Posts Tagged ‘addiction’

A 12-Step Program for Republicans

Wednesday, January 27th, 2021

By Bob Gaydos

38E746B5-A254-42AA-9A6F-7683C3D4A74C     Denial is the first, big obstacle. Until and unless they can admit they were powerless over Donald Trump, Republicans have no hope of recovering. They will be forever known as Trumpaholics, people addicted to avoiding reality and destined for a life that is, by any reasonable measure, unmanageable. I cite the last five years as evidence.

      But, as they say, there is a solution, one that has changed lives for the better for millions of people worldwide — a 12-Step program. It has worked miracles for alcoholics; it can work for Trumpaholics.

       I’ve written on addiction and recovery for more than a dozen years. One of the recurring stories I’ve heard over that time is that the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are not just a proven way to stop drinking, but also an excellent formula for living a good life. Getting rid of the booze — or in this case, the Donald — is only the beginning. Republicans can reap these rewards, individually or as a party … but only if they really want to change.

        So, with a deep bow to Bill Wilson and A.A. and adapted in all humility, here are the 12 Steps of Recovery for Republicans:

 

    1. We admitted we were powerless over Trump, that our party had become unmanageable.  This state of affairs is usually evident to non-addicts of the individual’s acquaintance well before that aha! moment arrives, if it does. Members of A.A. say this is the only step they have to get perfect, for obvious reasons. If a Republican can’t admit — still — that Trump dominates his or her every political thought or action, there’s no sense going on to Step 2. Denial. However, if Republicans can look at the past five years of saying yes to virtually everything Trump did or said and acknowledge the trouble that this blind obedience, this dependence, has caused in Republicans’ lives (broken relationships, lost jobs and opportunities, ruined reputations, trouble with the law) as well as the pain it inflicted on the lives of many others, there is hope.
    2. Came to believe that a power greater than Trump or Mitch McConnell could restore us to sanity. (No one said this was easy.) No, this does not mean everyone becoming Evangelical Christians. Quite the opposite. That would simply be swapping blind faith in Trump for blind faith in other con men and women. Give me your money and you will be saved. For a party that professes a belief in strong family values and makes a public display of respecting religious (well, Christian) teachings, this should not be a problem. Theoretically. However, I think it could be challenging to many Republicans who have become used to giving lip service to their professed religious beliefs. Skeptical alcoholics are sometimes advised to pick a higher power of their own choosing or at least to believe that someone whose sobriety they admire has such a belief. Instead of putting their hands on some charlatan’s shoulders and bowing their heads, supposedly in prayer, Republicans should look within the ranks (or without) for a source of strength, hope and faith and emulate that person. It should be someone with a sincere, demonstrated, spiritual footing. Hint: it’s not Ted Cruz. Not a Koch brother or Rupert Murdoch either. Keep looking. Someone more like Lincoln, remember? It may take a little time. That’s OK.
    3. Made a decision to turn our will, our money and our platform over to the care of whatever power we came up with in Step 2.  A key step. Last time out, Republicans did this almost accidentally with Trump. That was blind, misplaced faith in the flashy guy. No willpower, true, but no sense of shared responsibility to the greater good. This time, they need to decide to follow the lead of someone with sound moral principles and then lead their political lives accordingly. That is, decide to do the rest of the steps.
    4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. This step could be a problem for a lot of Republicans because it requires honesty. But if they want to change, they need a list of the things they want to change. For example, lying that the presidential election was stolen while knowing there was never any proof of this would be something to put high on the list. Lying is bad, even in politics. Hypocrisy is just a fancy word for lying. Also, stealing and harming others so as to benefit yourself. Breaking the law, too. All Trump’s pardons did not remove the guilt, they merely freed the guilty.
    5. Shared with that higher power from step two, with ourselves and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. In other words, look in the mirror and say, “I have been a self-serving, lying, backstabbing, selfish, hypocritical, cowardly son-of-a-bitch for the past four years,“ and then release a statement to that affect — in detail — on social media. Get Liz Cheney or Lisa Murkowski to pose in the picture with you. Piece of cake.
    6. 6. Were entirely ready to have my higher power (with the help of a new party leader of sound moral standing) remove these defects of character. Basically, Republicans must resign themselves to the fact that they have been a group of self-serving, lying, cowardly, etc. since they chose Trump as their leader. This is the truth, the real news. When and if they accept it, they can move on to Step 7.
    7. Humbly asked him or her to remove our shortcomings. Harder than it sounds. First of all, shortcomings seldom ever really go away. They find new hiding places. Republicans will have to become aware of them and try to avoid them. Stop lying about the deficit, That’s a lifetime of work and will require humility. Good luck finding someone to explain that concept to Republicans. Again, not Ted Cruz, who confuses humiliation with humility.
    8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. Really. You don’t get to totally screw up a country and just walk away like nothing happened. Not if you want to change. Start with the kids in the cages.
    9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible except when to do so would injure them or others. Again, start with the kids in the cages. That last part lets Republicans stay out of jail and not hurt their own family by admitting how they routinely cheated minority voters with sketchy redistricting plans and harsh voter registration laws.
    10. Continued to take personal inventory and when wrong promptly admitted it. This is the new way of living part of it. “I’m sorry; I was wrong.” Try not to abuse this step.
    11.  Sought through regular meetings and work sessions, at which an honest exchange of ideas is encouraged and welcomed, to maintain contact with our new party leader seeking only to learn what the new Republican Party stands for and the power and courage to carry that out. Prayer and meditation wouldn’t hurt either.
    12. Having had a major reprieve and possibly a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry the new Republican Party message to Trumpaholics and others and to practice its new principles in all our affairs. One day at a time.

