I can’t believe I ate the whoooole thing

What disturbs me most about nationalized health care is that it is politicized.

That means that the pols are going to give us the impression that they are doing us all a favor, and that is the farthest from the truth as a thing can be.

After lunch today, I got back into my car to go to my next stop. A talk show was on the radio, and a caller was accusing the talker of having the temerity actually to  pay for his own health care.

The caller was blaming the man for going against some unspoken tenet of the caller’s – the one that says that no one should pay for his or her own health care because it is a “right.” And if it is a “right” then it is the obligation of “society” to pay for his health care.

I damn near drove off the road at that attitude.

But it prompted a flash of insight.

In that flash, I saw a future where “the system” would work to relieve us of responsibility to care for ourselves.

Let me be absolutely clear here. My worldview holds that I am created by an omniscient, omnipotent God. In this phase of my existence, I am loaned a body to live in. That body will one day die, and I shall be changed. But up until that point, I have a responsibility to maintain that body on loan from God to the best of my ability. That’s known as stewardship.

Politicized, collectivized, mandatory, socialized health care will work against that worldview in the most insidious way possible. It will either take from me or severely limit my ability to exercise my responsibility to take care of that which God has loaned me.

So what, you ask, has that got to do with your memoir, Doug?

Glad you asked.

The answer is that what happened to me 35 years ago, when I began the recovery process from the disease of addiction, was that I suddenly understood that it was my responsibility.

“I can’t believe I ate the whooooole thing,” the guy in the old Alka-Seltzer ad says in misery.

“You ate it, Ralph,” carps his wife.

Ralph’s wife was helping him see where the responsibility lay for his abused and bloated gut.

Likewise I awoke – but for sure with no carping wife’s help – to responsibility.

 Recovery is impossible until we accept responsibility for what we did – and for what we will do about it.


longer than the War of the Austrian Succession

February – if ever anyone got it right it was Charley McDowell, legendary columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch back in The Day.

Charley wrote a humorous, sardonic column each year in honor of the month and always included this little ditty on how tedious it could be:

“30 days hath September, April, June and November;

All the rest have 31, except February, which is endless.”

Those columns always resonated  with me. It does seem endless: “Longer than the War of the Austrian Succession,” McDowell wrote.

But February is something more than just a month for me now. It marks my 35th anniversary of putting the plug in the jug, as I’ve mentioned before.

I have just a couple of more observations to offer this year.

First, I celebrate it because I think it’s unbelievable, given my behavior and attitudes just before the miraculous change in my life that has gotten me this for.

Secondly, because of the encouragement it gives to others to see that people do undergo radical transformations. There are people who will tell you that complete changes in personality and behavior are impossible.

I beg to differ.

And I know thousands of others who agree with me, and whose lives bear witness to that.

So it is important to mark the anniversary that others may see and be encouraged. They do and are. I did and was, all those years ago.

But the most amazing thing is that I did not do it under my own steam. I had outside help.

Oh, yeah, there were lots of cheerleaders and support groups. But I mean beyond that. There was a power greater than anything human involved.

That is where all the credit is due.

No, I’m not gonna go all Holy Roller on you here.

But I do know that a power greater than myself was intimately involved in my transformation all the way.

If you’d like to know more, email or call me, and I’ll be glad to elaborate.

My point this February is simply that all things are possible; and, in fact, “nothing is impossible.” But those things are not up to me.


Here is a link to a recent column by Tom Silvestri, the senior editorial executive of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, remembering Charley McDowell’s February columns.


is recovery chilled by political correctness?

Do we foster a community of recovery – one in which recovery is encouraged?

Are there public voices – champions of recovery – as in the past?

Or is the “recovery movement” that peaked in the 80s passé?

What do you think?


My take is that the political correctness movement has had a chilling effect on the public honesty that being a community in which recovery is encouraged requires.

We’ve become a nation of wimps in our public conversations – the ones that occur within the news media and in the halls of public meetings.

We dissemble for fear of insulting some minority, some poor, put-upon set of victims du jour, usually aided and abetted by community organizers using the victims’ sad plights to get “funding” for their scams du jour.

