“I’ve never met one person who ever regretted getting sober, but I know many who have the heartache of what they did to themselves and their families because they refuse to look at themselves.” ~Lisa Boucher
Lisa had an alcoholic mother whose addiction began with the latter taking medication, and this flowed into alcoholism, which made her incapable of functioning. Lisa’s mother wouldn’t drink openly but would take nips of alcohol from the bottles strategically located throughout the house, and her coping method used was to smoke, “put on makeup” and drive, with her children in the car, while drunk, which resulted in numerous car wrecks. Lisa’s childhood was thus highly unstable - “a montage of chaos and insanity” - and her mother’s addiction also frustrated her father, who lashed out at his own children. That said, Lisa remarks that she was blessed in that her father didn’t leave the family and that the family’s finances didn’t collapse, even though her father was “as crazy” as her mother was. That said, Lisa’s mother did attempt to find help, with her father driving her around to get that help, but the medical professionals - as, Lisa remarks, they still do today - misdiagnosed her as being anything but an alcoholic. Lisa’s mother’s recovery began after a household accident where she broke her neck, with the doctor dealing with her putting her into rehabilitation. Lisa’s mother recovered and has never taken another antidepressant or antipsychotic medicine since then.
Lisa herself began drinking at the age of twelve, and she got sober in her 20s, when she realized that her drinking was escalating. During that time, it didn’t seem like a problem, and it felt like fun. That said, her alcoholism kept her from graduating college for a decade and led her into relationships and marriages with problematic men, as well as keeping her from seeing the reality of whatever situation she was in. Lisa admits to making a lot of questionable choices as an alcoholic and notes that she was fired from some jobs because of her attitude. Lisa remarks that, in her case, there was likely a genetic predisposition towards alcoholism, with people in her family also being alcoholics, and the other factors that enabled her alcoholism are availability of alcohol, childhood trauma. Lisa mentions Dr. Vincent Felitti’s study which relates traumatic childhood experiences with health and social problems once those children become adults, and notes that 89% of adults have at least one adverse childhood experience. Lisa also remarks on a study that found that those babies whose parents “fed” alcohol had a four times greater chance of winding up as alcoholic adults.
Lisa, a registered nurse like her mother, has been around children since 2014 - children with stories similar to those of her own childhood. Lisa mentions that “every alcoholic impacts at least four other people,” and remarks that, based on her experiences in health care, in emergency rooms and psych wards, this is true. She is thus very aware of the “devastation” that alcoholism can cause, and is very focused on informing people about the early signs of alcoholism, so it can be nipped in the bud.
The way the health care system and professionals today deal with alcoholics is “a travesty,” with doctors prescribing antipsychotics and antidepressants rather than dealing with the root cause of the problem. Lisa remarks that alcoholism is a brain-related disease which is linked to the release of dopamine, or the brain’s “feel good” chemical, and that taking alcohol released the dopamine which overrode the general feeling of fear that she chronically felt throughout her childhood, and over time, more and more alcohol is needed to get the same feeling. People who abuse alcohol and other substances tend to not feel good enough about, or loathe, themselves.
Lisa notes that 80% of alcoholics are employed, have families and are functional, rather than the stereotype of a homeless person being an alcoholic, and shares the story of a female surgeon who passed out while breastfeeding her child because she was an alcoholic and who realized just how narrow her life was - defined as it was by her drinking. “Just because you can function and just because you’re drinking with other people who drink heavily doesn’t mean that you don’t have an alcohol abuse problem,” she notes, adding that alcoholism is a progressive and fatal disease.
Lisa notes that one blacking out while drinking over the weekend isn’t normal, as normal social drinkers have an “off button” so that they don’t black out. Where indicators of alcoholism are concerned, Lisa notes some such indicators as:
Multiple marriages or problems in all relationships, with one gravitating towards dysfunctional people;
Failure to launch;
Not having hobbies or activities which don’t involve alcohol;
Complaining of depression and anxiety and going to the doctor to get anti-anxiety or antidepressant medicines rather than stopping drinking (alcohol is a depressant).
