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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

And Sometimes We Die

Mike Runner brings a perspective to Wings Like Eagles that is unique and challenging. 

I normally cover topics relating to the horror of having someone else bring darkness into the home.  Mike covers the same topics, but from a completely different angle.  He was the one who brought darkness to his family.  Mike is an alcoholic.

It is my hope that the perception of what we think we know about Family Crisis is shaken up a bit.  Because there is far more involved than we think.  Much can be understood by examining the other side, and I deeply appreciate Mike's willingness to help us gain understanding as he shares with us the mind as it is affected by alcoholism.

He isn't just an alcoholic.  He is an intelligent mind, has a bright, hopeful future, and he is my friend.  And this is his story.

Here is the bad news, if you have found yourself wondering if you are an alcoholic, you probably are.  Most people who don’t have an issue either mentally or physically with alcohol don’t ask themselves that question.  The good news is there are a lot of us out there who finally came to terms with it and live joyful and productive lives in sobriety. 

A friend and someone who reads Never Anonymous emailed me a few days ago asking me about my business license with the state.  I had mentioned a few months ago that I had to let the State of California know about my DUI that happened on April 16, 2011.  The license renews every two years and of course I have had discussions with them before about a drunk in public that I forgot to mention on my application two years ago.  I honestly did forget it as compared to other things that have happened to me, a drunk in public and spending the night in jail was not that big of a deal.  Not putting that on my application when they run a background check already put me on thin ice and I was fearful that this might put me over the edge. 

I have gone through a lot of unpleasant situations in the last 22 months as finding physical, emotional and spiritual sobriety does not take away the ramifications of previous actions.  Personal issues, house arrest, jail time, family relationships, painfully letting go of relationships, thousands of dollars spent, and no drivers license have just been a few of the interesting situations that I have gone through and in some cases continue to go through.  The license thing would have been a little different as I have been in one line of work since I graduated from college.  During that time I have built up a client base.  If the State said that I could no longer do what I am doing, I am not quite sure what would happen.  Though I believe that God has a plan for me, I was honestly very fearful that being forced out of my business might be in that plan. 

The actual renewal of my license was September 30, 2012.  I have almost been superstitious in not mentioning it or thinking about it a great deal.  I bombarded them with paperwork on my story with alcoholism, letters from my psychiatrist, from the clinical director from the outpatient program I attended, and many others.   The license renewed and I have not heard a thing via letter or phone call.  When I go on the State web-site, it shows my status as active.  Of course I could still get a letter tomorrow, but it appears that everything is fine.  I very much appreciate all of the thoughts and prayers that I have received.

I have mentioned that for a six week period of my state mandated 1 ½ year DUI program I have to go to six “education” classes on Saturdays.  I have enjoyed these classes as I am primarily in a room with first offenders and I can help them to see where alcohol might take them.  About half the class time is discussion and the other half is watching a video.  One of the videos we watched was an episode of Intervention called “Lawrence’s Story.”

Lawrence was from Las Vegas and was 33 or 34 at the time they were filming him.  He was a self made man and had taken care of his younger siblings when his mother was no longer able to do so. His father was out of the picture and his step father had been physically abusive.  At 20 years of age, he opened his first tanning salon which he turned into a successful chain with 8 locations.  The pictures of him in his early 20s showed a good-looking guy in great physical shape, who according to one of his employees was the man “all the girls wanted to marry.”  At 26, Lawrence began to drink.  By the time of the filming, he had no resemblance to the person in the pictures 8 years prior.  He was pale, skinny, and shaky.  He had done the worst thing he could have done for his alcoholism and set up a home office so he didn’t have to go to the locations.  He had a couple of shops left that he let a couple of employees run and did a little business from home in telling them what to do now and again.

Lawrence always had a glass of clear liquid next to him.  He would tell people it was water but everyone who knew him knew it was straight vodka.  He told friends and family that he had “a couple of drinks” every day as he chugged vodka down in front of them all day long.  He had a couple of employees who enabled him completely.  They brought him lunch, helped him change clothes, cleaned up messes, bandaged his wounds, and anything else that was needed. 

