From CNN Article: CNN OPINION
By Gary Stromberg, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Gary Stromberg, who runs the PR firm The Blackbird Group, co-founded Gibson and Stromberg, a music public relations firm that operated in the 1960s and 1970s and represented The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Muhammad Ali, Barbra Streisand, Boyz II Men, Neil Diamond, Ray Charles, The Doors, Earth, Wind & Fire, Elton John, Three Dog Night and Crosby, Stills & Nash. He’s co-written several books that deal with addiction, including “The Harder They Fall.” His fourth book, “She’s Come Undone,” is due out this spring. He is active in service work to help people recover from addiction.
(CNN) — The Whitney Houston headlines last week sent a familiar shiver through me.
In the 1970s, I ran one of the leading entertainment business public relations firms. Celebrity clients were wildly indulging themselves, accountable to no one. It was money, power and prestige, with no one to say, “That’s enough.”
Drugs and alcohol were endemic. Today, the conversation revolves around prescription drugs, but back then we were into more basic mind-altering substances: pot, psychedelics, cocaine and heroin.
To be truthful, I had an amazing run before it all turned to garbage.
My office, on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, was set up like a huge living room with couches, overstuffed pillows on the floor, rock star posters lining the walls and a coffee table, the centerpiece of which was a large crystal bowl, filled at all times with a generous supply of cocaine.
The house rules were “help yourself if you’re here on business — but no take-outs!” We were regularly visited by our clients, including The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, The Doors and Steppenwolf. As you could imagine, my office was a very popular place.
But 29 years ago, I stood at the precipice with a decision to make. With a career of impressive accomplishments in the rear-view mirror, I had what looked like only despair and death ahead of me. Alcoholism and drug addiction had rendered me into what the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous refers to as “pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.” The choice seemed simple. Choose life or death.
Do I acknowledge I have a problem, or do I continue to live in denial?
Do I listen to my friends and family, or do I seek my own counsel?
Do I continue to deteriorate mentally and physically, or do I say, “I’ve had enough?”
Do I choose to live, or do I want to die?
If I once had a dream, I thought, it was long ago shattered. If I once had a dream, it’s floating face down in a bottle of Jack Daniels. If I once had a dream … ahh, screw it, I ain’t no Martin Luther King Jr.
Throwing in the towel and surrendering to admitting I had a serious problem should have been the obvious thing to do, given the state I was in. But at the time, change seemed impossible, unimaginable, incomprehensible and downright insane. Insane was the right word, all right, but it described my state of mind.
Alcohol and drugs are subtle foes; cunning, baffling and powerful. I seemed to be the last one to know I was in big trouble. When my high-profile career started to fall apart, it was other people’s fault. When my substantial income dried up, my business manager was to blame. When the beautiful house I so dearly loved was finally foreclosed, it was the bank that was screwing me. When she finally couldn’t take it anymore and left, I knew she was the type to do this to me. When my friends began to disappear, they were scum and didn’t deserve me. And when, at last, my only friends, my drugs and alcohol turned on me, I knew it was over.
And so a journey of unimaginable proportions began.
Not to any outward destination. No rehab, no trip to a far-off spa. I didn’t move to another city, as if a geographic change would fix it. No, I didn’t have to travel anywhere, except into the mirror, and by peeling the onion of my soul. The journey was within, to at long last discover where the real problem resided.
It was, of course, in me.
What a surprise — with the loving help and support of a 12-step program, I found the real culprit. We in recovery refer to alcoholism as a spiritual sickness. And if you look that up in the dictionary, you’ll find a photo of me. “Mr. Spiritual Sickness of 1982.”
If you ask me nicely, I might show you a picture of that lost soul that I still carry around in my wallet. Yes, I had long hair and a beard, the smug look of false confidence on my face and even the obligatory turquoise jewelry of that era. But look more closely, and you’ll see in my eyes shallow pools of emptiness, pupils like pinholes from the daily consumption of narcotics. As a friend remarked when he saw the photo, “The lights are on, but nobody’s home.”
After you shake your head in disbelief,and look up at me again wondering how this was possible and how I became such a different person, I will offer you an explanation.
I’m a recovering drug addict and alcoholic who was spared from a life of misery, incarceration and death. I’ve been spared from the life of self-centeredness that led me to care very little about others and only about myself. I’ve been spared from the countless fears of inadequacy, failure, success, intimacy and anything else that threatened my well-guarded defenses. I’ve been spared a life of darkness and shown a path into the light.
We don’t yet know why Whitney died, but we know she struggled with addiction. It’s a pity that now, Whitney will not have the option I had.
Step 6 Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Step 7 Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.
