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What Do Walnuts, Exercise and Addiction Have in Common?
Posted: December 05, 2018 Categories: 

Sometimes the most obvious facts about life hide behind willing ignorance.

Regardless how good or how bad some things are for people, we can willingly choose to ignore the facts. My wife Robin uses a great example saying, “If you knew walnuts were going to kill you, then you’d make darn sure you’d never eat another walnut.”

True.

But tell an alcoholic that drinking will kill them, and often you’ll get willing ignorance. It’s not rocket science. One drink leads to another and to another problem and potentially fatal risks. It’s a choice to be ignorant of the consequences. It’s another form of admitting there’s a problem. Denial gets a bad rap, because denial is a sign there’s a problem. Alcoholics and addicts will do just about anything to keep their charade going, but the fact is what they’re doing is digging an early grave for them.

I don’t like sounding grim, but facing the truth and related consequences is something I’ve learned how to do after going through recovery two times, and helping many others in the process. It’s so common, and the problems are like walnuts.

The same goes for exercise.

If you knew exercise was the single best thing you could do for you life, wouldn’t you want to exercise? Yet, we do know this but we can’t get moving. Willing ignorance is making us sluggish as a society. Lack of energy causes so many problems in life. Doctors should prescribe a 20-minute daily walk instead of the pills we often get. Exercise has shown to boost your brain, body, endorphins and serotonin levels, which means we have power to have relaxing enjoyment with the power to heal.

I’ve always been athletic and into fitness, still I struggle daily with motivation to keep moving. We all do. Maybe people are afraid of exercise. There are many excuses, lack of time, don’t know how, or afraid of injury or feeling pain. Whatever the excuse, a little exercise goes a long way.

What’s your excuse? Are you willing to investigate your fears and beliefs? Are you willing to try?

I suggest starting today.

Then, start again tomorrow.

Take it one day at a time. Find your motivation daily.

You’ll find that every single time you exercise, you’ll smile or be grateful what you just did. I promise you’ll feel better.

Be well,

Justin

P.S. Don't forget to write a review of "No More Vodka in My Orange Juice" for a free autographed copy!

3 Decisions that Led to My Gratefulness
Posted: November 21, 2018 Categories: 

Time to press pause and focus on what’s important in life. Unfortunately, that’s hard to do if you’re more concerned about your next drink, where to stash the booze and good stuff where nobody’s looking. That’s not my problem these days, but I remember them, and I’m extremely grateful to be over them, and to have found a passion for wellness.

Today, I’m grateful for every day I have to be alive and well with my family. But it took awhile before I realized 3 decisions that I’ve made that continue to result in gratefulness.

1. Deciding to forego drinking or using, admitting I needed help.

Taking that infamous “first step” comes for everyone. Before I did, I couldn’t honestly be grateful, unless it involved drinking. That’s what I thought. It ruled my life, until I wanted to relieve more pain with prescription drugs. Hey, I admit I’m no saint. I wasn’t interested in wellness, and my relationships suffered terribly. For me, it took my second trip to rehab before I honestly decided to forego drinking and using. In order to do that, I had to admit I needed help. 

Fast forward nearly 10 years, and today I eternally grateful for sobriety. Now I’m always in a clear state of mind, and I can go through all the special occasions and related crises without a chemical in me. I’ve been through recovery, and now pursuing wellness, being physically fit, and putting the right gas inside me. It gives me strength and endurance so when, and they do come, tough times come, I draw on what I’ve been through and am ready for anything that’s thrown my way, good or bad. Bringing the experience of going through recovery, and now being passionate about pursuing wellness, now that’s a winning combination. 

“I’m grateful to have my husband back, and with a clean mind. I’m glad to have my sons back, and can enjoy family time together,” my wife Robin said. “We know peace and harmony in the family now, with authentic connections. It’s a far cry from when our dysfunctions ripped our family apart. Now, love has come back, and we’re stronger than ever.”

