Friday, September 30, 2016

Funny...But Not

Lost in the crushing weight of personal distress this week was a bit of sunshine and optimism, courtesy of my friends that were present at Binghamton City Council a few afternoons ago as the latest series of recovering addicts graduated Drug Court. It's hard to remember now, but when the City of Binghamton first implemented Drug Court about a decade ago, there were many voices that were vociferously opposed to it, believing that it was somehow a condoning of drug use and allowed those that committed drug-related crimes to escape the consequences of their misdeeds. Drug Court has been a qualified success over the time it's been here,-it's done a lot of good, but it could be so much better than it is, but that's a whole other post sometime--and those sort of Neanderthal voices are rarely heard anymore. However, one of those voices belongs to the current county executive, and thus it was supremely ironic that she was present at the Drug Court graduation this week.
Being an election year, of course she stepped up to the microphone. But it was clear that her heart was not in it, and that she was talking about something that she doesn't really believe in, because she stammered her way through a short speech full of malaprops. Or maybe she was just itching to get started on Happy Hour; it was mid-afternoon, an hour that is often Miller Time on the sixth floor of the county office building...anyway, she stumbled into instant Internet immortality by proclaiming that "there is no I in addiction." Everyone there kind of was stunned at first; then heads turned asking their neighbors "Did she just say that?", and then finally there was a bit of sniggering and muffled laughter. The audience there was not Preston's sort of crowd, anyway; in her mind, most of those there are miscreants that should be wearing orange uniforms instead of getting a new lease on life through a rehabilitation program.
But aside from the silliness of the misstatement--I truly believe Preston is a moron, but even I am willing to stipulate that she knows how to spell at least a few three-syllable words--those that heard the statement were left wonder what in the hell she was actually trying to say. I understand that this is an election year, and the political animals are going to say all sorts of stuff that they wouldn't be caught dead saying during the rest of their term pandering for votes. But Preston really isn't going to be so brazen as to claim some sort of tangential credit for people graduating Drug Court, is she? If recovery from addiction is a "team effort," well--teams generally battle opponents, and her only connection to any Drug Court "team" has been as an obstacle to be overcome. Debbie Preston, and her minions, don't give a shit about Drug Court or the people that are a part of it; this has been clearly and amply demonstrated over the four-plus years she has been in office. And it is frankly offensive to those of us that are deeply involved in combatting addiction that this toad is trying to cash in on the success of a program that benefits a class of people that she has done everything in her considerable power to marginalize, humiliate, and bury.
Drug Court is not a county program. She had no legitimate purpose being there to begin with, and her wooden, stammering performance was a skunk sighting in the middle of an otherwise inspirational event. I have grown to loathe this woman like I have loathed few people in my life, because on top of being incompetent, she is repellant as a person, as well. I gleefully circulated the meme that was created within an hour of her performance, making fun of the misstatement.
But on a serious note, there are two I's in "addiction." And there are two I's in "idiot" and "imbecile", as well. Preston must go. Vote for Garnar on Election Day this year.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

