No Regrets for a Redneck Russian

Every successfully recovering alcoholic knows that we should never revel in the ‘glory days’ of our addiction, and I won’t. But we do get homesick for what was real and good. Just because we are not our best selves and living up to our potential does not mean that there weren’t genuine good times and love amid the chaos.

This is about one of those times.


It’s a cool, spring morning.  I feed our horses and then steal a moment of serenity for myself.  As I look across the valley below our high desert home, I whisper the abbreviated prayer that I say when it’s getting late and I should be off to work.  “Thank you,” I say, “It’s a paradise that I can’t deserve.”

But something…

Horses, snow, Tag & Duchess, pannellbytes, Duane Pannell, mountains, Redneck Russian

Maybe it’s my inner redneck.  I look at the still heavy snow on the Colorado and Utah mountains and think how warm it must be in Savannah.  Warm enough I’ll bet, to put the boat in and spend the night fishing without getting too cold.

One thought leads to another and I soon find myself 30 years back in time.

My brother-in-law Darryl was an avid fisherman.  Up until we started fishing together, the only things we really had in common was, I was married to his sister, and we both liked to get, fishing, two guys, river, pannellbytes, Duane Pannell, Redneck Russian

It was a little past noon on a Friday when Darryl showed up at my job.  We had planned to go fishing for the weekend, but I hadn’t expected him to show up that early.  “Let’s go,” he said, “I told ‘em you had a family emergency and need to get off early.”

We walked back through the big warehouse and into the office area, making our way to the front door.  My boss stepped out of her office and wished me well, “I hope everything turns out okay,” she said.

“Yes ma’am,” I said, trying to look sorrowful…or disturbed.  I wasn’t quite sure how to look since my ticket out had not yet been revealed to me.

I don’t know what concerned me more; that Darryl had told my boss that my mother was at the hospital, about to have emergency surgery, or that he had parked the truck directly in front of the building with a boat full of coolers and fishing gear.

“You worry too much,” he said, “They’ll forget all about this by Monday.”

It wasn’t true, of course.  People asked me how my mother was doing for six months after that.  I had to lie my way through her follow-up visits and physical therapy.  I really was a bit of a worrier, but still managed to turn her fake medical condition into at least half a dozen more fishing trips.  Darryl didn’t have such inhibitions.  Rumor had it that he hadn’t been to work on a Friday in several years.

When he put that truck in gear he started talking about fishing.  Darryl was selling and I was buying, and any concern that I had about my job was soon a faded memory.  I had the attention span of a gnat.

But his passion!

Darryl could’ve been driving me to my doom and I would willing go.  It was his way.  It didn’t have to be about fishing.  No matter what we were about to do, he could convince me that I was about to have the time of my life doing it.  Lucky for me his idea of good times was not anything too illegal.  Hunting, fishing, and sleeping under the stars was all he ever really wanted out of life and everything else was just the necessary drudgery that got you to the next trip.

Darryl was a terrible driver.  That’s not an insult; he knew he was a terrible driver.  He turned and looked at me and with a mischievous grin and said, “You know what…?”

Before he finished what he was about to say the truck went off the pavement and slid in the gravel.  He had a bad habit of driving in the direction he was looking.  He got us back up on the pavement and swerved a nice serpentine pattern along both sides of the two-lane until he could regain control.  Lucky for us there was no other traffic.

“Dude!  Dang it!”  I said as I arched my body off the seat.  I had spilled half a beer and it made a nice puddle beneath me.

Darryl laughed but hadn’t really changed expressions.  He continued talking as if nothing had happened. “You know how you drive along one of these old rural highways and you see a locked gate?  And you know that the road that leads off into the woods on the other side of that gate—how you know it goes somewhere good but you ain’t got the key?”

“Yeah, ” I said as I sat back down in the cool puddle of beer.

“Well, today we got the key!  Braswell’s gonna take us to a black water lake up here that hasn’t been fished since 1949 and it’s just full of lunker bass!”

Mike Braswell was a guy that Darryl worked with and I had never met him.

“Hey!  You know what would be funny?” Darryl asked.

“What’s that?”

“Let’s pretend like you’re new to the country and don’t speak very good English.  See how long it takes Braswell to figure it out” he laughed.

I can be just as immature as the next guy and thought it to be an excellent prank.  We played around with a few voices, and although my fake Japanese was far superior to any of my other voices, we settled on fake Russian.  I could do the voice, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t fake looking like I was Japanese.

We met up with Braswell and followed him out to the lake.  It was so beautiful there.  It ‘looked’ fishy.  Big, moss-covered cypress trees growing throughout the lake; gators, snakes, frogs, and mosquitos.  It was paradise.

cypress gardens, south carolina, alligator, swamp, pannellbytes, Duane Pannell, Redneck Russian

We put the boat in the water right away.  Braswell and brother Darryl were giving me pointers as we fished.  Darryl was giving me pointers because I’m a city boy; Braswell because I was Russian.

