Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Here is some of my story. The next ten posts will contain these video podcasts, with readings from my memoir, accompanied by a barrage of images from hurricane Katrina and my life at that time. Sit back, and feel what it was like to walk in those squishy, wet shoes....
Sunday, August 26, 2012
Here is the second part of my last post, continuing the history of stigma. Enjoy!
The stigma has been exacerbated through media reports linking drug addiction and crime over the years. In the 30s, the ‘Reefer Madness’ portrayal of marijuana became mainstream, scaring people away from the drugs that were often considered to be parts of lower society. In these various examples, the government often used biases against certain racial profiles to proliferate this stigma of drug uses and abuse. In the 30s, the black population was the target, as marijuana flourished in jazz clubs across the country. Heroin also flourished in this scene, and though many jazz musicians were persecuted for their drug use, the media targeted the marijuana. Later on, as the psychedelic 60s began to take hold, stories arose in the media, demonizing the portrayal of PCP, citing crime sprees as a result of taking this drug. The media campaign did have the intended effect, steering many away from the hallucinogens of the 60s. Again in the 80s, the media reported a vast number of gang-related crimes, attributing them to the users of crack cocaine. It is no secret today that the explosion of crack cocaine affected crime, although the crime was not always on the shoulders of the desperate addict, but instead many of the crack related crimes were on the shoulders of the dealers, and the greed of the industry. Today, the explosion of strange tales in regards to bath salts are viewed by some as simply another media demonization, featuring a lot of stories without the cold hard facts to back them up. Only time will tell if this, too, will only help to further the stigma of drug use.
Often, opiates are stigmatized the most. Heroin is often considered to be the devil’s drug, and those who are addicted to heroin are regarded as a lower rung of society, and many view them with a skewed oral compass. This stigma began in the early 1900s and still carries the flag today. Even in treatment, the intravenous heroin addict is the center of conversations, as other addicts marvel at the depths that this individual would have suffered. So many in recovery also tend to further this stigma with heroin use, listening voraciously to the heroin addict’s tale, simply so they can rest assured that they, too, did not reach these dark places of the IV opiate user.
When methadone was introduced in the 60s, the use of opiates for purposes of treating addiction was still illegal. This era still viewed addiction as a moral weakness, rather than a disease. Dr. Vincent Dole fought hard to spread the theory of addiction as a disease, thus finally convincing the government to approve methadone for the treatment of addiction. In essence, Dr. Vincent Dole was one of the first to fight against this stigma of addiction, fostering the disease model that has become so widely accepted in the addiction field today.
Again, I find an interesting parallel in the recovery world today. The followers of Bill W. also adhere to the disease model of addiction, adamantly fighting to reduce the stigma associated with addiction. Yet, they stand against the use of methadone. But, it turns out that the man, who introduced methadone for treating addiction, also introduced the disease model of addiction into law, at least in regards to the use of methadone. I find it interesting that some, who fight vehemently for the disease model, also fighting against the stigma of addiction, help to add to the stigma surrounding methadone, demonizing its use at some 12-step meetings.
The fact of the matter is that stigma of drug use still exists today, and it proliferates in various circles, some expected and some unexpected. The stigma with addiction and mental health are still hard at work in our society, and we cannot hope to shed this stigma without educating the general population about addiction, and also the various methods for recovery.
Social stigma keeps many from seeking treatment. This is very prevalent among the military. The effects of combat can be devastating sometimes, and many of these men need painkillers or other prescription drugs to treat various psychiatric conditions directly related to their service in the military. But, often times, treating these disorders also means the end of a military career. So, these illnesses go untreated, for fear of the stigma associated with them. And occasionally, these underlying problems explode, such as was the case with the soldier who shot and killed many civilians in two Afghan villages. Sixteen innocent people died, and the father who shot them will probably not be returning home to his family any time soon. The results of this widespread stigma are devastating.
The stigma with drug use often affects the care and treatment the addict receives. A number of insurance companies do not cover treatment for addiction, and treatment is often too expensive to afford without insurance. As a result, many people receive lesser care and treatment. Furthermore, Methadone Maintenance is often viewed with disdain, and many times it is the only affordable option for treatment for the uninsured opiate addict. Yet, they are still bombarded with the stigma rather than commended for their efforts. Research clearly shows that people respond better to positive reinforcement, yet the methadone patients is still given the stigmatized death sentence of the intravenous heroin addict still living under a bridge.
