Sunday, July 4, 2010

What I Can Do

"The best service we can provide others is to share what we have learned from our experience."

-- Edgar Cayce

I wish there were something I could say or do to keep someone else from ever coming to prison. It seems too simple a solution to just say, "stay in school; don't drink; don't do drugs." If I was a role model or a person with any kind of influence, then my words might have some impact, but all I have to offer is the fact that I've "been there, done that".

I've partied hard with Hells Angels and rock stars, with high society speed freaks and ghetto trash crackheads. I've got down with the best of them and worst, from the country clubs to the truck stops all over the country. I could drink anyone under the table, and still hold UW -- Madison's all-time record for the biggest 4'-- bong hit. I've done more than my share of coke and acid and sampled every other drug on the street more than once (except meth -- I'm not a complete idiot). I'm a virtual connoisseur of everything homegrown and homebrewed. So I know what it's like to have fun and to be high, to be in the fast lane as well as the gutter.

I've been one of the most popular kids, if not the coolest dude on the block, as well as a misfit, the loner, the nerd, the total reject; the smartest person in the class and the biggest dumb ass you'd ever care to meet. I've been a swinging single, happily married and painfully divorced. So I may be able to understand your point of view.

I've been rich with a fat brokerage account, a yacht, and lines of credit and so poor that I'm scrounging for "Free Coffee" game stickers in the 7-Eleven parking lot every morning and eating out at the Pizza Hut dumpster at night. So unless you're Bill Gates, I can probably relate to your current financial situation.

I've experienced great happiness as well as suicidal depression. I know what it's like to feel like life has no meaning, that there's no point to it all anymore; that the world would be better off without me, that life is just too difficult, too cruel, too hopeless...I felt the crippling ocean of despair that feels like a constant crushing weight that won't leave you, that only lets you up long enough to feel the next wave much more strongly, that keeps you in bed or indoors for weeks and months at a time. I know what it's like to be so full of guilt and remorse and self-loathing for so long that it becomes unbearable and you finally get that pistol, sit with it in your mouth, pull back the hammer, put your finger to the trigger, night after night after night. So, if you're in that place, I can relate and I can feel your pain.

But most importantly, I think, I've experienced both addiction and recovery. I know what it's like to lose control of my drug and alcohol use and feel powerless to do anything about it, to make so many heartfelt promises and failed attempts to quit that it eventually seems pointless to even try anymore. I know what it's like to get physically sick when the stuff runs out and just how horribly bad it feels. I know how it is to make your addiction more important than your bills, your rent, food, family, friends. I know, I know... I've experienced all the highs and all the lows and every place in between. And, believe it or not, up to the very end, as extremely f$%*ed up as I really knew I was, after repeatedly ruining every aspect of my life, I could not admit that I had a problem and that I was indeed an alcoholic/addict. My ego just wouldn't allow that conclusion, saying, "I'm in control; everything is okay; just a bump in the road; no worries." Even later, in jail, I still refused to face the truth. I eventually had to be dragged kicking and screaming, so to speak, to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting there. And it's a good thing.

"Fortune may yet have a better success in reserve for you. Those who lose today may win tomorrow."
-- Cervantes

First, those AA meetings showed me that lots of other people had it too. The same problem; there were lots of people I could talk with about it without feeling weak or stupid. For the most part, they were all going through the same things physically and mentally without their drugs of choice. But there were some who had gone months and even years without and who seemed to have kicked the habit for good, and those people were true inspirations. If they could do it, so could I. And AA's "blue book" had even more great stories of people overcoming their addictions. I could relate to those people, and because they had all gone through the same sort of hell, I could respect their advice. Here's basically what they told me:

(1) Realize that although you have a serious problem to deal with, you can and will overcome it as many others have.

(2) Don't let your pride get in the way of your success.This was a big problem for me. Accept help from whoever and wherever it comes. There a lot of people who really want to help you and who you'll make very happy by allowing them to do so -- it's their purpose and joy, don't deny them this. Besides, you really do need it. Just ask, and get ready for "Thank you!" to be your most used phrase from now on.