   That’s it. The formula for recovery for the Republican Party. But there is one thing more. With alcoholics, the drinking is just a symptom of the disease. When the drinking stops, the disease (much of the behavior) doesn’t go away. That’s why recovery is a daily practice. To avoid relapse.

   The real question for Republicans is what made them Trumpaholics in the first place.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

 

At parties, even in the age of Covid 19, “No thank you“ is a complete sentence

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

Addiction and Recovery

By Bob Gaydos
4435B31C-C139-4733-A848-5B49FD50C6EE  I’ve written a column on addiction and recovery for more than a dozen years. A staple of the column has been a sort of “word to the wise“ on how to survive the holidays for those in recovery. It also serves as a guide to party hosts who may not be in recovery.
This year, things are more complicated. For starters, the parties have to be much smaller and confined to people you have good reason to believe are Covid free. Large parties, especially with strangers, are out. Hopefully the vaccines work and we can return to bigger gatherings next year. But even at small gatherings, the risks to those in recovery are real. So listen up.

This is a treacherous time of year for people in early recovery from addiction. People who have found their way to recovery, be it via a 12-step program or otherwise, have been given suggestions on how to survive the season of temptation without relapse. If they use these tools, with practice, they can even enjoy the season.

It’s the rest of you I’m mainly talking to here. You hosts, family members, well-meaning friends who want to be supportive and do the right thing, but aren’t sure what that is. And yes, to those who don’t get the concept of addiction at all, but can still avoid harming a relationship by following a few basic suggestions. So, some coping tools for the non-addicted, if you will:

“No thank you” is a complete sentence and perfectly acceptable answer. It should not require any further explanation. “One drink won’t hurt you” is a dangerously ill-informed reply. The same goes for, “A few butter cookies won’t hurt. C’mon, it’s Christmas.” Or, “Get the dress, Put it on your credit card. You’ll feel better.” Not really.

By the way, “No thank you” is an acceptable answer even for people not in recovery. Not everyone who turns down a second helping of stuffing or a piece of pumpkin pie is a member of Overeaters Anonymous. Not everyone who prefers a ginger ale rather than a beer is a member of AA. Not everyone who won’t go into hock for an expensive New Year’s Eve party is a compulsive debtor. But some of them may be.

If you’re hosting a party to which people in recovery have been invited, have some non-alcoholic beverages available. Not just water. Don’t make a big deal about having them, just let your guests know they are available. The same goes for food. Have some appetizing low-calorie dishes and healthful desserts on hand. Don’t point out that they’re there because so-and-so is watching his weight. Just serve them. You’ll be surprised how many guests enjoy them and comment on what a good host you are.

If you’re honestly concerned about how the person in recovery is doing, approach him or her privately. He or she might not feel comfortable discussing it in front of other guests. If you’re just curious, keep it to yourself.

Honoring a guest’s wishes is a sign of respect. Anticipating them in advance is even better. Encouraging someone to eat, drink or spend money when they don’t want to is, at the very least, not gracious. Pressuring someone to partake of something when you know he or she is trying hard to avoid it is a good way to lose a friend. Addictions are not trivial matters. “No, thank you,” is a perfectly good answer. Members of AA, OA and DA will be especially appreciative if you remember that.

And for those in recovery, remember to bring a phone with plenty of numbers and have a way to leave the party if you become too uncomfortable. There will be other parties, but there may not be another recovery.

Be smart and enjoy. Have a mask handy or, if need be, make a virtual appearance this year. Happy holidays.

rjgaydos@gmail.com
Bob Gaydos is writer in residence at zestoforange.com.

A Tool Kit for Problem Gambling

Wednesday, March 11th, 2020

Addiction and Recovery

By Bob Gaydos

E8A71752-5BCA-4631-A888-1DFBF62002A6     March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month in New York State. One out of 12 isn’t great odds, but it beats zip, so it’s worth noting.

      In truth, problem gambling, especially if it rises to the level of a mental disorder, is not a joking matter. It is a serious affliction that can ruin the lives of many more people than the gambler. As with all potentially addictive behavior, knowledge is the key to recognizing the problem and taking steps to address it, both for the gambler and those affected by it, usually family.

      To help family members learn about problem gambling, the New York Council on Problem Gambling has produced a Family Toolkit with a variety of useful information. The section titles include: 1) Understanding Problem Gambling, 2) Information for Struggling Families, 3) Self Care Information for Family Members, 4) Resources to Give Loved Ones When You’re Concerned About Their Gambling Behavior, and 5) Is gambling affecting your life?

        The Toolkit is the result of a partnership between the Council and NAMI-NYS. NAMI stands for National Alliance on Mental Illness. Addictive gambling, now classified as a disorder, is a recognized mental illness. According to the Council web site, the “partnership aims to bring awareness, hope and help to families struggling with problem gambling.”

         For the record, and lest anyone think it’s just a bunch of killjoys out to close casinos and kill sports betting, the Council on Problem Gambling is a not-for-profit, independent corporation which says it is “dedicated to increasing public awareness about problem and disordered gambling and advocating for support services and treatment for persons adversely affected by problem gambling.” It has a neutral stance on gambling and is governed by a board of directors.

          Even more interesting is its origin. According to the Council’s web site, “In 1972, the Board of Trustees of Gamblers Anonymous in the New York City area requested their Spiritual Advisor, Monsignor Dunne, establish a Council on Problem Gambling to do what they could not do because of anonymity — call national attention and raise awareness of problem gambling in the United States. The National Council on Problem Gambling was founded at that time and in 1975 was chartered as a nonprofit organization.”