There are, of course, notable and brave exceptions. I’m thinking of  The Healing Place in my home town. They consistently turn out some of the most outstanding successes I’ve ever seen. And I’ve been watching for more than 35 years. They recently had the courage of their convictions to tell  their story to the local daily newspaper, which promptly published an editorial recognizing, applauding and supporting their good work.

THP’s success is achieved not by huge tax outlays. It relies on the community for the majority of its support. The elder Bush – the “no new taxes” one, not the “helluva job, Brownie” one – would call THP one of his “thousand points of light.”

Some years ago, I committed to being fairly public about my own experience. My hope – and it was rewarded – was that others would benefit. And over the years, I’ve kept that up. But an amazing thing has happened in recent years. My sharing has evoked anger – un-dealt-with fear, I suspect – in a few disturbing instances. Sadly, those instances have been in churches, of all places.

I don’t  know why that is. The message is still the same. But I suspect it is that folks today are so brain-washed by happy-talk that some plain talk about the truth of one of our major societal ills short-circuits something in their minds. Are “they” implanting chips yet, or something?

Or is the eternal truth that “the truth shall set you free” just eluding some?


Comment, please. This weighs heavily on me as I continue to write my memoir, my “Ebenezers,” and I could use your help.

why write?

Thinking back on many of those journal entries I made in early recovery, I recalled something Ernest Hemingway once wrote:

“If he wrote it he could get rid of it. He had gotten rid of many things by writing them.”

I can relate. During that period I was strenuously dealing with things, and it just felt better to write down what I was doing, and why.

But writing has been second nature to me as long as I can remember. So I was not always getting rid of things so much as either recording them or celebrating them.

This memoir-in-progress that I’m writing about here – it’s a little bit of all three: getting rid of,  recording and celebrating.

When I started, one of my writing coaches suggested I go to Barnes & Noble and survey the biography section. She suggested I pick some memoirs, which are scattered about in that section, and sort-of scan through some, read the ones I liked and thereby get a feel for the genre.

This I did. In B&N and Borders and some Indies, you can scan a book pretty quickly while having a mocha. You can quickly get an idea about whether or not you should buy it, go to the local library and check it out or forget it.

I learned that when it came to recovery memoirs, there are a lot of them, and there are a lot of authors getting rid of things.

We would call them “drunk-o-logs.” I found them largely boring and many poorly written.

The memoirs I loved, though, were those that reached for the uplifting in life – books that took us to new levels, even through bad situations, or memoirs that were simply humorous or satirical as they dealt with the tribulations of life.

Speaking of which, one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time was The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. It’s a memoir about growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, where Bryson’s dad was a long-time award-winning sports writer for the Des Moines Register, one of the best mid-size- city newspapers in the country. The Life and Times lives up to its cover-flap billing — that it can leave folks rolling on the floor in laughter.

It’s a fun read, but it also has a message for contemporary America. And that is that we’ve lost a lot in the last half century or so. What was possible, and what kids had the freedom to do then seem fast-fading memories, as I observe some kids today grow pale and flabby spending their free time  in front of digital devices.

And when I know that today my grandchildren cannot leave the house after wolfing down breakfast and spend the whole day playing outside, exploring the woods, riding bikes, playing impromptu baseball games in the schoolyard, not to return home until nearly dark, and not leave mothers hand-wringing worried. They can’t do that today. But Bill Bryson – and I – did.

So memoir can be uplifting with a backstory that’s a message to ponder.

That’s the kind I found out I liked.


While I’m at it, here are some tidbits about writing I’ve journaled over time:

 “A few hints as to literary craftsmanship may be useful to budding historians. First and foremost: get writing! – Samuel Eliot Morison

“Most editors are failed writers – but so are most writers.” – T.S. Eliot

“I doubt if the texture of Southern life is any more grotesque than that of the rest of the nation, but it does seem evident that the Southern writer is particularly adept at recognizing the grotesque…”  — Flannery O’Connor

it’s your story

Don’t let anyone tell you where your heart is.