I played the part well and I totally had him on the hook, but every now and then Darryl would get tickled.  He would burst out laughing, and just when I thought he had ruined the joke, he’d turn to Braswell and chastise him, “Don’t make fun of him, man!  He’s not from around here!”

Georgia, jon boat, michael braswell, pannellbytes, Duane Pannell, fishing, Redneck RussianBraswell, the good-natured guy that he was, would apologize—leaving me to keep my composure.  And so it went, into the evening.  Fishing, drinking and being Russian.  Oddly enough, the more beer we drank, the more convincing my character became.

I’ve seen a lot of evenings pass away, but none like the reflection of a Georgia sunset on that pretty black water.  We caught several bass and even got a glimpse of some wild pigs running through the swamp.  A couple hours after dark we sat around a campfire on the bank and roasted some hot dogs and told lies.

We all told lies, but in fairness, I had to tell lies—I was a fake Russian.

The night might have been quiet, but for a Lynyrd Skynyrd cassette playing over and over again in the truck.  I think Braswell went out in the night to cast a few times, but we were all mostly asleep after midnight.

The other guys were stretched out across the front seats of the trucks, but I awoke with a cold dew on my face right at sunrise, laying in the bed of one of the trucks.  The hangovers don’t last long when you drink beer for breakfast, and with no one around to tell us not to, that’s just what we did.

crappies, mississippi, fishing, pannellbytes, Duane Pannell, Redneck Russian

It was hard to keep being Russian while all that nature was making life so sweet and real, but I maintained character.  It was around lunchtime when Braswell suggested that we take our stringer of fish and cash them in at a market in town.  This began our longstanding tradition of cashing in our Saturday afternoon catch.  We called them ‘Liquor Fish’.

I elected to stay back and let them go to town without me. “Go comrades.  I am to fish, and possibly take nap,” I said in excellent broken English.

We pulled the aluminum jon boat up to the spillway and we all got out.  When they got into the truck and pulled away, I decided to go back to the boat and resume fishing.  It may have been the hot sun, or it might’ve been the beer, but somehow I misjudged my step into the boat.

The boat tipped, and when it did, it immediately gulped up about 30 gallons of water.  I don’t know what happened next—the whole thing is a bit of a blur, but in my panic I…well, I sunk the boat.

It might not have been so bad if I hadn’t, in my own efficient way, taken the time to untie the boat before trying to get in. As it was, I had no idea how deep the water was at the spillway. I could only guess that it was much deeper than we would be able to salvage if I let it go.

iron rod, hand, hold to the rod, fishing, pannellbytes, Duane Pannell, Russian Redneck

So there I hung.  One arm gripping an iron rod on the spillway; the other arm trying to gather all the gear that was floating away. And down below the water’s surface, between my legs, was our boat.  I wasn’t entirely sober, but I was doing some serious cipherin’.  Those guys had just pulled away from our camp and would be going to Adrian, several miles away; selling fish; buying liquor; driving back.

‘I will probably drown way before they get back,’ I thought.

It was hot, but I wasn’t in direct sunlight.  I was holding on to the most important stuff.  A couple of coolers and a big tackle box were floating nearby.  If I could just hold on until they got back, this whole situation could easily be rectified.

My face was all sweaty and I was feeling kind of sleepy.  I dipped my face down in the cool water in an attempt to get my bearings.  I had no sense of time.  I tried singing songs to distract myself, but the stress of holding on was apparent in my voice and made me feel even weaker.  My legs were really cramping from holding the boat.

Just when I thought that I could hold on no longer, I saw the truck! I started screaming for help!  They heard me right away and came running. 

“The boat!  It’s down here!” I said, as they were grabbing the gear.  I got a bit of an adrenaline rush and between the three of us we managed to save most everything, even the boat. When the danger had passed and relief set in, we were on the ground laughing.

“So…were there pirates?” Darryl asked.

“No.  No pirates…”

“Were you trying to hide the boat from us?

I expected that I would probably never live down the day that I sunk the boat, but I was too relieved to care.  They continued to give me a hard time about it for a few minutes when Braswell got a real serious look on his face.

“You know what I noticed?” he said.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“I noticed that you speak perfect English when you’re about to drown.  That’s what I noticed.”

Darryl and I had forgotten about our little prank and we all had a good laugh.


I hate that I can’t remember the details of all the adventures I had with Darryl and my good friend Michael Braswell.  We parted ways long ago.  I left Georgia in ’88 and never went back.  I quit getting high and drinking in 1990 and my life changed so much for the better.  If it were possible to separate out the bad from what was good, I would sure love the chance to go back.

