Archive for the Life Category

What is Addiction? – A response (It’s not just a sin problem)

Paul Tautges posted an article January 5 on his blog titled What is Addiction?.

He got some things not quite right. In his attempt to show the disease model of addiction is false, he singled out alcohol addiction, or alcoholism, and Alcoholics Anonymous specifically, only he didn’t quite tell the whole story about AA.

It is true that Bill W began his journey to sobriety with the disease model. William D. Silkworth, M.D. had a theory that alcoholics have what can be described as an allergy to alcohol that most people who drink do not have, and shared this theory with Bill W. Bill thought he had the solution now that he knew what his problem was, but self-knowledge was not enough. He was unable to keep from taking that first drink until after he was visited by an old friend who had “found religion.” This friend had been part of the Oxford Group which was a Christian organization. (Summarized from “The Doctor’s Opinion” and “Bill’s Story” in Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition, and Pass it On, Chapter 5.)

Bill W wrote the initial text of the Alcoholics Anonymous “Big Book” and does not reduce alcoholism to simply a physical disease, but understood that “we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition, page 64.) Now I am not going to write an entire response based on AA, but I will point out that it is not a “self help” program, nor is Narcotics Anonymous, or any other 12 Step based groups that help people find a way out of addiction, obsession, and co-dependence. AA developed the 12 Steps that every other 12 Step group is based on. Each of the 12 Steps is done in the order they are because each builds upon the previous step. Step 1 is admission of powerlessness, step 2 is coming to believe in a higher power for restoration to sanity, and step 3 is the “decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understand him.” They have been written such that nonbelievers as well as believers can find sobriety, but while I didn’t go through the remaining steps, they model the process of coming to faith in Jesus, and growing in sanctification. (The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous) In fact, the AA Big Book quotes the book of James on page 76, “Faith without works is dead.” That marks the beginning of the description of making amends. After all, the alcoholic who wants to be free of his “spiritual malady” must take full responsibility for all of his or her actions that caused harm to others, and not hide behind the drink. It is not a program of “cheap grace” or “easy believism.”

One last thing before I move on. From page 60 of the AA Big Book:
“Our description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic, and our personal adventures before and after make clear three pertinent ideas:
(a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives.
(b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.
(c) That God could and would if he were sought.”

And Step 12, “Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Paul quotes from Ed Welch’s book, Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave, “The Bible says that we first choose our addictions, and only then do our addictions choose us.” I own a few of Ed’s books, and have read 2, and found them very helpful. But that statement is not entirely true. The reason I say that is because I became an addict when I was 8 years old, and it was through absolutely no choice I made. I became an addict at my first dental appointment. Our family dentist gave me nitrous oxide (laughing gas) before he began to work on my cavities. I was not given a choice to go to the dentist. I was not given a choice whether or not to have laughing gas. But from that point on, I looked forward to going to the dentist because I loved how the laughing gas made me feel. The hallucinations didn’t even bother me.

I was 8 years old. I didn’t really know what addiction was even though I knew one of my uncles was an alcoholic. But I didn’t understand what that meant except that it involved drinking, and that was wrong because the Church Covenant hanging prominently on the front wall of the church auditorium said it was. I knew absolutely nothing about drugs. I also had a very limited concept of sin which was really just a matter of following rules so as not to get in trouble. Despite being a deacon’s kid and accepting religious teaching without question, at that point, I had no tangible concept of God. Even after coming to know Jesus at 12, I had a hard time with seeking out things that made me feel good because of a complex mixture of rigid legalism, outright false teaching, abuse, and a good dose of genetic disposition. That combination resulted in a “Don’t talk. Don’t trust. Don’t feel.” approach to life while seeking anything that would bring relief from my inner turmoil. (I did finally find that peace in Jesus, but it took me until I was in my 40s, but it took a lot of “environmental” change.)

Last semester I took a course called Substance Abuse Overview. I felt we only scratched the surface, but it is just a freshman level overview. It isn’t designed to be that in-depth. However, between it and a general psychology course, I learned quite a bit about the physiological affects of drugs in the brain. I’m going to post portions of a paper I wrote where I compared the addictiveness of marijuana to alcohol and opiates.

Dependence is defined as a physiological dependence on a drug that is marked by withdrawal symptoms when the drug is no longer taken. Addiction can be defined as both physiological and psychological dependence resulting in compulsive use of the substance. (Van Wormer and Davis, 2014). Dr. Kevin McCauley looked at the neurological factors that play a role in dependence and addiction. The frontal cortex is where our conscious selves reside with the reasoning and logic that govern our morals, spirituality, socializing, etc. His research has shown that drugs do not affect that portion of our brains, but operate on the midbrain, which is the survival portion of the brain that contains the instincts to eat, kill, and have sex. The midbrain gets sensory information before the frontal cortex. (Fifth Direction, 2015). The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is thought to modulate and dampen the amygdala (which is the portion of the midbrain that is the center of the base survival emotions) as it communicates with the frontal lobe. (Rhodes College, 2012). In the Olds rodent experiments, they used cocaine to discover two spots that trigger addiction in the midbrain, the ventral tegmentum and the nucleus accumbens. When the drug was administered in either of those two locations, the mice would do only the task(s) that would give them the drug. The drug goes to the top of the survival hierarchy, and they will do it to the point of death. (Fifth Direction, 2015).

