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Those familiar with my Nervous Breakdown posts know that I’ve long crusaded for a secular alternative to AA. My complaints have been vociferous, my voice loud enough that I might have written each piece in ALL CAPS. Recently, however, I decided that it was time to act. I located a secular group with a philosophy in line with my own, one based on the work of Albert Ellis and his Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. The group: SMART Recovery. The Facebook site, which I invite anyone interested to join: SMART Recovery Fan Page. If AA works for you, continued good luck. If not, I’m here to say you have a choice.

My mission is two-fold. Rather than debate AA — always a useless exercise — I have joined forces with SMART Recovery. Rather than bash the ubiquitous nature of AA, my first goal is to create a meeting here in Sarasota. My second goal, now underway, is to assist SMART Recovery (referred to as “SR” from this point forward) in a volunteer public relations’ capacity. But the latter is not my purpose here. Rather, I come to you as a citizen with a message. If your needs are not met by AA, alternatives exist, and SR is there for you.

First, visit the SR site. Stay a while; there’s plenty to do. You can read how the program works. You can participate in online meetings. If you wish, you can seek a meeting in your location. Such a meeting may not exist…yet. In that case, consider applying to become a facilitator. You can create an SR meeting yourself and do so fully prepared by SR. You will become a local hero for all those like you who searched for a secular meeting but couldn’t find one…now they will find one. Consider the pleasure to be had in knowing that you created an alternative that didn’t exist and which others like you can now access. Furthermore, by becoming a facilitator, you will in turn become steeped in the wisdom underlying SR.

You don’t often read the word “wisdom” in my posts, both because I lack it and because I rarely find it. But Albert Ellis was a wise man and, like most wise people, had two feet on the ground as he reached for new solutions to ancient problems. His approach is deceptively simple.

In short, it works like this: ABC. No, I don’t mean Always Be Selling.

Instead, I mean:

A: Activating event.

B: Belief.

C. Consequence.

Lastly:

D. Dispute.

Let’s apply this to drinking in a very simplified example. This is my description of REBT. For a much more in-depth understanding of the process, see the SR website and/or visit their Facebook Fan Page.

Back to my example. What is an “Activating Event”? In this example, it’s whatever makes you want to drink. For heavy drinkers, virtually everything becomes an “A.” This occurs because heavy drinking by itself produces irrational thinking. It kills rational thinking. No rational person decides to lose control over drinking. So why do they lose it? Drinking causes them to become more and more irrational.

I’ll use a typical “A”: “Today sucked. It kicked my ass.”

Now we move to “B.” What’s the drinker’s belief likely to be? Something like this: “I need a drink, and plenty of them.” Further, the drinker thinks, “Soon, it will all disappear. Here comes euphoria.”

And the “C”? The first consequence is easy to guess: hangover. That’s bad enough. But the consequences for heavy drinkers increase. Not only a hangover but the shakes commence, creating a brand new “A.” The drinker’s belief: “A few drinks will fix that.” In this case, the drinker is correct. Bizarrely, irrationality becomes the drinker’s new rationality. It’s rational to end the extreme anxiety that heavy drinking ultimately causes as part of withdrawal. However, irrationality has led the drinker to this point and without his knowing it. He may have rational moments when he considers quitting, but those moments quickly fade. Irrationality has become embedded in the drinker.

How to keep from getting to that point? And what should you do if you’ve already gotten to that point? In the latter case, you may need medical care. Seizures become a real possibility. Worse can happen. You may need to face detox. At the very least, you require supervision in case you do have a seizure. These medical issues lie well beyond my purview. Consult a loved one. Ask for their help. You need someone rational at your side and to help you find the best care available if you do require hospitalization.

If you’re not to that point, or you’ve gotten past that point, it’s time for “D.” The “D” is going to become your best friend. You can turn to “D” at any moment of crisis, anxiety, difficulty, irritation. “D” refers to disputing your irrational beliefs.

Going back to the example of a day that kicks your ass, the process of disputing your beliefs might go like this: “Sure, I’ll feel better for a while, but I’m going to feel like hell tomorrow and for much longer than I feel better tonight.” Run a cost/benefit analysis. How many hours does alcohol improve your life compared to the number of hours it ruins your life? If you’re a heavy drinker, or approaching the trouble zone, I guarantee you won’t be able to deny that the ratio does not weigh on the side of making you feel better. In fact, the day may well have kicked your ass because you drank the night before it.

A person can avoid the worst outcomes of heavy drinking by beginning this process now and working on it. Again, consult the SR website and/or their Facebook Fan Page for more information. I’m trying to get you to hope and the idea that there are alternatives to the “treatments” many of us simply cannot find our way into or around. For those who believe in reason and rationality as a means to overcoming problems, an alternative is required, unless, like some, you can find your way to a higher power through whatever means avail themselves to you. That’s your business. I’m not here to dispute your beliefs.

I’m also not here as an official representative of SR. I speak for myself and from my experience. REBT smashed my once-crippling anxiety and has reduced my melancholic as much or more than any anti-depressant. Is every day a pleasure? Hell, no. And I no longer expect every day to be a pleasure. In surrendering an insane demand, I surrender my insanity.

There is a secular alternative available to you. In fact, there’s more than one, but I happen to believe in SR’s approach because I know REBT is simple, effective and easy to put into practice. The rewards can be almost immediate.

When it comes to drinking, a lot more work will be required. Returning to the ABC YouTube link, will you do the work? Will you? Will you do the work? Or will you go to a three-cocktail lunch?

A celebrated actress, locks swept up in a becoming twist, nude but for a string of Bulgari pearls, reclines in one of Hungary’s renowned thermal springs as the Danube rushes below. A continent away, a glinty-eyed boy of six without warning drops his trunks and aims his stream at the back of a pigtailed toddler splashing carefree in the Whitewater Wave Pool’s shallow end.

Wild, but both scenes are set in what’s termed a “water park,” the concept of recreational waterplay probably originating with the Hungarian model, a spa-like orientation shared by a number of contemporary European parks including Germany’s Swabian Springs, where it’s not about wave pools but, rather, saunas, steam stations, low-key bathing areas, and a snow-filled room in which guests get naked and roll around.

They—water parks in their various guises—have been around a while, first popping up in the 1950s, and these days if you aren’t within driving distance of at least one you’re in the minority. The U.S. hosts the largest water park market, and with a total of eighteen indoor parks the Badger State owns the title of Water Park Capital of the World, while Bloomington, Minnesota is home to the largest indoor facility in the country, The Water Park of America.

And now, something to keep in mind: Like construction paper art projects and the county fair, America’s water parks are probably best suited to that peeing kiddo, and, by necessity, his parents. Next-best suited may be his big sister, an eighth grader at Rivercrest High with a begged-for two-piece and the desire to take it public, especially when brooding Robert Pattinson types are slated to be in attendance.

Thirty-one-year-olds have less to gain. A bold assertion? Recent experience—last summer, Riverhead’s Splish Splash Water Park—combined with some targeted research suggests not, but for people who prefer to reach their own conclusions, be my guest. What follows is a rough idea of what you can expect to find.

1. Theme. Often character-driven, often ambiguous and pluralistic. While park designers may set out with an 18th-century Bavarian village in mind, subsequent expansion is likely to yield strange new modifiers: a snack hut with flying buttresses, say, or a changing room in the style of an Egyptian pyramid. Storybook imagery abounds, with brightly colored cottages housing souvenir visors, and oversized wooden lollipops inducing full-on meltdowns as five-year-olds plead for the real thing (incidentally, available at the cottage next door).

When it comes to actual attractions, design is more consistent. New Hampshire’s Whale’s Tale Waterpark features an eighty-five-foot, whale-shaped pool with underwater seating built into the tail, fins, and head; and rides are given names like Beluga Boggin’, Harpoon Express, Jonah’s Escape, and Whale Harbor. Dollywood’s Splash County in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee is Smoky Mountain-themed, and encourages visitors to follow the Big Bear Plunge with a deep-fried lunch served up at the Brush Fire Grill. Nestled in the Smokies between native firs and hemlocks, you’re sure to confuse the park’s man-made tubes for slick, rocky precipices, the swirling chemicals below for mountain-clean, class II rapids. (No.)

