Saturday, March 16, 2019

Are you now or have you ever ...?

By Bob Gaydos
Jeanine Pirro ... asked the question
Jeanine Pirro
... asked the question
It was at once the most astounding and easiest to answer question ever posed to an American president: “Are you now or have you ever worked for Russia, Mr. President?”

That’s a yes or no answer, with “no” being the preferred option. Unless you’re Donald Trump, in which case you say, "I think it's the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked. I think it's the most insulting article I’ve ever had written. And if you read the article, you'd see that they found absolutely nothing."

“They” was a reference to The New York Times which published an article reporting that the FBI had opened a counterintelligence investigation into Trump the day after he fired FBI Director James Comey. The article said the secret investigation was passed on to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who was appointed in the wake of Comey’s firing.

Back to the question. It was posed not in a challenging way and not by an antagonistic interviewer. Rather, it came from someone Trump picked himself, “Judge” Jeanine Pirro, who is not only his most vocal supporter at Fox News, but someone who gives the impression she would satisfy pretty much any favors the Donald would like in return for a position in his cabinet. Say attorney general. Even solicitor general.

But in his eagerness to defend himself and insult the sources of the question, to engage in his usual deflection, Trump never just said the obvious: “No.” He got around to that a day later (“I never worked for Russia,” he said.) after virtually everyone on Twitter and some White House aides who have not been furloughed because he shut the government down pointed out the glaring omission.

And so here we are. A TV commentator has, on the air, asked the president of the United States — a phrase I reluctantly attach to Trump for the sake of accuracy — if he is, in effect, a traitor.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think that is extraordinary. Even more extraordinary is that virtually no one in his political party seems to have an opinion on this — at least not publicly — and two days later the big story was Trump serving fast food burgers and fries at the White House to the national college football champions from Clemson University, because apparently that’s what he thinks finely tuned athletes, whose diets are monitored, eat routinely. Never mind the insult.

I write this, not in the hopes of convincing any suddenly awakening Trump supporters of the unrelenting awfulness of the man, never mind being the only president to ever be asked if he is a traitor. That time has passed. No, this is selfish. If it’s true that nothing ever disappears from the Internet, I want future browsers and historians to know that some of us saw what was going on and spoke out about it while others buried their heads in the sands of delusion or lined their pockets with the bitter fruits of enabling (Republicans) and exploitation (evangelicals).

I also want the Greater Consciousness to know I did my part in promoting peace, love and understanding. And yes, I know it knows, but I somehow feel better putting it in writing.
And, covering all bets, I want the Kirk Cameron “Left Behind” evangelicals waiting for the Rapture to know that my version of it has the guy with the MAGA bumper sticker who tosses beer cans on my lawn one day noticing a pile of clothes — wrinkled jeans, a black hoodie and a gray knit cap — lying in the driveway while I enjoy another balmy day in Heaven, watching reruns of the Trump impeachment hearings, eating tacos and listening to Sinatra.

Finally, it seems fitting to me if, many millennia from now, the dominant beings, whatever they might be, discover this ancient form of communication, decipher it, and conclude, “Once upon a time, a species known as human beings ruled Earth when it was abundant with riches. For some reason, they chose the most ignorant, ill-equipped, amoral person to be their leader. They were difficult times. Ugliness abounded. Only the persistent efforts of some outspoken humans saved the planet.”

I may be angry and astounded, but I still prefer happy endings.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Physical recovery is vital to sobriety