But in a way, this week I did go back.  Thanks to modern technology and Facebook,  I reconnected with Braswell.  He’s had some medical issues recently, and maybe he’s feeling his mortality.  I woke up to a message from him that said, “If you ever come to Georgia, the place on the Ohoopee would really like to see you again.”

Braswell Lake, Georgia, sunset, pannellbytes, Duane Pannell, Redneck Russian

I told him, “Dude, you’re gonna make me cry. I tell my wife and my little boy about the black water and the cypress trees, the alligators and the HUGE crappie, and what I can remember of my adventures with Darryl and Michael in the south Georgia wilderness. It seems like a million years ago and my life is so different now. I only wish I could be there with you guys again…sober.”

Braswell told me that 12 years ago he got sober, and he’d love to have me come down.

“Darryl finally got sober, too.  October before last,” he said.

I guess that’s why this story has been on my mind all week.  Our dear friend Darryl passed away in October of 2014.

It’s not smart to have regrets.

We all need our struggles to be who God wants us to be.  And I do love my life as it is today.  But what a sweet thought it is to me, to think of what it might be like to spend a day at that beautiful lake in Georgia.


With my good friends.

~Duane Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story

Forgiveness: For Mental Health and Sobriety

Many of the things that I had to learn to overcome addiction were foreign to my nature as an addict.  Chief among these was the ability to forgive.

…and [Jesus] taught them, saying…

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you…”  (Mathew 5:2 and 44)

My first year of sobriety was a strange new adventure.  I had managed to graduate from preteen, to teenager, to young adult, and then to adulthood without ever really facing life’s challenges sober.  I appeared to be a 30 year old man on the outside, but on the inside was an excitable 12 year old, spontaneous and passionate.

I took a job with a local man that owned his own truck.  He hauled explosives and ammunition for the government and he needed a co-driver.  I had to be certified to handle sensitive materials and we were required to be armed.  Al, my new boss, paid for my training and background check and provided for my food and hotels.  Within a few weeks we were on the road.

semi truck at night; forgiveness

I was to be paid a percentage of our contracts.  He showed me his previous year’s settlements and I was looking forward to making a higher than average income driving a truck.

We had not been out on our first run for very long when I started to suspect that Big Al was an alcoholic.  Every hotel that we stayed in had a bar, and it appeared that he knew the location of every strip club on the eastern seaboard.  Being around Al and some of his antics was not a trigger for my delicate sobriety. It was actually the opposite.  His obnoxious behavior seemed to strengthen my resolve to stay sober.

One day, as Al was driving, he reached over to my side of the cab and grabbed the book I was reading right out of my hand.

“Whatcha readin’ there, Hot Shot?” he said.  Al was about 30 years older than me and never called me by my given name.

“It’s the Bible.  Hand it back,” I said.

“Why are ya readin’ that for?” he said, as he reached back across the cab.

“Just am,” I said. “Didn’t think it would be an issue.”

“Well, it’s no issue. I was just wonderin’.”

I had been reading the Bible as part of my journey to sobriety.  I don’t know that I was embarrassed to be reading the Bible, but I wasn’t prepared to make a big deal out of it.

We rode in silence for a few minutes.

“You know, all judges are going to hell,” Al said with his most authoritative voice.

It took a moment to register.  I wasn’t sure that I heard him correctly.  “What?”  I said.  “Wait…what?”

“That’s right.  All of ‘em.  District court judges, State Court judges, Supreme Court judges.  All the judges.”

I was staring at Al in disbelief.  He took his eyes from the road for a moment and said, “Judge not!  Lest I judge you!  It’s right there in the Bible.”

“Al, I don’t think it means…”

“In fact,” Al interrupted, “If you go by that book, there’s just about nothing you can do to avoid goin’ to hell.  Tell a lie…go to hell.  Shoplift a box of animal crackers…go to hell.  Have sex…BOOM, go to hell.  We’re all goin’ to hell.  That’s why I say ‘just live like ya want, cause you’re just going to end up in hell.”

Sadly, that was not the dumbest discussion that I ever had with Big Al.  He would argue until my head hurt, so maybe it was not such a bad thing that our relationship was short-lived.

I had worked a full six weeks and the day had finally arrived to get my first paycheck.  We were standing outside Al’s apartment when he handed me the check.  I should have known there was a problem when his wife made an excuse and left.

“Three hundred dollars?!” I said. “Is this a joke?!”Man smoking cigar on Pannellbytes forgiveness blog post

“Yeah, I’m real sorry about that,” he said, “I had some unexpected expenses; bringing you on cost me some overhead.  I’m sure we’ll do better next month.”

“I don’t care about your expenses!  You said I would be paid ten percent of gross!”

Al just stood there.  “Sorry, but that’s all I got.”