         So you can thank the people who knew best about the ravages of addictive gambling — the gamblers themselves — for the creation of this lifeline. Appropriately, a 20-question quiz from Gamblers Anonymous is at the bottom of this column to help those who think they might have a problem decide. Hint: If you think you do, odds are you’re right.

      The Family ToolKit and other information on problem gambling are available on line at nyproblemgambling.org. For more information about NAMI-NYS, visit their website: https://www.naminys.org/. 

    Locally, as always, if you or someone you know is experiencing any addiction that is affecting your mental health, call the Orange County Crisis Call Center at 1-800-832-1200. Advocates are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  

 

Gamblers Anonymous 20 questions

1. Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling? Yes No
2. Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy? Yes No
3. Did gambling affect your reputation? Yes No
4. Have you ever felt remorse after gambling? Yes No
5. Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties? Yes No
6. Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency? Yes No
7. After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses? Yes No
8. After a win did you have a strong urge to return and win more? Yes No
9. Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone? Yes No
10. Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling? Yes No
11. Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling? Yes No
12. Were you reluctant to use “gambling money” for normal expenditures? Yes No
13. Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family? Yes No
14. Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned? Yes No
15. Have you ever gambled to escape worry, trouble, boredom, loneliness, grief or loss? Yes No
16. Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling? Yes No
17. Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping? Yes No
18. Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble? Yes No
19. Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling? Yes No
20. Have you ever considered self-destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling? Yes No

 

According to GA, most compulsive gamblers will answer ‘yes’ to at least 7 of these questions.

Bob Gaydos is a freelance writer. He has been writing this column on addiction for more than a dozen years. 

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

Addiction and Recovery: Holiday Tools

Saturday, December 21st, 2019

By Bob Gaydos  

“No, “is an acceptable answer at holiday parties.

“No, thank you“ is an acceptable answer at holiday parties.

OK, I know you’re busy because it’s the holidays and you don’t have time to sit and read about healthy behavior when there are presents to be bought, menus to be prepared and parties to  attend. So I’ll try to be brief and to the point.

This is a treacherous time of year for people in early recovery from addiction. People who have found their way to recovery, be it via a 12-step program or otherwise, have been given suggestions on how to survive the season of temptation without relapse. If they use these tools, with practice, they can even enjoy the season.

It’s the rest of you I’m mainly talking to here. You hosts, family members, well-meaning friends who want to be supportive and do the right thing, but aren’t sure what that is. And yes, to those who don’t get the concept of addiction at all, but can still avoid harming a relationship by following a few basic suggestions. So, some coping tools for the non-addicted, if you will:

  • “No thank you” is a complete sentence and perfectly acceptable answer. It should not require any further explanation. “One drink won’t hurt you” is a dangerously ill-informed reply. The same goes for, “A few butter cookies won’t hurt. C’mon, it’s Christmas.” Or, “Get the dress, Put it on your credit card. You’ll feel better.” Not really.
  • By the way, “No thank you” is an acceptable answer even for people not in recovery. Not everyone who turns down a second helping of stuffing or a piece of pumpkin pie is a member of Overeaters Anonymous. Not everyone who prefers a ginger ale rather than a beer is a member of AA. Not everyone who won’t go into hock for an expensive New Year’s Eve party is a compulsive debtor. But some of them may be.
  •  If you’re hosting a party to which people in recovery have been invited, have some non-alcoholic beverages available. Not just water. Don’t make a big deal about having them, just let your guests know they are available. The same goes for food. Have some appetizing low-calorie dishes and healthful desserts on hand. Don’t point out that they’re there because so-and-so is watching his weight. Just serve them. You’ll be surprised how many guests enjoy them and comment on what a good host you are.
  • If you’re honestly concerned about how the person in recovery is doing, approach him or her privately. He or she might not feel comfortable discussing it in front of other guests. If you’re just curious, keep it to yourself.

Honoring a guest’s wishes is a sign of respect. Anticipating them in advance is even better. Encouraging someone to eat, drink or spend money when they don’t want to is, at the very least, not gracious. Pressuring someone to partake of something when you know he or she is trying hard to avoid it is a good way to lose a friend. Addictions are not trivial matters. “No, thank you,” is a perfectly good answer. Members of AA, OA and DA will be especially appreciative if you remember that.

                                             ***

For recovering addicts, the tools should be familiar, but always bear repeating:

  •  Bring a recovery friend to a party.
  •  Have phone numbers and your own transportation available if you want to leave an uncomfortable situation.
  •  If you’re uncomfortable about attending a party because of who will be there, be it family or friends who are not supportive, don’t go. Politely decline. 
  •  Keep track of your drink. If you’re not sure, get a new one.
  •  Deal in cash; forget about credit cards.
  •  Don’t feel obliged to try every dish on the table. 
  • And, again, “No, thank you,” is a complete sentence. Don’t worry about hurting your host’s feelings at the expense of your recovery. There’s always next year.

    Enjoy.

For more information:

Debtors Anonymous: www.debtorsanonymous.org; 781-453-2743.

Alcoholics Anonymous: www.aa.org

Overeaters Anonymous: www.oa.org

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

 

An Addict by Any Other Name, Please

Tuesday, June 4th, 2019

Addiction and Recovery

By Bob Gaydos

  What’s in a name? Maybe, recovery.

"New" me, at 73.

Bob Gaydos

Addiction — to opioids, alcohol, heroin, other substances or behavior — is a medically recognized disease, something for which treatment is available and prescribed so that the person who suffers from it can be returned as a contributing member of society. That’s the official, appropriately concerned line put forth by government agencies, the medical community and those who work in the field.