Addiction and Recovery

By Bob Gaydos
Alcoholism/drug addiction is often characterized as a threefold disease — mental, physical and spiritual. People in recovery hear a lot about the need for mental therapy and, especially in 12-step programs, the need for a spiritual awakening if they want to get and stay clean and sober.
    Experience has shown both to be important, but the physical aspect of the disease is frequently overlooked in recovery, even though prolonged substance abuse can wreak more physical havoc on the body than any other disease.
Depending on their drug (or drugs) of choice, people who abuse substances can do damage to their brain, liver and other organs, as well as their circulatory, cardiovascular, digestive and immune systems. Skin and teeth may also be affected. It’s not just that alcohol or drugs directly affect the body, dependence on them creates and reinforces negative lifestyles. Eating regularly becomes less important. A healthful diet isn’t even in the equation. Exercise? How fast can I walk to the liquor store?
Yet all too often, persons in recovery, thrilled or scared to be living without drinking or using, carry on with the same unhealthful lifestyle that has become their norm. A diet of fast food or processed food. Little to no exercise. Smoking. They may feel lousy and wonder what was the purpose of getting sober. They also may resort to habit and do what used to make them feel better — reach for a drink or pop a pill.
Recovering physically is a critical hedge against relapse. It is a vital part of the recovery process and establishing new, healthy lifestyle habits can lay the groundwork for years of healthy sobriety.
This is not to say it’s easy to all of a sudden start trying to eat healthfully and get exercise when the primary focus of one's life has become not drinking or using drugs. Quitting smoking may have to wait. Sobriety must come first. But it’s also possible — necessary — to begin to make changes in lifestyle. Start slowly.
The best approach would be to get a physical checkup so that a health care provider can assess what shape the abused body is in and what nutrients may be lacking. Taking that information to a nutritionist should be next. In a perfect world, a healthful diet and exercise regimen is suggested and followed and, eventually, a new, healthy person is created. Success!
But since we’re dealing with alcoholics and drug addicts, there’s bound to be resistance. So addiction counselors suggest keeping it simple to start. Set regular mealtimes and keep them. Drink plenty of water between meals to avoid dehydration. Eat more healthful foods and snacks.
For a guide, there's the United States Department of Agriculture’s pyramid of six healthful food groups. It’s a simple and basic foundation for a new diet. Here’s the hard part to start: Eliminate (as much as possible) processed foods, sodas, cakes, candy and fast food from the diet. They may make you feel good temporarily (especially the sugars), but your body will thank you for removing them or reducing their presence in your diet. Stop shopping in the middle aisles of the supermarket or stopping at the drive-up window of the Golden Arches. Instead, select foods from the USDA list:
1. Fruits: apples, berries, melons, pears, grapes, avocados, bananas, grapefruit and oranges. Fresh is best.
2. Vegetables: broccoli, squash, bell peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, other green, leafy vegetables, carrots, sweet potatoes, onions and asparagus. Be generous.
3.  Oils and fats: olive, safflower, corn. Avoid trans fats.
4. Healthy whole grains: oatmeal, 100 percent whole grain breads and cereals, brown rice, tortillas, pasta.
5. Lean meat, poultry and fish: salmon, mackerel, shellfish, turkey and/or chicken (remove the skin), eggs (sparingly), dry beans, nuts.
6. Milk and milk products: Try low fat or skim milk, nonfat cottage cheese, yogurt, high-fat cheeses.
Vitamin and mineral supplements may also be helpful.(The physical checkup should reveal deficiencies.) It’s not uncommon to be lacking in B-complex, zinc, vitamins A, C and. D.
Of course, the way to maximize the positive effects of a healthier diet is to exercise. For those in recovery, it’s good to know that becoming more fit not only improves cardiovascular health, reduces weight, builds strength and stamina and rejuvenates the immune system, it can also help alleviate depression and even add brain cells. That's huge in recovery. Another benefit of sticking to a healthier diet and fitness regimen — it can lead to a more normal sleep schedule.
Again, the key is to not be overwhelmed by the idea of exercising and at least do something within whatever physical limitations there may be. Walking regularly is a good start. Try gentle yoga.
Joanna (not her real name), is a health care worker from Ulster County. When she decided to stop drinking, instead of going to rehab she focused on improving her physical health. She was overweight and felt lousy.
She consulted doctors of osteopathic medicine locally and “wherever I could find them,” changed her diet and lifestyle, added the nutrients her body was lacking and started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. She lost 35 pounds, feels “great” and recently celebrated one year of recovery — mentally, spiritually and physically.

The impact of drugs on nutrition:
OPIATES (including codeine, oxycodone, heroin, and morphine) affect the gastrointestinal system. Constipation is a common symptom of substance use. Symptoms common during withdrawal include diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. These symptoms may lead to a lack of enough nutrients and an imbalance of electrolytes (such as sodium, potassium, and chloride).
— ALCOHOL use is one of the major causes of nutritional deficiency in the United States. The most common deficiencies are of the B vitamins. A lack of these nutrients causes anemia and nervous system problems. Alcohol use also damages the liver and the pancreas. The liver removes toxins from harmful substances. The pancreas regulates blood sugar and the absorption of fat. Damage to these two organs results in an imbalance of fluids, calories, protein, and electrolytes. Other complications include: Diabetes, high blood pressure, permanent liver damage (or cirrhosis), seizures, severe malnutrition, shortened life expectancy. A woman's poor diet when pregnant, especially if she drinks alcohol, can harm the baby's growth and development in the womb.
— STIMULANTS use (such as crack, cocaine, and methamphetamine) reduces appetite and leads to weight loss and poor nutrition. Users of these drugs may stay up for days at a time. They may be dehydrated and have electrolyte imbalances during these episodes. Returning to a normal diet can be hard if a person has lost a lot of weight. Memory problems, which may be permanent, are a complication of long-term stimulant use.
— MARIJUANA can increase appetite. Some long-term users may be overweight and need to cut back on fat, sugar, and total calories.
(From the National Institutes of Health)

