Fight, Flight, Drown


Imagine you are walking through the park on a sunny day and you come upon a friendly looking dog sitting there. As your mind fills with warm fuzzies, you reach down to pet the dog, but it bares it’s teeth and snaps at you. Your warmth and kindness is immediately replaced by fear and anger. Even resentment. But upon closer examination, you see that the dog’s foot is caught in one of those steel claw traps and is severely injured. You realize the dog is in pain and afraid. Suddenly, your own anger and resentment is replaced by sympathy and compassion for the dog and it’s situation. People may similarly act out irrationally from fear or pain when a situation creates a “fight or flight” response. But the people around them may be completely unaware of that person’s triggered internal plight.

When faced with a situation that makes us afraid, our minds have to make the decision to stand and confront, or to run to safety. This often creates a war within, because it’s not always clear which is the best path to take. Plus every person is a singular blend of inherited genes, born-with personality traits, and childhood experiences that are unique to each individual person, so each person is going to have their own special response to any given situation when they are confronted with fear or anxiety. There are all kinds of situations that can make a person afraid. It can be an obvious life-threatening fear, or it can be more simple and subtle things like social anxiety, for example. But when someone is afraid, they often act irrationally towards other people.


When someone is in pain, they are also not themselves. Someone who is pain may desire to avoid social situations and would just prefer to be in the comfort of their own homes and beds, if possible. It’s the same thing for mental pain, which can be equally, if not more, miserable. Mental pain can be caused by some traumatic event that just occurred in their life, or it can be caused by the trauma of events from childhood that are perpetually carried forward into adulthood. If a person was the victim of childhood abuse, for example, they may act irrationally to situations that arise in adulthood that mirror those events from childhood, because their minds are just following an old neural pathway (mind road) response to that situation. When someone is in a state of mental pain, they may not act rationally to people or situations that triggered that pain.


When confronted with fear or pain, it is not always as simple as just confronting that fear or pain. Because many people are not be able to confront things that cause them fear or pain, so they automatically desire to run to safety. Drugs and alcohol seem to provide a clear, simple solution because they take away the fear and the pain, and they do it very quickly. So it is a natural path to walk on for people unable or unwilling to fight or stand. If a person is afraid, in pain, or both, the drugs and alcohol mask those things and provide temporary relief, but the fear and pain are still there, and come back even stronger when the sedation wears off, requiring more sedation. When drugs and alcohol flow into someone who is already filled with anxiety and anguish, it will overflow and they will begin drowning in their addiction and despair.


I have complex post traumatic stress disorder as a result of childhood abuse. As a result of that trauma, fight or flight slowly became a natural response to most situations I was confronted with, exacerbated by a general all-or-nothing mentality spawned by the abuse I suffered. Situations would often happen in adulthood that mimicked those events from childhood, even if it wasn’t apparent to me at the time. So when those adult events would happen, and a fight or flight response was triggered, my insides were in complete turmoil, fear, anxiety and misery, even though I appeared to be in control on the outside. I was able to put on this charade of having the ability to stand and deliver for years and actually had significant success in my career. But I gradually became heavily addicted to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism for my true inner inability to stand and confront. I was losing the war going on in my head and began to drown in my addiction and in my own shame, guilt, blame, self-hatred and despair. I wanted help, but I was afraid to lose the drugs and alcohol that I felt were my only safety net. When I first entered therapy and recovery, the first thing a therapist said to me was “It’s alright to be that frightened little boy, but it’s ok you’re safe now”. Those words burst open the dam that was holding everything back in my head and allowed me to reach back to the helping hands that were being extended to me.


Let’s say there is a woman drowning in a lake. People are standing on a dock shouting at her to swim to safety, but she is unable to because she does not know how to swim. There is a coiled up rope sitting on the dock, but rather than throw the rope out to her, the people just yell at her, telling her that when she is ready to stop drowning and swim, she should swim over to the dock so they can hand her the rope and she can pull herself to safety. That’s the imagery when someone says about addicts “When they are ready, they will quit. If they’re not ready, they won’t. And if they die, they did it to themselves.”


A person who is in full blown addiction might be aware that they are drowning, but they feel trapped and their hijacked minds believe everyone has backed them into a corner. The thought of quitting makes them feel in danger, because they feel threatened with the loss of their only escape from the despair they’re carrying around in their heads, plus fear of withdrawal. Their minds are in fight or flight mode. An addict must be offered a lifeline, a rope, so they can pull themselves out, but they need to feel that there is safety at the other end of that rope, not just confrontation, demands and accusation, so they feel compelled to take hold. Addicts can never be “enabled” because that is like pushing the drowning addict’s head under the water. But people can educate themselves on the multitude of ways and solutions for helping an addict recover without “enabling” them. The addict needs to feel safe letting go of the drug of choice that they feel is their “life preserver” and take hold of something they believe will pull them to a safe space. If they’re offered help in a way that does not trigger a fight or flight response, they may be compelled to reach out, take hold of the rope and pull themselves out of the addictions that they are drowning in.