For further study, click below:
Drop The Rock A study of Steps 6 and 7
When we first read the sixth step, we thought “This one is easy. Why hold on to our character defects?”
Denial is that part of us that really does not see that we are being dishonest. We can make bizarre behavior make sense. Some of our “character defects” are so ingrained in our personalities that we believe them to be a necessary part of us. Letting go of our need to change or control others is a difficult behavior to change when, we have very little, or no control over a situation. Perhaps we developed dishonest behaviors to make order of our lives, or make difficult situations tolerable.
Shame is the belief that we are “broken”, or that something is wrong with us as human beings. Shame is the core component of addiction.
Addiction is a violent disease that destroys addicts and those who love them. Addiction tells us we are defective human beings that deserve pain and suffering.
Step 6 can give the suffering alcoholic a step towards relief.
Followed by the 7th step, true humility can be attained.
Below you will find an abridged letter that a Sober Driver contributor, Razzle D. Bathbone, sent to a friend, who is desperately struggling with his addiction to alcohol. Maybe Razzle’s rant might be of use to someone.
I’m sorry to hear that you put yourself through another tumble off of the wagon. I am not judging. I can not say that I have been there very many times myself and that’s simply because I hardly ever got ON the wagon….. at least with booze. Only one year, out of forty, I abstained. But I can relate, though, through my cocaine and speed addictions. Each time was “the last time”. But it wasn’t. Hell. Yup. A real nightmare.
All I can tell you is what I’ve learned from my own experience (validated by some great books). I’m here to tell you that I believe that I’ve found one way to beat the addiction scene. I tell you this with the best of intentions and sincere concern. I hope that you will please take it to heart and give it a hard try. Some of this you will know from your own experience. Some of it you may not. Either way try and dive in to it with devotion. This isn’t theoretical, I’m telling you from personal experience.
First off, forget every thing that you think you know about “spirituality” and “self realization”.
Just surrender and wipe it clean. Realize that all of that stuff is just another “story” that you use to define yourself. It creates a false sense of perspective and sense of control. The mind just LOVES that stuff. After all, what good is spiritual teaching if you can’t stay sober? Stay with verifiable facts and try and stay in the moment.
So, surrender to the infinite Universe and admit that you really “don’t know shit”, cuz the fact is…. we really don’t. We just think that we do and that is just another story in our head and gets us into trouble.
Second off, and this is essential, start to really learn exactly the facts about what addiction is. If we don’t really understand what it is that we are grappling with then we are just chasing our tails and end up sick, hung-over and full of remorse for our experience…. then eventually prematurely dead. (Think of your family and loved ones.) All of the stuff that you think you know (biology of belief, states of consciousness, karma, etc) is of absolutely no use if you don’t know the nitty gritty facts of what addiction is. Some people, people like us, have a genetic proclivity to be harnessed by addictions. That’s why we end up not being able to control our use, while others do. Some people can take a drug or a drink and then walk away. (I never could.) Like begets like and “we” find each other and validate each others self destruction.
We addicts are hard wired differently from other folks and the more we use, the more altered our wiring becomes. For us, drug and alcohol addiction is an organic form of mental illness! Sure experiences that we have in life influence us and we use them as rationalizations and justifications for using alcohol or drugs but that is really just another story we tell our selves to explain why we cannot control our abuse.
To quote Dr. Alan Leshner, former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, he wrote in 2000:
“Addiction is a brain disease expressed in the form of compulsive behavior. Both developing and recovering from it depend on biology, behavior, and social context.”
And in 2006 the NIDA stated;
“Drug (and alcohol) addiction is a complex but treatable brain disease. Relapse occurs at rates similar to those for other well-characterized, chronic medical illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma…. addiction is a chronic disease similar to other chronic diseases such as type II diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.”
That means we aren’t bad people trying to be good. We are ill people trying to get well. I used to rant endlessly about how that was all bullshit and my addictions were all just a matter of my CHOICE and I should have that freedom. That thinking kept me in THAT story and of course I just went in circles because I had no idea what I was talking about so how could I deal with it? Knowledge IS power. Ignorance is slavery.
Bear with me here. Here is some more medical science from NIDA:
“As for drug and alcohol craving…. the intense hunger that drives addicts to seek drugs despite the strong likelihood of adverse consequences…. researchers have shown that it is related to widespread alterations in brain activity, but especially to changes in the nucleus accumbency area of the fore-brain. An important type of craving experienced by addicts, called cue-induced craving, occurs in the presence of people, places, or things* that they have previously associated with their drug taking. Brain imaging studies have shown that cue-induced craving is accompanied by heightened activity in the fore brain, the anterior cingulate, and the prefrontal cortex…. key areas for mood and memory.”