Finally, his employees, friends and family decided to do an intervention with an outside professional.  They were afraid that he was going to die.  The intervention did not go well as they sometimes do not with self made people who have always been the strong one for everyone else.  Finally, begrudgingly, he agreed to go to rehab.  Thirty days later, he was kicked out of rehab for not taking his program seriously and was sent home.  Three weeks after that he began to drink again, and three months later he died.  He was only 34.  Just 8 years before, he had been someone everyone looked up to or wanted to be like.  It took 8 years, but the alcohol took control of him and eventually killed him.  There was nothing anyone could do.

And sometimes we die.

That’s not pleasant, but it is reality.  I have seen friends die from a slow and ugly alcoholic death, and friends who have died suddenly from a seizure or heart attack.  In AA rooms we have names on the walls of people we have lost so we can remember them and as a constant and sobering reminder to ourselves.  I wish I could say that all of the people on the wall died sober, but many did not.  Many were people who had not had a drink for many years and for whatever reason “went back out” and never made it back to the rooms.    Some of them were the last people who you ever thought would ever drink again.  It is not uncommon to hear of someone who goes back and drinks after 20 years of sobriety.  The disease doesn’t leave us and it is always in the background.  If we don’t do the things we need to do, it will gladly take us back and eventually take us out.

Seven years ago after doing my second voluntary rehab, I went to a sober living house for a couple of weeks.  I didn’t go because anyone made me, I went because I didn’t feel that I was ready to go home yet.  Sober living houses can be a great idea for addicts and alcoholics because you are in a controlled environment yet still have freedom to work and see you family.  There was a wonderful man I knew there who had a beautiful wife and two beautiful sons.  He was great to talk to and helped me in a lot of ways through his experiences.  I sat in classes with him and listened to him read letters about alcoholism and about how much he loved his family.  I had met them and they were very hopeful even through all of the failures.  This man had been badly damaged from the physical effects of drinking and his liver almost didn’t function at all and was hoping for a liver transplant.  Yet, one day I came back to the house and he was being kicked out because he was drunk.  His poor wife and children were there to pick him up.  I later heard that he died a few months later. 

And sometimes we die.

Another one of my friends from the sober living house was a young man who could not have been older than 25.  He seemed to have a great attitude and had been sober for six months or so.  One day, he had a single beer, decided he was ok and checked out of sober living.  Three weeks later we got the report that he had hanged himself while drinking and had left no note. 

And sometimes we die.

I am telling you this because it is a reality for me.  If I ever go “back out.” The odds are not very good that I would come back.  Possibly, but not likely as eventually luck runs out.  Even a cat only has nine lives. 

I am telling alcoholics out there this because I would like them to be ready to go.  Have your things in order.  The reality is, it will get you eventually if you don’t stop.  I am writing this to spouses and family members.  As was the case with Laurence, everybody really did everything they could possibly do right down to the intervention but Lawrence wasn’t ready.  Lawrence never got ready. 

In a way Lawrence reminded me of myself as he was beyond the point of denial.  The first step of the 12 steps of AA says, we “admitted we were powerless over alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable”.  This is the first step… admitting that there is a problem and that we have become powerless to stop it on our own.  We admit that we desperately need help.  It is tough to admit you are licked.  Yet, although Lawrence’s family said he was in denial, I don’t believe he was in denial to himself.  Like myself, he knew he was an alcoholic and denied it to other people, but he knew it.  He just couldn’t stop it.  I was there. 

To families, the fact that sometimes we die is a reality.  I’m so sorry.  I am either blessed or lucky to be writing this as I know others who have suffered from alcoholism that have died from much less drinking than I did.  Be ready.   Go to Al-Anon; seek counseling both one on one and in support groups with other people who are in your shoes.  Talk to your pastor or someone else’s pastor who understands alcoholism. The worst thing you can do, as is the case with the alcoholic, is try to live life on your own with a stiff upper lip.  If you have done everything you can and someone continues to slowly kill themselves in front of you and or your children, it may be time to physically leave and love the alcoholic from afar. 