“This ain’t over!”  I said, as I ripped up the check and threw it in the direction of his face.  “I put up with a lot of crap and I worked hard…this ain’t over!”  I turned and walked away, fuming.

I didn’t know what to do.  I was mad enough to kill and sad enough to cry.  Al’s drinking and hanging around clubs had never been a challenge to my sobriety, but suddenly I could feel a battle waging for my very soul.  All I could think of was revenge.

I’ll bet his wife would be interested in knowing about all the money he spends on strippers.

I’ll bet the feds wouldn’t be happy if they knew that Al was flipping his placards and driving high explosives through tunnels and over restricted bridges.

I also thought of vandalizing his truck and his apartment.  Maybe even doing something to his cat.  Stupid cat.

Smug cat on Pannellbytes forgiveness blog post

I didn’t know how to cope with what had happened.  I parked my car in town and started walking around.  I was rehearsing the event in my head over and over again.  I thought of the money I owed to other people and my bills.  I had promised to give my ex-wife money for our kids.  I cursed myself for throwing that money back in his face; it was money in my hand and I let my emotions rule me.  I had to act, but I didn’t know what I would do.

Hours passed and I resisted the desire to drink or get high.  I made the decision to go to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.  I knew that, if nothing else, I could vent my frustrations and maybe find some relief.  It was a good decision.  I found peace there and was able to see sympathetic faces.  When the meeting ended I felt a little better, but there was still no plan for how I would get satisfaction.

A young man that I knew approached me before I got in my car to leave and he said, “So what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “Slash his tires?”

He laughed. “Yeah, you could probably do that.

Would you be open to a spiritual solution?”

“I’m open to having God smite him, if that’s what you mean.”

He laughed again.  “It’s an old AA trick.  Every day for the next two weeks I want you to pray for this man that cheated you.  Get down on your knees and literally pray that he has all the blessings that you can think of.  Even if you can’t feel anything, say the words.  Do you think you can do that?”

“I think I liked my solution better,” I said.

“It’s like this, my friend. You are going to hold onto this resentment and it’s going to grow.  It will eat at you like cancer.  That old trucker will be long gone with your money and never give you a second thought. Meanwhile, your hate will affect your very quality of life.  And then one day, do you know what’s going to happen?” he asked.


One day you’re going to drink or take drugs to get even with him.  It doesn’t make sense, but that’s what addicts do.”

I thanked my friend and went home.  In the coming weeks I knelt down twice a day and I prayed for Big Al.  Admittedly, I was not as sincere with my prayers as I should have been, but I did as my friend suggested and just said the words.

God,Praying man on Pannellbytes forgiveness blog post

Please bless Al.  Bless him to win the lottery.  Bless him to get dates with supermodels.  Bless him that his cat lives to a ripe old age.


After a little time I got better at it.

Dear God,

Please bless Al.  Bless him with good health and a happy marriage.  Bless him that he can make a success of his business.


I don’t know if I went the full two weeks.  I forgot all about Big Al; that is, until three years later.  I was sitting at an intersection in town waiting for the light to change.  I looked at the car to my right and it was Al!  I immediately blew the horn at him and waved.  When Al saw me, his eyes got big and whoosh!  He ran the red light

Al remembered the money he owed me and fled, but I had peace.  My very first thought, when I saw him was of our talk about religion that day.  I had learned a lot over the past few years and I had answers for his questions; good and positive things to share with him.  The prayer exercise had worked.  The hate had been removed from me and I was well off.

Jesus’ command to ‘turn the other cheek’ and to ‘bless our enemies’ may result in softening the hearts of those who hurt us, but that is not a guarantee.  This command is for all of us who wish to live without anger and bitterness. To live in peace.Broken log pieces make peace sign on Pannellbytes forgiveness blog post

Living sober is greater than just abstinence.  Practicing forgiveness relieved me of an agitation and a stress that I had lived with my whole life.  Forsaking resentment took away a portion of power that addiction had over me and has allowed me to have true sobriety.

~Duane Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story


The Struggle is the Purpose

As we led addiction recovery meetings, Duane would share his faith, hope and experience with the men and women who found their way into the room.

He would tell those who were tempted to avoid their trials and pain through using, “The struggle is the purpose.” The truth is, pain is normal and so is the natural response to avoid it. Avoidance though, does not bring with it growth.

“As a result of these struggles, our souls are stretched and our spirits are strengthened.” (“Strength During Struggles”, Elder L. Lionel Kendrick, October 2001 Ensign)

Pannell Bytes life_the_struggle is the purpose

~Selena Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story

Welcome To Recovery

I watched you come into our room for the very first time tonight.  I don’t know who you are, or exactly why you are here, but I can guess.

I know one of the most common reasons.  It’s usually desperation born of torment; you come seeking relief from the turmoil that you are experiencing now.  The world is closing in and you need some space between you and your immediate troubles, or things have been going downhill for a long time and you just can’t take any more.