Sunday, February 3, 2019

It’s time to Un-dumb America

Sarah Palin ... she was the warning .
               Sarah Palin
    ... she was the warning
By Bob Gaydos
I think Sarah Palin was the canary in the coal mine. We missed the warning.

I’m sitting at the keyboard asking myself when it became OK to be dumb in America. Never mind just dumb. There’s always some of that. In a better, more tolerant, mood, I might call it ill-informed or poorly schooled.

I’m not talking about that and I’m not in a tolerant mood. I’m talking about proudly dumb. Insistently dumb. Scientifically dumb. Historically dumb. Intellectually dumb. Socially dumb. Patriotically dumb. Spiritually dumb. Financially dumb. Ethically dumb. Environmentally dumb. Grammatically dumb. Unhealthfully dumb. Politically dumb. Morally dumb. I-don’t-want-to-hear-it-because-it’s-inconvenient dumb.

Willfully dumb.

Sarah Palin/Donald Trump dumb.

The planet is on schedule to destruct by the end of the century. Eating romaine lettuce anywhere in America right now could kill you. The pretender-in-chief of the United States of America says California could prevent forest fires by raking leaves. He also says it’s OK to tear-gas children across the border in Mexico because the adults who brought them to seek asylum in America are criminals and might not even be their parents and, besides, the Border Patrol used “safe” tear gas. This is supposed to be better than devoting sufficient resources to processing the asylum seekers in an orderly, dare I say, humane manner.
Dumb. And apparently just fine with millions of Americans as long as their kids aren’t the ones being hit with tear gas.

Along with the turkey, I enjoyed a 100 percent organic salad on Thanksgiving (no romaine). I will be upset with myself if every word in this column is not spelled correctly. In many households in this country, these two admissions make me some kind of strange creature, a “libtard,” as the MAGA geniuses on social media put it. Someone to be scorned or mocked.

Why? I mean, why is it a bad thing to eat good food that is free of chemicals or to not want to have spelling or grammatical mistakes in something that carries your name as the author? I get it that on social media the standards are significantly lower, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing when you’re supposed to be making your country great — again, no less.

I’ve been called a lot worse than “Libtard” in my opinion-writing career, so it’s not personal. I just think that letting anything someone misspells, mispunctuates or misquotes pass as acceptable, while it may sound egalitarian, is really a way to lower the bar.

Like when Palin, running for vice president, was asked what newspaper she read and answered, “All of ‘em.” In other words, none of ‘em. She also said she could see Russia from her front porch in Alaska and that gave her foreign policy experience. And she gave this memorable account of Paul Revere’s ride: “He who warned, uh, the British that they weren't gonna be takin' away our arms, uh, by ringing those bells, and um, makin' sure as he's riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be sure and we were going to be free, and we were going to be armed."

We escaped Palin, but wound up with Trump.

I get it that some people are just born with more brain power than the rest of us and that not everyone grows up in an environment that encourages learning, curiosity and a willingness to hear new ideas. An environment that makes it OK to say, “I don’t know” without fear of ridicule.

Fear is a powerful force, especially the fear we create in our minds. Donald Trump thrives on it. His entire political philosophy, if he can be said to have one, is based on fear of those who question, those who disagree, those who look, sound or think differently. “Others.”
“They” are coming to take something away from you or to harm you. It’s a fear founded in ignorance. But worse. Trump preys on other people’s fears for his own personal gain — votes, money, prestige, power. It’s always a transaction for him, easily changed for the right (more profitable) counter-offer. And some people choose to believe him in spite of all the evidence to the contrary because they have never learned — are afraid — to say, “Why?” Or, “Are you sure?” Or, “I don’t know.”

For Trump himself, in my humble opinion, the fear is that he will be found out as a fraud and so he must at all times act as if he knows what’s going on. He’s been doing it all his life. It doesn’t even matter if he believes what he says.

Global warming? “I don’t believe it.” He hasn’t got a clue, but all those people who actually studied when they went to college — “The ones who think I’m stupid even though I’m worth billions and they’re not — think it’s real. I’ll show them. I’ll save the coal mines.”
West Virginia goes for Trump. Dumb.

