Sunday, November 29, 2015


"My name is Harry and I'm a grateful recovering alcoholic."
     ---a what? I thought. Grateful? Grateful? What bullshit! 
     It was one of my first AA speaker meetings I was required to attend while undergoing treatment in rehab. The first speaker introduced himself as a "grateful recovering alcoholic," and I heard almost nothing else. I couldn't get my head around that word "grateful."
     Grateful? Yeah, man, I am just tickled pink to have the disease of alcoholism (which I would later learn to call "addiction"). Who was this guy kidding anyway? He was, at the very least, I believed, kidding himself.
     By then I had gotten far enough along in treatment to admit I was an addict, but I still hadn't quite gotten around to accepting it. I was still in a self-pity/rage fest about life, the universe, God, or whoever singling me out for this particular gift: Addiction. I mean, how could something like this happen to a nice guy like me?
     There was no need for me to total up all of the things I was damned ungrateful for. I had that list carved in stone and chained to me so that I dragged it around and had it weigh me down wherever I went.
     Physical problems
     Legal problems
     Loved ones I had hurt
     Pets I had hurt
     Employees I had hurt
     Endless valuable things I had trashed
     The money I had wasted
     The money I failed to make, opportunities lost through loss of productivity, all of the stories that never got written.
     This helpless, hopeless, dark little universe in which I was confined; a place where the world was shit, nothing worked, there was no such thing as a temporary problem, a world in which I was convinced everyone hated me, and where I punished those who still dared to love me.
     It was a world in which I stayed in bed for two weeks trying to figure out how to kill myself without making a mess, and failing.
    Yeah, I had my anti-gratitude list up and running all right. Any time I needed an excuse to use drugs, all of my reasons were right there in glorious black and blacker. Gratitude my ass!

     Time passed, I didn't use, I went to meetings, I got a sponsor, I listened at the meetings and did what my sponsor told me. Learned a few things, too.
     1. If all I look for is shit, shit is all I'm ever going to find.
     2. If in the center of a perfectly clean wall is a fly speck, and all I do is focus on the fly speck, the universe will appear as though it is covered in filth.
     3. That my focus is governed by my attitude, and my attitude is one of the things I can change.
     5. That my disease considers me a crap magnet. It figures once I'm covered in enough crap, I'll use.
     6. It's tough to clean a septic tank when you're sitting in it.

     I also learned how to move my focus off the fly speck by doing a gratitude list. I've covered this before, but Blogger doesn't make going through the older posts very easy, so here it is again:
How To Do A Gratitude List
     There are many different ways to do a gratitude list. This is the way my sponsor taught me thirty-three years ago.
     Take a letter-sized piece of paper, draw a line down the center of the paper. At the top of the left-hand column, write your clean date (If you don't know what your clean date is, go to the NA  link, find out where the nearest meeting is, and go there now.)
     At the top of the right-hand column, write today's date.
     Back at the left-hand column, write down the names of everyone you truly loved on your clean date. Didn't take me long at all because I loved no one, including myself.
     Over to the right-hand column, write down the names of everyone you love now. That usually takes me most of a morning.
     Back to the left hand column. Write down the names of everyone who, on your clean date, you felt or believed loved you. Again, I drew a blank.
     Over to the right-hand column, write down the names of everyone who, today, you feel or believe love you.
     I usually don't have to do any more than that to both eat up a morning and end up feeling wealthy in love. However, if you need more, do the same thing with your physical condition then and now, relationships then and now, possessions, occupation, outlook, and so on with every aspect of your existence.
     This coming December I will have been clean thirty-four years. I am living on borrowed time, and the best thing about borrowed time is, you don't have to pay it back. For that and for many, many other things, I am grateful.
     Two final things to remember: (1) Grateful addicts don't pick up, and (2) If the world didn't suck we'd all fall off.


