Posts Tagged ‘AA’

Happy Birthday (89), AA!

Monday, June 10th, 2024

Addiction and Recovery

(Reprinted in honor of AA’s founding, June 10, 1935.)

By Bob Gaydos

(This is an updated version of my Addiction and Recovery column, which appeared in the Times Herald-Record of Middletown in 2012.)

By Bob Gaydos
    It is one of the best-selling and most influential books of all time, with more than 30 million copies having been sold and millions of lives changed by what is contained on its pages. Yet it is not exaggeration to suggest that a majority of its readers don’t know the actual name of the book.
    It is known, proudly and even reverentially, by most who have read it as the Big Book. Officially, the book’s title is “Alcoholics Anonymous,’’ the same as the famous 12-step program for treating alcoholism (and other addictions) described within its covers. The Big Book received more recognition for its influence recently when the Library of Congress included it on a list of “Books That Shaped America.”
    There are 88 books on a list that ranges from Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Tarzan the Ape Man.” The common factor among all 88, according to the Librarian of Congress James H. Billington is that “they shaped Americans’ views of their world and the world’s views of America.”
    While it may not be for everyone, the Big Book has certainly shaped people’s views and lives. Since it was first published in 1939, it has been the textbook, if you will, of how to get — and stay — sober, for millions around the world. AA, of course, has spawned numerous other 12-step programs to deal with addictive behavior. And, while basing its recovery program on established spiritual, psychological and medical precepts, Alcoholics Anonymous has also widened the dialogue within all three areas and influenced the way practitioners in those fields deal with addiction.
    The authors of the Big Book are Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, the founders of AA. But they had plenty of help from some of the original 100 AA members whose stories were included in the first edition. Many recovering alcoholics today regard it as remarkable that Wilson, the primary author, wrote two of the main sections of the book — one being his story — when he had less than four years of sobriety.
    One could say the Big Book is a classic example of what it preaches. Much of the recovery program contained is take from the Oxford Group, A Christian fellowship that emphasized self-examination, making amends and working with others. (Wilson and Smith both were members of the Oxford Group for significant periods.) But the Oxford Group’s heavy religious emphasis did not sit well with many of the other drunks who were early member of AA. As a result, most references to “God” were eliminated or changed to a “Higher Power of your understanding.”
    Editing also changed the preachy “you” to the inclusive “we” in describing how
alcoholics got sober. Thus, this is what we are and this what we did. If you follow these suggestions, “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.”
    What do current members of AA think about the Big Book? A sampling of recent comments:
  • “When I first read it, I had to say, ‘(Expletive!) I’m an alcoholic. How did they know?’”
  • “I used to walk around with the Big Book (in early sobriety) like a protective shield.”
  • “It helped me understand I have an allergy.”
  • “In many ways it’s like the bible for alcoholics. It provides direction and order.”
  • “Think about the impact. One person reads it and passes it on to others for more than 30 million.”
  • “When they get (the Big Book) people are usually in such pain, they will read it.”
  • “It gave me a guide for living, far beyond just not drinking.”
  • “Simple rules for broken people.”
    There’s a significant local angle to this story. When it came time to publish the book, Wilson and the others chose The Cornwall Press, a now-defunct printing operation in Cornwall. Because they were going to charge $3.50 for the relatively short book, they wanted it to look impressive, so they used thick paper and the widest possible margins. Hence, the “Big Book” nickname. Subsequent printings were smaller in size, but the name stuck.
     The first press run was for 4,800 copies, with the promise from the printers that more would be printed when the first copies were sold. But even those original copies were in limbo as the printer refused to release any books until they were paid for. Although printed in the winter of 1939, only a few copies were paid for at the time. The significant release came in early 1940. Today, with inflation, “Alcoholics Anonymous” sells for around $10, but many AA groups simply give copies to new members, continuing to spread its message. Alcoholics Anonymous today estimates membership at more than 2 million worldwide.
rjgaydos@gmail.com
Bob  Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

