Thursday, September 26, 2013

Author Spotlight - Andrew Seaward (Some Are Sicker Than Others)

Was there a specific moment in time when you realized "I've got a problem and I need to do something about it?" Even though it was your family that intervened - when did YOU "own" it? Yes. I remember the exact time and place when I first discovered I had a problem. I was twenty-three at the time, in a competitive PhD program at the University of California, Santa Barbara, trying to prepare for midterms in Reaction Engineering and Kinetics. I needed to level myself out, because I had been on a week-long whiskey binder. Unfortunately, my standard Nyquil cocktails weren’t really doing the job for me. I didn’t want to take a drink, because I really needed to study, so I poured out all my liquor, bought a pair of handcuffs, and chained myself to the bedpost. I know, I know, pretty stupid. But it seemed like a good idea at the time, at least in the mind of a delusional alcoholic. 
Well, about three hours into the night, I started flopping around like a fish out of water. The left side of my face went numb and I couldn’t stop convulsing. It was my first real episode with an alcoholic seizure. I didn’t know what was happening. I thought I was dying. I tried to get to my cell phone so I could call my parents. Only, I had left the key to the handcuffs in the center console of my Toyota Corolla. I pulled and pulled on that bedpost until my wrist was all cut up and bloody, and, somehow, I was able to the pry the headboard away from the rest of the bed frame. I got to my cell phone in the kitchen, but my parents didn’t answer, so I had no choice but to call an ambulance. The paramedics came and sawed off the handcuffs then took me to the ER and gave me a bunch of Valium. 
Unfortunately, that little escapade wasn’t enough to make me stop drinking. In fact, I was right back at it only a week later. It took several years and several trips to detox and rehab facilities all over the country before I finally said enough was enough; I had to quit drinking. 
I remember the day very clearly. I was on the floor of my one bedroom apartment in Houston lying face down in a puddle of red wine and vomit. I hadn’t been to work in a few days and was probably about to get fired. I figured I either had to clean myself up and check back into detox or just end it right there and swallow a bottle of sleeping pills. After a few hours of sucking from the mouth of a bottle of Seagram’s Seven, I crawled to the kitchen and called up my boss (and only friend at the time) and asked if he would take me to the hospital. Fortunately, my boss was a compassionate man and had a lot of experience with addicts and alcoholics. He promptly picked me up and took me to the hospital where I got pumped with a bunch of fluids and phenyl barbituates. The next day, I was transferred to a detox on the west side of the city. A few days later, my boss picked me up upon my discharge and somehow got me my job back, without which I probably wouldn’t have been able to stay sober. 
It’s been four years since that day and I haven’t yet taken another drink of alcohol. In fact, I’m so used to living without it, I rarely even think about it, except of course when I’m talking about my book or doing interviews. ;)  
Do you feel that addiction is addiction, regardless of the substance (is alcohol addiction the same as drug addiction?  Is crack addiction the same as meth addiction?) Absolutely yes. An addiction is an addiction, no matter what it is you are addicted. It could be food, sex, gambling, heroine—whatever it is, you know you have a problem when that “thing” is isn’t really fun anymore and is not only destroying yourself, but everyone around you. 
In my book, I deal primarily with substance abuse addictions, specifically crack, meth, and alcohol. However, I did meet a kid in rehab who said he was addicted to embalming fluid. 
“You mean the stuff they use in mortuaries to preserve dead bodies?” I asked him. 
“Yep,” he said, smirking mischievously. “Stuff gets you messed up. For real dawg.” 
I couldn’t believe it. And I thought huffing paint was an exotic way to get inebriated. But, embalming fluid? Well, now I’d heard everything. I decided to do a little research. It only took a few seconds of poking around on Google before I was taken to an entire treasure trove of articles written on the recreational use of embalming fluid. I was shocked. Not only was it prevalent all around the country, but people had been getting high off this stuff since the 1960’s! 