The Escape Road – Is addiction a disease or a choice? Yes it is.


Imagine there is a crowd of onlookers next to a lake where there are people in the water who are drowning. Instead of throwing a rope out to the drowning people to pull them in and save their lives, everybody just stands at the shore of the lake arguing about whether the drowning people fell into the lake or jumped in. Both sides of the disease vs. choice argument contain elements of truth, which fuels the fire of the circular debate which is usually just steeped in dogmatic fallacy. Meanwhile, according to the Center for Disease Control, 72,000 people lost their lives in 2017 to drug overdose (not including deaths from alcohol abuse). So in effect, 72,000 “drowned”, that’s more than most football stadiums hold, while people debated.

Is it a choice? Of course – nobody was born with a bottle of vodka in their hands or a heroin needle in their arms. At some point, in everybody single person’s life, they made a choice to take a risk and do something they know that they should not do. For instance, many took the risk of having unprotected sex when they were in high school, most gambled for the first time, smoked that first cigarette, drank that first beer or shot of whiskey, smoked that first joint, etc. People made a choice to take a risk. For most, the choice to take that risk did not result in a life shattering series of events going forward. But for the millions of us, whether we fell into substance abuse, were pushed into substance abuse, or gladly jumped into substance abuse, we continued to make the choice to use those substances, even after it posed an imminent and immediate threat to our life and threatened to destroy the lives of our families. So technically yes, we made a conscious choice.

Is it a disease? The policy of the American Medical Association under the “disease theory”, for both psychiatric and medical sections of their policies, states “The AMA endorses the proposition that drug dependencies, including alcoholism, are diseases and that their treatment is a legitimate part of medical practice.” But arguments have been made that those classifications were made for economic reasons, in particular third party reimbursement (insurance) for the treatment of addiction and alcoholism. There have also been recent studies that challenge the classification of addiction or alcoholism as a disease. But right now, almost all major health organizations classify addiction/alcoholism as a disease. So technically yes, it is a disease, or at minimum an “illness”.

So both sides of the disease/choice debate can claim legitimate support for their positions. Nobody willingly chose to become an addict or an alcoholic, but by the same token nobody contracted addiction because an addict sneezed on them. In reality, it is technically both a “disease” and a choice, or at least a choice that leads to or becomes a disease or an illness (or whatever it may be called), so the debate rages on. However it is much more easily and simply defined than just a disease or a choice, because it may be both and it may be neither.

Most people don’t like the feeling of loss of control created by heavy alcohol or drug use, or the sickness that follows, so they rarely ever return to that place. But for the rest of us millions of people, the euphoria generated by alcohol or drugs created a neural pathway (a mind road) to a euphoric escape from pains of life – “The Escape Road”. We became drawn back to The Escape Road like moths to a light. There are a variety of opinions and another hornet’s nest of debate under the root cause behind the predisposition for addiction – genetic vs. environment, nature vs. nurture, inherited vs. acquired, or just an accident. Whatever the cause, for those of us who have abused substances, we found the feeling of euphoria and the relief of The Escape Road something that was almost impossible to resist. Drugs and alcohol provided a magic carpet ride away from mental pain, physical pain, even spiritual pain. It temporarily soothed the misery of bonafide mental illnesses like PTSD from childhood or adulthood trauma, Bipolar Disorders, Generalized Anxiety Disorders and others. So once we had a taste of that relief and the euphoria of walking on The Escape Road, we found ourselves returning until it became a habit, then a physical/mental dependency, and ultimately an addiction.

Once The Escape Road was heavily paved and we became mired in full blown addiction, the shame of our addiction, and the guilt of those activities, got added to the heavy mental illness baggage many of were carrying around before we became addicted in the first place. So we became even more thoroughly entrenched in traveling on The Escape Road to obtain relief. While we may have wanted to step off, we knew that doing so would result in, not only the loss of our escape hatch, but the return of the weight of the pain we were trying to obtain relief from, and we were also faced with the paralyzing anxiety and crushing misery of withdrawal. In the case of drugs like alcohol, suddenly withdrawing from it can be life-threatening. Our minds are intuitively aware of this, so a fight or flight response was triggered when confronted by withdrawal. Because our addiction backed us into a corner, our hijacked minds imagined that our lives were threatened by withdrawal, and we were faced with the loss of our only escape route, we were willing to do whatever it took to stay on The Escape Road, including lying, cheating, stealing, hurting ourselves, hurting others, risking our lives, even risking other people’s lives. When all of these things are taken into consideration, when someone is in full blown addiction, the decision to continue using may not even be a choice (arguably), but rather a survival-type auto response.

