Thursday, May 29, 2014

My Latest Blog Over at Heroes in Recovery

My latest blog for the Heroes in Recovery website just went live. It's about being the change you want to see in your loved one, my sobriety, and how parents should consider being examples for their kids. The old "practice what you preach" theory, if you will.

I invite you to check it out and, if you'd like, leave a comment over at this link:

"Be the Change You Want to See in Your Loved One"

Thanks for your continued support.


Thursday Thoughts

I was on Facebook this morning and started seeing friends' weekly "Throwback Thursday" posts. I wanted to do something a little different, so I came up with "Thursday Thoughts." About a minute later I had written down a list of ten off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts that I feel are incredibly important to carry around with you in life. After a quick trip to the scanner upstairs, here they are:

Happy Thursday, everyone. :)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Get a Discount on the CMC's CRAFT Classes!

If you follow my blog, you know that I've posted quite a bit recently about Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change, the fabulous new book from the Center for Motivation and Change (CMC). The book is based on the Community Reinforcement and Family Training approach (CRAFT), a compassionate and effective behavior therapy approach for engaging a reluctant loved one into treatment.

The CRAFT method has been proven to be very effective, and I believe with all my heart that it would've made my whole family's life significantly easier had we known about it when my son's addiction was first presenting several years ago. (I can't even begin to tell you how excited I am to be going to New York City the weekend of June 20th to be trained in CRAFT by the CMC, in conjunction with the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.)

If you're interested in learning more about CRAFT, the CMC is now offering classes to the general public. You can attend the classes in person (in NYC) or online. In the classes, family members will learn strategies to take care of themselves while also increasing the motivation for positive change in their loved ones. You'll learn how to best utilize CRAFT and the CMC's 20 Minute Guide for Parents and for PartnersThe CMC states that "in research studies, CRAFT results in loved ones voluntarily entering treatment more than twice as often when compared with only going to Al-Anon or using the well-known 'intervention' approach."

Now, for the best part. The CMC has been kind enough to offer readers of this blog a discount on the CRAFT classes. If you use the code "mylifeas3d" to purchase a recurring monthly subscription to the classes, you will get each month at a discounted price. Note that there are two places to put in the discount code: one on the top of the form (a small link to add the discount), and another in the last line at the checkout.

More information about the classes is available online at this link:

NOTE: The first class is this coming Monday (June 2nd) at 8pm EDT.

Many thanks to the people at the Center for Motivation and Change for offering a discount on these classes to my readers!

"The CRAFT model of helping is based on understanding what works. By being aware and tracking the data, you can feed the outcome of every interaction back into your problem-solving system for modification, celebration, or a return to the grindstone if necessary." --From Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Depression and Addiction: We Must Break the Stigmas

(Note: This blog post also appears on The Huffington Post's blog site under the same title: "Depression and Addiction: We Must Break the Stigmas.")

Depression runs in my family.

I didn't know that for a long time. But once I found out, it was a relief of sorts, because a light bulb went off in my head and I suddenly had an explanation for some difficult things that were going on in my world. It explained things that were going on with my son and, later on, things that were going on with me.

My son was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety disorder at the age of 15.

He had been a pretty happy, "normal" kid growing up, but he slipped into an inexplicable emotional funk in his early high school years. He was sad, withdrawn, and struggled with everyday life. It was heartbreaking to watch. It got to the point where he couldn't even get out of bed to go to school.

My wife and I got our son into therapy and he was prescribed an anti-depressant. Unfortunately, the first anti-depressant someone tries isn't always the right anti-depressant; it can take some trial and error to find an effective medication. That was the case with our son, and during the search for the right medication things got pretty dicey.

This was the start of a roller coaster ride of depression and addiction for our son and our family. We didn't know it back then, but the next several years of our lives would be a living hell and the ultimate test for my wife and I as parents.


Let me share some statistics with you:

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), "An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older--about one in four adults--suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. When applied to the 2004 U.S. Census residential population estimate for ages 18 and older, this figure translates to 57.7 million people. . . . In addition, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and Canada. Many people suffer from more than one mental disorder at a given time. Nearly half (45 percent) of those with any mental disorder meet criteria for 2 or more disorders."

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), "Mental and substance use conditions often co-occur. In other words, individuals with substance use conditions often have a mental health condition at the same time and vice versa." SAMHSA goes on to say, "Approximately 8.9 million adults have co-occurring disorders; that is they have both a mental and substance use disorder" and "Only 7.4 percent of individuals receive treatment for both conditions with 55.8 percent receiving no treatment at all."