2. Attractions. There are three major components of any decent park. First and most obviously are the slides, which propel riders downward via straightaways or complicated twists in a jarring side-to-side motion that includes painful seam clearances where slide components meet, before terminating less than a minute later in turbulent turquoise waters. Second, there’s the wave pool. This attraction, screamingly popular, proves an exercise in patience as splashers young and old await the every-ten-minutes-or-so activation of an “accordion mechanism,” whereby a large quantity of water is quickly released into the pool’s far end, forcing an evening-out and some pretty terrific waves. (Let’s hope your hometown’s water park wasn’t New Jersey’s now-shuttered Action Park, with its accident-fraught wave pool. So it goes, twelve lifeguards were on duty at all times, and on busy weekends they were known to “save” as many as thirty people, compared to the one to two the average lifeguard might rescue in a typical season at the lake. While we’re at it, let’s also hope you weren’t one of two deaths by drowning in this aptly coined “grave pool”—though, if you were, thanks for reading; I hope the afterlife has included swimming lessons.)

And, not to be forgotten, the lazy river: a shallow, donut-shaped pool with a gentle current along which to laze on a blowup raft, can of High Life smuggled in/clutched at your own risk.

Other attractions include carnival fare like balloon darts, the ring toss, and five-pin bowling; and the long line I glimpsed at Splish Splash’s temporary tattoo booth drove home the compatibility of bikinis and lower-back ink. (A nice dolphin, perhaps?)

3. Lines. The hotter the longer, especially on weekends. During last year’s adventure, I waited forty-five minutes to reach the slides’ top steps, and, as implied, the payoff was hardly all that. Be warned: your back will ache, your legs will tire, and the cement will cook your feet. Good company helps; so does visual distraction. Take Mr. Carpet Back, whom I found myself standing behind on several occasions. Eye candy he was not, but the sheer implausibility of that much hair took my mind happily off my blisters-in-progress.

4. Skin. Taut, saggy, scarce, abundant. It’s everywhere, and it’s damn close. Most evident while standing in the aforementioned lines, it dips and sinks, dangles and bows in ways you just don’t see coming. At the water park, it’s all out in the open: with pride, shame, or some combination. And there ain’t no hiding behind a baggy T-shirt, either, for park management explicitly states that all riders must wear bathing suits. So if you’re prone to bouts of debilitating self-consciousness, best keep to the backyard. (Do they still make Slip ‘n’ Slide?)

5. Fashion missteps. Because like anywhere else, people choose wrong.

6. Primer on type 2 diabetes. On how to get it, that is. Everything is shot through with sugar, breaded, and fried—including the Diet Coke. Now, will it be Fry World, Chicken Coop, or Low Country Snacks?

7. Game.

You know how sometimes things fall apart? Or at least it seems like they do? Like you normally deal with life’s one-two punches with grace and humor and a healthy perspective, but for whatever reason lately you haven’t been able to stay on stable footing, and your perspective slants everything sideways and you regress back to childhood? I’ve been having a run of days like that.

I won’t deliver unto you the litany of my trials and tribulations. Work stuff. Home stuff. Kid stuff. Financial apocalypse. Exorcisms. A 17-year-old pregnant married daughter who is going to give birth any day. And so on.

I’ve noticed when you’re strong and you smile through the bullshit, people tell you what a good job you’re doing. Keep it up. Good work. But when your confidence wavers – when your stiff upper lip quivers – that’s when you find out who your champions are.  I told a friend of mine the other day, “I woke up today and realized this is what I became when I grew up.” He told me I needed to change my story. Which I get. But sometimes, man… Sometimes when you lose your footing, it can be really hard to find it again.

It seems to many of us that the world all but requires us to be pessimists, but I propose we possess the Optimism Option. Scientifically, even as we observe a half-full glass of water, it’s under the effects of osmosis and therefore less than half full. Accordingly, the pessimist is correct: the glass is indeed not only half empty but less than half empty. What can we make of that fact, let alone earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, landslides, wars, epidemics, economic meltdown, mass psychological upset, political impotence, and hemorrhoids?

The question answers itself: ignore facts of life. No one ever got very far with facts. A fact is heavy and doesn’t travel well. Upon arriving and opening one’s briefcase to reveal a fact, the observer will likely deny that the fact is a fact. “That appears to be a fact, I admit,” the handlebar-mustachioed observer bellows, “but it’s less than a fact, not even the opposite of a fact, but something else: a delusion!”

You trudge home with your fact. What good has it done you? Like a Mormon youth on his mission, nothing has been accomplished but the traveling. And if you complain about your troubles, you’re likely to hear this admonition: “It could always be worse.”

First, let us confront that statement on its own terms. Yes, it could always be worse:

  • If male, your testicles might fall off.
  • If female, some amok hormone might cause your breasts to expand until they explode, fertilizing the earth but not doing you any good.
  • Had you challenged that mustachioed postmodernist to an arm wrestling match, you might have had your hand ripped free of your wrist, producing a bloody mess and a spectacle that your opponent would deny occurred. Thus, no ambulance would be called, and you’d bleed to death, your fact blotted out by your own blood, leaving nothing of your existence but two bodies: yours and that of your amputated hand.

The list of ways in which it could be worse proves infinite. I call this failed response to pessimism Optimical Illusion. Why would reminders that life could be even worse than it already is improve your spirits? Do not fall prey to this illusion. Let it rest as a phrase people pipe to rid your troubles from their minds while feeling content that they’ve done you some good when they’ve done just the opposite.

Faith isn’t going to offer any help, either. Should some terrible event befall you, your faithful friends will come to your non-aid with statements such as, “God works in mysterious ways,” and, “It’s all part of God’s plan. You’ll see that it all works out in the end.” Part of God’s plan is Armageddon. So far, you’ve good reason to be pessimistic.

As to love, must I enumerate the equal possibilities of its producing joy and/or emotional devastation? Meanwhile, nothing deserves to be so loathed as the love/hate relationship. Even if equilibrium in love is reached, watch out for adultery. You may very well become a cuckold simply by not being, it can only be put, an asshole. You’ve lost your get-go. You’ve become a blur of contentment. Oh, but contentment is not optimism! All that can help you now is to say to your loved one, “I could bag somebody else in five minutes, and I may very well do so.” That should keep the would-be errant lover in check.

Such a response enlightens the Optimism Option (OO). The OO is tactical in its approach. It possesses no philosophy. It trifles not with ethics. It’s entirely self-serving and fares well under any economic system, though the more self-oriented that system, the more effective OO proves itself. Luckily for you, just such an economic system has wrapped its hands around the earth. Barring miracles (forever barred because they don’t exist), your OO will travel, unlike pathetic facts. So pack your bags with plenty of OO and leave the facts in a trash can, where they’ll serve as impotent bombs no matter what their purported import. No one will notice their nonexistence, including the garbage collector.

Now, to specific OO tactics:

  • Someone makes the mistake of saying to you, “It could always be worse.” Your response? “And it could always be better! I’ve 1 in 18 million chances of winning the lottery.”
  • You’re told, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.” Your reply? “Not as mysterious as mine. I’ve no idea what I’m doing, no plan, no goal, only the rampant self-satisfaction of my own needs, much like God Himself.”
  • You randomly encounter the amputating postmodernist in some future setting. “Well, hello,” you say. “My dear friend, you taught me a valuable lesson when you dismissed my ‘fact.’ It was so valuable a lesson that I now deny your existence. To prove my point, I’m going to rip off your mustache, and you won’t feel any pain because you don’t exist. Ready?”
  • A lover questions OO. “You’re getting a little carried away,” he says. “Piss off!” you answer. “By the way, have you any friends between the years of — what’s that prime sexual age? — 18 to 23, and without your excess cargo?”
  • Your balls fall off. No problem! It’s time to employ OO: “Who needs balls, anyway? As if I want children. Fuck off, balls, and if you see my amputated hand, don’t expect it to wave hello.”
  • Here’s another OO affirmation, borrowed from AA but adapted for our purposes: “EGO: Edging God Out!” Indeed, edge God out and build up that ego. Who needs God’s superego when you’ve got your more-entertaining id?
  • Add a similar affirmation to your repertoire, known as IRE: “Id rules everything.” Whose id? Your id!
  • If you run afoul of the law, state the following to the police officer(s): “I’d hate to break the news to you, but the law doesn’t exist. It’s too complicated for me to get into now, but go home, remove your uniforms and follow your id! Start breaking the law; it’s already broken, anyway!” The officers will shake your remaining hand and gladly dismiss themselves from their unruly tasks.

