anyone else had ever gone through anything like this," or "now I feel like I am not alone!"
So, read on, dear friend. I hope you find something that you like, or that makes you feel like you are not alone, or makes you uncomfortable in a good way.
Let me know what you think.

An Addict in our Son's Bedroom: Tempering Expectations

More from this excellent blog:

Big Changes In Store For Psychology's 'Bible' : NPR

A therapist friend used to call the DSM "1001 names to call your patients." From NPR:

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Lie

The first time we learn that we can consciously manipulate the truth for personal gain, we have no idea  what we are doing, what the consequences are and what negative, even evil, power has now entered our lives.
Children usually work at lying, they tell those obvious and broadly transparent fibs that do little to conceal the truth. The turned over cookie jar, spilled milk, messed pants or broken glass give it away pretty quickly. The lie, "I didn't do it!" Or even simply "Nothing!" are comical. Fortunate kids are corrected, and the reason is explained. Not so fortunate kids are stroked and even benignly encouraged. Kids from really dysfunctional families get both, and are left to try and figure it out.
The really dangerous lie is the one that is believed. That's when we learn to lie. Because the believed lie carries something terrific with it; the believed lie carries power.
I don't remember the exact year or grade, but I remember this: it was during Lent. Holy Week, to be specific. My class was in church for one of the solemn services traditional to the Catholic Chirch at that time of year. Some of the other boys and me, bored at the length of the service, began to clown around. We got loud. It distracted the priest, who said something from the altar. This was an unheard of rebuke in the late 50's and early 60's, and we knew that hell was coming as soon as the rite was over. You could see the nuns already shaking their heads and feel the tangible atmosphere of fear and doom that filled the church like the scent of incense..
We were instructed to stay after the service. The priest came out and asked "who was laughing?" No one spoke. He had someone bring out the crucifix, a big crucifix, with an agonized, bloody Christ on it. One by one the nuns brought the boys up to the crucifix and the priest asked "Were you laughing.?"
Everyone gave it up. They cried, they shook, they sweat and they admitted that they were laughing.
Everyone except me.
I hated to be kept after school, I hated detention and I especially hated boredom.
And, I had the idea in my head that as long as I didn't give in, they couldn't do anything to me. I mean, I knew that they could carry on and slap me around, which was common in those days, but they couldn't really do anything to me.
So I lied. When he asked if I was laughing, I said "No."
And they did holler and shake me and slap me. They made me kiss the cross and asked me again. My peers looked at me with hate in their eyes, and I lied. They took me around to all the grades, and  the crucifix, and asked me in front of all the other kids, and I lied.
And finally, they let me go.
Over the Easter break, every other boy had assignments to write (The Apostles Creed, 100x), convent basements to clean, parents to answer to (because they were called, of course.)
I read comics and played basketball.
I felt on top of the world.
I felt powerful.
I had lied, and was believed. I figured I had pretty much damned myself to hell, so what the heck. Might as well be out for me.
Obviously, this was not my last lie.
I lied about it the first time I drank alcohol, and I lied about it the first time I smoked pot and I probably lied about it when I popped my first pill or took my first hit of dope.
I lied to spouses, children, employers, landlords, friends and lovers.
It took me a dozen years to find my way to recovery and another forty years to find my way back to God.
I don't lie today. I don't lie because I really believe that my recovery and my connection to God can be easily severed, because both are truth and lying kills the truth.
Because every time I lied, I hurt someone. Starting with those kids writing the Apostles Creed who looked at me as a friend and then felt stupid and betrayed as a result of my actions.
Anyhow, a lot of my young clients seem to have the same disease I had, and we talk about it. They might say, well I don't know, I don't want to get clean and sober.
I say, then let's just work on telling the truth.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Anthrax Kills Eight Heroin Users in Europe

Every treatment professional has a briefcase full of stories about drug tests that show positive for substances that the client swears they haven't used. Most are sad/comical antecdotes about the entrenchment of drnial systems. Recently, though, there has been some serious research to suggest that it isn't always fabrication--sometimes it's contamination. No drug cartel wants to spend more than it has to on overhead, so they try to make the product cheaply, not under the best of conditions.

Or, as a friend of mint points out, how much quality control can you expect from an organization that routinely ships its product in human rectums.

From Join Together: Anthrax Kills Eight Heroin Users in Europe

Sunday, January 17, 2010


New York Times Square New year celebrations in...Image via Wikipedia
Remember those New Years' Resolutions?

How are you doing with them? The promise to stop smoking at midnight on New Years Eve?

The resolution to exercise every day?

The commitments to walk more, eat less, and clean all that stuff out of the hall closet?

Chances are, not a lot has happened. It's understandable, because the very behaviors we often seem to be the most eager to be rid of are the ones actuallly most diffucult to change. Why is this? Because as bright as we van be about some things, we remain downright stupid about how people change.

If it was as easy as making a resolution and setting a date, then change would be simple and easy. We'd say, here's what I want to change, and have at it. That's how we like to think about change. Every family has a story about Uncle Joe who drank for twenty years and then saw the light. That was that, never touched another drop. Or Aunt Lucille, who ran on Newports and coffee for forty years, then had that cancer scare and never touched either, just like that!

That's how we tend to think about change. And that's part of what makes change difficult. It's a process, not an event. The Uncle Joe and Aunt Lucille stories are impressive, and often true. They are inspiring, but do very little to suggest a model for change. and the reason may be genetic. This link explains more.

No kidding, those pesky genes may well be playing a part in the process of change. It appears, according to some current research, that scientists have linked genetics to difficulty stopping cigarette smoking. It seems that some of us have "easy" genes and some of us have "tough" genes. If you are blessed with easy genes, then guess what? You quit smoking just like Aunt Lucille. If you have "tough" genes, though, quitting is likely not to be a walk in the park. You'll try, fail, have some success, try again, and so forth. Eventually, you'll quit.

I say that with a degree of confidence, because I quit smoking almost three years ago, and I was no Aunt Lucille smoker. I smoked in earnestr for over 40 years. My first serious attempt to stop smoking was in 1977 and I finally made it to non-smoker in 2007. None of this is delivered so that I can pat myself on the back, or eexpect you to. If anything, it indicates that I am a very slow learner with some seriously stubborn genes. But it does say something about a different way of looking at change.
  • We think about change before we change. It took a lot of thinking about being a non-smoker before I was ready to try it, even for a day.
  • Support counts; shame sucks. Having people in your corner who want to see you change is great. You can tell who they are because they always say, I know you can do this.  If they don't, and especially if they talk a lot about what you "should" do and "should" have done, watch out. Especially if the person telling you what you "should have done" is you!
  • Perseverance usually trumps everything else. If you keep trying, you will achieve your goal. It's that simple. It's no coincidence that the greatest fellowships for helping people tto change use the motto "One Day At A Time." That's a way off keeping things very simple: just keep trying to do your best every day.
And if you do, you will change. I promise!
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