Is Alcohol a Problem? Take This Test

Wednesday, April 10th, 2024

Addiction and Recovery

By Bob Gaydos

 99A3CEDB-2C39-4BDB-B493-B063F5EF16D3  Some eight decades ago, Marty Mann, the first woman to get — and stay — sober in Alcoholics Anonymous (her sponsor was AA co-founder Bill Wilson), decided she wanted to spread the message of recovery. She used her talents as a writer and in public relations to teach people the facts about the disease of alcoholism. That work is still going on via her creation, the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, a voluntary health organization with a nationwide network that provides information on prevention, awareness and treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction.
       Every April for 37 years, NCADD has observed Alcohol Awareness Month, with the goal of removing the stigma attached to alcoholism by educating a public still too unaware of the serious costs to individuals and society of alcoholism, as well as the fact that treatment is available and recovery possible. Of course, the process has to start with acknowledgment that alcoholism, today also referred to as alcohol use disorder, may be present.
       With that in mind, I occasionally offer a list of questions designed to help individuals decide if they, or someone they know, may be an alcoholic. If that is the case, recognition of the problem may well be the first flicker of hope, rather than the beacon of doom many people consider it to be. Following are questions from the NCADD Self-Test. Be honest.

What are the Signs of Alcoholism?
1.  Do you drink heavily when you are disappointed, under pressure or have had a quarrel with someone? Yes   No
2.  Can you handle more alcohol now than when you first started to drink? Yes   No
3.  Have you ever been unable to remember part of the previous evening, even though your friends say you didn’t pass out? Yes   No
4.  When drinking with other people, do you try to have a few extra drinks when others won’t know about it?  Yes   No
5.  Do you sometimes feel uncomfortable if alcohol is not available? Yes No
6.  Are you more in a hurry to get your first drink of the day than you used to be? Yes  No
7.  Do you sometimes feel a little guilty about your drinking? Yes  No
8.  Has a family member or close friend express concern or complained about your drinking? Yes   No
9.  Have you been having more memory “blackouts” recently? Yes   No
10.  Do you often want to continue drinking after your friends say they’ve had enough?  Yes   No
11.  Do you usually have a reason for the occasions when you drink heavily? Yes   No
12.  When you’re sober, do you sometimes regret things you did or said while drinking? Yes   No
13.  Have you tried switching brands or drinks, or following different plans to control your drinking?  Yes   No
14.  Have you sometimes failed to keep promises you made to yourself about controlling or cutting down on your drinking? Yes   No
15.  Have you ever had a DWI (driving while intoxicated) or DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol) violation, or any other legal problem related to your drinking?   Yes   No
16.  Do you try to avoid family or close friends while you are drinking?      Yes   No
17.  Are you having more financial, work, school, and/or family problems as a result of your drinking?   Yes   No
18.  Has your physician ever advised you to cut down on your drinking?  Yes   No
19.  Do you eat very little or irregularly during the periods when you are drinking? Yes   No
20.  Do you sometimes have the “shakes” in the morning and find that it helps to have a “little” drink, tranquilizer or medication of some kind?     Yes   No
21.  Have you recently noticed that you can’t drink as much as you used to?   Yes   No
22.  Do you sometimes stay drunk for several days at a time? Yes   No
23.  After periods of drinking do you sometimes see or hear things that aren’t there? Yes   No
24.  Have you ever gone to anyone for help about your drinking? Yes  No
25.  Do you ever feel depressed or anxious before, during or after periods of heavy drinking? Yes   No
26.  Have any of your blood relatives ever had a problem with alcohol?    Yes   No

Here’s how to score the test. According to the NCADD, if you answered two or more questions with a “yes,” you should consider having your drinking assessed by a professional. If you have five to eight “yes” answers, you could have a serious problem with alcohol. This test does not apply to drug use. The test and others, as well as information on substance abuse can be found on the NCADD web site: ncadd.us.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

A 12-Step Program for Republicans

Monday, January 29th, 2024

By Bob Gaydos

38E746B5-A254-42AA-9A6F-7683C3D4A74CThis column is updated from three years ago because it’s election time again and, well, denial is the first, big obstacle. Until and unless they can admit they were/are 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 eight 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 15 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, Dr. Bob 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 eight 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. Insurrection. 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 to pose in the picture with you. Piece of cake.
  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.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible except when to do so would injure them or others. 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. Match your words with action.
  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.