Once THC is in the bloodstream, it is carried throughout the body, to each organ including the brain. (Yacoubian, 2007). Its greatest influence on addiction is due to its affect in the mesolimbic system (rewards area) of the brain much like other drugs. (Miller and Oberbarnschiedt, 2017). Once in the brain, the THC attaches to cannabinoid receptors on nerve cells (Yacoubian, 2007) due to its similarity in structure to an endogenous cannabinoid called anandamide. (NIDA, 2017). It is believed to act on the receptors much like endogenous opioids (Miller and Oberbarnschiedt, 2017). An endogenous opioid is a substance like an opiate that the body produces, such as endorphins. (endogenous opioid, n.d.) The endogenous cannabinoids, also called endocannabinoids, are produced by the body as well. The endocannabinoid system is responsible for the synthesis and degradation of endocannabinoids. They are named such due their initial identification as the neurotransmitters that activated the same receptors as the cannabinoids in marijuana, of which THC belongs. Endocannabinoid synthesis acts as “on demand” synthesis because they are not synthesized in advance and stored in vesicles the way other neuromodulators are. (Mackie, 2008). Because many of the receptors are located in the area of the brain that control pleasure (the midbrain), THC stimulates the reward system to release dopamine (Yacoubian, 2017), but at much higher levels than normal. (NIDA, 2017). THC also binds to receptors in the cerebellum and basal ganglia which affects coordination and balance. (Yacoubian, 2007). Additionally, it disrupts the hippocampus and orbitofrontal cortex which are areas that are associated with memory formation and attention. (NIDA, 2017).

Most drugs increase the level of dopamine in the rewards center of the brain (Alila Medical Media, 2014), and alcohol is no exception. It interacts with the endogenous mu opioid in the brain similarly to opiates. Alcohol also increases gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) activity which is instrumental in the feelings of euphoria, disinhibition, anxiety reduction, and sedation with drinking. (Miller and Carroll, 2006). Interference with the neurotransmitter glutamate is believed to be a cause of “black outs,” or not being able to remember what a person did after drinking heavily. (NIAAA, 2015). Alcohol lowers the glutamate activity in the brain particularly in the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor. (Gilpin and Koob, 2008). Alcohol causes increased levels of serotonin which helps regulate emotion (NIAAA, 2015), but the increase is temporary, and results in later serotonin depletion. (Gilpin and Koob, 2008). The brain adapts to the disruption of the balance, but these adaptations lead to alcohol tolerance and dependence, which result in withdrawal symptoms. Abstinence over time reverses many of the negative cognitive effects from heavy drinking. (NIAAA, 2015).

Each of the opiates, once they reach the brain from the bloodstream, attach to mu opioid receptors on opiate-sensitive neurons. Similar to THC in marijuana, opiates operate heavily in the mesolimbic (midbrain) reward center which produces more dopamine than normal. This increases the desire for the drug even in the absence of pain. With increased usage and dosage, the brain functioning is altered so that the brain functions normally when the drugs are present, but abnormally in their absence similarly to the brain’s compensation for the disruption caused by alcohol leading to tolerance and dependence. (Kosten and George, 2002).

Opiate dependence and some withdrawal occur from changes to the locus coeruleus (LC) which is located at the base of the brain. It produces a chemical called noradrenaline (NA) which when distributed stimulates many of the activities of being awake. Opiate molecules in the LC suppress NA, producing the intoxicating effects of opiates. After times of repeated presence of opiates, the LC will compensate by increasing production of NA. When the opiates are no longer in the system, the LC will continue to overproduce NA resulting in withdrawal symptoms such as jitters, anxiety, muscle cramps, and diarrhea. This is in addition to the disruptive activity in the midbrain. (Kosten and George, 2002).

With that much neurobiological interruption, the claim cannot be made that there is no biological factor to addiction and that it is purely a sin problem. The neurobiological affects strongly affect the psychological functions. The brain is a very complex organ, and it stands to reason that it would be since it is the central core of how the rest of the body functions together and how information received via our 5 senses are processed. Sin is a result of conscious choice. Not all addicts are addicted because of a conscious choice they made. Not all people who use or abuse drugs or alcohol become addicted. Regardless, addiction won’t be thrown off just because someone tells them they are just being sinful. To reduce addiction exclusively to sin can serve to burden an addict or alcoholic with shame whenever he or she is tempted to drink or use because that temptation has a biological component to it.
———————————————————————————————————————————————-
References
Alila Medical Media. (2014, September 10). Mechanism of Drug Addiction in the Brain Animation [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxHNxmJv2bQ

endogenous opioid. (n.d.) Mosby’s Medical Dictionary, 8th edition. (2009). Retrieved from https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/endogenous+opioid

Fifth Direction. (2015, June 25). Is Addiction Really a Disease? Dr. Kevin McCauley [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2emgrRoT2c

Gilpin, N. W., & Koob, G. F. (2008). Neurobiology of Alcohol Dependence: Focus on Motivational Mechanisms. Alcohol Research & Health, 31(3), 185–195.