That Thanksgiving salad? I’m not a stickler for organic, but I do like to know the food I eat is safe as well as healthful and delicious. I do think it’s dumb to reject some food out of hand because someone says it’s good for you. Brussels sprouts, for example. Try it. If you don’t like it, at least you have some reason for not eating it other than you think those who do are strange. And strange, by the way, need not be threatening.

Neglecting the safety of our food or failing to teach children about the health benefits of a diet balanced beyond French fries and pizza is dumb. Trump doesn’t care. We should. He exists on ‘burgers and mocked Michelle Obama for trying to make school lunches more healthful. I’d like to think she succeeded, but I’m not sure. As someone who lives in apple country this is hard to say, but I’m pretty sure middle schoolers are still tossing apples in the trash when they leave the lunch room.

OK, this is not a treatise, just a minor rant. I’m probably hungry. But I do think, given all the above, our educators and legislators have a major challenge facing them. The Fox News Generation, fed a daily diet of fear and fiction, may be beyond saving, but there’s still time and hope for the youngsters. Knowledge is power. Our schools need to step up their game. They need to  encourage intellectual curiosity and let students know that it’s OK to know stuff. To know how to tell the difference between real and fake news, for example.

That way they may be able to tell the difference between real and fake candidates for political office, they’ll know the Earth is not flat and, Twitter notwithstanding, spelling is not a function you should leave entirely to your phone.

Monday, December 24, 2018

America is in need of an intervention

By Bob Gaydos
The First Family ... in need of an intervention?
The First Family ... in need of an intervention?
Democrats are talking about impeachment. Robert Mueller is looking at indictments. I’m fine with both, but honestly, more than anything else, I think America needs an intervention. Our addict-in-chief is out of control.\\\\

In addition to writing a blog for the past 10 years, I have been writing a monthly column called Addiction and Recovery. The goal always is to provide information on issues that are widely misunderstood. Like non-drinkers behaving like full-blown alcoholics.

Like Drumpf.

The Dotard-in-chief has talked sparingly about his respect for the power of alcohol, noting that his brother, Fred, died of alcoholism and at least implying that this may be the impetus for the Donald’s tea-totaling ways. But professionals in the field of addiction and alcoholics in recovery will tell you that alcohol is but one symptom of the disease. Take away the alcohol but change nothing else and you have what’s known as a “dry drunk.” That’s someone who has all the “isms” and can be so miserable to be around that people often wish he or she were drinking again.

They’ll also tell you it’s a family disease. It can cross generations, skipping here, striking there and can manifest in many ways. To repeat, alcohol need not be present for alcoholism 
to exist. It generally just makes it easier to spot.

What got me thinking about Drumpf and alcoholism was the obvious state of withdrawal he went into following the defeat of so many Republicans in the mid-term elections, culminating in the Democrats reclaiming the House of Representatives. It was bad enough to drive a man to drink. He was obviously depressed and reportedly irritable and angry at everyone in the White House. He even blamed Republican losers for not soliciting his support. He claimed Democrats voted more than once by changing clothes outside polling places. He fired his attorney general. He sat in his hotel room in Paris, watching TV and refusing to attend ceremonies at a cemetery to honor Americans who died fighting in World War I. Because it was raining. He was pouty with all the assembled world leaders, save for his buddy, Vladimir Putin, who managed to bring out a smile in him.

Why Putin?

Well, for one thing, the Russian president may be the only head of state who hasn’t let it be known, directly or otherwise, how little regard he has for Trump, as a person or a president. I think it’s fair to assume that Putin buffs Trump’s huge, fragile ego every time they meet. Especially in private. That’s because Putin is smart and Trump is a sucker for applause, adulation, approval.

It’s his alcohol.

The other factor in his more-erratic-than-usual behavior of the past week or so was the absence of political campaign rallies in his life. Leading up to the elections, they were an almost daily ritual. Get on a plane; fly here or there; make up scary stories of caravans of immigrants threatening America; rile up the base; hear them cheer. Look at all those MAGA hats! This is great! Bartender, hit me again. …

Whaddya mean it’s closing time? I’m the president and you’re not. I want another campaign 
stop. They love me. Let’s do Arizona again. Tell them I’ll give them a tax cut.
It’s tough to go back to work after that, especially when you hate your job and know you don’t know how to do it but have to act as if you do. Alcoholics tend to have large egos and low-self esteem. This is often disguised by an outsized personality or an ability to persuade people.