Now none of this is intended to provide a justification for substance abuse nor is it intended to provide some rationalization to the millions of people who lost friends, family, and people they loved, to addiction or alcoholism. Those people, who suffered loss, are filled with deep intense sadness, burning anger, smoldering resentment, agonizing frustration, and a host of other horrible emotions. Which is completely understandable and tragically heart-breaking. But maybe a modicum of understanding in how and why this often happens might help take a baby step towards placating some of these emotions and provide at least a little peace.

When a person is drowning in the lake of addiction to drugs or alcohol, they cannot be “enabled” because enabling them is like pushing their heads under the water. But those people who are drowning need to have a rope thrown to them so they can be helped to make the decision to pull themselves out of the water. People need education on what can be done to help those who are struggling with addiction make that choice, and to help them without enabling them. Once people have been helped to make the choice to recover, there are a variety of different recovery programs and recovery paths that they can follow. There are some arguments and studies on whether abstinence-based recovery is the best approach or not. However, for people who have had major issues with addiction to alcohol for example, returning to it under a controlled drinking or moderation environment could be potentially catastrophic. Because, if they are on the path of moderation, which they would argue is not traveling directly on The Escape Road, they are in effect walking along on the shoulder of that road. Major hardships, or a serious of smaller hardships, that often happen simultaneously, are common to everybody. It is not a question of if, but a question of when. When those hardships happen, The Escape Road would be right at their feet (since they are already walking on the shoulder), so then returning to chemical dependency full physical/mental addiction would be an all-too-easy natural progression, and would only take one small push.

The mind will never completely forget the feeling of euphoric escape through drugs or alcohol, so The Escape Road and the knowledge of that escape hatch is always going to be there. It will always be possible to consciously or subconsciously get drawn back to it, so a person who has been addicted to substances is never completely “cured”. From that standpoint, a person who has been addicted could be considered permanently “diseased”,  as is a common reference in 12 step programs. There is a recovery catchphrase in those programs that says “once an addict, always an addict”. Because the mind will never forget The Escape Road and the feeling of that euphoric escape, from that view, that catchphrase is not at all inaccurate (albeit perhaps stigmatizing). I knew someone who had been sober and abstinent for 25 years, regularly worked a recovery program, was happy with her life working as a nurse, and was in a state of overall well being. One winter morning, her car was covered with snow from the night before,  she couldn’t find her keys, was late for work, her car wouldn’t start, she was yelled at by her boss, had a bad day besides, and ended up stopping at the liquor store on the way home without even thinking about it. Three days later she was in detox and almost died. The Escape Road is never forgotten.

If we are helped to make the decision to withdraw from our drug of choice and obtain sobriety, our minds will still never ever forget the feeling of The Escape Road. Fear is one of the worst motivators there is for anything, so fear of drugs/alcohol, or fear of relapse or returning to The Escape Road, may not be the best approach, just by itself. But even fear can still keep people off of that road. A much better approach is using reputable recovery programs and/or group support, individual therapy, learned coping mechanisms for dealing with life’s difficulties, safe medication for people suffering from mental illnesses who have a substance abuse history, and physical/mental activities that release things like endorphins and natural dopamine. Any of these positive things can establish brand new neural pathways, or healthy new highways that the mind can travel on, which allow it to permanently steer clear of The Escape Road. Once we are on the road of recovery (or recovered), and traveling on these new neural pathways, we are able to always ‘make the choice to avoid the disease’, permanently stay off The Escape Road, and remain cured on the healthy new highways we have paved.

Flirting With Disaster


In some cases, the addiction/alcoholism journey started with binge partying that became habitual and ultimately led to physical and mental addiction and chemical dependence. For many (if not most), the substance abuse was spawned by the need to feed the escape from the reality of pain from deep wounds caused by some past trauma. In any case, we couldn’t wait to ride that magic carpet away from reality every day. Social anxiety disappeared, we went from low self-esteem to superhero, boredom evaporated and life became a giant party, or at least an adventure that was happily tolerable. Right up until that giant balloon of substance abuse exploded and burst our lives and everything in them into flames. The spiral staircase that spun downward into the bottomless hell of addiction all started with the irresistible temptation to escape reality through the artificial euphoria created by drinking, swallowing, smoking or snorting something.


During my life of addiction, I had conditioned myself to always being able to disconnect from life through the use of substances. If I was having a bad day, I could make it better and if I was having a good day I could make it great. There was always that escape hatch for me to crawl through when I didn’t want to deal with life anymore. When the general anxiety became too much or spiked because of something bad life through at me, boredom took hold, or depression got a grip on me, or anytime the road got rough in any way, I could always jump back onto that train that took me away from it all. Eventually and predictably, my substance abuse and chemical dependence elevator that was going up, flew through the top floor and ended with me in a coma and not expected to survive. Then that train I was riding derailed and left everything in tatters.


