Friday, July 31, 2015

Great News Re: My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest! (7/31/15)

Judgment day is upon us! By tonight, the judges in the My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest will have made their final selections, the points will be tallied, and I'll know who the winner of the $1,200.00 college scholarship will be. How exciting! My lovely wife and I will contact the winner over the weekend, and the official announcement will come on Monday via a post at this blog.

Now for some really fabulous news. Drumroll please...

Thanks to a generous last-minute donor--Emmy Award-winning actress Kristen Johnston's SLAM (Sobriety Learning and Motivation) charity--I'm thrilled to report that we will also be awarding a runner-up prize of $500.00! How cool is that?!?!? I have to say, I continue to be blown away by people's generosity. This is just another example.

So sit tight for a couple of days, and be watching for my blog post on Monday. Not one, but TWO talented college students will be getting a little extra help with their tuition come this fall.

And that is totally badass.

"For it is in giving that we receive." --Francis of Assisi

Kristen Johnston

Friday, July 24, 2015

An Interview with "The Bitter Taste of Dying" Author Jason Smith (Plus a Book Giveaway!)


When I reviewed Jason Smith's addiction memoir, The Bitter Taste of Dying, I called it "a gripping, no-holds-barred memoir," "a riveting story of addiction and recovery," and "a story of self-discovery and hope, too." Smith's book is all of those things, and more. From the first page of the Prologue, I was hooked. Smith's brutal honesty and transparency allowed me to enter into his hellish world; a world where being high--whatever the cost--was all that mattered to him for 16 years.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Smith and, just like in his book, he did not mince words. Read the conversation below, and at the end of the interview find out how you can win a free copy of The Bitter Taste of Dying.


The title of your book, The Bitter Taste of Dying, comes from the taste you first encountered while trying to perform CPR on your Uncle Mark after he overdosed on heroin when you were 14. You later experienced that same taste after overdosing yourself. I take it that taste had quite an impact on you?

Yeah, it's not really something that can be untasted. Or unremembered, for that matter. Or Unlearned. The day I found my uncle dying was so chaotic on so many levels, both internally and externally. That taste attached itself to that memory, making everything one. My memory and that taste--it's all one blur. Same with my own overdose in France. Pure chaos. Looking back, there’s some really dark comedy woven in there somewhere, the image of this 6'-2" American stumbling through the streets of Nice, parents gripping their children nice and tight as I passed, on my way to collapsing on the patio of some romantic cafe. But at the time it was a chaotic scene. It really was the point at which everything came full circle. Both experiences--despite being in different countries, on different continents--unified by the taste of the body dying.

You describe so many lows in your book. Your mother telling you that you were "dead" to her, you sucking on Fentanyl patches that were supposed to be stuck on your arm, etc. Looking back on everything that happened to you, which one incident comes closest to being your definitive "rock bottom"?

I've come to my own personal conclusion that there are two types of bottoms: a physical one and a spiritual one. And when I say "spiritual," I mean spirit as in the Human Spirit, that thing inside of us that tells us to keep fighting when we're losing, that id, fight or flight spirit. I'd been to a lot of physical bottoms. Jail in Tijuana, living outside of a French train station. Those were by far the darkest physical places I went to. But the funny thing is, throughout both of those, I still had fight inside of me. Life. That same voice that told me I could keep using and just control it better was the same voice that kept me alive at times. But when I tried to end it all that night in my little bathroom after my Thanksgiving overdose, that voice was gone. It was dead. That voice that used to tell me to just keep pushing a little more, that I could get a handle on this situation, I could run from the courts, the judges, the police, the addiction--that voice was gone. And to me, that was the deepest bottom for me because it was as if my human spirit had simply vacated my body, leaving just a shell of a human being behind. It was dark. Really, really dark.

One of the most powerful lines in your book is: "It took me losing everything to appreciate anything." What role does gratitude play in your life now?

