Category Archives: Addiction

Veronica’s story

Many people have asked me for my drinking story, I wrote this some time ago and decided to publish it. This is me, this is who I was and who I am now….

I think there’s two ways you can become an alcoholic. I think you’re either born that way or, you simply need to drink enough alcohol and become one.

Veronica Valli - always the party girl

Veronica Valli – always the party girl

I believe I was born an alcoholic.
I believe this, because I’ve always felt ‘different’. My earliest memories are of feeling ‘odd’, ‘uncomfortable in my own skin’. I felt like I was looking out at the world through a glass screen, I was on one side and everyone else was on the other.
I felt separate, alone, unconnected. It didn’t seem to matter what I did, I never felt like I truly ‘fitted in’ or ‘belonged’ anywhere. These feelings began long before I ever tried alcohol.

When I finally tried alcohol at around 15 it felt like a light bulb went on. All of a sudden, I felt complete, I felt ‘right’, and I had confidence and self-belief.
Drink did something to me, it made me feel normal.
I never drank ‘normally’, whatever that is. I drank alcoholically from the word ‘go’. I could never get enough of this substance that made me feel so good.
Initially I was just your regular teenage binge drinker, I could get into bars and clubs when I was underage and the whole point was to get as drunk as possible. At the time, it was what my entire peer group was doing too. I certainly wasn’t doing anything that different to most teenagers, but whenever I compared myself to them, I knew I was different. I could tell they didn’t have the same feelings of desperation or disconnectedness that lived within me. As we grew up they naturally moderated their drinking and drank less, where as I found that inconceivable.

At 15 I also experimented with marijuana. I’m never quiet sure what happened with my drug education, I must have missed that bit at school. It never once occurred to me to ‘just say no to drugs’, or even question what they would do to me. I so desperately wanted to be liked and to feel normal, that I said ‘yes’ to any substance offered to me.
I met my first serious boyfriend when I was 16 and shortly after left home. He was a recreational drug user and through him I tried LSD, Magic Mushrooms and Amphetamines.
I loved them; I used drugs regularly and partied every weekend. I was struggling through college and I barely passed my exams but I didn’t care because I though I’d found this group of people I belonged too and a lifestyle I enjoyed. I felt like I was living life on the edge, it felt glamorous and sophisticated.
For 2 years I really, really enjoyed taking drugs and getting drunk.
I had a great time and then at 17 everything went horribly wrong.
I had taken some LSD and had a ‘bad trip’, this had never happened before and I didn’t know how to handle it. I felt panicky and scared, I was seeing and hearing things and got very paranoid. The feeling of terror grew and even when I began to ‘come down’ the fear and panic didn’t leave, in fact it got worse. I now know I went into drug induced psychosis, but at the time I had no idea what was happening too me. The worse thing was I couldn’t tell anyone around me how I felt, I put on a ‘mask’ and pretended everything was ok. I was terrified of anyone finding out what was really happening I became imprisoned by my own fear.

This shattered my life
My whole life was shattered. I was terrified and paranoid all the time and having at least a dozen panic attacks a day. I couldn’t get on a bus, go into a supermarket or sit in my own living room without having a panic attack and making some kind of excuse to leave. I could barely go to college, I couldn’t cope, I was having a breakdown and was most definitely suicidal. I used to stand at the bus stop waiting for a bus I was too scared to get on, trying to summon the courage to jump in front of it.

Everyday of living was agony for me and I didn’t know how to carry on.
This went on for months and I was too terrified to tell anyone what was happening. I didn’t know how too. I couldn’t even begin to articulate what I was experiencing, I was too scared to say it out loud because if I did, it meant what was happening to me was real, and I was still clinging on to the hope that one day I would I wake up and be normal again.
Close to a breakdown I eventually went to the doctors and told him everything. He wrote me a prescription for Valium and recommended some counselling. I never went to the counselling but I did like the idea of being prescribed drugs to make me feel better.
This was the worse possible thing to do.
It started off a 10-year prescription drug habit. For years I visited different doctors explaining my symptoms of fear and paranoia and they would write me prescriptions for Valium, Xanax, anti-depressants. They always worked for a bit, papered over the cracks, but they never dealt with the root of the problem.

Veronica Valli - this was taken about a year before I got sober

Veronica Valli – this was taken about a year before I got sober

Fear ruled my life

The next 10 years of my life from 17 to 27 were a living hell. I was never, ever free from fear; it was the overwhelming emotion I woke up to every morning. Some days I felt like I could hardly breath through the terror of having to get through the day and pretend to be normal.
After the incident with LSD I had stopped using illegal drugs completely and only drank alcohol, my drinking increased very quickly because it was the only thing that took away the fear. It took the edge off of my anxiety and I had a few hours of reprieve from the madness in my head and I could pretend to be ‘normal’.
At 17 my drinking shifted from ‘having fun,’ to using it to cope with how I felt. I knew there was something very wrong with me, I just didn’t know what. I did try to get help, I looked everywhere, I went to doctors, counsellors, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, churches, anywhere that offered some kind of hope. I was treated for anxiety or depression but never my alcoholism. The truth is, I either lied about how much I drank or, I was simply never asked, no one ever picked up on my drinking as being the real problem. Whatever treatment I was offered only ever gave me a temporary reprieve and inevitably I would revert back to familiar feelings of loneliness, isolation, despair and discontent. Drinking always gave me a temporary relief from these feelings.