Kosten, T. R., & George, T. P. (2002). The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment. Science & Practice Perspectives, 1(1), 13–20.

Mackie, K. (2008), Cannabinoid Receptors: Where They are and What They do. Journal of Neuroendocrinology, 20: 10–14. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2826.2008.01671.x

Miller, N. S., & Oberbarnschiedt, T. (2017). Current medical and legal status for smoked “medical marijuana” and addiction. Psychiatric Annals, 47(6), 335-340. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.3928/00485713-20170424-01

NIAAA. (2015, October). Beyond Hangovers: understanding alcohol’s impact on your health. NIH Publication No. 15-7604. Retrieved from https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Hangovers/beyondHangovers.pdf

NIDA. (2017, August 1). Marijuana. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana

Rhodes College. (2012, October 9). Steven Schlozman – “How to Inadvertently Learn Some Neuroscience…” [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sM2oUPgymJ8&t=1s

Van Wormer, K., & Davis, D. (2014). Addiction Treatment: A Strengths Perspective (4th Ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Yacoubian, G.S. (2007). Assessing the relationship between marijuana availability and marijuana use: A legal and sociological comparison between the United States and the Netherlands. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, 51(4), 17-34. Retrieved from https://login.proxy033.nclive.org/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/217439225?accountid=9994

End of 2017

2016 was the year I became cynical and disillusioned. This was the year I said it out loud and made it my tagline.

Now I know that the change in year means nothing more than me continuing to write 2017 for the year until at least February. Nothing is going to happen at midnight tonight that is different from any other time of the day or day of the month or day of the year.

It’s just another day. Albeit a day that I don’t have to go to work and yet still get paid.

I did a word for the year this year after swearing I’d never do that. My word was contentment.

I wrote these verses on an index card and put it on my bathroom mirror:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 1 Timothy 6:6-7

Y’all, I had some tough stuff this year. Kind of like the last 4. No, more like 8. Maybe 9. But this was the year I grew some stunted emotions. It’s really tough to go through hard stuff and feel it.

Good stuff happened, too, and I took a great big leap going back to school with the goal of changing careers. AT MY AGE! I have to say that because it was earlier this year that I said to Petra, “I can’t start a new career at my age,” and she called me out on my crap. I certainly stressed on it a lot, but unlike most college classes I’ve taken in my life – undergraduate and graduate – I did not lose interest in any of my classes during the semester. I think that is a good sign that I picked the right major this time.

It’s unlikely that I will make it to midnight. It’s just not a goal of mine anymore. Sleep is way more valuable to me.

Here’s to the new year! It won’t be a new me, but I’m going to start it off with a new yoga mat and a return to some older, but healthy habits I had before my facade fell apart.

It’s been a while

I was told today that I haven’t blogged in months. Technically that’s true, but it’s only been two and half months. These things happen when you go back to school full time while you’re working full time. Ain’t nobody got time for blogging! But I have gotten caught up(ish), and I’m going to take a few minutes to throw out some non-pot stirring things.

These boys crossed the rainbow bridge at the end of July. I fully expected one or the other of them to not come back from the vet. I did not expect neither to come home. I haven’t cried over an animal since I was very young. I didn’t even shed a tear a few years ago when I found Darci in the road, and she was my girl. I cried over these boys for 2 days, and decided I finally grew all of my emotions.

I went to DC in August. I promised my family for years that I would take them, and this was me fulfilling that promise. Chad backed out a couple days before, so I will probably still take him sometime. Or send him if his friend can meet him there. This wasn’t my first time, though, and I made Jamie take a picture with me at the Marine Corps Memorial just as I had done with my mom in 2000.

We went Arlington National Cemetery, but I ended up going to JFK’s grave and the Tomb of the Unknown by myself. As I was walking up that last hill to the Tomb of the Unknown, I realized I had made a huge mistake. I was sure I would make it up there, but that I would never make it back to the entry. As I was walking up to the Tomb, I heard a bunch of clicking and I knew what it was that I was hearing, and stepped up my pace. I just happened to get there for the end of the changing of the guard. That was pretty stinking cool!

If you’ve never been, you can’t grasp the size of Arlington unless you are there in it. And I was able to make it back without having to find a ranger to rescue me.

I took the above photo from the WW2 Memorial and thought to myself, “Jenny ran though this?!?”

I got to have dinner with my friends Michele, Heidi, and Todd while I was there. Darrel couldn’t make it because I forgot to tell them all until the week of and he already had plans.

