Think Outside the Bottle
In honesty, I must admit I borrowed the title of this blog from my friend Dr. Marvin Seppala MD, a psychiatrist who specializes in addiction and who is the medical director, CEO of Beyond Addictions in Beaverton, Oregon. Marv is an exceptional human being and one I am proud to know.
Recently I wrote a blog on my addiction to alcohol and other substances and how they may have ruined my heart. After years of suffering with heart disease and finally being placed on the national transplant list, I was given a new heart on August 21 of 2007. If there had been no organ available, I would probably be dead by now. Because I got a new heart I assumed God had a reason for wanting me alive. I believe that reason is to use what I know to help others — to promote organ donation and sobriety.
I learned a lot from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) but two things stand out. One is that confession is good for the soul and for the psyche and the other is that it is my duty to carry the word to others who are suffering. That’s what the 12th step says. This blog is meant to accomplish three things. The first is to carry the word, the second is to promote organ donation and the third is to reduce the number of people on the transplant list by reducing the number of people who need new organs.
Judging from the number of “hits” my blog on substance abuse has had and the number of times it has been reprinted, the subject must be one of great interest. Well, it should be. I couldn’t find exact numbers but I’ll bet that a significant number of people on the transplant list, while no longer using, have done great harm to their organs because of substance abuse. Raising awareness of substance abuse and the fact that treatment works just might help reduce the number of people who need a transplant. When I say, “Treatment works,” I not only mean formal treatment but also attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings. I went through treatment a couple of times before it finally stuck in July of 1982. I have not had a drink since then and my life has changed completely. Since treatment I developed a highly successful business as a consultant, travelled the world and loved every minute of it. Most importantly, though, I regained the respect and love of my family. Had I not quit drinking I would either be dead or in jail.
I cannot speak about any substance abuse other than mine. I know this, when you are abusing you know you are abusing. When you are abusing you will do things your sense of morality would not normally allow you to do. When you are abusing you are driven by your bassist instincts. When you are abusing you don’t eat right, you treat people poorly and you become the person you least admired when you were sober.
My dad, God bless him, was a good man and I loved him. He worked hard and did his best to provide for his family, but for most of my life, he was a drunk. He treated his family with disdain and did his best to separate himself from us. Subsequently I know very little about him. We never had any kind of a “talk.” When he drank, he got mean. I won’t go into detail but my mom, in particular, suffered most of the effect of his meanness. He hid bottles everywhere, in the rafters of the basement ceiling in cubbyholes in the garage, and in many other places. I swore I would never be like my dad. I grew up to be almost exactly like him.
I began drinking seriously at age 15 and didn’t stop for long until I was 43 years old. I hid bottles everywhere. I used to have a special briefcase that I always carried. I bought it because it would not only hold my papers but was big enough to carry a quart of vodka as well. When I worked mornings as the on-air anchor for a radio network in Minnesota, I would get to work early, hide my bottle in the bottom of the wastebasket in the men’s room and cover it with paper towels. Whenever I needed a drink I just got up and headed for the bathroom. Being as I worked from 4 AM to 9 AM there weren’t many people around so I was free to drink as much as I wanted and I did. I never took a my bottle home with me, it was always empty at the end of my shift. I’m sorry to say that for most of the time I worked there I was under the influence. How I did a four-hour on the air program every morning is beyond me. I only know that I am ashamed of myself for doing that to my employer.
I also was mean. While not violent I was verbally abusive. My family suffered and I know it. Unfortunately, I knew it then, too, but because of the influence of alcohol, I didn’t care. I would find any excuse to get out of the house at night so I could meet my drinking “friends.” It turns out that these “friends” disappeared once I sobered up. My family, for some reason I’ll never understand stood by me. I will be forever grateful.
During the time I was a practicing alcoholic I drank at least a quart of Vodka a day, sometimes two quarts. And — often I used both alcohol and drugs. I have no idea how I functioned and made a living. Many people told me they never suspected that I drank too much or at all for that matter.
To make a long story short I developed dilated cardiomyopathy and eventually needed a heart transplant. I am one of the lucky ones who got a new heart and a new life, but not everyone can expect to get an organ. The shortage far exceeds the number of donors.
I know this is an unusual blog but it does relate to the need for organ donors because so many people would not need organs if they would take care of themselves. If you drink too much, you know it. If you abuse drugs, you know it, if your behavior is bad, you know it and you also know you need help. I’m writing this blog so that if you are abusing alcohol or drugs, you also know you are killing yourself. You are destroying many of your organs. You may need a transplant and you may not get one. There are not enough organs.
With the help of some wonderful people at a treatment center and years of attending AA meetings, I have remained sober and happy for 26 years. You can do it too.
According to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report, “Substance abuse is the nation’s top health problem, causing more deaths, illness and disabilities than any other preventable health problem today. Additionally the Johnson report indicates that of the more than 2 million deaths each year in the United States, about one in four is due to abuse of alcohol, tobacco or illicit drugs. The economic cost of the abuse is estimated at more than $414 billion a year.” http://www.infoimagination.org/ps/drug_war/articles/substance_abuse.html In
In conclusion, if you are abusing substances you must stop. You can do it. There is help! Sure there is pain and discomfort when you stop your addiction, but consider the pain and discomfort of cirrhosis of the liver, kidney disease, alcoholic cardiomyopathy or any one of a number of other diseases.
If you are the spouse or significant other of someone who is a substance abuser, there is help for you, too. Alanon is nationwide; there are meetings in every city. The meetings are held to help you, not the substance abuser. You’ll learn how to cope and how to survive and maintain your dignity. For more information visit: http://www.al-anon.alateen.org/english.html.Or for additional information on substance abuse and treatment visit: http://www.samhsa.gov/treatment/treatment_public_i.aspx
We are all praying for you whether you are the abuser or someone affected by the abuse.