Gratitude is key because it allows me to truly appreciate things I would have taken for granted before. I cherish my time with my family, holding my kids, because I've had my child removed because I was incompetent--as both a parent and a human being--of raising him. That shit stings. That's a reality check if ever there was one. To lose that right, only to gain it back slowly, has made me truly grateful for the opportunity to be a parent. I didn't have that before. Before I was a self-entitled little child, the perpetual victim. I'm grateful that I don't live or feel like that anymore. I’m grateful for the type of shit that normal people don't even realize they have. I'm grateful to wake up without being dope sick. I'm grateful for having money in my bank, and it staying in the bank. I'm no longer putting my drug dealers' kids through college.

What is one the biggest struggles you face in your ongoing recovery, and how do you deal with it?


Writing can be tricky. Especially writing about addiction. I have to be 100% accountable for my past actions, my decisions, and have to deal with those consequences without blaming everybody around me. It wasn't the doctors that got me hooked, or the pharmacists, or the dealers, or the system. It was me. I could’ve walked away at any time, and I chose not to. That's how I have to view things for my own recovery, for my own sanity. As long as I'm accountable, then I can work on it. As long as it's your fault, I can’t do shit with it. I just can't. Having said that, as a writer, I have to step back from just my own experience and look at things from afar, at the big picture. And when I do that, I see a system that is totally and utterly fucked. Seriously. A system where pharmaceutical companies sponsor their own safety studies, lie to doctors about the dangers of certain drugs, admit to lying in court, pay a fine, and then go on with life while society is left picking up the pieces. It's crazy. I feel like I have an opportunity and a platform to talk about these things, but I have to do it in a way that isn't blaming them for my own situation. Sometimes those two things bleed dangerously close together. I have to always keep those two things separate, and that’s probably the most difficult thing for me at this point.

I know they were certainly tested over the years, but how are your relationships with your family members now?

Surprisingly well, actually. Time heals all wounds, which isn't something you want to hear when you're first getting clean. But it's true. As an addict, I was so used to instant gratification. When I was after a certain sensation, I got it immediately through some substance. So when I got clean, I wanted everybody just to forgive me. Just move on, like none of that shit just happened. But it doesn’t work that way. The first two Christmases after I got clean, my family was skeptical, all wondering "Is Jason going to make it? Is he going to get high?" Because that was my thing. Holidays, I'd just get tore up. There really is no way to make them stop fearing that other than getting a few Christmases under your belt clean. Let them see it. So far, by doing that, my family relationships have been mended. Even with my son's mom. Today she and I have a great relationship, she and my wife get along great, we're able to co-parent. But that took a few years, and still takes work. Unfortunately, the only thing that mends these relationships is time. There is no quick fix, at least not in my experience.

What aspect of your life are you most proud of today?

Being a father. I’m fairly involved in a 12-step program, and one of the running themes you see, regardless of your location, is the effect of dads not being around. It's sad, and it has profound effects on kids. I almost made my own son one of those statistics, a boy growing up without a dad. I’m so thankful that I got my shit together before he was old enough to know what was going on. Today I'm a father to him and his sister, and I love that. I love being a dad. I love letting the kids climb on me, teaching them to swim or ride a bike. All of it. I’m that guy. Dad bod and all. And I'm good with that.

What's one important truth you've learned through the recovery process?

There's a right way to live and a wrong way. And we always have the choice of which one we decide to go with.

Friedrich Nietzsche said, "That which does not kill us, makes us stronger." How are you stronger because of your addiction?

I like what [Bob] Dylan said, when he sang "He not busy being born is busy dying." It's the same concept as Nietzsche, in a sense, but in reverse. I kind of look at my life today--and I try to do it daily, although I have a far from perfect track record--and ask whether I'm busy being born, or if I'm dying. For whatever reason, the simplicity of the two options resonates with me. And it works.

Based on your experiences, how do you think we could improve treatment for people suffering from substance abuse?