Now that you’ve armed yourself with tactics, it’s time to consider your grand strategy. OO’s grand strategy can be summarized by the term GAFFE: “Giving a fuck fractures ego.” Would you break your hand on purpose? No! In the same way, why would you break your now-global egotism? No need to be creative; just follow Webster’s definition: never relinquish your “exaggerated sense of self-importance.” When all else fails, issue an SOS: “Sense of self-importance!” Arrogance is your friend. Use that friend, for you’re beyond tit for tat. You’re beyond everything. You’re out of this world, and the further you go, the better!

A few weeks ago, a prominent newspaper ran an article with the headline: “Women Who Drink Gain Less Weight.” I suspect I was not the only woman who resolved to hit the bottle at once, inspired by promises of alcohol-assisted svelteness. I would be buzzed and beautiful. Liquored up and lithe. Snockered and skinny. I would lose my unloved love handles. The close relationship my thighs had with one another would yield to a passing acquaintanceship. I resolved to buy the big bottle of Maker’s at Costco asap.

Beneath the encouraging declaration was a picture of icy cocktails in slim wineglasses. My girlfriends and I would order extra rounds, tightening our belts as our evenings progressed. We would not be those girls. The ones who drink for the wrong reasons. Men would love us – yes – but they would love us for our steadfast resolve. The investment would be sort of like paying for a gym membership.

I envisioned the Holy Grail: Smaller jeans. I would look great sipping scotch in smaller jeans.

I had not read the article. The (dormant) attorney in me kicked in. The headline did not promise weight loss. It did, however, quite clearly declare that drinkers would gain less weight. I adjusted my enthusiasm accordingly. My jeans size was ok. I would save money on new clothes, both smaller and bigger.

Still, I did not read. I considered less attractive reasons for drunken weight stability. Do women who drink more gain less weight because they pass out before making late-night runs through the Jack in the Box drive-thru for curly fries? Does the cost of alcohol deplete their food budgets?

I’m not a big drinker. Two drinks over the course of an evening does me fine. Maybe three if it’s a very long evening. How much more would I need to drink? Would I need to invest in a flask from which to nip throughout the day? Where does one buy a flask? Are they expensive? Because I would want a really nice one.

I read. The dormant attorney in me was pissed. And not in the way she planned to be.

The article describes a study that does not endorse the promising declaration of the headline.  It ends with the caveat that the study’s findings do not mean that women should drink to lose weight; rather they suggest that women with weight problems are probably not getting their extra calories through alcohol consumption.

It seems I was not the only one peeved with the writer. I did not read all 356 comments, but a number of physicians dismissed the writer’s reasoning as simplistic and chastised her for giving women false hope and potentially harmful advice. Quite a few “fattie” and “drunkard” bashers chimed in. Some provided thoughtful commentary about whether the results of the study were meaningful, in that they did not take into account lifestyle choices, such as drinking sugary sodas or smoking.

A particularly sage commenter agreed that the study was missing an essential component: Wealthy men. By marrying one, she has been able to maintain her petite bottom by going to the gym before hitting the expensive wine with her rich girlfriends or personal trainer.

Her observation is compelling in its simplicity. Though anecdotal, it is difficult to argue with her logic. Longitudinal studies are unnecessary. I am disappointed in myself for not having pursued this avenue.

Upcoming headline: The Sugar Daddy Diet: The Bigger His Wallet, the Smaller Your Jeans.


If you’re coming to my house for a social call, a casual tête-á-tête, a little visit just to say hi, make sure to take note of both your surroundings and your offerings. Bring wine if you like; wine is benign. A six-pack, perfectly balanced with a sunny smile and a warm greeting will make the afternoon bright. Even a bag of chips is good  because bags of chips have never been identified with ominous tidings or uncanny prophecy.

But avoid the Pyrex if you want to stay married. Or if there’s any potential for emotional disaster looming. Beware if you are mid-argument with someone; the stakes may get a whole lot higher once the Pyrex enters the equation.

On the other hand, if you are looking to hasten the conclusion of a thing–if you are, say, looking for the exit in an unhappy romance–feel free to bring the Pyrex-oven-and-microwave-safe-glassware, full of glistening and delicious morsels of food. Perhaps the Pyrex on its own would be enough to speed up the process, but this theory has not been qualitatively tested in the affirmative. There has often been food in the Pyrex in the past, and if you are truly committed to ending a thing, best to hedge your bets on a full dish.

The first example of Pyrex as prognosticator came ten years ago. Two friends dropped by unannounced while I was making lunch. It was a beautiful day, sunny, warm, deceptive in its cheerful aspect. We sat around our kitchen table laughing the laughter of the innocent, naïve souls who did not yet know how to read the signs.

One friend got a phone call; he took it on our porch.

I used a hot mitt to remove lunch from the oven, in Pyrex, which upon meeting the cool air, blew up in my hand, sending shards of hot glass over the entire kitchen.

My husband, noting the glazed expression on my face and the fact that I had no shoes on, threw me over his shoulder, a classic fireman rescue straight out of Hollywood disaster movies. Our friend on the porch, taking his phone call of doom, saw me in this rather embarrassing position, and wondered what sort of horror had befallen me, especially when he was receiving the message from his wife that they were getting a divorce. It was over between them. She was with someone else and was finalizing their marriage by putting in the papers.

Our vinyl kitchen flooring was a little melted in places, I was completely fine, the Pyrex and our lunch was a wash. Our friend was devastated. He had been married for years, and with the woman for far longer; we had been at their wedding. They had a child. It was a hopeless situation. And the Pyrex told all.

Years passed. We moved to a new house. Friends of ours came together with nary a breakup or disaster in sight. No Pyrex coincided with any social mishaps. I hadn’t used Pyrex much after the explosive necromancy of the past; since it blew up once I wasn’t encouraged to test its integrity every time I baked something. But nothing terrible had befallen any of our friends or loved-ones in a proximal relation to any oven-ready glassware in a long time, so perhaps we let our guard down.

Perhaps we had forgotten the lessons of the Pyrex, Harbinger of Doom.

Four years ago, two friends of ours were coming over to dinner. It was a reunion planned with great joy; one of our friends had come out of a career which had been one of the most surreal experiences of her life and now that she was relieved of duty, she was stunned at the life she walked back into. She was instantly famous, recognizable to any and all who walked down the street. She was weary and needed a respite from all the attention. I have pictures from that night. She looks sad, her life exciting and interesting, but overwhelming and stressful just the same.

She asked what she could bring, and I said anything that went with gumbo would be fine; a vegetable dish or cornbread, maybe. I did not think to specify the container; who does?

She is a terrific cook, one who takes great delight in feeding those she loves. She hadn’t cooked for anyone in months and had placed all her affection and all her joy of of good friendship in her big pot of greens. She and her beau walked up to the door with her lovingly prepared collards, the perfect accompaniment to a Dutch oven full of gumbo. The bag, heavy with liquid, slipped a little, and then more, and she watched, helpless, as the collards in their Pyrex sepulcher fell and shattered across our front walkway. She was devastated, started to cry because she had poured her love into them, and now they were cast across the pavement in a cruel dispatch, the tea leaves of Southern comfort food embossing our sidewalk with messages we couldn’t decipher.

We did not know that the disaster was not the loss of the greens; they were going to be delicious and we mourned them. But the Pyrex does not concern itself with mere sustenance, the food of the flesh; its concerns are metaphysical, otherworldly, ineffable. For our friend’s beau, unlikely as it seems, was the same beau who had been served notice on his impending divorce when the first Pyrex blew up in my hands. We even remarked on the uncanny similarities of events, laughed nervously at the unlikely coincidence, though since he was already divorced, his first wife couldn’t divorce him again.

Alas, there are more options in the fore-shadowing of Pyrex.

At about eight o’clock, the beau received a phone call from his now ex-wife: she was moving out of state with her new family. And she was taking their child with her.

Let me state for the record that we were good friends with this beau, but we hardly ever saw him. We most often mingled with him at large barbecues, where apparently the mishmosh of Pyrex mixed with other off-brand examples of oven-safe glassware watered down the chimes of the universe. Perhaps Pyrex has a direct line into the psyche of this one friend, which only aligns, like certain constellations, when in proximity to my husband and myself. Location is irrelevant: we live in a different house than the delivery of Interstellar Pyrex Message Number One, but the message seems to follow us to where-ever we are.

It would appear that Pyrex, in some unspoken relationship, has chosen my husband and I as the locus for emotional disasters to befall our friend and his kin.