Another common reason someone might wander into a 12 step meeting also has to do with desperation.  Someone they love is an addict or alcoholic and they want to help them.  I don’t know, that could be you.

It could be that the court sent you.  A judge has offered you a get-out-of-jail-free card if you’ll attend some 12 step meetings.  You want to endure whatever this meeting is about, get your paper signed, and get the heck out of here.

Maybe you’re just curious.  You’ve had some troubles and you figure there could be something, maybe some pointers, you could learn that will help you reset your course.  One or two bad things have happened and you’d like to avoid it happening again if you can.

I’m fairly certain it’s one of these.  If I guessed right, then I already know more about you than you know about me.

You’ll have to come back for a few more meetings before you start to know who I am, but there are some things that I can’t wait for you to know.

I would like to believe that if you knew some of these things it would help.  I want you to benefit from what is here, the power of this room, as soon as possible.  It’s frustrating sometimes, to know what I know, and know that you can’t know it all at once.

I have sat in that chair, the one you are sitting in now and looked at the faces in the circle.  I’ve wondered the same wonderings and thought the same thoughts.  If you’re like me, you looked around the room and decided that you have nothing in common with any of these people.  It’s not true of course, but it will take more than one visit to see just how much we share in common.

We call it a fellowship.  A special relationship of brothers and sisters, that often times never extends beyond the walls of this room.  We are more candid and honest in this room, with these relative strangers, than anywhere else in our lives.  It’s not because we like talking about our lives or our feelings so much, in fact it goes against our very nature as addicts; it’s because this honest communication is healing.  It’s healing for the one who shares and the rest who hear.

We are a support group; not group therapy.  While it is therapeutic, we are not analyzing you.  We don’t need to analyze. The nucleus of the group already understands the problem and we are familiar with all of the symptoms.  In fact, the better we understand 12 Step, the less likely we are to get caught up in the minutiae of each individual problem.  The better we understand the solution, the more we gravitate to experience, faith and hope.  We testify of the steps.

And that chair you sit in, it has a curse.  It can be overcome in just a little time, but it’s always there the first time you sit in it.  You look into the faces in the circle and you feel judgment.  There may be a little judgment, or maybe no judgment at all, but regardless of reality you will feel that you are being judged.

The curse of that chair begins to wear off with time.  Looking back at you are not judges, but members of the same fraternity.  Among us are those who have cheated on our spouses; some of us have lost custody of our children due to neglect or abuse; some of us face jail time for DUI or other offenses related to our addiction; and some of us have done things that we consider so bad that we dare not reveal them.  We know how bad it can be.  You cannot shock us.

Sometimes when you see an expression that could be taken for judgment or pity, you may well be looking at the face of true empathy.  Rarely in life do you meet people who can sincerely understand what you are going through, but in this room you will.  Not only do they understand, but they know that there is reason for hope.  In this room we are all witnesses to the miracle of recovery through 12 step.

Earlier I mentioned the power of this room.  It’s real.  It comes as a direct result of the broken hearts and contrite spirits of those who attend.  If for no other reason, we need each other.  The group draws that power like a magnet.  You don’t even have to understand what it is for it to give you peace and calm.  You don’t even have to understand it to commune with it and find inspiration.

I hope that this little chat has helped you to understand me and who I am.  Maybe you’ll find exactly what you are looking for in this room.  Maybe by understanding who we are, you’ll not hesitate to ask for help and suggestions.  I hope so.  My very best advice for this, the first visit, is to keep coming back.

 One last thing before I close.  You may be curious as to why I would take the time to share these things with you, a stranger.  It’s part of our philosophy in 12 Step that, I can only keep what I have by giving it away.  We come from a world that is cutthroat and every man for himself, but here my efforts to help and encourage you pay dividends of sobriety.  In this room you are just as valuable to me as I am to you.

~Duane Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story

Addicts 101: 5 Tips for Earthlings

For most of the past 25 years, I have been actively engaged in an activity called Step 12.  It’s from Alcoholics Anonymous and it reads:

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

This is the way that people who are successfully recovering from addiction pay it forward.  We recognize that a power greater than ourselves has delivered us from a place of total darkness, to a place of ever-increasing light and true happiness.  It is through helping others that we strengthen our resolve and our allegiance to sobriety.  Understanding and practicing this principle is so important to me.  It means keeping my sobriety.

I was in my second year of being clean and sober when I began to realize that I had the ability to actually help people suffering with addiction.  Local church leadership knew that I was a recovering addict and would call on me to visit with people requesting help with addicted loved ones.  I went to homes, hospitals, and jails and shared my experience, faith and hope.  While I was going to school and studying psychotherapy and counseling skills, it was a wonderful revelation that I had at this time that I did not need to be a professional therapist to guide people to recovery.  I became aware that all I needed to do, for my part, was to encourage the person who was suffering to get help and then volunteer to introduce them to the local fellowships.  The first couple of meetings are the most difficult, so I would go with them.