(3) A support group of some kind, like new friends from AA, is important, especially at first. Call them whenever you need/want to talk, and encourage them to do the same. Put them on speed dial. Listen, and actually take whatever device they may give. Then, as soon as you feel you're able, be a mentor to someone who is going through what you just did. Always remember that other people are looking up to you and relying on your strength and conviction also. As a fellow alcoholic/addict, I can say that your support group is really worldwide and that we're all in this together.

(4) Get some spirituality in your life. Just consider the idea that there may be a Higher Power in existence that you're just not yet aware of and that this Force can maybe help you overcome the addiction. This was relatively new for me, because I already had discarded the notion of a God or anything heavenly like that years ago. But someone suggested that I consider it as a higher "Self" or something within me that was greater than my ego and physical body -- some as yet untapped portion of my being that I could put in control of my life instead.

(Just try this , okay? Close your eyes and picture a bright, shining, silver and gold light, like a small sun, inside yourself. Focus on this light, which, let's say, is your true spiritual Self and intimately connected with the Divine, and imagine it radiating light and love throughout your being; filling every cell in your body and extending out 3 feet in every direction, so that you are shining like a star. Feel the love and power that is your Higher Self. Let this divine light cleanse you and heal you entirely. Relax in the healing light for as long as you like. This is the "White Light" meditation I practice often. It really works because it's real: your Higher Self is fact ,not fantasy.

(5) And here's some advice of my own that I don't think is mentioned often enough,: get some serious medical attention as soon as possible. (If I had done so, just two weeks earlier, I wouldn't be in prison today.) As much as I don't care for pharmaceutical drugs in general, which can be just as habit-forming and detrimental as the street variety, as an alcoholic or drug addict, your body and brain are extremely screwed up right now, whether you realize it or not, and there are good medications available that can help you overcome your addiction without the usual problems, setbacks, or suffering experienced. I recommend getting medical help for the physical withdrawal symptoms and cravings in order to better deal with the mental side of things, which are considerable enough in their own right. Speaking of which, some of these medications treat the psychological aspects of addiction as well. Definitely look into it. Even if you don't need much help, maybe a friend or a family member does.

Ideally, I think that it's best to be put into a purposefully -- induced coma for a couple of months or so until the worst of the physical and mental withdrawal symptoms run their course. A bit extreme for some people no doubt, but it's my understanding that an approach similar to this is being done somewhere for heroin addicts, using special medications to quickly cleanse the person's body as they sleep for about a week. The addict awakens with no real physical issues to deal with them can better get on with their recovery. I like it. All our hospitals and treatment centers need to adopt this method; we need to do what works, what gets proven results.

Still, the problem isn't with the medical rehabilitation fields or with society or with anyone but the addict. Each of us is responsible for own recovery. Fortunately, all the information and resources we need can be found on the Internet these days (try as a start). All it takes is this decision and commitment -- the courage -- to do what you know in your heart is the right thing to do.

He said, "Come to the edge." They said, "It's too far." He said, "Come to the edge." They said, "It's too high." He said, "Come to the edge." They said, "We might fall." He said, "Come to the edge." They came... He pushed them. And they flew.

The best advice I can offer anyone is to find some purpose and meaning in their life. How can you help? Are there any good causes you believe strongly in? Any organizations you'd like to volunteer your time and efforts to? The important thing for all of us is to put the focus on others rather than ourselves. We all need to overcome selfishness and self-centeredness more than anything else in life. For anyone suffering from addiction or depression, which go hand in hand, I see take a look around and notice all those people suffering even more than yourself in countless ways. No matter how bad off, you may be, there's always someone doing worse. How can you help? Often all it takes is making the effort to talk, to listen, and to show you care.

Do you care? Yes, of course you do. Perhaps you care too much, you think, and that is why you're so depressed in the first place: because the world's problems are just too big and too many; because there doesn't seem to be any solutions; because it's also hopeless; because one small person like yourself can't make a difference. Or perhaps you're so full of self-hatred and discussed that you think anything you did to help would only make matters worse. Maybe you feel that, ultimately, none of it really matters anyway. I can relate; I once felt the same way. I felt overwhelmed by the world, and the hopelessness and meaningless of it all seemed like too much to bear. My depression was so great that it took every effort just to leave the apartment most days, let alone go out and volunteer somewhere. Besides, I was always drunk or stoned and couldn't very well help anybody in that state.