Lisa remarks that people don’t correlate alcohol with their depression, where in fact they should. She also notes that there are seven cancers (such as colon, breast and throat cancer) related to alcohol, as alcohol is a Class 1 carcinogen, just as asbestos is. She also notes that unchecked diabetes, heart disease, cirrhosis of the liver are also related to alcohol, as is domestic violence, and that $249B are spent on alcohol-related mishaps and lost productivity.
Lisa remarks that people don’t recover from alcohol just by quitting cold turkey, as the emotional and psychological issues such as fear, resentment and trauma, that enabled the condition need to be addressed and talked through and brought out. This will bring up pain and discomfort, Lisa admits, and people are afraid to confront this. Being honest with oneself is vital and necessary, Lisa remarks, as the alternative is having one’s children not want to see them because they are angry and have cancer.
Culture, Lisa notes, has normalized alcoholism, as everything now revolves around the consumption of alcohol, pointing out the absurdity of “yoga and beer” sessions, supporting people lying to themselves where alcohol consumption is concerned. Lisa also notes how prominent alcohol is on TV, social media and the news, such as adults attacking referees and coaches in sporting meets. She also remarks birthday parties of three-year-old children where wine and beer are the centerpiece, and notes how offended people can get if their alcohol consumption is pointed out to them. “If you are a social drinker,” Lisa remarks, “then it should be no problem for you not to drink 24/7 in front of your children, in front of other people’s children or at birthday parties for a one-year-old. If you’re a social drinker, save your drinking for when the kids are in bed, or you’re out to dinner with your adult friends and you have a responsible babysitter at home.” She also points out that parents drinking in the park and then driving home with their children while drunk has become the new normal, and that the children get particularly stressed when they see their parents essentially drinking uncontrollably.
To those who are alcoholics or who know an alcoholic, Lisa recommends finding somebody in their social network who knows somebody who’s sober. She also recommends researching sources which can help the alcoholic, and that the person involved needs to be willing to be rehabilitated, as such methods do work. Lisa also remarks that getting help is also an ego issue, as one has to face up to one’s pride and admit that one needs help.
“As soon as we start listening, they start feeling like they’re being heard, and that’s really, really important.” ~Kari O'Driscoll
While writing was something that Kari didn’t aspire to, it was by doing so that she processed the world. It was while she was in college that she got fascinated with the power of being able to understand scientific concepts and write them in a way that the average person could understand. Kari admits that she likes advocating to people and interacting with them, which was why doing so was her “sweet spot.” For her, philosophy was about curiosity and that the answers there were open-ended and led to more questions, rather than with science, where there is only one right answer. Kari also notes that philosophy also deals with ethical and moral questions, which also appeals to her.
Kari founded the SELF program sprang from her experiences with working in health care and working with the Mental Health Division of Washington State, as advocating for children with mental health issues. It was particularly after having two children of her own that she noticed what was going on in formal education as well as what was missing in this, and the SELF project was founded as a way to fill the gap that she saw that children in the United States weren’t being taught about.
The SELF project is rooted in how mindfulness impacts health and brain development, as well as on the latest research into adolescent brain development. It uses non-violent communication techniques to help those aged between 10 - 25 years old, as this is when “massive brain development” occurs. The project is intended to enable adolescents to ask questions about who they are and what their values are, as well as how to create strong, trusting relationships and build networks that they can rely on. The project also enables adolescents to develop patterns to help them deal with stress and create a positive mindset, to create a strong foundation for their adulthood.
Where the present educational system is concerned, Kari notes that the United States has “bought” into the idea of competition and that there are prescribed paths that children should take. This results in a lot of stress being placed on children, particularly since the requirements to go from one grade to another, much less such leaps as those from high school to college, are driven by outside forces. This environment is one which is not conducive to enabling adolescents figure out what it is that really drives them and what they feel about what is going on. Kari also notes that personal emotional development isn’t addressed, pointing out that children, in the present educational system, spend 40 - 60 hours a week away from their parents, and that it is difficult to address the entirety of a child’s personal emotional development over dinner.
