The Scourge of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse

I’m often reminded the terrible price my family has paid because of alcoholism and substance abuse. It’s the primary reason I’ve never been one to drink or to “get high.” As mentioned in these pages* before, I tried marijuana as a teenager. Just like president Bill Clinton, “I didn’t like it, and didn’t inhale, and never tried it again.” While there were few who did, I believed Bill Clinton. Believe me.

When it comes to alcohol, I admit it… I tried that once as well. I was 19- years old and a new Airman at Vandenberg Air Force Base. I’m not sure why, but I think it was to just see what it would feel like. So — young and stupid — one evening I drank a tall glass of Bacardi Rum. Beyond the silliness and fog of that night, I paid the awful and memorable price the next morning. I learned what it felt like.

I’m happy to say I never drank or used again. Once experienced I never saw the need to. To me, there is zero attraction to drink or to use drugs, even in moderation. I’m able to get high on life without dulling my senses and resorting to the mind-numbing use of artificial means. My high is as good as anyone’s. Go ahead world, call me “crazy”!

Since those poor, but thankfully isolated choices, I’ve often been asked why I don’t drink or do pot… and my answer has always been the same: I grew up seeing how alcohol destroyed the lives of my loved ones and how it affected the lives of their families. An uncle, torn by the ravages of his combat experience during World War II, turned to alcohol and it ruined his life. Other uncles and aunts were also alcoholics and passed it on. Two of my cousins were killed in auto accidents because of drunk driving. Another was killed in his efforts to distribute. Other family members have spent time in jail, and in prison because of their addictions. Others have been in and out of rehab. Wasted years, worse yet… wasted lives. There is never total recovery. Once addicted, it is always with you.

My family’s story is just one among the millions of others whose lives have been touched by what some consider accepted behavior. It is not. It angers me to see how casual people are about the use of alcohol and “recreational” drugs. Now communities and states are legalizing the use of marijuana. Not because it’s the right thing to do, but they see it as a cash cow. A bandaid for previous mistakes of overspending and over-indulgence. Not even our government can escape the nonsense!

The price society pays is ENORMOUS and devastating to millions of families and individuals who are its innocent victims. Some of the most gifted, celebrated artists and entertainers of our times have lost their lives to the lure of alcohol and other abuses. The list is endless and none of us truly escape its far-reaching consequences.

Alcohol it seems is universal. It’s part of our culture, required in ritual celebrations, it’s being social, it’s part of the gathering and it’s always been here. It’s used by everybody, reputed by nobody.

It makes strong men weak and leads the weak to believe themselves strong. A husband’s fondness for drink will often overcome his love for his wife… his family… and even for his God. Jobs are lost, wages wasted, life savings swallowed up and productive lives destroyed. Wives and children are victimized, beaten, abused, deprived and abandoned.

The damage extends to communities and society. Crimes, corruption, even murders are committed and horrible deaths are suffered on our nations roads and highways. Terribly wasted lives, lives cut short, families destroyed, unintended consequences at a huge immeasurable cost in lives, dollars, misery and the human spirit… all because of alcohol.

~~ Adapted from the Ken Burns documentary Prohibition

A friend recently described his use of alcohol as “escapism”.  To me that’s just another tired, old excuse. What are people really escaping from? Nothing! There is no avoiding the realities of the world. “Masking” may be a better word, and it’s only temporary. Those seeking to “escape” in the end, or at the very time they’re hoping for relief, will only find disappointment. Often they’ll find they’ve only made their lives, and the lives of those they love, worse. Alcohol and other substance addictions are a scourge on mankind.

Yes, I get high on life. While we all face challenges (and I’ve had my share), things we’d rather ignore than confront, there are always things to be thankful for. Life itself among them. One needs only to visit a cemetery and read the headstone inscriptions to realize just how very lucky we are.

I am forever grateful I escaped those addictions. For whatever reasons, I guess I was lucky. I can only thank the friends I chose, my faith in God, and the knowledge things could always be worse.

We take far too much for granted. We’re often like sheep, never questioning the standards others of our society have established. We just go-along. The notion that alcohol abuse is normal, or an acceptable escape from stress and hardship is a sad commentary indeed on our values, how we think, and who we are.

 * See #s14 & 15 at this blog.

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Miss Morgan

A teacher affects eternity. You can never tell where their influence ends.
~~ Epictetus ~~

I’ve reflected here on a few occasions my school days as a self-appointed class clown. A couple of other companions were as equally gifted in our quest for attention. Their stories have been shared here as well. It wasn’t until many years later I came to realize, the attention I sought was a misguided attempt to make up for other things lacking in my life.

I’m not proud to admit, in my pursuit to be noticed, I was especially brutal to my Jr. high school music teacher, “Miss Morgan.” In hindsight I deeply regret how I mistreated and disrespected her … all to get a cheap laugh from classmates, who did provide a few. The woman was a Saint and despite all I dished out she showed me uncompromised patience and encouragement. I didn’t realize it at the time… she really cared, but few kids notice those things.

With time my behavior in school actually improved. I began to understand there were better ways to find the recognition I wanted. I started to take my studies a little more seriously. For some reason, if only for a brief moment, I found myself suddenly on a roll… My grades had never been so good. I made the school’s Honor Roll.