This battle against the stigma of drug addiction is a slow and painful process. Seems to me like the only ones who even bother fighting against the stigma are those in recovery, those of us who still suffer the brunt of it. We need to stand up, telling our stories of recovery. We need to look at the cold, hard facts associated with treatment, especially with the various treatments of opiate addiction. And we need to evaluate those facts, searching for more viable solutions. The fact of the matter is that we DO recover, and the stigma still persists. But, we can speak out, fighting this stigma and thus not only improving our own path to wellness, but also maybe even lighting the way for others to follow.
Monday, August 20, 2012
This is a piece I published on my new website, It's All Junk. Look for the second part tomorrow! Super informative about the history of this stigma in our country...
Dr. Vincent Dole, who died at age 93 in 2006, was considered the “Father of Methadone Maintenance Therapy.” He was one of the original voices for recovery, pioneering Methadone Maintenance Therapy (MMT) in a time when addiction was viewed as a moral character defect. Today, the majority of the population understands the disease model of addiction, viewing addiction as a disease of the brain, and not simply a moral character defect. This shift in view has opened up a lot of doors for addicts, as well improving treatments for addiction. This shift in view has also helped to decrease the stigma associated with addiction, but the disease now battles both the stigmas of addiction and mental illness vehemently. The evolving history of this stigma, especially associated with opiates, runs deep into the history of our country, and it will likely take just as long to make a dent in eradicating it.
In 1914, the United States passed the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, which regulated and taxed the production, importation, and distribution of opiates. This act actually stated, “An act to provide for the registration of, with collectors of internal revenue, and to impose a special tax on all persons who produce, import, manufacture, compound, deal in, dispense, sell, distribute, or give away opium or coca leaves, their salts, derivatives, or preparations, and for other purposes.” The courts interpreted this act to say that physicians could prescribe opiates for normal treatment, but not for the purpose of treating addiction. One of the explanations for this was that opiates could not be prescribed to an addict, simply because addiction was not a disease. Previous to the act, opiates and cocaine derivatives had been legal and unregulated.
Crime had seemingly risen as a result of addiction to these substances, and it was estimated that one in 400 Americans, which was 25% of the population at that time, were addicted to opiates. Many of these opiate addicts were women, who were prescribed these drugs by a legal physician, for “female troubles,” basically pain during menstruation. It is estimated than between 2/3 and ¾ of all the opiate addicts in this time of our history were women. I believe it is not merely a coincidence that the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act was passed at a time when women were fighting for their right to vote. After several Supreme Court cases, the law determined that this act was constitutional, and opiate could not be used for maintenance purposes.
After the Act passed, many newspapers began to run sensational stories about addiction-related crime waves. Congress responded by banning heroin in 1924. The media’s sensationalistic interpretation of addiction played a huge part in establishing a stigma with drug use. This began the demonization of drugs and became the foundation for which the stigma with all drugs and addiction is built on today. We still see this media sensation today, just look at the explosion of bath salts stories after the Miami Cannibal chewed the face off a homeless man, and the rush to ban these drugs. It is this kind of sensationalistic coverage that only helps to boost the stigma of addiction and drugs. In the defense of the media, though, these sensationalist stories are what sell. Readers want the sensationalism, the gore, and also the unknown element that accompany the media’s drug hysteria. We do live in a capitalist society, and although one may find fault with the media’s portrayal of so many issues, I also have to commend them for making a viable business of the news, especially today, as newspapers are dying out and all media is changing dramatically.
The Harrison Narcotics Tax Act led to the incarceration of a number of doctors for prescribing opiates, and as a result under-utilization of opiates began to take hold. Doctors feared prescribing them, and patients feared taking them, fearing that they could become addicted. Often, morphine would not even be prescribed for a terminally ill patient in excruciating pain. In the mind of those in this decade, dying a painful death was much better and dignified that becoming addicted to a medication. Hence, the stigma with drug use blossomed.