The concept of  substituting a different drug for the drug of choice in my life is something I just cannot wrap my mind around – where I have to justify and rationalize it in my mind by saying that “Well, at least I’m not using my original drug of choice anymore.” Haven’t I still just created a new life of illusion, just on a different path? What happens when life throws a new major hardship onto that new path? Do I seriously think I’m not going to start abusing that new drug? What if that new drug isn’t enough to numb me through this new hardship? I’m still on a road paved by the conditioning of chemical dependence that would eventually circle back to my original drug of choice.


The same thing goes for me attempting to just use reduction and moderation of my drug of choice, rationalizing that under the delusion that if I reduced my overall usage, or set amount limits on a given night and stick to that, I have it all under control. Using the previous example – things might go just fine right up until the point where life puts some major hardship my way, or a compilation of many smaller but significant problems all at the exact same time. Am I naïve enough to think I won’t return to abusing my drug of choice to escape these problems? I’ll be swallowed up into that pit of addiction faster than I can drop a glass. And let’s say I choose the path of moderation, and I feel I have all my addictions conquered and under control now – If I really have them under control and I think I’m no longer dependent on drugs or alcohol, then why do I feel like I can’t live a happy life without them? I have yet to hear any coherent answers to that question.

Whichever of these tempting paths I think I might lead me to happiness and contentment, wouldn’t I still just be returning to that same mentality of substance use, as a solution to my problems, being a staple of my life? Wouldn’t I just be reverting back to that same old conditioning of being able to escape reality by drinking swallowing, smoking or snorting ‘euphoria drugs’? Aren’t I still just keeping myself in the prison of chemical dependence to those types of drugs? Both paths would eventually lead me right back into that dark pit.


Everybody’s recovery path is their own business and none of mine, so I’m not criticizing anybody else’s path at all, because I have no right to do so and it’s not my place. I’m only stating my own case for my own path. I’m totally in favor of short term Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT). This isn’t the 1930’s where they strap you to a bed for 30 days until you “dry out”. I also 100% support long term treatment, under dual diagnosis for mental illnesses, using medications for those illnesses deemed safe by the professional medical community for people with substance abuse history.

Wherever I refer to “chemical dependence” and “euphoria drugs”, I’m specifically talking about all substances, whether legal, illegal or prescription, that are considered by the professional medical community highly addictive and particularly dangerous for people with a substance abuse history, because they create an artificial feeling of sedative euphoria and/or alter reality. For my own personal recovery, because I’ve had substance abuse issues, abstinence from all these types of substances is the only logical path for me.

Conquering life’s problems with a clear unaltered head creates quality character, which strengthens my hope and self-esteem. To be able to look life in the eye and say, “give me your best shot”. As opposed to turning tail and running back to the pretend sanctuary of substance use at the first sign of trouble. No – if I flirt with disaster long enough, I’ll eventually return to that bottomless hell of addiction. Thanks, but no thanks. I love my life and I love life, free from the chains of substance abuse and out of that prison of chemical dependence.


End The Stigma


According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 72,000 people died last year from drug overdose and another estimated 88,000 deaths from alcohol consumption. That’s 160,000 people EVERY YEAR, way more than the largest football stadium could hold – that’s over 400 people EVERY DAY, or over 18 people EVERY HOUR and that number is growing. In fact by the time you’ve finished reading this post another person already died.

Changing the method and manner that addiction/alcoholism is being treated seems to gain little traction and the treatment industry just continues to follow an old textbook, dogmatic paradigm, that obviously is falling way short. Then the inane, senseless debate rages on as to whether it’s a disease or not. Plus the view of the general public seems to be, unless it affects them personally, they couldn’t care less – those weak-willed fools chose their poison so let them rot and die from it. Even within the recovery community of those who have personally gone through addiction or alcoholism, it seems once people have a couple years of sobriety under their belts, empathy and desire to help other people recover seems to wear off and replaced by a general “to each his own” apathy. But that’s because it often seems like there is only so much you can do and what else is to be expected when it feels like the world has cast us all aside and shunned as outcasts who just wanted to take the easy way and escape reality.

Only people who have personally gone through the despair of addiction or alcoholism and the hell of withdrawing understand the courage, resolve and strength it took to recover from it. Change can be sparked by rejecting the stigma that forces us to cloak ourselves in the shadows of anonymity. Where else in history has that happened – where a group of people had a stigma stamped on their foreheads, forcing them to congregate with other people who were given that same stigma? Let that one sink in. It’s easy for those labels to stick to us like toxic barnacles, because we’re usually already trying to set down the guilt and shame baggage of our past. Plus, in a world where privacy is paramount, we often feel compelled to either slink around in secrecy or avoid the recovery world altogether, and just be accepted back into the herd. But if we all start to break free from the stigma and boldly wear our recovery courage as a badge of honor, as a collective, loud voice, more people may take notice, start to listen and real change has a chance to happen in the treatment industry and recovery world.