    Unofficially, which is to say, to much of society including members of the aforementioned groups, a person with the disease of addiction is commonly referred to as an addict. A drunk. A junkie. A cokehead or crackhead. An alkie. A pothead. A pill-popper. He or she is often regarded as someone who is weak-willed, immoral, untrustworthy, rather than someone suffering from a disease. A liar. A loser. Someone not worth the time or effort — or money — to associate with, never mind help.

   One of the major obstacles to persons seeking treatment for addiction is the stigma attached to the disease. It has been framed seemingly forever as a moral issue, a crime issue. Rarely — only recently — has it been framed as a health issue. We have waged a war on drugs as we tried to cure cancer or diabetes.

    Words matter.

    Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania lbast year released a study with the key recommendation to stop using the words “addict,” “alcoholic” and “substance abuser.” The study found the words carry a strong negative bias. Basically, the researchers said, they label the person, not the disease. Study participants not only displayed a reluctance to associate with persons described with those words in fictional vignettes, the researchers said participants also displayed “implicit bias” to the terms themselves when given a word-association task. They were subconsciously reacting negatively to the words.bbb

     If just the words can stir negative bias in people, imagine what an actual person carrying the label “addict” can arouse.

     The Penn researchers said their study was consistent with previous research that found some doctors, even mental health professionals, less willing to help patients who were labeled “addicts” or “substance abusers.”

     The researchers did not discount the fact that conscious bias against persons with addiction — for example, how involved one would want to be with the person described — is often based on personal negative experiences with “alcoholics” or “addicts.”  Family members, friends, co-workers have experienced pain and suffering from their connection to persons with alcohol or substance use disorders and a resistance to not just “calling them what they are” may be understandable.

      But, the researchers said, over time, adopting what they call person-first language (referring to a person with a heroin addiction rather than a heroin addict) — especially by public officials and the media — could help reduce the negative bias and stigma that keeps people from seeking and getting help for their disease.

       In 2017, prior to this study, the Associated Press, which publishes a style guide used by most news organizations, adopted a new policy on reporting on addiction. It recommends that news organizations avoid terms such as “addict” and “alcoholic” in favor of person-first language — someone with an alcohol or substance use disorder or someone who was using opioids addictively, rather than a substance abuser or former addict. Someone in recovery, rather than someone who is “clean.” Shift the blame from the person to the disease.

     This doesn’t excuse or absolve the person who is addicted from any damage he or she may have done, and it may be considerable. But it does provide an identity beyond the addiction and makes the road to recovery more navigable.

     Earlier this year, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News adopted a policy similar to AP’s.

      The concept is simple: A person should not be defined solely by his or her disease. When mental health professionals stopped referring to patients as schizophrenics, society started referring to people with schizophrenia. Similarly, there are people with diabetes today who once were labeled diabetics. It is often argued that alcoholism or addiction are different from other diseases because the person chooses to use the substance. But experience tells us no one chooses to become addicted and the nature of the disease is being unable to stop — or at least feeling that stopping is not possible. Negative labels can’t help.

       Government agencies have begun using the new language, referring to persons with alcohol use or substance use disorders rather then alcoholics or addicts. Some who have managed to face their addiction and overcome it have abandoned the anonymity of 12-step programs and identify themselves publicly as persons in recovery. The opioid crisis has spawned a program called Hope Not Handcuffs, which steers the person who is addicted to treatment rather than incarceration.

       An exception to the change in language is recognized for those who are in 12-Step programs who identify themselves as alcoholics or addicts at their meetings. These are people who don’t see the terms as negatives, but rather as an honest admission of a fact in their lives. Members of Alcoholics Anonymous have been saying, “My name is xxxx, and I’m an alcoholic” at meetings for nearly 84 years. It’s tradition. There’s no stigma attached, but rather a common bond that holds out the hope there is something beyond being labeled a “drunken bum” or “hopeless addict.”

      The groups recommending the language change say this is not merely “political correctness,” as some have said. Lives are obviously still being ravaged by addiction. If something has to change in approaching the disease, there is a growing feeling that how we talk about it might be a good place to start.

Bob Gaydos is a freelance writer. rjgaydos@gmail.com

America’s in Need of an Intervention

Sunday, November 18th, 2018

By Bob Gaydos

The First Family ... in need of an intervention?

The First Family … in need of an intervention?

Democrats are talking about impeachment. Robert Mueller is looking at indictments. I’m fine with both, but honestly, more than anything else, I think America needs an intervention. Our addict-in-chief is out of control.

In addition to writing a blog for the past 10 years, I have been writing a monthly column called Addiction and Recovery. The goal always is to provide information on issues that are widely misunderstood. Like non-drinkers behaving like full-blown alcoholics.

Like Drumpf.

The Dotard-in-chief has talked sparingly about his respect for the power of alcohol, noting that his brother, Fred, died of alcoholism and at least implying that this may be the impetus for the Donald’s tea-totaling ways. But professionals in the field of addiction and alcoholics in recovery will tell you that alcohol is but one symptom of the disease. Take away the alcohol but change nothing else and you have what’s known as a “dry drunk.” That’s someone who has all the “isms” and can be so miserable to be around that people often wish he or she were drinking again.

They’ll also tell you it’s a family disease. It can cross generations, skipping here, striking there and can manifest in many ways. To repeat, alcohol need not be present for alcoholism to exist. It generally just makes it easier to spot.