Personally, I find it interesting that arresting a number of doctors really changed the ways drugs were prescribed back then. I look at the world I live in today, where media reports have often surfaced lately, in regards to doctors being arrested for prescribing opiates. Now, today, these arrested doctors are generally operating out of a “pill-mill,” or they are blatantly over-prescribing opiates and have several overdose deaths on their hands. And the public also cheers these arrests on, as we are finally tackling the problem. But, are these arrests making a difference in the way doctors prescribe opiates? Are these arrests making a dent in the way pharmaceutical companies advertise for their painkillers? And finally, are the patients in favor of these crackdowns?
We live in a modern, capitalistic society, where making money often trumps everything else. These pain clinics still want to make money, and it is a very profitable industry. The doctors that prescribe these medications in a pain clinic make good money to do so. In our society, that somewhat operates on greed, these seeming risks to run a pain clinic is certainly worth the rewards that will be reaped. The financial gain for the pharmaceutical companies, the doctors, and even the insurance companies can even outweigh the fear of arrest, or any concern for the addictive properties of these medications. I do not think this crackdown on doctors today will make much of the same dent on the prescription of opiates as it did in the past.
William S. Burroughs wrote extensively of the effects of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act in his memoir, Junky. As a heroin addict, Burroughs was most affected by this Act in regards to the law, and he was arrested numerous times under the guises and restrictions brought on through this act. By the time Burroughs was using, the Harrison Act had been in place for nearly 25 years, and the addict was often demonized, forcing him to lurk under the cover of the darkened alleyways avoiding persecution from the police, and later to avoid the persecution of the public as a result of this widespread stigma associated with drug use, and opiate use, in particular. Burroughs said of this stigma, “Our national drug is alcohol. We tend to regard the use of any other drug with horror.”
I think that this statement still rings true today. Alcohol is accepted in our society, and it not only something that is viewed as acceptable, it is almost expected in certain circumstances. Today, the use of marijuana a prescription pills are also widely accepted, and these things do not carry as much of the stigma as it once did. On the other hand, harder drugs still carry the stigma, and the stigma with addiction has remained much the same, even if the addiction is to prescription pills.
Look at the state of Alabama. If a woman tests positive for drugs at the time of her child’s birth, that woman will be arrested shortly after. She likely will end up spending months in jail, attending a rehabilitation program while her young infant is at home, without its mother. Now, if child is born with Fetal-Alcohol Syndrome, or of the mother has alcohol in her system when the child is born, she will suffer no legal ramifications, and certainly will not be arrested. Yet, Fetal-Alcohol Syndrome is much more damaging than any effects from drugs in utero.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Ran into a post from a friend on Facebook, reminding us to think about what we are grateful for. As a person in recovery, and as a person who is happy with her life, I scroll down through the comments, reading them carefully, thinking that for sure I am going to have something to add to this post here.
I mean, I am grateful for a lot. And I know that. I look at where I was precisely seven years ago, fifteen days before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. I look at my son and my husband, and my writing, and I know that I am grateful for it all. I realize now, looking back on it all, that I am grateful for each and every thing that happened because I know now that it all happened for a reason, and all those little reasons are what brought me to where I am today.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know I have a lot to be grateful for, and I am. But, some days…I just feel in a funk. Some days, I just feel depressed. I guess we all do. Today was one of those days. Hell, today still is one of those days, as it is only lunchtime. And that is where I am today. I am not here, most days. Most days, I am not so pessimistic and dark, and also just so blank on the outside, yet roaring on the inside. And I guess the only way I really know how to sort it out is to write. And I hope that some of you will share in this journey with me this morning, in hopes that some of your out there who walk in a similar pair of shoes will get this. I am going to even put a little shout out to two of you inspired this post in one way or another, Drenda and Todd.
Drenda, because you posted the grateful comment that finally made me sit down at my computer and start to write. Thank you, Drenda, for being my muse today.
Todd, I know you will relate to this post, this feeling I am about to take you all through. I hope that this message can reach those out there that have struggled with our own demons, too. We are not alone, as we both know today. But, I hope this message meets those people out there, like we both once were. You are in inspiration, Todd. You are making it all happen for yourself, and I know how good that feels. Thank you for the inspiration on this post.