2. Deciding to forgive others, including myself.

When I stopped blaming others, and started forgiving them, my world started to change. I’m grateful for the humility that addiction created in me, because now I can give others a break. Taking it step further, I can even extend grace, which is like giving forgiveness in advance. I know the healthy boundaries in our family, so I’m not suggesting to be a push-over, particularly when it comes to decision No. 1. Still, without a clear mind that’s been hijacked by addiction, forgiveness seems too expensive. But when thinking clearly, forgiveness can be the best investment you can make. It’s a decision based on your values. Today, the toughest person to forgive is myself. But, at least I don’t have to pour vodka down my gut to deal with my mistakes. Perhaps, the greatest benefit of forgiving others is the relief I feel. It no longer has a place in my life where it can fester and develop another terrible condition — bitterness. I can be nice without faking it. Now, I’m free from addiction, and free from the holding grudges. People are human, capable of amazing things on both sides of the fence. So, I choose to forgive the grudges. Besides, it’s a lot easier to be nice.

3. Deciding to focus on being grateful.

Gratefulness comes up annually, and yet it’s a daily act that serves up wonders. But it’s just as easy to focus on other things, whether it’s our devices, sports teams, relationships, financial struggles and virtually everything else other than being grateful.

Ever find it hard to answer the annual dinner discussion question, “What are you thankful for this year?” If so, you need to decide to focus on gratitude more often. How do I know that? Because the more I focus on being grateful, the easier it is to identify the millions of ways it is to be grateful.

What’s not to be grateful for? I know everyone has problems, even life and death situations, financial crunches, and brokenness. But instead of remaining in a cycle of pity, practice being grateful for one thing that matters to you right now. Can you think of one thing? Focus on that for a minute. Why are you grateful? How does that feel? Can we build from this feeling? Try again. I don’t care if it’s the air you breathe, you can find something to be grateful for. It’s just a decision to focus on them.

The best thing that comes from being grateful is it’s easier to show kindness and respect to others. They go hand-in-hand. Gratefulness breeds goodness and love.

Lastly, don’t take the “I” out of the “picture.” Gratefulness comes much easier when you’re good to yourself. Whether it’s a massage, hike or just solitary moment, take time to find some quietness and recharge. Forego drinking, forgive others, and focus on what you’re grateful for. It’s worth it.

When Drinking Takes Over
Posted: November 06, 2018 Categories: 

Last week, the news reported about a drunk airline baggage handler who fell asleep in the cargo hull of a plane, and woke up in Chicago with a 737-sized hangover. May get a chuckle out of some people, but this a great example of what happens when drinking takes over your life — you could end up way off course.

Alcohol has been nicknamed “liquid courage,” and I can attest to that. Unfortunately, I’d rather think of alcohol as giving a “false bravado.” Drinking makes people say and do stupid stuff because the alcohol tends to mess with your rational thinking. You can feel invulnerable, overly confident and powerful, yet be way off base. When drinking gets out of hand, you get your own version of a reality TV show that goes haywire. You begin to think everyone else has a problem.

Here’s one example from No More Vodka in My Orange Juice, that I’m not proud of but glad to share with you because it’s the truth.

3. Wake Up Call

(Excerpt from chapter three, titled “A Family of My Own,” of the Second Edition, No More Vodka in My Orange Juice, by Justin Daniels, Copyright 2018. “*** Refers to condensed material)

While the boys were little, much of my time was spent enmeshed in work. When I wasn’t working, I wanted to drink. I never drank in front of the kids, but I would go out to drink or drink after they went to sleep. Sitting in front of the television, I could easily polish off a bottle of vodka and still get up to go to work the next day. Soon after my second son’s birth in 2000, I went to a doctor about my anxiety problems, and he tried me on different antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs: Zyban, Zoloft, and BuSpar. You’re not supposed to drink at all when you’re taking antidepressants like these, but of course I didn’t think that silly rule applied to me. Actually, I thought it was cool that it intensified the effects of the alcohol. I could get drunker than ever now that I had these brain pills. My doctor had told me that the combination was dangerous, but what have we learned here? I was the exception!

