Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Has the Time Come for Mandatory Ignition Interlock Devices?

(Note: This blog post was originally published on The Fix's website on March 25, 2015.)

It's no secret that drunk driving is one of this country's biggest safety concerns. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), every day almost 30 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. This amounts to one death every 51 minutes. In 2012, 10,322 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for nearly one-third (31%) of all traffic-related deaths in the U.S.

Wow. Those statistics are pretty sobering (pun intended).

If the cost of human lives isn't enough, drunk driving also costs this country billions of actual dollars each year. An NHTSA study cited on the Centers for Disease Control website states that the annual cost of alcohol-related crashes in the U.S. totals more than $59 billion.

Wow (again).

So how do we prevent the lethal combination of alcohol and automobiles from killing so many Americans going forward? Is there anything out there that could help reduce those astronomical figures stated above?

There is, and it's called an ignition interlock.

Historically, ignition interlock devices (IID) have been installed in the cars of people who have been convicted of driving while impaired. They prevent operation of the vehicle by anyone with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above a specified safe level. The concept is simple: Before you start your car, you exhale into the device. If it detects an unsafe BAC level, your ignition is locked and you can't start your car.

I've thought for a long time that IIDs would be an effective way to prevent people from driving while intoxicated. More than 20 years ago, after my father racked up his last of many DUIs, he had a court-ordered ignition interlock installed on his car. At the time, I was working for my dad and driving him around on sales calls. So I experienced firsthand what it's like to operate a car with an IID. And I had no problem whatsoever with it. It also kept my father from drinking and driving, which is something no one or nothing else had been able to do up to that point. As someone who worried constantly about my dad possibly hurting someone with his car, the IID actually provided me with a little bit of comfort. (That might sound silly, but it's true.)

"Why don't they just put these things on all cars?" I would frequently ask myself.

My interest in the IID idea was rekindled recently when I opened my email inbox and saw the latest daily news blast from "Join Together," a news service of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. The headline for one of the articles read:

"Putting Alcohol Ignition Interlocks in New Cars Could Prevent Many Deaths: Study"

When I clicked through to the story, I was shocked by what I read.

[Over a 15-year implementation period,] if all new cars had devices that prevent drunk drivers from starting the engine, an estimated 85 percent of alcohol-related deaths could be prevented in the United States, a new study concludes. The devices, called alcohol ignition interlocks, could prevent more than 59,000 crash fatalities and more than 1.25 million non-fatal injuries, according to the University of Michigan researchers.

Wow (yet again). Those numbers are ridiculous, but in the best possible way.

The findings from that University of Michigan study were published in the March 15, 2015, issue of the American Journal of Public Health as "Modeling the Injury Prevention Impact of Mandatory Alcohol Ignition Interlock Installation in All New US Vehicles."

The lead author of the study, Dr. Patrick Carter, an emergency physician with the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor, said most drunk drivers make about 80 trips under the influence of alcohol before they are stopped for a DUI. "If we decided that every new car should have an alcohol ignition interlock that’s seamless to use for the driver and doesn’t take any time or effort, we suddenly have a way to significantly reduce fatalities and injuries that doesn’t rely solely on police,” he told Reuters.

The study also concluded that over $340 billion in injury-related costs could be avoided over the same 15-year period.

Reading numbers like those cited in the U of M study make me think of a blog I wrote about a year ago called "Aren't All Lives Worth Saving?" The subject of that blog was the NHTSA's decision to require rearview cameras in all new cars sold in the U.S. by 2018. What prompted that decision? The NHTSA estimated rearview cameras in all cars could "prevent between 13 and 15 deaths and as many as 1,300 injuries annually."

Hmm. If you average the cumulative totals arrived at by the U of M researchers, ignition interlocks could prevent more than 3,930 fatalities and 83,300 injuries annually. That's way more than the backup cams' 15 deaths and 1,300 injuries. So let's mandate IIDs on all new cars. It's a no-brainer, right?

Of course, it isn't. In fact, it's a crazy idea, because it would make cars more expensive. Oh, and there's also the little issue of people's rights. This is America, dammit, and no one's going to tell people when they can or can't drive their precious automobiles, even if it means saving lives. Can you imagine the field day the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) would have if the government required installation of ignition interlocks in all new cars? It would not be pretty.