Dry January: Good Luck, be Careful

Tuesday, January 9th, 2024

Addiction and Recovery
By Bob Gaydos

  82177B6B-D6C2-417C-982F-899EE49E1C21  For those looking for a New Year’s resolution that can actually be challenging to keep and potentially beneficial if done the right way, I offer some thoughts I shared last year when I first heard about Dry January and some new ones.

    You hang around with an experienced group of people for any amount of time, with any luck, you learn a few things. 

     I’ve been writing a column on addiction and recovery for more than 15 years. In that time, I have been fortunate to have many conversations with members of Alcoholics Anonymous who have decades of sobriety. They have freely shared some of their experience and wisdom with me.

      One bit of AA wisdom goes like this: “People who don’t have a drinking problem don’t have to control their drinking.”

       Hmmm. So why are social media and news feeds filled daily with stories on “Dry January”? Why the sudden interest in non-alcoholic beer and no-booze cocktails? What’s the big rush all of a sudden for, reportedly, thousands of people to decide to see if they can not partake of alcohol for the month of January? Last year, one poll said 41 percent of respondents planned to partake of Dry January. I couldn’t find a report on how well they did, but clearly, not drinking alcohol for one month at least is suddenly chic. 

  For what it’s worth, alcoholics, or rather, those who insist they are not alcoholics, have been taking the post-holiday challenge forever in valiant efforts to prove to themselves and (mainly) others that they can control their drinking. Often, they’ve failed. Rehab February. Others have attempted to give up drinking for Lent, for the same reason and often with the same results.

     But this is different. This is people, many apparently younger people, supposedly deciding that it might be in their best interest to abstain from or at least reduce their alcohol intake, at least for the month.

     Given recent reports on an upsurge in alcohol consumption (particularly by women) during the pandemic, an increase in alcohol-related deaths and a myth-busting report which concludes that “no amount of alcohol” is ever good for your health, going dry or easing up on alcohol for a month sounds like a reasonable idea for anyone.

      But there are risks involved and if you’re intrigued by the idea of stopping or controlling your drinking there ought to be rules. For starters, what is your purpose? Is it, as previously mentioned, to prove you don’t have a drinking problem? If so, you need to tell other people what you’re doing so there is accountability and, crucially, protection, in case a serious alcohol problem does exist. 

  Going through withdrawal symptoms from avoiding alcohol on one’s own can be painful and dangerous. Be aware of the symptoms and get professional help if they begin. Your effort may have failed, but it might have saved your life.

     If, on the other hand, the purpose is truly to see if life can be just as interesting and fun without alcohol always being involved, again, don’t do it alone. Get some friends involved. Plan alcohol-free activities. Try some of those fancy new alcohol-free “mocktails” the Dry January movement has spawned. If you’re really serious, maybe focus more on exercise. Try to get more sleep. See if you start to feel better physically and emotionally.

     Drawing again on some AA wisdom, the key to succeeding, whatever your goal, is to be honest and realistic. Whether you’re trying to not drink for a specific month or just cut back, if you find yourself drinking or thinking you’d really like to be drinking in spite of your stated goal, by all means start over again. But be aware of any recurring pattern. There may be a problem.

      On a positive note, if Dry January results in a more responsible general approach to alcohol consumption (as brewers and distillers are obliged to promote), it has to be good for society’s overall health. Excessive alcohol consumption contributes to a multitude of societal and health problems as well as highway and other accidents.

