Rank Your Risks

I thought it would be fun and educational to do a series on the 17 elements of HAMS.  But in typical Hamster fashion, I’m not taking them in order.  They aren’t steps – you don’t have to do them in order, or do them at all!

Ranking your risks is one of my favorite elements.  I never drove drunk – even when I had a car and drank a lot, I would never drive after even one sip of alcohol.  But I was terrible about drinking and texting.  When I re-read my drunk texts – which are mostly buried in my phone now – I shudder with horror.  I’d have to say though – those drunk texts gave me some insight into how I was really feeling, that the sober me was all too good at repressing.

What are your risks?  Drinking and driving?  Getting too drunk to do well at work, or even to show up?  Ruining family events by over-drinking and feeling bad the next day?  Forgetting to pay bills for weeks or months in a drunken fog?

We all have our risks.  Try to look at them without judgment, as you would look at someone else you cared about.  Our risks are often trying to tell us something.  My drunk behavior has told me to a) leave a relationship that was not healthy  b) leave a career that was killing me  c) do what I really love – go back to school, research and write!  If we can embrace the messages that our drunk behavior brings to light, while minimizing the harms, we can actually improve our lives.

Rank your risks, and start with the one at the top of the list.   If you drive home drunk from the bar, try buying a bottle and drinking at home.  If you send unfortunate emails when drunk, turn off the computer and put it in another room before you drink.

Don’t look at yourself as a failure, and don’t set yourself up to fail by expecting unrealistic goals.  Just minimize risk, one risk at a time.

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When Life Happens to Hamsters

What a week!

In a one-two punch, I’ve found out that my father is suffering from pulmonary fibrosis, a chronic and slow moving but fatal lung disease caused by asbestos in the home where he lived while pastoring a rural church.  At about the same time, my mom had much needed hip replacement surgery, but due to a medical error now has something called “drop foot” where she can’t raise her foot on her own, significantly impairing her walking.

I’m taking a course in Chronic Disease Prevention and Management for my PhD program, and I feel like this is more field experience than I bargained for!

Tuesday afternoon after I left the class I TA at school, I stopped at a fancy wine bar/gourmet shop to pick up some oil and vinegar for my mom’s roommate – I’m visiting them this weekend.  It was part of my plan to stop for a nice glass of red at the Happy Hour price.  I really enjoy a glass of fine wine in a nice wine bar – it’s one of the things I missed most when I was abstinent and in AA.  So I was enjoying my wine when I got a text from my dad, who had just been to the pulmonologist.

The good news is: there’s a drug that can double his life expectancy.

The bad news is: It costs $30k per year out of pocket, over and above what Medicare will pay.

It’s hard enough to deal with the fact that you know your parent is dying, if slowly.  But I knew that my dad and step-mother had wanted to spend the years while he’s still well traveling and having a good time.  I’m not privy to the details of their finances, but a hit of $30 k per year would sure take a chunk out of their ability to do much of anything.

For a moment, I really, really wanted to get wasted.  Just block out all the pain and stress.

But that wasn’t in my plan, so I didn’t.  I knew it would just make me feel worse to wake up hung over and with a bar bill that’s not in my budget.  So I went home, cooked dinner and another glass of (albeit cheaper) wine with dinner.

Moderation, not abstinence, is my goal and my plan.  It works really well for me – I don’t feel deprived and I enjoy wine and social drinking, but I avoid the binge drinking that’s been known to get me into trouble.

Our Dear Founder Kenneth Anderson has the saying, “Sad drinking is bad drinking.”  This is wise advice – drinking in reaction to events is almost never good, whether it’s happiness or sadness.  I think all of us have experienced drinking too much to medicate emotions, or getting carried away in a moment or triumph.  Making a plan and sticking to it, even as life happens, is a good Hamster tool.

So too is knowing that you can change that plan.  I used to try to be abs all week and then drink on weekends, which worked for awhile.  But eventually I found myself too tempted to drink too much on weekends.  By adopting an every day moderation plan, I keep alcohol in its proper place: something I enjoy with dinner at the end of the day, but something I don’t think much about otherwise.

(Unless you count that I research and write about it for a living!)

Whether we choose abstinence, moderation or safer drinking, we can use HAMS tools to get through those moments when life happens.

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There’s a Cat Writing the Hamster Blog!

Hey Hamsters!

There’s a cat writing the Hamster blog!  Many of you know me by other names, but I’m writing as Harm Reduction Cat so that I can speak a little more freely than I can on platforms where I write under my real name.

Our Dear Founder, Kenneth Anderson, has graciously invited me to revive the Hamster blog.  I plan to share stories of Hamsters as we go through our daily lives, tips and tricks for reaching our goals, and a little bit of Hamster philosophy.  I’ll be inviting guest Hamsters to write entries, sharing their experience as we go along on this journey.  If you’re interested, drop me a comment!

The comments will be moderated, and trolls will be deleted.  Like our Facebook group, this will be a warm and welcoming, non-judgmental space where all goals are embraced and all positive change is applauded.

A little bit about me… I discovered HAMS and Harm Reduction via the great Monica Richardson, long time HAMS member and creator of the film The Thirteenth Step.  I had struggled with drinking after multiple traumas piled up on each other, and I ended up in a very traditional 12 Step rehab.  After dutifully doing my 90 in 90, becoming secretary of my home group and baking more cookies for meetings than you’d need to sink a battleship, I became disillusioned with that fellowship and began reading about other approaches.  As I read I came to believe that the disease model that had been drilled into me in rehab was not accurate, that I was not powerless, and that no one was doomed to jails, institutions and death if they did not follow the 12 Step path.

I discovered our Dear Founder’s writing, and downloaded the book, How to Change Your Drinking on to my phone.