Well, I've always enjoyed watching the ACLU do their thing, so maybe it's time for someone to officially propose mandatory IIDs and see where the idea goes. We learn from a very early age that if we abuse the privileges we have, those privileges sometimes have to be altered accordingly. Driving a car is a privilege, and if people can't do it responsibly—which means NOT doing it after they've been drinking—then maybe it's time to put a new technological safeguard in place.

If I recall correctly, a whole lot of people weren’t real thrilled when they were told they had to wear their seatbelt. But people adapted, it worked out okay, and we’re all safer because of it. Is this so much different than that? Is it really asking that much for people to be sober before they get behind the wheel and drive their car?

I think not.

What do you think about the idea? Feel free to weigh in by commenting below.

Friday, April 24, 2015

My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest

Welcome to the official announcement of the first My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest.

The idea to give away a college scholarship to someone who has been affected by their sibling's addiction came to me after I wrote a blog post a little over a year ago. That blog post talked about what I would do with the money if I ever managed to win the lottery. One of the things I mentioned was starting a foundation to assist younger siblings of addicts, because of what amazing people they are.

Then in November, I decided that winning the lottery was pretty unlikely. So my wife and I decided to put up some of our own money and create a scholarship that would help a sibling affected by addiction pay for college. The original idea was to award the scholarship to a younger sibling, but we later decided that addiction--the ultimate family disease--doesn't care if a sibling is younger or older, so why should we?

This $1,200.00 scholarship is a small one. With the cost of college tuition these days, it's not going to make a huge dent in anyone's college debt. But it will help, which is exactly what my wife and I wanted to do. We put up half the money, and the other half came from generous people who contributed via a GoFundMe campaign. (FYI: That GoFundMe link is still active. If anyone wants to donate more to the cause, we can increase the amount of the one scholarship, or give out multiple scholarships.)

And here we are.

This is the first time I've ever put together a college scholarship, so if there are little glitches here or there I hope people can deal with them. I thought we'd just gather up some money, find a deserving person to give it to, and send a check to their school. Then I realized there needed to be some kind of application and--gulp--rules.

I poked around on the Internet, looked at some scholarship applications and rules, and created a couple of documents that I hope will suffice for the My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest. (Note: Links to these documents are at the very end of this blog post.)

By the way, my wife and I decided on an essay contest because we thought it was way cooler than randomly drawing a name out of a hat. Plus, we both like to write and appreciate others' writing. Our younger son--one of those amazing siblings affected by addiction--also likes to write. So it was kind of a no-brainer. The topic for the essay contest is:

“How has your sibling’s addiction affected you and what are your dreams for your future?”

Oh, one more thing! I almost forgot! We needed judges. We needed actual living, breathing caring humans who knew a thing or two about writing, addiction, giving, etc., to read the submitted essays and figure out who deserves to win.

My wife and I made a list of people we wanted to help us with the judging, and it turned out that rounding them up was the easiest part of this whole deal; because everybody we asked said yes.

So, in addition to my wife, my younger son, and me, these are the folks who will be judging the essay submissions:

Kristen Johnston
Kristen is an Emmy Award-winning actress who starred in 3rd Rock from the Sun on NBC and currently stars in The Exes on TVLand. She is in recovery, and wrote the brutally honest and funny book Guts: The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster about her experiences. She is also a co-founder of SLAM NYC, an organization committed to starting the first sober high school in New York City. And, as if all that wasn't enough, KJo also writes an awesome blog called "One Big Mouth."

Jeanne Keister
Jeanne and her husband Don lost their son Tyler to addiction on December 23, 2012. Since then, they have worked wonders to help break the stigma associated with addiction and evoke legislative changes through their organization atTAcK addiction.

Hannah Miller
Hannah is an incredible young person in recovery who is part of the University of Michigan's Collegiate Recovery Program. She shared her story with Heroes in Recovery back in December. You can read it here: "Nine Lives"

Munchie Morgan
Munchie is a fabulous writer who lost her younger sister to an addiction-related suicide just over a year ago. She has shared her story on the Heroes in Recovery site, too. You can read it here: "My Sister Sarah."  Munchie also writes a great blog for a treatment center, the latest installment of which can be found here: "She Survived."