Nothing bad could ever happen to me. I could drink forever and no harm could ever come to me. Of this, I was certain.

Robin wasn’t a drinker at all; she’d nurse one drink the whole night. But she didn’t, at first, object to my drinking. We liked to socialize together, and that involved alcohol more often than not. We joined a country club and went to cocktail parties. For the most part, we had a lot of fun together—but there did come a point when the times I embarrassed her outnumbered the times I didn’t.

When I drank too much, I was mouthy and unruly. I would turn into a brazen braggart, boasting about how successful I was in business or sillier things, like what a good pool player I was. And worse, I’d mouth off to our friends in disrespectful ways, yelling at them or challenging them. Sometimes I even broke things. I was slowly becoming that drunk on the barstool who I once pointed and laughed at.

One day at the country club, I showed up to meet Robin wearing nothing but a wet bathing suit and a towel. This was a formal atmosphere: People wore suits and dresses, and there I was sidling up to the bar with my bathing suit still dripping behind me. Of course, I was drunk.

“I’m leaving,” Robin said.

“Go ahead,” I told her. And she did.

I stayed at the bar, getting more obnoxious by the minute. I started smashing glasses on the bar while people were trying to have dinner just a few feet away. Eventually, a manager told me it was time for me to go.

I was not pleased to be told that I had to leave—and particularly not pleased to be told I was cut off from my alcohol. As they escorted me out of the club, I took solace in the fact that I knew I had plenty more stashed at home.

While I was driving home—yes, I did drive—one of the club managers called Robin and said, “You need to get him under control.

We’re about to kick him out of the club. She was waiting outside for me when I pulled into the driveway and started to lay into me.

Two of our neighbors, both college professors who we never really spoke to, were outside. That’s when I decided to urinate, right there on the front lawn in front of the neighbors.

“What are you doing? Get in the house!” Robin yelled.

“I don’t give a f__k what that guy thinks of me,” I said back in typical drunk behavior.

Another time, we were driving down a country road and Robin told me not to have another drink, and I tried to jump out of the moving car because I wanted to keep drinking. That’s how crazy I got.

There were times like that when Robin tried to get me to cut back on my drinking, but she didn’t tell me to quit altogether. Just as I didn’t want to believe I was an alcoholic, Robin didn’t want to believe that she’d married an alcoholic, either. It was as if each incident was a separate problem rather than an overall addiction. She thought that maybe if I just stopped drinking hard liquor and stuck to beer and wine, it would be okay, or if I would just stop at two or three drinks instead of finishing a bottle.

So that’s what I told her I would do . . . and then I didn’t. I told myself that’s what I would do too, but lying to myself was no big deal. I didn’t tell Robin how much I was actually drinking. When we were out together, she didn’t know how many refills I had, and when I was by myself, she didn’t know how often I drank in the car or stopped at the bar before coming home.

I remember a weekend we spent away when I told her I was just going to go to the bar for one drink, and she said, “Okay,” but while I was standing there, I pounded three drinks. We clashed about my drinking that weekend . . . I’d spent most of my waking hours wasted, ruining the little vacation we were supposed to enjoy together.

Increasingly, she’d ask me to cut myself off at parties. We liked hosting parties in our home, and there would inevitably come a point in the night where I passed the fun-loving guy stage and hit the jerk stage. This was the point where I would get belligerent with Robin and aggressive with everyone else.

“That’s enough,” she’d tell me, but I’d just argue with her in front of everyone.

“No, that’s not enough. Leave me alone. I’m not done drinking and it’s time for you to just be quiet about it.”

Our friends would sometimes get uncomfortable and try to leave, but I’d pressure them to stay well into the night. I was just getting started! “No, stay and play another round of pool,” I’d say. “You’re not going anywhere yet. Put down your coat.”

“Justin, it’s time to let them leave,” Robin would say.

“You just stop talking. They’re fine. They want to stay.”