I tried every method known to alcoholics to try to ‘fix’ my life. It is amusing to me now, to see how unoriginal I was in my attempts to try to make things ‘better’. Every alcoholic or addict I’ve known has tried the same methods.
At 19 I went to America to travel, I did this a lot in my twenties, spending time travelling round the world trying to escape myself. But always ending up in the same place again (alone, confused, scared and a failure). What I was really doing was running away from myself.
I’ve been to some really incredible glamorous places and I hated all of them because of how I felt.
Somehow I always managed to hold down a job and got through university but I was always just ‘holding on.’ I tried to ‘loose myself’ in relationships, I almost got married to a man I didn’t love because I thought that marriage would ‘save me,’ and everything would then be ‘fixed’. However all my romantic relationships were based on dishonesty, fear and neediness. I couldn’t believe anyone would want to be with me, when they found out how disgusting I really was. I felt so unworthy of love that it was beyond my comprehension that anyone could really love me. So like a lot of alcoholics I just took ‘hostages’ because being alone scared me so much.

Cocaine brought me to my knees
I was constantly searching, looking for answers.
I have a massive thirst for life and this is what really saved me. Because I remained curious I eventually stumbled across the solution for my problem. When I was drinking I always felt discontented, I knew I wasn’t reaching my full potential, I knew I wasn’t the person I knew I could be and I drank on these feelings because they were too painful to acknowledge to myself.

Veronica at 23 - I was at a wedding and started the night looking pretty good only to end up in my usual disheveled state.

Veronica at 23 – I was at a wedding and started the night looking pretty good only to end up in my usual disheveled state.

I moved jobs, countries, relationships, friendships, believing each time that this would be the thing that would make me feel ‘ok’. I blamed outside circumstances for how I felt and believed if I changed these circumstances (which I did often) I would be happy.
Throughout my twenties I drank heavily, more than I knew was good for me, I always sought a peer group who drank as much as I did. I drank before any social situation because I was too scared to face people; I drank before parties because I was scared there wouldn’t be enough booze for me to get the ‘buzz’ I needed. I drank anytime I felt scared and couldn’t cope. Towards the end of my drinking I began to sneak drinks and drink on my own, I preferred that to sharing my booze.
In my mid-twenties I started using cocaine whenever I drank because it enabled me to drink more. However cocaine gave me the worst ‘come down’s’ ever. I was suicidal. I would wake up the next day and felt like my soul had been scraped out and was lying on the floor next to me. I didn’t know how I was going to get out of bed let alone make it through the rest of my life.
My feelings of loneliness and despair intensified.
Without a doubt their were moments of happiness, peace and calm through this period. I would have moments when I felt everything was going to be ok, but they were always fleeting, I could never hold on to them, the same inevitable dark feelings would return. I was slowly dying on the inside, it wasn’t the alcohol that was necessarily killing me, it was the lies that I was telling my self.
I had to tell lies to myself as it was the only way I could deal with the fear inside of me. I believe fear is the defining characteristic of alcoholism, no one understands fear the way alcoholics do.

Finding freedom
I never became physically dependent on alcohol. I could always go for a period of time without it, usually I would switch to something else, prescription drugs, pot anything that helped me get through the day. I’ve known the shame and degradation of being a female alcoholic and sleeping with men I don’t like just to feel wanted. I’ve never been arrested, bankrupt, or fired, or many of the terrible things that have happened to alcoholics. At first, I thought I couldn’t be an alcoholic because I wasn’t ‘qualified.’ However, I learnt that it isn’t the drinking and consequences that makes you an alcoholic; it’s the thoughts and feelings that drive alcoholism. It was then that I finally understood what my problem really was.

As soon as I understood the problem I could then embark on the solution.

I got help from experts who understood alcoholism and joined a self-help group. For the first time in my life I realised I wasn’t alone.
Getting clean and sober was the hardest thing I have ever done, but there was no choice for me, I couldn’t go back to how I was living. I wanted to live, to make my life count, to see what I was capable of. When I got sober, these things at last became possible.
I always knew something was very, very wrong with me but I thought it was a rare mental health condition, not alcoholism. Alcoholism can’t be measured by how much you drink; it is an internal condition and requires an internal fix, not an external one.

Today with my family

Today with my family

Finally, I became free of the prison I had made for my self; the only thing that had ever limited me was my own thinking. Recovery gave me a new perspective on life; it gave me back my self-belief and confidence. I am finally engaging in the process of reaching my full potential and becoming the woman I was meant to be. I no longer have a 50% life of just getting by, just coping. I am no longer scared, I am just the opposite, I am fearless in everything I do. I no longer worry whether you like me or not, because I love who I am. I wake up everyday and find something to be joyful about. Certainly my life has challenges in it, but none of them threaten to capsize me the way they used to, I relish challenges so I can learn and grow and become the best version of myself I’m capable of being.
Life is a wonderful adventure now instead of a scary threatening place. I live a life now beyond anything I could have dreamed off before. I am on fire with the possibilities there are in front of me.

My sobriety date is: 2nd of May 2000.

The Opiod epidemic is the new AIDS crisis

I was driving the other day when a Prince song came on the radio. I felt so sad listening to him, his death was so unnecessary. Then it struck me, that despite a star of his magnitude dying of an opiate overdose, still, nothing has changed.
His death wasn’t the turning point.
50,000 people die every year from opiate overdoses. We are in the middle of a crisis and we have still no adequate response.