    Fad or not, the movement would also go along with the effort by health agencies and providers to remove the stigma and shame often attached to alcoholism by getting rid of the word “alcoholic,” which still conjures up negative images for many people. Today, people are diagnosed with alcohol abuse disorder, mild, moderate or severe. (Sober members of AA still call themselves alcoholics with no shame attached.)

   According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol use disorder “is a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.”  That’s the “drinking and trouble” connection members of AA often talk about.

      On the basic issue of stopping drinking and trying to keep things simple, AA’s Third Tradition states that “the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.”

     Adding that touch of reality necessary to recovery, an AA friend asked, “Who would have a desire to stop drinking other than someone who drank too much and got in trouble over it?”

     With sincere hope for the success and good intentions of anyone participating in this year’s Dry January, that’s a question to keep in mind for anyone planning on a just plain February.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

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

Celebrating the Holidays in Recovery

Wednesday, December 13th, 2023

Addiction and Recovery

By Bob Gaydos  

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

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

It’s time for the annual reminder. The holiday party season is always a potential source of bah humbug, what with the flu (and now Covid) potentially lurking around, but it is an especially 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, herewith, 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. There are plenty of new ones available. 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 maybe have a couple of spare masks around for guests who may feel a bit vulnerable.

Enjoy your party.

                                             ***

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.
  •  When shopping, 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 your recovery.

For more information:

Alcoholics Anonymous: www.aa.org

Overeaters Anonymous: www.oa.org

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

After Dry January, Dry February?

Wednesday, January 25th, 2023

Addiction and Recovery
By Bob Gaydos

  82177B6B-D6C2-417C-982F-899EE49E1C21  You hang around with an experienced group of people for any amount of time, with any luck, you learn a few things. 

     I’ve been writing a column on addiction and recovery for about 15 years. In that time, I have been fortunate to have many conversations with members of Alcoholics Anonymous who have decades of sobriety. They have freely shared some of their experience and wisdom with me.

      One bit of AA wisdom that I’ve thought about recently goes like this: “People who don’t have a drinking problem don’t have to control their drinking.”

       Hmmm. So why have my social media and news feeds been peppering me daily with stories on “Dry January”? Why the sudden interest in non-alcoholic beer and cocktails? What’s the big rush all of a sudden for, supposedly, thousands of people to decide to see if they can not partake of alcohol for the month of January? It’s suddenly chic?

   Alcoholics, or rather, those who insist they are not alcoholics, have been taking the post-holiday challenge forever in valiant efforts to prove to themselves and (mainly) others that they can control their drinking. Often, they’ve failed. Rehab February.

     But this is different, from what I read. This is people, many apparently younger people, supposedly deciding that it might be in their best interest to abstain from or at least reduce their alcohol intake, at least for the month.

     Given recent reports on an upsurge in alcohol consumption (particularly by women) during the pandemic, an increase in alcohol-related deaths and a myth-busting report which concludes that “no amount of alcohol” is ever good for your health, going dry or easing up on alcohol for a month sounds like a reasonable idea.

      But there are risks involved and if you’re intrigued by the idea of stopping or controlling your drinking there ought to be rules. For starters, what is your purpose? Is it, as previously mentioned, to prove you don’t have a drinking problem? If so, you need to tell other people what you’re doing so there is accountability and, crucially, protection, in case a serious alcohol problem does exist. 

  Going through withdrawal symptoms from avoiding alcohol on one’s own can be painful and dangerous. Be aware of the symptoms and get professional help if they begin. Your effort may have failed, but it might have saved your life.

     If, on the other hand, the purpose is truly to see if life can be just as interesting and fun without alcohol always being involved, again, don’t do it alone. Get some friends involved. Plan alcohol-free activities. Try some of those fancy new alcohol-free “mocktails” the Dry January movement has spawned. If you’re really serious, maybe focus more on exercise. Try to get more sleep. See if you start to feel better physically and emotionally.