Those numbers are staggering. And the numbers that boggle my mind the most are the ones about people suffering from co-occurring disorders (a mental disorder and a substance use problem):

Only 7.4 percent of individuals receive treatment for both conditions with 55.8 percent receiving no treatment at all.

That, to me, is inexcusable.

Co-occurring disorders (COD) are incredibly common among substance abusers. People suffering from depression, mood disorders, bipolar disorder, anxiety and panic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social phobia, and the like frequently turn to drugs to self-medicate themselves in hopes of feeling "normal."

That was the case with my son. His depression and anxiety were eating him alive, so he turned to marijuana, prescription drugs that weren't his, and, eventually, heroin. But his goal wasn't to become an addict. He just wanted to escape his negative feelings and try to feel normal. In fact, I can remember my wife and I holding our son in our arms while he cried and said to us, "Why can't I just feel normal?"

In my mind, the reason so many people don't get the treatment they need is simple: mental illness and addiction are still shrouded in stigma. It's 2014, but people suffering from mental illness often times don't want to ask for professional help because they fear being labeled as "crazy" or a "wack job." They keep their negative feelings bottled up inside and struggle through life on a daily basis, never knowing the happiness or normalcy they are capable of experiencing. Not only do they not talk to a professional about their issues, they don't even discuss their problems with their loved ones. They are embarrassed and ashamed, and resist taking that first step: seeking treatment.

Addiction is the same way. According to Heroes in Recovery, "While 23 million people each year need help for addiction, only 3 million actually seek treatment." The stigma associated with addiction is overwhelming for millions of Americans. So again, people keep suffering through their day-to-day lives because they're afraid or ashamed to reach out for help. Trust me: nobody really wants to be an addict. Given the choice of affordable, effective treatment and recovery, or continuing their lives addicted to drugs, which do you think substance abusers would choose?

We need to break the stigma associated with mental health disorders and addiction so that people can feel comfortable seeking help. They need to know that it's okay to feel what they're feeling. That they're not some kind of freak. That they're not alone but one of millions of people with the same condition. They need to know that it's okay to talk about their feelings with a professional and their family and friends, because talking to people helps. They need to know that properly prescribed and physician monitored medication can help, too. Most importantly, though, they need to know that their lives can be happy and enjoyable again.


Depression runs in my family. And I have it, too.

I struggled with it for years, primarily after my son's diagnosis and the start of his addiction issues. I felt sad, alone, and worthless. It was horrible. But I finally sought therapy, found the right anti-depressant (after trying a few that didn't work), and started to feel better again. Much better.

Today I still feel better. So does my son, who found happiness through therapy and the right (legal) medication and is coming up on 23 months of sobriety. Our day-to-day lives are no longer filled with negativity and hopelessness. Sure, we have bad days once in a while, but that's just life; and we deal with it.

The difference now is that a bad day doesn't last months or years.

"Everyone needs help. That's the human condition." --Max Allan Collins

P.S. One of the organizations that helped me understand my depression early on is the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. They are a tremendous resource. One day several years ago I bought a bracelet from them. It's a green fabric cord with a little rectangular metal "charm" on it. The four sides of the charm each say something different: "embrace," "positivity," "possibility," and "+ + + + + +." I put that bracelet on when it came in the mail and I haven't taken it off since. Not even once. Every time I look at it, I'm reminded that life can be a positive experience. You just have to embrace its possibilities.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day 2014

Today is Memorial Day.

My dad served in the army during World War II as a tank commander and spent some time in Germany. That's really all I know about his stint in the army. I always wanted to know more, but I never asked him. He was an alcoholic most of my life and we had a very strained relationship because of it. By the time we reconciled--just a few months before his death--his mind was too far gone to recall such details. So I guess I'll always wonder. But I did take his army patches and medals and put them in a shadow box late last year.

I have a box full of memories. And questions.

In any case, thanks for your service, dad.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

My Debut at

I am beyond thrilled to let you know that one of my earlier blog posts--Aren't All Lives Worth Saving?--has been republished on the terrific website (Here's the direct link to my post:

I've been a reader of The Fix for a long time; the fact that I've now been published on their site is a bit humbling. They are "the world's leading website about addiction and recovery" and feature "a daily mix of breaking news, exclusive interviews, investigative reports, and essays on sober living."

