Thursday, May 27, 2010

Once a Homeless Drug Addict, Man now Helps Others

Milwaukee Journal

For too many years, Daviene Smittie was lost in a haze of drugs, crime and homelessness.

"The drugs," he knows now that his mind is clear, "were doing me. I allowed drugs to take over my life."

Not anymore. The man with the last name that doubles perfectly as a nickname is now working as a substance abuse counselor himself. He has a home and a college degree and a valid driver's license. He has a wife.

At age 49, Smittie has his dignity back.

How did he do it? He points to several factors.

First of all, he was lucky to come from a functional family. Growing up in Pine Bluff, Ark., he was the youngest of eight children born to loving parents who took him to church and stressed the value of education and hard work. He finished high school and two years of college.

Second was a stinging statement spoken to him by a fellow inmate during one of the many times he went to jail, mostly for misdemeanor stuff such as drug paraphernalia, disorderly conduct and battery.

"This young man, I helped him with his case a lot. He said to me, 'Mr. Smittie, it seems like every time I hear you talk, you talk about drugs.' Right then and there, I didn't want drugs to be part of my life anymore."

That resolve was interrupted by a few more stumbles on the way. But then the third fortuitous thing happened. About six years ago, a raggedy and unshaven Smittie was walking down an east side street in Milwaukee when he met Jim Salinsky, who was working in his front yard.

"I said, 'Hey, what are you doing?' He said, 'I'm doing a flower bed.' I said, 'I need to make a few bucks. Would you mind a hand?' I really don't know what was in him to say, 'OK, c'mon,' " Smittie said.

Salinsky, 47, a global Webmaster at GE Healthcare, said Smittie told him he was homeless and needed money to rent a room.

"As I ran out of projects for him, I got to know him as a gentle and intelligent man. I learned about his drug abuse background and many run-ins with the law," he said.

Salinsky helped him get a job as a custodian at his synagogue, Congregation Sinai. But Smittie had one more setback in him. He was arrested for selling crack cocaine to an undercover police officer on the city's north side. Back to jail he went for six months.

He got out in 2006 and headed back to see Salinsky, who recalls, "Soon after he was released, we were sitting at my kitchen table, and he told me that he wanted to help others in his situation as an alcohol and drug abuse counselor. We researched what training he would need, what the different levels of certification were, etc."

During one of Smittie's own trips through drug rehab in Wisconsin, a counselor told him he needed to be in a job where he could help people. He learned about addiction the hard way, starting out drinking and smoking pot in his teens and moving on to crack cocaine.

He moved to Milwaukee in the early 1990s, and brought his bad habits with him.

"It cost me a lot. It cost me some good relationships. It cost me some jobs. It cost me some friction in the family," including a sister who lived in Milwaukee and sometimes had to use tough love and turn Smittie away from her home. He would stay at a homeless shelter or live on the street.

In 2006, Smittie met a woman, Sandy, through church. Both had just lost a sibling to illness. They were drawn together. They married in 2007, and they now live in West Allis.

Sandy Smittie doesn't drink and says she never tried street drugs. She's assistant manager of Chuck E. Cheese in West Allis, and she hopes to open her own bakery someday. She has watched her husband blossom, especially in his profession.

"He's very passionate about it, passionate with a capital P," she said. And if anything at work frustrates him, it's that he can't fix everybody right away.

In the early days of their relationship, he would want to drive through the old neighborhoods to remind himself how far he had come. But that urge passed. He's dedicated to his recovery. "He's clean for a day, that's his mantra," Sandy said.

Smittie has worked and trained at a variety of agencies. These days he does counseling and assessment at M&S Clinical Services, ironically one of the places he came to for help for his own crack addiction treatment. Now, he has an office there. He's careful about mentioning his past to clients; sometimes it raises his street cred, but it also can cut into the respect he gets.

After three years of weekend classes, he just earned a bachelor's degree from Springfield College School of Human Services, which has a campus in downtown Milwaukee.

Smittie is licensed by the state as a Wisconsin substance abuse treatment counselor in training, and he's studying for the next level of certification. He's thinking about shooting for a master's degree.

Salinsky, or Dr. J as Smittie calls him, is proud of what his friend has accomplished.

"The easiest thing in the world," Salinsky said, "is to write a check and imagine that you're making a difference in someone's life. The more challenging thing is to get involved, get informed and learn what might motivate that person to help himself."

For too long, Smittie had nothing to show for his life, he said. But he's modest about his success.

"People do this every day, man. I'm not doing anything spectacular. I'm just doing what I need to move on with my life."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hank Haney tells Golf Channel that Tiger Woods is a Sex Addict

USA Today

Tiger Woods has admitted to being in therapy — but not to sex addiction. On Sunday, Woods' ex-swing coach Hank Haney told Golf Channel's Jim Gray the world's No. 1 golfer is a sex addict.

Woods never confirmed receiving treatment at a sex-addiction clinic in Mississippi. When Gray asks Haney point-blank what Woods is in therapy for, the golf teacher candidly said: "Well, the only thing that I knew about was his, you know, issue with the sex addiction."

But Haney, who stepped down as Woods' coach last Monday, said rumors Woods used performance-enhancing drugs are "100% false."

"People that say otherwise are just starting rumors," said Haney. "It's based on no facts at all. There's a lot of jealousy."