Where adolescent brain development is concerned, Kari notes that adolescents are very socially driven and are biologically designed to take big risks, as well as not really think through the consequences of their actions. This is mainly due to adolescents seeing things through an emotional filter, as the amygdala, which is an organ in the brain which processes emotions, physically swells to thrice its previous size - which explains why adolescents react emotionally to concerns, as an adolescent’s brain tells the individual that the situation is one that requires a “flight or fight” reaction. Adolescents also learn how to understand abstract concepts at this period, which can be used to nurture curiosity and openmindedness. Kari also remarks that the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is related with rational thought, isn’t fully developed until the age of 25, which means that adolescents aren’t capable of doing rational thought until that age. Thus, telling an adolescent such things as “Why can’t you act / think like a grownup?” are pointless, as they literally cannot do so. Kari also notes that, towards adulthood, the brain “prunes” neural connections so that only those which are vital, efficient and effective in adult life are maintained and those which aren’t are allowed to degrade. These neural connections essentially form the basis of habits and patterns that individuals use, and if the kind of habits that enable emotional intelligence haven’t yet been created, neither would those neural connections which would support such habits. The connections that are supported are those which cause people to be petty, and this is one reason why there would be adults who act irrationally, emotionally and excessively. Kari also calls such neural connections “superhighways,” in recognition of the brain’s drive for efficiency, and notes that the superhighways which enable a person to do critical thinking and to become aware need to be created during the adolescent years.
The SELF curriculum is based on the subjects of:
Stress, anxiety and fear.
There are several lessons in each subject, and each lesson starts with a story, which is a great way to catch a person’s attention, after which the lesson becomes a journey of guided discovery. The curriculum is meant to be used with several adolescents at the same time, to harness their social drive as well as to normalize conversations about difficult subjects, particularly those where there is no “right/wrong” answer. An activity, usually a solo activity, is also part of the lesson, and the last piece of the curriculum is a guided meditation / visualization where the adolescents can internalize the lesson. The curriculum is very flexible, and Kari gives an example of the first part of the lesson being given on Monday, with the kids being asked what came up for them on Wednesday (which was also when the activity was done), and wrapped up on Friday, with the visualization and debrief of the lesson being done then. The full curriculum of 50 lessons should properly take over the course of several months, particularly given that some of the subjects concerned are difficult to deal with, and giving the adolescents time to ruminate on the subjects enables richer discussions. That said, the program is flexible, with Kari remarking that she once gave the curriculum in 75 minutes.
Where results are concerned, Kari points to her work with a recovery school for children who were recovering from addiction. The adolescents there were both real and raw, and the adolescents remarked that they felt heard, rather than being merely spoken to. The adolescents were thus able to really dig into the questions posed in the lessons, and one of the once commented to Kari that it had been the first time that someone had listened to that individual. Doing the curriculum, Kari remarks, enables adolescents to take a break from all the stress they are in and just play, and those who have undergone it feel they have a right to speak up, are more self-assured and are more “comfortable in their own skin.” Kari gives an example of a lesson on shame, which includes such pointers as who would make an adolescent feel ashamed. Exploring and unpacking the experience of shame is difficult for adolescents, as they want to be thought of as “cool” by their peers, and Kari notes that people in power use shame to control adolescents’ behavior, which only makes such as situation more uncomfortable to deal with.
Kari would like to remind adults that adolescents nowadays are being asked to do more things than adults do, and are asked to be something which they literally cannot be and do things that they can literally not yet do. The social and logistical expectations set to teenagers can be overwhelming, she notes, and that leading with compassion and curiosity and as supportive and loving adults goes a long way towards creating positive relationships.
“Ending the killing of black people really requires doubling down on investments in communities, and not the criminal or justice system.” ~Dr. Jennifer Cobbina
Dr. Jennifer Cobbina is a Canadian and, as such, has not had the kind of experiences, growing up, that were noted in her book. That said, she got interested in criminal justice in college, and it was as she was working on her doctorate that she became aware of the impact on how race is viewed, and how people of certain races are thus treated, within the criminal justice system.
According to Dr. Cobbina, racism includes prejudice, hatred or discrimination against a person because of their skin color, ethnicity or national origin, based on one’s personal feelings and beliefs about that other person. She notes that, while the most common types of acts that people would associate with it are acts of abuse and harassment, such acts do not necessarily have to be violent or intimidating; name-calling, jokes and excluding the person from groups or activities are also acts of racism. Racism thus shows up in people’s attitudes and, where institutional racism is concerned, the way institutions and systems function. Not all racist acts are obvious or overt, such as someone looking for job applicants not considering those resumes which come from people with certain surnames, no matter how qualified they can be.