Over 400 people every single day – 18 people every hour – no longer with us, who will never get a chance to experience life, love or friendship. Then there’s all of the people who loved them and will never get to see them again on this earth. If I’m going to ever feel seriously guilty again about anything in this life, it would be if I sat on my hands and did nothing. We all know the despair of addiction, the hell of withdrawal and how horribly difficult it was to obtain sobriety. We can give help and hope to anybody who is struggling with addiction and we can encourage everybody in recovery by boldly showing that addiction and alcoholism is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact recovering from it is a major accomplishment to be extremely proud of.  We can be just as courageous in ending the stigma as we were in becoming sober in the first place. Because we can all be extremely grateful that we’re still here and that we didn’t end up a statistic on a CDC chart.

Necessary Narcissism?


Almost everybody knows someone who meets this definition of Narcissist Personality Disorder (NPD). But many of us have past abuse, neglect and humiliation at the hands of someone with an NPD that left us with deep wounds. We then had to become our own cheerleaders, and developed a self-absorption to fill in what was missing or damaged and to counter feelings of unworthiness. Some of us also created a constant need for approval from others to prop up and maintain a fragile sense of self-worth, fractured by our past. We developed our own “necessary narcissism” as a coping mechanism. It also created a war within, because that necessary narcissism was in constant conflict with our natural tendency of empathy towards others.

For many of us, that road of self-absorption led to alcohol or drugs as an escape from this turmoil – to numb the pain and silence that internal voice that told us we’re not good enough. If we were fortunate enough to get on the road to recovery, we were required to engage in significant self-focus and again returned to that necessary narcissism to fix what was wrong. Then once we made repairs, we were feeling good about ourselves for the first time in our lives. It was an intoxicating feeling in and of itself, and it became a need, often dependent on a steady validation by others to keep this newfound self-esteem going, which then kept us in the prison of what other people think of us and stuck in the tar pit trap of that necessary narcissism.

But once we’ve traveled far enough down the road of recovery, we unhitch ourselves from what once was a necessary narcissism. Now we’re just content with the work in progress we are. We disconnect from that need for approval and validation. We compare ourselves only to who we were in the past, and not to others. We can just be ourselves without thinking we are better that anyone else. We hook ourselves up to a new train that heads down the tracks of pure empathy towards others, with contentment and deep appreciation for what we have in the moment, including ourselves.




Pessimists, Optimists, Realists – Are they right? Are they wrong?


Most people, in general, have attitudes that fit into the category of “pessimist”, “optimist” or “realist”. Some might consider themselves “idealists” or “opportunists”, but as a whole almost all fall into one of the other three categories and display the attributes of one or more of these three in their lives,  sometimes all three. In reality, there may be some merit to all three of these, but none are right (or wrong), just in and of themselves.

Here are very generalized, extreme, metaphorical examples of how pessimists, optimists and realists might view a blind date:

THE PESSIMIST“I just know they’re going to be a dumpster fire or they’re going to hate me. If by some bizarre fluke we both like each other and get married, it’s going to end in divorce and, as usual, my heart will get broken, so why bother going on this date in the first place?” In this example, they would find it difficult to envision love or being loved because they are always living the worst possible future in advance before it even happens. The pessimist prefers to swim in the murky pond of assuming the worst because that way they’re either going to be right or pleasantly surprised. But is it wrong for anyone to prepare themselves for the possibility of bad things so they’re not taken by surprise if they happen?

THE OPTIMIST“It’s going to be love at first sight. We’re going to get married, have 2.5 children, live in a farm house in the country, surrounded by flowers with a white picket fence, and a dog, maybe a cat and a horse too, where nothing bad will ever happen, and we’ll live happily together ever after” In this example they would jump into love head first, but if it went south, they may be unable to cope with it, and crumble like a cracker, because they never took into consideration the possibility that things wouldn’t workout in the Hallmark Channel manner they thought it would. They would be completely unprepared for anything bad happening. But what’s wrong with making positive assumptions and having a bright outlook on the future?

THE REALIST“There’s at best a 50/50 chance we’ll find each other mutually attractive. If we do develop a relationship and get married, there’s less than a 50 percent statistical probability of that marriage surviving. Therefore I should proceed with very guarded optimism in this statistically unlikely and illogical pursuit of love.” In this example, they are so wrapped up in the actual consideration of the exact likelihood of success that they can’t really enjoy the present. Plus they can end up with such a surgical precision approach to everything where things like love can become just a surface feeling without much depth. But doesn’t it make perfect sense to look at things with a realistic view of the possible outcome before pursuing it?