What got me thinking about Drumpf and alcoholism was the obvious state of withdrawal he went into following the defeat of so many Republicans in the mid-term elections, culminating in the Democrats reclaiming the House of Representatives. It was bad enough to drive a man to drink. He was obviously depressed and reportedly irritable and angry at everyone in the White House. He even blamed Republican losers for not soliciting his support. He claimed Democrats voted more than once by changing clothes outside polling places. He fired his attorney general. He sat in his hotel room in Paris, watching TV and refusing to attend ceremonies at a cemetery to honor Americans who died fighting in World War I. Because it was raining. He was pouty with all the assembled world leaders, save for his buddy, Vladimir Putin, who managed to bring out a smile in him.

Why Putin?

Well, for one thing, the Russian president may be the only head of state who hasn’t let it be known, directly or otherwise, how little regard he has for Trump, as a person or a president. I think it’s fair to assume that Putin buffs Trump’s huge, fragile ego every time they meet. Especially in private. That’s because Putin is smart and Trump is a sucker for applause, adulation, approval.

It’s his alcohol.

The other factor in his more-erratic-than-usual behavior of the past week or so was the absence of political campaign rallies in his life. Leading up to the elections, they were an almost daily ritual. Get on a plane; fly here or there; make up scary stories of caravans of immigrants threatening America; rile up the base; hear them cheer. Look at all those MAGA hats! This is great! Bartender, hit me again. …

Whaddya mean it’s closing time? I’m the president and you’re not. I want another campaign stop. They love me. Let’s do Arizona again. Tell them I’ll give them a tax cut.

It’s tough to go back to work after that, especially when you hate your job and know you don’t know how to do it but have to act as if you do. Alcoholics tend to have large egos and low-self esteem. This is often disguised by an outsized personality or an ability to persuade people.

Sound familiar?

Dr. James West, founding medical director of the Betty Ford Clinic, who was described by the clinic’s director as “an addiction physician before there was even that term,” also wrote a column on addiction that appeared in the Desert Sun, a daily paper in Palm Springs, Calif. in the 1990s. One column addressed the question of an “alcoholic personality” in someone who doesn’t drink.

“Generally,” he wrote, “alcoholics seem to have the same kinds of personalities as everybody else, except more so.”

Among traits, he said, “The first is a low frustration tolerance. Alcoholics seem to experience more distress when enduring long-term dysphoria or when tiresome things do not work out quickly. Alcoholics are more impulsive than most. Secondly, alcoholics are more sensitive.”

“Alcoholics have a ‘low rejection threshold.’”

Don’t we know it.

Dr. West, who was a recovering alcoholic himself, died in 2012 at age 98. He also wrote: “Another trait found in excess in alcoholics is a low sense of one’s own worth. Then there is isolation. Alcoholics are loners. It is with most difficulty they are able to share innermost thoughts and concerns with anyone.

“Although they may be articulate, charming and very persuasive, they operate behind an armor or shell that keeps the world out. They are afraid of intimacy.”

This brings me back to Trump and the subject of an intervention. Much as I think it’s needed, I don’t see it happening. It’s usually the family and close friends who initiate such a drastic step. Melania seems to have accepted her role as wifely enabler, probably with a sweet pre-nup. The two older sons are chips off the same old block and probably fear daddy’s wrath. Ivanka, the apple of his eye, obviously does not see herself suffering from his addiction. Should that ever happen, the dynamic could change dramatically.

Which is to say, intervention for America from this First Family addiction could come from an interested third party, say in the form of a Robert Mueller indictment of Ivanka, or one or both sons. A moment of stark clarity for the Trumps. No cheering crowds. No MAGA hats. Lots of lawyers and legal fees.

“Daddy, turn off the TV. We need to talk …”

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Alcoholics and Excuses, a Familiar Mix

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

The first 100 days of you know what have been disturbingly familiar to me, but I haven’t been able to put a finger on why until now. For the past decade, I’ve been writing a regular column called Addiction and Recovery. Self-explanatory. As I was writing my recent column, it came to me what that disturbing feeling was all about. I’ve actually written about it before in connection with you know who, but I think information on this subject can’t be repeated too often. So, here’s my latest Addiction and Recovery column. I think you’ll make the connection.

 ***

"I'm a single mom. I work hard. I deserve it."

“I’m a single mom. I work hard. I deserve it.”

Alcoholics are, among other things, creative people, especially when it comes to dreaming up excuses to justify their drinking. Living with an alcoholic can be a whirlwind of confusion, disappointment, and frustration. And that’s the good stuff. It is likely there will also be some combination of pain, anger, resentment, loss, anxiety, or sorrow.

And yet, the alcoholic will insist that his or her drinking is not the cause of any problems. In fact, may well insist that he or she needs to drink because of the problems: “If you had my life (wife, job, luck), you’d drink, too.” Sound familiar?

Alcoholics are also masters of justification when it comes to threatening to take away the one thing that, while it may well be killing them or doing other serious harm, seems to make life worth living. That makes it crucial for those whose lives are directly affected by an alcoholic to know when they’re hearing excuses that belie what they have seen and heard with their own eyes and ears.

Following are some of the common excuses alcoholics use when their drinking is called into question:

  • “My favorite excuse was always that I work very hard and I deserve to play very hard, too.” … So says J.T.E., a middle-aged Orange County, N.Y., man 30 years sober. It’s the  “bring-home-the-bacon” excuse. It ignores the fact that most people are working hard to bring home the bacon, or vegan substitute, but not everyone is drinking to excess (and maybe ignoring family responsibilities) to reward themselves for being such wonderful providers.

