Saturday, October 30, 2021


Each morning I stop at my local Circle K and buy a small coffee while on my way to work.  And when I pay for it, I always tell the clerk to put the change in the donation box.

A couple of them have been there for some time and so we always greet each other and wish each other a good day.  And it's the same routine each day.  I lay down my two dollars and tell them to put the change in the donation box.  

But lately our routine has been changing.  Because every once in a while when I go to pay, they wave me on, telling me it's on the house.

When it first happened a few months back I was surprised.  But l thanked the clerk and went on my way.

As time goes on it seems like it happens more often because when no one's around they wave me on and wish me a good day.

Because I'm a person who tends to overanalyze everything I started thinking about the free coffee I get every so often.  And the only conclusion I can come to is that because I donate a bit of change each time I pay they may want to do something nice in return.    

Is it Karma?  Their way of recognizing my small contributions?   Either way it feels good so I plan to continue.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Hedonic Treadmill

One of the characteristic beliefs of many addicts - and non-addicts - is that money will bring them success and happiness.  Not so.  

Now there's little doubt that money will bring us a degree of pleasure, at least on a temporary basis.  But when we tire of that pleasure, we think that maybe a little more will make our lives wonderful.  So, we work to get a bigger house.  A nicer car.  A better wardrobe.  More jewelry.  And stuff that we think will fulfill our lives.

In psychology it is often described as the "hedonic treadmill."  I run and run harder and faster to accumulate more stuff.  Then I'll be happy.  But sooner or later we find that more stuff is not the key to happiness.  Many wear themselves out on the treadmill, and soon realize that there other ways to happiness aside from accumulating stuff that only brings pleasure for while.

Those who get off that path may decide to improve their lives by going to school.  Learning to play a musical instrument.  Joining a church. Volunteering at a senior center, or becoming active in sponsoring others in recovery.

When we devote ourselves to learning a new skill or to helping others improve their lives then we find true happiness.

I once thought the same way:  that a lot of material things would make me happy.  But once I got those things they didn't give me what I wanted.   

So I devoted my life to helping others change for the better and achieve their goals in life.  That's what brought me the happiness that I have today.

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Sunday, October 24, 2021

A selfish Act

I had a lunch appointment today with a client who was recently appointed to a supervisory position.  I was a few minutes late and was ready to apologize when I realized he hadn't arrived at the restaurant either.  My plan was to get better acquainted with him and discuss the responsibilities of his new position.

Then I got a call from him.  On the drive from his house, a few blocks from the restaurant,  he passed a car parked at the side of the street with a man sitting in it with his head slumped against the driver's side window.  As he passed the car he felt there was something strange about the man's posture.  Like maybe he was sick or having medical issues.

So he made a U-turn, walked across the street to the car and rapped on the window.   There was no response from the man and when he took a closer look he saw a pistol in the man's hand and realized that he'd committed suicide.  He then called the police.  I met him at the scene and from there we went to  lunch.

Had he not stopped to investigate it's no telling how long the man would have been there before he was found.  The police said the man had been reported missing the night before and his family was concerned.

To me, that's what's terrible about suicide, which is reportedly the seventh leading cause of death in this country.  Those who kill themselves are not concerned about those left behind, those who loved them.  They only want to get rid of their own pain. They don't think about those who spent time and money educating and raising them to adulthood.   It's only about their own pain and so they self-centeredly take the easy way out.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Home Again

Back at home Friday and looking forward to getting back after 10 days.

We had never been to Panama, though I always had it on my list of places to visit.  I wanted to see one of the great engineering feats in the world, the Panama canal, and was able to do that today. It is a truly amazing feat to build a 40 mile long canal. I can't even imagine the money spent and the lives lost in completing the project.  

I know that we are blessed in being able to travel a few times a year.  But I have to say that I didn't do enough research before taking this trip. For example, I didn't know that it rains here nearly each day.  And I didn't know that people in Panama drive much crazier that in other city I've been in, including Los Angeles.  

In fact it was so insane that I turned our rental car in the second day we were here.  Completely terrifying.  Also, something I didn't know is that there are no addresses or street numbers here.  And you're lucky if the GPS can find the name of the building you're looking for.  Even the cab drivers get lost.

One day I may take a cruise through the canal to get the full experience of it - but that will be a few years down the road.  I think my next trip will be back to my old familiar haunts in Puerto Vallarta.  Which I find to be one of the more relaxing cities in the world.