In all three of these examples, everything is being played way forward with little consideration for the reality of the present. By themselves, each of these miss the mark, because only an extreme future is considered, under specific all-or-nothing anticipation, while the present, with all it may have to offer, is overlooked. But if positive elements of each of these are cherry picked and combined, they can provide a healthy view.



“Preparedist” is a word I made up but it accurately describes my approach to life. I blend positive elements from pessimism, optimism and realism with a healthy set of ideals while I look for new opportunities for growth, even in the face of difficulties. I’m a Preparedist. I’m married, so my ‘blind date’ days are luckily in the rear view mirror. Instead I’ll use my cat as an example, for lack of a better one.


His name is B.B. – he’s 8 years old with probably no more than another 8 years at best. When I got him as a kitten, his entire body fit in the palm of my hand. Today he’s a 14 pound bruiser who kicks my ass when I rough house with him (and I have the scars to prove it). He is my pal and was my only friend, at my lowest point of despair, when I was abandoned by everyone who knew me, because of addiction. Now I could lament the fact that he’ll only be around for maybe another 8 years. Or I could just pretend like he’ll live forever. I could also precisely determine exactly how long he is likely to be around and always count the days. But instead, I just have a deep appreciation for him being with me today, and I think how fortunate and grateful I am that I may still have another 8 years with him, especially vis a vis how it would be without him. I also have plans to maybe get another kitten (or two) when he is no longer with me, which will give me new opportunities to form a brand new love for brand new friends. I have a plan of action in the event of bad things, I’m anticipating only good things in the future, and I’m fully enjoying a happy present, deeply rooted in reality. A Preparedist.

We don’t ever want to be overly prepared or prophets of doom about things we have no control over. Nor do we want to be cloud heads floating along, oblivious and unprepared for the possibility of anything bad ever happening. Full attention should always be given to the present and enjoying the moment, in gratitude for where we are and what we have right now, totally engaged in reality. When we’re prepared for and have a plan to deal with the worst, but always positively anticipating and hoping for the best, while fully enjoying and appreciating the present, and on the lookout for new possibilities, we are living life to the fullest and best, all while protecting our well being, as Preparedists.


A Relapse Carol


The AODA groups I speak to are overflowing right now. The relapse assassin seems to be working overtime, picking off recovering alcoholics and addicts, who were overwhelmed by temptation or trauma, shame or blame, guilt or jilt. My doorway was certainly not passed over by the dark angel of relapse during my past recovery. I found that I needed persistent vigilance on my part – I needed ongoing, meaningful mental exercise, so I didn’t became complacent, plump, slow and easy prey for the relapse wolf. I regularly utilize the features of rewind, pause and fast forward in my recovery and allow the three relapse ghosts of past, present and future to walk me through the “carol” of my recovery.


One of the first monsters to conquer in recovery is to stop forever living in the past or reliving the past. It’s counterproductive and self-destructive to be constantly agonizing over past mistakes, failures, bad choices, etc. Those were all just part of our life story that shaped us into becoming who we are today and they don’t really need reliving. However, when it comes to general recovery and especially temptation to use, it can be beneficial use the ‘rewind feature’, and remember back to how we became alcoholics and/or drug addicts in the first place – when physical/mental addiction and the overwhelming desire to escape reality buried our desire to live in it. We can also remember holding that crushing weight of despair as we sunk to our rock bottom. If we had sobriety and caved in to that last relapse, we can remember how we felt ashamed, frustrated and disappointed with ourselves. But all these journeys backward are of good use only if we glimpse at the past and never stare at it because where we are going is way more important than where we’ve been.

Driving vehicle through Grand Teton National Park


When faced with a current temptation to use, we can use the ‘pause feature’ to have an “attitude of gratitude” and be grateful for exactly where we are and how we feel today vis a vis swimming in that sea of shame, guilt, frustration and despair of  yesterday’s addiction.  We can think about how we do matter and are needed by the people in our lives where we are right now, not where we could be or should be if we would have done this or didn’t do that.


We can consider that whatever bad things might be currently happening in our lives, they don’t compare to that rock bottom of our past. We can use the past to give us appreciation for the present, to appreciate ourselves for how much we have been through, and are still standing.



Working recovery isn’t all about just constantly thinking about how to avoid using or  perpetually thinking about how to suppress the desire to use, because both just keep the mind revolving around using and are different eggs from the same chicken. It also isn’t about just working recovery while we give the rest of life our partial attention. But when faced with a “trigger”, we can use the ‘fast forward feature’ and play a relapse forward, because we all know from experience exactly how that would play out – we know that if we relapse, it is absolutely guaranteed to make whatever problems there may be today 10 times worse tomorrow. As long as we’re still alive, it’s always possible to dig a deeper rock bottom than the last one, which is what a relapse would likely do.