Dr. Cobbina notes that, as human beings, we all inherently have biases, but while biases can include racial bias, not all biases are racist. “People are not born with racist ideas or attitudes,” she says, “racism is learned,” and the subsequent belief in the superiority of one’s group can lead to racial hatred. That said, racism can also stem from fear, anxiety and ignorance; and where ignorance is concerned, Dr. Cobbina opines that the willingness to contact and connect with people of other ethnic groups is important where enabling people to find commonalities is concerned.
The impact of racism on those who experience it harms those individuals profoundly, with respect to their health, as they suffer from anxiety, frustration and anger. Moreover, the effects of experiencing racism on a consistent basis cause people to withdraw from social life, eventually diminishing their quality of life, as they can feel like second-class citizens whose freedom and dignity are compromised.
The American criminal justice system comprises of several government agencies and institutions intended to control crime by imposing penalties on those who violate the law. The three main components of the criminal justice system are:
the courts; and
The criminal justice system is thus responsible for:
investigating criminal conduct and gathering evidence;
identifying people who are suspects;
bringing charges to bear on suspects;
conducting trials; and
determining sentencing and subsequent treatment of people who commit crimes.
Dr. Cobbina notes that the criminal justice system is, in the eyes of many, broken, as it focuses on criminalization and incarceration, rather than on rehabilitation. She notes that the growth in criminalization is the driver behind the two million plus people who are presently held in prisons, which is a 500% increase compared to 40 years ago. Dr. Cobbina also remarks that, based on studies conducted, changes in laws and policies, rather than changes in crime rates, are the reason behind this increase, which has resulted in overcrowded prisons and fiscal burdens on states. She also notes that it has been proven that increased incarceration doesn’t improve public safety.
Where racism is concerned, Dr. Cobbina remarks that racial disparities are present within the criminal justice system, giving the example of racially biased use of discretion, where police are more likely to stop blacks and Hispanics in investigatory stops, wherein the police will stop a driver deemed to possibly be carrying drugs, firearms or other illegal material in their vehicles, than they would white people. She remarks on studies that have shown that blacks are three times more likely than whites to experience physical force or be threatened with physical force during an encounter with the police. Dr. Cobbina also remarks that blacks, for all their being more prone to being searched, are less likely to be in possession of something illegal than white people. She also notes that people of color are more likely to be charged more harshly than white people, and that, once charged, they are more likely to be convicted and, once convicted, are more likely to receive harsher punishments than white people, even when taking into account the type of crime that was committed and the individual’s criminal history.
The facts behind Michael Brown’s death, based on a report from the Department of Justice, are policeman Darren Wilson saw Michael Brown and his friend on the roadway and asked them to move towards the sidewalk. Wilson had just received a report of a convenience store robbery and was given a description of the suspects, and used his vehicle to block Brown and his friend from walking any further. Brown then punched the officer as he was getting out of his car and went for the policeman’s gun, but the policeman managed to keep his weapon and fire two shots which injured Brown. The report then stated that Brown ran and that Wilson chased him, then shot Brown to death after the latter turned and charged right at him, firing twelve shots, six of which hit Brown, two hits of which hit Brown in the head. That said, several witnesses noted that they had seen Brown raise his hands in surrender before Wilson shot him to death, but the witnesses’ credibility was questionable.
The facts behind Freddie Gray are that he ran away from a Baltimore police officer, but was caught with an illegal switchblade and then arrested, with a cell phone video of his arrest showing him being dragged into a police van, screaming in pain as he limped. Gray requested for an asthma inhaler, but this request was denied, and he was thrown in the police van and transported unbuckled. The van then made several stops, and when it arrived at the police station, Gray was unconscious. Gray then underwent surgery because his spinal cord had been 80% severed and his voicebox had been crushed, and Gray remained in a coma for a week before dying.
Dr. Cobbina notes that racial minorities and crime are viewed essentially as being one and the same, which is why the police view the individuals of such groups as both criminal and dangerous, which would explain the “aggressive” methods used to deal with Brown and Gray. “It’s likely that they would still be here today, if they were white,” Dr. Cobbina concludes.