     Drawing again on some AA wisdom, the key to succeeding, whatever your goal, is to be honest and realistic. Whether you’re trying to not drink for a specific month or just cut back, if you find yourself drinking or thinking you’d really like to be drinking in spite of your stated goal, by all means start over again. But be aware of any recurring pattern. There may be a problem.

      On a positive note, if Dry January results in a more responsible general approach to alcohol consumption (as brewers and distillers like to promote), it has to be good for society’s overall health. Alcohol consumption contributes to a multitude of health problems as well as highway and other accidents. It would also go along with the effort by health agencies and providers to remove the stigma and shame often attached to alcoholism by getting rid of the word “alcoholic,” which still conjures up negative images for many people. 

     Officially today, people are diagnosed with alcohol abuse disorder, mild, moderate or severe.

   According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol use disorder “is a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.”

     That’s the “drinking and trouble” connection members of AA often talk about.

      On the basic issue of stopping drinking and trying to keep things simple, AA’s Third Tradition states simply that “the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.”

     Adding that touch of reality necessary to recovery, an AA friend asked, “Who would have a desire to stop drinking other than someone who drank too much and got in trouble over it?”

     With sincere hope for the success and good intentions of many a Dry Almost Over January, that’s a question to keep in mind for anyone planning on a dry February or Monday or maybe next Tuesday …

rjgaydos@gmail.com

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

Holiday Parties: Celebrating in Sobriety

Tuesday, December 13th, 2022

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 this 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.

The past couple of years gave new meaning to “surviving the holidays,” but having moved into a new phase of dealing with Covid, parties are back in fashion. Still,  health precautions remain advisable. Covid, the flu and other viruses are a real threat.

The point of this column is that, whatever else is going on, this is always 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 host, 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 if need be. Enjoy your sobriety.

Happy holidays.

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

 

 

Shedding Some Light on Blackouts

Thursday, October 4th, 2018

Addiction and Recovery

Note: In light of the recent testimony and controversy over the youthful drinking and behavior of Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, I thought I would post my most recent Addiction and Recovery column on alcohol-induced blackouts on this blog.  I hope it answers some questions.

By Bob Gaydos

 AA8D800B-40C4-49FD-9FA2-33C3E62B429EThere are two enduring views about alcohol-induced blackouts:

  1. They don’t exist. They’re just an excuse for inappropriate behavior.
  2. They exist, but they’re just a harmless, often humorous, occasional price to pay for a night of fun.

Both views are wrong — dangerously so — for the same reason: Denying the existence of blackouts or minimizing their significance could lead to serious consequences (health, legal, personal, professional) for the persons experiencing them and others. If you’ve experienced blackouts or know someone who has and are not concerned about them, you should be.

To start with, blackouts are not the same as passing out. That’s a common misconception. People who drink too much and pass out stay put. They wake up in the same place they passed out and remember, maybe with a hangover, how they got there. People in blackouts can wind up in different states, strange beds, wrong apartments or behind bars when they come to and not know how they got there. “How did I get home last night?” is a common question for blackout veterans. “Where’d I leave my car?” is another.

Many recovering alcoholics who recall their drinking history in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings point to blackouts as one of the “healthy fears’’ that help them stay sober. After all, it can be frightening to find out about some reckless behavior that happened apparently in a blackout and to wonder what else may have happened without your being aware of it.

Some local examples:

— Jordan, a 50ish man from Orange County, who has been sober more than five years, says he once spent a four-day business trip in Texas in a blackout. Airport-to-airport. He did come out of it briefly, he says, to call his boss on Day 2 to tell him he wasn’t feeling well.

— Whitey (all names used are fictitious), who drives for a living, says he regularly drove between New York and Virginia in blackouts.

— John, retired in Sullivan County and sober more than two decades, says he’s positive he was fired from an excellent job because of remarks he made to his boss’s wife while in a blackout.