Our sense of identity, self-worth and self-esteem is not tethered by some umbilical chord to our alcoholism/drug addiction or our recovery from it. We are recovering from alcoholism and drug addiction, but that’s not what defines us and that’s not all we are.


We deserve and are entitled to the same self-respect that everybody else out there has. The past is what made our present, and what we do with our present is what determines our future. But we want to avoid wallowing in the pit of the past or living the future in anticipation before it even happens, which is just disappointment under construction. A healthy connection to the past while keeping ourselves always in the present moment, gives a sense of balance and overall well being going forward into our bright futures, filled with kindness and compassion and it keeps empathy pulling our train through the world of recovery.


Addiction Recovery – Beware of Jellyfish


I used to think that there was two ways of doing anything – my way and the wrong way. When I was a kid, if an adult told me how to put something together, I wanted to ignore them and do it my way – and when it broke, I threw a fit because that stupid thing was junk. Nothing much changed as an adult – when I ignored the assembly instructions, did it my way, and it didn’t work out – well that thing was crap, the company sucked, the store sucked and I wanted my money back. If I fixed something my way and it didn’t fit together, I forced that sonofabitch in there and if it broke, well that piece of shit must’ve needed replacement anyway. Before we had GPS Navigation, I never followed a map to find out how to get there. Screw that. I knew the best way to get there and if I got lost, it was because those roads were all messed up, and the urban planner who designed them was an idiot and should be shot.


When it came to my alcoholism and addiction, I wasn’t about to listen when someone told me my using was out of control. They didn’t even know. They didn’t know me, they didn’t know what I’d been through, or go what I was going through, so who were they to tell me how to live?! When my life first started to unravel because of my addiction, and I was forced into treatment, I went through the motions, said what the people who were trying to help me wanted to hear, did what they wanted me to do, just to get me out of my family’s spotlight, so I could get back to my ‘normal’ life. When my ‘normal’ life actually did explode into pieces and I really admitted I had a problem and wanted help, I went into recovery again with a better attitude. Or so I thought.


After a few months of sobriety, I was feeling great about EVERYTHING! Things had never, ever been better! I was working a program & ‘getting honest’, sobriety had helped me get my life together, the obsession to use had been lifted and life was GREAT! I had some sobriety time under my belt but I was tired of listening to these blowhards that had multiple years of sobriety telling me what to do – I had MY WAY of doing things and I was going to SAVE ALL THE ADDICTS! But after awhile, life threw some new hardships in my path and I was caught off guard because I was high on recovery, not paying attention, and stopped listening to the people with experience. Fortunately, I remembered what these experienced people had told me to do when bad things happened, and avoided relapse. I also remembered how they told me to always be prepared for and be on guard against bad things happening in the future. I went back to doing things their way, not mine.

Imagine being on vacation on a tropical beach, where you’re so caught up in the beauty of the scenery, that you don’t see the signs that say “beware of jellyfish”. The wise locals even tell you to be careful walking on the beaches because of the jellyfish, but you’re so high on the moment that you really don’t listen. You’re so mesmerized by the beauty of the ocean, the palm trees, the sun and the sky that you don’t even look down to see what you’re walking on. So you end up stepping on a jellyfish, sick for the rest of your vacation, become depressed, and end up relapsing. Which all could have been avoided if you would have been paying attention and listened to the experienced people.

We want to enjoy our journey and all the beautiful things around us, but we want to always be sure we’re on the right path, what we’re waking on, and to be prepared to deal with bad encounters that are going to happen at some point, so we’re not caught by surprise, and end up lost and in danger. It’s also always good to have a plan to utilize when we’re faced with these bad encounters. We want to live in the moment and enjoy life, not always worrying about bad things that might happen. But it’s still always best to avoid being so caught up in looking at the scenery that we don’t look down and side step the hazards from life in our path, or see other potential ‘triggers’ that might head our way. Most importantly, for us to listen to the right ,experienced people who have already been where we’re going, and who can tell us the best path to take to avoid the jellyfish of life.


All Right Then


I hated it when someone disagreed with something I did or said, and I felt resentful when they criticized me. But I exploded into orbit when someone actually disagreed with and criticized MY OPINION, usually hosing that person down with a golden shower of sarcasm. But if they backed it up with logic, facts, figures and a better argument? Well then I felt compelled to respond by providing that person with my speculation on the past and/or present sexual activities of their mother.