Where the protesters were concerned, these were ordinary, everyday civilians, most of whom were young, first-time activists, which meant that they participated in protests for the first time in their lives. The protests were centered around the deaths of black individuals at the hands of the police and were intended to affect change by ending police violence and the criminalization against people of color. The belief was that Brown’s death was unwarranted, even if it seemed lawful, and it didn’t help the authorities that his body was left in the street for four hours, in the hot sun, in a move reminiscent of that of the bodies of lynched black men being left hanging from trees for a long time as a warning to other blacks. What also led up to the protests were reports of armed police killing unarmed black civilians, as well as with the “strange” relationships the Ferguson police had with communities of color.
Dr. Cobbina differentiates between a protest and a riot, in that a riot is a situation where people behave violently, and that destruction of property is a result of a riot. A protest is a demonstration against a specific course of action or official policy and is constitutionally protected. A lot of the people whom Dr. Cobbina spoke with were against violence and rioting, and several even attempted to stop that; but she acknowledged that it was the rioting that drew attention to the issue and that, without the rioting, the protests could easily have vanished beneath the waves of public awareness. Dr. Cobbina remarked that, when she was observing a protest in Ferguson, the situation was extremely intimidating, with a line of policemen in riot gear making it very clear that those they faced down were the enemy. She also noted that, while some of the people she spoke with had had positive encounters with the police, most had negative encounters, with these experiences affecting their perceptions of the police. Dr. Cobbina also remarked that, with the people she interviewed, there were racial distinctions amongst these reported encounters, with whites being given the benefit of the doubt while blacks were more likely to encounter aggressive policing, racial profiling and disrespectful behavior.
Dr. Cobbina remarked that a federal investigation into the Ferguson and Baltimore police departments revealed that these departments engaged in racially biased policing, with a pattern of unconstitutional stops and arrests on black people being recorded. One of the best stories that Dr. Cobbina gives as an example is that of Kevin of Ferguson, while he was a sixteen-year-old black boy playing basketball with his friend in the neighborhood. A police car then came by, telling them to get off the street, and when the friend stared at the policemen as they drove by, the policemen then did a U-turn, got out of the car, grabbed the friend and slammed him on the hood of their vehicle, telling him: “What are you looking at?” The boy then wondered aloud: “What is he doing? He’s being too rough!” to which the officer then replied: “Shut the fuck up.” Dr. Cobbina then remarked that this incident had happened years previously, but that Kevin still felt the same pain, indignity and frustration, telling her that story, that he did when the incident happened.
Where having more black officers in the police force is concerned, Dr. Cobbina remarks that doing so wouldn’t change things, based on her study, 25% of those she surveyed saying that black officers enforce the law more fairly and are more courteous. Another 25% said that black officers also operate aggressively against black civilians, with this sentiment being more prevalent amongst black Baltimoreans. Dr. Cobbina notes that diversifying the police force in this way isn’t the solution, and that even those communities which engage in lawful behavior are still treated as “the criminal enemy” by the police.
Where impact is concerned, Dr. Cobbina remarks that the protests has brought the issue of racial injustice within the criminal justice system, as well as aggressive policing against blacks, into the public consciousness and public conversation, while also calling attention to the issue of racism in the United States in general. She also remarks that history also plays as much a part as culture where racism is concerned, as the United States has always been historically racist and violent, and that this aspect has yet to be confronted. Dr. Cobbina notes that steps are starting to address and confront racial tensions, historical grievances and misunderstandings and that, based on the conversations she’s had, it would be better to invest the money being spent on police and prisons in marginalized individuals and communities, to address the fundamental issues of poverty and inequality from which crime springs - intervention and prevention, rather than punishment, in other words.
“Are we gonna die? If not, what’s the problem?” ~Hao Lam
Hao admits that he wasn’t a particularly good student as a child. His father was from China and worked as a soldier for the American government while in Vietnam, while his mother was a teacher in a private school. Hao admits that he showed no interest in school, and after not attending classes at the school his mother worked in, the latter shifted him to another school. It was also through the efforts of his mother that Hao discovered his love for mathematics, as his mother found him tutors who taught him that and Chinese.
