Beyond Addiction from Creators Syndicate Creators Syndicate is an international syndication company that represents cartoonists and columnists of the highest caliber. en Mon, 17 May 2021 21:03:46 -0700 Beyond Addiction from Creators Syndicate 5e03fcd2d70a976a6b026374da5da3f9 It Never Ends for 11/29/2014 Sat, 29 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0800 <p>An overnight trip to New Orleans ended late at night back at home with a deep breath, a deeper exhale and an exasperated lament over the inboxes of emails and phone calls still waiting for my reply. I don't recall my exact words, but I do remember my nearly 18-year-old daughter's response: "It never stops for you, does it, Dad? I mean, it never ends."</p> <p>Nancy is sensitive, not callous. But she is no-nonsense, so I took her reply both as her objective observation of the facts and as a tart criticism of the race I am running on the treadmill of life. I've covered many miles at a steady clip for a long, long time now. Too long, because every time I round the next bend on the course, I find yet another corner to turn. And another and another.</p> <p>Part of what drives me must be genetic. I think I got it from my parents, who have accomplished much yet have never rested on their laurels to this day, and they're entering their 80s. Part of it springs from the hole in my soul that aches with a sense of imperfection salved only by trying to do better, which means doing more. And another part is environmental; today's technology makes it hard to turn off the switch. The world goes with us all no matter where we go or try to hide.<p>Updated: Sat Nov 29, 2014</p> 41f5243f556bba6cd5e87d2b3975f306 It's Only a Brain Tumor for 11/22/2014 Sat, 22 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0800 <p>From, defining stigma: "a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one's reputation."</p> <p>Stigma obscures the truth about alcoholism and drug dependence. It fosters the public's misunderstanding that addiction is somebody else's problem only affecting "bad" or immoral people who live under bridges or deserve prison instead of help. Stigma is why neighbors abhor treatment or halfway houses in their communities. And it is the core reason politicians continue to create laws and rules that foster a "war on drugs" that ignores the fact that addiction is a public health problem affecting all of us.</p> <p>Even worse, stigma fosters shame, which prevents people who need help from asking for it. Every addict wonders, "Why can't I stop on my own?" or fears the consequences of being honest and getting treatment. I have known many people over the years who won't even share their struggles with friends or their own families.<p>Updated: Sat Nov 22, 2014</p> 29d1fd87ae19e594aaf31707b52750fe No Fun on the Merry-Go-Round for 11/15/2014 Sat, 15 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0800 <p>A flashpoint in the debate about addiction is what it means to be "powerless" over alcohol or other drugs. There's not enough space here to make the case one way or the other. But I think we can all agree that addicted people do have power over their illness if they are willing to recover from it. As I emphasize to them all the time, invest as much time and energy in recovery as you did pursuing the high and you will get well. Just don't try to do it alone.</p> <p>This week, I am reminded about what a narrow but formidable line separates those who are stuck in the problem from those who aren't. Actually, it's less a line and more a circle, as in the metaphorical merry-go-round; atop their high horse, they spin in circles, barely an arm's length from the brass ring of an opportunity to stop using. Only they make scant effort to reach for it or allow others to help them grab it. Fear and shame, finances, family affairs, a job, an upcoming vacation &#8212; they never got in the way of a drink or a drug. And in the inundated brain of the addict or alcoholic, these reasons become excuses to put help on hold.</p> <p>A few weeks ago, a man called my office asking for help. He said we'd first met at an airport in New York in 1998 after he recognized me from my appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and came up to me saying he, too, was addicted to substances. I had given him my business card. It took him 16 years to call. But call he did, despondent to the point of talking about suicide because he could no longer endure the unremitting despair of a shopping bag filled with doctor-prescribed narcotics to deal with the pain of a lifelong chronic illness.