Sound familiar?

Dr. James West, founding medical director of the Betty Ford Clinic, who was described by the clinic’s director as “an addiction physician before there was even that term,” also wrote a column on addiction that appeared in the Desert Sun, a daily paper in Palm Springs, Calif. in the 1990s. One column addressed the question of an “alcoholic personality” in someone who doesn’t drink.

“Generally,” he wrote, “alcoholics seem to have the same kinds of personalities as everybody 
else, except more so.”

Among traits, he said, “The first is a low frustration tolerance. Alcoholics seem to experience more distress when enduring long-term dysphoria or when tiresome things do not work out quickly. Alcoholics are more impulsive than most. Secondly, alcoholics are more sensitive.”
“Alcoholics have a ‘low rejection threshold.’”

Don’t we know it.

Dr. West, who was a recovering alcoholic himself, died in 2012 at age 98. He also wrote: “Another trait found in excess in alcoholics is a low sense of one's own worth. Then there is isolation. Alcoholics are loners. It is with most difficulty they are able to share innermost thoughts and concerns with anyone.

“Although they may be articulate, charming and very persuasive, they operate behind an armor or shell that keeps the world out. They are afraid of intimacy.”
This brings me back to Trump and the subject of an intervention. Much as I think it’s needed, I don’t see it happening. It’s usually the family and close friends who initiate such a drastic step. Melania seems to have accepted her role as wifely enabler, probably with a sweet pre-nup. The two older sons are chips off the same old block and probably fear daddy’s wrath. Ivanka, the apple of his eye, obviously does not see herself suffering from his addiction. Should that ever happen, the dynamic could change dramatically.

Which is to say, intervention for America from this First Family addiction could come from an interested third party, say in the form of a Robert Mueller indictment of Ivanka, or one or both sons. A moment of stark clarity for the Trumps. No cheering crowds. No MAGA hats. Lots of lawyers and legal fees.

“Daddy, turn off the TV. We need to talk …”

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Gratitude’s a key ingredient in recovery

