Tuesday, August 25, 2015


All kind of hotlines and helplines out there: such as for those contemplating suicide and for those victimized by brutal violent crimes. 911 (in the US) is an emergency hotline, tech support for your computer is another kind of emergency hotline. Then there is the whole world of addiction and codependency. Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Twelve Step programs addressing everything from compulsive overeating, gambling, smoking, sex addiction, and so on have hotlines.

If you have a problem you cannot deal with on your own, you call someone with more experience who may be able to help. It's not rocket science.
When an addict calls a hotline it may be the very first time he or she ever reaches out for help.  It may also be the last time the addict reaches out help. Hotline members are aware of the importance of the calls they receive. They are recovering addicts with good recovery who know what's at risk and have been there and know the path out of the nightmare. They have a world of experience to share and reams of helpful information regarding meetings, resources, what to do, who to ask, and how to get through that next moment, that next hour.

I help work a hotline. I have 33 years clean. I was hopelessly addicted to alcohol and prescription drugs and could see no way out of my downward spiral to wherever; I was already in Hell. Then I got help, I learned addiction is a disease, I learned the disease is fatal if left untreated, I learned it can be arrested and an addict can rebuild his or her life becoming "happy, joyous, and free." In other words, becoming a whole human being. That's what I have on my end of the phone line when an addict calls for help.

I got a hotline call last evening, a heroin addict who was up against it and "someone told me to call this number." He cut off the call before I could do more than give him the website address for the Maine Area of Narcotics Anonymous. Maybe he'll go there and live. Maybe not. His choice.

There's a lot of help out there.
Getting clean is a sure thing if you follow the instructions.
How bad does it have to get?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Positive. Stay #$@%*! Positive

I have crashed out four times attempting to do this post, and it was about where to put your head during stormy times in order to remain #$@%*! positive. I was pretty positive when I started. I really was. But I am getting pretty damned salty attempting to share my #$@%*! joy with you folks. So, to hell with it! I need to get on with writing my current novel, so . . .

Don't use
Go to meetings
Ask for help

Can this program get any damned simpler? Would a kick in the ass or a smack upside your #$@%*!  head with a two-by-four help?

Don't use
Go to meetings
Ask for help

Well, after the second failure at attempting to put in a picture in a post, maybe you could work on a little acceptance? Eh?

Yeah, thanks a #$@%*!  heap! I hope you're a global warming nut and got a lump of coal in your stocking!

Now, where was I. Oh---

Announcement: Tomorrow night at the Dragon Slayers group of NA in Farmington, Maine I will be celebrating thirty-three years clean and sober. I won't pretend it's thirty-three years clean and serene, as it says on the NA key tags. Still working on my thirty-day serene tag.

Happy New Year to those who recognize and celebrate this one. For those who don't, be happy anyway. My best wishes to all who visit this humble blog, to all those taking on the challenge of becoming human by getting and staying clean, to all those thinking about it, and especially to those who are absolutely convinced that they cannot have a problem with drugs.

Have A Real New Year

[I'll be damned. . . . went to publish this blog and what I wrote before was in the lineup as a saved draft, even though I hadn't saved it. Make what you will of this, and here it is:]

I'll be all right if . . .
That phrase began so many "almost" prayers of my childhood, my youth, my using days, and just today, I caught myself saying it again: "If I can just make it to the story, I'll be all right."

I won't bore you with my health problems (numerous, serious, troublesome). They left me this morning, though, weak, filled with pain, and just barely able to wobble around. Okay, I'm in my seventies. On average, things should be breaking down and things should hurt. In a few days, however, I have every intention of going skiing, a goal that seems slightly out of reach when I can't make it from one end of the house to the other without leaning up against a wall and resting.