With permission by

With permission by

Andrew Sullivan wrote this piece on the Opiate epidemic, that it is our generation’s AIDS crisis. He is right and our response should be of the same magnitude.

In the 1980’s no one cared about AIDS. It only affected gay men, and in many people’s eyes they pretty much deserved what they got, with their devious immoral behavior. Communities were just devastated, the number of deaths increasing monthly. But no one did anything. Until a small group of outraged, devastated and determined people got together and started advocating. Motivated by anger, desperation and the inability to just stand by and watch this happen to their community, they started making a nuciense of themselves. They got in people’s faces and they kept demanding help until they got it.
They kept going until momentum started to build. Sure, it took ‘straight’ people dying of HIV for people to realize that this was a potential threat to everyone, to really get things going. But the response to the AIDS crisis really demonstrated what a small determined bunch of advocates can really do. Now AIDS research, prevention and treatment is extremely well-funded and understood. And most importantly the unnecessary deaths have stopped.

Why don’t we care enough about the opioid crisis? Across the country there are groups of angry and determined people who are demanding a response to this epidemic but we still don’t have the momentum and visibility required to really make a difference.
Chris Christie has just been appointed to the White House to tackle this crisis. I hope he succeeds, but it requires an effort on all fronts. More treatment, more education but most of all more regulations on the pharmaceutical companies who are pumping opiate based drugs into (particularly) rural communities. We need to be more angry about this. Because this is the main point, why aren’t the pharmaceutical companies being held accountable?*

I hear about the opiate crisis a lot on the news but what I don’t hear is talk of a plan. ‘We need to do something.’ Yeah, no s**t.
And still the deaths go on. It’s more like Prince and the (complete lack of a drug) Revolution.

*Senator McCaskill is launching an investigation into int the marketing, sales and profits of the largest opioid manufacturers.

His name is Luke……

Image courtesy of chrisroll at

Image courtesy of chrisroll at

I was sent this very moving essay by a mother in Illinois. It moved me greatly. It is about her son Luke who is struggling with addiction.

“I am here to see my son Luke.
What is his number?
His name is Luke.
Mam, what is his number?
His name is Luke. Luke…Luke.
Lady, if you don’t give us his number, you will have to leave.
But his name is Luke………………
And his number is M164874”.

John Mayer has a song that says:

When you’re dreaming with a broken heart
The waking up is the hardest part
You roll outta bed and down on your knees
And for a moment you can hardly breathe

But I wasn’t dreaming…I was talking to the guards at Statesville Prison in Joliet, Illinois. Luke had barely turned 21. He was sentenced to two years in prison for criminal destruction to property over $300. His probation was revoked because he didn’t do what was mandated. They put a warrant out for his arrest. I remember the day he called to tell me was running because he couldn’t go back behind bars. He had spent two weeks in the county jail before his hearing, and he was like a trapped animal. I would visit him at the county and talk to him on a phone with glass in between us. Just like you see on TV folks. And I would put my hand on the glass and he would put his hand on the glass and I knew my heart was never going to beat the same. Luke has always been a free and creative spirit. When he told me that he was going to run, the fear took my breath away, but I also couldn’t tell him not to do it. We met on the sly for lunch a couple of times. I could have turned him in. I should have turned him in. Instead I would give him a hug and watch him walk away down an alley never sure if I would see him again. I knew he’d get caught, and he did.

Enter Statesville Prison in Joliet. Two hours drive there, two-hour visit, two hours drive back home. Every single week-end. They would call him up from his cell. His room was in a huge building at the end of a courtyard the length of a football field. I would hurry into the visiting room and go to the window so I could watch him walk across the courtyard. I watched every single step he took. My baby. And I would try to get my tears out before he entered the room. But I also knew that before he could enter that room, he would first have to go into the guard station to take down his pants, bend over, raise his balls. And after I left from the visit, he would again have to take down his pants to bend over, raise his balls.

He would call me non-stop during the week. Sometimes we’d only say a few words. But he needed to hear my voice and I needed to hear his. On my visits on the week-ends, the first time we talked and talked. But with each visit, the talking became strained….his world never changed, and it was difficult for me to talk about the world outside that he was missing.

I could purchase a card to get food out of a vending machine for Luke when I was visiting. I know it sounds so minor, but it was a major event and one of the things that would make me cry. Momma bear knowing that food was a comfort. Luke longed for the food…crappy microwave sandwiches and Mountain Dew and some chips. But half the time the card machine was broken or the vending machines were empty. And I would sit there and cry because it meant something, and Luke would look at me and say “Mom, don’t worry about it, just please don’t cry.

As time went on, I continued to be a mess on the inside. Some friends and family changed the subject if I mentioned his name. It was awkward to talk about my son being in prison. I became two different people…I went through my days as normally as I could, but I was also heart broken by his imprisonment and by the system. And I knew the importance of visiting each weekend, but it was SO difficult to get into my car and drive the long drive and endure the pain of seeing him in his prison jump suit, losing weight, and losing touch with the outside world. And Statesville…it’s like an Alcatraz in Illinois. Frightening.