 Addiction and Recovery

By Bob Gaydos

It’s traditional at Thanksgiving dinner to go around the table with each person saying what he or she is grateful for. The typical answers are “good health,’ “family,” “the food on the table,” “world peace.” Predictable, but nonetheless valid.
    Going around the table at Thanksgiving at an AA, NA or Al-Anon meeting on gratitude is another story:
    “I’m grateful I have my kids back in my life.”
‘‘I’m grateful I’m employable.”
“I’m grateful I have a sober partner.”
“I’m grateful the tree kept me from going into the river.”
“I’m grateful just to be here.”
Gratitude and recovery go together at this time of year like turkey and stuffing. Truth be told, gratitude is a primary ingredient of recovery at any time of year. And while those new to recovery are often mystified and annoyed by the emphasis on gratitude (“What do I have to be grateful for? My life is a mess!”), it is routinely, almost casually, accepted as vital to those with long-term recovery.
         “It’s like being addicted to living a good life,” said Jim (all names are fictitious), a recovering alcoholic from Orange County with more than three decades of sobriety. In fact, that’s what researchers have found.
People typically come to recovery hurt and broken. The “friend” they have typically relied on to help them deal with life’s joys and stresses — alcohol, drugs, gambling, food, sex — doesn’t enhance the joy anymore and, rather than relieving the stress, it only adds to it. Unpaid bills. Strained relationships. Health problems. Legal problems. Addicts are generally the last to acknowledge this development and their denial turns to anger and  resentment when someone else points it out to them. Shame may also be present.
Some, like John, a retiree who lives in Sullivan County, say they had “the gift of desperation” when they came to recovery. No excuses. No shortcuts. No more lies. What do I do? That’s gratitude in spades, even if belatedly acknowledged. Many others, though, bring their resentment and anger at life with them and they resist — resent — any talk of gratitude. Those who stick with it though, soon learn that gratitude, even if reluctantly or grudgingly expressed at first, is the antidote to resentment. And resentment is a precursor to relapse.
Rinny, 33, of Ulster County, knows this all too well. “I’ve been here a couple of times before,” she says, “but this time my whole perception has changed. I stopped looking at what I didn’t have and started looking at what I do have. The steps helped me do that.” The AA member has 133 days in recovery.
AA sponsors often tell beginners to make a gratitude list and check it and add to it daily. Make it a habit. That can sometimes be awkward. Dave, a 62-year-old Orange County man sober three years, says he keeps his list on his phone and has the phone programmed to remind him to check it every day on his break at work. When his break time got changed one day, the phone loudly reminded him in the middle of an all-phones-off meeting. His supervisor couldn’t get too upset, however, when Dave explained it was his daily gratitude reminder.
His gratitude list includes: family; the sound of rain; a child discovery; power naps; the smell of fresh-cut grass; hard copies of pictures in this digital world; that final payment; the fact that one great song can bring back a thousand memories; live customer support; homegrown tomatoes; the Newburgh waterfront; and
the love and support of a great network of friends and family.
    Mike, a state employee from Ulster County sober five years, says: “The only way I can explain how I learned gratitude is in my story. One night, in a beginners meeting, the topic of gratitude was suggested. At the time I was approximately 18 months sober.  When the topic was announced, I mumbled under my breath, ‘I hate gratitude meetings.’ I did not realize that my inside voice was louder than it should have been. My sentiment was heard by a number of people. A bad example for the newcomer. I did not share that night and walked away a little embarrassed. A week later, I was in Stinkwaater, South Africa. This was an extremely impoverished community. I walked around a building to a shaded location. There were three Little Tykes training potties and a bucket. I asked our host about the need for the potties and a bucket. She simply stated, ‘We need to conserve water. The water truck only comes twice per week. If we are lucky.’ Imagine my surprise when there was no running water, or considering the fact that I couldn't flush a toilet. My understanding of gratitude took a 180-degree turn. I took so many things for granted that the thought of waiting in line for water or any other necessity was fodder for the 24-hour news cycle. I realized that a house with electricity, heat, and running water is not the norm everywhere. When I returned from this mission, I was able to share very easily on the topic of gratitude. I spent a major part of my life with a checklist that needed to be completed and I did not appreciate it. I do know today there are so many things, opportunities, events, and life activities that I missed, because I did not have gratitude for them.”
A 50-year-old man from Orange County, six years sober says, “My gratitude since I’m sober is that I can accept the good and the bad, understanding that both will continue to happen in my life. I understand today that my unhappiness is directly correlated to my inability to accept that things change.”
That’s a major change in perception. By focusing on things they previously took for granted, these people in recovery stopped resenting the fact they couldn’t drink safely or use drugs without serious consequences. They changed their attitude and, instead of trying to “hang in there” and stay clean and sober with will power, they became addicted to living that new way of life.
There’s a saying many in AA use: I came for my drinking and stayed for my thinking. Grateful thinking, studies have shown, has more beneficial side effects than just helping addicts avoid relapse. Among other things, it can lower blood pressure, spur an interest in exercise and good health, improve sleep, increase feelings of happiness, optimism, compassion and generosity and reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.
There’s no place for resentment on that list. That’s what people like Rebecca, 10 years sober from Sullivan County, means when she says, ‘’I’m a grateful, recovering alcoholic.”   

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Shedding some light on blackouts

Addiction and Recovery

By Bob Gaydos
There are two enduring views about alcohol-induced blackouts:
  1. They don’t exist. They’re just an excuse for inappropriate behavior.
  2. They exist, but they’re just a harmless, often humorous, occasional price to pay for a night of fun.
Both views are wrong — dangerously so — for the same reason: Denying the existence of blackouts or minimizing their significance could lead to serious consequences (health, legal, personal, professional) for the persons experiencing them and others. If you’ve experienced blackouts or know someone who has and are not concerned about them, you should be.

To start with, blackouts are not the same as passing out. That’s a comomon misconception. People who drink too much and pass out stay put. They wake up in the same place they passed out and remember, maybe with a hangover, how they got there. People in blackouts can wind up in different states, strange beds, wrong apartments or behind bars when they come to and not know how they got there. “How did I get home last night?” is a common question for blackout veterans. “Where’d I leave my car?” is another.

Many recovering alcoholics who recall their drinking history in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings point to blackouts as one of the “healthy fears’’ that help them stay sober. After all, it can be frightening to find out about some reckless behavior that happened apparently in a blackout and to wonder what else may have happened without your being aware of it.

Some local examples:

— Jordan, a 50ish man from Orange County, who has been sober more than five years, says he once spent a four-day business trip in Texas in a blackout. Airport-to-airport. He did come out of it briefly, he says, to call his boss on Day 2 to tell him he wasn’t feeling well.
— Whitey (all names used are fictitious), who drives for a living, says he regularly drove between New York and Virginia in blackouts.