<p>Updated: Sat Nov 15, 2014</p> 3bfde44a1fec6cdcb0824eded0750260 A Disease, But... for 11/08/2014 Sat, 08 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0800 <p>For years, I've argued the science of addiction. In layman's terms, that translates to, "Addiction is a chronic disease." And it is. But I'm rethinking how I argue it, based on the results of a groundbreaking survey that seeks to define the question, "What is recovery?"</p> <p>That question was put to 9,341 people by the Alcohol Research Group. The nationwide survey was funded by the National Institutes of Health and took four years. It's being billed as the largest and most comprehensive study ever involving people from diverse pathways to recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs. The results were published this past week. Among the revelations, people in recovery believe:</p> <p>Abstinence is king. No alcohol at all, no misuse of prescribed medications and no use of unprescribed drugs.<p>Updated: Sat Nov 08, 2014</p> cc3ca49b28c44ed2b2722e1d948be5a5 Anger to Action for 11/01/2014 Sat, 01 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0700 <p>You've heard the punch line that a sober horse thief is still a horse thief.</p> <p>The same is true for sober people who are angry. They're still angry, and anger is a tricky and oft-risky emotion for those of us who are adept at wrapping it in self-righteous indignation because it is always easier to find fault with others than in ourselves. Sometimes we even use it as an excuse to stick with sobriety.</p> <p>Still, my friend and filmmaker Greg Williams has a point in his provocative op-ed making the rounds on the Internet right now. After attending a Washington, D.C., rally for people who have lost loved ones to addiction, he laments the absence of similar sentiment among the larger recovery community. He writes:<p>Updated: Sat Nov 01, 2014</p> 16aeb5d063dda0f5f77ad6238190afff 'I'm Not Going Away' for 10/25/2014 Sat, 25 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0700 <p>Of all the insights addicts' loved ones have ever shared with me, none makes more sense than the approach a father in Tennessee takes in dealing with his 30-something daughter who stops and starts and stops and starts again with opiates.</p> <p>He first shared it with me a few years ago, and his "Four Steps to Sanity" made it into a book I wrote and a subsequent column that continues to guide scores of parents and family members. They are:</p> <p>&#8212;I love my child.<p>Updated: Sat Oct 25, 2014</p> 78274c6aebb88fe9d84c1e08d66833e4 Bread and Butter, Raw and Real for 10/18/2014 Sat, 18 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0700 <p>You had to be there to really feel what you are about to read. I was, and I share it with you knowing that what I write won't compare with what I felt. But it is too good not to try to pass it along.</p> <p>This past week, I made a quick swing through central Virginia. I stopped in Richmond, where Chris White, a trustee of my organization, and I got a full day's baptism in the sea of people fighting to free themselves of substances. They're all drawn to the McShin Foundation. It steers them to treatment and gives them a sober place to live afterward. McShin offers them the bread-and-butter ingredients &#8212; e.g., jobs, peer-to-peer support groups, access to transportation to get around town and basic technologies, such as a phone and computer &#8212; necessary to get around in today's real world, plus lots of rules and expectations to live by on a day-to-day basis, the essential staples every addict and alcoholic requires to have any chance to stay clean.</p> <p>McShin also focuses on people who are free from substances yet not free themselves &#8212; inmates in the sober block of the city jail. Here they begin to understand what it will take to avoid a return to lockup, by staying away from temptation. Without a heads-up, Chris and I were asked to share what addiction and recovery meant to us.<p>Updated: Sat Oct 18, 2014</p> 2229d9cfd282da23074243d3ade5e15f My Days Not Drinking for 10/11/2014 Sat, 11 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0700 <p>When it comes to measuring success in recovery from addiction, it seems as though only those with consecutive days free from substances proclaim the tally with the same passionate aplomb as they count them.</p> <p>"It was 90 days ago today I woke up in a jail cell not sure how I'd gotten there, and that was my last drink," wrote one of my "friends" I've never met on Facebook.