So with each visit I became more and more agitated. The guards sitting at the front desk, watching every move we made in the visiting room while they sat there with their feet on the desk, eating food and tapping on the window if I got too close to Luke. It got to the point where I felt like the scene in Terms of Endearment when Shirley McClaine becomes a maniac when her daughter, dying of cancer, needs pain medicine. If you haven’t seen the movie, she screams at the nurses “I don’t see why she has to have this pain it’s time for her shot, do you understand? Do something…my daughter is in pain! Give her the shot, do you understand me? GIVE MY DAUGHTER THE SHOT!!! Just like that, I wanted to scream:


The Dalai Lama once said “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” I wish I could post that at the guard station at Statesville. But this isn’t about the prison system per se, it’s about the understanding of pain which is always trumped by love.

Where he is today:

That was in 2011-2012. Luke did really well the first year and a half out of prison. Fast forward to today, 2017. Luke is a mess. He is probably the worst I have ever seen him. He admits he is addicted to drugs and alcohol, so much so that without either in just a day’s time, he begins shaking and having withdrawal. He refuses to get the help he needs. He recently went for an involuntary evaluation prompted by the police, but within 4 hours he was released.

He has five felonies, two active. He also has two Orders of Protection against him. He will most likely be sentenced back to prison. That’s if it even gets that far….because, as in the past, he’ll run. He’s like a wild animal that can’t be caged. And if he does run, he will end up dead because he can’t keep doing the abuse over and over again to his body. And how will I know where he is? And how will I know if he is dying?

This was his latest text message to me from last week:

“You are fucking stupid.
You’re the worst mom ever.
Fuck you.
I hate that you’re my mom.
I hate you.

And an hour later:

“I don’t hate you.
I am going to kill myself.
I am going to kill Rachel.
I wish my son would die so you all know how it feels to miss someone.
Good-bye mom.
I’m going to fucking kill myself and you all have yourselves to blame.“

He is terrorizing every one that he loves. You are watching him terrorize himself. You take him for food because he is hungry. You drive around for hours listening to him talk, watch him cry, then watch the anger return, and you’re paralyzed when he pounds the dashboard, pounds his own head, and pulls at his hair. You give him a hug and he is filthy…that smell of alcohol, BO and cigarettes. And you actually go home and don’t want to take a shower because that disgusting smell is all you have of him.

Mental illness and drug abuse. I don’t even know how to begin to understand it. But it is the devil. I don’t know how to kill it. I don’t know how to help my son. I don’t know…and I am exhausted and terrified.

I attend a support group. I listen to similar stories. These complete strangers instantly become your life line. They tell their stories and it somehow gives you comfort that you aren’t alone. You cling to their every word. You hug, you cry, you exchange emails, you give fake smiles, and you tell each other that it will all be okay. And you walk out the door believing that.

For a moment. For a moment.

But then you get in your car to drive home, and the pain returns immediately. The fear returns. The hopelessness returns. You hear a siren and wonder where your son is. You get in bed and toss and turn. You fear your phone will ring in the middle of the night. You wake up the next day and he is the first thing that enters your mind.

Every once in a while you see him and he looks healthy and he is smiling. Or you get a nice text. And he tries to say something meaningful and thoughtful because he knows his own mom is afraid of him. And just when you are feeling calm, you get a text from the demons inside his head and the euphoria-hope-please dear God moment you had comes crashing down.

Shadow of Hand in jail by Sakhorn38 curtsy of

Shadow of Hand in jail by Sakhorn38 curtsy of

Lyrics from Hate Me by Blue October about a son singing to his mom so she will hate him and it will take her pain away.

“Hate me today
Hate me tomorrow
Hate me for all the things I didn’t do for you
Hate me in ways
Yeah, ways hard to swallow
Hate me so you can finally see what’s good for you.”

But it doesn’t work that way.

The pain never goes away.

And neither does the love.

‘Good people don’t smoke pot.’

Image courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS at

Image courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS at

I’m worried about the new administration. I don’t want to start a political slanging match, god knows Facebook has enough of those. But I am particularly concerned about the new Attorney General’s attitude towards everything drugs.

Facing addiction?
When we all attended the ‘Unite to Face Addiction’ rally back in October 2015 I really felt we were turning a corner and finally, finally we were at the dawn of a new attitude and direction for treating and discussing addiction. For decades, we have been stuck in the belief system that addiction, alcoholism and any kind of substance misuse is down to some kind of moral failing of the user. Surprisingly, this attitude has been also perpetuated by the recovery community, in their one-size-fits all, attitude to recovery and the mistaken belief that anonymity = secrecy. Which therefore, lead people to believe we had something to be ashamed of.
We don’t, of course. The first ever Surgeon General’s report into addiction states: ‘Addiction is a disease of the brain, not a character flaw.’
The report itself is ground breaking and long overdue. We hope it can do for addiction what the surgeon general’s report did for smoking fifty years ago. That we can start investing in research-driven prevention and treatment programs. This is a public health crisis, not a criminal one.

Opiate crisis
I keep reading about the opiate addiction and overdose crisis but I do not see anything substantial being done to combat it. There have been a few initiatives in different areas but no cohesive nation wide strategy.
Let me remind you, that many of the kids who are dying of opiate overdoses became addicted through sports injuries. You may think this won’t happen to you, but no family is immune.
It really felt like we were beginning to get somewhere and then we have this. Our new attorney general who is, quiet possibly, the only American left who thought the 1980’s ‘Just say no’ campaign was a good thing.

His beliefs about marijuana will tell you everything you need to know about what we can expect, ‘good people don’t smoke marijuana.’