— John, retired in Sullivan County and sober more than two decades, says he’s positive he was fired from an excellent job because of remarks he made to his boss’s wife while in a blackout.
— Marie, a chef sober less than a year, says she has no recollection of a phone call in which she was extremely rude and insulting to her husband’s sister, other than what her husband and sister-in-law told her. She’s embarrassed by the incident.

— Sunshine, a nurse sober half her life, recalls with a mix of horror and shame coming out of a blackout “as a guy was trying to have sex with me.” She says she fought him off. But she didn’t immediately stop drinking.

That’s often the case — not stopping drinking despite risky or embarrassing consequences. As an isolated incident, a blackout may not signify anything except drinking too much, too fast. Something you might want to avoid because of potential embarrassment or worse. As a pattern, it could be a sign of a more serious problem.

While it’s not just alcoholics who experience blackouts, the connection between blackouts and alcoholism or alcoholic use disorder is real and knowing some facts about the symptom could help dispel some of the myths and avoid more serious problems.

For a long time — most likely from whenever humans first discovered the mood-altering effects of wine until modern science started doing research on the brain and behavior — blackouts were regarded as just one of the possible side effects of drinking alcohol. A little fuzzy memory. No big deal. Just drink less.

When researchers began studying blackouts, however, they soon discovered that persons experiencing them didn’t have just a little amnesia. Rather, they had no recollection of certain events and, try as they might, even when told the details many times over, they had no memory of them. Their research subjects didn’t forget, researchers concluded; they never formed a memory in the first place.

The prevailing accepted science, as cited by the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse and other similar agencies, is that persons experiencing a blackout can function and appear to be “normal” to others because their brain is operating on stored, long-term, procedural memory, but the short-term memory of what they are experiencing never gets to the hippocampus, the part of the brain that processes long-term memory. Alcohol — especially a lot of it in a short period of time — short-circuits the process.

According to the NIAAA, “As the amount of alcohol consumed increases, so does the magnitude of the memory impairments. Large amounts of alcohol, particularly if consumed rapidly, can produce partial or complete blackouts.”

More about blackouts:

— It’s not what you drink, it’s how much alcohol gets into your bloodstream and how fast it gets there. This means it’s possible for anyone to black out if he or she drinks enough alcohol quickly enough.

— People who have a low tolerance for alcohol are not necessarily more likely to black out. On the other hand, those with a high tolerance for alcohol are often able to drink heavily and carry on conversations, drive, etc. while in blackouts.

— Women may be more susceptible since they tend to be smaller than men, meaning each drink has a greater effect on the body’s blood alcohol content.

— Drinking on an empty stomach can make blackouts more likely, again because of a more acute impact on the blood alcohol concentration.

— People sometimes have glimpses of memory of an event, but not total recall. These partial lapses are called “brownouts.”
— Blackouts are the product of consumption of an amount of alcohol that affects motor coordination, balance, impulse control and decision-making. This is bad enough when someone is not in a blackout, never mind being unable to recall any risky, self-sabotaging behavior that may have caused serious harm to others.

— Some researchers suggest that people in blackouts, operating on procedural memory and little more, have little impulse control and are more likely to do things they would not otherwise do. (See examples above.) This presents embarrassing, sometimes dangerous situations for the person in a blackout, family, friends and even strangers.
— Blackouts are often the unrecognized explanation for someone’s uncharacteristic actions. “Why did you (say/do) that last night?”

— Because of a shortage of evidence-based science on the subject, there is considerable difference of opinion on the use of blackouts as a defense in criminal trials.

So, what to do if you have blackouts? Take them seriously. Maybe talk to a professional health provider who knows about them. While blackouts are not solely the result of years of heavy, alcoholic drinking, they can be a sign of an existing or potential alcohol problem. Even one or two — perhaps the product of binge drinking in college — should be enough to cause concern since not being aware of what one has done is not considered acceptable to most people.

Being the unaware “life of the party” may be tolerable as a one-time experience, but repeated bizarre behavior of which you have no memory is nothing to laugh at.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Bakker/Trump: Marriage of convenience

By Bob Gaydos
Jim Bakker, sticking with Trump to the end...
Jim Bakker, sticking with Trump to the end.

The good news is that I think I finally have a handle on this whole evangelical Christians love affair with Donald Trump. The bad news — and the apparent reason it took so long for me to get it — is that the revelation comes from Jim Bakker. Jessica Hahn’s former boss and philandering lover is not exactly on my radar screen.

Regardless, I’m grateful for the belated enlightenment. According to the TV evangelist, the Orange Dotard and the chaos he has loosed on the planet are all part of God’s plan. The End Times are approaching, people — can’t you hear the hooves of the Four Horsemen? It will all end in a cataclysmic war, or something, and the world will be saved with the second coming of Jesus.