</p> <p>"By the grace of my God and the fellowship of my program, I haven't found the need to take a drink or a drug for 10 years now," a woman proclaimed in front of an appreciative audience of fellow travelers at a 12-step meeting. "Those days sure add up."<p>Updated: Sat Oct 11, 2014</p> ad136431f11b38bc735a247d2eebe286 That Elusive Broadway Debut for 10/04/2014 Sat, 04 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0700 <p>My stops on the road close to home and far away the past few weeks have included:</p> <p>Two days of presentations at a Catholic college in central Kentucky.</p> <p>Two invitation-only "friend-raisers" for Hazelden Betty Ford, where I work, in the Twin Cities.<p>Updated: Sat Oct 04, 2014</p> f9837af7172fcda4a8372baeec7051fd Hooked on the Phone for 09/27/2014 Sat, 27 Sep 2014 00:00:00 -0700 <p>In a rush to clear airport security and get to the gate at the opposite end of the terminal, I discovered that my cellphone wasn't with me. I'd left it in the car in the parking lot.</p> <p>My tolerance is thin for travelers who slow the process at the Transportation Security Administration checkpoints. All these years after 9/11, I'm still amazed that anyone doesn't know what can and cannot pass through security, why bottles of water might as well be liquid dynamite or when and how to empty pockets and take off shoes and belts. I get impatient with travelers who gum up the process, especially when they are ahead of me. I'd like to chalk it up to my efficiency as a frequently flying road warrior. But it probably has more to do with one of my biggest defects of character.</p> <p>Sans phone, for a moment I froze. To go forward without it or go back to retrieve it, that was my dilemma. My trip away from home and the office wouldn't even be 24 hours. Yet the thought of being out of touch with the rest of my world was more than I could bear. Beads of sweat dotted my forehead. My heart fluttered with anxiety. Through security I passed. Then I made a U-turn at the exit, walked 10 minutes through the parking lot and found succor with the phone in my hand and a bevy of fresh emails and texts and a voice message or two demanding my reply. Never mind that I had to repeat the security clearance. My craving for connection was satisfied. I was content.<p>Updated: Sat Sep 27, 2014</p> bd2848783071c248655d1bfd4560602d A Million-Dollar Question for 09/20/2014 Sat, 20 Sep 2014 00:00:00 -0700 <p>A woman I admire asked me where she should donate $1 million to promote research to cure addiction.</p> <p>For just a moment, I thought about a glib answer: "Just write the check to me." But there's nothing funny about her question. She lost a son to opiate addiction several years ago and ever since has dedicated her life to helping other families to avoid her tragedy. Though I doubt she has that kind of money, her tireless advocacy is priceless, and I know what she means. Gloria will do anything to save people like her son from dying.</p> <p>Her query was in response to something I'd written about a low-key conversation some of us are having. We're interested in trying to answer the question, "Can we cure addiction?" &#8212; with the emphasis on the pronoun because it will take a collective effort across a disparate and fragmented "field" that includes big pharma, brain researchers, scientists, treatment experts, doctors, clinical therapists and probably a bunch of alcoholics and addicts, be they sober or not, to come up with an answer other than no.<p>Updated: Sat Sep 20, 2014</p> 1712d2b0dc36704cbf5c24b324ceb920 Eating, Talking and Sleeping With the Sisters for 09/13/2014 Sat, 13 Sep 2014 00:00:00 -0700 <p>For the first time in my life, I slept with a bunch of Dominican sisters the other night. The next morning, there were no regrets.</p> <p>I was their guest at the Motherhouse on the campus of St. Catharine College in central Kentucky. It's a small campus of about 850 students in what's known as "Kentucky's Holy Land" for the Catholic immigrants who settled in the region in the early 1800s and never left. Later on, the area became known for tobacco fields and whiskey distilleries. Somehow faithful reverence and the products of vice have found room to coexist. Or maybe they do precisely for that reason. After all, faith is bolstered by a "higher power."</p> <p>I was invited to bring my story of addiction and redemption to the college students, the sisters and their larger community. My book "Broken" was selected as the required reading for the incoming freshman class, and students wrote personal essays reflecting on what my story meant to them. In small group discussions and one-on-one conversations, what I quickly realized is that most of them had never been asked or given the opportunity to share the swirling emotions of addiction's impact on their own lives until now. And out they poured.