But I was wrong. I wasn't thinking correctly; I was just making excuses. I used the problems of the world and my regrets as an excuse for my depression and alcoholism. I used my depression and addiction as an excuse for my laziness and self-centeredness. All I really cared about was me, me, me. I was too egotistical to admit that I was an addict and too proud to seek help-- until it was too late.

Please learn from my mistakes: stay in school; don't drink; don't do drugs. But if it's too late for any of that and you think you may have a problem, then do something about it right now. I can promise you that your life does have a huge purpose and meaning. And that to recognize that purpose you need to be clean and sober. I can promise you that being clean and sober is 1 billion times better than being f$%*ed up all the time. And, as impossible as it may seem right now, I can promise that you can get there in three months. If you really want to. Just follow the advice here and read at least the first three books on my required reading list. Go to Okay? Also, know that you've got a friend in me and that you can write/e-mail me anytime. I look forward to celebrating your success with you!

Thanks for listening and caring. Bye for now.

-- Eric


"Nothing is so firmly believed as that which is least known."

The first step is to admit you have a problem. Put the remote down and step away from the television. Each night's marathon of crime shows -- all the countless variations of "CSI" and "Law and Order" -- are destroying our society sense of reality. They're pure fantasy, and so far from the truth that it would be laughable if people weren't taking their "as seen on TV" concepts of the criminal justice system into the jury box with them. In TV land, besides being so damn good-looking, the police spend plenty of time and effort on each case, using high-tech methods and equipment hardly dreamed of by the CIA. They actually seem to care about putting the right person behind bars rather than just obtaining a conviction. In Hollywood, judges are wise and just and neutral to both sides, prosecutors are always the good guys who don't lie and cheat to "win"; public defenders really go to the mat for their clients and are never, in fact, in the DA's pocket, and suspects are always guilty and punished fairly.
The reality is so much different. Police departments don't have the manpower and resources to dedicate exclusively to anyone case, yet alone manage their enormous daily workloads. Trials are so heavily skewed in the prosecution's favor as to render them fundamentally unfair."Innocent until proven guilty" is a myth. Politics, not justice, rules, the court room these days. Being "tough on crime" is all that matters anymore.

But it's our own fault; we've traded truth and justice for shock and awe, for entertainment value. Society has become enamored with crime and violence, fascinated by it, and at the same time more afraid of it than ever. The actual crime rate has fallen or remained the same for the past 30 years or so, crime reporting in the news has increased 100 fold, and people have been gleefully convinced that crime is burgeoning, that sexual predators roam their streets, and that their neighbor is a sociopath. Everyone is suspect.

But I believe that people usually accuse others of what they themselves harbor in the darkest recesses of their minds; and there can be no doubt that people's minds today have been seriously twisted by the huge amounts of violence and crime we're being fed: from the countless crime novels and "true crime" books published each month, to the myriad of television crime dramas and violent movies produced every week, to the graphically violent video/computer games being cranked out by the millions, to the days news' crime reporting each day- were being inundated with negative images. As a result, we've become more and more immune to the lesser forums' ability to affect us and entertain us, so it takes harsher, more graphic and disturbing material to do the trick. And, of course, big business delivers. After all, it's what we want, right? Crime and violence is obviously a favorite subject; the sales figures don't lie.

As an exercise, count how many guns you see on television in one evening. At the bookstore, count how many are about serial killers of some kind. And how many video/computer games have the objective to blow someone's/something's head off? Is it any wonder that, discounting those places with wars being fought, the United States is by far the most crime obsessed and violent country in the world with the greatest percentage of its citizens in prison?

Mass media, including the news, will shape the way we think and the way society acts, as long as we remain unaware and complacent and refuse to make our objections heard. The easiest person to control is the one who doesn't realize he's being controlled. Turn off your television; there's a reason they call it the "idiot box". Try to watch only positive, uplifting shows/movies. Choose only positive and educational reading material. Play only positive video/computer games, if you have to play them at all. Be selective and wary of what you watch and read. Take back control of what you put into your mind.

The fantasy world of crime and violence may be exciting, but the reality of it is something you never want to experience personally. It is not a game; there is no reset button. It's is not a movie; you are not Scarface or James Bond. Also, take it from someone who knows: drug and alcohol are responsible for most all of crime and violence. So as fun and exciting as they may seem, please leave them out of your life entirely.

