Change of Course: Lincoln author touts the values of winning over whining
By Jeff Korbelik Lincoln Journal Star, Saturday, August 18, 2007
Joel Christiansen felt himself slipping.
Not back into drug addiction, fortunately, but into something just as pervasive, progressive and problematic.
“I found myself relapsing into an old pattern of viewing, thinking and doing,” the Lincoln author and motivational speaker said recently over lunch.
The pattern was negative, even toxic. It was affecting his relationship with himself and his family, the way his drug addiction did more than 25 years before.
Instead of rolling with life’s punches, the way a winner would, Christiansen played the blame game, the way a whiner would.
He knew he needed to do something about it.
So he reread the book he wrote last year, “Stop Whining and Start Winning: The Power of Life’s Choices” (iUniverse Inc.).
“I needed to live my life according to what was true to me,” he said. “My negative thinking was contrary to my true spirit.”
“Stop Whining,” is Christiansen’s second book, the follow up to “Out of the Ashes the Resurrection of an Addict,” his heartfelt account of his battle with drug addiction that nearly cost him his livelihood and his life.
Today, Christiansen teaches non-traditional students at Doane College-Lincoln in addition to his motivational speeches, training seminars and retreats.
His past professional experiences include serving as a coordinator of a drug and alcohol intervention program, principal, superintendent, business trainer and consultant.
But Christiansen will be the first to tell you his biggest accomplishment is staying straight and sober. He celebrated his 25th anniversary Sept. 14, 2006.
The motivational speaker, 62, is an energetic man with dancing eyes, a man whose enthusiasm for life is contagious.
He is as good a listener as he is a speaker, noting most of his research for his latest book was observational.
Christiansen said curiosity inspired him to write “Stop Whining,” particularly his curiosity as to what separated winners from whiners.
“I began to make observations,” he said. “Then, I tried to challenge the reader to think about the messages.”
Christiansen knew he was on the wrong side of viewing and thinking, and it was having a “negative ripple effect on my relationship with others and myself.”
“I was uncomfortable with that,” he said. “It’s like you spend most of your energy saying, “I am sorry.” I got tired of the ‘I am sorry.’ Sorry means that you are uncomfortable with your behavior and that is what needs to change.”
“Stop Whining” is only 116 pages long. Each chapter of the 12 chapters is named with a word starting with the letter “p”: preference, power, planning, peace, etc.
“For some reason, I was struck by words that started by ‘p,’ so I listed ones with the greatest strength, and greatest depth,” he said.
Christiansen wrote “Stop Whining” in a conversational style.
The book, he said doesn’t have to be read from start to finish. Readers can pick chapters that are of interest or applicable to them.
Each chapter ends with a worksheet, titled “Careful Reflections, Intentions and Applications,” giving readers an opportunity to put their own thoughts on paper.
In observing winners and whiners, Christiansen noted some striking differences.
No one’s life, he said, is spared scandal, disappointment or loss. The key is how one reacts to them.
A winner and positive thinker conditions his or her mind to see and think of those events as nothing more than minor irritants and stepping stones to success, he said.
The whiner and pessimistic thinker, however, uses them to wallow in self-pity, blame and make excuses to fail.
“Seeing possibilities and creating opportunities is much more productive and useful than refuting, refusing and rejecting them as whiners are wont to do,” he said.
When readers finish his book, Christiansen said he hopes they discover “life is meant to be lived with purpose and passion.”
“The question to ask yourself is: “What do you want the tomorrow of your life to look like?”
News article from the Journal-Star, Sunday, February 15, 2004, by Cindy Lange-Kubick
He tore up his knee playing baseball.
The high school junior took the pills the doctors prescribed: narcotics for the pain; barbiturates to help him sleep.
It didn’t take long for the pain to disappear, for the glow to fill him up, for everything to feel so good.
“It took me to a place I had never been before, remembers Joel Christiansen, 58, sitting on a plaid couch in his stylish north Lincoln home.
“It was safe.”
A love affair, he calls it in his book: Out of the Ashes the Resurrection of an Addict”, which can be ordered from Joel’s Web site.
Joel was a star athlete back in Pender, one of eight kids from a well-to-do family.
Driving around northeast Nebraska in his dad’s El Camino, he felt proud passing all the buildings—schools, hospitals, churches—his father built.
But his heart wasn’t in the construction business. He wanted to teach. More than that, he wanted to lead, to be a principal, a school superintendent.
Eventually, he did all of those things.