Current NIDA Director Nora Volkow MD wrote in 2003:
“Drugs and alcohol exert persistent neurobiological effects that extend beyond the mid brain centers of pleasure and reward to disrupt the function of the brain’s frontal cortex… the thinking region of the brain, where risks and benefits are weighed and decisions made.“
That’s the part of the brain that tells us that it is not a good idea to put our hand in a flame. The part of the brain that can decide rationally that something is bad for us. Drug and alcohol use in addicts deteriorates the part of our brain that lets us decide right from wrong and the benefits or costs of our actions. The “cues” stimulate a part of an addict’s brain that is “broken” or hampered and decision making abilities are restricted on a cellular, organic level.
I was just gonna have a few beers and go home so how did I end up drinking a whole fifth and waking up sick on someone’s couch with cuts and bruises all over my knees? I swore I would never do this again!
Dr. Volkow continues:
“Recent studies illustrate the similarity of addiction to some disorders that are not associated with drugs. For example, compulsive behavior and poor choices are hallmarks of obsessive-compulsive disorder and pathological gambling. These disorders, too, are characterized by disruption of the frontal brain’s capacity for reason and control.”
Once addicts start down the road of chronic drug/alcohol use we are actually changing our brain and I mean organically. Our brains are permanently altered from drug/alcohol use. At a cellular level we become, quite literally, different people. Among other things we develop chronic, acute mood disturbances and are walking around with this repercussion driving our moods and daily choices. Then our negative life experiences (often a result of our inability to make the right choices) amplify and mask this bedrock illness and often become justifications for our “fuck it all” attitude and behavior.
I now can objectively look at my own behavior (in the dim past AND right up to the moment) and I can clearly see that I suffer from depression and I am also somewhat obsessive-compulsive. If I started out with these afflictions or if I brought them about by my drug/alcohol use….. I don’t know. But I do know thatmy addictions to alcohol and drugs exacerbated these afflictions which in turn made my afflictions exacerbate my addictions. It is an endless cycle. Addiction is a mental illness and using the terms “recovered” and “cured” are the kiss of death for people like us. Yup, we’re special alright. But not alone. It isn’t just the Native Americans who are genetically disposed to let “firewater” destroy their lives.
So how can we work with this illness and stay healthy?
Remember that bit, above in those quotes, about cue-induced craving, occurring in the presence of people, places, or things*? Well, I have found that my THOUGHTS are things. They are not real things or who I really am but these “thought-things” allow us to spin mind stories, that are often VERY subtle, veryfictional and we use them to define who we think we are. We IDENTIFY with these mind stories and act them out. As the Buddha and many others have pointed out, everything starts with intention. If we ALLOW our thought-things to define who we think we are (a mental “trick” or illusion) and then we grasp on to these definitions of ourselves with INTENTION to completely IDENTIFY with them, we find ourselves locked into a role that we cannot break out of.We literally are painting ourselves into a mental corner and believing that we have no choice. In a very real sense “as you believe, so it is done unto you”, a self fulfilling straightjacket philosophy! We are NOT our thoughts!
Now we ALL have our own very personal definitions of “who and what we are”. The the victim, the over achiever, the enabler, the failure, the success, the sex pot, the abused, the intellectual, the abuser, the dumb ass, the “touched by God”, etc (and various hybrid blends) but they ALL are just mind stories. We are the consciousness that is watching all these stories.
For example, if I define myself as a hard rockin’, pushing-the-limits kind of guy who needs to “raise hell” once in a while and the way I’ve always acted that role out (or people I’ve admired always did) was to use drugs or alcohol…. Well as soon as I notice that particular thought-thing-story starting to babble away in my head I might identify with it as real (instead of just another thought-thing) and if I do it triggers the cue-induced craving that will become my intention and it will eventually be impossible for me to do anything but act upon who I identify and define myself as. If that definition says I have to drink because that is who I am…. it’s all over but the puking. My thought-thing, taken seriously, becomes a self fulfilling intention hampering my ability to make rational judgements and choices and then the use of alcohol/drugs completely impedes and disconnects ANY ability to make responsible rationally choices and this happens WITHOUT OUR CONSCIOUS KNOWLEDGE! This doesn’t happen for all people but it does for addicts.
So the ONLY path to follow is the simple path of practicing mindfulness and trying to dispassionately witness thoughts without identifying with them and taking them seriously. It gets easier as one practices it.
