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At two years into my sober journey, I had traveled to the zero point of my soul. I was so full of pain and self-induced suffering that I just stopped and sat down on the floor of my bedroom one day. I became paralyzed. The room felt too big, so I closed the door. That brought me no comfort. I went into the bathroom and closed the door. Still, no relief. So, I got into the shower. In great discomfort, I just dropped to my knees and curdle up into the upper left corner of the shower. It was just me, my tears, and my overwhelming thoughts of stopping the pain for good.

I have heard it said that you live your life forward and understand your life backwards. Makes sense. Hindsight is 20/20, right! Today, I can tell you that I was not alone in my shower six years ago.

I struggled most of my life with the concept of God. As far back as I can remember. Who is this all-knowing and almighty being! Someone that takes deep refuge in the clouds, watches over and protects you? Not buying that! Someone that is all around me that I just can’t see. Not buying that either. So how about just living in the mystery of not needing physical proof and just believing. Yeah, whatever! Maybe when things are going incredibly great. But…but…certainly not when things are going bad! Because then, I’m in charge!

Discomfort was my most comfortable state of being, growing up and well into adulthood. If the discomfort was too much, I eased that discomfort with alcohol. If I felt comfortable, I felt fearful. I never wanted to feel fear. I would always wait for the discomfort to return. But I would also use alcohol to ease that fear. You know, that’s what I believed I deserved…fear and discomfort. And damn it, I was in charge! Not any God. I would not be foolish enough to believe that someone could possibly run my life when things went bad.

Why did I not choose the long-term solution to my short-term problem that day on the floor of my shower. Looking back on that day today, it is clear to me that I was not alone. I remember passing thoughts about the collective souls of those who had passed, but stay in my thoughts, they were there. I also remember the collective souls of those who are living and were trying desperately to help me, they were there. It was my frightened but determined wife. It was my friends, who didn’t understand my pain, but cared about me and wanted to help me in any way possible, they were there. It was my children, all confused and not saying anything, they were there! And nature, the bright sun shining onto the shower floor. The song birds singing, there too!

Today, I am eight years into this sober journey. I am humbled. I am grateful. Happiness fills me daily. Everyday! “God is doing for me what I could not do for myself” (Quote from the Big Book of AA). Everyday! And, everyday, my faith continues to grow stronger. Everyday, the joy that I feel inside grows alongside my faith. And, everyday, I think less and less of my troubles and my needs, and more and more about helping others in need. My intentions become my actions to help others. Those that I can help.

Yes, I traveled to the zero point of my soul, figuratively driving that bus until it just stopped and shutdown. I realize that my seemingly control of everything and everyone was nothing but an illusion. There, beside me on that day was my God.

I know who I am today. I am enough! A husband, a father, a co-worker and a friend. And, I know who I am not today. Not God!

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In the embedded YouTube video, Dr. Gabor Mate makes the assertion that one shouldn’t ask “why the addiction”, but instead ask “why the pain.”

Love, mother/child bonding, sex, vigorous exercise, spicy food, caffeine, nicotine, opiates and ethanol – all signal the chemical machine in our brain to produce dopamine, temporarily elevating the natural dopamine levels in our brain. Some, like nicotine, produce almost an instant and massive surge of dopamine, albeit short-lived. Whether it be through healthy or unhealthy methods, the opioid receptors in our brain and spinal column enjoy the higher levels of dopamine. “The increased dopamine sends a pleasure signal over and over. This feeling — and the craving to repeat it — help create addiction.” (Court JA; et al. Dopamine and nicotinic receptor binding and the levels of dopamine and homovanillic acid in human brain related to tobacco use. MRC Neurochemical Pathology Unit, UK. Neuroscience 1998 Nov; 87(1): 63-78.).

So why are some people prone to addiction while others are not? That is still unclear in the scientific community. However, there are strong indicators that have been researched and give varying degrees of plausibility.

As a boy, I lived in a constant hyper-vigilant state, never knowing when or where it might come from. I always had to be ready to move quickly. The hormone Adrenalin, on the ready to take flight. And the hormone cortisol, geared up to keep me moving. I believe that the elevated and sustained levels of cortisol in my system during those crucial brain development years (one to five) did its damage on the neuron endings (synapses) in my brain. The research that I’ve done supports my claim. Also see my post “How did this happen to me” for further explanation.