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Saturday, October 16, 2021

On Vacation

One of the benefits of being sober is being able to go on vacation a few times a year.  Usually by October we've been somewhere at least four or five times.

But between Covid 19 and and key people leaving for whatever reason, this is only my third time away from the company for more than a few days.  Fortunately, I have some trustworthy key people around me that can manage things while I'm gone.

So this time my sweetheart and I chose Panama City, Panama, somewhere neither of us have ever been.  For some reason I had entirely different expectations of what the country would be like.  For one thing it has a small population, somewhere around 1.5 million citizens.  I envisioned at least four to five million.

And another misconception I had was that it was sunshiny year around, closer to like Arizona where we're from.  Not so.  Here it rains or sprinkles for a few hours each day and then is kind of cloudy and overcast the rest of the time.  But being from Arizona, it's a pleasant change from the predictable weather there.

Panama City is one of the few cities I've been to where I refuse to drive. Most people drive with one hand on their horn, many times forcing other vehicles to either hit them or get out of the way.  As little driving as we planned on doing I took the car back the third day here.

Still it's good to relax, enjoy foods I haven't sampled very much before, and just get business off my  mind.

People often say we're lucky to be able to do what we do.   Go on vacations.  Live in nice homes.  And they're right.  But all the luck we have comes from living clean and sober lives - what we're promised when we join the 12-step programs.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2021

IQ vs. EQ

It wasn't until a few years that I understood that IQ, which stands for intelligence quotient, is only one key factor in a person's success.  That there's something called EQ, which stands for emotional quotient, that's equally important.

Around six or seven years ago I read the results of a study about emotional intelligence.  What is emotional intelligence?  It's summed up like this:

1.  Self management.

2.  Social awareness.

3.  Self-awareness.

4.  Relationship management.

Many of you know people who have a high IQ, people who are absolutely brilliant, who have achieved very little in life.  They might be the brightest bulb in the box, but they enjoy very little in the way of social or financial success. In fact when I was in prison I was living alongside of doctors, lawyers and even rocket scientists who were amazingly intelligent.  I wondered what the hell they were doing in prison with so many of us who had little or no education.

But as I got better acquainted with them they seemed to have the idea that they were superior to their fellow man.  Many were arrogant.  Or always angry and seemed to think their intelligence gave them carte blanche to treat others however they chose. Many of them were there for theft, financial crimes or fraud, crimes where they expressed their high IQ by feeling they were better or deserved more than others without having to put much effort.

Today I know many people who have little formal education who are wealthy, successful, and pillars of the community.  And they all did it through knowing how to get along with other people and knowing that if they treated them right they could help each other succeed.

It's nice to have a high IQ.  And it's even nicer if one has the emotional IQ to go along with it.

Remember we all feel like we're important.  And we should recognize that when we're dealing with others.

Click here to email John

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Needing more Pain

I stopped at Circle K one morning last week for my usual morning cup of coffee.  Standing out front, leaning against the trash can, was a guy who was obviously homeless and needing help.  He had a cast on his arm and looked as if he hadn't bathed for a few days.

He spoke to me as I was walking into the store and I returned his greeting.  When I exited the store with my coffee, he asked me if I could give him a ride to the library.  

I told him to get in my car, that the library wasn't too far out of my way.  He threw his backpack in the trunk and got into the front seat.

Once in the car I told him that if he had a problem with drugs or alcohol I could probably get him a bed at TLC.  He said he used methamphetamines sometimes but that he would like to get away from drugs.  I called our manager and arranged to get him into our program and dropped him at our Dana Street location.

The next day when I inquired about the guy the manager told me that he had left during the intake interview.  I guess that once he found out that he would have to attend peer groups, go to meetings, and eventually find a job and pay service fees he lost his motivation.

Actually he isn't unique.  A large percentage of those who start out with a desire to get sober leave within a week or two.  They like the idea of getting sober.  But they don't like the idea that  they might have to participate in their own recovery.

I know that once this man's life of living and using drugs on the street becomes too painful he'll find someplace that'll help him to get clean and sober.  He has to undergo more suffering before he'll find the motivation to change.

Click here to email John

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Learn to Visualize

When I was a boy living on a farm in the hills of Oregon I learned to visualize.  And I didn't even realize what I was doing.  I just thought my mind was drifting if I thought about it at all.

While my family wasn't poor, neither were we well-off.  We grew most of our own food.  My brother and I took care of the garden, growing fruit and vegetables.  We also fed the chickens, pigs, and milk cows.  Our lives from ages 5 to 12 were mostly work.  If not on the farm, then at school.