So, here I sit, looking at this post, asking me to list something I am grateful for. And my mind seems to stall for a moment, at just blank. I think back to this week, this month, this fucking morning, in fact. And it has been a fucking bitch lately. And this morning, it all came tumbling down. It all came tumbling down, and the tears came tumbling out, spilling out all over my cheeks, all over my kitchen floor, and all over my dear husband.
Seems this dark cloud has been growing, slowly it seemed at first. The dark cloud began swirling, and spinning and swelling, it seemed to be following me around, This darkened, dampened whisper in the back of my head. This dark cloud in the sky, swirling. Something from within, and something from without.
And I am still pretty good at avoidance. I guess it one of those old leftover habits, one that I practiced almost daily in my active addiction. Something in the back of my mind still tells me that if I can avoid it, for just a little bit longer, maybe it will just go away.
For so many years, I avoided everything. When something would rise in the pit of my stomach, some piece of guilt or some piece of anger, frustration, whatever it be…I became really good at putting it on a shelf. I became really good at pushing all these thoughts out of my head, thus avoiding all the responsibilities of life and also the truth of my addiction. Avoidance is still a tactic of mine today.
Put it up on a shelf, and deal with it later. Unlike the old days, when I put on the shelf I had another drink, maybe another shot of dope or line of coke, and I just went on with my life living in and out of a blur in various cities, today I am at least doing something productive with my time. I have a million things on my plate right now, and all the sudden it seems that everything is catching up to me, and everything I have been avoiding is staring me right in the face. And thus, the dark clouds swirls more in my head.
Driving down the curvy roads in Texas, with my music blasting in the car when I am alone, it seems even the white, fluffy clouds against the blue summer sky are becoming dark and harrowing. It seems, sometimes, that my perception is narrowing, overwhelmed at all the things ahead of me. Overwhelmed, at the realization that I am lost.
And I look back at this Facebook, post, as I stare blankly at the comment block, trying to go over in my head something that I am thankful for, something profound, something deep, cause I know that I am thankful for a lot. But, my mind just keeps coming up with all the shitty stuff.
I see the food stamp office, and the local Workforce office. I am in out and out of government buildings. Once again. And don’t get me wrong…I have done this all before. When I first got back on my feet again, graduating from college, and taking a job…I was still on government assistance. When my son was first born, I was unemployed, and I was always standing lines.
But, over these years of sobriety, of being a mother, and of finishing my education, I was really proud to be able to get off government assistance, save for my son’s Medicaid, as I definitely cannot afford insurance. It was a big milestone, in a lot of ways. And so, here I sit, back in these government offices, with the dark cloud growing over my head.
The lease on my car ran up. I had planned on buying it, and I really thought I was going to be able to swing it. But, things happen, and things change, and that is all a part of life. Yeah, yeah, yea, we all know that. But, that knowledge does not always stop that dark cloud from beginning to swirl again. And suddenly, it seems all my hopes and dreams are shattered.
Of course, maybe I am a bit of a drama queen about it all sometimes, but I think that is what can happen when the swirling dark clouds surround us once more. But, it seems like one thing keeps falling, after another, after another. Feels like the water is beginning to inch up to my ankles again, even in this dry, dry end of the summer heat in in Texas.
The date slips up, closer and closer, and I think about how many times the dark clouds swirling around me those days. Some times I wonder if it was these days that began the dark clouds in my mind. And many other times, I think the clouds were always swirling, but I was just too fucked up to realize it.
Looking at the grateful list, and all the religious quotations, and recovery thoughts, and beautiful things in this world, I couldn’t help to only think of dark. I think that is just how it is for me sometimes. I look at the grateful list and say fuck it, while I retreat to my darkened bedroom, where the clouds seem to swirl faster and faster. And I just want to go back to sleep.
I just want to go back to sleep. I just want to let it all ride, leave it all alone, and I just want to go back to sleep. I would by lying to say that I never imagined not waking up. Although…I guess I am grateful that these dark days do not dare dance around my life today.
Still, the rage inside of me. The depression. The overwhelming feeling of nothingness. I know that sounds ludacris to some out there, and really it is rather of an oxymoronic term, but you would know what I am talking about there, if you have ever been there.
