Bullying has consequences

Undercover: Our Secret Obsessions is a novel sharing one example of consequences brought about by being bullied and scapegoated by classmates during one’s formative years. Protagonist Vandy Blake comes to experience herself as unworthy of many meaningful life experiences, not the least of which are respect and the love of a significant other.

In her attempts to measure up to others, Vandy crates an imaginary world which all too soon becomes her reality complete with meth addiction and subsequent treatment. Will she be strong enough to develop the life skills she failed to learn in high school and young adulthood, or become yet another statistic of meth addiction and early death?

Undercover: Our Secret Obsessions

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Slow Change

If you want to work with addicts you must understand and accept the concept of very slow change. First of all, few of them want to change initially, and those who do are easily distracted.

They may be very motivated to change impulsively, but at the first minor opportunity, they are just as motivated to justify their drug use and maintain the status quo. They weren’t necessarily lying when they said they were going to quit. They just didn’t have a clue how hard it would be.

We call ourselves grateful recovering addicts, because we know many changes that led us to a successful recovery happened almost by accident, and that we could have just as easily gotten distracted again and returned to drug use. The nature of addiction is to trip you up with one distraction after another.

Change is slow, and early recovery is very six of one and half a dozen of the other, meaning that the newly recovering person is prone to impulsivity, and can go either direction at the drop of a hat. The positive part of this being that the addict learns through every relapse just how easy it is to get sidetracked, and what not to do if he wants to avoid it. Again, that doesn’t mean he always avoids it or wants to do so initially, but his awareness is eventually internalized. With enough addiction related emotional pain, change can occur, but be aware it is very slow much of the time.

Undercover: Our Secret Obsessions

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Legal Addiction is the Hardest to Kick

The naive assumption that controlled substances such as heroin, crack or meth are more difficult to put down is false. Legal substances are by far the more difficult to kick.

Years of service as an addiction specialist have allowed me to come into contact with many who being drug free for years, at least from street or prescription drugs, continue to smoke cigarettes, or drink excessive amounts of coffee or diet soda. In fact, as one who recently decided to cease using artificial sweeteners for health reasons, I have found my habit of drinking diet cola throughout the day, very difficult to break.

Alcohol, nicotine and caffeine are legal drugs. While alcohol only becomes a legal issue when consumed in combination with operating heavy equipment such as an automobile, airplane or forklift, nicotine is only discouraged legally when other people are forced to inhale secondhand smoke, and no sanctions exist today for the use of caffeine.

Legal issues or stigma alone are often instrumental in bringing the heroin or crack user into the treatment process where residential treatment is available for sometimes months at a time. Recovery time is measured, days, weeks, months and years counted, and tangible rewards provided for those who maintain sobriety for specific lengths of time. Not so for those attempting to quit using legal drugs.

There are no 90 meetings in 90 days suggestions for nicotine smokers or caffeine drinkers, even though the long term effects of these drugs are often lethal. While some amount of stigma has recently descended on smokers, little or none applies to those of us who suffer from physical consequences of caffeine stimulant use. While I do not advocate stigmatizing cigarette smokers further, or caffeine users in the future, we do need to offer these groups more motivation to overcome their addictions than simply treating them as a joke, or leaving them on their own with little support.

Many who relapse into controlled substance use first use alcohol which is less stigmatized due to its legal status, and cigarette and caffeine use often substitute for another drug of choice becoming a process addiction. While I certainly am not advocating stricter legal penalties for these substances, I am suggesting more focus on them in addiction education groups.

Perhaps if the possible side effects of process addictions are somewhere in our consciousness, we will begin the process of eliminating or restricting them from our lives somewhat sooner. After many years drug free, I am currently just beginning to eliminate artificial sweeteners and diet cola from my life, calling for new exercise and diet habits in order to sustain this abstinence. Support in this area would be beneficial and much appreciated.

Undercover: Our Secret Obsessions

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Poor Little Rich Addicts

Music has always touched my spirit as nothing else can. Frequently I fall in love with lyricists I’ve never actually met face to face, as nothing is more intimate than soul spilled on paper through the musical verse.

This morning I remembered two Randy Travis songs, one speaking to passion for one person and loyalty to another. The other, and perhaps my favorite, described the love of a little boy for a 90 year old man. Travis couldn’t have been more loving in his description of his great grandfather. I had to ask myself how so many talented musicians who seem so full of love for life become caught in the destructive pattern of addiction to alcohol and drugs.

Obviously, money and success do not exempt us from addictive disease, but could either or both perhaps make it more likely? My belief is that wealth and success make denial easier, and reduce consequences to a dangerous minimum.

Working class people often suffer from financial hardship or legal issues long before their alcohol or drug use leads to physical consequences or health problems. On the other hand, the world is all too forgiving of extremely talented entertaining personalities who can entertain under the influence, and buy their way out of legal predicaments. We literally love them to death. We make it far too easy for creative genius to be cut short and lost too soon to alcohol and drug related death.