“Early childhood is a critical period in a child’s life that includes ages from birth to five years old.[1] Although stress is a factor for the average human being, it can be a molding aspect in a young child’s life.[2] Characteristics of stress include the outcomes that arise when people cannot manage internal or external difficulties.[2] Internal stressors include physiological conditions such as hunger, pain, illness or fatigue. Other internal sources of stress consist of shyness in a child, emotions, gender, age and intellectual capacity.[2] External stressors include separation from family, exposure to family conflict, abuse, divorce, a new home or school, illness and hospitalization, death of a loved one, poverty, natural disasters, and adults’ negative discipline techniques.[2] Additional external stressors include prenatal drug exposure, such as maternal methamphetamine use, other maternal and paternal substance abuse, and maternal depression.[2] A few stressors can be manageable for young children, but the effect of multiple stressors can be cumulative and significant.[2] When stress builds up in early childhood, neurobiological factors are affected.[3] In turn, hormone cortisol levels are uncontrollable and cannot be brought back to normal ranges.”

In this short 17 minute video, Dr. Gabor Mate speaks without mixing words about the association of Dopamine and addiction. This is a fascinating presentation by Dr. Mate.

Notes
(3. Poulsen, Marie K. “The Biological Context of Early Childhood Mental Health.” Preventive Medicine 583 Lecture. University of Southern California, Los Angeles. 8 Sept. 2011. Lecture.
4. Davies, Douglas. “Chapter 3: Risk and Protective Factors: The Child, The Family, and Community Contexts.” Child Development, A Practitioner’s Guide. 2nd ed. New York: Guilford Press. Print.
5. Middlebrooks JS, Audage NC. The Effects of Childhood Stress on Health Across the Lifespan. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control; 2008.
6. National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2005). Excessive Stress Disrupts the Architecture of the Developing Brain: Working Paper No. 3. Retrieved from http://www.developingchild.harvard.edu)

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In the movie “City Slickers” the venerable and grizzled cowboy named Curly, uttered the now famous line of “just one thing” when referring to the secret of life.  When asked what that one thing is, Curly would only repeat the previous line.  It was for us to go out, experience life, and find that one thing for ourselves.  That one thing for me is LOVE!.

I love my father more today than at any other time period in my life.  I make that proclamation due to several experiences that we’ve shared together over the past six years.  My 76-year-old father told me that he loved me for the first time in March of 2007.  It was the same day that I came home after spending 28 days in our local hospital’s Chemical Dependency Unit.  Kind of an odd time to tell me that he loved me but I remember thinking “hey, I’ll take it”  There have been several other endearing moments shared between my father and I since then. There is another reason that I feel a deeper connection with my father today.  Last year, after a particularly emotional heavy session with my psychologist, in which I talked exclusive about my father and recalled some of the brutal encounters that I remember from my childhood, I sat exhausted and slumped back on the couch.   Looking at my psychologist, silence lingering between us for a few minutes, I eventually broke the silence by saying  “I wonder what my father’s childhood was like.”  After another moment of silence, he responded by saying “I believe that he showed you”.  I left our session with those words pulsing in my mind.

The generational cycle of child abuse lives and thrives among us today.  What happened to me at the hand of my father, I am certain, also happened to him at the hand of his father.  For that alone I am sympathetic toward my father.  He has suffered from gastrointestinal problems and esophageal reflux as long as I can remember.  I can see how that would manifest over time when your own childhood trauma was bottled up and buried deep in your soul. What happened to me at the hand of my father was absolutely wrong.  Adults know better.  Adults should to control their actions.  If he was having trouble controlling his actions, he should have sought help. All the evidence is there.  Its been tucked away for 51 years.  Bits and pieces recalled and shared in my therapy sessions over the past 9 years.  The evidence has aged, as anything would over a half century.  Sketchy sometimes.  Missing pieces here and there.  But the core of the evidence remains vivid in my mind, in my body and in my soul.  I can feel it now as I write.  My fingers are shaking and my heart is pounding.

I have walked this earth for a smidge over a half Century and I have come to realize that I have never loved anything or anyone unconditionally.  Not my children, not my wife, not my friends and not even my beautiful unconditionally loving Weimaraner who worships the ground I walk on.  Why?  To protect myself maybe.  Fearing that I might not be loved me back.  I might feel hurt.  Bad things might happen to my family and as long as I maintain an arms length posture, I will have a back door escape should any bad things happen to them. I am no longer a victim.

Today, I am a survivor.  I am motivated to work on opening my heart so that I can experience love in all of its essence. “Don’t be afraid to be weak.  Don’t be too proud to be strong.  Just take a look into your heart my friend.  It will be the return to yourself.  The return to innocence”. – Enigma, Return to Innocence I have listened to the lyrics in that song by Enigma over a thousand times.  They are simple and pure.  I will remember them as I seek to love my kids, my wife, my parents, my friends and my fellow man…unconditionally.