Labor Day weekend I flew home to AR for a birthday celebration. There were 3 “big” birthdays right together and my cousin Sharon (who turned the big 50) threw a shindig. It was really nice for so many of us to get together without it being for a funeral. Our parents came from large families that came from large families so there are a bunch of us. This is just a few of the girls:

I’m not sure who took that, but I stole it from Sharon’s Facebook.

Almost a month ago, Evie started having seizures out of the blue. I took her to the emergency vet, dropped way more money than I ever thought I would drop on an old dog, and she was in such bad shape, we let her go. I cried after talking to the day vet the next day (before we made the decision). I cried a little bit every day after that for 3 or 4 days. And then I melted down when I went to pick up her ashes.

She was a puker, but aside from that, she was the absolutely sweetest dog ever.

Chad finally got his driver’s license, so now when he writes “milk” on the white board, I give him $5 and tell him to go get it himself. Unlike Jamie, he is quite happy to go get stuff I send him for.

And back to that whole thing about going to school full time while I’m working full time?

I will NOT take 4 classes next semester. I spend a crazy amount of time at Starbucks because I cannot get homework done at home. I have never wanted to clean and organize so much as I have since school started.

Oh, and I got a tattoo.

Why do you go to church?

“Why do you go to church? What is your main purpose of showing up? (not collectively, you personally)

I was asked this question sometime before Christmas, and my initial reply was, “Way to ask me a question I’m not sure I want to answer.” This was following a discussion where I vomited out my distrust of Baptist churches, megachurches, and celebrity pastors (and other celebrity Christian leaders ie James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jr, Franklin Graham, Mike Huckabee, etc).

So why do I?

“But I know if I don’t go, I’m going to drift back out into the wilderness riding on my self-righteousness. Still, if I wasn’t serving, I don’t know if I would go. Even though I don’t ever regret going.”

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:23-25 ESV

I went to church during the Christmas season even though I wasn’t serving. But in full disclosure, it was largely because my friend Stacey was singing again and I was NOT going to miss her first Sunday back with the worship team. And our campus pastor was preaching, so it was like a double bonus. And I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience from arrival to departure. Pastor Trent mentioned early in his sermon about our campus feeling like home, which the sermon series wass “Home for Christmas,” so it stands to reason. But as I thought of it, I thought, “Yeah, this church has always felt like coming home.” I have always felt welcomed. I have always felt “a part of.” I have made many friends there, some very close.

Through the course of the sermon on the older brother in the story of the prodigal son, Trent pointed out that we can do all the right things, but if we are doing it for the wrong reasons, it’s just as much of a sin as the “obvious” sins. (I greatly paraphrased that.) I can attest personally to that as the “good little Baptist girl.” Though I was just really good at hiding the “obvious” sins. Anyway, as he wrapped up he said, “If the only place Jesus has led you is to church, you might be following religion and not Jesus.” That didn’t complicate my attempt to answer why I go to church at all. (That was sarcasm which doesn’t always come through in written form.)

When I was a kid, I went to church because I had to. My parents’ rule was, “As long as you live under our roof, you will go to church.” Because they did not further qualify that statement at the time, and because I was already a master at finding loopholes (when I began writing this, I had just had a convo about that with one of my blunt friends), this good little Baptist girl went to Roman Catholic mass with her best friend for several months. Granted, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to go to church, I just decided I didn’t want to go to the one I thought I wanted to go to when we moved to town. (That’s a whole story in itself that I’ve probably written about before.) But I eventually found a Baptist church where I felt “a part of,” and that’s where my relationship with church started going wonky.

I loved that church. I went on my own without coercion, though a lot of that was because I had a couple of good friends there. But I felt “at home” beyond that. There was no “air” in the air there. Just a bunch of ordinary folks. Until we moved into the new building. I don’t know if there is a correlation. That’s been many years ago, and I was just a teen. But it was after we moved that I heard the thing that caused me to leave. I don’t remember how long it was after we had moved to the new building, but I vividly remember the openly racist sermon. That was the Sunday that church was no longer home because if ALL of my friends were not welcome there – white AND black – then neither was I. I walked away for many years. When I started going back to church it was for a lot of wrong reasons. But I found a church that felt like family, that wasn’t lily-white, and was Baptist. I got burned again because there was so much dysfunction due to factions with control issues. And when a faction tries to control a control freak who hasn’t yet learned that a controlling nature is a character defect, there’s going to be acting out. And I acted out. And then I quit. And I think I have been to a certain degree shunned.

I went into the next church search leery. However, it wasn’t a long search before I found another church that felt like home, and I went all in. I did it because despite all the issues at the previous church, I had a fresh encounter with Jesus, and it changed everything. Slowly though, because I still have a lot of issues.