I think we're seeing the tip of the tip of the tip of the iceberg when it comes to substance abuse in this country. The prescription drug epidemic changed the game. We have such a large segment of society addicted to prescription drugs, which is funneling a decent percentage of addicts into street drugs. We're giving children amphetamines for fuck's sake, and then we act like we're surprised when meth use explodes. We choose not to see the connection. We've gotten an entire generation hooked on opiates via doctors, and now we've decided to just cut them off, with treatment only available to those who can afford it. And we wonder why heroin has spiked the way it has. At some point, we're going to have to start answering some very uncomfortable questions in this country.

We’re something like 4% of the planet's population and we consume 90% of the planet's opiates. This is a uniquely American problem. I don't mean that America is the only country with drug problems. I'm saying our approach to living life. It's unique compared to any of the countries I've visited. At some point, Americans decided we didn't want to feel anything that was even slightly uncomfortable. We didn't want to feel pain or hurt or discomfort, on either a physical or emotional level.

Ironically, the most difficult time I ever had scoring prescription drugs was in Amsterdam. I went into the hospital at like 4:00 in the morning after a night of cold sweats and shaking from running through two month's worth of drugs in two weeks, and I waited to see a doctor. Pills and patches were my thing, and those were like the only two types of drugs you couldn't find on the streets of Amsterdam. So I lifted my shirt for the doctor, showed him my scars, and to my surprise he seemed unimpressed. I made up some shit about how it hurt when I lifted my arms over my head, and demonstrated the appropriate amount of faux pain--but this guy wasn't buying it. "It hurts when I do this," I told him. He just looked at me deadpan serious without even blinking. "Den don’t do dat." It was so simple, yet so foreign. The idea that discomfort could be lived with, that pain was a way of your body communicating with you. The concept that pain is sometimes a very necessary and beneficial part of life. Today in America I think we've lost touch with this.

I had a friend who broke up with his girlfriend and he was all bummed out and sad. His doctor put him on anti-depressants! Huh? You’re supposed to be sad. You just lost a partner with whom you'd built a life and now it's over. Be sad! It’s okay! Feel that shit. Feel it, own it, grow from it, and move on. You're supposed to be sad, that's part of the grieving process of any breakup. But today, it’s like, "Nah, just give me a pill to make it stop." And I think we do that in many areas of life. You have acute back pain? Maybe you need to change the way you sit, or stand, or walk. Numbing the pain doesn't really help the actual problem. You're treating symptoms, chasing your own tail. We've turned to pharmaceuticals to perform normal human functions. Pills to wake up, pills to sleep, pills to feel happy, pills to bring us down. And I think it’s this mentality, more than the actual drugs themselves, that we're going to have to face up to if we really want to start the process of treating drug addiction. We have to get out of that mindset that pain or discomfort is the enemy. Sometimes it’s a very necessary part of life.

I just realized I didn't come close to answering your actual question. Sorry. I rant sometimes.

As a father, what do you think are some of the best ways to educate kids about the dangers of drugs and addiction?

I think being completely honest about it. Don’t hide things or sugarcoat things, but don't go the "Scared Straight" route either. I'm completely aware that one day my kids will read my book, and that's a little strange. But I don't think I glorified my drug use. Nor did I demonize it. I just shared my experience. I think sharing our own experiences, in the tone of "Look, I’m not telling you not to do drugs. I'm telling you that if you do them, this might happen to you, because it's what happened to me." Enough with the "Just Say No" or DARE or "Scared Straight" or "This Is Your Brain on Drugs" approaches. None of them worked. We need something different. A whole new approach.

Knowing what you know today, if you could go back in time and give your teenage self some words of advice, what would you say?

Buckle up, man. It’s gonna be wild.

Hypothetical: The Bitter Taste of Dying ends up being made into a major motion picture. Who’s playing Jason Smith?