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There is a gift from me to you at the end of this post. And there is also an honesty test. Scoring is pass/fail.

I have been sober for 2,118 days, 0 hours and 1 minute. Among the AAer’s that’s a “way to go, keep coming back”. Among the population at large that’s a “good job, 2118 days of healthy living, and, under their breadth…that’s 2118 days of not putting your life or someone else’s life in danger”. I celebrate both perspectives.

I have heard that success as a teacher has pretty much taught us all it can by the age of 30 – 32. Our teachers from that point on become emotional pain and suffering. Oh boy, the stark realities of adulthood.

In the 5 plus years that I’ve been sober, I have experienced 3 crippling depressions, all filled with a bountiful dose of anxiety. Was I comfortable in my own skin during those periods? Anything but! I walked around as on big human nerve ending. Through all of that I started to understand that sometimes the solution to the pain – is the pain. A valuable lesson learned during this last bout with the big black dog.

Pain and suffering can also be a motivator. Today, I find myself motivated to not take anymore self-inflicted ass kicking’s. I don’t want to burden my family by not being there in body, mind and spirit. I don’t want to burden my wife, who is busy with 3 teenagers, ailing parents and a challenging career. I want to take part in life and not withdraw into isolation.

So what action have I taken. Well, when I was struggling to make it through the day I focused on “one day at a time.” I often repeated “let go and let God”, don’t take resentments “live and let live”, “don’t think, do, no matter how difficult it may seem”. I forced myself to not isolate. I practiced being honest with myself and others. I stopped looking at myself in the mirror every 5 minutes, quick glances to see how depressed I looked and what might be visible to others. That, of course, would be total self-centeredness in full bloom. I listened to others that I trusted and I did what they said. I knew that my perception was off and that I was telling myself every possible thing that was bad and untrue. I went back to AA. I bought a new Big Book because I threw my last one out when I graduated myself from AA, the second of three times. And then I and started to read.

“Selfishness – self-centeredness. That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate.

So our troubles, we think, are of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so. Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it will kill us!”

Excerpt taken from page 62 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Copyright 1939, 1955, 1976, 2001 by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. All rights reserved.

Pain and suffering motivated me to take action. I am grateful for that.

When I first got sober I went to 90 meetings in 90 days. I went to four, sometimes five AA meetings a week during my first two years of sobriety. Putting in the time in early sobriety gave me the foundation and the solution to address my recent troubles. I am now into the solution and humbled once again. I am happy and str living in the present.

OK, the honesty test. Did you go for the instant gratification, skip the post and go right to the gift?

The gift. Google ‘sobriety calculator’ and bookmark this useful tool.

Happy Holidays!

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Childhood trauma, in whatever form it takes, extinguishes one’s voice. As the soul fractures and paralysis prevails, an audible voice can no longer be heard. It becomes cast in fear, shame, confusion and a sense of loss. Now, weighted under undefinable conflict and bound by shame, the child marches on in life. A veritable time bomb, highly susceptible to substance abuse and a wide spectrum of mental illness, awaits the adult.

A lunar eclipse has begun and is visible in our atmosphere. I am going to watch this event because I love nature and I love the universe. I love the innocence and the vulnerability that nature embraces. It too, has no voice, only beauty, innocence and awe.

Here is what NASA says about this cosmic event . “A lunar eclipse occurs when Earth is directly between the sun and the moon, blocking the sun’s rays and casting a shadow on the moon. As the moon moves deeper and deeper into Earth’s shadow, the moon changes color before your very eyes, turning from gray to an orange or deep shade of red,” the NASA website said.

The description put forth by NASA sounds akin to the trauma and the ensuing shame that abandonment of the mind, body and soul experience during the act of abuse. Waxing poetically, the child could be likened to the moon in this instance.

I want to give an audible voice to childhood trauma and illuminate the devastating impact it has on the human soul. Who could possibly touch a child inappropriately if they knew, to any degree, what the long-term destructive impact most likely will be to that innocent child.

Our world is abuzz right now in conflict, watching the sexual abuse scandals unfold in two major college campuses. I can only imagine the gamut of emotions being felt by so many. Mulling over the actual physical act of violating an innocent child. Thinking about your own children, a relative, a neighborhood boy or girl walking past your house each morning with a smile. Maybe even the child that you once were.