I still have a lot of religious resentment. I don’t know for sure if that is why I am having such a hard time answering that question. I’m not entirely certain of my motives. I love my church. I love serving there. But sometimes I question if I made the right decision in choosing my church. I know I don’t have to go to church to worship God. I can worship Him anytime because He isn’t confined to a gathering of believers nor a building (and a church is the people, not the building). I have believing friends outside of church who are blunt and have no problem calling me out for my self-righteousness, so I don’t need church for accountability. I can listen to sermon podcasts anytime. Every “good” reason I can think of for why I would go to church can be accomplished outside of church.

So at this point, I have pretty much talked myself out of going period. I mean, why go at all when I don’t have to go? I occurred to me that there is something that I can only participate in at church. Communion. Generally all Christians believe that there are only 2 sacraments that are instituted by a “local, visible” body of believers, and that is baptism and the Lord’s Supper (communion). I could argue the baptism with the accounts of Cornelius and the Ethiopian Eunuch, but it is not relevant. Besides, I’ve already been baptized – twice. But communion was always done in a context among a group of believers gathered together to commemorate Jesus’ sacrifice as the once for all Passover lamb. Yeah, I could show up at a church just for that (and I’m not going to go into the whole open/closed communion debate), but from Jesus instituting the practice at Passover before his crucifixion to throughout the epistles, communion was done among a group of believers who knew each other. While I just popped off with the argument for closed communion, I don’t think the point of commemorating the Lord’s Supper with a local church you are a member of was to be implemented as a legalistic requirement. Because my dad and I are living proof that you can go to the same church every time the doors open and still be covering up sin. But I digress. I believe the point of doing it local with folks you know is for the community aspect of it. Communing with fellow believers in commemoration of the one thing we all share in common: Jesus, and Him crucified.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 19-20, 24-28

If I make going to church about what I get from it, I make it all about me. This is not what Christ calls us to. Following Him is not a self-centered, self-focused endeavor. If we are to be followers of Christ, if we are being remade into the image of Jesus, then our lives should reflect a desire to serve others. And since I am a member of the body of Christ, it stands to reason that I have a role to play that benefits the entire body. I have been uniquely gifted, just like my brothers and sisters, to serve the body. This is perhaps why I love to serve in the capacity I do. And so I guess ultimately, this is why I go to church.

“…on a break”

I didn’t intend to go on a 3 month hiatus. However, I probably should have started that hiatus intentionally about 3 months or more before I stopped writing. Or I should have just stuck with fiction. Because I was not well.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV

I was in a funk for a while. Okay, to a certain extent I still am, but I am no longer the “batshit crazy” I was. And it was one of those things I saw coming, but not entirely clearly. I let a couple close friends in on what was going on with me to the extent I knew because there was a certain aspect of it that I have been through before. I know that after a period of high stress, when I start coming down, I’m going to have panic attacks followed by depression. I have not ever been through that cycle since getting sober. So when I started having the anxiety, I started reaching out. It didn’t seem as bad as the panic attacks of the past, but I have not forgotten how bad that depressive period I had 5 years ago was. Never before nor since has life been that dark. Thank goodness.

In the meantime, I just wasn’t snapping back. One of my friends told me that we didn’t necessarily have to search real deep to find the cause, and I told her, “I’m not afraid of going deep, but I don’t know where to start digging.” Granted, this was my first holiday season since my mom died. Naturally some of the funk was grief, and I was on a heavy stress cycle for several months following her death. I got emotionally involved in the election, feeding on fear and outrage and what I viewed as hypocrisy that I felt was my duty to expose. (It’s not.) And then the election did not turn out as I expected leaving me to eat a lot of the words I was saying.

I sat down and tried to write just after the New Year. I have no idea what prompted me to write the following, but I am sure it was to point out something I saw in someone else rather than taking care of my own side of the street.

I can abstain from drinking, but if I am miserable, desiring the escape that drinking gave me, I’m not sober. Without the “spiritual awakening,” I am just a dry drunk going through the motions and never finding peace. With that attitude I can never do the 12th step because I can’t carry a message I haven’t really received.

Ironically, I got a call the following day from a friend who was checking on me, and she asked me if I thought I might be on a dry drunk. I answered that the thought had crossed my mind, because that was about the point the light start to flicker as if it was about to come on. After we hung up, I texted one friend and asked for prayer for the digging I was about to do, and another to see if she noticed anything glaring from my behavior that might indicate a blind spot. Within a day or 2, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that I was indeed on a dry drunk and had been for quite some time.

Dry drunk is a slang expression infamously known in the sober community. It describes a person who no longer drinks or abuses drugs, but continues to behave in dysfunctional ways.