You realize there's no good answer to this question, right? If I answer it, I come off as a bit pompous and self-absorbed. If I don't answer it, I look like I'm trying to project faux modesty. I'll say this: You know who I really enjoy watching act now? Colin Farrell. I don't know much about his background, but he looks like he's seen some shit. Been through some shit. He has that presence about him. He's much better looking than me, but Hollywood's taken greater liberties than that before. I have a hunch that if he had to dig deep down to find the bottoms expressed in the book, he could do it. But it's just a hunch.

(You can find Jason Smith on the Web, on Twitter, and on Facebook.)


**************

Would you like to win a copy of The Bitter Taste of Dying? Here's your chance! Jason Smith has been kind enough to provide three copies of his book to give away to readers of this blog. To be eligible for the random drawing, just send me an email via the "Contact Form" that appears in the column on the right-hand side of the Web version of my blog (under the "Most Popular Posts" section). Just tell me that you want to be in the drawing. At 6:00 PM EDT on Saturday, August 1st, I will put the names of all the people who have entered into a hat and choose three winners at random. Note: I understand that some of you may be reluctant to share your name and email address with me, but it's the only way I can get in touch with you to let you know if you've won. I assure you that your information will be safe. (Of course, that's what Target told you, too, right?)

Friday, July 17, 2015

Scholarship Essay Contest Update (7/17/15)

Welcome to the final update on the My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest before the winner is announced.

The 30 entries have been pared down to 10 finalists, and each judge will now proceed with selecting their Top 3. Points will be awarded based on first-, second-, and third-place votes. The finalist with the most points will be our winner.

I have to say--and I'm likely repeating myself, but oh well--I truly wish we could give college scholarships to everyone who entered this contest. Reading through the 30 essays, I realized how much a sibling's addiction has affected every single one of these young people, and how courageous they are for 1.) sharing their stories, and 2.) carrying on with their lives and education despite some very tough circumstances. These kids are beyond special in so many ways.

Reading 30 essays about how a brother's or sister's addiction has impacted someone's life was not an easy task. Even though I've lived through my son's addiction, and watched the effect it had on his little brother, it was still difficult to read the experiences of 30 other people. All of the stories were different, but at the same time all of them were so similar, too. Such is the case with the beast known as addiction.

Tears were shed (thank God for Kleenex), hearts were broken, notes were taken, and prayers were said, but now we're down to our Top 10. Judging will conclude two weeks from today, on Friday, July 31st, and the winner of the $1,200.00 scholarship will be announced via this blog on Monday, August 3rd. Stay tuned.

Here's hoping I can come up with some funding so I can do this again next year.

Peace.

"Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship." --Anne Lamott, from her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life


Monday, July 13, 2015

Free Richard Wershe Jr.: An Open Letter to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder

(Note: This blog is also published on The Huffington Post's blog site as "An Open Letter to Michigan Governor Rick Wershe: Free Richard Wershe Jr.")


Rick Snyder
P.O. Box 30013
Lansing, Michigan 48909

Re: Richard Wershe Jr.

Dear Governor Snyder,

As the father of someone who struggled with addiction for seven years before getting clean, I think people who distribute and sell illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine are the scum of the earth. Making your living by ruining people's lives--and destroying entire families--is about as low as you can get.

That said, I also believe in second chances, especially when it comes to young people making mistakes. And I believe in fair and just punishment for young people who commit crimes, especially when those crimes are non-violent.

This is why the case of Richard Wershe Jr. troubles me so much.

As a lifelong Detroiter, I remember hearing about the "notorious" drug dealer with the nickname "White Boy Rick" back in the 1980s. In the spring of 1987, at the age of 17, Wershe was arrested and charged with possession with intent to deliver almost 18 pounds of cocaine.

Wershe was convicted, and in 1988 he was sentenced to life in prison without parole under one of the harshest drug laws ever: Michigan’s "650 Lifer Law." Signed into law in 1978 by Michigan Governor William G. Milliken, the law mandated life-without-parole sentences for anyone convicted of possession of 650 grams or more of cocaine or heroin.