I am, therefore, not a ‘good’ person as defined by Jeff Sessions, I must confess I have smoked marijuana. You may know people who currently smoke marijuana and now you can put them in the ‘not good people’ bin. Because eventually, that’s where Sessions will put them, except his ‘bin’ is called, for-profit, *Ka-ching* prison’s.

Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid at

Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid at

For-profit prisons need a supply of inmates. The purpose of for-profit companies is to, ahem, increase their profits. I’m sure you can see where this is going.

Perpetuating the faulty, no-basis in science, stuck in the 1980’s, belief that good people don’t use drugs is a catastrophe for anyone with an interest, or a loved one affected by addiction.


A look at substance abuse after 2016

By Alek S.

Addiction is a problem that has been around for as long as there has been civilization. However, based on the understanding of the disease model of addiction, epidemics that are related to addiction have come and gone, throughout time. Today, we find ourselves in the midst of an addiction epidemic that has continued to grow over the past decade. After the statistics that we witnessed in 2016, it’s worth looking at how crucial it is that we address the growing rates of addiction in the United States, as well as worldwide. Here is a look at the substance abuse situation, at the start of 2017…

Overdose is #2 cause of accidental death

Currently, over 100 people die in the United States every single day, due to an accidental overdose. This alarming number is boldened by the fact that overdoses from substance abuse are the #2 cause of accidental death in this country. The main cause of overdose deaths is opioids, by far, whether prescription opioids or street drugs, like heroin. What is particularly alarming about this fact is that the rate of opioids has quadrupled since 1999. This is also true of overdoses, due to opioids. For this reason, it isn’t off base to say that drug addiction is the number one public health crisis that is facing the country, today.

Growing opioid epidemic

As stated above, the rate of opioid abuse has grown over 400% since 1999. From 2007 to 2011, alone, the rate of heroin addiction doubled in America. It’s safe to say that opioid abuse has become an epidemic here, as well as around the world. What is especially nefarious about this epidemic, though, is that it originated from the world of medicine, instead the of the illicit drug trade. The roots of our current opioid problem stem from the copious amounts of prescription opioids that were given out in the mid-to-late 1990’s. Currently, half of all heroin users reported that their addiction began from prescription painkillers long before they ever used heroin, according to the CDC.

This problem is becoming more well known

One bit of good news that we have witnessed in 2016 is this problem has been addressed and recognized for the major issue that it is more than it ever has before. During the presidential election and primaries, we saw candidates discuss substance abuse and methods to approach this problem more than we have since the Prohibition era. This is an excellent first step towards reducing the rate of substance abuse, since it cannot be done without an ample amount of awareness throughout society.

Image courtesy of Baitong333 /

Image courtesy of Baitong333 /

Steps to mitigate prescription abuse

Just as the awareness of addiction has continued to grow, so too has the understanding that we must take steps to stop the opioid addiction from continuing to spread from the pharmaceutical industry. Last year, we saw the first steps taken to reduce the amount of prescription opioids that were sold to the public. New procedures to determine whether an individual is at risk to abuse prescription medication have started to be tested and implemented, as well.

We see drug abuse all throughout pop culture

It’s important to note that drug abuse isn’t something that is restricted to one part of society. It affects every class, race, religion, and ethnicity in our country. Although we hear plenty of coverage about celebrities who have fallen victim to substance abuse, it is a problem that affects the working class just as prevalently (although there is evidence that suggests that creative individuals are more susceptible to addiction). Indeed, it is often the nation’s poor who suffer the most fatalities due to addiction, since they cannot often afford the treatment that is necessary to get on the path to recovery.

2017 might be the peak of the opioid epidemic

According to some researchers at Columbia University, there is a good chance that 2017 might be the peak of the opioid epidemic. In a 2014 report that was published in Injury Epidemiology, the Columbia researchers say that they ran the current numbers of opioid addiction and compared it to other epidemics in the past (as well as behavioral health issues, like obesity) and concluded that it would probably follow the same cycle of rise and decline, based on public awareness and preventative actions. Based on this model, they predict that the numbers of opioid-caused deaths will decline to 1980’s numbers by 2034.

Choosing to live your truth

Image courtesy of sritangphoto at

Image courtesy of sritangphoto at

The most profound thing that happened to me when I first got sober was the discovery that I hadn’t been ‘living my truth’. I realised that each of us has a ‘truth’ deep inside us. It is the essence of who we are. It determines the choices we make and how we express ourselves. To my horror I realised I had become a ‘fake’ person. I made choices based on other people’s approval, not my own. I expressed opinions I thought other people would want to hear, regardless of whether I believed them or not. I had lost my path. I saw how this was tied into my drinking, how alcohol numbed the understanding of what I was doing (because deep down I knew). So I saw for the first time that I had to begin to be true to myself if I wanted to overcome drinking.

Living your truth is hard.

Not living your truth is harder.
Make your choice.
Only one of these choices leads to completeness, peace and joy, to freedom, whilst the other leads to darkness and despair.
I realised I had a choice in how I lived. Up until then I had no idea that I had a choice or could control the direction of my life, but I saw that every time I chose to do or say something that was incongruent with who I was, then I was choosing not to live my truth.
I had lost myself.
Who I had become was not my truth.
That’s why I hurt so much.
That’s why I had to anaesthetise the hurt.
That’s why I drank.