I’ve been known to spout out the statement, “I’d rather do hard stuff now than to do the work of figuring out why I drank again after the fact.” I still stand by that statement, but I was so far off track with my program that I went right back to Step 1. I looked at what happened, and I had stopped doing most of the things I did at the very beginning. Not all at once, but one thing here, another thing there, until I was barely working a program at all. I went back and started doing the basics again, and it’s getting better. I still backtracked the progression, and identified the first cause: I decided that I got it. I thought I had the program figured out, I had my alcoholism defeated, and I could chill and coast. Well, once I think I’ve got it is when I’ve lost it. And it happened not long after I had a year’s sobriety. It became complicated when life started happening and hitting me with major life changes like a separation and death of a parent. Because I wasn’t doing the everyday basics, I started running out of steam because I was no longer operating on a firm foundation with the help of my Higher Power. I was white-knuckling and had more than once incident where I was just about to drink.

I’ve looked at those instances where that obsession to drink returned, and I’ve wondered how I was able to not drink. Like that last Thanksgiving with Mom when she was in the hospital. If I’d had to drive by Petit Jean Liquor one more time, I was going to stop. I had already planned it out and knew I could pull it off without no one knowing. No one would have known. But the thought occurred to me, “I’ll know.” Despite the fact that I called no one under such “noble auspices” as not wanting to interrupt anyone’s Thanksgiving, I didn’t drink. Note: I should have called someone. About a week and a half before this past Christmas, I was on my way to work on a Friday morning when I recognized that feeling I used to get when I was drinking and I knew I was going to drink that day if I didn’t do something. I made a call that day and answered the greeting with “I want to drink.” But I didn’t. I know that may or may not make sense. I didn’t want to drink more than I wanted to drink, but I was craving that escape. That numbness. I didn’t drink, and I made it to my 3 year anniversary a couple of weeks ago, if by the skin of my teeth.

Just this week I was telling a friend about my first drink. How I was given that “way of escape” in the verse I quoted at the beginning. A big, wide door that I could have walked through without drinking, and without losing a friendship. To this day I don’t know why I decided to participate. I don’t know why I kept drinking when that first drink tasted so bad. I eventually came to love the effect of alcohol more that I cared about any moral implication of drinking the way I drank. What I do know, though, is why over those months when I wasn’t putting forth much effort towards working my program is how I kept from drinking in spite of myself.

God’s mercy and grace.

There is no other explanation for why I didn’t drink. Because I was half-assing the program (if that much), I had no mental defense against that first drink. I’m a firm believer in free will. I don’t believe that God forces anyone to do anything against their will even if it is in their best interest. But at the same time, I have no doubt that when I took that 3rd step the first time, surrendering without reservation, turning my will and my life over to the care of God, that even when I tried to take my will back, He kept me sober by doing for me what I could not do for myself. Or perhaps the better way of saying that is that he kept me dry while my life got more and more unmanageable knowing that the unmanageability would eventually hurt enough to take action to get the serenity back.

Dreaming #nablopomo

I tend not to put too much stock in dreams. I blame my parents for dismissing relative’s dreams. Plus I have really weird dreams, and they are usually vivid so I often remember them. Back in the spring I had a dream that was so disturbing, I had to call someone about it to stop dwelling on it. Just last week I had one that I had to tell another friend about. I wasn’t so disturbed after waking up, but I was pretty disturbed in the dream.

But then there is the dream Chad had back in May. He said to me, “Hey, I dreamed that Granny died.” I told him that she had been sick and was in the nursing home for rehab, but that she was going home the next day. 2 days later she died.

I have had several dreams about Mom since she died. I dreamed that I was packing up her stuff, and had most of the truck loaded, but then there she was in the kitchen, and I panicked as I thought, “What’s she going to do when I have all of her stuff?” Another dream, I was home for the funeral, and on the way to the funeral home, but she was actually still alive and in the hospital. Still another, I went home for the funeral, and at no point did I find it odd that we were in the house in Morrilton, but then Mom was there, and was asking me where her car was. I remember feeling angry that she couldn’t remember I had the car, and then guilty that I was angry because she couldn’t remember. (I think maybe that’s something I haven’t really worked though yet.)

The other night I had one of my typical “out there” dreams. For some reason I had to fake fight Rachel from Friends in order to fight some dude that I think I know, but all I can think is that he looked like a cross between Danny Bonaduce and Sammy Hagar. Took forever to choke him out, too, but he finally tapped out right before losing consciousness.

Following this, I was feeling like honey badger, and decided to go tell Mom who was on the porch. I walked out and said, “Mother,” in that same way that Jamie says it to me. Mom was sitting in Aunt Becky’s green chair with Aunt Pearl. Aunt Violet was laying on a bed beside them, only that woman looked nothing like Aunt Violet and more like Aunt Dude. Granny was sitting beside the door, and I woke up before I could assess who else was out there. Essentially, I think I was on that porch with a lot of my deceased aunts plus Mom and Granny. Just so odd, but neat.

Here and not #nablopomo

outofbody
photo credit: Fundacja Wersja Źródła ciała via photopin (license)

Sometimes I can feel so absolutely alone. Almost disconnected from the rest of the world. Surreal. Like no one else exists even when I can see other people. Almost like I’m invisible.