<p>Updated: Sat Sep 13, 2014</p> 45bfbd63de5cf0baaa67f5967b8b3dc9 Some Greater Benefit for 09/06/2014 Sat, 06 Sep 2014 00:00:00 -0700 <p>In a folder on my computer, I keep electronic copies of every column I've written since 2008. By chance just now I was perusing the hundreds of files, and I realized: Geez, I've written a lot. Six hundred words a week 50 weeks of the year times six years equals 180,000 words. Enough for an encyclopedia or a trilogy of books.</p> <p>Yet I'm struck by how narrow is the range of topics. Over the years, I've offered my biased take on the "news" of the day involving a few crash-and burn celebrities (Jackson, Lohan and Houston). I've highlighted the oft-ignored stories of people like the rest of us who actually recover (Smith, Jones and Anderson). I've written about the drug "epidemics" that are really nothing more than the trend de jour of the year and the public policy tied to the failed war on drugs, pontificated on new treatments for addiction and what it means to recover from it. I've offered up nuggets of my own life's journey, especially as a father trying to raise three teenagers in a techno-fueled world seemingly beyond my control, as well as our family's struggles to keep it all together despite seismic shifts on the home front.</p> <p>Most of all, I've offered frustratingly incomplete counsel to the sordidly detailed, anguished queries from readers who are desperate for help, for themselves or for their own families.<p>Updated: Sat Sep 06, 2014</p> 55a69fdfc583bd6922093ad028e0ba1e A Quarter-Century Later for 08/30/2014 Sat, 30 Aug 2014 00:00:00 -0700 <p>One August day in 1989, my mother picked me up from a hospital psych ward in New York City and put me on a plane to Minnesota. A treatment center there became my temporary abode for the next 30 days, followed by another four months in a "halfway house," which fell far short of being half the distance to anywhere I was going. Twenty-five years later, I'm still in Minnesota, and though I'm certain I've now lived more than half my life, I am not so sure I've lived half of my experiences on this twisted journey from addiction to recovery. Stuff happens. There's still a lot of stuff to crash through or revel in.</p> <p>"Wow, 25 years &#8212; that's a long time," offered a neophyte who was born the year I landed in Minnesota.</p> <p>"It's gone by fast," is all I replied, selling him short and me, too. I spared him the details because I didn't want to burst his bubble pumped up with his three weeks of being drug-free. And besides, he couldn't possibly put any context to what I've experienced in these years. A span of time at least gives some kind of hint about the jaggedness of what happened along the way. Yes, I'm still figuring it out, too.<p>Updated: Sat Aug 30, 2014</p> 14e3589b9d4768a03912a8751e53f325 Help That Hinders for 08/23/2014 Sat, 23 Aug 2014 00:00:00 -0700 <p>It's one of the sharpest contrasts of active addiction, when somebody under the influence cannot pull off the easiest of tasks and it's obvious to everyone. Or nobody sees what's happening because that person is deft at conniving, scheming or outmaneuvering the world on the way to another drink or drug.</p> <p>This week, it's the experiences of the latter I find noteworthy.</p> <p>The other day, I sat in on a session with drug addicts trying to stay clean, most of them hooked on the meds they got legally and, at least at the start, legitimately from doctors and dentists and therapists. Opiates for chronic old-age aches or acute post-surgery pain, benzodiazepines for mental health problems such as anxiety and sleep disorders, and even a medical marijuana-dependent breast cancer survivor who kept smoking the stuff long after she was declared cancer-free. (Yes, advocates of legalization, marijuana can be addictive to some users, no matter what you argue.)<p>Updated: Sat Aug 23, 2014</p> b8ae497df64a9e0b6a0ed4961141a9ca Technically Relapsed for 08/16/2014 Sat, 16 Aug 2014 00:00:00 -0700 <p>Family members are critical to our understanding of addiction. A spouse or a parent or a grandparent sees the illness not from the alcoholic or addict's perspective but as someone whose own life has been directly affected by his or her loved one's substance use. Often it's these personal insights that are the key to helping addicted people come to terms with the reality that they need help. Or more help.