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.


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.


“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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Music Monday – My Father the Singer, Songwriter

Next Saturday June 17th would be my father’s birthday. I don’t remember him. I was two years old when he died, but I think of him often, a lot more so as I’ve grown older. It seems he’s never far from my thoughts. Over the years I heard a lot about him. Of course he was loved by his family and he exemplified love as a devoted son, brother and uncle. People said he was kind-hearted with a great sense of humor.

Richard Delmont Lines (1924-1955)

Described as tall, good-looking, broad-shouldered and physically strong he was also blessed with musical talent. It was said he was a gifted singer, well versed at playing guitar and a songwriter.

My dad, like his nine other siblings who lived into adulthood, had a rough life growing up. Coming from a broken home, they struggled through the years of the depression. At a very young age they often had to fend for themselves… just to eat. And on occasion some found themselves at odds with the law.

In talking about those days and their tough, undisciplined childhood an uncle described one of his brothers as “one rough character, eleven years old and packing a thirty-eight revolver.” That young boy, through his own determination, overcame those beginnings, and even before the war, was well on the road to turning his life around. He would go on to honorably serve his country as a combat soldier. He was one of the most respected, admired and finest men I’ve ever known.
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Died on the Fourth of July

On this day as we gather our families together with picnics and fireworks to celebrate our country’s independence I can’t help but think of my 2nd great-grandfather Edward Byron Patton. He was 34 years old on this date in 1860. Less than a year later Abraham Lincoln would become president. The father of 4 small children ages 1-6, the youngest, my great grandmother Mary Jane.

Edward Byron Patton

Edward Byron Patton

There was no celebration for Edward or his family on that Fourth of July and I would imagine it was tainted every year after. For on that morning his 27-year old wife Esther passed away. A newspaper account read that so greatly admired was she, and through respect to her memory in their small town, “all patriotic demonstrations were suspended and not an unnecessary sound was heard throughout the day.”

Edward never remarried and over all those years ahead, as a single father, he raised his children. Along the way he became a successful builder and contractor. I can imagine he was a beloved father, grandfather and patriarch.

I often think of what it must have been like for my great grandfather on that solemn day, traditionally set aside for happy celebration. I wonder what it would have been like to have watched him on that day conduct his affairs with the loss of his young wife. He was once a breathing living person, as real as you and I. Not just a name with dates and places among a long list of thousands who came before us. How I would like to set across the table from him and get to know him.

That’s a little of what I think about, every 4th of July.

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Family History and the Story Tellers

Uncharted Territory and the Road Ahead

Whatever challenges you may face, whatever circumstances are weighing you down you can choose your response…. How you live your life is totally up to you.  It’s not dependent on your circumstances, it’s dependent on your choices. ~~ Joel Osteen

I have a young, teenaged friend “CJ” who over the last eight months I’ve come to know. He was far from his home, family and friends and looking for a new life. I like him. He’s tall, 6’4″ personable and outgoing. An all-American kidCJ002a  from a small town in south-central Texas (population 857). He’s been referred to as an “18-year old man.” The reality is he’s just a kid and, like a lot of 18-year olds, restless, self-assured, a little cocky, but naïve nevertheless. CJ has no lack of confidence. The last few times I’ve seen him (most recently earlier this week), as we said goodbye, I would routinely say to him — somewhat tongue-in-cheek — “Stay out of trouble CJ!” He’d reply with something like “All is good” and be on his way. Little did we realize how much trouble he would soon find himself in. Life has a way of changing dramatically with the passage of a few brief moments and seemingly unrelated, foolish choices.

Yesterday my young friend was charged with Murder in the First Degree accused with a 20-year old companion, whom he’d just met, in the brutal bludgeoning death of a man in a nearby community. This is new, uncharted territory for me, something I was unprepared for. I find myself uncertain how to react and even a bit lost for the right words. How I wish I could have seen the road ahead! I feel bad that I didn’t do more. I should have contacted CJ’s parents as I watched his downward spiral. No… things aren’t always as they appear. But instead I chose to think, “He’s a good kid, he’ll grow up. It’s a stage. He can take care of himself.”

CJ and I sat together and talked a lot, many times while I worked on previous blogs. I enjoyed his company. It was an education to learn from him the distractions, challenges and temptations he and his peers live with. I already knew about most of them but, with CJ we talked specifics.

While I honestly worried about his welfare, I had faith in his abilities to conquer his youthful impulses and to find for himself the right path. From his narrow perspective and among his crowd, he was “normal … things are cool.” I understood his thinking but I knew it wasn’t true and I told him so. In CJ I saw potential — rays of hope — and a better life ahead, but ultimately I knew he was in control, as he liked it, as he wanted it. Besides, is it really any of my business? I have my own problems, my own children and who am I? Especially when CJ and I really have so little in common? But then again, No Man is an Island and CJ will remain my friend.

One thing in all of this is certain… no one should forget the victim, Rich Bergeson, whose life was brutally and so needlessly taken and to whom the video at the link below pays tribute. The reality is, there are many other victims as well. Along with all the affected families and friends whose lives would intersect in such a tragic meeting, I am but one of them, and together we cry, knowing our lives will never again be the same.

Another day of work, another paycheck. The future is looking bright.
Christopher John “CJ” Shade, 20 August 2014

Click on this link for more about this story

Young Love: War Interrupted

Stories of young love are often remembered as the folly of our youth. They are the stuff that is part of growing up. A few sometimes strike our youthful, tender spirits with the sting of heartbreak, just as it can in adulthood. Such is puppy love and the price we pay for being teenagers. But few young romances are enveloped in the drama of war, surrounded by a devastated world. This is the story of Anne and Peter Schiff and of a missing image that took more than 60 years to be discovered. Continue reading