Twenty years later, in 1998, Governor Milliken called the signing of that law the greatest mistake of his career, describing the law as “inhumane.” That same year, Governor John Engler signed modifications of the "650 Lifer Law" that eliminated life without parole, and provided parole eligibility to over 200 people serving sentences under the law.

It has been 17 years since the repeal of the "650 Lifer Law." Yet out of all the people sentenced under the guidelines of the old law, there is only one person still incarcerated today for a crime they committed as a juvenile. That person is Richard Wershe Jr.

As if that wasn’t alarming enough, consider that the United States Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that juveniles could not be sentenced to life in prison without parole for any crime short of homicide. Why? Because it’s unconstitutional. Nevertheless, Richard Wershe Jr. still sits in prison 27 years after his conviction; 17 years after the repeal of the law that put him in prison for life; and 5 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled his sentence unconstitutional.

Of course, there is more to Richard Wershe Jr.’s story, which has led to speculation about why he might still be in prison.

In a nutshell, Wershe’s late father was a paid FBI informant, and law enforcement sought out Richard Jr. to be an informant, too--at the ripe old age of 14. Police used Richard Wershe Jr. to put a lot of criminals behind bars, and in the process turned an innocent teenager into a drug dealer. When law enforcement was done with Wershe--the 17-year-old product of a dysfunctional family--he tried to survive doing the only thing he knew how to do: selling drugs. And he got caught.

But why is Wershe still in prison? Even Robert Aguirre, a former Michigan Parole Board member has said there’s "no reason in this world that he should still be there. What the powers are behind it, I can’t speak to."

Respected investigative reporter Vince Wade has a theory, though. In his "InformantAmerica" blog, dedicated to the curious case of Richard Wershe Jr., Wade writes:
"He’s doing life because he ratted on the wrong people--a politically-connected drug dealer and cops who were on the take from drug pushers, including one cop who was a local celebrity because he had been in a movie with Eddie Murphy. The Detroit political and criminal justice establishment has vowed to keep Rick Wershe in prison until he dies for telling the FBI the truth about some of their own."
Whatever the reason is that Wershe’s still in prison, the fact of the matter is he doesn’t belong there.

Governor Snyder, you have the power to right this wrong that has gone on for decades. You have the power to set Richard Wershe Jr. free from his life sentence. I beg and plead that you find it within yourself to do the right thing in the name of justice. Richard Wershe Jr. was 17-years-old when he was arrested for a non-violent crime. He was 18 when he was convicted. He is now 45. He has paid his debt to society many times over. But keeping him in prison is costing Michigan taxpayers approximately $44,000.00 a year.

To date, President Barack Obama has commuted the sentences of 89 drug offenders. Several of those offenders were serving life in prison, and several more were in prison for possession or distribution of cocaine. But President Obama can’t help Richard Wershe Jr., because Wershe was charged and sentenced under state law, not federal law. So it’s up to you, Governor Snyder, to have some mercy on Richard Wershe Jr.

One last thing: Our great and beautiful state of Michigan has been using its very successful "Pure Michigan" ad campaign for years. Those commercials feature the distinctive voice of actor, comedian, and Michigan native Tim Allen, who was born Timothy Allen Dick. According to Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), in a 2013 article entitled "HowMandatory Minimums Almost Killed Santa Claus":
"In October 1978, Timothy Allen Dick was arrested for possession of more than 650 grams of cocaine (actually it was a little more than a pound) at an airport in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He was charged under federal law--not Michigan law--and as a result served less than two and a half years…. If Allen had been charged under Michigan’s 650-Lifer law, the judge would have had no discretion over the sentence. Instead of serving 2.5 years in prison followed by a hugely successful acting career, Allen would have been given a sentence of life without parole."
Tim Allen served 2.5 years in prison because he was lucky enough to be charged under federal law. Richard Wershe Jr. has served 27 years and counting because he was charged under state law--a law that has since been repealed and found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. What is wrong with this picture?