Being honest here, I felt very sick and pretty desperate. I needed to make progress on writing my current novel, The War Whisperer, and I couldn't even figure out what to get myself for breakfast. But I love writing, and I am thoroughly into the novel I'm currently writing. Of my many fears, my biggest right now is that I won't live long enough to finish it. And there's the next Joe Torio mystery I want to do, a fantasy-Civil War novel I need to rewrite . . . plans! I have lots of things I still want to accomplish.

That part of the future, though, isn't entirely under my own control. Lives get snuffed out in seconds all over this world, and often for no more of a reason than stormy weather, a misread traffic sign, or someone thought a murder or fifty would result in profit, the approval of one's associates, or would place one on some god's approval list. As I have written elsewhere and probably more than once: "No one has a lock on the next ten minutes."

This, right now, may be it. Perhaps not. The second stupidest thing one can do, however, is worry about it. You won't be all right if you sit there worrying about death, someone leaving you, losing your job, getting turned down on a proposal, a child's illness, world hunger, or nutballs tossing bombs at you.

The stupidest thing you can do is pick up a drink or a drug and use. What if you don't die? What if you make it through the storm? What if he or she doesn't leave you? What if you get a promotion instead of a pink slip? What if that child recovers? What if a way is found to feed the hungry? What if no one bombs you today?

When a stormy brain is running things, that is a dangerous time for a recovering addict. But you'll be all right if . . . what? For me it's writing: this particular post as it turned out. What will it be for you?

I'll be all right if . . .
. . . I get to a meeting.
. . . I talk to my sponsor or someone else in the program.
. . . I get to work writing on that next step.
. . . I read some program literature.
. . . I read anything that uplifts me.
. . . I do something nice for someone else.
. . . I get in touch with my Higher Power.
. . . I get off my ass and make a needed repair.
. . . I go skiing, running, hiking, to the gym, swimming.
I'll be all right as long as I don't pick up; As long as I don't use, there is hope.

[I don't think I'll try and insert that picture again. It was just a bunch of red and yellow flowers I photographed at a garden once. Apparently the garden was possessed by the Devil. Perhaps I just don't remember how to insert pix in posts. Anyway, have a happy and sane new year. The world has enough miserable crazies.]

Monday, September 22, 2014


I heard it again at a meeting. "You'll never win your fight with addiction until you surrender." A dozen different ways, this sentiment is stock advice at Twelve Step programs meaning: Doing it yourself your own way hasn't worked, isn't working, and won't work in the future. Turning the treatment of your disease over to the program is the "surrender" referred to in slogans and advice.

When addicts seeking recovery first hear this, it doesn't sound right. If I'm in a fight with a disease, the answer is to surrender? Surrender to what?It doesn't sound right because, in my opinion, it isn't right. I remember quite clearly my first surrender to the disease of addiction. I was looking in my bathroom mirror getting ready to, once again, take those damned pills. I looked deeply into the reflection of my own eyes, realizing that I was addicted to those pills just as I was addicted to alcohol."I guess this is just one more thing I'll have to put up with," I said. White flag up, I surrendered unconditionally, no more looking for answers, no more fight left in me. That, brothers and sisters, is surrender.

So how, then, did I get and stay clean? Okay, what my little army had to throw into my battle against addiction was woefully inadequate. What I needed were allies; strong, reliable allies with excellent fighting credentials and winning records. A rehabilitation center was my introduction to the allies I needed in my war against addiction. First I needed soldiers and a plan (12 Steps, meetings, other recovering addicts, and not picking up). Second, I needed a pathfinder to show me where the sound footing was and to steer me away from the quicksand, blind canyons, and thin ice. I would learn to call this ally a "sponsor." Third, I needed heavy artillery and a medical unit: Some sort of power that can shield me when I'm under attack, heal me when I'm wounded, and that can locate the me that wants to be a human being instead of a slave. I would learn to call that ally my Higher Power.