Hao’s childhood was carefree until April 30, 1975, when Saigon was taken by the North Vietnamese. His father was taken prisoner, because of his working with the United States government, he was held in a “re-education camp” for a full year without his family knowing what had happened to him. Hao’s father was released the following year, and one of the things he told then-eight-year-old Hao was that Vietnam was no place for them, and that he needed to leave, somehow.
Hao then spent the next twelve years attempting to escape Vietnam, years where he got shot at and imprisoned, while living in one of the worst neighborhoods around, and for him life had no meaning at the time. His friends likewise made attempts to flee the country, and none of them came back, as they died during their attempts. He finally managed to get away in a 50-foot fishing vessel which was packed with some 140 refugees. They had no food or water for seven days and nights, and while two of the refugees died along the way, Hao remarks that he felt entirely hopeless and was wondering if he would see the sun the following day. That said, his boat still got lucky, stating that there were other boats full of refugees which spent up to a month out at sea before making landfall, and that one boat that started out with 100 finished the journey with only 20.
Hao then spent a year in a refugee camp in Palawan, in the Philippines, where he learned English. He considered applying to be sent to the United States on the strength of his father’s previous work with the American government, but as it was he had two relatives - a grandmother and an uncle - who lived in a town in Prince Rupert, Canada. They were aware of what he did in Vietnam, while attempting to escape, and as they knew that Hao would likely get recruited by a gang in the United States, as he knew nobody there, they sponsored him so he could live with them. Hao then remarked that, once he moved to Prince Rupert, he was mistaken for a Filipino and was addressed in Tagalog by quite a few people there.
It was while in Canada that Hao worked on his dream of completing his high school education, which he did at the age of 23, in two years’ time, and then got a college degree at the age of 27. His maturity stood him in good stead while in high school, despite the culture shock and even though things weren’t pleasant for him at first, and it was during this time when he discovered his passion for teaching, as he would often go over to his high school classmates’ houses to tutor them in math - which, he remarks, didn’t particularly require him to be fluent in English, as he admits that he was “illiterate” in English when he left Vietnam.
Hao moved to Seattle after getting his college degree in 1995, and once there set up his first tutoring school. “Honestly, I didn’t know what I was doing,” he remarks about those early days, adding that he had to learn how to run his business on the fly. Hao remarks that he made no money in the first three years of his school, and also admits that he was after making a lot of money, so he set up several businesses which eventually failed. “I was chasing money the first part of my life,” he admits, which was natural given his desperate upbringing, but then he then focused on his why and what he was passionate about, and that was when he focused on his purpose in education, teaching, and learning, which his business enabled him to do. Doing so paid off for him as, at the time of this interview, his school is present in some 60 different locations in 15 American states.
Hao notes that, at present, students don’t get much support from teachers and that, while teachers help out those who are falling behind, those who can learn more - above average students - are essentially left on their own. Hao’s business, as a part of supplemental education, is designed to enable such students to learn more so they can get into the “gifted program” that only the top 1% of the American student population is part of, and which is thus highly desired by a lot of the students.
Hao notes that he doesn’t brag about his success; he brags about his failures and the lessons that he learned. His vision is as follows:
To be an insatiable learner.
To be a steadfast mentor to his team and to his friends, so these are impacted positively and are enabled to reach their full potential.
Hao remarks that, in addition to mentoring others, he has three mentors whom he speaks.
Where the book is concerned, Hao remarks that, whenever he told others his story, he was told to write his experiences out in a book. He notes that he loves sharing, and that writing the book out was rather challenging, as he would start and stop often. It was around two and a half years previously when he finally sat down with someone who would hold him responsible for writing a book and, because of that, he finally finished writing the book in over a year’s time. He admits that he and his wife “get emotional” whenever they read it and that, despite his past, he made the book more of a positive learning experience for the reader, rather than the dark kind of story it could have been.
Hao now talks to a lot of immigration groups as well as in colleges about his experiences, sharing his story while giving out the lessons he learned along the way:
It is not the end of the world.
Follow your dream.
Don’t chase money.
Do what you want to do and find your “why.”
To those who are in a crisis in their life, Hao quotes the quote at the start of this blog, which is written on the bookmark that comes with From Bad to Worse to Best in Class.