It was during that semester, when Miss Morgan gave me an “A”. She’s the only teacher, before college, I ever received that high a grade from. I had a few Bs and B-pluses that earned me that Honor Roll status, but only once did I get an “A”. Not sure I earned or deserved it, but I got it… and Miss Morgan gave it to me.

Dawson, Margaret Morgan (Miss. Morgan)

Margaret Morgan Dawson

I wish I had told her then… but many years later I came to the decision, I wanted to try to locate and apologize to her for my inexcusable behavior. That likely would have been a wonderful, memorable conversation but, as often is the case in such matters, it wasn’t meant to be. In July of last year, in an effort to learn more about her, I discovered her 2005 obituary. Miss Morgan died 13-years ago today.

How surprised I was to read about her life and her numerous accomplishments. I shared it among my school friends on Facebook and the reaction was much the same. In addition there were many positive comments about this remarkable woman. A few of us shared our regrets, youth wasted on the wrong people. Regret is an awful word.

She was a well-educated, gifted and dedicated musician. One who shared her talents, as you’ll see. Of all the many teachers I had in those days, she is truly the only one I remember well. All the others are literally… just a blur. Despite all the years and distance, I’ve never forgotten Miss Morgan, and throughout my life have often been reminded of her. She made a difference and because of that, her story deserves a place in this blog. To that end, I share it here, with a grateful heart for having known her. God bless Miss Morgan.

NOTE: Comments from her students and others who knew her would be appreciated. Please add yours below.

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Who Are You? Where Are You Going?

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Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.
~~ Billy Graham ~~

For as long as I can remember Billy Graham has been someone I’ve always looked up to. A towering personality throughout my life. I vividly remember as a 5 or 6 year old boy lying on the floor in front of an old black and white television watching him. I was mesmerized by his speech and his style. There was just something about him that, even as a very young boy, grabbed and held my attention. His message touched me. It’s always been that way and I’ve spent untold hours watching his crusades on television and his many interviews. If Billy Graham was on, I wanted to watch, I wanted to hear him.

As an adult I came to recognize his greater qualities, which is probably something I sensed as a boy. He was genuine, he was sincere and, he was humble. Beyond his words, his life-long example made an impact around the world. He never wavered. A few years ago I found myself once again captivated by his words when reading his book Nearing Home in which he shared his personal experience of growing older. I could relate.

It was not, with any great surprise, I heard of his passing yesterday at the age of 99. And especially no great surprise the huge influence he’s been credited with in the lives of millions over his long life. I was just one among them and am grateful to have had the experience.

I share the following story with the hope you appreciate it’s timely significance.

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On the Road to Somewhere Else


It was early morning 59 years ago today when a small airplane crashed in a lonely, snow covered farmers field near Clear Lake, Iowa. Its story is rich in lore, consequence and unnerving circumstance.

A future country music legend, then just a bass player, gave up his seat to one of those who perished. Another band member would lose a coin toss for his seat. Both would be shaken by those events for the rest of their lives.

Today, travelers on the road to somewhere else, stop at the cornfield to pay homage to the first stars of a new genre of music, and to the memory of the youthful dreams of an entire generation. Nothing much has changed there except for a stainless steel memorial placed in tribute. It marks the spot, where Buddy Holly, J.P. Richardson and Richie Valens were killed, on the day the music died.

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Misfits: Rudderless and Restless


If you’ve heard this story before, don’t stop me,
because I’d like to hear it again.
~~ Groucho Marx ~~

My old friend Al Bello was, to say the least, one-of-a-kind and among my oldest friends. We met in 7th grade dishing out our own brand of trouble to our teachers and others. Al was among my small circle of class clowns, birds of a feather.

Aloysius

“Al” – School Days

In our quest for attention, we were especially brutal to our music teacher, Miss Morgan. I’ve come to realize, the attention we sought was our misguided attempt to make up for other things lacking in our lives. No excuses though. In hindsight I regret how we treated her and by the time I wanted to apologize she was gone. She was a fine, gifted woman and her story deserves a place of its own here in this blog.*

Over a period of 45-years Al and I lived our lives separated by time and distance. He stayed in Maryland while I moved west. We managed from time to time to reconnect, only very occasionally, via phone calls. I had spoken to Al several years ago when I learned he was suffering with COPD. He was the same guy, the same sarcasm and still the jokester I remembered from our times together so long ago. Despite all those years of separation and little contact I remember thinking: losing him would be a bitter pill to swallow.

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The Year in Review

2017

Once a year go some place you’ve never been before. ~~ Dalai Lama XIV

My life has seen some major changes in the last 2 1/2 years. Not only did I retire early but I moved here to Las Vegas in September of 2015. Strange in a way, as I had no family here and only a few acquaintances. But I wasn’t deterred, as I was assured of sunny, warm weather and I knew there’d be new friends and experiences just ahead.

Seven months after my move I left for an extended road trip in the spring of 2016. I expected to travel around 7,000 miles and to be away for 40-45 days. A long time certainly to be on the road, but I had plans, lots of them.

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The Old Familiar Carols Play

The Christmas Carol, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day is based on an 1863 poem by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He was  the nation’s preeminent poet of his era. The song proclaims the narrator’s despair, as he heard Christmas bells in the distance.

He bows his head, “There is no peace on earth,” [he] said,
“for hate is strong and mocks the song
of peace on earth, good will to men.”

But then the carol inexplicably changes with the bells carrying renewed hope for peace among mankind.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

So why the change and how did the poem come to be?

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