The next essential thing to do is KEEP INSPIRED and learn how to practice mindfulness and DO IT. Read books and watch films on the science of mindfulness but more importantly…. DO IT. With every thought we have the opportunity to dispassionately be the “witness”. Use a 12-Step support group if that works for inspiration for you. Find people who are working on the similar path. Listen to them. But only YOU can change YOUR identification with YOUR thoughts. Thoughts are things but things of no REAL substance. Clouds drifting by. Good ones, bad ones, ones of every stripe and configuration but they are just there to be used as tools when needed. We are not our thoughts and the more one practices this mindful “noticing” the more OBVIOUS it all becomes! I find watching my breath (something one can do anywhere, any time) is a great practice that shows me that I am not my thoughts. They just whirl around “me”.
Also, have a good laugh at yourself as you see the identification cues try to induce the craving and get a hold on you. Laugh as you just let it all roll by. For people like us, letting that first flood of thoughts just fade away without attachment is as important as insulin is to a diabetic. It is that first thought process that has to be laughed at and not taken seriously. Don’t be afraid of it, that just gives it “realness”. Laugh at it. It can be fun.
I strongly urge you to read Dr Gabor Mate’s book “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts“. He really does a terrific job of explaining the biological aspects of addiction, along with everything else to do with addiction, and he does it with lots of expertise and compassion. Also Darren Littlejohn has a great book called “The 12-Step Buddhist – Enhance Recovery From Any Addiction”. It is full of wonderful stuff. I also recommend a lecture documentary by Robert Thurman, that Netflix has for streaming, called “Robert Thurman on Buddhism”. He is real easy to connect with! There most likely is some Robert Thurman on YouTube too and he has many books. (Check him out on Wikipedia.) Another source of sobering inspiration is Buddhist punker Noah Levine. He is on YouTube as well and has books.
We can get well. It happens all of the time….. and believe it or not…. it can actually be fun!
Lecture over. (Wink) Take care of yourself my brother.
Razzle D. Bathbone
Around summer, I felt the incredible simplicity of Houston and just basic southern living. It was way hot due to the lack of rain and we had to slow way down to function. Known as the city of “fronts, Houston gets the backlash of whatever weather is going on around us. So last summer, we caught a desert fire wind for a few months which has now passed into this amazing winter.
Our winters are mild here in Houston. We have sun almost every day with a cool crispness most would call Fall. It is gorgeous and what I call “Soft.”
The much needed rain falls and we are grateful.
How fortunate we are to live in this laid back city that feels that easy energy! In the winter, we can run every day, be outside in the sun and our energy bills go way down, because we don’t use the air conditioners or much heat.
“Love is a madness; if thwarted it develops fast.
And i don’t feel any different.
The clanking of crystal
Explosions off in the distance
And I have no resolutions
For self assigned penance
For problems with easy solutions
Let’s make believe that we are wealthy for just this once
Lighting firecrackers off on the front lawn
As thirty dialogs bleed into one
Then i could travel just by folding a map
No more airplanes, or speed trains, or freeways
There’d be no distance that could hold us back.
Holidays can be super lonely. We are all expected to be happy and joyous and have the Christmas spirit. Holidays bring up memories that are not always positive and this time of year can trigger depression. One can feel super alone, even when we are in a group of people, even we are with our families or loved ones.
Reaching out to those less fortunate is a good way to get out of ourselves. Keeping connected to meetings and sponsors and sponsees is a good way to keep communication open. This can be a creative time and we can create our own traditions.
If the holidays tend to make you feel alone, go to a meeting or call some one. You don’t have to believe in Santa or Jesus or have a Christmas tree or give presents. Just get stay connected to what your Higher Power is.
Angels come in strange and unexpected packages. Every day is New Year’s Day!
Look for the miracle.
This has been the hardest lesson for most of us.
“Nothing pays off like restraint of tongue and pen. We must avoid quick-tempered criticism and furious, power-driven argument. The same goes for sulking or silent scorn. These are emotional booby traps baited with pride and vengefulness. Our first job is to sidestep the traps. When we are tempted by the bait, we should train ourselves to step back and think. For we can neither think nor act to good purpose until the habit of self-restraint has become automatic.”
Step 10. From 12 x 12
Ferme la bouche
” That means,
“Shut the Fuck up..
Mouth of a Story
Patti Davis, Ronald Reagan’s daughter, got clean and sober and changed her life in her late twenties. She is a person who has lived her life with out being told who she should be.
Will Patti be on her death bed asking, “What if my whole life was wrong?” Tolstoy
Beautiful Patti at 58
Patti on Amy Winehouse
“When I eventually quit — after many years — it was for the simplest, most childlike reason: my father had taught me to trust God, and I didn’t want to disappoint Him. I didn’t want God to be angry with me.”