Years pass, fortunes change. I turn forty. A celebration, a convivial atmosphere. Pyrex? None to be seen, but I wasn’t looking–I was turning forty, after all. Surrounded by my friends and loved ones, including the couple, Famous Person and Pyrex Lightning Rod.

They decided to part ways after almost a decade together. At my party, on our deck.

I had been too caught up in my own personal drama of forty-ness to look for the clues; where had the Pyrex been hiding? How had I missed the signs? But maybe this is not a part of Pyrex Prophecy. My husband and I just need to be near the Pyrex, we don’t even need to know it’s there for the powerful voodoo of Pyrex oven-safe dishware to work its ill-wind upon our friends. Maybe we are merely tools the Pyrex utilizes to channel the messages from the celestial spheres, creating a zone of safety for our friends to receive Pyrex Prestidigitation. We are the jewel and the medallion on the Staff of Ra, shedding light upon the stage where the drama will unfold, but not actors in the play. We must merely exist for the Pyrex to deliver its missive.

I want you to come over to our house, and we will share all the delights our house has to offer.  I set a good table, our house is warm with cheer. We will sit under the grape arbor in summer and around the table in fall. We will laugh, and take great joy in each others company.

But it is only fair to reveal the Truth of Pyrex. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

I’m a Diet Cocaholic. I make no bones about it: Diet Coke will rust my bones. Until then, I move much more rapidly than I otherwise would, when I move at all.

Nevertheless, I’m trying my best to begin Diet Coke recovery, fully aware that I’ll fail. Thanks to my Higher Power, I’ve:

  • Admitted I am powerless over my general lethargy and that my life had become unmanageable or at least lacked anything to manage in the first place.
  • Come to believe that a Higher Power can restore me to sanity, and that Higher Power is caffeine.
  • Made a decision to turn my will and life over to the care of caffeine as I understand caffeine, and there’s not much to understand.
  • Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself, which took approximately thirteen seconds due to my amorality.
  • Become entirely ready to have caffeine remove all my defects of character, which is asking a lot of a soft drink, even one that serves as my Higher Power.
  • Humbly asked caffeine to remove my shortcomings, though it doesn’t affect my longcomings.
  • Made a list of all the persons I’ve harmed, but that list was much shorter than the list of people who’ve harmed me, so to hell with it.
  • Continued to take a personal inventory of my refrigerator and, when I realized I wrongly calculated the amount of Diet Coke required for the week, promptly admitted it.
  • Sought to improve my conscious contact with caffeine as I understood caffeine and my knowledge of caffeine’s will for me and the power to carry that will out to the point of absolute mania.
  • Experienced awakening at all as a result of these steps, and carry this message to other addicts, so that they might drink caffeine prior to and after all their affairs, sexual and otherwise.

Twelve bullets for twelve ounces. Now, let’s list a few of the slogans Diet Coke has provided us, along with questions that the Coca-Cola Company might wish to answer:

  • The one of a kind. (Aren’t you forgetting Diet Coke Black Cherry, Diet Coke Vanilla, Diet Coke Light Citra, Diet Coke Plus, Diet Coke Sweetened with Splenda, Diet Coke Light with Lemon, Diet Coke Light with Lime, Diet Coke with Raspberry, and Diet Vanilla Coke?)
  • Taste it all. (Including the backwash?)
  • You are what you drink. (Then why don’t I weigh 12 ounces instead of 200 pounds?)
  • Get the taste of it. (What’s to get?)
  • Live Your Life. (You mean, I have a choice?)
  • Do what feels good. (So you know all Diet Coke drinkers are nihilists?)
  • It’s a Diet Coke thing. (You mean, the plastic bottle? Isn’t that kind of a Pepsi thing, too?)
  • Life is how you take it. (And I take it altered; can you put the cocaine back in?)
  • Light it up! (You think I don’t know that you know that crap makes me paranoid?)
  • What life should be like. (True; can you investigate caffeine gene therapy to eliminate the urination problem?)

One night, a daddy longlegs came into my room and sprinted toward my bed.

Or, I should say, it sprinted toward my futon mattress, which rested on the floor of my basement apartment. I didn’t really have a bed.

And when I say “sprinted,” I mean it. It was like it was on a mission.

I was used to this sort of thing. I lived in a basement apartment.

A Vaguely Comprehensive / Chronological Timeline of Thought Processes Re: Cigarettes & I

Cigarettes are bad because major corporations produce them.

Smoking is a ‘fairly sure, fairly honorable way to commit suicide’ (via Kurt Vonnegut, I think.)

Cigarettes are tested on animals (?!)

Smoking American Spirit brand cigarettes is okay, because there are no additives in them and because a major corporation does not produce them.

The reason why I smoke cigarettes is because they serve as the only constant in a life full of perpetual movement, confusion, and sadness.

Cigarettes are no less an oppressor than any other more commonly accepted oppressor (i.e. ‘the state,’ capitalism, police, etc.). I am enslaved, via addiction, to smoking cigarettes.

Cigarettes are ‘the epitome’ of capitalism. You buy them, they burn away, you buy more, they make you feel good, you become addicted, they kill you slowly.

People who smoke menthol cigarettes are “fucking retarded.”

I started smoking cigarettes mainly because most of the people who I look up to smoke cigarettes.

Smoking cigarettes creates a very complex, multi-faceted hierarchical aspect of my daily life. / 1.) Purchasing cigarettes that are produced by major corporations perpetuates ‘big business’ and ‘the American capitalist system,’ ‘inadvertently’ harming the ‘lower / middle classes,’ ‘third world countries,’ and [other people.] / 2.) Cigarettes are tested on animals, like dogs and monkeys, and it is bad to claim dominance over other sentient beings, ‘simply’ because they are deemed ‘intellectually / emotionally inferior’ (especially for a commodity such as cigarettes.) / 3.) Cigarette butts / smoke is bad for the environment, affecting human beings in a negative way. / 4.) Cigarettes / the corporations that produce cigarettes have a large amount of control over my life, and by purchasing cigarettes I am enabling the corporations that produce cigarettes to market themselves, increase profits (or at least maintain steady monetary income), and perpetuate their control over my life and the lives of others.

“I know cigarettes are bad, but I don’t give a fuck.”

[Vague feelings / thoughts re ‘coolness’ re smoking cigarettes]

Anybody who smokes cigarettes, who doesn’t want to die, is “fucking retarded.”

Cigarettes feel like ‘an extension of my hand.’

Smoking has created structure / routine in almost all aspects of my life re “I ‘have to’ smoke when I drive,” “I ‘have to’ smoke at least two cigarettes before school,” “I ‘have to’ smoke at Mallory’s house,” etc.

‘We are all going to die anyway.’

American Spirit brand cigarettes taste really bad. (I ‘can’t believe’ R.J Reynolds owns ‘them.’)

Cigarettes ‘transfer’ ‘cancer of the spirit, soul, etc.’ to ‘cancer of the lungs, throat, etc.’ Most people die spiritually first, and physically second.  Smoking cigarettes ‘balances out’ the death of the two, so that when I die, I will not die an ‘already empty carcass,’ (or live for any period of time as an ’empty carcass’), but will die a ‘[something].’  [Something re good, something re bad].

I like menthol cigarettes.

I can control my thoughts (and therefore my emotions and behaviors), therefore I can choose to feel happy without smoking cigarettes, because the cigarettes (aside from my physiological addiction to them) are not what make me happy; it is my psychological affinity for them, my perception of how they affect my life in a positive way, which gives me the illusion of substantial happiness.

Cigarette smoking is an ultimately endless pursuit.

Abstaining from smoking cigarettes can increase my physical well being, resulting in a higher chance of a ‘more sustainable emotional happiness, in general.’ It can also allow me to think more clearly about things, because my thoughts, feelings, and actions won’t be ‘clouded’ by physiological or psychological addiction.

‘I don’t care about anything’ is a lie that I have been frequently using to ‘comfort myself with,’ in attempting to ‘justify’ smoking cigarettes. My choice to remain living shows that I have obvious self-interest and that I view life as desirable, to some degree. Therefore, I should try to act only in ways that allow life for the most sentient beings, for the most amount of time, at the highest quality possible (including myself). Smoking cigarettes is bad in the context of this thought process.

I want to be a healthy ‘role model’ re little brothers.