…the therapeutic value of one addict helping another is without parallel. –

Narcotics Anonymous

It is my hope that all of my friends who are in recovery will read this post and will be encouraged by what I have said so far about helping others; being a mentor or a sponsor.  Now, as I switch gears, I don’t want to lose my audience with you as I talk more directly to the Earthlings.

Who are the Earthlings?  Earthlings always ask that.  In the great big world there are people who are prone to addiction and others who are not.  Earthlings will often observe an addict’s destructive behavior and ask, “Why does he do that?”

The addict, on the other hand, will observe the Earthling as they suffer their trials without drugs or alcohol and ask, “Why does he do that?”

It’s not a derogatory term. I LOVE THE EARTHLINGS!  Selena is my sweetest friend and she’s an Earthling. Sometimes though, the addicts and the Earthlings simply do not understand one another.  Whenever I can, I like to reach out to the Earthlings, sort of like a diplomat—maybe I’m an Addict Ambassador.

Occasionally someone will come to me about a loved one whose life is spinning out of control due to drug and/or alcohol addiction and want to know about treatment options.  I have some personal beliefs with regards to treatment that I want to share, but remember, it’s just my well-informed opinion.  The advice is free and worth every penny of it.

I have known better than a handful of addicts over the years who began and sustained good recovery with 12 step meetings alone.  I have great admiration for these people because it isn’t easy to carry on with the normal day-to-day of life and, at the same time, immerse yourself into understanding and implementing full-time repentance.  It works for some, but many of us seem to lack some key variable in our personality or the necessary self-discipline to pull it off.  It is for this reason that I always recommend residential treatment when it is possible.

If you are an Earthling, and you are trying to decide the best course of action for your addict, and residential treatment is a consideration, let the following be a guide:

1.  There is not a program, a method, or treatment (like electroshock therapy), that has the success of 12 Step.  Millions of people worldwide have found success with programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and it would have to be the fundamental philosophy of the program that I would choose for someone that I love.

2.  Education is very important.  The more a person understands the physical and mental toll of addiction, the less likely they are to return to it.  The program should teach how addiction works in the body and mind and how it progresses.

3.  Successful recovery means being ever-vigilant.  A good program teaches coping strategies for real life stresses and relapse triggers.

4.  My personal experience as an addict; using alcohol and pills on a daily basis for many years, meant that it took time for me to begin thinking clearly.  Some inpatient programs only run 30 days, and for some that just isn’t enough.  The most effective programs will have more inpatient time and include a period of outpatient treatment along with supervised living.  Not always possible or available, but a person needs to be totally devoted to recovery for a full year.  We always worry about the job or the family and the conflict that there can be, but there is no family or job if the addict fails.

5.  Again, not always available, but very important:  Co-ed inpatient care is not the ideal.  Just like the smoker, who replaces cigarettes with donuts and begins to put on weight after giving up tobacco; the alcoholic/drug addict will often seek to substitute sex/romantic relationships in the absence of chemicals.

So far, in my 25 years of sobriety, I have yet to see 12 Step fail to deliver on its promise.  12 Step is almost flawless.  Almost.  In all fairness I must admit that there is one fatal flaw with regards to 12 Step and it can be frustrating and discouraging, particularly to Earthlings.  It’s only one thing, but it’s huge:  You cannot make an addict start or otherwise, embrace recovery.  You cannot force treatment on an addict against their will.  Addiction is a spiritual disease that requires a spiritual cure, and because that cure is given of God, in the form of repentance, we have to work within His framework.  God will not compel an individual to be sober.  He won’t.  And you can’t.

~Duane Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story

Turning Point – Choosing the Road to Recovery

In the early part of 1988 I got a call from my great aunt Irene.  She told me that she and Uncle Manley were in Savannah for a couple of days and would like to visit with us. Aunt Sissie, the name that I called her all my life, was a strong and intelligent woman with a generous heart.  Like most of my Dad’s family, she was fun and funny and I really loved her.  It was exciting for me, a young 26 year old, to take my little family to visit her at her hotel on the riverfront.

 via David McSpadden (flickr)

We had what I thought was a nice visit.  My stepdaughter Tara was about to turn 13, JR was 3, Mallory almost 2 and baby Emily—they were an adorable bunch and I was proud of them.  I felt like we made a good impression on them and that Sissie would likely go back home to Virginia and report that Duane and his family were all doing well.  Imagine my surprise when I got a letter from Aunt Sissie about 2 weeks later expressing her concerns for me and my family.  In the letter she said that she had been thinking about me and praying for me “…ever since our visit” and that she wanted to ‘help’ me.