But working all the time wasn't great fun. It was a healthy life, but kids want fun and excitement and to enjoy the nice things the neighbor kids had.  And so I would often find my mind drifting back to Newport Beach, California where I lived with my mother and stepfather until I was five years old.  Until the weekend my father took me and my brother to his house for a visit and never returned us to our mother who had legal custody. 

Instead, he took us to a farm he'd purchased in Fall Creek, Oregon, where we lived for the next seven years.  And during those years is when I learned about visualization.  When I wasn't doing chores or school work I'd often find myself sitting on the bank of the river that bordered the rear of our property and day dreaming.

I'd picture myself living back in Southern California with my mother and grandparents.  I'd remember the nice clothes she'd buy for me and my brother, the meals she prepared, the Catholic church she took us to and the encouragement she gave me to do well in school.

These visions I had of my former life were one way that I escaped the alcoholic anger of my father.  When I'd dream of the future, he was nowhere in the picture.  There wasn't a lot of alcohol around when I lived with my mother and stepfather.  There was no rage and fighting.  I didn't get my butt kicked when I did something wrong, though I did get periodic punishment if I deserved it.

So my dreams while I was on the riverbank were about having a peaceful life.  One without alcohol or violence.  I pictured living in a nice home.  Of having a business and an automobile and eventual prosperity.

And those things came to pass.  All of my visions have come true beyond my dreams.  I have the life I dreamed of and much more.

I got here on a twisted path, though.  In my younger life I acheived many of my dreams, but my father taught me about alcohol.  And I became just like him for years, drunk and angry and destroying everything and everyone around me.

Then, in midlife I had an epiphany, a realization of what would happen if I didn't quit drinking and shooting heroin.  If I didn't change it would be back to prison for me, or the hospital, or even an early death.  I took inventory of myself and pictured myself being clean and sober. 

I began to visualize that one thing: a sober life.  And it happened for me.  On January 13, 1991 I checked into a detox and never looked back.  Once I got sober the things I visualized came into my life much sooner than I expected.

I pictured the sobriety and all the good things that come with it and it manifested in my life.

Start dreaming each day about the changes you want in your life and see what happens.

Click here to email John

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Alcohol and the Pandemic

As a recovering alcoholic I've noticed many mentions on the web of increased drinking during the pandemic.  I've posted one of them that I found clear and interesting.  Perhaps the rest of the world will better understand those of us who deal with adversity with the help of substances.


How Bad is our Pandemic Drinking Problem?

Even before the pandemic began, some Americans were drinking significantly more alcohol than they had in decades past — with damaging consequences. In 2020, researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (N.I.A.A.A.) found that from 1999 through 2017, per capita consumption increased by 8 percent and the number of alcohol-related deaths doubled, many caused by liver disease. The trends are particularly concerning for women: Whereas the number of men who reported any drinking stayed mostly the same, the proportion of women who did so increased 10 percent, and the number of women who reported binge drinking, or consuming roughly four or more drinks in about two hours, increased by 23 percent. (For men, binge drinking is about five or more drinks in that period.) Current dietary guidelines consider moderate drinking to be at most one drink a day for women and two for men.

So researchers were understandably apprehensive when, early in the pandemic, alcohol sales spiked. They were especially concerned about women, because similar quantities of alcohol affect them more adversely than men, making them more likely to suffer injuries from accidents and to develop chronic illnesses like liver and heart disease and cancer. But it was unclear whether increased sales would translate into increased consumption. Perhaps Americans were hoarding alcohol as they were toilet paper.

A growing body of research, however, has begun to confirm that Americans, and women in particular, are indeed drinking more in response to the pandemic. In December, researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, published the results of a survey they conducted last May in The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. They found that of the more than 800 respondents — those who replied to the online questionnaire were mostly white women — 60 percent were drinking more compared with before Covid-19 (13 percent were drinking less). More than 45 percent of participants said their reasons for drinking included increased stress. And those who reported feeling “very much” or “extreme” stress from the pandemic reported drinking more on more days than those who were less affected. Another survey conducted this February by the American Psychological Association found that nearly one in four adults reported drinking more to manage pandemic stress. Though stress has long been a common reason people turn to alcohol, the extent to which it appeared to cause increased consumption during the past year was startling, says George Koob, director of the N.I.A.A.A. “It shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it did surprise us, this drinking to cope.”