At the start of this column I talked of good news and bad news.  I have spent some time talking about the reality of the bad news.  The good news is that I am sitting her writing this column and didn’t have to join Lawrence or my other friends.  If I was an odds maker, I would not have picked myself as one who would survive as my hope and spirit were destroyed completely.  The good news is that the instructor who leads my Saturday education class has been in rehab 8 times over 20 years, did more damage out there than I did by a long shot, and teaches us with 4 years of sobriety under his belt and with a certificate in drug and alcohol counseling.   Like myself, just a few years ago he never believed he would be where he is now.   There are people with incredible stories who I see all the time who are living miracles.  There are lives and families that have been restored well after that was thought to be impossible.  There are those who have gone on and found wonderful new lives.  People, the absolute worst of us have sometimes made it.  People who we all thought would die are still with us, and are sharing their stories. 

Unless you are your loved one are already in the morgue, today is a day you can do something.  Somehow, some way, reach out and ask for help.  It may start with getting down on your knees, breaking down, looking up to the sky and yelling out “please help me!” It may start with a phone call to a friend who you can be honest with.  It may start with setting up an appointment with your pastor or finding an AA or Celebrate Recovery meeting.  It isn’t over until it is over and if you can still read this or share it with someone who can still hear you, any and everything is still possible.
If you want to try to do this alone, either the alcoholic or the family of the alcoholic, I will pray for you and I wish you luck.  If you want to get better, right now… right this second… is the time to ask for help. 

And sometimes we live.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tale of One Little Pig -- Doing Stupid Over and Over Because it's Familiar

John Deyo is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in San Dimas, California.  He brings wisdom and insight to Wings Like Eagles that has been gained through his professional work, as well as personal experience.

John has a heart for helping people find themselves through their pain, and he works hard to see Life restored to an individual, couple, or family who come to him from a place of hopelessness and despair.

John writes a blog called Metaphoria that is linked to his professional Website.

For more information on John's private practice, and to see other Metaphoria blog entries,click here.

Tale of One Little Pig

This is The Tale of The One Little Pig.  
Actually he is one of the original Three Littles.  This is an addendum tale to follow up on the first little pig after his harrowing escape from the first Big Bad Wolf.  (I hate to be the one to break it to you but there is a limitless supply of Big Bad Wolves, Wicked Witches, and Evil Step-Mothers in fairy tale land.)  Thus, little pigs are forever destined to be coveted by drooling, fanged, windbags.

The One Little Pig, let's call him Harry (or her Henrietta for that matter), is the fellow who built his hut from straw.  Straw is cheap, it's easy to work with, it's light in weight, and readily available; not an altogether bad idea except in a world where Big Bad Wolves cruise in search of accessible pork chops.  It  is, however, a quick fix to the need for shelter and circumvents all the tedious, backbreaking effort required to build with brick.  Was Harry lazy? Maybe.  Maybe he was simply naive.  Or perhaps something more insidious was in play.

What you haven't been told about is Harry's ongoing issues around wolves, straw huts, and security.  Like me, you probably just assumed that Straw Piggy (Harry) and Stick Piggy holed up with Brick Piggy until they could follow suit and construct similar wolf-resistant domiciles.  Not true for Harry! While grateful for escape from Big Bad's dinner table, Harry quickly moved out of the secure safety of the cozy brick house and went off to procure another load of hay.  Hard to believe, I know, but true nevertheless.  The other sibs tried to point out the obvious risk involved, but Harry was not to be dissuaded from his course; it was as if he were driven by some unseen "destiny" (he called it).  Finally the others just had to give in  and let him go.
You see, Harry is suffering from a little psychological phenomenon we call "repetition compulsion,"  also called recapitulation, or re-enactment.  This amounts to what looks to outsiders like "doing stupid" in deliberate succession. 

(You know, like an abusive alcoholic parent just wasn't enough; how about a raging or irresponsible boyfriend or girlfriend and then a spouse or two to boot?)  It seems crazy, like Harry making himself wolf bait for a second time, but maybe there are some things we don't understand about Harry's earlier experiences.