After one such Saturday night like this, a couple of our friends stopped by early the next morning, along with another friend of theirs who I vaguely knew. His name was Bill, and he was in recovery. We stood out on my back patio and talked.

We’re worried about you,” one of my friends said. “You’re drinking a lot, and you’re not yourself when you drink.”

I could see where this was going. So, okay, I got a little mouthy last night, I thought. It’s really no big deal.

But unlike when I wanted them to stay the night before, now they wouldn’t leave until I said something to get them off my back. They wanted me to go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting with Bill that night. I agreed just to appease them.

The meeting that night was in Harrisburg, and I found every reason to tell myself that it was ridiculous.

I’m not like any of these people, I thought. Their problems are much worse than mine.

I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. After the meeting, I had a heart-to-heart with Robin where I explained to her that, yes, I understood that I was drinking a little too much, but it really wasn’t a problem. It was just because I was stressed and not talking to my family and the antidepressants were amplifying the alcohol, and every other excuse I could think up. I told her it wasn’t an addiction issue but just a stress issue and that I’d cut down my drinking. She agreed. She bought it.

Addicts are a bunch of liars. We lie to others and we lie to ourselves. Sometimes it’s hard to remember exactly when I realized I was lying, but it was somewhere right around there. Somewhere deep down, I did know I had a problem. I just didn’t want to quit, so I figured out ways to make it sound more palatable and reasonable than it was.

Having my friends tell me that they were concerned about my drinking was a little embarrassing, and I did think about it. I tried to convince myself they were wrong, but it at least ignited the question in my mind about whether or not there was any validity to what they were saying.

It didn’t actually make any difference in my drinking, mind you. A few months later came my first major wakeup call. It was the weekend after my birthday, and we’d just gone out to dinner with friends. After hanging out at our house until one a.m., they headed home. I had been drinking quite a bit, but I wasn’t ready to stop.

Robin, meanwhile, just wanted to go to sleep.

“I’m just going to go out for a little while,” I told her. On my way out of our driveway, I hit a light post and knocked off my driver’s side mirror. Undeterred, I drove on. The friends who had just left our house lived a few blocks away, so I drove over there and asked, “Hey! Do you want to hang out some more?”

“No,” they told me. “We’re going to bed. It’s late.”

Party poopers.

I left and hung out at the local bar until it closed. At this point, I sensibly decided that the logical thing to do was find a bar that stayed open later. I drove around, and the lights were off at all the local bars. Eventually, I gave up and figured I’d head home. Shortly after making that decision, I stopped at a red light. Now, the rule is that you can usually make a right turn on red, but I was drunk and confused, so I made a left turn on red.

Right away, I saw the flashing lights in my rearview mirror. “Have you been drinking?” one of the cops asked me after pulling me over.

“I’m not going to lie to you. Just a little bit,” I said. At least a bottle of wine, five margaritas, three or four screwdrivers, and a couple of Zimas. You know, nothing much.

It was beyond clear that I was in no shape for driving, so they arrested me, stuck me in the back of the squad car, and drove me to a special area of the local emergency room for a blood test to measure my blood alcohol level. There, they read me my rights and told me what was about to happen. At first, I argued and told them I wouldn’t do it. “You know if you refuse to take the blood test, you automatically lose your license for a year,” one of them explained, trying to reason with me.

“Okay, fine,” I said. By that time, I figured the alcohol would have dissipated somewhat from my system, so I would be safe.

My blood alcohol level was .38, which meant I was a hair shy of unconscious. By .4, most people are passed out, and by .5, they’re typically dead.

Continue reading from your own copy here.

-end-

Where It Began: From Wine Coolers to Screwdrivers
Posted: October 25, 2018 Categories: 

Before reading further, please note the following material reveals details about when I started drinking and experimenting with drugs, how much and how often and why. This may be shocking to some or completely relatable to others. Regardless, my story is my story. You have yours. But I hope you find hope woven between these lines. I’ve been there, and welcome you to stay connected with me for continued support, and to hear the how the story unfolds.