The way it works is…the embalming fluid, which is basically just a mixture of formaldehyde, methanol, and ethanol, is used as more of a solvent for the dissolution of PCP, a highly potent hallucinogen. Since a tiny amount of PCP (less than a milligram) is enough to make even a full-grown gorilla go absolutely bananas, it can’t be ingested directly, and must first be diluted down into the embalming fluid. Then, a cigarette, usually marijuana or sometimes straight-up tobacco, is dipped into the solution and dried out in a freezer. The result, known as a “fry”, “fry stick”, or “death stick”, can be bought on any street corner for about twenty-bucks, give or take. 
Okay, well that makes more sense. At first I thought the kid meant he was stealing embalming fluid from mortuaries and injecting it straight into his veins, like you would a cadaver. Thank goodness, that’s not the case. 
In reality, the embalming fluid is not the drug itself, but more of a solvent or “carrier” for the real drug, PCP, which is nothing to joke around about. This stuff is so dangerous and so potent…it seems to make people want to do the craziest and vilest things imaginable. In fact, anytime I hear a story about a guy who was “tased” seventeen times and shot in the chest with thirty rubber bullets, but still didn’t go down, I know the culprit right away; PCP…angel dust. 
What is your opinion of people who repeatedly "fall off the wagon" - do you think they are only seeking the attention the drama brings or  ... ? Not really. In my experience, relapse is a direct result of the physiological and psychological anguish that the withdrawal symptoms bring. Depending on the drug, these symptoms can include fun stuff like vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, sweating, shaking, tremors, heart palpitations, insomnia, even hallucinations. 
I remember, one week, I had a big presentation to give in front of all the managers and I didn’t want to come in smelling like a whiskey barrel. So, once again, I decided not to drink anything. Unfortunately, when you’re that far deep into alcoholism, drinking isn’t just something you can turn off and on like a water faucet. I ended up having the worst damn hallucinations imaginable. To give you an example, I thought my bed was filled with black widows that were spinning me in their web and trying to eat my eyeballs! It was absolutely horrifying. I didn’t even know you could get hallucinations from alcohol, but apparently I was wrong. You can have all sorts of weird stuff happen to your body. 
I immediately quit that exercise in abstinence and drove up to the store and bought a bunch of Vodka. You know how they say Vodka doesn’t have as much of an odor as other liquors? Well, that’s only when it goes in. When it comes out the next day it reeks of nail polish remover. That’s the acetaldehyde; a byproduct of the dehydrogenation of alcohol. For a normal person, this substance hangs out for only a matter of minutes before being broken down by a substance in the liver called glutathione. But for alcoholics, the chemical hangs around almost indefinitely, because there isn’t enough glutathione to combat the massive amounts of alcohol entering the blood stream. The result is a stench not unlike that of vinegar or nail polish remover, emanating from the sweat pores like a bad case of body odor.  One of my managers actually commented on the stench. Of course, I just told them I was trying out a new cologne. I don’t think I fooled him. 
When does a "problem" become and "addiction" - (I have a family member who seems to be addicted to group help (AA) - and I don't know that he actually has a "problem" with alcohol.  He seems to use the group as a dating pool. - okay, now that's another question:  Have you seen this happen, where group members start dating each other..  okay, maybe a different topic all together here...)
Yes, I have seen other group members start dating each other. In fact, I am guilty of that very thing unfortunately. Remember that detox I said I went to in Houston? Well, it just so happens that I met a nice little girl there—let’s call her Vicky—who was just as broken and desperate as I was. A few weeks after discharge, we started seeing each other pretty regularly. We went to tons of meetings together and even did a lot of fun stuff like skydiving and wakeboarding. It didn’t take long for me to develop some strong feelings for Vicky. Not only was she a sexy little Hispanic coke addict (what else could you ask for in a woman?), but she was also the only person in my life at that time who still wanted to be around me. Everyone else was gone, because I’d turned my back on them; my parents, my friends, my sister, my brother…I pushed them all away, because I was too ashamed of all the horrible things I’d said and done to them. But Vicky was different, because she didn’t really know me. She didn’t know that I hit my mom in the face and sent her to the hospital. She didn’t know that my dad called the cops and had me locked up in prison. She didn’t know any of this, because I never told her, and, in exchange, Vicky never told me anything about herself, at least, not anything too personal. 