The Fix just launched their new blog section today:

"The Fix is happy to announce the launch of our new blog section. We will feature a variety of expert voices and personal stories on everything to do with addiction and recovery of all kinds."

I am so grateful to be among the first bloggers featured.

Please check out my blog post on The Fix's website. I'd really appreciate it if you would leave comments on the blog post over at their site. And definitely share the post, too. Education and awareness are keys to making change happen.

To everyone who reads this blog: Thank you for your continued support. I truly appreciate it. Together we can help break the stigma.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Looking Back: Six Years Ago Today

A few minutes ago, I was looking through the MS Word file of the journal I used to keep before I started this blog. Here is an excerpt from the journal entry I made six years ago today:

Friday, May 16th, 2008, 5:42pm

How could I have failed this miserably as a parent? Tell me how.

F*ck everything. Just f*ck it all.

I admit that I, like my son, was pretty messed up back then. My son was 18-years-old and in his first rehab: the New Hope House for Men in Sault Ste. Marie, a city on the northeastern end of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The place was a combination halfway house-rehab facility, and it was the only place my wife and I could find to send our son for his marijuana addiction. (Yes, despite what insurance companies told us--and may tell you--marijuana is addictive for some people.)

My son had been in Sault Ste. Marie for three weeks and kept calling and begging to come home. He even called my mother at one point and told her that the powers-that-be had asked him to leave and that she had to come pick him up as soon as she could. (That was a total lie, by the way. And it goes to show you how people with substance abuse problems think. Or, rather, don't think. My mom was 77 at the time and 350 miles away. But my son was asking her to hop in her car and come get him.)

I remember how crappy that day was like it was yesterday, the crappiness compounded by the fact that my wife and younger son were in New York City visiting her brother and his family.

I was home alone, mentally and physically exhausted. I was a complete basket case. I thought about my son's problem 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I wondered why I couldn't fix it. I wondered why my son didn't want to fix himself. I kept going back to a passage I had read from poet and author Thomas Lynch:

"It hurts so bad that I cannot save him, protect him, keep him out of harm's way, shield him from pain. What good are fathers if not for these things?"

Needless to say, I felt a tremendous amount of guilt. Sometimes I wondered if my life was even worth living anymore.

I was addicted to my son's addiction and it was killing me.

After my son got out of rehab and came home, it was only a short time before he began experimenting with heroin. Our roller coaster ride started getting scarier, and it took me a long time to get to a place where I finally felt good about myself again.

Today, I am grateful every single day for how far everyone in our family has come. There's a saying that goes, "Recovery is a journey, not a destination." That is most certainly true. Thankfully we all eventually found the right road and chose to go on the journey we're now on.

"The journey between what you once were and who you are now becoming is where the dance of life really takes place." --Barbara DeAngelis

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Starbucks and Alcohol

So apparently Starbucks started experimenting with selling alcohol in its stores as early as October of 2010, when it began serving beer and wine in a single Seattle location. Since then, the concept has expanded and as of March of this year there were 26 Starbucks stores with alcohol on the menu. But that's just the beginning.

According to a USA TODAY article, Starbucks' alcoholic beverage sales "will expand to thousands of locations." A company spokeswoman stated, "The concept is a natural progression for Starbucks as we seek to create a new occasion for customers to gather, relax, and connect with each other in the evenings."


Greg Williams, the man behind the terrific film about recovery called The Anonymous People, wrote an excellent op-ed piece that just appeared in The Washington Post. His point is that selling alcohol in their stores will alienate a key part of Starbucks' customer base. A group that drinks a lot of coffee.

"Every day, people in recovery meet up in Starbucks cafes to support one another, to talk to their 12-step sponsors and, most of all, to be welcomed in one of the few lively, popular, alcohol-free gathering places in their community," Williams writes. "Starbucks should pay special attention to them."

With millions of people in recovery in the United States, Starbucks might end up losing more than a little business. But I'm sure they probably researched this alcohol sales thing to death before taking the plunge and determined that any risk would be worth the reward of a beefier bottom line. (I mean, it's all about the $$$, right?)

For anyone reading this who thinks I'm going to go on a tirade about Starbucks selling alcohol and suggest people boycott Starbucks, I'm sorry to disappoint you. I'm not going to do that. I won't be starting a Facebook page or petition in opposition of their alcohol sales either. Starbucks isn't doing anything illegal or something that puts kids in harm's way (not directly, anyway).