Don't surrender; Make alliances that can keep you clean and contain your enemy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


The Dragon Slayers group of Narcotics Anonymous in Farmington, Maine is the oldest continuous NA meeting in the state. Its first meeting was held in a college girl's apartment September 7th, 1982. For the past twenty years or so it has met Tuesday nights at the Henderson Memorial Baptist Church. The group got its name due to several members referring to the disease of addiction and/or the desire to use drugs as "The Dragon."

One time after a meeting, an old-timer saying his goodbyes said to a newcomer, "May you be safe from dragons."

The newcomer, unfamiliar with the Dragon Slayers' frame of reference, said "Some big wish; Dragons don't exist."

The old-timer smiled and said, "There you go; The wish worked."

Our dragons, addiction & cravings, exist. The cravings usually fade away with time clean---off all mood altering substances. Addiction never goes away. Feed the dragon only a little of what it demands, and the next thing you know, not only has the dragon eaten your lunch, it's eaten you, and everything and everyone you hold dear.

When certain thoughts cross your mind, like, "If I skip one or two meetings, I won't use," or, "The real problem was alcohol, if I just smoke dope and stay away from the booze," or "It really wasn't all that bad," remember to sniff the air for dragon smoke because Green and Mean is right behind you.

Friday, February 21, 2014


So, there I was, watching the Winter Olympics from Sochi, in my second month of debilitating illness, already knowing that feeling sorry for myself was pointless, that feeling hovering just outside my awareness nevertheless.

I don't know what it is about nausea, but it seems to change all the rules. I want nothing more than to get to my keyboard and write my stories. When I need a break, I want nothing more than to slap on my skis and hit the slopes. When I'm sick to my stomach all I want to do stop feeling like that by any means.

And we all know what by any means means to an addict. I stumble into a meeting or three, stay as long as I can, talk to program people on the phone, and work on waiting out the illness. As we know, patience is not waiting; patience is doing something else.

My "something elses"  involve listening to Audiobooks, rereading some of my own stuff, watching TV, petting my dogs, and when the Olympics are on, I watch.

Inspiration, that emotional boost that lifts you from despair and self pity back into hope and gratitude, was the medicine I needed, and in a series of events such as the Olympics there are usually several such moments. There are also lessons to be learned.

Yesterday, for example, I watched the USA women's hockey team crying almost to an individual because they earned silver medals instead of gold. I can only think offhand of several thousand Olympic athletes who would have killed to have traded places with them.

Yet, there I was, a moderately successful author, awards, over twenty books in print, living in a home I love, good friends, good program, no worries about money or employment, pissing and moaning because for a space of time I couldn't write or go skiing.  The parallel was rather glaring.

Many years ago, a writer friend of mine listened to my bitching for awhile, then he said to me, "Barry, there are hundreds of thousands of writers in this world who would kill to have your problems." 

I've said it before: A time is coming for all of us when we will be able to look back upon this moment right now as the good old days.

Another inspiring moment: Men's single figure skater Jeremy Abbot. The videos must be all over YouTube by now. Check them out.

Every Olympian goes through the same thing, especially figure skaters. Day after day, practice, working out, more practice, more working out, day after day. The goal, for most, is a gold medal. The goal for everyone is to do their absolute best. So there he was, his program before the judges just begun, he was going into his very first jump, and suddenly everything went wrong. Before he fell down he had to have known that everything he had worked for, all his Olympic goals, had just evaporated.

Then he hit the ice.
He landed on his hip and side with enough force to put most persons into the hospital. Everyone who watched was expecting his team's medics to run out onto the ice and haul him away. The inspiring part came next: Slowly, he struggled up, back onto his skates, his face drawn with pain. He took a breath, then he completed the remainder of his program without error.

Offhand I can't remember the names of those who medaled in that event. Every time I fall, though, or come up short in things I counted on, I'll have that performance of Jeremy Abbot's in mind. The medal he won in that event wasn't gold, silver, or bronze; It glittered quite brightly, though.