My life is a series of ‘phases,’ that either include or do not include smoking cigarettes. Each phase is, I guess, equally as arbitrary as every other phase, so, I guess, all that matters is that the phases seem – during the moments in which I am existing within these phases (or the moments in which these phases are existing within me) – to be ‘the best for me’ (re emotions, goals, life in general, etc.).

– When I believed that I wanted to die, what I really wanted was a major change in my life.

Smoking cigarettes habitually would negatively affect my ability to pay rent, pay for food, etc., which would result in my having to put more effort into these things than I’d like to, which would result in less time to read or write. Seems important, somehow.

I just like, don’t really want to smoke cigarettes I guess, I don’t know…

click here to read my blog post about other things involving myself and cigarettes

Happy is the new skinny. Being happy is cool. Being sad, unsatisfied, depressed, lonely, moody or anxious is totally unattractive. Being bubbly, funny, enthusiastic, imaginative and wild is hot. Everyone wants to be happy, and everyone believes they deserve to be happy. We read books, listen to podcasts and subscribe to blogs all about how to be happy. I’ve listened and re-listened to Gala Darling’s podcast on happiness, and I find it inspiring. I’m even following some of her advice, and I’m starting to believe that it may actually be as simple as choosing to be happy. But it strikes me as odd that as a culture, we Americans claim to believe happiness is a natural right. We even wrote it into the Declaration of Independence. We are pretty dedicated to happiness, and yet, we have an awful time finding it.

Of course, there are the naysayers. There are people who believe we have become happiness addicts. There are people who believe that our obsession with being happy is naive, childish, and a waste of time. I wonder if they are happy.

They have a point, though. Our obsession with being happy can make us unhappy. Perhaps you’ve had a period of depression in which the realization that you are depressed actually makes it worse. It goes from depression to despair. “Oh God,” you find yourself sobbing into your pillow. “I’m a lost cause! I’m a mess. I’m going to end up killing myself one day!” The really nuts thing about it is that you never had any real intention of killing yourself, but the despair over your mental state, and the thought that you might be capable of committing suicide, actually drives you toward it. You start to think things like, “How will I know if I’m really suicidal?” And that thought doesn’t even make any sense. If you actually did want to die, you’d probably know it, Yet, you’ve seen those commercials with people sitting on the couch looking sad as the voice over says, “If you experience sleeplessness, loss of appetite, lack of interest in things you once enjoyed or thoughts of suicide … “

You begin to evaluate yourself as you watch the commercial. You tick off the list: You are, in fact, sitting on the couch looking sad about a sad looking person sitting on a couch. You sometimes have trouble sleeping. You once loved baking, finger painting, paper dolls and anything involving Elmer’s glue, all of which you have lost interest in. Are thoughts of suicide next? And then you realize you’re thinking of suicide right now.

“In fact, I think of suicide all the time: when I’m watching commercials for anti-depressants, when I’m stuck in traffic on a rainy night and no one will let me merge, when I don’t want to pay a bill or when I think about losing all my teeth in old age. Also, sometimes when driving on an empty road late at night, I wonder what would happen if I ran my car off the road. I don’t particularly want to die at that moment, but I’m sort of OK with the fact that it’s possible; so I probe the possibility with my imagination, but I have not yet intentionally swerved off the road. Not even just out of curiosity. So I guess I have no real death drive at the moment. But I could. And for that, I might need Wellbutrin or Lexapro or Zoloft or Prozac. Maybe I should ask my doctor, just in case.”

No one wants to be unhappy. If you’ve ever experienced true unhappiness, you know it’s not only miserable but sometimes terrifying. You feel alienated from yourself and everything that matters to you. Something always seems to be missing. You become insecure. It is not fun times. But the kind of happiness pushed on the public in the form of products, services and medications is not the kind of happiness that treats these wounds. Well, ok, for some, the medications help. But not for everyone. Drug companies know that deep down all of us have a bit of unhappiness, and that’s exactly why they invest in TV commercials. We see the sad person getting happy on TV thanks to some miracle drug, and we identify with that and think “Maybe they can make me happy, too.”

Just like the drug commercials that promise to change you from a sad little blob to a happy little blob (both mostly mindless but one clearly preferable), beauty product manufacturers promise to enrich your life by bringing out your natural beauty. I laugh when they end with faux fierceness: “You’re worth it!” Right. Worth what? An hour and a half of bleaching your scalp, poking yourself in the eye with a stick, and razor burn? Oh, those tricksy advertisers, trying to tell me I am worth the trouble of going out and buying their products and maiming myself with them. Oh yes, that is how I express my value.

We have our suffering and our insecurities, and we keep them quiet so that when advertisers at them, we’re ready to buy whatever they’re selling to medicate or mask our secret shame. No one talks about their weaknesses; that would leave them exposed to scrutiny. You don’t tell your boss, “I don’t feel good about my work, and I’m deeply concerned about the direction of my career.” That doesn’t usually lead to a promotion, and a promotion is what we want, right?

A promotion would make us happy … maybe. It’s the kind of happiness toward which we clamor when we come up short on ways to soothe that deep soul ache. If not a promotion, then at least a good bikini body, and if we can’t have that, then at least we can milk all the pleasure there is to be had from a cupcake. But is there a happiness that lasts longer than a cupcake? Something that can stick with us when we no longer want to be ogled on the beach? Is there anything in the world that, unlike that promotion, will ask nothing in return? I want the kind of happiness that doesn’t cost money, doesn’t go away when I age, and doesn’t require me to be on call to answer to come corporate jerk who cares not a whit for my personal time. And I want the kind of happiness that doesn’t cost sixty bucks a month because the drug is so new that there’s no generic alternative. Where can I find that kind of happiness?

What do I even mean when I say I want to be happy? I want to be healthy. I want to be skinny and pretty and smile a lot. I want to make enough money. I already make enough money, but I would really like to make a little more money. Or a lot more money. Enough money to buy a bigger house and not have to DIY all the renovations. That would be enough. Oh, and enough money for a new car because mine is getting old, and a pair of diamond earrings because every girl needs a pair of those, and one pair of really good expensive shoes. And a job that’s closer to my house so I don’t have to drive so far, but it should still pay me well and involve doing cool stuff with cool people. I want to spend more time with my family and friends, but not too much because most people annoy me after a while. And I want another drink, but I don’t want a hangover, and I don’t want to cross that line into being an alcoholic, although I’m not sure where that line is, and I’m not sure anyone else is either.

We seem to think we can’t live without happiness, but we’re not even sure what it is, so how would we know? Was Mother Theresa happy? What about Michael Jackson? George Washington? Your grandmother? My grandmother was extremely poor. She dropped out of school after the seventh grade, married young, had six children, and raised them all in a house the size of my first apartment with one bathroom. Her husband died 20 years before her, and she never dated again. She didn’t have a dishwasher or an air conditioner. Was she happy? Did anyone ever ask? I think it’s a safe bet that “happiness” was not the priority for her that it is for me, and for this, I feel rather foolish and selfish. Her life is anathema to me — tiny house, no money, no education, a boatload of kids — but perhaps in avoiding what I view as her pitfalls, I am denying myself a certain organic kind of happiness. After all, her kids grew up to be good people, each successful in their own way. All of them married and had children. She became matriarch to an ever-growing family who loved her. But I don’t know what that meant to her or if she was happy.

In a recent interview with Oprah, Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hahn said, “It is possible to live happily in the here and the now. So many conditions of happiness are available—more than enough for you to be happy right now. You don’t have to run into the future in order to get more.” That thought is profound and genius, but a bit over my head. I instinctively reach back to the experience of my day and think, “Is he trying to say I can be happy even with a full time job? Even without my new running shoes? Even stuck in traffic?”

When Oprah asked him to define happiness, he said “Happiness is the cessation of suffering. Well-being. For instance, when I practice this exercise of breathing in, I’m aware of my eyes; breathing out, I smile to my eyes and realize that they are still in good condition. There is a paradise of form and colors in the world. And because you have eyes still in good condition, you can get in touch with the paradise. So when I become aware of my eyes, I touch one of the conditions of happiness. And when I touch it, happiness comes.”

Reading his words stops me in my tracks. It makes me forget what I thought I knew. It pours the thoughts right out of my head and leaves me sitting in my skull like a lightening bug in an empty jar. I’m just blinking around in the emptiness.