Jillian Speece
Jillian is one-half of the ridiculously talented husband-wife musical duo called The Bergamot. Not only does she have a phenomenal voice, but her outlook on life is one my wife and I admire so much. In addition to making music, Jillian sells her own line of wellness products on Etsy and writes a blog that is full of positivity. The Bergamot's new album, Tones, drops on May 5th. (Here's a sample of their work: https://youtu.be/uLitiRJ7QT0)

Cathy Taughinbaugh
Cathy is a parent coach who recently started the Rise Up Moms group to help mothers make positive changes in their lives. She also writes a terrific blog and offers other great resources on her website: http://cathytaughinbaugh.com 

I think that about covers it.

If you know a college student who has been affected by their sibling's addiction, and they are attending college in the fall, please share this blog with them. Maybe they'll be interested in taking a shot at this scholarship contest. All the information they need to apply/enter--requirements, rules, deadlines, etc.--should be contained in the documents below.

NOTE: These links are to Microsoft Word documents saved to Google Docs.

2015 My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest: Rules

2015 My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest: Application/Entry Form

If you have any questions about the scholarship, or if you have any problems with the documents, please contact us at:


I can't wait to give away some money in August.


Friday, April 17, 2015

The Red Roof Inn Incident

I've written in this blog on more than one occasion about how I became addicted to my son's addiction. The first time I heard that phrase--"addicted to my son's addiction"--was in David Sheff's amazing book Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction (a.k.a., The Book That Saved My Life). Up until that point, I had never really noticed the stranglehold my son's addiction had on me.

This morning I flash backed to Tuesday, April 17, 2007, which was 10 months before Beautiful Boy was even published. I was looking through my electronic journal and read the entry from exactly eight years ago.

Damn, I was pretty messed up. How messed up? Here's your first clue: The journal entry was actually written from a Red Roof Inn about 10 miles from my house.

Eight years ago tonight, my son started an argument because he wanted to have a friend he had met during a recent hospital stay over to our house on Friday night. My wife and I didn't think it was the best idea for a number of different reasons (timing, our son's awful report card, etc.), but our son would not take no for an answer. The initial fight was between my wife and my son, but I eventually joined in. (Funny: When the argument first started, I told my younger son, "Great. Just what we need. Another fight." He told me, "Just ignore it. That's what I do." I probably should've taken his advice.)

When my son was using, he was full of anger. To make matters worse, I was full of anger, too. I was in the process of learning about addiction, but I was still in that "maybe-if-I-yell-at-him-loud-enough-it'll-make-him-stop" phase. Boy, could we yell and swear at each other. I'm surprised the windows didn't shatter.

The initial argument about having a friend over quickly deteriorated into something more. And worse. As I wrote in my journal:

"We then spent about 30 minutes arguing about school, smoking pot, [my son] wanting to be a rock star, [my son] wanting to drop out, [my son] wanting this and that."

It's amazing, really, how selfish people in active addiction can be. It's like self-entitlement on steroids to the nth power.

The journal entry continues:

"After 30 minutes or so of arguing, I just told [my son] and [my wife] that I would take the blame for everything. For [our son] being screwed up. For our family being screwed up. Everything. All because I likely spoiled [our son] because I wanted to be a better father than my asshole father was. With that I went upstairs, packed a bag, and headed off to the Red Roof Inn. Maybe my going away for the night will calm things down."

That's how addicted I was to my son's addiction. I let it rule my life. My emotional state and so many of my actions were totally influenced by my son and his substance abuse. When things with my son were reasonably okay, I was reasonably okay. But when things were bad, I was fucked up. And then some.

Another thing about that night eight years ago that illustrates my point: My wife and I had tickets to a concert we really wanted to go to. Of course, I couldn't go. At least that's what I thought at the time. In reality, I wouldn't go. Because I had let my son's addiction overtake my entire life. So instead of going to a live music show with my wife that night, I ended up in a Red Roof Inn all by myself.

I said in my journal that I went to the hotel so things at home would maybe calm down a bit. But deep down inside, I knew that wasn't the real reason I left the house. I left because I was running away from the problem. I had simply had enough that night and wanted to escape the pain. It was probably the coward's way out, but at the time it seemed like a damn good idea.