Tuesday, November 03, 2015


Alex and his wife Edna were sitting in their living room watching a television documentary on heroic measures to keep terminal patients alive and why everyone should have a living will. He finished his drink, looked at his wife and said, "Just so you know, Edna: I never want to be kept alive in a vegetative state, dependent on some damn machine and fluids from a bottle. If that should ever happen to me, just pull the plug. Promise?"
"I promise," Edna replied, got up from her chair, pulled the plug on the television set, went into the kitchen, and threw out all of his whisky. 


In rehab I learned that addiction is called "The Family Disease." It doesn't matter who takes the drugs, everyone gets sick. If you've ever said to yourself or anyone else, "I'm only hurting myself," if you don't already know, let me be the first to tell you: That is bullshit. "Everyone gets sick" means everyone gets hurt. 

My mother used to blame me for her being "sick" all the time, for which she needed to take horse-stunning pain killers and sleeping pills. My father was the man who was never there. My home was a nest of violence, sexual abuse, and mental torture that left me believing that chronic depression and playing with suicide was normal. I had to twist and bend my perception of reality until I could say to myself that I had a great childhood, almost none of which I can remember. 

Try to do your algebra homework while everyone around you is screaming and fighting. You don't invite friends over to your house to meet your parents because you have no idea what's going to be on the other side of your front door: War zone, drunk tank, boxing match, or fun house. So you do without friends. 

Some family members sneak off to cry, some cope by getting into drugs themselves, some take it out on the world around them through violence and crime, some leave never to return, and some simply end the pain by taking their own lives. 

Addicts: All of the above is not a good excuse to use. Instead it is a call for you to reach out for help. Rehab, Narcotics Anonymous Twelve Step meetings, get clean, and grow the hell up.

Family members of addicts: None of the above is a good excuse to say or think of the addict, "He or she has the problem; Not me." Everyone gets sick. Everyone who is sick with any aspect of the disease of addiction needs help to recover. The programs below are designed to do exactly that.

Nar-anon is a Twelve Step program for those affected by addicts: parents, siblings, employees, employers, and friends.

Al-Anon is a Twelve Step program for those affected by an alcoholic: Parents, siblings, employees, employers, and friends.

Alateen is a Twelve Step program for young children of alcoholics, or siblings of alcoholics. 

The links to the world services of all of the programs mentioned above are over in the "Learn More" box on the right side of the page. Your happiness and the happiness of those you love are what is at stake. What's important is what you do next.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


A newcomer to Narcotics Anonymous, discouraged with his attempts at trying to get free of his addiction, said to an old-timer, "The NA program just doesn't work for me."

"That's no surprise," said the old-timer. "The program doesn't work for anybody. To get and stay clean, you have to work the program."

It's an action program. The work involved isn't anywhere near as exhausting as chasing and paying for that high, but there is work involved: Not picking up that drug, going to meetings, getting and using a sponsor, learning about the disease of addition, and reprogramming yourself back into being a human being through working the Twelve Steps. There is also getting and using a Higher Power.

Praying by itself simply didn't work for me nor any addict I ever met. As an old-timer years ago put it, "A Higher Power doesn't read want ads, ring doorbells, pay bills, make apologies, loan money, impress judges, or dig ditches. If you ask your HP for help as you do those things, however, you'll get it." 

For years we prayed for a particular person, the son of one of the members of our group, to see the light, put down the drug, get into the program, and live.

It didn't work; He died using.

It shook our faith a bit until an old-timer pointed out, "God can't cure someone who doesn't want the cure. It takes a team to keep you clean: Meetings, other recovering addicts, a sponsor, a program, a Higher Power, and you. If you are not on your own team, there is nothing anyone nor any power can do.

It is an Action, not a Traction, program. Get on your own team and do the work, or hang back and wallow in never ending nightmares.

Do you want to get clean? Stay clean?

Do you want it enough to work for it?

Your choice.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


I was called into a local hospital by a drug counselor who said that there was an addict there "who asked for help." When I arrived at the counselor's office, he took me upstairs to the patient's room. I sat in a chair and the counselor tore off into a festival of rage at the young man for using and overdosing after he had promised promised! the counselor he would never use again.