That trend is especially alarming because previous research suggests that people who drink to cope — as opposed to doing so for pleasure — have a higher risk of developing an alcohol-use disorder, which is the inability to stop or control drinking even when it causes harm. Alcohol can be calming in the short term: It slows activity in the amygdala, the area of the brain that readies the body’s “fight or flight” response to real or imagined stress by increasing heart rate and blood pressure and amplifying our awareness of threatening stimuli. But over time, alcohol’s dampening effect on the amygdala decreases, while the region itself becomes “hyperactive in between bouts of drinking,” according to Aaron White, a senior scientific adviser at the N.I.A.A.A. Achieving the same level of relief requires drinking more, and more often.

There are already indications that groups feeling the most pandemic-related stress are seeing greater increases in alcohol consumption. A survey of 12,000 physicians, for instance, found that more than 40 percent were experiencing burnout, very likely amplified by the pandemic, and of those, more than a quarter were drinking to deal with it. And though pre-pandemic research showed that parents were less likely than people without children to engage in risky levels of alcohol consumption, parents appear to be among those drinking more now — especially if their children are engaged in remote schooling.

The most worrisome drinking behavior, as before the pandemic, appears to be among women, who have also borne more of the child-care burden created by school closures. A study published in October in The Journal of Addiction Medicine found that between February and April 2020, women had a greater increase in excessive drinking than men did. Respondents who are Black reported greater increases, too. A November study in the journal Addictive Behaviors, based on an April survey that asked about people’s drinking during the previous month, found that women drank more than men in response to pandemic stress, to the point that their intake levels were roughly equal. “I left that study with more questions than answers,” says Lindsey Rodriguez, the paper’s lead author and a psychologist at the University of South Florida. “Is it because of home-schooling? Uncertainty about the future? High pressure in more domains of life? Women were disproportionately affected by all things Covid-19. This is another way of showing the effects of that.”

Previous disasters, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the 2003 SARS outbreak and Hurricane Katrina, have been followed by increases in alcohol abuse among those who experienced them and their aftermath. But researchers have never studied the impact on drinking behavior of a catastrophe that lasted as long and was as pervasive as the current pandemic. Nor did those earlier events increase social isolation while also initiating widespread changes in the availability of alcohol through takeout and delivery, as Covid-19 has. There has been more drinking at home, which is associated with domestic violence and child neglect, Carolina Barbosa, a behavioral health scientist at RTI International, a nonprofit research organization, points out. “So it’s not just the health of the person who is drinking that we are concerned with,” says Barbosa, the lead author of the Addiction Medicine study, “but it’s also the social impact on the family and society in general.”

Those potential repercussions — on everything from individual health to poverty, crime and violence, which have previously been associated with the density of alcohol sellers in a given area — will take time to unfold and assess. Right now, most of the data available on people’s changes in drinking behavior are limited to small surveys. “This all suggests people are starting to put in place patterns of heavier drinking,” says Elyse Grossman, a policy fellow at Johns Hopkins and lead author of the International Journal article. She expects to start seeing the effects one to three years from now, which is when alcohol abuse increased following other catastrophes. (Already cases of alcoholic liver disease are up an estimated 30 percent over the past year in the University of Michigan’s health system, and many of those additional patients were young women.)

Yet despite the worrying circumstances, at least 20 states are considering making permanent the relaxed alcohol rules they put in place during the pandemic. And alcohol manufacturers have exploited Covid-19 as a marketing tool to an extent that is “frustrating and surprising,” Grossman says. “They have used the pandemic to increase sales and oppose regulation. ‘You need time to yourself; you should be drinking. You need alcohol to relax; you need it to get through this pandemic.’” She adds: “It’s not an ordinary product, like coffee or pencils. It’s the third-leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.”

On a population level, this past year’s drinking has already set in motion a cascade of consequences that would be difficult to reverse absent major policy changes. But individuals can take steps to avoid negative outcomes themselves. Koob says that the emergence of telehealth during the pandemic may be a “silver lining” that will allow physicians and support groups to reach more struggling people. Treatments exist on “a spectrum,” he notes. “Not everyone has to go into a 28-day detox.” Doctors and health officials should begin responding now, with initiatives like screening for people’s drinking patterns and “better messaging” on what is excessive drinking, Barbosa says. “There are more people who are going to need help.”

For those interested there are many research articles about the increase in drinking behavior during this pandemic.

Click here to email John