Addiction is a family disease. When a family member is struggling with substance abuse, every person in that household is deeply affected. That's just the nature of the beast. The trick is learning how to live a relatively "normal" life while all hell is breaking loose around you. Is it easy? Hell no. Is it possible? Yes, but it takes quite a bit practice. Thank God I eventually became reasonably good at it.


"Angry people are not always wise." --Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Semicolon Project

I posted the above photo on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter this morning. Afterwards, I had a number of people ask me what the photo was all about. Why on earth did I have a semicolon drawn on my wrist???

The answer is simple. The semicolon on my wrist is in response to a request from The Semicolon Project. On their Facebook page, The Semicolon Project posted this photo:

A semicolon represents a sentence the author could've ended, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.

Wow. That's powerful stuff.


In January of 2006, my son attempted suicide. It was during a manic episode he had while being weaned off of one anti-depressant and onto another. He intentionally overdosed on anti-depressants and aspirin. For what it's worth, despite its mild-mannered reputation, aspirin can be fatal when taken in large quantities. Fortunately, one of the things our son had going for him was that the aspirin he took was of the enteric-coated variety, which slows down the dissolving and absorption of the aspirin. This may have actually saved his life.

My wife was the one who found our son in the attic at about 1:30 a.m. He was crying and explained what he had done. When my wife woke me up and told me what had happened, it was like I was having the worst nightmare ever. A hurried trip to the emergency room ensued, and doctors pumped our son's stomach. After being given a clean bill of physical health, our son took an ambulance ride to a psychiatric hospital, where he would stay for a few days (mandatory for a teenager after a suicide attempt).

Physically, our son was okay. Mentally, he was not.

My son's severe depression and anxiety preceded his addiction, which is very common among people with substance abuse disorders. He began self-medicating in order to feel "normal." He simply wanted to make the negative feelings he was experiencing go away.

That night in January of 2006 was the beginning of a long and tumultuous period, not just for my son but for our entire family. It would be July of 2012 before things finally settled down and a sense of normalcy returned to our world. As I type this, my son is 2 years, 9 months, and 2 weeks clean and sober. And you know what else? His depression is under control and he's happy.

Mental illness can come out of nowhere and kick you in the ass. But no matter how bad you feel, suicide is not the answer; instead, it's a permanent solution to a short-term problem.

If you are experiencing depression or some other form of mental illness, please seek help. Please, please, please find a professional to talk to. Or, if you're too scared to do that, at the very least find a friend to talk to. The important thing is to talk. Let somebody know how you are feeling. They can assist you in getting the help you need. Believe it or not, you can feel better again.

Remember: The author is you and the sentence is your life. Make use of that semicolon and keep that sentence going. You are so worth it.


P.S. I invite all of you to draw a semicolon on your wrist, to remind you of the struggles many people are dealing with. Even if it's not April 16th anymore when you read this, put a semicolon on your wrist for one day. And feel free to share a photo of that semicolon with me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

"The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen." --Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

New Heroes in Recovery Blog: Traveling for Treatment

My latest blog over at the Heroes in Recovery​ website posted today. It's called "Traveling for Treatment," and it discusses some of the advantages of sending your loved one far(ther) away to get help for their substance abuse problem.

We live in Michigan, and when the option of sending our son to California for treatment presented itself, my wife and I thought it was a crazy idea--at first. But in hindsight, it was the best thing for everyone.

I'd appreciate it if you took a couple of minutes to read my Heroes blog. Like it, share it, Tweet it, etc. And, if you feel so inclined, leave a comment underneath it to let me know what you thin

Here's a direct link to the post:


Also, while you're at the Heroes in Recovery website, be sure to take notice of the newly revamped design of the site. It's the same great information, but in a fresher, cleaner, and easier-to-navigate package.

Thanks again for all your support.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Life Can Certainly Be Challenging

Robert Frost once said, "In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on."

Boy, ain't that the truth.

Back in the days of my son's active addiction, I would find myself waking up in the morning and wondering how life could possibly go on in the midst of our crisis. Instead of reaching for the snooze button, I wanted to reach for a pause button, so I could put everything else in my life on hold while I focused on getting my son better.

But there was no pause button back then. And there isn't one now, either.

When I first lost my job in December of 2014, a lot of people expressed their sympathy to me. While I appreciated their kindness, I told them that losing my job was just a tiny blip on the radar compared to all the things I had been through with my son. That's still true, but my life has certainly been getting a bit more challenging recently.