        This excuse is not exclusive to males. G.P., who also lives in Orange County, says, “My biggest excuse was simply that I deserved it. I was a single mom who worked very hard to climb the ladder of business success without an education. I also had my cars, home and never had a ‘run in’ with police. That being said, I deserved to binge drink my weekends away. I was a hardworking mom and nobody could tell me different. I’ve been sober since September, 2015.”

  • “It’s my life (my body, my health, my future), I’m not hurting anyone except myself.” … Alcoholics are also self-centered and egotistical. It may be hard for some to admit that their behavior is having serious negative effects on the lives of people closest to them, those who care the most for them. Hard as it is to believe, they may not even notice it. Denial is a powerful foe.
  • “I only drink to relax, to relieve the stress.” This is often an extension of the “bring-home-the-bacon” excuse. Again, the alcoholic likes to think he or she is unique — the only one with a stressful job. Drinking or using drugs to relieve stress because of a pressure-filled job is not uncommon, but is not necessarily the healthiest choice available. For some, it’s the worst choice and can lead to even more stress at work. Exercise and meditation are a couple of more healthful stress-relief alternatives.
  • “Everyone I know drinks. Why pick on me?” … Well, yes and no. It’s unlikely that everyone the alcoholic knows drinks the same way (as often, as much, as routinely) as he or she does. But if they do, then he or she needs to find a new group of friends to hang out with.
  • “I’m not an alcoholic. Now Joe, he’s an alcoholic.” … There are stages of alcoholism and Joe may well be an alcoholic who has used all these excuses to deny his problem and avoid getting help. It’s not necessary to compare and look for a lower bottom. The stereotype of the alcoholic as a wino with a paper bag no longer prevails, but it can still happen if someone is unable to admit the truth.  
  • “It’s expected in our society. I only drink to be sociable.”  … John (not his name), a man in his 70’s from Sullivan County, N.Y., with more than 30 years of sobriety, recalls how surprised he was in early sobriety to notice that not everyone at a wedding, dinner party, or banquet was drinking alcohol. In fact, some people never went near the cash bar. Again, wrapped up in themselves, alcoholics see only what they want to see. Alcohol may be a social lubricant, but for some it can also have the counter-productive effect of driving people away.
  • “I’m not an alcoholic, I can stop any time I want.” … Any time except right now. This is the classic stall. It’s often paired with, “This is not the right time.” Because you couldn’t possibly not drink during the holidays, on vacation, on St. Patrick’s Day, or next Tuesday. It’s never the right time, so why not just go ahead and prove you can do it?
  • “I only drink beer (or wine), not booze.” ,,, This excuse has been watered down in recent years as more people have become aware that, in whatever form, alcohol is alcohol. You drink enough, you get drunk. This is cousin to, “I only drink on weekends.” It’s not what you drink that matters, or even how much or how often; it’s the impact it has on your life. Alcohol and trouble. That’s why people are talking about your drinking.
  • “I drink a lot of wine (craft beer) because I really like the taste.”Please.

***

‘I changed my mind …’

Alcoholics are also good at justifying their drinking to themselves, not just others. M.G., a sober woman who lives in Orange County, says, “Some of my go-to’s were, they’ll never find out, just one, just one more, just for the summer — I have to get the need out of my system.

“One I didn’t realize until years into recovery was when I would set out, having told myself and usually also promised my family that I wouldn’t drink that night, when I’d get in front of alcohol I’d always drink it and say I changed my mind. Fact was, I couldn’t be around it without drinking it. I had no defense against the first drink. I wanted to feel good, to be cool, just one last time.”

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

A Power Play in Turkey

Thursday, June 6th, 2013
turkey-protest

Protestors in Istanbul struggle with tear gas deployed on them by police.

By Bob Gaydos

The question of the week is: Why would someone who has an entire country to run — to plan a budget, promote economic and social health, maintain an army, deal with leaders of other countries — bother with eliminating the last remaining park space in a busy area of his county’s largest city?

The answer: Because he can. Or, more accurately, because he thinks he can, and, even more accurately, because he wants to and doesn’t think anyone else can stop him.

It is, simply, the allure of power, perhaps the most cunning and pervasive of all addictions. In my limited exposure to the human condition, which includes writing about addictions, I’ve noticed that few are immune from the euphoria of the perception of absolute power. Which, of course, does not exist. Nor, as far as I know, does a 12-step program for those addicted to it.

In Turkey, where the power play over a popular open space area in Istanbul erupted into days of public protests, the demonstration of government power included an extreme overreaction by police, including widespread use of tear gas, arrests and efforts to shut down social media sites on the Internet. These are typical 21st century reactions to civil disobedience, as demonstrators in the United States, home of free speech, have also discovered. Even people who supposedly understand the necessary limits on it often abuse what power they have. Such is the addiction — do not dare to disagree with me, or else.

As this is written, the conflict persists in Turkey, but the rest of the world is well aware of what is happening, as it was when similar protests erupted in Turkey’s neighbors, Tunisia and Egypt, recently. The Turkish protests seem to fall into the “last straw” category. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected fair and square, so to speak, in a democratic election. He replaced a military government, which many Turks found to be oppressive. Be careful what you wish for.

Erdogan, who insists on putting a shopping mall and mosque in a popular open area dotted with restaurants and shops (an issue mayors usually deal with), has turned out to be as intractable and authoritarian in his rule as any military type. In fact, perhaps more so because he seems to believe that winning the most votes gives him the right to do whatever he pleases, no matter how many of his countrymen and women it displeases. Compromise with a different viewpoint is not part of his makeup, nor, as events in Egypt suggest, is it part of the understanding of governing of other Islamists. Democracy in its truest sense will likely be slow to come in the Middle East.