The emperor who wore no clothes
I was the emperor with no clothes, pretending that I wasn’t naked, surrounded by people who colluded in my self-deception. Everything was superficial and false.
I didn’t know how to communicate with anyone; I had never learnt about my ‘inside world’ and how much this mattered, how much it impacted on my outside world.
Nobody had ever told me about how to deal with my feelings, how to be true to myself, how to act with integrity. It’s only after years of personal development and seeking answers that I have finally found what I have been looking for: that my external world is a reflection of my internal world; if I take care of that, then everything else will be OK.
This is the world’s best kept secret.
Just think how different our lives would be if we were all true to ourselves. If we didn’t feel ashamed, embarrassed or confused about how we felt. Imagine what it would be like if we were all so much more authentic.
The Emperor’s New Clothes is a parable that teaches children that pride comes before a fall. Pride is bound up with what we think other people think about us. It trips us up when we place an emphasis on being happy through influencing and manipulating other people’s opinion of us. If we get trapped in this illusion then we become victims of self-delusion, like the emperor.

Alcohol steals our authenticity
There’s something about alcohol abuse that steals our authenticity, that erodes our integrity and keeps us hypnotised by all the promises it fails to deliver. It promises us joy, companionship, connection, love, popularity, fun, excitement, but when we receive those much sought after gifts they are hollow, without worth, an empty promise, an illusion created by our own longing for it to be so.
Like the emperor’s new clothes, it’s a trick, a falsehood, a lie that we are all willingly buying into again and again, because it’s not the fine clothes or alcohol that we actually seek, it’s the feelings we think they will bring us.
It’s the feelings we are chasing. We want to change how we feel.

This is an exclusive extract from my book ‘Why you drink and How to stop: journey to freedom.’
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Available on Amazon, iTunes and Barnes & Noble.

High Sobriety – a new treatment paradigm

Image courtesy of Zuzuan at

Image courtesy of Zuzuan at

Marijuanna has been in the news a lot lately, more and more states are legalizing the sale of it. Research is showing that medical marijuanna can have some real benefits in treating lots of conditions.
A lot of people in recovery from addiction feel a little nervous around this subject. After all, for us, drugs are the enemy. For many of us, marijuana was the entry drug. It was our first step into the dark side of illegal drug use that took us to stronger, harder more addictive substances. I had a very bad reaction to smoking pot it induced anxiety and paranoia. So I’m very clear it’s not something I can ever mess with.

So I was pretty shocked and intrigued to hear about how marijuana can as an ‘exit drug’, or to be clear, medical marijuana as a treatment for substance abuse?

Well that is just what harm minimization clinic ‘High Sobriety’ is proposing.

It’s a lot for people to get their heads around. I’ve had my struggles with the harm minimization model but I do believe it is a very necessary way we can save lives. I am skeptical when we fund things like needle exchanges (which is a good harm reduction measure, if part of wider treatment options) but we also need to fund other treatment options, so that people can move down the spectrum, to not just surviving, but thriving also.
I wanted to ask my friend and colleague Joe Schrank some questions about the new clinic. Not only does he provide some really interesting insight into medical marijuana he also raises some interesting questions about the treatment industry as a whole. Please read what he has to say and let me know your thoughts.

Joe Schrank - recovery warrior

Joe Schrank – recovery warrior

Joe, so I see you are involved in a treatment program that is based in the harm minimization model rather than the abstinence one? Can you tell me more?

At the moment my sole focus is in developing, High Sobriety, the harm reduction program. I’m not looking to disparage abstinence based programs of give the impression that harm reduction is better or the solution. The truth is, we use harm reduction all the time, motorcycle helmets, condoms, there is nothing new about it. My aim is to expand the points of entry for some people. For many, the idea of “nothing ever again” is just too daunting and while I personally am intoxication free, like Pope Francis, who am I to judge?

That sounds very interesting. I used to work in harm minimization in the UK, but I’m curious why there seems to be very little of it in the USA. Why do you think that is and how do you think this new paradigm will be received?

There are certain things Americans don’t like. Harm reduction is one of them. In spite of overwhelming evidence of the benefits of safe injection rooms, there aren’t any in America.
Our relationship with drugs has a long and torrid history and we have been stuck in the morass of criminalization. As much as we hear “addiction is a disease” Americans don’t believe that. We aren’t what we say, we are what we do and what we do is shame addiction, marginalize people inflicted with it, we set them up for failure and worst of all, we out them in cages. There will be a day when we look at our drug policy with as much shame and regret as we now view Manzanar. For Americans relationship with drugs to improve we need truth and then reconciliation.
The first truth is that criminalizing addiction makes no more sense then criminalizing diabetes. We need to understand that drug policy needs massive reform. Part of that reform would have to be the expansion of how people enter a system of improvement and how they stay engaged.
I think this will be received with a really strong reaction. People who have achieved total abstinence in a 12 step program hold that in the highest possible esteem. The premise is based on an act of providence. Harm reduction challenges that and that will always have a strong reaction. I think there are people who are very frustrated with rehab and how ineffective it is, they will be more open to the idea. For families who have lost someone to addiction, would they take them back if it meant they weren’t totally abstinent? Of course they would. There is a tremendous amount of pain and suffering out there because of the overdose catastrophe. I have lost someone very close to me to an overdose. I don’t carry guilt that we tried to force 12 step abstinence with him, but I carry regret that we didn’t give harm reduction a try.