</p> <p>Also, these personal experiences are a powerful public message that helps to unmask the stigma of addiction, especially with the news media and policymakers. A mother's front-page story about losing a child to an overdose of pain medication or a couple's testimony at the statehouse about how treatment kept their family together is irrefutably compelling. Family members don't lie.</p> <p>The other day, I got an email from a man prominent in his community. His daughter struggles with substance misuse and mental health issues, though she had been doing well since treatment three years ago. The father is ready to step out of the shadow of his family's private fight. He's on the agenda for a public forum we've set in September in the community where his standing is high. The email said:<p>Updated: Sat Aug 16, 2014</p> 9e30406afccf16ae8fce4865dd865063 Dana's Open Bar for 08/02/2014 Sat, 02 Aug 2014 00:00:00 -0700 <p>Out of respect for the people in this story, I am deliberately vague with the intimate details of their family's public corporate accomplishments and equally circumspect with their private suffering wrought by alcohol's relentless ravages. For their sake, I will call their alcoholic family member by the unisex name "Dana."</p> <p>But I don't shy away from pinpointing the irony of the event they will soon host on behalf of a program that opens the door for people who have run out of other options to overcome addiction. At this fancy "celebration of recovery," the invitation touts an "open bar."</p> <p>Chronic alcoholism has nearly killed "Dana" &#8212; more than once. I'm told Dana hasn't had a drink in about two weeks. With the event later in August, this means Dana will have a thin buffer of abstinence while surrounded by the tempting toxins spewing from the open bar. Multiple treatments over many years and plenty of reasons not to drink have never compelled this alcoholic to stay sober. I know the allure and angst of temptation. Surely, Dana will sense the tug of war at this party hosted by the family on behalf of recovery, which has eluded Dana for too long.<p>Updated: Sat Aug 02, 2014</p> 3fded1a474c7ae66f54fbefb39665890 'Is Daddy Sick?' for 07/26/2014 Sat, 26 Jul 2014 00:00:00 -0700 <p>The manager of the restaurant had good news for me.</p> <p>"My husband finally admitted his problem. He's gone to treatment. He's getting help."</p> <p>She was visibly relieved, almost giddy, sharing this sudden turn in her family's fortunes. It had been five years since she first told me about her husband's drinking, the toll it was taking on her and their children. She had been desperate to get him to stop, especially because she herself had put down the bottle and found sobriety in hopes that he would follow her lead. Every time I'd visit the restaurant, she'd give me a quick update out of earshot of her co-workers and customers. But nothing was ever different until now.<p>Updated: Sat Jul 26, 2014</p> 82f901a94aee65f6ff4ff2b5b55dc714 One Moment, Many Routes for 07/12/2014 Sat, 12 Jul 2014 00:00:00 -0700 <p>Louis Zamperini died this month. He was 97 years old. His life was chronicled in "Unbroken," the perpetual best-selling book by Laura Hillenbrand, so I won't repeat it. Except for the part that inspires me to write about that moment in 1949 when he had an epiphany. It was at a Billy Graham big-tent revival he attended at the insistence of his wife, who had threatened to divorce him unless he pulled himself together. From that moment at the revival, he overcame too much drinking and the scars of trauma forged by his horrific experiences in World War II.</p> <p>Zamperini was more than a survivor. He was a person who recovered.</p> <p>Note, though, that his recovery wasn't about quitting drinking and staying sober &#8212; because that's not how he did it.<p>Updated: Sat Jul 12, 2014</p> e06b873ec8bff7c1596e32ca7c16b923 That Fork in the Road for 07/05/2014 Sat, 05 Jul 2014 00:00:00 -0700 <p>"Son is Addict." That was the subject line in an unsolicited email sent to me the other day.</p> <p>Unlike most of the emails I get, this one wasn't followed by the gritty, lurid details of addiction's rampage through another family; there was no anguished plea asking what to do. In fact, when I opened it, the body of the email was blank. "Tell me more" is all I could reply.</p> <p>An hour later: "My son has trouble with addiction to prescription drugs and gets them on the streets. In jail off & on since 2012, I have paid his rent when he is out, should I stop helping him?"<p>Updated: Sat Jul 05, 2014</p>