But there are two sides to the power equation. Those in power can only remain there as long as those out of power allow. Where power is seized by force, obviously, the resistance and determination to alter the equation takes longer to materialize and succeed. But a tipping point eventually does come and revolutions happen. Turkey may be headed there today. If so, the aid and encouragement of nations that have a better grasp on the just exercise of power should pressure Erdogan to loosen his grip and allow all Turks to express their views without fear of violent repercussions.

It takes physical courage to take to the streets against an oppressive government, to stand in front of a line of tanks, to tear down a wall, to occupy a park, to declare independence. But it’s not always necessary to take to the streets to overcome abuse of power. The human voice when summoned and combined into a chorus of dissent can be a powerful weapon.

Today, the Internet makes it possible to martial tens of thousands of voices rather quickly. Find a cause, find a message, find like-minded people. Does Monsanto, the ubiquitous source of the world’s genetically modified food, have too much power over how the food is grown and packaged? The Internet is awash with the voices of those who believe so and do not hesitate to tell their elected leaders how they feel. Threaten those in position of political power with loss of their power and they may actually hear you. Complain to your friends and do nothing and the power remains with Monsanto and its money. (Example of success: Connecticut recently became the first state to require labeling of GMOs.)

I do not mean to suggest it is easy to redraw the power equation, that there are not sometimes very real dangers in trying to do so. But I do know that those who have power, however they come by it, seldom give it up willingly. And, like all addictions, it inevitably gives those afflicted a skewed view of the world and their importance in it.

Solidarity with the people of Turkey.

bob@zestoforange.com

 

Whitney and Josh and Their Disease

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

Josh Hamilton

Whitney Houston

By Bob Gaydos
In a week filled with sometimes lurid, often fawning stories about the death of Whitney Houston, it was once again evident how little most Americans know about addiction or, in fact, how little they seem to care to know.
The pop icon’s longtime battle with drugs was well-known, yet when she died in unusual circumstances, the two most popular theories put forth were that she had suffered from a drug overdose or that her doctors — the new media favorite suspect since the Michael Jackson case — had somehow killed her by messing up prescribed medications.

 

Both are possible, of course. But it is also quite plausible that the years of abusing her body with drugs and alcohol had taken an early toll on her, as they had with an even younger Amy Winehouse. But the only fact of which anyone is certain right now is that no one will know what killed Whitney until an autopsy is completed.

At the same time, there has been a noticeable lack of criticism aimed at Houston for her drug-filled lifestyle while her fans ease their grief by remembering her in better times, on stage, in recordings, in the movies. It’s as if Whitney the superstar, in death, was now finally beyond rebuke and, officially and irrevocably, a victim of addiction.

That’s an awfully steep price to have to pay for society to at last acknowledge your disease. Unfortunately, it’s not at all uncommon. People who struggle with addiction and who relapse — but do not die — are more likely to feel the sting of society’s tongue. Indeed, for those not afflicted with alcoholism or drug addiction, probably the least understood aspect of recovery is the relapse, especially when it follows a significant period of sobriety. The same questions inevitably come up. How could he drink when he knows how much he has to lose? How could she use drugs again knowing it would hurt her family?

The questions themselves define the disease of addiction. Quite simply, relapse, while not a requirement of recovery, is nonetheless a part of it for many people. Houston herself was an example. Addicts do things that defy reason and common sense, often to the harm of themselves and those close to them. That’s why recovery programs stress the need for addicts to develop a new way of thinking, a new way of living, a new image of themselves that does not include using alcohol or drugs.

It is not easy to make this change, but with time, the support of loved ones and constant attention to the new behaviors suggested as a way of living a sober life, it gets easier. It becomes the addict’s new normal way of living, in good times or bad.

Recently, another celebrity — although not in Houston’s orbit — apparently forgot that basic fact of recovery life. Josh Hamilton, the star outfielder for the Texas Rangers and probably the best-known admitted addict in baseball, acknowledged that he had relapsed. He apparently had several drinks in a bar with “friends,” called a teammate who talked with him and dropped him at home, then went out again and had a few more drinks. Hamilton said at a press conference the next day he had had a ”weak moment” and was drinking over “personal reasons.”

Being a high-profile professional athlete, Hamilton’s history with addiction and recovery has been well chronicled. He has been dealing with it for 10 years, even being suspended from baseball for two years for alcohol and drug abuse. But he had been clean and sober for two years before his “slip” and his public honesty about his disease has been praised. At the same time, Hamilton has received a lot of criticism among sports reporters for his slip, mostly of the “how could he do that?” variety.

But the fact of the matter is that celebrities must deal with the same challenges in recovery as the businessman next door, the veteran teacher, or the local plumber while living in a pressure-packed public bubble. There is no anonymity for Whitney Houston or Charlie Sheen … or Josh Hamilton. There is no way for them to try to justify their risky behavior as acceptable just because nobody saw it. This means Hamilton, and other athletes and celebrities who live with addiction, must be even more diligent in following their sober routine — in accepting their disease — if they want to avoid relapse.

One of the striking facts in the stories about Hamilton’s relapse is that he no longer had an “accountability partner” assigned to him by his team. The “partner,” the equivalent of a sponsor in Alcoholics Anonymous, went everywhere with Hamilton when he wasn’t playing ball or at home. But the coach who had the job recently took a job with another team and Hamilton was doing it on his own.

That may be possible for people with several years of clean and sober time, but it is not recommended. Besides, Hamilton’s recovery has been a series of relapses, suggesting he still hasn’t fully surrendered to the concept of addiction. That’s not unusual, but many people who have trouble staying sober and who relapse several times do eventually get sober and lead fulfilling, contented lives. For every Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse there are dozens of sober celebrities who are leading contented lives, not creating headlines..