After a few more weeks of reading and much consideration, I decided to try the experiment.  I had been abstinent from alcohol for 11 months, but I no longer believed that one drink would drive me to out of control madness.  Rather, I had come to believe that I have the power of choice.

Sure enough, I discovered that I could drink safely.  Within ninety days of that first drink, I had earned my Masters degree, gotten a new job, and been accepted to a prestigious PhD program.  So much for jails, institutions and death!

It hasn’t always been a smooth ride, and I do not hold myself up as perfect in any way. Harm Reduction isn’t about achieving some idealized, normative standard of perfection.  Rather, it’s about living as authentically as we can, minimizing the harms and maximizing the benefits.

The support of the Facebook group has been critical to my “recovery from recovery,” and we have recently started a live meeting, where the support is even more vibrant.  Together, we do better.

I’m looking forward to continuing this journey with all of you.  And remember…


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Two AA Members Walk Into This Cafe…

An example of how the AA sponsor system inflates egos and encourages sociopathy and just plain bad manners.

I was eating dinner in one of my favorite Park Slope cafes the other night when two guys IMG_0111walked in and asked if they could join me at my table. I thought this was a pretty strange request because there were about four empty tables in plain view in the place at the time. But I don’t like to be rude, so I told them to go ahead and sit down. In retrospect I think I must have been targeted because I was wearing a Lower East Side Needle Exchange T-shirt that said “I [heart] Drug Users.” on the back.

Well before very long the arrogant one who had forced himself onto my table was telling the other one all about how to do his fourth step inventory for his AA program. It was quite clear that the arrogant one was an AA sponsor and the sheeplike one was his sponsee. This was not a conversation which was likely to improve the digestion of my meal, so I kindly and politely told them that their conversation was highly offensive to me and would they please move it to another table. At which the arrogant one piped up that if I didn’t like what was being said that I ought to move to another table. This in spite of the fact that I had been there first.noaaman2.jpg

Then the arrogant one started saying “some are sicker than others” and I told him that I totally agreed because he was clearly sicker than anyone. At which point he hurled more insults at me and started talking about how everything he said was protected under the first amendment right of free speech. I explained to him that this did not apply in a private place of business which had the right to eject him if he was offending other customers.

At this point I called the waiter over, and the waiter asked them very nicely to move to another table and stop bothering me since I had been there first. Of course Mr. Sponsor Pants refused to move and said that the waiter ought to call the police on me. Perhaps he assumed that I was a drug user because of my shirt and assumed that I would be an easy target for oppression who would cower under the jackboot of the law. Although I am a staunch defender of the rights of drug users to be free from oppression and coerced religion such as is practiced by 12 step programs, it just so happens that all the drugs I like are legal, and hence I have no fear of the law. So I seconded the motion to call the police to eject these two interlopers who had invaded the privacy of my table and who were insisting upon offending me with their cult religious practices.Your ignorance is their power

Oh I might also mention that between the two of them all they had ordered was one cup of herbal tea. Mr. Sponsor Pants finally finished his cup of herbal tea and announced that he was paying his bill and leaving.

Why am I sharing this with you? It is a perfect example of how harmful AA is to people’s mental health. This man is typical of the sociopaths who become AA sponsors and of how their egos grow even more inflated as a result of the power they are given by their sponsorship roles. I have seen this sense of entitlement before when the AA meeting that used to meet in our church was evicted. Of course they spent much of their meeting time talking about how organized religion had lost contact with God and how the true God could only be found in AA meetings. But the real kicker was that they thought they had a right to move our piano every time they had a meeting even though they had been expressly forbidden to do so. They kept it up until they broke the leg of the piano which they then refused to pay for.

If you value your mental health, then stay away from AA. I hope some of this bad behavior sunk into that sponsee’s head and he has the sense to leave before he gets sucked in any deeper.

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On harm reduction radio Carl Hart on science, addiction, and the drug war

Our guest this evening is Carl Hart Ph. D., professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Columbia University and author of High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society.


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So-Called Moderate Drinking Study Actually Studies Severely Heavy Drinking

A recent article in Neuroscience titled “Moderate drinking? Alcohol consumption significantly decreases neurogenesis in the adult hippocampus” purports to study moderate drinking and prove that even moderate drinking may have a severely negative impact on the formation of brain cells. This experiment studied rats whose average BAC was kept at a level of 0.08 (the legal limit for drunk driving) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for two weeks straight. So who here considers beer for breakfast and drinking 24/7 to be moderate drinking?

Since the average human being metabolizes one standard drink every ninety minutes it would require at least sixteen standard drinks per day to maintain a BAC of 0.08. This is 112 standard drinks per week. However, the NIAAA definition of moderate drinking is no more than 4 drinks per day and 14 per week for a man and no more than 3 per day and 7 per week for a woman. The amount of alcohol given these rats corresponds to 8 times the definition of weekly moderate drinking for men and 16 times the definition of weekly moderation for women. In fact it corresponds to levels typically found in severe alcohol dependence and maintenance drinking to prevent death from alcohol withdrawal.

This is just another example of fraudulent science being harnessed into providing false conclusions to feed the scare tactics of the alcoholism treatment industry

How can you tell when someone schilling for the alcoholism treatment industry is lying? His lips are moving.


M.L. Anderson, M.S. Nokia, K.P. Govindaraju, T.J. Shors. “Moderate drinking? Alcohol consumption significantly decreases neurogenesis in the adult hippocampus.” Neuroscience. Volume 224, 8 November 2012, Pages 202–209. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22906480

Copyright © 2012, The HAMS Harm Reduction Network

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Harm Reduction Therapy Center’s Fundraiser with Ethan Nadelmann

Get your tickets for Harm Reduction Therapy Center’s fundraiser with Ethan Nadelmann http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/273529

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