I wrote that nearly a year ago. I was sitting outside at work, and technically I was alone in that no one else was outside with me. But I knew I wasn’t really alone and there were several people inside, plus people driving by and such.

That was not my first time having an episode like that. It’s just the first I recorded. I had a somewhat similar episode Sunday evening while washing dishes. I was fully aware that I was washing dishes, I mean, I was washing knives so I was very conscious of what I was doing. Yet at the same time, it was as if I was outside of myself observing myself. It wasn’t an out-body-experience, and yes, I have had one. (The DragonLady had a few weird trips on laughing gas at the dentist when she was a kid.)

I shared this with some people in a private Facebook group who have similar backgrounds as I and might relate. Lo and behold, I am not the only one who has this little dissociative bouts.

It’s kind of funny how your childhood coping mechanisms come out at odd times as an adult. These things aren’t frightening typically. Now when I have episodes when I am driving where I cannot remember anything that happened for several miles, that’s a bit disconcerting. But much like that out-of-body experience and hallucination at the dentist as a kid, I find it curious rather than scary.

Prompting the brave #nablopomo

I signed up to blog every day in November with every intention of making myself actually do it. I remember how I did this 2 years ago as well, and I think I wrote maybe the first 4 days. It’s day 2, and I couldn’t come up with a topic, but I joined a Facebook group that promised a writing prompt every weekday.

When was the last time you did something brave? What happened?

I also remember a few years ago when Petra did a writing topic challenge, and we kept getting loaded questions. We made it 3, 4 posts? So here I sit with today’s writing prompt, and it’s a loaded question. Earlier today, it wasn’t quite so loaded and I started to write about seriously entertaining the thought of a career change. Not only thinking on it, but mentioning it to a few close friends.

As I thought about expanding on that, I got very anxious. I’ve also talked about my anxiety with a couple close friends in the last few days. I haven’t had a bout with prolonged anxiety in a while. Not since my first 6 months or so sober. I wasn’t concerned so much about my recent anxiety because I know the pattern of high stress followed by anxiety followed by depression. Since it’s been going on a few weeks, I let my some of my inner circle know because I haven’t gone through the entire cycle completely sober and without an antidepressant. I need other eyes on me so I don’t start isolating.

Well, turns out there was something else behind my recent episodes of anxiety which explained why today nearly turned into a full blown panic attack. I’m not going to go into any detail whatsoever as to what the trigger was. But I just about flipped out initially with the full manifestation of the mental chatter I’d had all afternoon. That chatter is dangerous for me because I know how to silence it. No, I know how to temporarily muzzle it.

I remembered that I have a tool chest. And I used it. I first resolved not to do anything rash, and then I called someone. Ok, I texted her, but she told me to call, and I knew she would. And you know, the mental chatter stopped. The old me would have gotten drunk. Maybe not today, but it would happen soon because it always seemed like the easy way to take care of my issues. Keep the feelings stuffed and suppressed.

Today, I faced my feelings, and I didn’t isolate. For me, that was brave.

Sexual abuse is not a joke

I kept sitting and looking at my screen wondering how I was going to start this. There is just no good way to start a post that’s going to expose a family skeleton. But I cannot sit silently by while otherwise good people excuse and normalize Donald Trump’s lewd and crass statements, which weren’t surprising to me given the totality of his reprehensible character which he has displayed since early in the primaries. It is a testimony to the condition of his heart, and not a good testimony.

And for the record, my rejection of Trump is NOT an endorsement of Hillary.

Shortly after I turned 15, my dad was caught engaging in beastiality. He would go to our church on Saturdays and clean the building, and as if it wasn’t bad enough what he did, it happened on church grounds. I heard the original phone call. I heard the plea not to tell anyone. But the membership of our church was told, and that was the end of Daddy’s membership there, and also his service as a deacon. This prompted a hasty move which would have me transfer to a new school and thereby give me some protection from any trickle-down effects of that news reaching the ears of other kids.

No one outside of my parents ever spoke of that incident around me, so I have no idea who outside of that church and the reporter of the incident knew about it. I’m not entirely sure who in the family knows besides those who also went to church there. To be honest, I could have largely convinced myself that nothing ever happened had my dad not brought it up from time to time. He never truly acknowledged the deviancy of his behavior, but never failed to paint himself as the victim.

Nearly 5 years later, he was arrested for rape of two 12-year-old boys. I was 19. This was not an incident that was covered up. His arrest was announced on the local radio station’s news. It was reported on the front page of the local newspaper. I still remember like it was yesterday when my best friend called me because she had heard about it from someone who heard it on the radio. She could not believe it, and was ready to set the record straight. I had to tell her, “Yes, the report is true.” Meanwhile, my mom was beside me saying “No, it’s not true.” I was confirming that Daddy really had been arrested for rape. She was denying rape had occurred.

But I would later read his written statement. Written by his own hand, he gave his account, and he was guilty. Yet he maintained for years and years that what he did wasn’t wrong. My mom stood beside him and supported him. A friend of theirs came to offer support and called those boys “just trash.”