As children, when we were publicly criticized by a parent, teacher or other adult, we felt humiliated, defeated and shunned from the herd. We wanted to either lash out, or escape to a place where we were safe and free. So a neural pathway, or ‘mind road’ was paved as a negative response to criticism. As adults, we are our own worst critic. We’re usually engulfed in a fog of self-criticism, and when other people criticize us, our minds automatically jump onto that old mind road from childhood and we get that familiar feeling of hurt, humiliation, resentment or anger. So we either defensively respond in fight mode or we want to run and escape in flight mode.


When someone disagrees with us or criticizes us, we can consider the criticism, learn and grow from it, or leave it alone if we determine it’s just a differing opinion from ours, particularly opinions on politics, religious views or addiction recovery. We can consider that every person is a singular blend of inherited genes, inherent personality traits, childhood experiences and adulthood encounters that are unique to them. We can accept that this gives them very specific values, points of view and things that are important to them and different from what’s important to us.


But when we get into recovery, we’re faced with owning our mistakes that have blown up in our face and exploded our lives into pieces. This part of recovery is difficult because we’ve already spent the last few years putting ourselves down, criticizing ourselves for our mistakes and our addiction, or blaming others for it. It’s important to separate the events that were catalysts for our addiction into two categories – (1) those events where we were truly a victim and (2) those events where we could have made better choices. More important is to sidestep the mind road that compels us to negatively respond to criticism, whether it be from someone else, or from ourselves, and/or to run and escape with our drug of choice. Progress is impossible if we’re stuck on the road where we defensively respond to criticism, put ourselves down in defeat for our mistakes, or run. But the growth begins when we actually start to change and approve of ourselves.


Whatever we do in life, there is probably always going to be someone who wants to disagree with it and/or criticize it. The only way to avoid criticism is to never do anything, say anything or be anything. Criticism is often just someone else’s opinion that we don’t agree with. A true sign of inner peace is simply allowing people to disagree with us, even criticize our opinion, not react to it, and let it float by like scenery on a train. In the end, freedom isn’t being able to do whatever we want – freedom is the absence of ego, resentments and guilt. If people disagree with us, which they are certain to do, it just means that we’re in action, noticed and relevant.


Us Black Sheep


We desperately struggled for self-esteem as kids. It seemed nobody listened to us or took us seriously. We felt like we were considered a disappointment because we didn’t live up to someone else’s expectations, with their constant negative comparison of us to others. Some of us were the “runt of the litter” and brushed aside in favor of siblings who seemed to do everything right, while we seemed to do everything wrong. We often reacted by acting out, in desperation of someone paying attention to us, even if it was negative attention. We started to become the “black sheep” of the family.


The low self-esteem we had as children, coupled with a black sheep stigma, became a recipe for disaster as adults. Many of us ended up in relationships with people who continued to keep us down, because that’s what we were accustomed to as children. Our feelings of insecurity, inadequacy and failure grew, picking up baggage of shame heaped on us by others and by life, which started to over-inflate a balloon of sadness and isolation. We found relief with alcohol or drugs, which we were drawn to like sad moths to a black light. Inevitably our substance abuse blossomed into full blown addiction, which just seemed to fulfill the destiny we felt that we were given as children. The crushing weight of addiction got added to the black sheep stigma stamp from childhood and soul-sucking people and events of our adult lives. When our self-esteem sunk to some low critical mass of isolation and despair, we collapsed, crushed under an oppressive blanket of failure and fault. And the balloon of our life exploded.

Death of Pilatre de Rozier, 15 June 1785.

Euphoria from alcohol/drugs is magical instantaneous relief, and the creation of addiction to it goes from 0 to 100 mph overnight. But becoming non-addicted often feels like a slow, physically and mentally excruciating and draining exercise. It takes courage, resolve and strength to overcome it, much greater than normal people possess. A fuel of propulsion for recovery and self-esteem comes from the realization of how strong and courageous we are as recovering alcoholics and addicts. Retracing our steps back into childhood gives knowledge and understanding of what happened, and why we became what we became. All of this provides the necessary armor and ammunition to win the great battles between what we know and what we might feel. Every battle we win gives us increasing strength of character, which strengthens hope and creates or recreates the self-esteem we lost, or never had.


Every single person who goes into recovery from substance abuse, gains and maintains sobriety, is truly deserving of self-respect and high self-esteem. To carry a heavy weight from childhood, through the storms of adulthood, swim with it across an ocean of despair from addiction, and stand up on the other side is a miraculous achievement, worthy of high praise and self-love. As far as being the black sheep – consider that every single person out there is a black sheep who went astray – the ones who appear white are those who are good at pretending to appear white, and are content with their life of illusion.


But as black sheep in recovery, we are the real deal, admitting our mistakes and working to correct them. We have genuine sympathetic and empathetic hearts that truly care about other people. So when we show our true shades of white, it’s authentic and something that’s unique to all of us “black sheep”.