Undercover: Our Secret Obsessions

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Curses and Blessings of Addiction

Addiction carries a curse. This morning I was greatly saddened by seeing a photo of my brother and his wife at their second home in Port St. Joe, Florida. Jim and I will probably never be close again, if we ever were. As a young person I used drugs. It made my brother furious.

Later as I continued to live a chaotic disorganized life, Jim was frustrated that I didn’t do expected things like have auto insurance. I finally found 12 step programs, managed to stay drug free, and went to graduate school, but during my early recovery it was discovered I had malignant melanoma.

When my brother transported me to my first oncology appointment, under the stress of my recent diagnosis, his anger surfaced at a most inconvenient time. He shouted at me about not having auto insurance in years past, though I had it at the time I was diagnosed with cancer.

I began the process of trying to make up for lost time, jumping from state to state advancing my career at record speed. In only six years I took my career from substance abuse counselor to clinical program director, but after many years drug free I turned to process addictions after my parents’ deaths. I spent much of my siblings’ inheritance money, and ran mom and dad’s credit card up to more than I could repay, after they were deceased.

To this day, my only understanding of how I could have done such a thing was that I used shopping, rather than drugs to kill my pain and feelings of abandonment related to losing my parents. After years of working to improve my image in the eyes of my some wealthy, others upper middle class extremely successful family, I had destroyed it all in only a few months. I had to tell my brother I had spent his inheritance money. Mom and Dad were poor so it was not much money, but the behavior I had exhibited drug free brought me more shame than anything I had ever done while using.

My brother told me I was forgiven, but I’m not sure I ever really was, or deserved to be. My family values wealth and success, no matter what they say their values are, and I have never measured up. Even the best addiction related profession will not pay for two homes or frequent trips abroad as most of my family has been accustomed to enjoying, and the one family group that does not own two homes or travel abroad at will is bonded by their years spent in close proximity of each other. I spent those years moving from state to state trying to develop a career that would measure up to my family’s standards. If I don’t remind them, I don’t even get invited to local family birthday parties, though they are less focused on money or success than the others.

My problem is that I wasted years being addicted that could have been spent building a successful career, and cultivating a marriage that would have also brought financial stability into my life. Then I could only relate to what I knew, addiction, so after six more years spent obtaining emotional stability and a drug free lifestyle, I chose a profession that offered little money and few choices. The time wasted and bridges burned with family whose respect I lost, and never quite retrieved are the curses of addiction.

My only hope of being on equal ground or footing with any of my siblings is to somehow measure up to their financial status and success, even though if reading this, they would deny it is so. If I could do that, pay my brother back the amount I stole, all would be forgiven. So in publishing my novel, I have attempted to create a blessing from the same seed that brought forth my curse, that seed being my addiction. My first motivation in writing and publishing my first novel is to achieve equality with my own family. If I do no more than that, I will consider my effort a success.

Still, I also feel a need to do some good in the world, to educate other families, and would be drug users on the far reaching, long term destructive nature of wasting time on the pursuit of cheap thrills or deceptive methods of killing pain through them. Drugs and other obsessions do not kill pain; they create it through the loss of dreams to procrastination and nonproductively, through mistrust and the severing of family ties through betrayal of those you hold most dear. If I can stop just one spirit from self destruction through an advance warning, I will consider this effort more than successful.

Undercover: Our Secret obsessions

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Lets Get Naked

In the Biblical creation story, Adam and Eve were said to be “naked and not ashamed.” According to Christian tradition, shame over being nude did not occur until after the couple disobeyed God. Likewise, we feel no shame when we bare all to one another emotionally, yet tend to experience shame when truth is revealed after attempting to hide behind a mask.

Relationships thrive when we are naked emotionally before one another, but begin to deteriorate the minute we begin keeping secrets. If you want your relationships to last and be of a high quality nature, get naked and stay that way.

Undercover: Our Secret Obsessions

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It’s all about hope

Last year I earned $33,000 annually working on a job I had grown to hate. It wasn’t a high income by any stretch of the imagination, nor the most money I had ever earned, but it was certainly more than the $19.99 I was paid today for an autographed copy of Undercover. Why did discovery of the $19.99 on my iPhone Paypal app thrill me to the point of causing me to walk out of the grocery store leaving my groceries behind, while the $33,000 was taken for granted, and stirred no emotion at all save contempt? It was all about hope.

The $19.99 held the possibility of better things to come, while the $33,000 represented only dependency on a dead end job I had come to resent doing. The one was a new beginning, the later a sad ending. For over a year I had worked tirelessly with my editor perfecting my novel, and today this purchase from a stranger in Dallas confirmed I could successfully market it to someone I had never met. It held within it a glimmer of hope.

Much that sustains us in early recovery is that glimmer of hope. Three years of drug free struggle passed before I was able to obtain my first professional full time employment with benefits, yet the hope of a better future kept me drug free and holding onto the dream until I could make it a reality.

Hope is the stuff early recovery and success are made of. If you have the faith of a grain of mustard seed nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing shall be impossible unto you. Yes, I know that isn’t original writing; most of us have heard it before. This isn’t original writing either. Don’t lose hope and give up before the miracle.

