The Last Hangover in America

12/29/17: Alcohol Addiction
As the last couple of days winds down and we close out 2017, people experience a wide range of emotions. Some of us get reflective. Others hopeful that next year will be better than the last. Few will be saddened, focusing on the traumatic events that darkened their days. Even fewer, will be actionable. Celebrating the eve of the New Year is common. So too are the subsequent overdoses, traffic accidents and sexual assaults that result from ill-made celebratory choices. Is it a fantasy to even think for a moment what it would be like to wake up knowing that it marked the day of the last hangover in America?

Does the Media Dictate Life or Does Life Dictate the Media?

With the United States consumed by addictions (sex, food, drugs, alcohol, and more) and advertisers who profit off the rate of relapse, will 2018 turn out to be any different in your personal life than it is right now? When you turn on the television January 1st to watch the Rose Bowl Parade, college championship football games or your favorite movie, you’ll be bombarded with commercials reminding you how awful you should feel about your holiday overconsumption. Even the blockbuster film series The Hangover made millions depicting behavior that leads to illness and fatalities. Whatever your addiction is, whichever vice controls you, for some reason January is the end-all be-all month to overcome it and get some help. Here’s the part they don’t mention: YOU HAVE TO WANT TO QUIT. There has to be a life changing event, big or small that makes you want to take action and do it.

The Deciding Factor

Deciding to stop drinking or drug use can be stated from an intellectual place. The mind makes the decision. But the strength of the decision lies in your gut. You have to believe from every part of your soul that your last drunken stupor or your last high was just that, the last. You could be shelling out thousands of dollars to get the best addiction treatment program out there but if you’re not 100 percent convinced that sobriety is your better life path, it’s likely to be an exercise in futility. You may have heard that every life-changing moment starts with a why. Your why is personal. It doesn’t have to be big. There could be a grandiose story behind why you decide to quit. It could be an overwhelming feeling that you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. Many times, it’s just that somehow you wake up (after your last hangover) and find yourself at a different spiritual place. Something shifted inside of you and the thought of going back to living life the way you had been is no longer an option.

Be the Change in You or Someone Else

car accident is alcohol-related  “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” British poet, John Donne
  • 64,070 people died from drug overdose in 2016.
  • Every 51 minutes, a person dies from a traffic accident due to alcohol impairment.
It was Christmas Eve, the year, 2007. I hurried out of the house to meet a friend of mine for a holiday dinner at a quaint, family-owned Italian restaurant in North Phoenix. My teenage son was heading to a party with his best friend. He was driving my truck, which I insisted he do. I recall thinking that if he was hit by an impaired driver the truck would serve as a better buffer. That’s some pretty messed up thinking. I suppose it was my way of being okay with him driving on the roads on an evening that was sure to bring out more drunk drivers than usual. Nothing about that night was okay. During dinner, I kept looking at my phone. About an hour later, I texted my son for an update on his whereabouts. He texted back, said I was bugging him and that he was probably going to stay at his friend’s overnight to avoid the 30 minute drive back to our house. I thought that was a wise decision. I continued to sip on a glass of white wine though the uneasiness I had didn’t leave me. Just a few minutes later, while gnawing at perfectly seasoned calamari, my phone rang.

One Phone Call Can Change Many Lives

It was difficult to hear because the restaurant was full of laughter. All I knew was that my son was at the other end of the phone. There was silence, broken up by a strange solemness. “Mom, I have something to tell you.” There it was. He was hit head on by a drunk driver. He was only 16 years of age. He didn’t know what to do. After the how-are-you, where-does-it-hurt, and have-you-been-drinking-or-smoking questions, he gave me the cross streets. I told him to take photos of the scene, the other vehicle’s license plate and any damage to the truck. I knew that my son would fare better if he had a distraction to occupy his mind. than focusing the big picture of reality. Me? I was an emotional wreck but kept it all buried inside. As I drove on the roadway towards the crash, which would take me a good 20 minutes, my heart was racing and my mind raced even faster. I had no idea what I was going to find when I got there.  My voice shook as I spoke with the 9-1-1 dispatcher. Emergency services were on their way. I felt nauseous.

She Laughed at the Officer Who Put on the Handcuffs

We stood shivering in the cold, surrounded by homes that were warm with the company of family and friends. It felt like some weird time warp, as if everyone else was enjoying the details of their lives, but for us time stood chillingly still. I wrapped the boys in some towels I had in the trunk of my car, as they sat on the curb stunned. We could hear the sirens getting closer. I asked why they thought the driver of the other car was drunk. “Because when she got out of her car, she fell and laughed and said she was at some Christmas party just around the corner.” That’s when I got pissed. After law enforcement got there and they took the reports, there wasn’t much left to do but go to the ER or schedule a visit at the doctor’s office to assess the injuries.  As we watched one police officer turn the drunk driver around to face her vehicle, we heard her laugh as the handcuffs went on. She was a highly decorated veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces. She was about to lose her pension, and more. This was her last hangover.

The End to the Scholarship

The truck wasn’t fit to drive so we waited for a tow truck.  I started calling friends to get recommendations for an attorney.  Then I had the conversation again with the boys. “This is why I tell you that if you’re going to drink or light up, don’t drive.” My son’s friend responded, “But Melanie, we didn’t do this, the other driver did.” That’s when it hit me. I could do all the right things. You could do all the rights things. But we’re all still at risk if the other guy doesn’t buy in to living selflessly. Her willful negligence didn’t cost my son his life, but he lost his dream. My son spent most of his life eating, drinking and sleeping basketball. He was a star point-guard on his high school team. He was planning on seeking out scholarships to play at a D2 university. And it all came to a screeching halt that night. Months of physical rehab and 10 years later and his back will still never be the same. Of course it could’ve been worse. But why should he have that story to tell?

Awareness Is Painful and Purposeful

Drugs and alcohol bring out stories in us all. My purpose in sharing mine is to simply illustrate that we all have a story to tell, based on a decision made that not only affects our own lives but others. I ask of you this; as we end the year, what story will you create on New Year’s Eve? Will it be your last hangover?

The First Day of Your New Life Starts Here

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Melanie SternAuthored by Melanie Stern, Content Director for Scottsdale Recovery Center, Arizona Addiction Recovery Centers and Cohn Media, LLC. Writer and broadcaster covering the following industries: addiction rehab, health care, entertainment, technology and advocate of clear communication, positivity and humanity at its best.

If you or someone you know needs help with addiction, contact 602-737-1619 or email [email protected] to get the help you need. Our acclaimed recovery environment merges upscale, luxury accommodations with affordability, clinical expertise and an unwavering commitment to patient care and aftercare.

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