Mar 11

A woman recently sentenced to 15 years in prison is the first person known to be convicted in Florida of a DUI manslaughter while under the influence of the drug Ambien. The Florida woman, Della Foss, had a combination of Ambien, Xanax, cocaine and Lorata in her system when her car ran off the road and killed a 49 year-old man who was walking to work. Foss said she was in a blackout when the accident occurred and didn’t mean to do harm to anyone. The jury sentenced her to 15 years in prison for the killing.

A jury in Norman, OK was not as lenient, however, when another defendant, Billy Davis, claimed he had been in an alcoholic blackout when he shot and killed three women. Despite his claim that he could not have had a clear intent to commit murder while in a blackout state, the jury convicted him of first-degree murder. Davis’ jury even recommended that he receive the death penalty.

Although they sound like the fabricated plots from TV crime drama shows, claims of drug and alcohol-induced blackouts are becoming more common in true crime stories. When the “blackout defense” enters the courtroom, juries are left to determine whether it is just a legal maneuver or if drugs and alcohol affected the brain to such an extent that a blackout state was a real phenomenon. In some cases defendants may receive a lighter sentence or even an acquittal if it is believed that drugs or alcohol caused them to be “out of their minds” at the time of a crime.

While many prosecutors and jury members are suspicious of a fabricated blackout defense, Richard Broom is one ex-con who knows firsthand that alcohol-induced blackouts are all too real. On July 5, 1982, Broom woke up and was told by a friend that he had shot two men in a bar the night before. Broom had no recollection of the shooting, and therefore had no details of his own to refute any of the testimony of the witnesses at his trial. The eleven years that Broom ended up spending in jail after his July 4th drinking binge blackout was a relatively light sentence, considering that he had shot two men, and killed one of them that night.

In his book “Cocked and Loaded,” Broom tells the story of the 24 years of substance abuse that led up to the night when he ended a man’s life in an alcoholic stupor. In his own true crime story, Broom had experienced three to four blackouts a week for the eighteen months prior to the shooting incident. Alcohol blackouts were a normal part of his every day life.

“The only time I stopped drinking was when I was passed out,’ Broom recalls about that period of his life in his book. “I didn’t wake up any more, I just came to. Typically, I would be unconscious for three of four hours until I needed a beer again.”

In “Cocked and Loaded” Broom also recalls the many times when he didn’t believe the stories that other people told him about how he had behaved during those blackout periods. Broom found it hard to believe that he could have chased people down, beat people up, attacked his ex-wife, or driven eight hours in a car without remembering any of it. Sometime during his eleven years behind bars Broom came to the realization that all those blackout stories he had heard about himself were probably true.

The person experiencing an alcohol or drug blackout is not the only one who is not aware that a blackout is occurring while it is occurring. People in blackouts can walk, talk, carry on conversations, have sex, and even drive a car, as Broom found out when he once woke up in a seedy motel room in Charleston, SC without any conscious memory of having driven across three state lines to get there.

A blackout is not the same as passing out from intoxication. Rather, a blackout is a period of time when the brain is so anesthetized that it creates a temporary amnesia. During these times of extreme intoxication, not only will people not be able to recall what they said or did, they will often behave in ways that are atypical, irrational, and often violent.

Alcohol abuse does not necessarily cause aggression, but it increases the likelihood that aggressive behavior will occur because intoxication impairs the normal restraint of emotions. Judgment, decision-making and impulse-control are also impaired, which can lead to violent outbursts and actions.

In fact, in a study released in February, 2010 by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, it was concluded that alcohol and drugs were involved in 78% of all violent crimes. The study also found that alcohol by itself is connected to the crimes of more than half of all inmates incarcerated in America.

The CASA study also estimates that 65% of prison inmates can be defined as substance addicts, but only 11% of those inmates receive any kind of addiction treatment or assistance while they are incarcerated. While it might be assumed that prison is a place where inmates are forced to dry out and clean up because of the lack of access to drugs and alcohol, that assumption is far from the addictive substance reality in most prison environments.

This past week six inmates were caught in a Kissimmee, FL corrections facility with alcohol that they had made themselves using fruit that they hoarded, fermented, and stashed in the interior of their cell walls. Richard Broom had access to this type of home-brewed prison hooch as well when he was in prison. In his book Broom admits that it wasn’t until after his first alcohol blackout from prison punch that he finally admitted to himself that alcohol was a problem in his life. You’d think that the alcohol blackout murder that put him in prison would have sobered him up, but apparently Broom needed a little more convincing even after that. Apparently prison is not the “bottom” that most non-addicted people think it would be.