Maybe that Papa Pig was not such a great father and living in danger feels normal, even desirable, to Harry.  What if this little pig does not believe he deserves safety and security?  Whatever it is, for reasons outside of awareness, we, like Harry, may be mysteriously drawn to return and recreate scenarios of abuse and neglect.  Perhaps it is because we believe deep down that we deserve this treatment or it is just so familiar we don't see it for what it is.  Often it is an unconscious bid to rework the hurtful past hoping to succeed this time in saving the dysfunctional or abusive parent or finally securing their love by succeeding with their current "stand-in" emotional double that we unconsciously chose for this very purpose.  We reenact the past. Dangerous stuff when you don't know it is at work in you. 

This is where therapy is often helpful in teasing these unconscious dynamics out into the daylight where you can begin to  challenge them, heal from the past, and make conscious relationship decisions that are healthy.  It can change your life.  You do not have live like Harry.  You have a choice and there is a path to freedom. It won't be easy or painless, but hey, being perpetual wolf bait is worse, don't you think?
Copyright 2011 John D. Deyo, M.A., MFT

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Darkness is Lifting

By Kristi Tisor Ambriz

It has been nearly a month since we have published anything here at Wings Like Eagles, making this the longest streak of darkness in our history.

Our Wings Like Eagles team is comprised of Mike Runner, Joelle Deyo, John Deyo and myself, and we are each committed to showing that there is Life on the Other Side of Crisis primarily due to the fact that each of us have personally lived in it, have come through it, and are driven to offer hope.  Though we do believe that life is good on the Other Side, we would be remiss if we ever promoted that life is perfect.

In the month in which our blog has been dark, we have each experienced different forms of personal darkness that have quieted our voices and slowed our pens.

The darkness is lifting, and it's time to write.  We choose to live transparently because everybody experiences periods of darkness, or seasons within the wilderness.  Our drive is to offer hope that punctuates the fact that darkness need not permanently paralyze, even if it feels like it might when we're within it.  That coming through the darkness strengthens us.

Though my own story has been expanded by my own brand of darkness and challenge, not everything has been dark for me--but it has been overwhelmingly busy.  I'd like to give a personal update.

In addition to running this blog, I am an editor of an online entertainment and events reporting publication based out of Los Angeles.  I started out as a reporter, but was promoted to editor last September.  I have around 20 writers assigned to me, and work closely with an editorial team.  This job keeps me very busy, but very fulfilled.  I love every aspect of it.

Last month I started a part-time job away from my computer.  I am an Instructional Aide in a transitional kindergarten class, and I also assist in the 2 standard kindergarten classes on campus.  I'M LOVING IT!!!  I get to finger paint and play with Play Doh and glitter every day, and I get to laugh at the CRAZY things 5 year-olds say on a regular basis.

Boy #1:  "I keep telling my dad to PLEASE stop cigaretting!  But he won't.  He keeps cigaretting."

Me:         Not quite sure where to start, but before I could get anything out, Boy #2 chimes in.

Boy #2:  "My mom is mad at my brother for smoking weed in the car.  He got out and threw it over the fence."

Me:         "Does anyone remember the sound the letter V makes?

Not everything they say is that revealing, but oh, the things little ones will share!  They also shared their cold virus with me.  It's part of the gig, but it's worth it to get to work with these little minds.  They've all stolen my heart already.

This Friday I get to cover a Red Carpet event for LifeinLA.  Movieguide was founded by Dr. Ted Baehr and it celebrates decency in film and television by awarding studios and members within the entertainment industry.  Hugo and I get to enjoy Red Carpet interviewing of celebrities, and after the Red Carpet experience, we get to dine and enjoy the awards show with Pat Boone and family.  Do you have any questions you'd like us to ask him?

Mike Runner, Joelle Deyo and John Deyo each have content in my inbox ready to publish.  It will be nice to be back this week.  Live.  Feeling alive.  Doing what we are so committed to doing:  Offering hope.  Believing wholeheartedly in all of it.  And sharing it with our readers.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Being the Living Blog and Saving a Seat

Mike Runner brings a perspective to Wings Like Eagles that is unique and challenging. 

I normally cover topics relating to the horror of having someone else bring darkness into the home.  Mike covers the same topics, but from a completely different angle.  He was the one who brought darkness to his family.  Mike is an alcoholic.