I will go on record, though, as saying I am 100 percent against their decision.

In the interest of full disclosure, A.) I don't drink coffee; B.) My wife does drink coffee and is a regular Starbucks customer; C.) We own some Starbucks stock (and by "some" I mean a measly 3.1826 shares as of this writing; so, a little more than pi); and D.) My wife and I both gave up drinking alcohol almost six years ago ("Be the change you want to see in your son").

I don't go and hang out in Starbucks stores on a regular basis. In fact, the amount of time I've spent in Starbucks over the years probably adds up to maybe an hour or two. Total. Most of that time has been spent waiting in line to order my wife's "Venti decaf with a splash of traditional," so I could surprise her with it on Sunday mornings. Or waiting in the store while my wife gets her own coffee. I think I've actually sat down in a Starbucks twice in my life. (It might be only once.)

But every time I've been in a Starbucks it's seemed like a decent place for people to hang out and socialize, both for adults and kids. A family kind of place, if you will. I've also noticed how many teenagers and young adults frequent Starbucks. Anytime you combine coffee with free WiFi, you're going to have a teenager/young adult magnet on your hands.

I guess my opposition to the whole Starbucks-selling-alcohol thing--aside from the people-in-recovery angle--is two-fold.

First off--and I realize this may sound incredibly selfish since I'm a non-drinker--why can't there just be popular places for people to socialize without alcohol? Alcohol has such a huge presence in this country. Everywhere you turn, there it is. It's all over television, in restaurants, at sporting events, at more and more movie theaters, etc. Sure, lots of people use alcohol responsibly. But alcohol also causes considerable health and social problems. I'm just bothered by the fact that our society is constantly being fed the message that drinking makes your life better and more fun. People, life without alcohol doesn't suck. In fact, it's pretty great.

Secondly, why does Starbucks have to start serving alcohol in its stores when they know so many of their customers are teenagers and young adults? A large number of high school kids--maybe even junior high kids--go to Starbucks some evenings to hang out with their friends and do homework. The fact that they may be sitting at a table with their coffee or hot chocolate and their laptop, next to someone who's sipping on a beer or a glass of wine just doesn't sit well with me. Kids hanging out in places where adults are drinking alcohol seems wrong to me. You wouldn't let your kid go to a bar to do their homework, would you?

I want to make something very clear. I am in no way suggesting that Starbucks will be selling alcohol to minors or that minors will be trying to buy alcohol at Starbucks. I trust that Starbucks is responsible enough to check IDs and make sure that doesn't happen. I'm just of the opinion that kids and alcohol don't mix. Now, if Starbucks required that customers be of legal drinking age or accompanied by a parent when frequenting their stores that sell alcohol, that would change things. But I have not heard that mentioned at all and I doubt very much that Starbucks would do that.

That's my Starbucks rant. You may agree with some or all of what I said. You may also think I'm a crazy person who is just trying to impose my will on everyone. Whichever side of the fence you fall on, that's your right. Just like it's Starbucks' right to sell alcohol in their stores.

I'm going to try and convince my wife to stop drinking Starbucks coffee. (I don't know if she will or not.) And as far as our 3.1826 shares of Starbucks stock? I think it's time to sell.


Something to Think About: 90 percent of Americans with a substance abuse problem started smoking, drinking, or using other drugs before age 18.

No thank you, Starbucks.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

On Mother's Day

Today is Mother's Day. As I wrote in a blog post two years ago, my family has never been gung-ho about celebrating Mother's Day or Father's Day or any of the "Hallmark Holidays." Don't get me wrong--we don't totally ignore the day; we just don't do over-the-top celebrations. I think we kind of feel like every day should be Mother's Day.

Even so, as I get older I feel like Mother's Day has taken on a little more meaning for me.

As I get older I realize more and more what an incredible mom I have. She's 83-years-young and I swear that on most days she has more energy than I do. She's always been there for me and my three siblings, helping us in any way she can when we need it, offering support and--most of all--unconditional love. I am blessed to have her in my life, as are my kids. "Grandma Dot" is the best!

I am also reminded every single day what a fabulous mother my lovely wife is. In 24-plus years of motherhood, she has never ceased to amaze me with the love, kindness, and support she has given our two beautiful boys. Even through the most difficult times with our older son, my wife was the rock in our family, constantly telling me that things would work out. I admit that for the longest time I wasn't sure if I always believed her. But I look at where we are today and I think there's a very good chance that she may have been right.