The CASA report says that the substance abuse statistics in today’s prison population point to the need for a different strategy. Treating addicts as criminals who need to be punished instead of recognizing that addicts are people with a disease that needs to be treated is to perpetuate a cycle of repeat offending that is “inane and inhuman” according to Joseph Califano, Jr., CASA’s chairman and president.

Richard Broom agrees that the need for recovery programs in prison is vital. When the sponsor of the prison Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program retired and the twelve-step program was suspended in his Dade county correctional facility, Broom launched a one-person letter writing campaign until the twelve-step program was reinstated. He succeeded fairly quickly by ruffling some prison administration feathers. “I didn’t care,” Broom wrote in “Cocked and Loaded.” “Having the program back was all that mattered.”

Broom was released from prison in 1993, and because of the alcohol addiction rehab work he had been able to do in prison, he has been a sober and productive member of society ever since. “While I can say that prison saved my life, the Twelve-Step program saved my soul,” Broom says in his book. “Before I got sober, I didn’t want to live but was afraid to die. Today I want to live, but I’m not afraid to die.”

Ironically, Broom is now an addiction therapist who specializes in the treatment of police, corrections, parole and probation officers. From a clean and sober perspective, Broom sees his work today as more than just poetic justice. He sees his ability to help others because of where he’s been in his life as just part of the plan of “the big boss of the universe.”

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Feb 18

In his press conference statement, Tiger Woods extended many apologies, but never answered the one question that the worldwide public wants to know. “Why?”

The revelations about Tiger Woods’ serial cheating was a devastating disappointment to the fans of the golf superstar, and Tiger’s first public appearance probably disappointed quite a few people too. When Tiger emerged for his first public appearance since both his car and his sports superhero image crashed on Thanksgiving weekend, 2009 he did so in a very controlled environment, and in a very censored and calculated way. The worldwide public has been waiting for Tiger to come out of hiding, but what Tiger is really hiding probably wasn’t revealed in his ten-minute statement.

Disillusioned Tiger fans just want to know “Why?” Beyond the obligatory apologies, though, Tiger did not answer that “why” question to the satisfaction of onlookers because he may not know the answer himself.

Just as Tiger had to deceive his wife and his sexual partners in order to successfully orchestrate his serial infidelity, he also had to deceive himself, according to a new book, “The Tiger Woods Syndrome.” In hiding the truth from so many people, it would be quite understandable that Tiger, somewhere along the way, lost touch with the truth about himself as well.

Tiger Woods seems to be a classic example of a “mirage man,” according to the first published book relating to his multiple sexual affairs. “The mirage man leaves his true self to conform to his mate with little regret. He becomes committed to living a lie, and he rationalizes his behavior as the necessary cost of gaining sweet affection,” says the authors of “The Tiger Woods Syndrome.” If this is actually what happened with Tiger, then it is doubtful that years of living a lie are suddenly going to transform into a rigorously honest disclosure to the international press.

In the absence of a self-aware explanation from Tiger that rings truthful, the dissatisfied public will continue to speculate and the press will continue to stalk him. Reportedly, the stalkarazzi followed Tiger all the way to Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services in Hattiesburg, Mississippi where it was speculated that he was undergoing treatment for sexual addiction. Since the tradition of addiction recovery is based on anonymity, however, Tiger rightfully should feel no obligation to discuss that with anyone. At his press conference he eluded to treatment and therapy, but did not disclose the nature of either.

If Tiger has identified himself to be a sex addict, though, he is one of an estimated 16 million Americans who are as well. Despite its emerging prominence in the field of addiction treatment, sex addiction is still not formally recognized by the medical system in the U.S. In the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) released in February, 2010, gambling and binge-eating are recognized as “official” addictive disorders, but sex addiction is not.

According to the authors of “The Tiger Woods Syndrome,” whether or not Tiger Woods is a sex addict, and whether or not his alleged sex addiction treatment was part of a plan to repair his professional image is not really the important issue. What is important is that “Tiger aptly exemplifies the behaviors, motivations, and destructive patterns of many American men,” the book says.

“Like Tiger Woods, many American men seek superficial values, hide their true feelings, and conform to win their dream girls. Commercials, television shows, movies, and even music drum into men’s brains that conformity and deception are part of the dating and mating scene,” according to authors Dr. J. R. Bruns and Dr. R. A. Richards II.

Continuing the lies and deception after marriage is also seemingly sanctified when successful high profile men like Bill Clinton, David Letterman, Michael Jordan, John Edwards, and Rudy Guiliani publicly revealed multiple infidelities, and seemingly suffered no consequences. While men and women around the world are busy questioning whether Elin Nordegren should divorce Tiger Woods and why the wives of serial cheaters stick around, the real question should be why so many marriages in America are a sham in the first place.