This One REALLY Hurts

I've almost grown numb to the words "died unexpectedly" in the obituary notices, because at least three quarters of the time, it refers to a death by overdose. Almost. But I was not numb when I saw the notice today announcing the death, calling hours, and funeral of my friend Mark.
Mark is--was, I guess I should say--a few years older than me. I don't remember if it was his first time in recovery when it was my first time in recovery, but we were very close during the summer and fall of 1999. We went to the same meetings, we went out to eat together after some of them, we chased a lot of the same women, and we talked a lot about our children and how much we missed them and how much we wanted and needed to be a part of their lives. And I will never forget the stabbing pain I felt on an early December morning when I went to the post office to get the mail for my dad's business--and saw Mark and a woman that had also been clean all year standing around on Henry Street, with dejected looks on their faces and unable to look me in the eye. I knew without being told what had happened--but I asked anyway, and only got a shrug in response. I was absolutely devastated.
Non-addicts don't understand this, and experienced addicts have grown more jaded and world-weary, so that a relapse of someone I know doesn't cut me as deeply as perhaps it should. But there is, for the person who gets clean and then starts working a program and becoming a part of the fellowship, a peer group, a bunch of running partners, people that you grow close to because you see them all the time (and in some cases, you used to get high with them, too, before getting clean). You get to know each other inside out, what's bravado for the ears of the rooms and what's real in the conversations in the night after the meetings are over. You come to share the elation when things go right, the pain when it doesn't, the anger when there is a convenient target, the determination to move forward anyway. We are all in recovery together, and we all benefit from each other's experience, strength, and hope.
But we really feed off, draw sustenance from, our peers, the ones whose clean date is within days or weeks of yours, who are going through what you are going through at the same time. Mark was a tall African-American that didn't say a lot, and I was (and am) a not-tall Italian that rarely shut up and that was angry at the world--but we found enough common ground so that we were comfortable in each other's company. He wasn't the only person I drew close to that year, but he was definitely one of the closer ones, and when you draw close to someone in those circumstances, they come to matter a great deal to you. It's like making friends at a new school or in the army; you feel like you've known them all your life.
And then one of you relapses. And it's like a broken promise, a breach of trust, a heinous offense against your very being. Aw, man, how could you? Why didn't you call me? Why you didn't you call someone? Once in a great while, if it's a one-day or a weekend relapse, there is no real lasting damage to the friendship. But more often, a bit of a wall goes up, in spite of our best intentions. You wonder if the other person is going to stick around, or if they're going to go back out. You become reluctant to trust them with significant information. If you're working steps, you become acutely aware of the limitations of the other person's program, and identify less and less with them. And that's assuming that the relapser comes back to the fellowship relatively quickly... Perhaps it isn't right. But it is human nature to do so. The person that relapses is always welcomed back--but the trust and the camaraderie take a lot longer to rebuild. In a sense, it's like cheating in a relationship. You don't lose your affection for the other person--but something is lost nonetheless, often irretrievably.
And Mark didn't come right back; my memory is that it was a couple of years before I saw him again. He came back and left several more times over the years, and although we certainly talked, we were never close again. He had a habit of getting to one or even two years clean and then departing again, and by the end, it was almost anticlimactic to see him in the rooms, because in spite of ourselves, everyone was wondering when it was going to come this time. And I knew he was pained by it--he told me he was, and that while he understood the general feeling, and in our case, understood why we really weren't going to be close again, he didn't like it much.
He struggled with his kids' mom, and felt badly about his absences from his children's lives. That's not unusual; even those of us that put together very long stretches of clean time struggle with the same issues. But he let the feelings that got aroused carry him out the door more than once, and he also was clueless about how to maintain a healthy relationship--he was with a pretty decent woman for a while a few years ago, before it all went south and both of them eventually used again. She came back, and is around now. He really didn't, unless he was going to AA, and I doubt that because in the past he was very cognizant of the tendency of AA in this area to be monochromatic and of certain AA members in this area's  open racism, and didn't feel comfortable.
I remember him telling me many years ago that although we shared a drug of choice, one difference between us was that he would do other drugs if they were more readily available. I am assuming that is why he met the end he did. And what is bothering me the most about this "unexpected death" is that one of the last people to see him alive, it appears, was me. I was coming home from going to the bank on Friday, and I was on Seminary crossing Chestnut--and there he was walking up Chestnut. I didn't continue on Seminary, but pulled over on Chestnut and spoke, briefly, with him. He said he was "all right," and that he would be coming back to the rooms soon.
And sometime later that day, he died.
It has not been a confirmed overdose death. But given his history, and given the way the notice was worded, I am going to be surprised if it wasn't. But even if it wasn't, Mark died from the disease of addiction nonetheless. All those ravages of years spent in the service of the drug take their toll; American males are not supposed to die at 57. And even if it wasn't a death as a result of an overdose--he's still dead.
And another piece of my soul is gone. Not as much of one as it would have been in December 1999, but it wasn't a tiny piece, either. The first year clean is critical in any addict's recovery, and Mark was a significant part of my getting through that year. And as much as I know that everyone is responsible for the choices they make, there's a part of me that wonders if I didn't do enough for him back then and in subsequent years. And I feel that final meeting even more keenly--should I have been able to tell? Did I drive away too casually? Was there something that I could  have said or done to keep him from his appointed rounds? Did seeing me trigger some feelings in him that somehow contributed to what went down?  I know these questions are useless at best and completely wrong-headed at worst--but I think them anyway, because.. well, because I don't want anyone die, but especially those that were my friends, close friends at times.
There's an old saying that in wartime, one ceases to look every time one hears a rifle shot. But this one went off in my ear... I hate this epidemic, I hate drugs, I hate this disease, I hate all over again the sordid facts of addicts being deemed expendable by the larger society and those in government.
Mark wasn't expendable. Mark was a father, a brother, a son--and a friend to many, and to me at a period of my life when I most needed them. I hope I remained one to him, and that seeing me was one of the highlights of what unfortunately turned out to be his last day on earth.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Bitter End