And along the way, with every step, he had those pills.
When his dad died suddenly of pancreatic cancer, he had the pills.
Joel was 21.
Six years later, after back surgery, he had the pills.
When anything hurt—his knee, his back, his heart—he took another pill, chasing that glow, the release that numbed the pain.
“When I took the drugs, I didn’t have to feel what I needed to feel,” he says now.
Joel left Pender. He married and eventually earned three college degrees. He became a teacher, then a principal, then a school superintendent. Successful like his father. Self-made. Nationally recognized.
The Christiansen’s moved from town to town, seizing new opportunities. They had children: two boys, two girls.
The perfect family.
But the pills became a habit, like reading the morning paper.
And a secret.
He took them every day. Darvon, Demerol, Codeine, Placydil—his best girl, the one that always gave him what he craved.
At the end he consumed a dozen pills a day—5,000 to 6,000 milligrams.
But an addict? Joel Christiansen?
Addicts used needles. Addicts bought crack cocaine on the street corners.
“That wasn’t me.”
Still, he acted the part. He hid the pills in his sock drawer, in the trunk of his car. He traveled from doctor to doctor, pharmacy to pharmacy.
Later he would explain it to the alcoholics in recovery with him.
“I went into pharmacies like you went into bars.”
For years, he managed. All the while he was losing himself. Swimming in the shame of the lies—the guilt of not loving his wife, his kids, himself in the way he loved those pretty pills.
Eventually, the drugs took over. He spent his days plotting his next prescription, the pills that would get him through. He started missing work, missing pieces of his memory, his words coming out slurred.
The calls would come the next day.
What’s wrong? Were you drunk last night?
Of course not.
In his book he writes about the intervention that saved his life.
Sept. 14, 1981.
Julie had left him for good. They’d lost their last home. He’d resigned from his last job, before they had a chance to fire him.
He’d lost 40 pounds, too paranoid to eat, living in a room at the YMCA.
His lawyer called.
Could you come to my office?
Julie was there, most of his siblings. And a stranger: a woman from the Lincoln Council on Alcohol and Drugs.
Step by step, she laid out the last 15 years of his life. The lies and deception, the ruins of his career and his reputation.
His brother Densil spoke last.
If you don’t go to treatment, you’ll die. When we walk out of here we’ll never see you alive again…
He climbed in the car with his brothers, unwilling and angry, pills hidden in the lining of his suitcase.
In treatment he nearly died when the drugs left his system.
But he didn’t.
“There was something inside of me that wanted to live.”
When his stay ended, his brothers drove him to a halfway house in Lincoln. The name fit.
House of Hope.
He stayed 11 months. The school superintendent found a job working as a teacher’s aide.
Today he teaches classes at Doane College, Lincoln Campus.
Angels helped him along the way, he says.
Angels who took him to 12-step meetings. Angels who brought his children food when he couldn’t feed them. Angels from church who helped with love and then money to help his family buy a house.
Joel has peace in his life now, and joy.
Twenty-two years clean and sober.
He dances. When his back hurts he stretches. When his heart hurts he sits still and listens for the voice of God.
His first marriage eventually ended. He’s made amends to his children, but sadness still lingers. He’s accepted who he was, the mistakes he made.
“I don’t spend any time looking in the rearview mirror,” he says.
“ I needed everyone and everything that happened to me to be who I am and what I am today.”
He knows there are a lot of addicts like him out there.
From the plaid couch he reads a newspaper clipping.
“Illegal use of prescription drugs has increased 27 percent a year,” he says. “Eleven million Americans abused prescription drugs in 2000…
He sent a copy of his book to Betty Ford. He sent one to Rush Limbaugh. Another to President Bush and his brother Jeb, whose daughter struggled with prescription drugs.
Those pills hurt so many people.
“You were saved,” he was told by his spiritual advisor. “You were called and now you’re equipped to write that book. You have a great message."
“ A message of hope.”
News article from the Omaha World-Herald, Sunday, February 8, 2004 by Michael Kelly
A short item in 1979 reported that the Mead (Neb.) Public Schools had appointed Joel Christiansen as superintendent.
Two years later, with three college degrees, married and the father of four, he was found on the streets of Lincoln—a homeless drug addict.
A friend took him to a city mission, then the YMCA. The 5-foot-9 Christiansen, a former high school basketball star in Pender, Neb., saw his weight drop to 115.
Soon came what he calls “Judgment Day”, September 14, 1981. At his attorney’s office, he was shocked to see his wife, his seven siblings and a drug counselor. He faced a classic intervention.