The divorce rate in the U.S. has been at an epidemic level for years, at 50% for first marriages, 67% for second marriages, and 74% for third marriages, according to the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology. The authors of “The Tiger Woods Syndrome” believe that the root cause of the American marriage crisis is “the artificial way men and women relate to one another as they try to find a common life together.”

“Artificial intimacy actually involves both a physical attraction to each other and a type of approval seeking,” according to Bruns and Richards. “This involves a submersion of the man’s true self so he can easily conform to the woman’s tastes and thus heighten the sense of commonality between them.” This fabricated commonality is used by both the man and the woman as justification for the tremendous sexual attraction between them.

So, according to “The Tiger Woods Syndrome,” there is a growing tendency for both men and women to come together based on sexual attraction, hide their true selves in order to win the prize of the “perfect” marriage partner, and then continue the lies about their false identity as they look outside of the marriage for more artificial intimacy.

This seems to be the paradigm that the Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren marriage crisis has revealed to the world. And it is the universal truth found in this marriage deception and serial cheating story that has struck a troubling chord with men and women who are living a lie in their own relationships, and are looking for Tiger and Elin for easy answers and a tidy conclusion.

Millions of people wanted Tiger Woods to say just the right words in his staged press conference so that he could be plausibly forgiven and regain his superhero status. But it is in the best interest of couples everywhere that he left the “Why?” question unanswered, forcing everyone to redirect that question to their own broken marriages and deceptive relationship patterns instead. It doesn’t matter why Tiger Woods was hiding out in his double life as much as it matters why there are millions of other Americans who are consciously, or unconsciously, participating in marriage deception and double lives themselves.

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Jan 27

At first glance, one might think that Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On without Wasting Time or Money is slamming the psychotherapy field. However, upon closer inspection of his book, Therapy Revolution, you will learn that Zwolinski, a nationally and internationally licensed psychotherapist and addiction specialist, is suggesting that, as with any field, there are legitimate, competent players who follow best practices for therapists, as well as unethical persons who prey on persons who already are struggling with emotional issues.

In his book, the author encourages clients to empower themselves, by learning how to find help, get better and move on with their lives without getting caught up in “therapy addiction.” According to Zwolinski, many clients are trapped in bad therapeutic situations that not only aren’t helping them get better, but may actually be doing them more damage both emotionally and financially.

Zwolinski says that successful therapy must include five “fundamental ingredients.”
1. The therapist must be a motivated, experienced professional.
2. The therapist must use evidence-based treatments; that is, proven methods and techniques.
3. Therapy must be carried out in a reasonable treatment time frame.
4. The therapist’s hourly fee and the entire cost of the course of treatment must be fair and reasonable.
5. The patient must be a motivated patient.

In the interest of ensuring the client has control over his or her own therapeutic experience, the author has included several checklists throughout the book that can be used by the client in all stages of the therapeutic process – from selecting a therapist to determining when it is a time to move on. The author also includes a number of case studies that assist the client in recognizing what is considered good and acceptable therapeutic treatment, and identifying “red flag” situations where violations and ethical breaches have occurred.

These “red flag” situations are discussed in greater detail in the chapter, “Experienced, Ethical, Competent, and Caring – or Not.” Some are more obvious than others – the therapist is constantly late, has no empathy, behaves unprofessionally or blames the client. Some “red flag” situations are a bit more insidious, and thus, may not be easy for the patient to recognize right away. For instance, the author warns clients of therapists who are manipulative or dishonest, stating, “If a therapist tries to cover up failings or errors, especially if he says his failings or errors are actually “part of your therapy,” this shows he lacks foundational morals.”

Zwolinski also explains that while a client should be able to trust his or her therapist, this does not give the therapist license to use “emotional blackmail” to control his clients, who already are vulnerable:
“By the use of emotional blackmail, a person aims to control another and/or force another to do what the perpetrator wants by subtly or overtly threatening consequences, such as inducing overwhelming guilt in the victim.”

Another “red flag” situation is when the therapist begins to blur the boundaries of what is considered an ethical client/therapist relationships.

“When a therapist’s and patient’s lives intersect in some kind of relationship outside of therapy . . . this is a no-no. Having a professional or interpersonal relationship with a therapist is confusing, at best, and can possibly cause severe emotional suffering.”

Therapy Revolution is a book that is intended to help clients learn to advocate for themselves, establish ethical client therapist relationships and take responsibility for their therapeutic experiences, according to Zwolinski, who states, “By being a savvy consumer of therapy, you have learned how to actively be involved in healing yourself. Now that’s good therapy.”

Richard M. Zwolinski, LMHC, is a nationally and internationally licensed psychotherapist and addiction specialist, who has been practicing therapy for more than twenty years. He is a New York State-licensed mental health counselor.

For Information on Therapy Revolution
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