I might have taken offense to such a suggestion.  I might have gotten my ‘back up’ at the very notion that I needed help from anyone, let alone a great aunt that I had not had any contact with for most of the past 14 years.  I might have, but I didn’t.  I thought we had done well on our visit, but apparently Aunt Sissie could tell that something wasn’t quite right.  My life was a mess and I was drowning and somehow she knew.

via Samantha Cohen (flickr)

Sissie knew that something was wrong, but she could not possibly know the extent of my problems.  I had been alcoholic for most of my life at this point; I also had an addiction to amphetamines and cocaine, and was doing dangerous things to feed my addictions.  My wife was also an addict and we were not being very good parents.

Out of desperation I swallowed my pride and began talking with Sissie.  She offered to buy me and my family a house in Radford, Virginia where she lived.  My wife and I, believing that this move would be the cure for our addiction and money problems, quickly said yes to her generous offer and started making immediate plans to go to Virginia.  It shames me to admit this, even today, a sin that I long since have repented for, but Sissie didn’t just buy us a house.  She bought me a car (I had lost one of our cars to a drug dealer), and she gave me money.  The money and the car were supposed to facilitate our move out of Savannah, but being the loyal drug addict that I was, I prolonged the move and spent the money on drugs.  We barely made it out of town.

via Fred Ross Lord (flickr)

 We arrived at our new home in Radford in June.  It was an exciting time for us; a new beginning.  Sissie and Manley had done lots of things to welcome us and make us feel comfortable.  My wife continued to smoke pot and I continued to drink, but it seemed to us that we were doing great because we were staying away from the more dangerous drugs.  To us

it seemed like we were going straight and it felt good.  We did well for more than six months.

As any recovering addict will tell you, a geographical change is not likely to be a cure.  Wherever you go; there you are.  The addiction goes with you and so it was with us.  We eventually found drug dealers and resurrected the trouble that we thought we had left behind us in Savannah.

I got in trouble one night at a bar in the little town.  I was arrested and spent the night in jail.  Again, from my perspective, it was nothing.  This sort of thing had been a regular occurrence with me for years.  It was normal for me, but Savannah, Georgia was not the same as Radford, Virginia.  As it turned out, the little burg in Virginia had a lot less tolerance for belligerent, aggressive drunks than Sugar City and my story found its way into the pages of the local newspaper. A paper that my dear aunt read religiously.

via Ken Teegardin (flickr)

My aunt caught me at home alone one morning, probably the same day that the story made the paper.  She knew the local police (heck, she knew everybody) and had the whole story on me.  She knew things about me that I had forgotten and she really let me have it.  She was embarrassed and she told me so.  She told me that I had disgraced the name that my family had made there—my grandfather, my great-grandfather.  She reminded me of the money that she had spent to help me and how my actions proved that I was selfish and ungrateful.  She also reminded me of my little children and how they depended on me and how I was letting them down.  And then she called me The Name.  I had never heard my aunt cuss…and I never heard her cuss again, but on that morning she called me a name that I have never forgotten.  It is a part of the human body known for, among other things, the passage of noxious gas.  She stared at me after the word was said and didn’t say anything for what seemed like an eternity, and then she turned and left.  I just stood there like a noxious gas hole trying to assess the damage that I had done.

This event happened in about February of that year.  Sissie, while very unhappy with me, did give me until August to find a new place to live.  It was a tough time, but this was my ‘pivot point’ in life.  I had burned a lot of bridges over the years.  I had been down in the gutter and sworn off drugs and alcohol many times before, but this was different.  It took another year and a half before I would begin the successful recovery that continues to this day.  Something about hurting Aunt Sissie and having her alert me to the fact that I had shamed my family’s name, that inspired me.  There was no ‘living with it’ anymore.  I would get well or I would die—nothing in between.

It was long process, getting sober.  It was the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous that helped me to find redemption.  When I got to Step 9, making amends, Aunt Sissie (and Uncle Manley) were the first on my list.  She didn’t make me pay back the money that she had given me, instead she reserved the right to ‘keep an eye’ on me.  I remember a few years later at a wedding reception for my cousin Zack, Sissie walked up to me and took the Diet Coke from my hand and smelled it.  She handed it back and smiled and said, “Just checking.”

Early this morning, Aunt Sissie passed away at the age of 88.  She was reunited with her mom and dad, a brother, and 2 sisters.  I’ve been thinking all day what that celebration must be like.  I take great comfort in knowing that today she knows exactly what she did for me.  Because of her generous heart to intervene; and because of her wisdom to cut me off and pull back; she put in motion my recovery from addiction.  Because of what she did, my children gained a father and have found success in their own lives.  Although my ex-wife may be slow to recognize how all of this benefited her (those were very tough times), my current wife got a much better man thanks to Aunt Sissie.  Sissie’s faith in God carried me in the early days of my recovery and inspired me to develop my own relationship with Him.