It’s in your story, and you alone know it.

In my writing circles, I meet people  who want to write a memoir. They’ve been told this and that, and sometimes it seems to be a drag on their productivity and  creativity.

Recently I came across this, attributed to Ella Fitzgerald:  “It isn’t where you came from; it’s where you are going that counts.”

I beg to differ.

“The life which is unexamined is not worth living,”wrote Plato.

And fully to  examine my own, I had to go back…back to where I came from.

So when folks ask me how I started  the memoir process that I’m in now, I tell them I started by writing little things in a notebook.

That started about 25 years ago. And now I have several dozen spiral bound, college-ruled notebooks full of observations, feelings, fears — times of elation and the lows of sorrow — and simple statements of what happened to me or what I did day-by-day.

And I read. Reading was encouraged when I was a kid. There was no TV…and even when it did come along, the only thing worth watching was Howdy-Doody.

I read everything from comic books – during the Golden Age of that genre, the 50s – to classics. And the Bible.

I read the original Mad Magazine, Archie and Jughead, Tales from the Crypt and Superman. Man, was it fun. And I listened to stuff like The Shadow, Sky King, Flash Gordon and The Lone Ranger on the radio. I learned to imagine.

I read Twain, Scott, Milne, and later greater classics. I even read Pilgrim’s Progress in the original Middle English, and Madame Bovary in French. ( I had to, to pass the class – but it was worth it. It’s sexier in the original.)

So I read as much as I could and today believe that good writing stems from reading – a lot.

And I write something every day – even if it’s just a word I need to look up. That’s what I tell folks who ask me how I go about writing memoir.


Here’s another take on the importance of where we came from – a guest column in my morning paper, the Richmond Times-Dispatch. A great story.

Super Bowl quotes

“..Successful military adventures are as effective as the Super Bowl in diverting people’s attention from unpleasant truths.” –J. Stockwell

“The Super Bowl is Americana at its most kitsch and fun.” –Sting

“There is no future. This is the season. Get to the Super Bowl.” –Troy Vincent

 “If it’s the ultimate game , how come they’re playing it again next year.” ‘Boys’ RB Duane Thomas, #SuperBowl VI

the nexus

What is at the nexus of recovery and addiction?

In building my memoir – my “Ebenezers” – I’ve answered that.

And now as I re-read and re-write that chapter, I know I need to drill down a bit into the nexus.

In my post of Feb. 3, I talked about my 35th anniversary of “putting the plug in the jug.”

That’s a breezy way of minimizing what actually happened, because it was a supernatural one-off, a bravura performance by a beneficent power greater than I could imagine.

Specifically, God intervened in response to a prayer I launched right after a confrontation with the 800-pound gorilla that had been squatting in the living room, the back seat of my car and anywhere else I was. I had to either ignore or walk around him and play like he wasn’t there. Of course, this was the famous Gorilla of Denial, familiar to many contemporary families, whether they’ll admit it or not.

The nexus of recovery and addiction happened on the day the denial gorilla got deflated.

It happened this way:

Following several months of trying AA, I was unsuccessful. I just didn’t get it. I’d drink for a couple of weeks, then abstain for a couple. The back-and-forth had worn me down nearly to the point of giving up.

How the hell did those people do it? They were happy, mostly successful, some startlingly so.

So that day 35 years ago, I was comparing myself to others and coming up short – a dangerous game for anyone with an un-dealt-with dysfunction.

And that’s exactly when the nexus happened. I popped a beer that day, but put it down with a strange feeling that I wanted no more of it. I looked in a mirror, and saw an entity looming over my back.

It was a dark presence. Think: logo for the movie Amadeus: a dark looming presence right behind me.

It frightened me so much, I jerked around. There was nothing there, but I knew I had seen some kind of spiritual manifestation – a warning.

I never looked back at that mirror. I prayed to be able to stop drinking.

And I understood that I could, but I had a lot of hard work to do.

Whether you are a believer as I am or not, the fact is that the prayer worked. That strange event was the line of demarcation between addiction and recovery, the nexus of life and an ugly early death.