It is my hope that the perception of what we think we know about Family Crisis is shaken up a bit.  Because there is far more involved than we think.  Much can be understood by examining the other side, and I deeply appreciate Mike's willingness to help us gain understanding as he shares with us the mind as it is affected by alcoholism.

He isn't just an alcoholic.  He is an intelligent mind, has a bright, hopeful future, and he is my friend.  And this is his story.

Today I have been doing a lot of smirking.  My smirk is not because there is anything funny going through my mind other than the usual peculiar odds and ends, but because I am trying not to smile.

You will recall in earlier columns that I have talked about certain consequences of my drinking that are common among alcoholics.  One of them is physical injury.  Alcohol is lighter than water and the over consumption of alcohol leads to an imbalance in the inner ear.  In other words, we tend to fall a lot.  In one of these head to ground moments that I barely remember, I broke my two top front teeth as I have talked about.  After grinding my teeth to nubs, getting veneer front teeth and spending a few thousand dollars, I could show off my laboratory created pearly whites.  Unfortunately, last night in the middle of the night I got hungry and the right front veneer shattered into a number of pieces.  I have a wonderful gap and little stub of a tooth in my smile.  I wore a black suit to work today and I kind of looked like the stereotypical hillbilly that was playing business dress up instead of making moonshine. Or maybe a retired hockey player going out on a job interview.

Bother. More money, figuring out how to get a ride to a dentist later in the week, and just more hassle.  The ghosts of drunken episodes past. I guess I could just smirk for a while until things get more convenient though nothing out of the routine is exactly convenient when you wear an ankle bracelet and have yet to get your driver’s license back. If nothing else, it gives me something to talk about at my driving/DUI school class.

My Monday night court mandated driving under the influence classes will continue for some time.  Another year or so.  As a multiple offender, the classes last for a total of a year and a half.  Since I was tied up in court and the legal system for about a year and four months, I didn’t begin the program until October 2012.

For the most part, the Monday night classes are a bit tedious. The format is pretty much a guy at a desk in the front of the room saying, “So, what do you guys want to talk about for the next two hours?”  Then the crickets chirp.  I try to be as helpful as I can as I hope I can be an example and it makes the time go faster if at least one person in the room is talking.  Sometimes it is just me and the instructor shooting the breeze for a couple of hours and 15 other morose multiple offenders offering up a sentence here and there when the instructor asks them something directly.  Sometimes I will ask them things about “their recovery” and I am met by a rolling of the eyes.  You see, they don’t have a problem and don’t need to recover from anything.  Just bad luck… again.  In two days it will have been 22 months since my 3rd DUI but I’m going to be in this class for a while.

During the year and a half that a multiple offender like myself is enrolled, you also have to take six education classes.  I started these a little over a week ago on Saturday mornings.  The education classes are interesting as the scientific knowledge of alcoholism and addiction is always marching forward.  It is quite fascinating to watch videos of a normal brain functioning compared to the brain of someone who has been using a drug or alcohol.  In many cases, there are still differences after a year if someone was a regular user. The information about dopamine levels and neuro-transmitters is also interesting although I am pretty well versed in alcohol’s effects on the brain.  We will get into some of the science in later columns.

What I like the most about the education classes is that first time offenders have to take them as well as multiple offenders such as myself.  Last week there were about 18 blue cards (oops, I got busted) and two yellow cards (well, here I am again).  The other guy on the yellow card doesn’t talk much.

My instructor loves me because of my willingness to be honest and because I have some sobriety under my belt.  His experience with drugs compares to my experience with alcohol in that we both consider ourselves blessed to be where we are considering where we have been.  He has been through the ringer… jail, prison, lost kids, lost jobs, almost died from medical problems, and many other of the things that are normal for someone who has lived in alcoholism or addiction for many years.  We decided before my first class that I could be used for an example and I would talk openly because my testimony as a peer to the newbies was more powerful than his as an instructor.  It’s perfect because I can be a living blog.