It's been 486 days since I've had a regular full-time job with benefits. I admit that I never expected to be out of a job this long. Thank God for the freelance social media gigs I've been able to pick up. Unemployment benefits have helped, too, although those will disappear in two weeks.

Money isn't everything, but it does take money to survive in this world. When your job goes away, it doesn't take your bills with it. Those keep showing up. Figuring out how to pay them can sometimes be like solving the story problem from hell. And I've never liked math.

On top of the continuing unemployment saga, some other things have creeped into my life lately and raised my stress level more than just a tiny bit.

My wife's parents are not doing well. They're getting old and need more care than they're willing to accept right now. If they lived closer, it might not be as stressful. But they're in northern Michigan, nearly 300 miles away. That makes running over to check up on them a little bit inconvenient.

My younger son is also going through some issues that seem like another one of God's tests. It's kind of funny. As a parent coach for the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, I'm supposed to help parents who are going through struggles with their kids. Unfortunately, right now I feel like I'm the one who needs coaching.

I've been great at dealing with stress over the last few years; maybe because there's been less of it in my life. The last couple of months, though, have been, to say the least, interesting. It all seems to have started with an outbreak of shingles, which they say can sometimes be brought on by (ahem) stress. In fact, this morning I felt twinges of the intense nerve pain that comes along with shingles. (Residual pain is not uncommon.) Perhaps this is my body's way of telling me to chill the fuck out.

I'll get through this little bump in the road, and these things, too, shall pass. I'm incredibly lucky to have the best support system I could ask for in my wife. She's constantly telling me that things will work out and that great things are coming our way, and I'm pretty sure she's right. (For the record, she's right most of the time.) I just have to remind myself of that every once in a while.

In the meantime, I'll tackle the family issues, continue doing my freelance work, and keep looking for that job I'm passionate about. Because, like Robert Frost said: life goes on.

"Go forward, be brave, and keep the faith." --Ryan Adams

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter 2015

It's Easter Sunday and I have a gigantic standing rib roast slow cooking in the oven. The whole house smells like mouthwatering meat, and that's a good thing.

In a few hours, we will sit down to Easter dinner. Me, my wife, and my two boys, along with my mom and a friend of my wife's who is alone this Easter. Unfortunately, both my brother and youngest sister aren't feeling well today, so they have to forego coming to dinner. But we will deliver meals to them so that they don't miss out on the good food. (My oldest sister lives out of state and we don't get to see her very often for holidays. She is here in spirit, though.)

I think I've mentioned before that my wife and I are not very religious. However, we are incredibly spiritual. So even though we don't go to church or study scripture, we do pray and believe that there is a higher power who is in charge of all things.

I know this because of the simple fact that today is a stress-free, worry-free holiday full of nothing but gratitude and love. The four people who mean the most to me--my wife, my boys, and my mom--will be together. And the beast of addiction will be nowhere in sight.

Holidays were pretty horrible for us for a number of years. Case in point: Easter, 2009. Looking back at the blog post from that day, I'm reminded of how things were:

This morning I was awakened by noise in my son's room at 5:15am. When I got up to investigate, I discovered that the noise was him going to bed. Going to bed at 5:15am. What is wrong with this picture? I can only imagine what time he'll be getting up today. I'm guessing it's probably a pretty safe bet that he won't be at the table for Easter dinner. Oh, well...

But you know what? Things changed. Sure, it took more than three years from that date before my son finally got clean and sober and started to turn his life around. But we never gave up, it happened, and things are better today.

My son is 2 years, 9 months, and 3 days clean today. And my wife and I are grateful beyond words for all 1,007 of those days. We hope they turn into 2,007, then 3,007, then 10,007, etc.

If you celebrate Easter, I hope you have a wonderful holiday with people you love. Hug them, tell them you love them, and enjoy being in the moment with them. I know that's the plan in this house.

Like my spiritual advisor, Anne Lamott, says (and I know I've gushed about this quote before):

"Right this minute, we understand that this is all there is, so let's really be together."

I can't say it any better than that.


I mixed up some salad dressing, left the kitchen for a minute, and returned
to find one of my cats enjoying the remnants of the olive oil. Happy Easter!