His rehabilitation succeeded, and Christiansen rebuilt his career and his life. Now he has written a book, Out of the Ashes the Resurrection of an Addict.
His career had been on a fast track, he said Friday, and he became and elementary school principal in Broken Bow, Neb., at age 27.
“It never entered my mind,” he said, “that I would end up homeless on the streets of Lincoln, abandoning my family and bankrupt in every area of my life.”
Christiansen today teaches human relations and business management at Doane College’ Lincoln campus, where students voted him professor of the year.
He has served on state and local drug abuse boards and on a life-skills board for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln athletic department. He gives motivational speeches and retreats.
On September 14, he celebrated 22 years of sobriety.
His comeback wasn’t easy. After the intervention, he was taken to the Valley Hope Treatment Center in O’Neil, Neb., drugs hidden in a suitcase.
“It’s intense, an obsessive love affair with drugs,” Christiansen said. “An addict will go to any length to protect that. You charm it, you date it. You don’t want that love to ever leave.”
At one point, he said, he had eight doctors prescribing him painkillers, and eight pharmacies filling the orders.
“Addiction is a thief,” he said. “It steals your self, your self-respect, your self-esteem, your soul, your spirit, your sanity.”
He grew up the seventh of eight children, playing sports and singing in school musicals. His father owned a construction company.
He underwent surgery for a knee injury in high school, and pain pills were prescribed.
When he was 21, his father died. To deal with the loss, the son legally was “re-introduced to barbiturates.”
He graduated from Wayne State, taught in Papillion and Hebron, and became a young principal, eventually in Fremont and Aurora, Colo.
By 1978, he had crossed the line from appropriate painkillers—he also had back surgery—and had begun abusing.
The 178-page book, published by Trafford, is available for $18.70 through Christiansen’s Web site, www.joelcspeaking.com.
Christiansen, who divorced, couldn’t be more candid and open. As he writes, if you don’t learn life’s hardest lessons, you get “a misery-back guarantee.”
Although he suffers “a lingering sadness at times” about what he put his family through, at age 58, he’s at peace.
“Today I can celebrate the gift of being straight and sober,” he said, “and I can embrace life in a way I never dreamed I would.”
From the High School Principal at Norris Public Schools…John Skretta
Joel Christiansen, President of Joel Christiansen Speaking Services, www.joelcspeaking.com urged the Norris High School students to “Get on the right side of making good choices.” The 2002 Professor of the Year at Doane College-Lincoln delivered a powerful message to the Norris High School student body. Presenting a motivational message about positive life choices, taking responsibility and being accountable, and adopting a winning attitude, the nationally recognized speaker and published author of “Out of the Ashes the Resurrection of an Addict” and “Stop Whining and Start Winning: The Power of Life’s Choices” shared his life experiences and perspective with the youth.
Christiansen immediately engaged the students with some quick centering activities that captured their attention. Each brain teaser had a purpose that connected with the theme of his speech. For example on the importance of deciding, he used an analogy about five birds sitting on a wire. If three decided to fly off, how many would be left on the wire? The answer is all five because all the three birds did was decide; they didn’t do. You want to do in life, not just decide.
Christiansen built on his theme of taking personal responsibility and being accountable with a harrowing and rigorously honest account of the personal heartbreak he endured and inflicted on his family and friends as a result of his addiction, explaining the wreckage left in the wake of poor choices. “I have been up close and personal with addiction, and I am here to tell you that it is nothing but a miserable pit of despair.” Describing the long and painful journey back through recovery, Christiansen urged students to make good choices. He stressed the point that good choices result in good outcomes and that bad choices result in bad outcomes. “Choice is never neutral,” he said.
Much of Christiansen’s comments focused on the theme of character and overcoming adversity. “Challenges don’t build character,” he said. “They reveal it.” Christiansen said, “No one’s life is spared a loss, setback, disappointment or failure. None of those should ever be used to give up or give in.” “Your life is a direct result of the choices you make, who and what you attract, and your thinking,” he went on to say.
Christiansen addressed with pointed criticism the constant need for today’s youth to be entertained and amused. “The purpose of school is not to entertain or amuse you,” he said. “It is for teachers to teach and for students to learn,” he went on to say. Christiansen’s passion for excellence was evident throughout his remarks. He stressed to students to be motivated by excellence in all that they do and to never allow themselves to ever get used to a life of mediocrity.