2. Where it Began

(Excerpt from chapter two, titled “Where It Began,” of the Second Edition, No More Vodka in My Orange Juice, by Justin Daniels, Copyright 2018. “***” Refers to condensed material.)

Taking sips of wine coolers lasted for about two years until I wanted more tingle. The first time I got drunk, I was 13, though I can’t tell you the details anymore. I guess it wasn’t scary enough for me to learn my lesson; I continued drinking with friends whenever I got the chance. Then a friend offered to share a joint with me. I took a few hits and wasn’t really sure if I liked how it made me feel. I felt sort of slowed down and tired, but again, I was willing to keep trying it to figure out for sure what I thought of it—for scientific purposes, of course.

The summer after my eighth-grade year, I broke down and begged my parents to let me stop horse reining. The pressure was too much and the trainers were just too mean. I couldn’t do it anymore. I had hit an impasse where I just couldn’t convince myself to “hang in there” and “deal with it” anymore like my father had suggested. I had already achieved so much in a short span of time, and I knew people on the circuit had very high expectations for me to have a brilliant reining career, but my heart wasn’t in it.

To my surprise, my parents didn’t give me a very hard time about quitting. I suspect it had to do more with the financial burden than my wellbeing. I took up martial arts instead, which my younger brothers were already into. Buttressed by the same competitive mind frame that had enabled me to get ahead in horse reining, I quickly moved up the ranks in martial arts, too, and probably stole some of my brothers’ thunder, further increasing the animosity between us. Martial arts was one of the few positive things they had going for them; they were already pretty deep screwups by sixth grade. I knew that they smoked pot then, though I didn’t know until years later that they also did speed and that they sold drugs. We mostly avoided each other, except on the couple of occasions we smoked pot together.

In my freshman year of high school, my parents went out of town, and I threw a house party. We drank Canadian whiskey and smoked bowls of pot, and when we ran out of marijuana, we sprayed paint into the pipe and smoked paint fumes. Then we thought it would be smart to try smoking bug spray fumes. And although I say we, I can’t really blame anything on peer pressure; I was at the front of the bad decision line, egging others on.

All I thought was, I wonder how this will make me feel. I was fifteen and immortal, so obviously smoking paint fumes was perfectly safe. At that point, it was a relief and escape from the insanity of my house.

I found that the more inhalants I used, the stronger effect I got. I felt dizzy and euphoric and, mixed with the whiskey, more and more unguarded and energetic. Alcohol is funny in that it affects people in different ways: Some people become lazy, while others speed up and become aggressive. I was solidly in the second camp.

Toward the end of the night, the room started spinning. Everyone eventually left my house, and I passed out soon thereafter. I woke up sick the next morning but not sick enough to deter me from what had become my favorite pastime.

The thing is, drinking alcohol made me feel good. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t have kept doing it.

I am the coolest person I could possibly be, I thought when I was drunk. I can be anything and do anything I want. For a guy who was otherwise pretty quiet and well-behaved, this stuff made me feel invincible, daring, and popular. Most importantly, it made me feel something. I was so used to feeling numb and stuffing my emotions away. Drinking took down those defenses. It allowed me to laugh, cry, scream, and talk about things I wouldn’t otherwise talk about.

I preferred harder stuff to beer, though I’d drink whatever I could get whenever I could find a party. Starting when I got my driver’s license on my birthday during sophomore year of high school, my drinking got more and more frequent. Friends and I would get together to smoke pot and cigarettes, and then we’d drink grain alcohol until we blacked out. In June, many of my friends were graduating and going on to the military or college, so the summer was one long going-away party. I worked at a Chick-fil-A where most of the other workers were seniors at a larger high school than mine, so I got invited to all the big events. My social status shot way up.

Consequences? I’d never come face-to-face with a consequence yet, aside from hangovers, so I was content thinking that drunk driving accidents, alcohol poisoning, and addiction were really rare problems that happened to other people, not us. Those things were impersonal statistics and strangers in newspapers. We were just kids having fun, and we thought we were immune to real trouble.