But, could you love someone you didn’t know? No, probably not. But so what? That’s the way we liked it. It gave us a chance to start over and be different people. We didn’t have to face our shame and all those poisonous memories—we could just put them on a shelf somewhere and try to move forward. So, what if it wasn’t real love? So, what if we were just codependent? We kept each other sober and that’s all that mattered, right? 
Well, after about four months of seeing each other, Vicky suddenly stopped coming over. A dozen or so unanswered voicemails later she finally called me back and told me we couldn’t see each other anymore. She said she was getting back together with her ex-husband, who, it seems, had divorced her while she was in rehab, kicked her out of the house, and confiscated her vehicle. This explained why she was living on the outskirts of town with her mother and always needed a ride to meetings. But, now, since she had proved she could stay sober for more than a few hours, her ex-husband was willing to take her back and “re-marry” her. She no longer needed me to pick her up and take her to meetings, because she got her car back, not to mention her house and her husband, whom she was still in love with. 
Needless to say, I was completely shattered. I felt betrayed and used and fell into a deep, dark depression. I quit going to meetings. I quit calling my sponsor. (I never really liked him in the first place. The only reason I had him was because he was married to Vicky’s sponsor). After about a week of sulking, I started contemplating drinking, which at that point in my drinking career would’ve been the same thing as committing suicide. You see, I had built my entire recovery around Vicky, and without her, I had nothing. I was lost. I was right back where I started. 
Now, I’d like to say I relapsed and fell out of the program and ended up on the street eating from a trash can. That would make the story all the more heartbreaking and would really drive home the “dangers of love addiction”. Fortunately, my story isn’t as neat and clear-cut as others on this topic. In fact, it’s downright confusing. I still haven’t completely figured it out. But, let me try… 
The four months I spent with Vicky was the longest stretch I ever had staying sober, and somehow, it was just enough to “free” me from not just the physical, but also the psychological dependence I had on alcohol. By keeping me sober for those first ninety days out of detox, Vicky became a sort of crutch for my recovery…meaning she helped me to “walk” while I was still wounded, until I was healthy enough to “walk” on my own. 
Without really knowing it, we were using each other for similar reasons. I was using her love and friendship as a reason to stay sober, while she was using my car and apartment to get her life back together. And even though I was hurt that she left me for her ex-husband, I will always “love” her for being my friend when I most needed it. If it wasn’t for her, I would’ve never gotten sober and reconnected my family, and I certainly wouldn’t have had the chance to write about it in my first novel, Some Are Sicker Than Others. 
Just like me, the main character in my book, Monty, falls in love with a recovering coke addict named Vicky, who he meets in Alcoholics Anonymous. Against his sponsor’s warnings, Monty hinges his entire recovery on Vicky, believing he can stay sober for her instead of doing it for himself. But when Vicky is killed in a hit-and-run car accident, Monty is left with nothing but his liquor and a head full of guilt for not pulling over when Vicky wanted. Because Monty still has unresolved guilt for the bad things he did in his addiction (like punching his mother in the face), Vicky’s death only propels him further down the wormhole. He quits his job and cashes in all his savings and embarks on a mission to drink himself to death alone in his apartment. Fortunately, his parents intervene and have committed to Sanctuary, a rehabilitation facility high in the Rocky Mountains. There, he meets Dave Bell, a narcissistic crack addict, and the driver responsible for the death of Vicky. That’s, when all hell breaks loose! 