I would guess 80% of the people in the room are not alcoholics or addicts.  Most of them are people who got a DUI and the scare, embarrassment, and cost of the situation is enough to change their behavior.  They are people who needed to learn a lesson and most of them will set up designated drivers or cabs if they choose to continue to go out and drink.  Even a first time offender will lose their driver’s license for a time and has to pay a few thousand dollars between court fines and driving school.  It makes life difficult as it well should. There needs to be enough pain to change the behavior.  Then there are those who are convinced the police were out to get them or it wasn’t their fault for one reason or another.  They are not interested in changing anything.  These people will for the most part be back on a yellow card.

There is one girl and one guy who seem to know that they might be alcoholics and that they are getting out of control but are not yet ready to entirely admit it.  These are the two that I hope I can help the most as I believe them both to be alcoholics who are on the edge of denial.  They are not quite willing to admit that they can never safely drink again, yet the little light bulb in their head is going off telling them that the pattern, and they are beginning to see it as a pattern, is getting worse.  I told them it will get worse, and worse, and worse.  It’s called the progression of the disease.  By its nature, the disease always gets worse in time. 

We took a verbal quiz in my last class consisting of 17 questions.  (You can find many quizzes like this online.) We were told that if you answered yes to more than three of the seventeen questions, there is a good chance you might be an alcoholic.  When the instructor said this, I started to laugh and he asked me why.  I told him it was because I got a 15.  I said, “I won!” and the class laughed along with me.  

Then I got very serious with them and told them that if I had taken the quiz six years ago, I might have scored an 8… ten years ago, maybe a 4.  It progressed on me and it will progress on you. It happened to me, and to millions of alcoholics over thousands of years.  There is no getting around it.  With few exceptions, the idea of a functioning alcoholic is a myth.  To turn it around, all you have is an alcoholic who can still function.  I was a functioning alcoholic for years but eventually the functional becomes more and more dysfunctional until properly functioning becomes a memory.

Normally when I get to my last paragraphs I have some extremely deep meaning that I want to convey.  Today my message is this:  I try to stay positive, I try to focus on the right things, I think about what I am grateful for and what I could have lost every day, I try to listen to God, help others, and continually change things in my life, I try to be willing to do things that are not comfortable for me and to be totally honest.

All of these things are have helped me to get sober, regain relationships, and other wonderful things.  Yet, although it took what I went through to get me here, much of what I go through and have gone through physically are HUGE hassles.  Finances to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, time, finding rides, being “on assignment,” not being able to go certain places because I am on house arrest from evening until morning, annoying teeth issues, etc.

Over the months I have shared a lot about what happened to me on many levels.  Today, I am asking you to please spare yourself from the hassle.  If you are just starting out, things WILL happen.  If you have been an alcoholic for a while, worse things WILL happen.  It’s inevitable and neither you nor I are exempt from a pattern that has been documented by millions of cases.  The only ways to stop are to change your life and stop drinking, go to jail for the rest of your life, or die suddenly or slowly from alcoholism.  Those are your choices.

So today, if you have never been on the wagon… jump on.  If you have fallen off, your seat is still there. 

Stop living in guilt and tell yourself that you are not a bad person, but a sick person who needs help. 

Realize that this is an illness that millions of people have and if properly treated, can go into remission. 

Don’t go through the hassles that I have gone through or those who have been through much worse. 

Don’t be a hassle to everyone else by either ending up in jail or in the morgue. 

Start today by doing something different. 

Admit to yourself that there may be a problem. 

Take an online quiz and see where you stand. 

Show up at a 12-step meeting and see if anything makes any sense. 

Go to the bookstore and get an AA Big Book and read the first 164 pages. 

Talk to someone about it. 

Do something different and above all else, get honest with yourself. 

In a lot of situations, if you do nothing, nothing is going to change.  In the case of an alcoholic or a potential alcoholic, if you do nothing, something is going to change and it will not be anything you were hoping for.  Save your money, save your relationships, save your job, save your driving privileges, save your life, etc., etc., etc.  Save yourself the hassle and remember that one of the reasons I believe that God left me on this earth was so that I could talk to people about what I went through so that they don’t have to and to tell people, “I understand, and you are not alone.” 

You are those people.  You are that person.