Friday, November 29, 2013


When he would hear someone pissing and moaning about their physical problems accompanying their advancing years, my late sponsor Larry used to say, "We weren't even supposed to be here. Addicts used to die very young. Those who don't get into recovery, as a rule, still die young. What a miracle it is that those of us in recovery have lived enough additional years to be able to bitch about getting old."
The big setup for any addict in recovery is the malignant flyspeck. What's the malignant flyspeck?
Imagine a pristine wall of white or some pleasing color. The wall fills the universe with its pleasing light, an existential vessel for our joy and serenity. While you're looking at that wall, though, you notice a flyspeck on it. You stand closer, making the flyspeck seem larger, to examine it better.
"Look at that!" you cry. "Some damned bug attached itself to our beautiful wall and crapped all over it!"
You stand closer and closer until all you can see is the flyspeck. The universe is no longer beauty, joy, and serenity; It's all shit!
Anyone ever tell you about addiction's bag of tricks? Its number one trick (therapists like to call it a "dynamic") is behavior based on the disease's founding premise: Nothing comes between my addict and the drug.
Happy, grateful, serene recovering addicts don't use. Hence, thinks the disease, I must destroy the joy, kill hope, and vaporize serenity. In other words, if the addict can be made to make himself miserable enough, the addict will go back to the drug.
Meanwhile, back at the flyspeck that seemed to have swallowed the universe: if I step back from that unfortunate mark on the wall, noting the 99.9999% remainder of the wall that is clean and beautiful, it is no longer such a big deal. Some might even go so far as to get a sponge and remove the flyspeck.
However, if I choose to focus on the flyspeck until it seems to fill my universe, life for me will suddenly become hopeless and unbearable. That is precisely when that little green dragon climbs up on my shoulder and begins suggesting certain chemical "solutions" to take care of my "problems."
Can't seem to get away from that flyspeck on your own?
Go to a program meeting and share.
Write a gratitude list.
Call your sponsor and talk it out.
Oh . . . you don't have a sponsor? Haven't been to a meeting in awhile?
The way Larry put it to me was this: addiction has a bag of tricks; the program gives me a bag of tools. To counter the tricks I need to use the tools. If I choose not to use the tools, I am choosing to live and die in that universe full of crap in which staying clean is all but impossible.
You ever try to unplug an overflowing toilet by bitching, feeling depressed, and sticking your head in the bowl? No. You either use a toilet plunger or get someone to come in and . . . use a toilet plunger. The tools of recovery and how to use them to stay clean and live life joyous and free is what the program provides.
So, when you find yourself stacking up things about which to be miserable, health problems, love relationships falling apart, pets taking a dump on your carpet, you burning the turkey, losing a job, sticking your head in a toilet, or all of the above, use the program tools to help back you away from that flyspeck.
If you want to stay clean.

Friday, November 08, 2013


Bubba had had just about enough of going to Twelve Step meetings. All of this don't use, go to meetings, and ask for help crap was really pissing him off. Everything was making him angry and all he wanted to do was hit someone.

"One drink won't kill me," he said to himself, and he headed for the nearest bar.

Once he got into the establishment, he saw Willy, an old sponsor of his who had gone out again, sitting at the bar, hunched over a drink. Bubba walked over, grabbed the guy's drink, gulped it down, and said, "So, what are you gonna do about it?"

"Come on, man," said Willy. "I'm a complete failure. I stopped going to meetings and got back into drinking. My wife left me and took the kids. Then I was late to a meeting with my boss, and he fired me. When I went to the parking lot, I found my car had been stolen and I don't have any insurance. I left my wallet in the cab I took home, I opened the door, a burglar hit me on my head, stole my computer and TV, and when I woke up my dog bit me. So . . . I came to this bar to work up the courage to put an end to it all. So I buy a drink, drop a cyanide capsule in it, and sit here watching the poison dissolve, then you show up and drink the whole damn thing! But, enough about me, how are you doing?"