The kid was in bed, urinating into a plastic bag, and being fed intravenously because his stomach as well as a few other organs had shut down. He was about twenty years old, skinny, sallow-faced, and patched up here and there with bandages, and could hardly stay awake. High on coke, he had gotten on his Harley, had a losing argument with a truck at an intersection, and had been defibrillated twice in the ambulance on the way to the hospital to keep him alive.

Finally the counselor stopped yelling at the kid, turned to me, and said, "Maybe you can do something with him." Then he stormed out of the room. It was pretty clear by then that the counselor and I had different definitions of "asking for help."

I asked the kid, "Do you think you have a problem with drugs?"

"No," he answered. "My only problem is the three thousand dollars I owe my dealer. Once I have that paid off, I'll be fine." Apparently his dealer was looking for him with a gun.

"Good luck," I said, then left the room.

The counselor wanted to know if that was the extent of the help I could offer. I answered that if that Mack Truck, peeing into a bag, being hit with the paddles twice, and being chased by a man with a gun hadn't convinced him he had a drug problem, what did he expect me to do? The only help I had to offer had and still has a prerequisite: as the venerable AA bumper sticker says: "You Gotta Wanna."

Three days after being released from the hospital, the young man mentioned above died from a drug overdose.

Got a drug problem? That's a very important question to answer correctly. If you have a drug problem, the right answer will open to you worlds of help and recovery, a rebirth into sanity and renewed membership in the human race. You'll go to meetings, work the Steps, get to know and be helped by some of the best people in the world. You'll get to become a human being.

Answer the question incorrectly, you get to go to other meetings but in either jail, insane asylum, or graveyard.

Had enough? Before answering that question, keep in mind that the overwhelming majority of active drug addicts land in either jails, institutions, or graveyards without allowing themselves to realize that their use of drugs was the problem, not the answer.

Have a great day, be good to yourself, and good luck.

Sunday, October 04, 2015


For two or three years every time I would pass a particular auto repair garage on my way to the Saturday morning Nineish Meeting ("If you show before eleven, you're on time") I would pass their sign that said, "We can fix it."

Depending on where my attitude was, I would either laugh, get angry, or feel bitter as I inventoried all of things going on in my life, and the lives of others, the owners of that establishment could not "fix." Often it would make me think of the origin of the word "fix," which did not have it's modern meaning of "repair."

It the times of ancient Rome, when you were really pissed off at someone, the curse was, "I'll fix you." The "fixing" involved writing down upon a small sheet of lead all of the horrible things one wanted the gods to inflict upon the cursed in the afterlife, folding the lead sheet, and "fixing" it or nailing it, onto the cursed's coffin or tomb after he or she died.

"I fixed her," eventually evolved to become, "I fixed that car." Considering some of the crappy repair jobs I've gotten on cars over the years, however, "fixed " apparently hasn't lost all of its original meaning.

"We can fix it." That sign messed with my mind so many times, I even had my sleuth in the Joe Torio series express frustration over it (in Rope, Paper, Scissors). There, too, was a situation that no one without a time machine could remedy, and there are no time machines in the Joe Torio universe.

Yesterday when I went to the Nineish Group Meeting, I passed the same auto repair garage, and their sign was advertising some deal: oil change, tune up, muffler, or some such, and I realized there was a part of me that missed the original sign. "We can fix it," was a hopeful but hopelessly naïve claim reminiscent of the "addiction cure" commercials I've seen on television over the years.

"We do not believe in the disease concept."
"This is not based on a Twelve Step program"
"And so-and-so cured my addiction!" 
. . . Nah, I don't think so.

Here is what "curing" addiction would mean: It would result in the "former" addict being able to "safely" use drugs(!): Recreational mainlining, smoking, snorting, popping, and chugging. Those who believe that and try it truly get "fixed."

No one can cure addiction, but through working a Twelve Step program of recovery, millions have repaired their lives and helped repair the lives of others.

When I was in aftercare, one of my groupmates said something quite profound: "I hope they never come up with a pill that cures alcoholism. If they ever did, the first thing I'd do is pop one of those pills, head for a bar, and get wasted."