That’s why it’s important when an addict relapses to resist the easy temptation to question and criticize him because “he has so much to lose” or “he let down so many people who care about him.” Yes, it is about taking responsibility for one’s actions, but recovery is also often about second or third chances. The Texas Rangers, with a manager who is also a recovering drug addict, appear to understand this. They assigned Hamilton a new accountability partner.

Hamilton also apologized to “fans, kids, people who have addiction who look up to me.” That’s all well and good. But he’s been dealing with addiction long enough to know that other recovering addicts aren’t putting him or any other celebrity addict on a pedestal. There are no all stars in the battle and there is no “I” in recovery. But no addict living with what is often a fatal disease should have to die for the rest of the world to finally get it.

Bob Gaydos also writes a regular column on addiction and recovery. bob@zestoforange.com

Addiction — the Democratic Killer

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Amy Winehouse

By Bob Gaydos

Last week, fellow Zest columnist Michael Kaufman posed some questions about the death of Amy Winehouse — in sum, why was it “allowed to happen” — and suggested that, since I also write a published column on addiction and recovery, perhaps I might have some thoughts on the subject.

Which, of course, I do. They are not based on any special insight into the psychological makeup of the singer, nor any knowledge of her medical history or even a hint of the kind of environment in which she grew up. To some extent, all of this unique information may matter in trying to determine why Amy Winehouse died so tragically at age 27 (the precise cause has not been announced). On the other hand, hers has all the earmarks of a typical alcohol and drug-related death. Her celebrity made it newsworthy, but don’t for a minute think that the parents of other, less-talented young men and women who succumb to addiction do not understand and share the profound sorrow of Amy’s parents.

Addiction is a remarkably democratic disease, an indiscriminate killer. Could Amy’s death have been avoided? Possibly. There is always the chance with addiction that a person can be “saved” from himself or herself. Most of the time, this hope rests with the family and friends of the addict, the ones who bear the brunt of the pain of the addictive behavior. For her part, Winehouse seems to have bought into the stereotyped alcohol-and-drug-filled life of the tragic, young musician early on. Now she will live forever as the dark flip side of the sex, drugs and rock ’n roll theory of life.

She has company there, of course. In the immediate aftermath of her death, the internet was full of observers welcoming her to the infamous “27 Club.” These are talented, immensely popular young performers who died at age 27, all of whom led self-destructive lives fueled by alcohol and drug abuse. The most prominent other members are Jimi Hendrix, who choked on his vomit after combining sleeping pills with wine, Janis Joplin, who overdosed on heroin while drinking, Jim Morrison, whose cause of death was listed as “heart failure,” and Kurt Cobain, who committed suicide.

Addiction is obviously not fussy about the manner in which it kills. But truth be told, while thousands die each year from some cause related to excessive use of alcohol or drugs, many more simply live out their lives with untreated alcoholism or drug dependency. A lot of it is not pretty. Much of it is avoidable.

Most public discussion of addiction focuses on the behavioral symptoms of the disease. Most people still think of it as a cultural, social or criminal matter, rather than a health issue. Society for the most part treats it that way. We never ask why someone suffering from heart disease or cancer who refuses treatment can’t be “committed” for their own good. It’s their choice. Is a person in the grip of addiction capable of making a rational decision on receiving treatment? Maybe not, seeing as denial is a primary symptom of the disease. But there is no way to legally require an addict to get treatment, even if a crime has been committed. We tried committing alcoholics to mental wards for many years only to learn that it didn’t work.

What does work? Or, more specifically, what might have worked for Amy? Here’s where knowing her medical and family history could help, since science has established a genetic predisposition to addiction as well as identifying the likely center for this activity in the brain. But people without a family history of alcoholism or brains hard-wired to require more pleasure receptors also become addicts.

What science is also telling us now is that it is important to begin when children are young to establish a lifestyle that does not encourage the indiscriminate use of alcohol or drugs to “feel good.” One that does not glamorize or demonize alcohol, but rather offers an honest perspective on it. Kids’ brains are malleable. They mimic their elders and have little concept of their own mortality.

Amy’s parents may well have done this, but the key is to keep doing it even when the child resists. There’s no such thing as caring too much, of giving too much information. But the singer also had the burden of tremendous success, with the pressure to keep performing. The stress on young people in this situation is unimaginable to most of us. If she was inclined to use alcohol and drugs to deal with stress to begin with (and her music suggests as much), the inescapable presence of alcohol and drugs in the pop music industry could have been enough to drown out any voices of reason coming from loved ones. Amy Winehouse, while young, talented and vulnerable, was also a tremendously profitable business. Money talks. Business associates can be persuasive enablers. (Even Charlie Sheen has been offered a new TV sitcom.)

This is my personal opinion. I would say, given her history, Winehouse needed a lot of time away from performing and professional help in detoxing herself from alcohol and drugs — neither of which she got. She may well have rejected both. But if her music family had combined with her biological family and persisted in their efforts, if, say, they made performing impossible for her until she had received professional help in treating her addiction, Amy Winehouse might still be with us. People in recovery tell those who are still struggling not to give up before the miracle happens, because you never know when that miracle — the death of denial –may happen.

And as for her fans, rather than memorializing Amy Winehouse as the latest member of a foolishly glamorized group of talented dead addicts, how refreshing it would be for them to start honoring a different group — all the talented, clean and sober performers living in recovery. Talk about your miracles.

Bob@zestoforange.com