Many of my friends were older, so they could get alcohol easier than I could. When we couldn’t, we’d just drive to the liquor store and wait for an easygoing-looking adult to approach.

“Hey, man, can you help us out? I’ll give you 20 dollars if you’ll go in and get us a bottle of whiskey.” More often than not, we’d have no problem bribing someone.

One friend’s parents were frequently away and had a fully stocked bar in their home. His older sister didn’t really care if we drank there as long as we didn’t drive right afterward. Even some parents felt that as long as it was in their house and not out on the streets, it was okay for us to drink.

After a long night of drinking games, during which I downed as much Mad Dog as I could just for the sport of it, I got sick in the bathroom. I was passed out cold on a girl’s couch when I felt someone tugging on my arm.

***

If anything, it appealed to the side of me that really liked to tempt fate. Alcohol made me feel like I could take bigger risks and not worry about much of anything. I’d go through my whole week waiting for the weekend so I could drink and escape.

When I was a teen, I recovered pretty fast after binge drinking. I could drink a bottle of peach schnapps and somehow be okay the next day. On rare occasions, I’d be sick the whole day; those were the days I’d cling to the Porcelain God and swear I was never, ever going to do that again.

That would last a few days, maybe a week. Then I’d forget how bad it was, and I’d tell myself I just wouldn’t get too drunk again. I’d just have a couple of drinks. The problem was that I was not a guy who could ever have a couple of drinks—not in my teens and not as an adult. No matter how many times I swore to myself that I was going to have two drinks, somehow I ended up having 10. Two drinks would get me just uninhibited enough to think it was okay to have a third. The third would get me just stupid enough to think drinks four and five were in order . . . and then all bets were off. A few days later, the cycle would repeat.

***

Turning 21 was a relief for me because it meant that I could go to bars whenever I wanted to and not rely on others to get alcohol for me. Now the floodgates were fully open. I lived on my own, had no responsibilities other than work, and had hit the legal drinking age. There were no more barriers to me becoming a full-blown alcoholic.

For social reasons, I didn’t like to go to a bar sober. Even when I went alone, I would always drink before I left for the bar because I didn’t want to feel awkward or uptight when I got there. Relaxed just wasn’t how you’d describe my personality.

I’ll be ahead of the game if I have a few first, I thought. Alcohol was my friend; it would take away all my anxieties. I kept a bottle or two of vodka stashed in the kitchen cabinet of my apartment, and I’d mix it with orange juice and ice in a big 7-Eleven cup and then drink it at home and in the car on my way. I was quite literally drinking and driving. But you have to understand that this was just fine because I thought, Nothing bad could ever happen to me.

As time went on, it became harder and harder to socialize without alcohol. I had no idea how to talk to people if I wasn’t at least buzzed. When you’re a drinker, you make sure that all your friends are too, and everything you do centers around alcohol consumption. You ensure that whether you’re watching a ball game, going out to a restaurant, or having a backyard party, the alcohol is plentiful. Your own drinking habits blend in easier that way.

I was not completely oblivious to the idea that alcohol could be a problem for people, but I certainly didn’t think it was a problem for me.

***

I drink because of my family, I’d tell myself. Or because my girlfriend broke up with me. Or because I’d had a bad day. There were a number of justifications I could call upon at any given moment. Those justifications also helped me convince myself that I was not an alcoholic. I was just a guy who had some problems and drank to have fun. What could be wrong with that? It was practically my birthright as a good American. You turn 21, you go to bars. It’s what you’re supposed to do.

At least that’s how I saw it at the time. Drinking is so ingrained in our cultural psyche that it really didn’t occur to me at the time that what I was doing was unhealthy, dangerous, or wrong. I thought the people who didn’t drink were the ones who had a problem; they were uptight and must hate having fun!

As for me, I was a young man on the rise. I felt strong, like I had everything going in the right direction. I was nowhere near figuring out that the direction I was going was a fast track to an early grave.

-end-