Undercover: Our Secret Obsessions

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What am I so angry about?

Have you discovered that you often become angry over things you should ignore or lump into a tidy little folder labeled live and let live? Why do we personalize statements and comments made by others that aren’t actually about us at all.

Nowhere is this more common than in religious or political discussions, and I have noted that with all the shouting and name calling, nobody even listens to anybody who disagrees with his initial mindset, and much less is willing to change his mind about anything.

I don’t have the answer as to why we allow ourselves to rant and rage over things we can’t change, in this case mainly differing opinions of others, but I do know that in this case acceptance is definitely the answer to all of our problems. We build walls and burn bridges, making relationships awkward and more difficult, when we could SILENTLY agree to disagree.

In the 60s there was a poster that read “What if they had a war and nobody came?” Maybe more of us should try this option socially, at work, with family and on Facebook.

Undercover: Our Secret Obsessions

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Recovery is experiencing the awesomeness of family

I received word while out of town yesterday, that Samantha Ryann Bates, my great niece, was on her way. Whatever else I had planned for the afternoon went on hold as I made the two hour pilgrimage from Millidgeville, Georgia to Spalding Regional Medical Center.

Driving from Millidgeville to Griffin I was struck with the many times my family had gathered there for such rites of passage, not always happy occasions. My last reciprocal communication with Mama happened there, the night before she experienced the final stoke that forever ended her ability to share her feelings with us. A few days later we met there to accompany her to Hospice; I had not accepted what life would drive home only a few days later.

Nine months later my brother and I were present when we lost Dad there. We held each other in tears, aware that our lives had changed forever. As I drove from Millidgeville to Griffin, the one constant of which I was aware was family.

Family is consistent; family is history. Through grief, new birth, life and death we meet as a group to morn and celebrate, to say goodbye and to say hello to a new member. The years pass, as the same secure union offers support in sorrow and joy.

Probably the most destructive force of addiction is its tearing down and breaking apart of the family unit. How many times during active addiction did you simply not make an appearance for such important rites of passage or fail to be a source of support for others during them? How often did you avoid family in order to conceal the extent of your substance dependence, or to avoid family awareness of some other destructive undercurrent present in your life.

Recovery offers the ability to be present and emotionally alert to experience the awesomeness of family ritual. Recovery supports the security and consistency of family unity, and when you consider the sheer quality that offers, it alone is reason enough to choose sobriety.

Undercover: Our Secret Obsessions

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Don’t even Know I’m Lying

If you take the letters used to spell denial, D-E-N-I-A-L, you can form the sentence “Don’t even no I am lying,” using the letters that form the word denial as the first letter of each word in the sentence. The difference between denial and lying is that when you are in denial you actually believe you are telling the truth.

“I know I drink too much at times, but I don’t think alcohol is my problem,” he said, fully believing he was being honest.

“I use drugs to socialize, and sometimes they get me into trouble, but I don’t feel I’m an addict. I don’t shoot up or steal to support my drug use, and I’ve never been in trouble with the law.”

The trouble with addiction is that it never feels like addiction until you have lost everything meaningful in your life, and that often includes your freedom, your health and those who mean the most to you. Even then there are times when you question whether or not you actually had a substance use issue, or were driven by some other force or emotional issue.

It is important to know that the addicted brain actually needs its addictive substance to function normally. This is true because the brain stops producing chemicals that are being supplied in abundance by the mind altering chemical, and begins to depend on the drug to meet its needs. When the drug disappears the brain enters a state of need and crisis we call withdrawal.

It makes sense to consider that a brain dependent on a drug for its very survival is going to find any other problem it can think of to blame for its problems, before accepting that’s its lifeline is also its destruction. This is the physical state we call the “disease” of addiction.

It takes an addicted brain two years or more to adjust to the absence of your drug of choice, and heal at least some of the damage done by producing the chemicals lost on its own. Two years is longer than most of us make it drug free the first time around, and it is worth noting that any relapse prolongs the length of time needed for the brain to heal itself.

So when you begin thinking you don’t really have a drug or alcohol problem, or can’t figure out why a loved one continues to use and puts his addictive needs before all else, stop and remember that the addicted brain is hijacked and controlled by its drug of choice. You or your loved one are not using logic, but seeing things from the perspective of the enemy. It’s sort of like putting Adolph Hitler in charge of making decisions for Jewish people, or making David Duke the president of the NAACP.

Personally, my experience is that the addicted brain is not healed in two years. It takes five or six years, in some cases longer, for the physiological need for the drug of addiction to stop masquerading itself as a psychological need to get high. That is why so many relapse.

It also takes about as long to undo the damage done by the addicted lifestyle and learn all the coping and living skills you did not learn while you were using, as the time you spent using, relapsing, and practicing the addiction lifestyle.

We don’t want to hear this, yet it makes perfect sense. The very thing we crave is exactly what continues to destroy us, our dreams, and keeps us dependent on it. In the words of biblical scripture
It is quoted that we should “Be not deceived, for Even the prince of darkness masquerades himself as an angel of light.”

Undercover: Our Secret Obsessions