Sissie and Manley never had any children of their own, and although I’m not supposed to know, I do know that I am not the only ‘child’ that they helped over the years.  I’m reminded of two verses in Mathew Chapter 25 as I think of Aunt Sissie being greeted by the Lord this morning:

40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

 21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

I love you Aunt Sissie, and I’ll see you on the other side.

~Duane Pannell

Three’s A Crowd – Protecting your relationship

As of the writing of this post, only a handful of people have read 3,000 Miles to Eternity.  The reviews have been very kind and encouraging, but I have noticed a common phrase emerge from readers describing me as a “mushy man”.  I know where it comes from, I readily admit in the book that I want to be in love and have a forever companion.  I am happy to report today that I am 15 years into being in love with Selena and it’s only getting better.  So yeah, maybe I’m a little “mushy”.

There is a statistic that is often repeated, that says money is the #1 cause of divorce.  I don’t know if this is from actual surveys or if it’s just an observation that we find hard to deny.  I would like to submit for your consideration that maybe money is just a symptom of the real cause of most divorces.  Beginning in my teen years, I had lots of practice at failing in romantic relationships, culminating in a glorious failed marriage.

I can testify to you, that the main cause of my inability to have a successful relationship with a woman was not money, but selfishness.

I was reminded of this a few years ago when missionaries invited me to go with them to visit a family that they were teaching.  The couple were in their early 30’s and had 3 children.  When we first arrived we sat down where we could all sit and talk, but within a few minutes the husband disappeared into another room.  During our short visit, the wife was noticeably agitated with him. She made a comment that, “He seems to have a problem sacrificing any of his time to do things that are important to me.”

As we were leaving the house we walked through the front room where we witnessed the man of the house, all alone, fully engaged in a video game.  He barely looked up as he gave us a half-hearted wave goodbye.  I couldn’t help but notice that this struggling family had hundreds of dollars-worth of video games spread around the room.  I also couldn’t help but notice that the wife’s minor agitation had progressed to full on anger.

I’ve seen this phenomenon more and more over the past few years; grown men and video games, but it’s just the latest manifestation of an old problem.  Men and women often enter into marriage where one or both of them have never learned to share, and it can be fatal to the relationship.

There are lots of ways that a person can get all the way to adulthood and fail to learn the simple kindergarten lesson of sharing, but I personally took the path that is most common in our modern world.  I was an addict.  I’m not a victim of addiction.  I chose at a young age to engage in behavior that led to my becoming an addict.  Being an alcoholic and a drug addict are the ultimate in selfishness.

There are two factors concerning addiction that are in direct odds with the desire to have a healthy romantic relationship:

At the point an addiction begins to take hold in a person’s life, emotional maturity is suspended.

Let’s say that you are a 19 year old young man who has learned to use alcohol as a coping strategy.  If all of the uncomfortable, hurtful, or unpleasant things of life that help you (for lack of a better term) become a man are avoided with the use of alcohol, you will one day be a selfish teenager trapped in a 40 year old body.

The second destructive obstacle is the addiction itself.

If addiction exists in a relationship between a man and a woman, then there is a third entity that demands its share of the time and resources.

No matter the desire, an addict cannot put anyone or anything before the addiction.The addiction has to come first. It’s at the very least an experience in periodic misery, if not complete doom to the relationship.

This is my brief explanation of a widespread problem in our world.  How did I come to know this?

And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. –Ether 12:27

Any two idiots can fall in love (Selena and I did).  I sometimes say that and people will smile, but when I explain it, the lights come on.  There is an illusion that the most important part of the creation of a romantic relationship is the falling in love part.  It feels so good to be in love and flying around on that pink fluffy cloud with the unicorns that we think that everything is just going to fall into place.  It feels good and it carries us a long way, but it’s not the most important part – the part that lasts.

What was weak in me was my inability to give of myself.  I could not share because I had not learned to share and I was inherently selfish.  When my weakness eventually brought me to my knees and I humbled myself before God, I overcame addiction and with my agency restored I had room for a sweetheart in my life.

This year marks 25 years of sobriety for me.  I still can’t believe the transformation.  I’ve never been so happy and I want to share it with the world.

Selena and I have been service missionaries for LDS Family Services in the Addiction Recovery Program for the past 3 years.  We’ve seen families restored and the transformation of lives.  Real miracles!  We expect, with the release this summer of 3,000 Miles to Eternity, that our circle of friends will grow.  We would like for all of our friends to know of our passion to help people overcome addiction.  We know that it can be done, and we know how good life can be.

As for me, I gave up selfishness and learned to share.  In return I gained joy and satisfaction with my life.  And Selena?  Well, Selena got  a ‘mushy’ man.

~Duane Pannell