And then I remember this: I was searching for happiness, and I was motivated by fear. The fear of unhappiness. The fear of unhappiness causes unhappiness and sends me on a wild search for that which is not my fear, but because I don’t know what it is, I can’t see it even when it surrounds me. The search is dizzying and distracting, fun and frustrating, and thoroughly intoxicating. The search is elating because it sometimes leads us to art and orgasm. Other times, the search is a bad trip and leads to sobbing into pillows, terrified at the thought of what we might do to ourselves if we had the courage (and we are quite glad we don’t have the courage).

Photo Credit: Pink Sherbet on Flickr

This morning I found parity while looking, scrambling really, for socks and I found Drunk Hercules instead. Herc is a key chain fob that broke years ago, a tiny reproduction of a statue of Hercules, loaded to incoherence and leaning back with his johnson in his hand to have a slash. At some point years ago Herc shifted his drunkenness out of my handbag into my top drawer where the undies and socks reside, to live near the frills of my last vestiges of youthful lingerie. I discovered him after pulling out seven socks with no mates and digging deep into the unknown wastes of underwear I haven’t seen for years, where he was wrapped up in a garter belt. And looking at both Herc, of whom I’m so fond, and the utterly impractical garter belt, I realized that Herc would live on down there in my drawer but the garter belt had reached its expiration date.

Over the years I’ve peeled away the sexy detritus of youth as I settle deeper and deeper into being a fabulously premature retiree. My world reaches as far as the chicken coop and my son’s school and I have little need of a garter belt in either of those places. I never did, really, since I always found the conceit of garter belts a little too Frederick’s of Hollywood. But when I was younger, I wore them under army fatigues and utility boots, so they became a different sort of message. I’m not sure what the message was, even after all these years.

But the inaugural blow against sexy underthings was becoming happily married. That happened almost 15 years ago for me, and sexy undies have been in slow decline ever since. The first items on the block were the really ridiculous ones, lingerie I don’t think I ever actually wore: slips that I bought from consignment stores, sets that were cute only on mannequins and Kate Moss, absurd gifts from people that knew in some corner of their mind that I would never, ever be caught dead in anything that looked as silly as a mesh bodysuit.

The next to go were the regular work-a-day bras. Once I got pregnant, my tiny demure chest became vava-voom-tastic, and I needed some weird architectural wonders which were followed by the least sexy of all lingerie: the nursing bra. By the time I caught my reflection in a mirror after a year of wearing that most utilitarian of lingerie, I resolved not to wear them at all. Once my chest deflated I bought tank tops and camisoles, freeing myself from hooks and straps forever.

I used to keep one nice pair of undies and one nice bra for special events, the ones where I was required to look less like a scrappy boy and more like an adult female. That happens less and less, which is my choice really, but it’s a little sad to realize that if I was expected to show up at the Grammy’s I would be hard-pressed to find proper underwear for whatever outfit I decided on. More alarming, I would be more inclined toward Spanx (girdles, for those baffled by modern parlance) than some slightly sassy lingerie set.

I visited thongs (a.k.a. Butt Floss) only briefly in my twenties; they had been replaced by bikinis almost immediately. And then came the marketing coup called “boy-shorts” and I thought I had won the lingerie lottery. My undies have been reverting to an almost completely androgynous identity over the years, unnoticed by me until finding Hercules wrapped in my 40-year-old garter belt (it belonged to my mother before it belonged to me, passed hand to hand through the generations, a provocative idealistic hope unrealized through four decades).

So I can’t decide. What to do with the garter belt? Leave it as a symbol of the past, a saucy, ridiculous paean to youth? Abandon Herc to my sexless socks and boy shorts? I mean, he’s pretty loaded; I’m sure he’s got the beer goggles of millennia going for him. Maybe he wouldn’t notice that he was down there with completely sexless underthings. But he’s a Roman, after all, and Romans were a randy bunch, always looking for a good time in any way possible. Maybe it would be an insult to strip his home of all sexual frivolity despite the fact it will never be used again in my life.

Maybe when I die, hopefully at some ridiculously ripe old age, both Hercules and that garter belt will live on in my drawer, a little testament to fun and friskiness. My son, then grown with a family of his own, will find them there while breaking up housekeeping, and face a little mystery about the person he knew as “Mom.”

Recently, I’ve been involved in an academic debate regarding the concept of alcoholism and addiction as diseases. During that debate, I discovered what I consider to be a major contradiction between the diagnosis of alcoholism (upon which I will focus in this post) and its “treatment.” That discovery led me to a second and even more startling revelation.

Without doubt, the advent of alcoholism as a disease accomplished some positives. E.Morton Jellinek was the major force behind the development of the disease model. Without going into Jellinek’s ideas and the conclusions he reached from his research, some of which are unquestionably wrong, it need only be stated for now that without Jellinek, alcoholism might still be considered the result of “character defects.”

Redefining alcoholism as a disease seemingly de-stigmatized alcoholism. However, that de-stigmatization occurred only in the definition of alcoholism, not its treatment. That contradiction is the subject of this essay.

While nearly every therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, and physician in the United States accepts the disease model of alcoholism and other addictions, they almost-uniformly refer every one of their patients to AA as the one and only road to recovery. Remember that these professionals have, as part of their acceptance of the disease model, obviously concluded that diseases are not caused by “character defects.”

But at the same time, in its primary document (the Twelve Steps), AA members “must” (of course they can ignore it, but no reason to attend AA exists in that case) accept the 6th Step, i.e, being “entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character” [bolding and italics mine].

This raises two points, the first being the most important.

  • (1) Because almost all therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and physicians accept the disease model of alcoholism, they also by default accept that a disease does not result from “character defects.” However, the only “treatment” they offer is referral to AA, which, while paying lip service to the disease model, clearly views alcoholism as the result of “character defects,” otherwise known as a “sinful nature.” Such “treatment” negates the very essence of the treatment community’s own diagnosis. That’s precisely parallel to a physician who knows the use of shark cartilage as a cancer treatment goes against everything he believes about the disease of cancer, but he still points every cancer patient to shark cartilage as the only treatment that “works.”
  • (2) Because AA accepts the disease theory of alcoholism, at least on the surface, its own 6th Step repudiates the definition of alcoholism as a disease and AA as a coherent “philosophy.” AA inculcates the idea of alcoholism as the result of “character defects,” the very idea Jellinek, the founder of the disease model, disputed. Thus, AA is entirely based upon a “sin and redemption” approach. While it may work for some, it is, without question, a faith-based organization, as both the Twelve Steps and the fact that, at least in my experience, every AA meeting ends with the specifically-Christian Lord’s Prayer and the Serenity Prayer (“God grant me the wisdom…”) attest.

Point (1) is far more important than a blatant contradiction.  Based on the studies conducted by alcohol rehab franklin, the sole recovery model to which patients are referred denies the very diagnosis and understanding of alcoholism that the entire treatment community accepts is an almost unbelievable fact. Of even more concern is that no one has ever noticed this unbridgeable gap between the treatment community’s diagnosis and understanding of alcoholism and the sole model of recovery it suggests.

The point is not to engage in argument with AA or its members; rather, the point is a psychological, medical, economic, and political one: Why is AA never questioned as the sole road to recovery by those who so depend upon it when “treating” patients? Why has no one else ever noticed the black hole between diagnosis and “treatment”? How can the treatment community not notice that AA’s primary document stands in direct opposition to its own accepted definition of alcoholism?

The American Medical Association’s own diagnosis states: “Disease means an involuntary disability. It represents the sum of the abnormal phenomena displayed by a group of individuals. These phenomena are associated with a specified common set of characteristics by which these individuals differ from the norm, and which places them at a disadvantage” [again, bolding and italics mine].

The American Psychiatric Association never mentions AA in its Substance-Related Disorders Position Statement. Its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders describes only criteria; it no longer addresses etiology in regards to any disorder or, in the sole case of alcoholism/addiction, “disease.”

Despite this avoidance of the issue at hand, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, The American Medical Association, and The World Health Organization all consider alcoholism a disease. And to prove how the medical community and AA are becoming still more integrated, some medical schools are now including AA “education” as part of their academic requirements.

What does all of this mean for the patient? Isn’t the treatment of a disease the role of the treatment community? Or is the treatment community’s addiction to AA psychological, so that it refers patients to the most available “resource” as a stress reliever? Is it economic, since AA is free, much like church? Is it political, with “disease” more likely to gain legislative support that in turn provides funding for research, grants, etc.? Is it simple ignorance? Going back to the patient, left to a cold war of the self, the answer hardly matters. However, were the treatment community to recognize or admit the discrepancy between its diagnosis and treatment of alcoholism, it would make all the difference in the world.