Do you think forgiveness has to start with yourself before you can forgive others? Absolutely. My biggest road block to recovery was my inability to forgive myself for the hell I put my family through. Even though my parents and the majority of my friends had long forgiven me, I still wasn’t able to accept their forgiveness and move forward. As silly as it sounds, I actually enjoyed feeling sorry for myself, because it gave me license to continue being a miserable drunk. It was like I was throwing one long, elaborate pity party of which I was not only the host, but the guest of honor. 
This is reflected in my book, in which Monty, being the neurotic, self-destructive alcoholic that he is, takes full responsibility for the accident that killed Vicky even though it wasn’t his fault. He uses her death as an excuse to keep drinking, because it’s a whole hell of a lot easier to get drunk than have any real feelings. But, when Dave finally admits that he was the other driver, Monty has no blame to hind behind. He is totally exposed. 
I won’t tell you what happens. You’ll just have to read it, to find out for yourself. 
What's your take on the 12 step programs - too many, not enough? Your question must refer to all the different types of twelve-step programs out there. I ran a quick search in Google and it seems there’s an Anonymous for just about everything. Here’s a short list: 
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA), Friends and Family of Alcoholics (Al-Anon/Alateen), Cocaine Anonymous (CA), Clutterers Anonymous (CLA), Crystal Meth (Crystal Meth Anonymous), Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA), CoSex and Love Addicts Anonymous (COSA), Debtors Anonymous (DA), Emotions Anonymous (EA), Gamblers Anonymous (GA), Heroin Anonymous (HA), Marijuana Anonymous (MA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA)…and I’m only halfway through the alphabet. 
It’s a little exhaustive, isn’t it? Not to mention pretty redundant. I was taught that a drug is a drug is a drug. My only explanation is…and forgive the cliché…“Birds of a feather flock together.” I guess people feel more comfortable with their own kind, even down to the nitty, gritty details. 
It kind of makes sense if you think about it for a minute. I doubt a cocaine addict would get along very well with a heroine addict. One would be bouncing off the walls and running around in circles, while the other would be laid out on the floor trying to get some peace and quiet. I’m not sure what the Gambler would be doing. Probably watching a horse race! 
How has the book been "received" - are people liking it, hating it - seeing too much of themselves in it, or are they able to better understand someone in their life who is dealing with addiction/forgiveness?
So far, people are really liking it, but having a difficult time with the roller coaster of emotions involved in it, especially if they know someone who is or was an addict. 

For example, I traded emails the other day with a young woman who said she cried several times during the novel. It seems her husband, now a full year clean and sober, had a real difficult time trying to get off painkillers. From what I gathered, he was addicted to synthetic opiates, which have one of the most or perhaps the most painful withdrawal symptoms. She said her husband tried everything he could to get off them and even lasted three full days cold turkey, before eventually relapsing and being admitted to the hospital. His doctor prescribed him Suboxone, which like Methadone, is supposed to help addicts transition through the early psychological withdrawal symptoms. Unfortunately, these “transition drugs” are just as addictive, if not more addictive, than the real thing, heroine. As a result, the woman’s husband had to go through several episodes of withdrawal, relapse, withdrawal, relapse, before he finally was able to stop for good. 

There’s a part in my book where Dave Bell, the former all-American track star, breaks into the detoxification trailer and steals a bunch of Suboxone. When the reviewer read that part she had a real personal moment and remembered all the pain she and her husband had gone through only year ago with the Suboxone. She really complemented me by saying the book was “truly gut-wrenching because I discussed, in very explicit and accurate details, the mental, psychological and physical effects of withdrawal and the various stages of recovery.” This makes me so happy, because my main objective, above all else, was to paint an accurate portrayal of the insidiousness of addiction. I think I’ve accomplished that. And if just one person can gain a better understanding of recovery and addiction, then I’ll know I’ve accomplished something that I can be proud of. 

Buy Now @ Amazon & Smashwords
Genre - Literary Fiction
Rating – R
More details about the author & the book
Connect with Andrew Seaward on Facebook & Twitter & Pinterest

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