Woods' blood-spinning treatments with Canadian doctor Anthony Galea were also above board, he added.

Gray told USA TODAY: "I think what the public is interested in knowing is whether or not Tiger was in there for prescription drugs, or other drugs, or alcohol, or was it sex addiction because so many questions have been left unanswered. … Tiger says it's all in the police report. But clearly it's not."

Woods withdrew from the Players Championship because of a neck injury. Haney said Woods would be "better off if he was just was a little more forthcoming" about his injuries.

As for Woods blocking tee shots to the right, Haney said his former pupil "has a fear of hitting shots to the left and, as a result, he misses a lot of shots to the right."

Gray said he's "never seen anything like" Woods' swift fall from grace. "We were watching Picasso paint. It's just very sad. Nobody was against Tiger Woods. He had no enemies. He's become his own. The only enemy has been himself. … You can only hope he can go about his life and regain his stature."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Robert Munsch Admits to Depression, Cocaine and Alcohol Abuse

Winnipeg Free Press

TORONTO - For more than 30 years, Robert Munsch has fascinated young readers with his unique stories that have made his books staples of any child's library.

But it is his latest story, one of admission to cocaine and alcohol addictions, that has become the most shocking and captivating one, a story not intended for his young "Munschkin" fans.

In a message titled "Note to Parents" posted on his website, the bestselling author admits he's been diagnosed as obsessive-compulsive and manic-depressive and has been through Alcoholics Anonymous type programs.

"Those challenges have led me to make some big mistakes," Munch says, without providing further details.

But in an interview with Global Television aired Saturday, Munsch admitted he is recovering from cocaine addiction treatment and alcoholism, adding he has been clean for about four months.

In his note to parents, Munsch, 64, wrote that his mental health and addiction problems are not a secret to his friends and family.

"They have been a big support to me over the years, and I would not have been able to do this without their love and understanding."

He goes on to say that he hopes that others will also understand and that "everyone will talk to their kids honestly, listen to them, and help them do their best with their own challenges."

In August 2008, Munsch suffered a stroke that briefly affected his ability to speak in normal sentences, a big challenge for a man who used to do about 50 storytelling gigs a year.

In an interview with The Canadian Press four months after the stroke, Munsch said he was unable to create new stories.

"I try to do poetry and make up stories and it doesn't work, and (the doctors) told me that I should probably wait for a year for that to come back,'' he said at the time.

Munsch also said that he planned to edit the whopping 51 book drafts he had on the go before his stroke.

Born in Pittsburgh, Penn., Munsch studied to be a Jesuit priest before he decided to work in preschools, where he got his start as a storyteller.

He moved to Canada in 1975 and four years later wrote his first book titled "Mud Puddle''. He's since written more than 50 books, including some best-known titles like "Love You Forever'' and "The Paper Bag Princess.''

His latest books are "Down the Drain" and "Roar" published in 2009.

He has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide.

Munsch was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1999 and was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame last September.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Exposure to Drinking in Film, Television Linked to Early Drinking by Children

The Vancouver Sun
Children who watch R-rated movies are more likely to start drinking early on, results of a new study suggest.

The study, from Dartmouth Medical School in New Hampshire, surveyed nearly 3,600 middle school-aged children. The researchers found that of children whose parents never allowed them to watch R-rated movies, only three per cent had started drinking when questioned a couple of years after the initial survey. For children whose parents "sometimes" let them see R-rated films, 19 per cent had started drinking. For children who were allowed to watch R-rated films "all the time," 25 per cent had started drinking.

The study's findings, to be published in the May issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, stress the need for parents to monitor their child's media exposure, said James Sargent, principal investigator of the study and professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School.

Sargent said there are two effects of watching R-rated movies that leads to children drinking alcohol earlier in life.

"Part of it is monkey see, monkey do," he said. "Kids see actors smoking and drinking on screen and think, 'Oh, I'd like to do that.'"

At the same time, risky behaviours portrayed in R-rated movies, such as crime, violence and sexuality, tend to "go together," he said.

Once kids start one risky behaviour, such as smoking or sex, they're likely to start another, drinking for example, Sargent explained.

This can be damaging to their health, as early-onset alcohol use is associated with alcoholism later on in life, Sargent said.

Middle-school aged children are also likely to binge drink in high school, leading to such problems as "school failure, trouble with the law, and drinking and driving," he explained.

Keeping in mind that some parents who restrict access to R-rated movies could simply be more careful and more likely to ensure kids don't have access to alcohol in the home, the researchers also asked the children questions to gauge their parents' parenting style. However, even with these factors considered, exposure to R-rated movies was still linked to the likelihood of early-onset alcohol use.

Most worrying, Sargent said, some "authoritative parents still let their kids watch anything."

Monitoring a child's media consumption is as important in parenting as "paying attention to what your kids eat and making sure they do their homework," he said.

While the message to parents in the past was "don't let your kids watch too much TV, the big message (in this study) is that you can also influence your child's behaviour by controlling content," said Sargent.

For Canadian parents, Sargent recommends they take movie ratings "very seriously and literally."

"If a movie is rated for adults, kids have no business watching them," he said.

Sargent pointed out that many PG-13 movies and TV shows also portray drinking and other adult situations. Therefore, he urged parents to not only restrict their kids from seeing R-rated films, but also to limit time spent watching television overall.

The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends parents limit children's daily TV watching to one or two hours a day.