That overwhelming feeling of nothingness. I sit, sometimes, watching my life around me, with a blank face, and a blank feeling for it all, like an onlooker, like a nobody, but inside all the thoughts are swelling and swirling, and running all around. But, it is all inside of me, a million jumbled ideas, thoughts and feelings, as I try desperately to put it all together, and all I get is blank. And nothing comes up anymore. Just that overwhelming feeling of blankness that leaves me watching my life like a television episode, happening right in front of me. Much like, the view I once got from dope.
The swirling clouds, spinning above, as I retreat to nothingness. Overwhelming nothingness. Especially when we want there to be something so desperately. But, we put it up on a shelf. I guess I am also thankful that I know something’s should never go on a shelf.
I have lost a lot of people, a lot of things, a lot of respect and trust, over the years. Even more so with my openness about my addiction. (Once again, I said ‘Fuck it.’) But, one thing I have realized is that I will never lose those people again.
I am thankful for that realization. And even more grateful for the wonderful people I have in my life today. And I know that in time, the swirling clouds will fade once more, and those people will be the ones that are still there.
Maybe, I am even grateful that the clouds do swirl. Forcing me to look at the darkness that is inside of me, and then learn to attempt to embrace the light. Sometimes, I still want to be dark, but now, I hope to walk in the way of the light. Maybe I am thankful that the dark clouds swirl, forcing me to take a look back at the insides once more, thus no longer using the avoidance tactics of my past.
And I am also grateful that I can allow myself to have a day to say ‘Fuck it,’ and look at the world with angry eyes. I am grateful that today, I can allow myself to wallow in the mire of it all…and that I can move on the very next day, often times even that afternoon. Sometimes, I just need a little time to stew. It is all about how I handle it. That is what it is all really about anyway, making decisions.
I am grateful that I make decisions today, and that I no longer simply ride by the tails of my addiction, or even the chaos surrounding me. I am so, so thankful that I no longer live in a life surrounded by chaos. And I chose that. I made the decisions to be exactly where I am today.
Are there things I would change? Well, hell yeah. At the present moment, I would like to be gainfully employed. And I would like to have bought my car. Hell yeah, I would like to not be facing these dark swirling clouds of one of life’s curve balls.
But, I look back, at all the places I have been, and all the things I have done, realizing that each and every detail put me in Texas today. Each and every tiny thing that happened, shaped my life in some way, and the trajectory of it all is the only way I would have ever come into my husband’s arms again. All those tiny details ingrained my path in the writer’s life, leading me to tell the stories of my addiction. And now, I also tell the stories of my recovery. I see all that, clear as a bell. And, in my head, I know everything happens for a reason, as I pick back through all the devastation in my past.
Still, I cannot help but wondering why sometimes, as I scramble to lift these dark clouds from my sky. I know this is not the end, my beautiful friend. Even though it feels that way sometimes.
And I am also so grateful for the ability to write. Through that, I always see the clouds lifting, and the sun can be seen, even if it is far on the horizon. Through my writing, I am always able to sort out the details, figuring out how to look for the signs. I am grateful that people read my words today, and grateful to have a venue, my mind, and my muses. And I am also grateful that my words may reach some of you, while you find yourself saying, “Yeah, me, too!”
So, I guess I really do have a lot to be grateful for, even on the days that I say, “Fuck the World.”
Avoidance is one of the old addict qualities I tend to carry over to today. When I do not want to deal with something, I tend to put it off, going numb a little more about it each day, until I am finally ready to deal with it. Seems like today, when I finally come to deal with what I have been avoiding, it is really much easier than I had previously imagined.
Today, for instance, I finally to decided to clean out my car, getting it ready to be turned back into the dealership. I have been avoiding dealing with it because I had hoped to be able to buy the car once the two-year-lease my parents gave me for my college graduation was over, but things did not work out that way. I have been avoiding dealing with all the old feelings of failure, as I tried desperately to avoid sorting them out.
My heart was heavy as I headed out to get the vehicle ready for inspection, with my headphones plugged into my ears. It is amazing how music touches us in our lives, speaking right to that very minute we are living in, guiding us to the answers we seek. Regret filled my heart, as I took all my possessions out of this much beloved vehicle. And a familiar guitar string echoed in my headphones, bringing me back to the last time I used this song in a podcast. Alkaline Trio’s Fine.