Addiction can be arrested. Even science fiction hasn't come up with even a believable cure. Addiction is like playing chess with a computer set on "easy." The computer set for an easy game isn't very smart, but it will never miss and always take advantage of every one of your blunders. So, be careful out there.

Sunday, September 27, 2015


"The journey IS the destination: Don't keep worrying about outcomes.  Worry about the process.  Do your duty and do it well.  The results will take care of themselves."  —M. Sawhney

A fellow once asked me about writing as a career. He said he'd wanted to write ever since he was in school. He'd never really gotten started, however. "I mean, what if I put in all of that work and it never goes anywhere? It's no good. No one wants to publish it? I will have wasted all those years."

I told him that it seemed he didn't really want to write. What he wanted was to become successfully published.

It reminded me of a fellow I once met at an Al-Anon meeting. He told me he had a drinking problem but was attending Al-Anon "So I can get the program without having to stop drinking." It would be funny except for the fellow drinking himself to death, which he did a few short years later. 

The Process: Don't use, go to meetings, get a sponsor, use the telephone, focus on getting through the current twenty-four hours clean.
The Outcome: For you, I don't know, except for you being clean. Everyone I know who's done it, though, eventually calls it "A life second to none."

Friday, September 25, 2015


Early recovery and, hell, what did I ever think was going to happen? I was in rehab, they had searched me and my duffel bag, confiscated all of my prescription and over-the-counter drugs, and suddenly I was in a very threatening and painful foreign land.

How do you deal with physical pain without medication? How do you deal with painful feelings without a chemical? Taking the medication they prescribed for withdrawal would have been smart, but I had already declared that I didn't have a chemical problem, hence there would be no need for such medication.

One of the drugs I had been on was a tranquilizer to treat anxiety. Withdrawal from that drug was anxiety and paranoia raised to the power of infinity. I was in a building full of drug addicts! My wife and everyone at home were already pissed off at me. Getting my wallet stolen would be the final straw.

That night I put my wallet in my pillow, stuck my hand in the pillow and secured my wallet with a death grip. For some reason I couldn't sleep. Finally I took my beard trimming scissors, cut up all my credit cards, and flushed them down the toilet.

Still couldn't sleep. Perspiration was coming off me in rivers. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't sleep. I spent some time in the patient's lounge where everyone was withstanding the New Year coming in with vegetable platters, Ping-Pong, and ancient disco. It was there that another patient said, "Remember, today is the first day of your nightmare."

There were a number of other persons there who were going through what I was going through. It didn't really get through to me that night. I was still unique, an island of pain unto myself. After drinking a vat of coffee, I stumbled back to my room. I couldn't sleep, so to kill time I read one of the pile of books I had been issued: Alcoholics Anonymous.  AA's Big Book.

I was looking for things to fight about, and I found plenty. One of my former occupations was that of printer, and after the sixth or seventh time flinging that book from my bed against the far wall, I became quite impressed with that volume's binding.

I did learn something, though. I learned that I had a problem with alcohol and other drugs. That word "addict," though, was still poison. I couldn't be a drug addict.

I had one laugh that night. I was back in the patient lounge, sitting there, smoking, sucking down more coffee, shaking, sweating, my head aching. Another patient was telling the story of the Three Little Pigs.

"'Little pig, little pig, let me come in,' said the big bad wolf. 'Not by the hair of my chinny chin-chin,' said the pig. Then the big bad wolf says, 'Whoa, man! A talking pig! I gotta stop smokin' that shit.'"

The next twenty-four hours were worse, and the twenty-four hours after that even worse. With spiders crawling all over the walls, the ceilings oceans of worms, a blinding headache, and I said to someone at the nurse's station, "I feel terrible." A floor counselor asked me if I wanted to talk and what was my name?

I couldn't remember my name. In between hallucinations, tears, pain, and talk that night, I finally had to admit I was an addict. I had been so wrong, put myself through such a nightmare, and felt like such a fool.

Later it was explained to me that humility is you being in touch with reality. Humiliation is reality getting in touch with you.