Mother's Day has also become more significant to me for another reason. Over the last few years, I have come to know way too many mothers who have lost a child to addiction. Losing your child to such an insidious disease is something no mother--or father--should ever have to experience. I think about these moms today and can't imagine the pain they must feel; not just on Mother's Day, but every day. They didn't lose their child because of anything they did or didn't do. They lost their child to a horrible disease that is running rampant in our society.

So many of these special moms are totally selfless, too. They've taken their own personal tragedy and are using it to educate others, and to advocate for addiction prevention and proper treatment. Their child lives on in their fighting spirit and tenacity. And that's such a beautiful thing.

These mothers are truly remarkable people, and to each and every one of them I say, "Happy Mother's Day."

I also wish a "Happy Mother's Day" to all the other moms out there, especially those who have children struggling with addiction. You are true heroes.

"Motherhood is near to divinity. It is the highest, holiest service to be assumed by mankind." --Howard W. Hunter

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

My Latest Heroes Blog Post: "Don't Be Afraid of Relapse"

My latest blog post for Heroes in Recovery went live this morning. It's called "Don't Be Afraid of Relapse," and a few years ago I would've found it inconceivable to write such a thing.

Relapse is always a possibility for someone in recovery. It used to terrify me. Now? Not so much. Years of experience and education have changed my views considerably.

If you get a chance, read my new blog at the Heroes site--this is the direct link--and let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment over there. You can also give the post a rating by clicking on the little stars at the bottom of the blog. (The star you click on is the rating you give it. FYI, I really like that fifth star.)

Finally, if you'd like to share your story of recovery--or the recovery of a loved one--on the Heroes in Recovery website, please get in touch with me and I will help you through the process. Or you can share your story directly through the site. If you go that route, please mention at the start of your story that Dean referred you.


"Lapses and relapses--commonly seen as crises--are a natural part of getting better for most people. They are not failures to change but opportunities to learn." --From Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change

Monday, May 5, 2014

Quick Update on Powdered Alcohol

Here's a quick update on the powdered alcohol/Palcohol product that I blogged about on April 21st.

In the past couple of weeks, I've received mostly positive feedback from people who agree that Palcohol is a dangerous product that should never come to market. I've also received messages from people who think I'm treading on people's rights and that I'm out to "make a name" for myself. (Really?) I even received a personal Facebook message from Palcohol creator Mark Phillips, who very perceptively wrote, "It's clear you have a disdain for this product." Gee, was it that obvious, Mark?

Today I was very pleased to see this post on The Fix's website, which cites a New York Post story about New York Senator Charles Schumer's request that the FDA ban powdered alcohol. "I’m calling on the Food and Drug Administration, the FDA, to immediately step in, investigate Palcohol based on its obvious health risks and prohibit this ludicrous product from going to market," Schumer said.


Meanwhile, Palcohol has issued a response on their website. It says:

"Senator Charles Schumer recently asked the FDA to ban Palcohol. It is unfortunate that Sen. Schumer allowed himself to get caught up in the hysteria about powdered alcohol by making uninformed statements regarding Palcohol and asking for its ban. We are sending the press release to him to educate him about Palcohol. Palcohol has many positive uses and shouldn’t be banned. Rather it should be approved, taxed and regulated just like liquid alcohol."

The press release, which I find rather comical, is also included as part of Palcohol's response. It's actually titled "Extolling the Virtues of Powdered Alcohol."

Also, on their Facebook page Palcohol recently posted:

"We'll be releasing a video shortly that will show that Palcohol will not be used irresponsibly or illegally any more than liquid alcohol."

That I've got to see.

I understand that Palcohol will be pulling out all the stops to bring their product to market. It's all about the money, and powdered alcohol could certainly be a gold mine. But I honestly believe that the potential negatives of this product outweigh any positives.

If you agree, please go sign the petition I started and "like" the Facebook page I created.

I said it in my earlier blog post and I'll say it again: Powdered alcohol is a disaster waiting to happen.

This should be good.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Simple Math

1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 =  22 months clean and sober for my son today.

Full of gratitude this morning.

Recovery happens.


"We can't undo a single thing we have ever done, but we can make decisions today that propel us to the life we want and towards the healing we need." --Steve Maraboli