Well, not the whole world. Just the Christians. And not just any Christians, just, you know, the good ones. The “true” ones who look like them and think all other people — and they do mean all — are sinners, blasphemers, heretics, etc. The rest of us will be left behind in the Rapture, with only true disciples ascending to Heaven. Evangelicals have believed in some version of this prophecy from the Old Testament for centuries and the fact that it hasn’t happened yet has never been a deterrent to new believers — or to preachers willing to exploit it to their own profit. The end is near; send me your money.

The key to my finally understanding the evangelical embrace of Trump, the most amoral, immoral, irreligious occupant of the White House perhaps ever, is realizing I had it backwards. It doesn’t matter to Bakker and other evangelicals (I understand some evangelicals disagree with him, but their silence is deafening) if Trump is a serial sexual assaulter, a racist, a bigot, a phony Christian, a liar, a thief, a purveyor of hatred and resentment. That’s all part of the plan. The worse Trump is, the sooner the holy war starts and the sooner Jesus returns to save us.

Well, not all of us. Just, you know, “true” Christians. So, to reserve your seat on the Greyhound to Heaven, send in yoUIKeyInputDownArrowur donations today to Jim, Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham (Billy’s son) or one of the others. This Old Testament prophecy now apparently serves as the basis of presidential policy, being digested at regular prayer breakfasts in the White House. Those breakfasts are attended by evangelical ministers, Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other members of the Trump cabinet who profess a belief in the End Times theory.

The wisdom of our forefathers in separating church and state has never been more evident.

What’s not so obvious to me is, in this room of con artists, who is ultimately conning whom? The evangelicals latched on to Trump because he clearly has no use for the same people they exclude from their salvation story. He’s even apparently willing to use force or defy international efforts at cooperation to demonstrate his view. But his reasons are clearly not based on religious beliefs. They always have to do with him. He’s a con man. How can he benefit? In this case, he gets the evangelicals’ political support and votes, knowing they’ll support him no matter what, even though he doesn’t really believe their story. Because God sent him.

The evangelicals know that he knows. They know he doesn’t believe. That’s their con. In fact, that’s what makes their story more credible to them. A non-believer, they believe, will deliver them to Heaven by reclaiming Israel for the Jews, which is what they saw in Trump’s moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem — a move guaranteed to produce more conflict in the Middle East and one undoubtedly dreamed up at one of those White House prayer breakfasts.

Robert Jeffress, a Rapture pastor who attends those breakfasts, delivered the new embassy’s opening prayer. Jeffress has called Mormons heretics, said homosexuals are filthy, Islam promotes pedophilia and Jews are fated to hell. But, heck yeah, let’s pray for reuniting Israel anyway so that the holy war can start soon and we can get on with salvation. It’s all a matter of convenience, in my way of thinking at least. That’s the con. Whatever Trump does, it’s all God’s will. (Get those donations in; seats are filling up fast.)

Still, I’m not completely clear on what’s about to happen. Versions of End Times vary and Bakker himself seems to have confused the issue by saying God told him (Yes, he got it straight from the Source) that: “Donald Trump is a respite in this troubled times and I sent him in grace to give you time to prepare for what’s coming on earth. …”

“We have a president people think is crazy,” Bakker said. “They call him crazy, but he’s making peace treaties, he’s doing all the things to try to solve the world’s problems and God has put him on earth— God spoke to me the other night. He said, ‘I put Donald Trump on earth to give you time, the church, to get ready.’”

So, is Trump here to make peace or war? See what I mean by convenient?
I read the novel, “Left Behind,” many years ago out of curiosity. It’s the Rapture in paperback. As I recall, in the book a lot of people were surprised to find loved ones gone — empty clothes, idling cars, etc. — but they were still around. And there was some new, false Messiah offering peace to a troubled world. (Mike Pence may be auditioning for this role.)

So, if I’m looking for a happy ending to this morality tale being played out on Pennsylvania    Avenue, I can easily believe that Bakker et al got it wrong when they decided who and what was right. They conned themselves. That would mean, if the Apocalypse, etc. happens, Bakker, Trump, Pence, Graham, Jeffress, Robertson, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and most of Trump’s cabinet will be left behind to clean up their mess while the rest of us eat tacos and hummus and listen to Elton John in Heaven.

Either that, or the sound of hooves is Robert Mueller arriving on a white horse called Conquest. That’s in the story, too.