— Marie, a chef sober less than a year, says she has no recollection of a phone call in which she was extremely rude and insulting to her husband’s sister, other than what her husband and sister-in-law told her. She’s embarrassed by the incident.

— Sunshine, a nurse sober half her life, recalls with a mix of horror and shame coming out of a blackout “as a guy was trying to have sex with me.” She says she fought him off. But she didn’t immediately stop drinking.

That’s often the case — not stopping drinking despite risky or embarrassing consequences. As an isolated incident, a blackout may not signify anything except drinking too much, too fast. Something you might want to avoid because of potential embarrassment or worse. As a pattern, it could be a sign of a more serious problem.

While it’s not just alcoholics who experience blackouts, the connection between blackouts and alcoholism or alcoholic use disorder is real and knowing some facts about the symptom could help dispel some of the myths and avoid more serious problems.

For a long time — most likely from whenever humans first discovered the mood-altering effects of wine until modern science started doing research on the brain and behavior — blackouts were regarded as just one of the possible side effects of drinking alcohol. A little fuzzy memory. No big deal. Just drink less.

When researchers began studying blackouts, however, they soon discovered that persons experiencing them didn’t have just a little amnesia. Rather, they had no recollection of certain events and, try as they might, even when told the details many times over, they had no memory of them. Their subjects didn’t forget, researchers concluded; they never formed a memory in the first place.

The prevailing accepted science, as cited by the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse and other similar agencies, is that persons experiencing a blackout can function and appear to be “normal” to others because their brain is operating on stored, long-term, procedural memory, but the short-term memory of what they are experiencing never gets to the hippocampus, the part of the brain that processes long-term memory. Alcohol — especially a lot of it in a short period of time — short-circuits the process.

According to the NIAAA, “As the amount of alcohol consumed increases, so does the magnitude of the memory impairments. Large amounts of alcohol, particularly if consumed rapidly, can produce partial or complete blackouts.”

More about blackouts:

— It’s not what you drink, it’s how much alcohol gets into your bloodstream and how fast it gets there. This means it’s possible for anyone to black out if he or she drinks enough alcohol quickly enough.

— People who have a low tolerance for alcohol are not necessarily more likely to black out. On the other hand, those with a high tolerance for alcohol are often able to drink heavily and carry on conversations, drive, etc. while in blackouts.

— Women may be more susceptible since they tend to be smaller than men, meaning each drink has a greater effect on the body’s blood alcohol content.

— Drinking on an empty stomach can make blackouts more likely, again because of a more acute impact on the blood alcohol concentration.

— People sometimes have glimpses of memory of an event, but not total recall. These partial lapses are called “brownouts.”

— Blackouts are the product of consumption of an amount of alcohol that affects motor coordination, balance, impulse control and decision-making. This is bad enough when someone is not in a blackout, never mind being unable to recall any risky, self-sabotaging behavior that may have caused serious harm to others.

— Some researchers suggest that people in blackouts, operating on procedural memory and little more, have little impulse control and are more likely to do things they would not otherwise. (See examples above.) This presents embarrassing, sometimes dangerous situations for the person in a blackout, family, friends and even strangers.

— Blackouts are often the unrecognized explanation for someone’s uncharacteristic actions. “Why did you (say/do) that last night?”

— Because of a shortage of evidence-based science on the subject, there is considerable difference of opinion on the use of blackouts as a defense in criminal trials.

So, what to do if you have blackouts? Take them seriously. Maybe talk to a professional health provider who knows about them. While blackouts are not solely the result of years of heavy, alcoholic drinking, they can be a sign of an existing or potential alcohol problem. Even one or two — perhaps the product of binge drinking in college — should be enough to cause concern since not being aware of what one has done is not considered acceptable to most people.

Being the unaware “life of the party” may be tolerable as a one-time experience, but repeated bizarre behavior of which you have no memory is nothing to laugh at.

rjgaydos@gmail.com