The voice of childhood trauma has made an audible sound this past two months. Perhaps this might be the unifying force that reunites a fractured nation such as ours is at the present.

I believe that all human being’s yearn linkage and loyalty to a cause that defines us and gives us a sense of purpose. So, why not look into your own soul. Think about how you can help raise the tenor of the pitch, to a degree that we all can become more aware and act on what is often called “Our Nations Shame!”

Perhaps then we will mobilize as a nation, remove ourselves from partisan bickering and positioning that we all find disgusting, yet take part in, and we do something that is good for the soul.

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At one point during the Holocaust, the prison population grew so large that the Nazi’s had no choice but to turn some of the more trusted prisoners into jailers. They called them Capo’s. When historians began examining the Holocaust, it was baffling to learn that the most brutal jailers were, in fact, the Capo’s themselves. They sought the help of mental health professionals to understand this phenomenon.

It was explained to them that the jailers so resented internment, loss of self and never-ending stress, that they could not invoke normal human emotion and instead, wanted to destroy what they feared and hated most; being held in captivity. They channeled all their hatred back onto their fellow prisoners.

A Psychiatrist told me that story when I was telling him that the abuse that I had suffered as a child wasn’t as bad as other abuses that I was aware of. He explained to me that one, abuse is abuse! There are varying degrees but no delineation to the body and mind. And two, physical abuse “is” severely damaging. Kids learn and grow by connecting points A and B. He gave me an example. If a child wets their pants and they end up locked in their room all day with no food or water; that’s abuse. But the child is able to connect the points. A, if I soil my pants, B, I will be locked in my room. Their situation, albeit uncomfortable, has made an A/B connection and the ensuing emotional trauma may not be as impactful.

One time after a Little League game, when I went 0 for 4, my father beat me. I really didn’t know why, other than I must have done something wrong. I also concluded something must really be wrong with me. Most damaging, as the Psychiatrist would explain, is that I could not make any connection…A did not connect with a B. That hung state, according to the doc, is terribly damaging to the psyche. It’s the others person sickness (same with sexual abuse) that is in play. That’s why, according to doctors, a childs emotional development can be halted at this type of trauma point.

Coming full circle, like the rings on a tree that represent growth, our childhood experiences are hard-wired into us and they never leave. The prisoner (child) becomes the jailer (adult). I don’t know about you but I can be so critical of myself, so brutal. Other people notice and once in awhile will question my veracity. I don’t because it is something that I am often blind to.

As time marched on and I reached mid-life, I could no longer keep up the illusion of an idyllic childhood. So, I began to numb out through alcohol. And the rest, as they say, is history!

Today, nearly 4 years of sobriety have given me a clear head and a clear conscious. I have been able to dig in and do the hard work in recovery. Recovery to me is not only about the cessation. That’s the beginning, the warm-up, the entry fee for what is to come. I have done the hard work and the benefits are beginning to unfold. I love my life and I am beginning to love myself. I can hardly say that last part. Work in progress!

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“Remember, no matter where you go, there you are.” – Confucius

It doesn’t matter what post-addiction support group you choose, what rehab program you choose, what new pledge to stop drinking that you have pledged to whom, etc. If you cannot reach down deep to find the internal strength, arresting the addiction will not happen! I have learned that the same principle applies to lying, cheating, half-truths etc. You cannot lie ,cheat, steal or tell half-truths just a little bit. As you may have hood winked someone else, at the end of the day and everyday, you are accountable to you!

Here’s another quote that I like. “There is no try, only do, or do not. .” – Yoda.

My experience has been that if you leave yourself a back door, the illness of alcoholism will surely find it. I’m really going to “try” this time. I’ll only have one beer or one glass of wine. OK, only on Saturdays, holidays, full moons etc. You’re better off to keep drinking if this is what you are doing. Commit and don’t look back. The gravitational pull of you addiction will be on your heels, wanting you back..now!

Try everything if need be. If AA works for you, all the better. If not, move on. Life is too short. Try Rational Recovery, a church support group on spirituality, Allen Carr’s book, find a good therapist…etc.

I went to AA everyday for two years and I learned a lot. I would recommend checking it out. You will know, in time, whether or not AA is the right place for you. Have an open mind and pay attention.

After my two years in AA, I chose to continue working with a therapist, wholeheartedly embrace my family and friends and renew my involvement in the spiritual path that I grew up with. That said , I still use some of the more noteworthy principles that I learned from AA. They are with me every day!

Don’t be afraid to trust your instincts. Do what’s right for you. Not the person sitting next to you!

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