You make some very good points and there are some hard truths in there. I definitely came from that hard-line view that abstinence is the only way, but I came to realize that I believed everyone should have the same recovery I did. I know realize that saving lives is far more important. I’m open to the idea of medical marijuana but still have some reservations. How does it work and what is the research saying?

Works like other rehab, research is solidly in favor of it as a possibility. Amanda Reiman, the Berkeley professor will address all research questions and we will post studies.

How is the abstinence based treatment community responding to High Sobriety?

They are hostile and vitriolic. Many of them who run 65k a month Malibu rehabs are lobbing “this is a money-making scheme” grenade. We are a for profit venture, like the $40 billion treatment business. We have a pro bono mission to take combat vets who want off pills and booze. I’m a socialist. If I get rich, it’ll be funding an orphanage in Kenya to bring boys to the west. I totally understand that people hold abstinence as near and dear. I have no agenda to change that. I keep saying “that’s why the TV comes with an off switch”. There is anecdotal and scholarly evidence that people can maintain cessation of lethal drugs with using cannabis as part of that effort.

The “give me abstinence or give me death” mantra is just wrong. If the current culture of abstinence that permeates so extensively is so effective, why are there so many families with a dead loved one? There are some people, mostly skilled, seasoned and trained clinicians who can say “that makes a lot of sense”. I think 12 step culture needs Vatican 2. Religions understand this. That’s why Jews have orthodox and reformed. That’s why Catholics are moving in that direction. There are certainly mass in Latin Opus Dei people and there are people in my parish that has a large gay congregation. 12 step culture has become the tea party of recovery: opposed to science, denying change, and longing for a culture that has passed. It’s very similar to people who are “opposed to gay marriage” ok, don’t marry anyone of your gender or “opposed to abortion” ok, don’t have one. The notion of imposing your way onto others doesn’t ever sit well with me. Read Langston Hughes “the more I live, the more I learn, dig and be dug in return”.

This is a really interesting conversation and really about so much more than medical marijuana, you are disrupting the market place so in many ways this is a normal reaction. You and I are both abstinent and I know 100% there is no other way for me. But I also accept that my way, is not the only way, and we are in the middle of this crisis where so many unnecessary lives are being lost.
Could you define what successful treatment looks like for your clients? And what happens when they leave?

What happens when they leave? They are beloved, they have said “you know, drugs are bad! Why didn’t I think of that?” And they become counselors. Just like on TV.
One of our goals here is to figure out what happens with solid outcome studies. My sense is Outcome studies are skewed to people doing well because people who have been to an AA indoctrination camp are afraid and ashamed to engage if they haven’t done this perfectly. My sense of what happens is life. Ebb flow, hurdles and victories, grief and loss the whole enchilada.

Please check out the High Sobriety website for more information on their research and goals.

Busting the, ‘when you’re drunk, you tell the truth’ myth.

Paul Gascoigne (ex-British soccer player) has been hospitalized again. He was drunk and got into a fight after racially abusing some other guests. This is awful on many levels and racial abuse should never be tolerated but it’s important to point out that Paul Gascoigne is a really, really sick man.
It’s also important to not jump to the conclusion that Paul Gascoigne is a racist and he spoke the truth because he was drunk. I’ve heard the phrase ‘when you are drunk, you speak the truth’ repeated many times and feel the need to point out that it is a total myth.
You don’t speak the truth when you are drunk. What you do is speak a lot of old bollocks.
Alcohol doesn’t give us the courage to open our inner most thoughts and feelings to others. What it does do however, is open our inner life for everyone to see. And if your inner world is full of self-loathing, hatred, loneliness and desperation, then alcohol will manifest exactly that in your words and deeds. Far from revealing himself as a racist, Gascoigne was instead, revealing his own self-loathing. Racists remarks are so deplorable that they cause a very immediate and visceral reaction. This is probably the reaction Gascoigne’s own sub conscious was looking for. As it confirmed his view of himself: ‘I am so disgusting and un-lovable, who could bear to be near me?’ Let me do something really disgusting, so I can indeed, confirm my own disgusting-ness to myself?’

Make sense?

John Galliano and anti-Semitism
I wrote about this a few years ago when John Galliano similarly made some abhorrent anti-Semitic remarks that were made public. I argued then, that rather than see Galliano as an anti-Semite, it was actually the most disgusting thing, his sub-conscious could come up with, that would manifest how he felt about himself. His sub-conscious knew it would bring an immediate reaction that would push everyone away. That is exactly what alcoholism wants. It wants you alone, without friends and without hope. Because then all you have to turn to, is the drink.

I would never apologize for racists or anti-Semitism and full apologies and amends should always be made, regardless of when, or how these remarks were made. No exceptions. John Galliano went to rehab and then went to considerable lengths to atone and make amends for what he said. Gascoigne needs to do the same.
But I also believe Gascoigne needs our compassion. His downward spiral is continuing and his friends and family must be extremely worried about him.
Gascoigne and Galliano are both intelligent people, both of them in their stone-cold sober minds would know exactly what kind of reaction those comments would have. That’s exactly why their drunk selves said them.

What are we really communicating?
So when you hear someone who is drunk (and unhappy) say something out of character, or harmful, or hurtful. Look a bit closer. What is it they are actually trying to communicate? Communication isn’t always about the words we use. Many of us have feelings we are at a loss to express or process. If left this way then they will be manifested in our behavior. When we are disgusted with ourselves, it will come out in what we do. What we do, often speaks louder than what we say. And what we say, is often a cry for help from a dark and troubled soul.
Hear that.