In conclusion, given the treatment community’s ubiquitous acceptance of alcoholism as a disease and acceptance of AA as the sole recovery model for alcoholic patients despite AA’s insistence that alcohol is the result of “character defects,” the entire psychological, psychiatric and medical communities are not only complicit in the inevitable relapse of patients but engaging in nationwide malpractice.

There’s a tollbooth on the road over to Pensacola Beach. The toll is a dollar.

(Only on the way out. It’s free to come back.)

The tollbooth operators wear a uniform. It consists of a Hawaiian shirt.

That’s it, really.

I mean, I’m sure they wear pants, too. But I never see the pants.

After almost two years of living on the Florida panhandle, I’ve come to think of this Hawaiian-shirt-as-uniform business as typical of what locals call the “Salt Life.”

The “Salt Life” is a popular motif down here on the ole Redneck Riviera. I was of course ignorant about the Salt Life when I first moved to Gulf Breeze. But shortly after we arrived, my husband Kelly and I started seeing “Salt Life” decals stuck to the backs of cars and trucks.

We saw more and more of them. They were everywhere. There were several variations, but the most common was done in white lettering that looked like it had been eroded a little. As though from a gulf breeze, maybe.

“What’s that all about?” I asked Kelly, after I’d seen enough of them to feel they couldn’t be ignored.

“I don’t know,” he said. “There’s another one.”

It became our own private version of the Slug Bug game.

Eventually Kelly got a job working with some locals who filled him in.

“Salt Life means you’re a local,” he told me one evening after work. “But a local who goes to the beach. Not a local who ignores the beach, or a tourist.”

“Oh,” I said.

But it seemed unlikely there was a sticker purely to designate panhandle locals, so eventually I got around to looking it up online.

Turns out the Salt Life is just a … store.

The company originated out of Jacksonville Beach. It sells t-shirts and visors and coffee mugs and–go figure–car decals.

This was a little disappointing. For a while my ardor for the “Salt Life” cooled.

But eventually it came back.

For one thing, there’s the fishing. I’ve lived near the beach before; I grew up by the Jersey Shore. But I’ve never seen so many people fishing in my life as I see fish here.

Some stimulus money has trickled its way into the local area; it’s being used to build two new fishing piers.

Fishing piers! That’s what we need more of to get this great country back on its feet, dontcha think?

Well, here in Salt Life territory, we do. It’s essential to our well being.

Even to mine, and I don’t even fish. I like fishing, though, now that I live here.

Here are some things I like about fishing:

1. At a time when I get the feeling a lot of people don’t even want to be seen in public, as though it’s an embarrassment to be caught outdoors, I like the way people who fish will just stop on the side of the road and drop a line anywhere they think they can catch something.

1A. They do it late at night, too. I like that. It seems like being out late at night is considered especially suspicious. I’m in favor of any excuse to be out in the middle of the night.

2. I like the way fishing seems to cross all boundaries. People young and old, black and white, male and female, rich and poor, all fish together.

2A. The only difference is the really rich people fish on boats.


There’s this old man I see walking up and down my street a lot. He passes at all hours, in the wee morning, very late at night, or anytime in between. He walks slowly, creakily, pulling a cooler on wheels behind him.

He’s headed for the bridge. He’s going fishing. He’s living the Salt Life.

We were going to have sex.

Not right then and there, I mean. But it was in the cards. We’d been together a month, taking it slow, but things were steadily becoming more aggressive physically, with hours spent mapping the terrain of each other’s bodies with hand and kiss. We would have done it already, except for that particular monthly quirk of her biology. It was inconvenient but not earth-shattering. I’d already waited twenty years, so it wouldn’t kill me to wait a little longer. Especially when the sex was quite literally a promise.

My lack of experience wasn’t for a lack of trying. But when you spend your adolescence as the only “out” atheist in class after class of conservative Christian kids, conjugal invitations are not exactly forthcoming. College was a much better environment for that sort of thing, even if it did take me a while to wind up with a girl who was interested in more than just some marathon make-out sessions and heavy petting.

She had been sexually active for a couple of years, which was a huge relief; at least one of us would have some idea of what she was doing. For myself, I was confident my immense enthusiasm would compensate for any lack of skill (note: this is my go-to policy for most situations in life). It helped that she was sweet about my virginity, and seemed to relish the prospect of deflowering me.

But my masculine pride would not go completely unappeased, and I still felt obligated to bring something other than a can-do! attitude to the table–er, bedroom. After a little time pondering the issue, it hit me: birth control. There was no reason I should leave the onus for protection on her. If I was going to engage in sexual intercourse, it was my job—no, duty—as an enlightened male of the new 21st century to actively pursue and engage in responsible birth control.

A rare non-square high school pal had given me a three-pack of basic Trojan condoms as an off-to-college present but they were past their expiration date, so I threw them out. It would be a simple matter, I thought, to procure some more. So I shrugged into the full-length black trench coat I wore at every opportunity back in those days, and set out to walk the mile or so distance to the nearest Walgreens. It was a serendipitous wardrobe choice, as I’d left my umbrella at home and halfway there the winter clouds unleashed a torrent of rain, huge frigid drops lashing against my face. I kept walking, head down into the wind, coat wrapped around me, refusing to retreat in the face of the unforgiving elements. I was a man on a mission.

My bravado collapsed the moment I reached the store. For starters, I had no real idea where the desired item might be located, as I’d never had cause to purchase them before. Searching for the aisle marked “Birth Control” proved futile, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to ask. I finally found a section euphemistically labeled “Family Planning” at the far end of the same aisle as the feminine hygiene products. An inordinate amount of female shoppers seemed to be in the area, so I circled the store a few times, collecting a basket of household items I didn’t need as camouflage for my real goal. When the coast finally seemed clear I made my move.

As usual, I was unprepared for what I was getting myself into. The selection was more than I’d bargained for, column after column of brightly colored boxes, each advertising some different flavor, texture, or scent. Trojan Magnum. Durex Xtra Pleasure. Lifestyles Tropical Scents. Condoms that advertised raised ridges, bumps, reservoir tips, vibrating rings, additives like spermicide or benzocaine. Natural condoms claiming to be made out of lambskin (lambskin?! Eww!).

Like every other California public school kid I’d had my mandatory Sex Ed classes and witnessed the ritual with the condom and the banana, but I was woefully unprepared for phrases like “zesty mint” and “ecstasy twist.” Did these things matter? Was the female reproductive orifice actually endowed with such a discriminatory sense of touch (and apparently, one of taste as well)?

And the lubricants! All those little bottles, lined up like soldiers on the shelves below, ready to be sent into the sexual battlefield. What in the hell were they for?! Did some people really need a ¼ gallon of personal lubricant at a time?

And most importantly, should I buy some?

I stood there, frozen in a state of priapic doubt in the middle of the drugstore aisle, befuddled by the sheer volume of available options for my sexual needs.

Other shoppers tossed wary glances at me as they passed by, and they were right to do so. I was damp, disheveled, wearing a black trench coat, and staring ardently at a wall of prophylactics. The basket at my feet already contained ballpoint pens, shoe polish, razor blades, rubber dishwashing gloves, and a jar of peanut butter, so who knows what kind of deviant evening they thought I had planned. Even I thought I was some brand of pervert, and it was certainly only a matter of time before the employees showed me the door. Or just called the police.

I finally settled on a 12-count variety pack, trusting to my girlfriend’s greater experience in the matter to make the final selection when the time came.

As soon as the choice was made and the box was in my hand, something came unlocked inside me. In one instant I went from being the poster boy for anxiety, self-conscious on cosmic levels at being seen with my purchase, and in the next I completely quit caring what any asshole thought about it. Because it was in that moment, box in hand, that the reality of the situation finally crystallized:

We were going to have sex.

I had condoms, and a girlfriend, and would soon be enjoying both in tandem. Let the world envy my fortune!

I abandoned my basket of unwanted items there in the aisle and strutted up to the register, “Stayin’ Alive” spinning on my mental jukebox. The cashier was a bored-looking girl about my age, who only made the bare minimum eye contact with me when she saw what I put in front of her. Her eyes flicked up to my face once, and then away, but long enough for me to see the light of curiosity in them. Oh, yeah, I thought. She knows.

“Is this is all for you today?” she asked.