Understand, too, that the real world of crime and violence is really no more pervasive than it ever has been. In many ways, it's less. It's the exception, not the rule, and lies on the fringe of society where it belongs. There's no need to be more "tough on crime" than in years past; and there's no need to punish people any more severely today. If anything, we need to be more understanding and caring about the causes of most crime, which, again, is drug and alcohol abuse/addiction, and focus instead on "tough love" when it comes to treatment and rehabilitation.

I wish that the real world sometimes did work like it does on television, but that just isn't the case. The sad truth is that our judicial system is just as corrupt and self-serving as our political system. Believe it or not, police and prosecutors often lie at trial. They withhold evidence favorable to the defendant and fabricate evidence against. And court-appointed "defense" attorneys are no less guilty, making backroom deals and serving their clients heads to the prosecution on a silver platter. They do it because the numbers of people being arrested and processed every day, for whatever reasons, are enormous, and it's just not feasible to grant a fair and complete hearing to each and every one of them. They do it because it's easier. They do it for political reasons, to boost their careers. They do it to purge society of the filth and trash they feel is lurking around every corner. They do it for a sense of empowerment in a dog eat dog world. They do it because they can.

When establishing the framework of our country's legal system, one of the founding fathers said something to the effect of, "it's better that a dozen guilty men go free than one innocent man be imprisoned wrongfully" and rules of law were set in place to prevent that from happening. Today, however, all it takes is an accusation to be thrown in jail. No evidence is required to be sentenced to life in prison. Simply being called a murderer or worse by the district attorney is enough for any jury these days. After all, an elected official wouldn't lie to us, would he ?

Being the good citizens, they are, a jury will always give the state the benefit of any doubt. The threat of a jury trial is always used when negotiating a plea bargain: "take this 15 years or I'll make sure the jury gives you 50" because juries aren't professionals; they have no idea what the "going rate" is, say, for robbery as a first -- ever offense and where no one was hurt. If the prosecutor says 50, then it must be 50. They have n no idea that many others are offered 10 years or less for the same offense, or that two others recently signed for 25 years for eight counts of robbery.

Sorry to dash your TV land, fairytale perceptions against the rocks, but this is the way it works in the real world. It's nothing personal -- someone has to go down for the crime, and it may as well be you. Your name/reputation will be dragged through the mud and you'll be portrayed as the worst person imaginable in order to influence the jury against you in sentencing. "Isn't it true that you killed a man with your bare hands?" (No. ) "Isn't it true that you had a plan to kidnap someone and hold them for ransom?" ( No...) and " Isn't true that you raped that woman?" (What woman? What are you talking about?! ) All baseless accusations, but for the jury, those bells have been rung, and there's no taking 'em back; those ideas/images have taken hold, despite your objections. In fact, the more you vehemently deny such unfounded allegations, the more guilty you seem: and of course the prosecution knows this. Plus, false and misleading "evidence" will be used against you, such a as a "Bomb"and a "Rape Kit", for example, which , of course , are nothing of the sort. Also, expert witnesses will testify that you have absolutely no conscience and cannot be rehabilitated, even though they've never met you and were just called at eight o'clock that morning to review your file. But even if you're able to overcome such treatment and be vindicated, the whole experience, lasting many months sometimes, is extremely dramatic. More than likely, the local news and Internet have shared every sordid detail, including the lies -- especially the lies -- with the world.

Of course, if you're guilty, you deserve to be punished, but at trial it's unlikely you'll be sentenced only for the crime you committed but for the extra half dozen other more horrible offenses the prosecutor has accused you of. The fact that there is no shred of evidence for any other crimes, that they are all just creations of his own cruel imagination, make no difference whatsoever. At trial, conviction alone is not enough: the greater the punishment, the greater the sentence, the greater the victory. So although this may be your first ever offense, the prosecutor will seek a life sentence based on all the "extraneous" crimes he was able to "prove up" by his word alone. And the jury, doing their part to make the world a safer place, and plainly terrified of the monster you most certainly are, will oblige him.

Anyway, please keep all this in mind if ever you find yourself in the jury box with someone's life in your hands.

Thanks, as always, for listening and caring. Bye for now. -- Eric