2016 and the celebrity death curse

George Becker

George Becker

Two legends of music and film passed away this week, you may have heard of them; Carrie Fisher and George Michael. Both died before their time and both had a long history of addiction and mental health problems. Not too much is known at this point, but stories are emerging that they were both using again before their deaths. George Michael’s death was reported as ‘heart failure’ and Carrie Fisher’s death seems related to a heart attack she had days earlier.
So of course, on hearing of this terrible news about people I don’t know, I made it all about me.
They both used cocaine; they both died of heart issues; they both died before their time. Could that also happen to me?

I used a lot of cocaine in my 20’s. And because cocaine, like all illegal drugs, is unregulated I have no idea what I was putting in my body. Of course the thought horrifies me now. But back in the day when I was young, foolish and addicted I really didn’t care. I knew cocaine was cut with some bad s**t and I knew it could cause heart problems, but I couldn’t equate that information to my own need to use it on a nightly basis.
When I heard about George Michael’s death a chill ran through me. I am now of the age, that 53 really doesn’t seem all that old and certainly seems too young to die. My first thought (‘cause it’s always, all about me) was, ‘what if that happened to me too? What if my heart gives up in a decade or so. What if I hardened my arteries and I don’t know it and I’m living with a time bomb? What if I haven’t really escaped the consequences of addiction?’
Am I being irrational?

The irony now, of course, is that I really, really want to live. Even though I was often suicidal in my early 20’s I didn’t really want to die, I just never knew how to live and now I’ve figured that out, I’m scared the consequences of my drug use may still, one day, creep up on me. Those were my first thoughts whenever a celebrity, who had a history of addiction, died this year. Addiction casts a long shadow.

Image by Salvatore courtesy of

Image by Salvatore courtesy of

Carrie Fisher and George Michael were both artists who produced incredible work despite their addictions. They still had so much life to live. There is a view on the internet that 2016 is killing all our childhood icons before their time, that for some reason 2016 is out to get us. This may be some kind of defense mechanism so we can avoid talking about the real issues, let’s blame it on 2016 being a bad year rather than talking about how addiction and mental health problems have real and preventable consequences. I would prefer us to be talking about how we still need more, much, much more resources to help those who are still struggling. That mental health and addiction services are still underfunded and *sigh* addiction is still seen as some kind of moral failing rather than a brain disease. Because so many of these deaths are unnecessary and trust me when I say, we’re not done yet.

Tools out there for at risk kids – guest post

By: Alek Sabin
Tools out There for at Risk Kids pic 3
Growing up is a hard thing to do. The series of experiences that carry us from the innocence of our early youth to being full-fledged adults ready to take on the world is a beautiful journey, but not necessarily a pretty one. However, there are some kids out there who have an even harder time, due to the background that they come from, whether it be a socioeconomic issue, or just a problem with their home life. Nowadays, these kids are labeled as “At-risk” or street kids, and have often seen or experienced things that nobody their age should ever have to. Being forced to grow up a little quicker, in such a short amount of time, often makes them difficult to handle for adults who are used to thinking of youth in only a certain way. However, there is absolutely no excuse that our society should have for letting any young people slip through the cracks, while we should be lifting them up to help them succeed. In honor of that pursuit, here are some tools out there for at-risk kids…

Government agencies

The first line of defense that is out there fighting for at-risk kids is government agencies that are designed to help kids from poor economic backgrounds. Although it is difficult for a government agency to be set up to actually deal with the issues directly, there are dozens of different funding agencies that are meant to provide financial support to programs in geographic areas that can deal with the problem at the heart of the issue. These funding agencies are spread throughout the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, among many, many others. However, this is only one small part of the puzzle for helping at-risk kids, and isn’t much good on its own.

Court classes (link)

Many different at-risk kids are far more likely to end up in trouble with the law, whether through drug abuse, vandalism, or other general petty crimes. However, the issue that we are currently seeing is that our justice system is putting them into a pipeline where they will continue with these behavioral trends for the rest of their lives. This is a problem. Our criminal rehabilitation facilities are simply creating an environment that breeds more crime and makes it harder for people to escape from this lifestyle. However, there is already a much better option that is being utilized in many different cities: court classes. Court classes are specialized classes that are meant to educate youth and adults on the dangers of certain actions, such as domestic violence, underage drinking, and general addiction. For more information about court classes, check out this link here.

Early education

Sometimes the best way to help at-risk kids is to prevent them from ever actually being classified as at-risk. Studies have shown that one of the best ways to do this is to put kids in early education programs. The problem right now is that kids from lower-income backgrounds aren’t necessarily getting the early education that they will need to help them thrive in educational environments later on. However, there are many programs that are designed to help lower-income families provide pre-K education to the kids who need it most. By getting into education, earlier, kids develop skills and mindsets that will help them succeed, later on.

Specialized education

Early education is great and all, but it doesn’t actually provide anything for the kids who are already past that point and actually in need of the most help. However, for most at-risk teenagers, what has been found to be incredibly effective at helping them see purpose in their lives is specialized education. Usually, this is accomplished through charter schools that focus on specific types of education that aren’t found at standard public high schools. These focuses could range from advanced robotics engineering to performing arts, but they are usually geared around topics that are invigorating and challenging for these kids who need to find something that works as an outlet for their own intelligence and creativity.