“Damn straight,” I said. I paid cash and told her I didn’t need a bag, and she blushed as she handed them back to me. I didn’t. I held up my hand for a high-five. “C’mon!” I said, “Give it up for safe sex!” With another blush and an embarrassed smile she did, lightly slapping her palm against mine.

“Have a nice evening,” she said.

I didn’t answer. Slipping the box into my coat pocket, I ambled out the door, strutting all the way home. I didn’t give a damn that it was still raining.


Alice in Wonderland Syndrome 


If you wake up and it looks like your fingers are stretching for a mile, or you peer out a window and the seagulls flying 100 meters away look like they’re about to land on you, then you might be one of the rare sufferers of Alice in Wonderland syndrome, a peculiar depth-perception ailment named after the popular book by Lewis Carroll.

Strangely, there’s nothing wrong with the sufferer’s actual eyes. People suffering from AIWS often experience distorted depth perceptions such as micropsia, where objects appear to shrink and seem farther away, or macropsia, where items appear larger than normal. “Everything shrinks. It’s like I’m looking through a telescope backwards. I don’t feel huge, though. I actually feel very small as well, which is strange since everything around me also feels small. It’s like I’ve been miniaturized along with everything else around me.” So wrote one man in January 2009 in a forum on an AIWS website run by Rik Hemsley, an actual sufferer of the ailment.

Some people experience the opposite reaction: not miniaturization but enlargement. They might be looking at someone whose extremities suddenly appear to balloon. Others claim they can induce the experience at any time and then shake their head, or shake their own weirdly transformed body part, to make the sensation stop. Some have said they feel as if their brain is being stretched like a rubber band.

Hemsley said to the U.K. Guardian in 2008: “When it first happened, I was a 21-year-old undergraduate. I had been up late the night before writing my dissertation and drinking a lot of coffee, but on that particular morning I was stone cold sober and hangover-free. I stood up, reached down to pick up the TV remote control from the floor, and felt my foot sink into the ground. Glancing down, I saw that my leg was plunging into the carpet. It was a disturbing sensation, but it lasted only a few seconds, so I put it down to overtiredness and forgot all about it.”

Since writing for the Guardian in early 2008, Hemsley said no medical researchers have offered to study his affliction. “None, though I have answered questions for an article in a Polish magazine named Medical Tribune,” he said.

Hemsley said he’s still dealing with the affliction. “I am still improving, yes. I had a couple of days over the [2008] Christmas holiday where I noticed it, as a result of typical migraine-inducing behavior. I hadn’t had anything for about three months before that.”

It’s hard to imagine that even if the affliction went away, as it usually does with AIWS, Hemsley could ever forget about a syndrome as puzzling as his. While he is married, has a job, and continues on with his life, many others in the world who suffer from this ailment rarely go outside, fearful of experiencing these surreally distorted perceptions. “The most bizarre thing I can think of, off the top of my head, is that often when I sit with my legs crossed, with my shin on the other leg’s thigh, I would perceive that the upper leg was partially sunk into the lower.

This seemed to be caused by a combination of odd sensation and imagination. Whatever it was, it was quite unpleasant and occurred often. I would expect it is related to the more commonly quoted perception of a ‘spongy’ floor,” said Hemsley.

Some of the possible causes cited are migraines, temporal lobe epilepsy, and Epstein-Barr virus.

Symptoms: The AIWS website describes the main symptom as that of altered body image. Those afflicted are usually confused as to the size and shape of parts of their own body. Heads and hands commonly undergo a metamorphosis, shrinking or growing. Visual perception of the surrounding world gets skewed. People, scenery, buildings, animals appear smaller or larger, while distances appear too close or too far away. Some of those afflicted experience distorted time, touch, and sound perception.


Foreign Accent Syndrome

A man I met once at a pizza parlor, who promoted music shows, was accused of having a fake accent. One woman in Michigan sounded like she was British though she was born in a small American town. Whether these people are faking it or not, most actual sufferers of foreign accent syndrome are accused of falsifying their speech.

The reality is, the 40 or so documented cases of FAS usually stem from a brain injury or stroke that may have caused damage to the speech centers of the brain. While the person’s speech sounds otherwise normal, there is a foreign-sounding accent that overlays syllables and sometimes sentences. Some people are more fluent with their accents than others. Some of those  afflicted are reported to have mysteriously recovered within just a few months time.

The BBC reported that one British woman, after a stroke, started speaking with an idiosyncratic accent that sounded alternately French Canadian, Slovakian, Italian, or Jamaican. “I didn’t realize what I sounded like, but then my speech therapist played a tape of me talking. I was just devastated,” Linda Walker said. She added, “I’ve lost my identity, because I never talked like this before. I’m a very different person and it’s strange and I don’t like it.”

The best-known case of foreign accent syndrome occurred in Oslo, Norway, after a British bombing raid on September 6, 1941. A 28-year-old Norwegian woman was seriously injured in the head by a bomb fragment. She lay unconscious for several days and was not expected to live. Two months later, she was discharged from the hospital—suddenly with a German-sounding accent. During the remainder of the war she was often mistaken for a German and suffered discrimination because of it.

Symptoms: Sudden strange foreign accent.

Twenty-Five Random Remedies

Aphrodisiac: If you’re looking to increase your libido and you don’t want all the nasty potential side effects of Viagra, find some horny goat weed. It has been helping the Chinese since the days of the ancients. In lab experiments it works just as well as the little blue pill.

Constipation: Laughter has a massaging effect on the intestines.

Nosebleed: Run something cold down the back of your neck. Sudden chills can cause blood vessels to contract.

Mouth Ulcers: Try a pinch of baking soda or dissolve some in a glass of warm water and use as a mouthwash for neutralizing acids in mouth ulcers.

Green Hair: For blondes in chlorine pools whose hair has turned green, just add ketchup and cover with cling wrap for 30 minutes.

Headache: Draw blood to your feet by soaking them in hot water. Add some mustard powder for exceptional thumpers.

Decongestant: The University of Nebraska found that traditional homemade chicken soup (not from a packet) contains the amino acid cysteine, which is a

PMS Bloating: The yeast extract Marmite can help fight PMS bloating. Fish eggs and brazil nuts can help too.

Bruises: Vinegar heals bruises. Soak cotton and apply.

Coughing: Try a nice bar of chocolate. Theobromine in cocoa suppresses sensory nerves.

PMS: Boil a cup of water and pour over a teaspoon of dried rosemary. Cover and let brew for 15 minutes, then drink a warm cup twice daily.

Insect Bites: Dab on toothpaste to fight itching
and swelling.

Obesity: Turmeric, which is found in curry, has many medicinal uses and helps prevent obesity in lab rats. So eat hearty.

Cancer: In 2008, it was announced that medical experts in the U.S. are now studying the ancient Chinese remedy of potentially deadly toad venom for cancer patients. Often cancer patients try a blend of Western and Chinese remedies to fight tumors.

Toxic Blood: Actress Demi Moore once had 45 leeches gorge on her blood— a creepy Austrian treatment for toxic blood. Apparently the little critters release a helpful enzyme as they chomp down.

Stroke: Consider acupuncture to help you in your recovery. Millions of patients each year do so in China. Could they all be wrong? Get in harmony with yourself.

Skin Disorders: A urine-mixture ointment can help clear up blotchy skin. Singer Amy Winehouse tried it. In another curious case of urine therapy, actress Sarah Miles drank her own urine for 30 years, claiming that it immunized her against allergies.

Cellulite: Mix a little olive oil with warm coffee grounds. Spread on thighs twice a week. Cover with cling wrap for several minutes. The caffeine helps circulation.

Icky Breath: Chomp on a raw coffee bean.

Sore Throat: Manuka honey from New Zealand can kill over 250 bacteria strains. It can help heal burns too. Add some lemon.

Beauty Treatment: Actress Gwyneth Paltrow once used a type of acutherapy for beauty called “cupping.” Heated glass cups applied to different areas of the body can supposedly relieve stress.

Stinky Toes: Soak your feet in two cups of hot tea diluted with extra water.

Dandruff: Three aspirin dissolved in shampoo can help with flaking scalp.

Sniffles: Warm feet in hot water. Soak pair of thin socks in cold water. Wring out and wear. Add thick, dry socks and put feet up (go to bed). Boosts circulation, which can help with the sniffles.

Stained Teeth: Rubbing strawberries on your teeth can rid you of superficial stains. woman said she had regained much of the control of her hand.