Governor Snyder, I have no sympathy for drug dealers. Drugs took one of my sons--and our entire family--on a roller coaster ride through hell for seven years. But I don’t think anyone should have to suffer the injustice that Richard Wershe Jr. has suffered. After 27 years, he deserves a second chance at freedom.

Please free Richard Wershe Jr.

Sincerely,

Dean Dauphinais

Grosse Pointe, Michigan

(Note: If you agree that Richard Wershe Jr. deserves to be released, call Michigan Governor Rick Snyder's office at 517.335.7858 and make your voice heard. Or use this link to send an email message to Governor Snyder.)

Richard Wershe Jr. as a teen (L) and today (R).

Thursday, July 9, 2015

New Blog at The Fix Website

Happy almost-Friday, everyone. I wanted to let you know that I have a new blog that went up at The Fix website today. It was inspired by a Food Network article about which restaurants had the best french fries. You can read the blog at this link:

Why Do People Think Crack Cocaine Is Funny?

Peace.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

I Can Cook, Too!

You know, it's kind of funny. I've been writing this blog for almost seven years, and I don't know if I've written a single post about my passion for cooking.

Along with listening to music and writing, cooking is right up there among my favorite things to do. It's a hobby that started out of necessity, but it's turned out to be such a big part of my life...and my recovery.

So I wrote a new blog for Heroes in Recovery. And wouldn't you know it? It's about cooking!

If you know me personally, or if you're friends with me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, you likely already know that I love to cook. If you only know me through this blog, though, I invite you to go read my Heroes blog post, which talks about how cooking was--and continues to be--therapeutic for me. (Hey, even if you do know me, please go read the post anyway!)

Here's the link:

Cooking: A Key Ingredient in My Recipe for Recovery

Oh, I should mention that I included one of my original recipes in the blog. It's for Grilled Sweet Potato & Black Bean Enchiladas, and let me tell you: they're AMAZING. (See the photo below.)

Also, while you're at the Heroes in Recovery site, click around and read some of the wonderful blogs and stories of recovery that reside there. So many people have written so many informational and inspirational pieces in an effort to help break the stigma that still surrounds addiction. It's well worth taking some time to peruse some of them.

That's all for now. Gotta get back to reading and judging some fabulous essays from some incredible siblings who have been affected by addiction.

Peace.

Grilled Sweet Potato & Black Bean Enchiladas

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Scholarship Essay Contest Update (7/4/15)

Happy Fourth of July, everyone! I hope all my American readers are having a fun, relaxing, and safe holiday. I'm just chilling at home with my family, waiting for the pulled pork to be done.

Since the deadline for entering the My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest was last evening, I wanted to update you on where things stand.

I'm really thrilled to tell you that we ended up with a total of 30 entries! That number is way higher than I expected. When my wife and I decided to do this contest, I was thinking it would be a miracle if more than a couple of people entered. If you would've told me that we'd have 30 essays to read and judge, I never would've believed you. Consider me blown away.

For what it's worth, the 30 entries came from 17 different states. (New Jersey and Massachusetts had 4 each.) And of the 30 entrants, 26 of them are female. (I've always thought that women tend to share more than men when it comes to addiction in the family.) We even got essays from two sisters.

Oh. And 15 of the entries showed up in the final 24 hours, so I guess college students like to procrastinate. (See image below. Haha.)

Thank you and good luck to everyone who sent us an essay. Even though we can't give all of you a scholarship--believe me, we wish we could--please know that every single one of you is already a winner. Being the sibling of someone suffering from addiction isn't easy. Talking about it isn't easy, either, so I commend you for putting your experiences down on "paper." I truly believe that writing is therapeutic, so hopefully you benefited from sharing your story.

Now it's time for us to start reading and judging these amazing essays. We'll be announcing the winner on August 3rd.

Peace.