I love Alkaline Trio. Maybe I am getting softer in my old age, but it seems to me that Matt Skiba and I walk in very similar shoes. Each song speaks to me, singing softly of some strange part of my past, present, or even future. And it is always changing. “Fine” came acoustically drifting out of my iPod, reminding me of this song I have always loved. And much like good music often does, “Fine” spoke to me in a totally different light today…and it was just the light I needed to see the signs.
I used this song as an intro to a podcast done last spring, softly dancing with photos and videos from leaving New Orleans, in the beginning of a storm, clean and sober, six years after Hurricane Katrina saved my life. In the spring, “Fine” reminded me of my mindset in those first two years following the storm, constantly reminding myself that I was Fine, although I had lost my superpowers. And at the time, I really was not Fine, as I struggled with sobriety.
Hurricane Katrina stripped me of my heroin habit, leaving me in this devoid blank for a number of years, refusing to see that maybe I really was not Fine. For a few years, I struggled with my recovery. I struggled with my life, and it seemed to be spinning much faster than I could even imagine, one decision stacked upon another until they all seemed to come snowballing into a vast life change. For two years, I tried to drink my problems away, and I convinced myself that everything around me was Fine. Everything inside me was Fine, and I could finally sleep again at night. Sometimes.
I used this song for the intro of a podcast, depicted my departure from New Orleans, years later, just before I begin to narrate about returning to the scene of the crime in my recovery. It once reminded me of being lost, but today the song spoke differently to me. Letting me know, that this time…I really am Fine. Maybe for the first time ever, I realize I really am Fine.
Tears streamed down my face, as I packed up a disappointed part of my life. But, my disappointments are different today, because today I try to do everything that I can in most situations. I recently lost my job, and I realize that I did the best I could possibly do, and the loss was not because I did not put my best into it…but simply because it is what it is.
In recovery, we learn to accept the things we cannot change, and this was just one of those things that I could not change. I press on with my own projects, stuttering and stammering along the way, as some of my dreams seem to be slipping back down the toilet again. But, this time, I realize that I must accept these things I cannot change, and I am thankful to have a wonderful husband in my life, that is also in recovery, that helps me make decisions with a clear head, and with complete acceptance of the situation. I am thankful to be able to make my own decisions, weighing in all the options and choices, rather than merely a rash reaction to some trigger.
I am often one who does not really like acceptance. But in my recovery, I am learning to accept. I usually avoid before I will begin to look at acceptance. I guess we all have things we constantly work at; things of the addict brain that still rule us today. And avoidance is my tactic to defer acceptance of the truth. It gets easier over time, though. Acceptance comes faster and easier, while the avoidance becomes fewer and farther between.
Today, I try to everything in my power to make all the positive choices I need to make to create the best life for my family. Today, I work hard to bring something to the table, and I work hard to keep my plans moving forward. And when it does not work out, I realize I did everything I could, so must accept it exactly as it is. Even though that acceptance is sometimes tough.
Which brings me back to the car. I had planned to buy it. I really wanted to buy it, and I also know that is what my parents had also hoped for. But, as I cleaned it out, with this heavy regret in my heart, I realized that I simply am not in the position to buy it right now. And that is the best decision I could make. And after all, my parents just want me to make the best decisions that I can, right? And after five years clean, I am simply trying to make better decisions along the way. And trying to accept it all, just the way it is. Finding the way to sift through the mire, being appreciate and grateful for what I do have, while gaining the strength and insight to press on.
Sure, I could have chosen to go work at a bank instead of taking this wonderful and random opportunity that was offered to me. Sure, I could have started packing money away, working a 9 to 5 before I graduated, and never taken this chance with my writing. But, I did not. And I do not regret that one single bit.
Granted, I am getting rid of my car, and I have spent the last week standing in government-issue lines, I am also thankful to have been given the chance to follow my dream of writing. I am so thankful to have built up a small following of readers, and I am not ready to give up on all that just yet. I am thankful that my writing has the power to help others who have been touched by addiction, and I know today my word really means something, because today I really am Fine.
I have faith that if I do everything I can, I will be able to accept whatever comes of it all. And as I wiped the tears from my eyes, while I striped this vehicle down of everything that belongs to me, stripping down the memories and cataloguing them in my brain, as I realized that an era has passed, and suddenly things are completely different. And completely better.
Click here to listen to Alkaline Trio's "Fine."