Daddy plead guilty to avoid what would have been an ugly trial. The judge gave him the minimum sentence, but that was still 7 years. It would be another year after sentencing before there was a bed available in one of the state penitentiaries. He went to prison shortly after I turned 21, and served 5 years before being granted parole.

To give a little more perspective to this, the beastiality event occurred when he was 61 years old. The rape incident shortly before his 66th birthday. He was by no means a young man. We were Landmark Missionary Baptists – a sect that considered (and probably still does, to an extent) Southern Baptists too liberal.

I listened to him as time went on from the arrest, conviction, and incarceration make himself out to be the victim. He claimed he was “set up” because he was speaking out about the drugs in our neighborhood. By “speaking out” I mean talking loudly. He never assumed full responsibility for his actions, and absolutely never repented. Once I had children, especially a son, I had to watch him like a hawk because I knew he could not be trusted not to molest him.

Because I read the statement and listened to him make himself the victim instead of the perpetrator.

I have looked back at his behavior in the years leading up to the rape, and I can see the predatory signs in retrospect. The grooming. I have often wondered how many more victims there are. I carried guilt and shame that I was unable to stop him. Unable to protect those boys. Unable to protect any of them. I didn’t know how to recognize the signs beforehand. But to be honest, at that age, particularly given the fear I had of my dad’s wrath, I was powerless. Because I had been beaten and berated into submission my whole life. “Honor thy father…” And with the skewed view of sex I was raised with, it is no wonder that I have always been able to sexualize anything.

dirtymind

Aside from being collateral damage from my dad’s sexual deviancy and abuse, I have been the recipient of unwanted and unwelcome lewd comments, touching, kissing, and propositions. As a married woman, I have had married men who not only knew I was married but also knew I knew were married try to pursue sex with me. I remember hearing a group of guys I was stationed with talking about Faith Hill. “She has legs all the way up to her ass!” I knew what that meant. And I also knew that as a tall, slim woman with long legs, that I also had “legs all the way up to my ass.”

“Locker room talk” is demeaning, degrading, and disrespectful. It shows at best a seared conscience and at worst a lack of conscience to treat another human being in this manner. It is not simply a “potty mouth.” I have a potty mouth (which I learned primarily at home growing up), and there is a big difference between dropping the s-bomb, d-bomb, or even f-bomb as an expletive and bragging about or fantasizing aloud about forcing yourself onto another person. Sexual abuse is not a joke. Sexual abuse is evil. To dismiss it as less than that is to condone and enable evil – no matter which wing you identify with.

The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. Luke 6:45 NASB

A farewell for now

MomMePetFluffy81-WM

I now belong to an “elite club,” as my cousin Carolyn Jo put it. My mom passed away May 4, and I now belong to that “elite club” of having lost both of my parents. As I said when my dad died nearly 9 years ago, you might think you have prepared yourself for that phone call, but when you get that call, you realize that you can’t ever be emotionally prepared. I say that as someone who does not like emotional pain, and whose default response to a negative emotion is to shut down. This becomes particularly true for someone like me who gets that call while I am out with a friend. Despite the fact that my therapist told me (as I melted down multiple times on her in one session) that it is okay to cry in front of Petra.

But I almost cried in front of Petra as she witnessed that phone call I got from Sharon.

12570845_10153973951419274_390970780_n

It’s been a whole month now. There is still a lot of emotion. No matter how certain I am of the eternal resting place of her soul, I still miss her. Much. With the Alzheimer’s and it’s associated dementia, I’ve been losing her for a few years. I am grateful that those years were few. When my Aunt Florabel started losing her memory, I remember Mom telling me that she was afraid that would happen to her. And then it did. She never completely lost her memory, and she never lost her core kind and humorous personality. She didn’t suffer from pain, and she considered the complications from the COPD (recurring pneumonia) a mere annoyance.

MomGrandmaDavis-WM

Mom6or7-WM

MomHS11grade-WM

Mom50sWichita-WM

MomGrandkidsWM

MomMeThanksg2015-WM

There’s a story behind this next picture. One year just before Christmas, Mom asked me more than once if I had gotten a Christmas card from Carolyn Jo. I thought it odd that she asked me more than once, but didn’t dwell on it. Then I got the card, and died laughing! A couple months prior my cousin Jill (Carolyn’s daughter) had gotten married. Mom got picked on over all the beer (which she didn’t partake of because she didn’t drink), and someone made the remark to her that she couldn’t even bring herself to pick up a bottle. So, Mom being Mom, showed them, and picked up and empty bottle and posed. Carolyn took the photo and made Christmas cards. Of course, Mom about died, but the entire rest of the family LOVED it! I framed mine, and Mom gave me the stink eye over it.

ChristmasWithBettyJo-WM

Not a day goes by that I don’t miss her. Her wisdom, her laughter, and her love. It’s farewell for now, but I know one day I will see her again.

IMG_20160604_0002