In every Narcotics Anonymous meeting, those attending are reminded twice in the first few minutes of what the ultimate destination of the using addict is, if we do not somehow stop using and stay stopped. Two of the readings feature the phrase "jails, institutions, and death." It is inevitable; no one gets to go on forever in the desolate limbo of active addiction. Having traversed that no man's land myself, I not only refuse to sit in judgment on those that are still trapped there, but know that it is not a moral issue, that it is not a willpower issue, that it's not a desire issue, that it's not even a medical issue. The human mind is a wondrous thing, capable of astonishing ingenuity, incredible reservoirs of compassion and empathy--but also capable of harboring chimeras and demons that are far worse than the most macabre fantasies of soul-sucking succubi science fiction has ever imagined. The mind of an active addict, when they are strung out and degrading themselves all day every day, with hope for the future extinguished, is the most empty, horrible condition that human beings can experience, and it is next to impossible to convey the sense of how awful a state it really is to someone that has not gone through it themselves.
I have. And when someone that matters to you is going through it, it is like taking blows from a baseball bat to your rib cage seven or eight times a day. I've been pretty open the last couple of months about my struggling to come to terms with the descent back into addiction of my ex--how to be useful without being enabling, how to stay supportive without exposing myself to danger, how to keep from dousing what little embers of hope might still be alive by reacting emotionally when provoked, how to keep my distance when basic human decency is screaming that active intervention is necessary. The only other time in my life that I have had this close a seat to the active addiction of someone that I had a deep emotional connection to, I was not clean--and I ended up sliding into the abyss myself.
I did not this time. It wasn't a real close call, at any time, and for that, I am unimaginably grateful. I have learned over the years that feelings, however difficult to walk through, will pass; I have learned that life is complex and multi-faceted, and no one circumstance should dictate a crossing of a personal Rubicon. I am beyond grateful that as emotionally invested as I am, it is not on the same level as it was months ago, that detachment was in place and that I could maintain rationality in the face of the most intense yanking on the heartstrings possible.
And as sad as I am about one of the three outcomes coming to pass two days ago, I am grateful, too. Death, at least for the moment, is off the table. I would have preferred that institutions been given a chance to help, but it was not my choice to make, and the person has been in institutions twice in the last month--and heeded the call of the addiction and left them, knowing that this outcome was likely. I had my own moments like that at the end of my active addiction; four times in the last three weeks I was out there, I had a bed waiting for me at the Addictions Crisis Center, and four times I did not show up. I firmly believe that if I had showed up one of those times, if I had taken the bed, my story would include relapse, probably more than one. There are no coincidences. My belief, developed over years of developing a conscious contact with a God of my understanding, is that knowledge of what God wants for us is always available--and that if we repeatedly ignore the more subtle hints and then the pushier indications, eventually the direction He would like for us to go in is applied with a sledgehammer, in a way that even the most stubborn and the most dense of us cannot possibly miss or misinterpret.
At the time I was not showing up at the ACC, I wasn't done yet. It took jail, and a long time in institutions after jail, for me to be done. It takes what it takes, and whatever point is necessary to surrender is different for each individual addict. My ex has already endured far more misery and pain because of addiction than I think I ever could have, and I honestly do not know whether this is going to be The Time--I suspect she does not, either. I do know that she will have plenty of time to figure it out; she will not be at liberty for at least five months, and quite possibly for up to eighteen months.
And I know at least one thing is going to be different for her this time in her latest journey through the penal system than it has in the past. I did have a part in this; although my motives were good, and it was reasonable to believe that what I was doing would prove to be helpful--in the end, I served as a pillow, a way to make consequences less than they could have been. We are not a couple now like we were then, and my level of involvement now is going to be very, very low. I have done the major part of what I am going to do already; her material possessions are stored safely away, so that when she is through paying her legal consequences, she will not have to start from scratch like she has the last few times she has been in this situation. But there will be no daily phone contact, no regular visitation, no daily letters. We don't have it like that anymore.
But more importantly, I am a firm believer, based on my own and many others' experience, that the only--the only--motivating factor in people making the decision to make necessary, healthy choices for themselves is pain. When the pain of not changing becomes greater than the fear of the unknown--and the idea of all changes falls under "fear of the unknown;" no one knows beyond doubt what results a departure from established routine and patterns will bring, and our imaginations conjure up all sorts of possibilities that usually justify inaction-- then, and only then, is changing undertaken. For many people, spending twenty-one of the last thirty-eight months in jails and prisons (and two more in a rehab), and six of the other fifteen in active addiction would be enough to effect a desire to change. For others, the pain has not been great enough. Maybe another five to eighteen months incarcerated will finally tip the scales. I don't know; I fervently hope that it does.
But this is the point where our stories are going to substantially diverge. I am not wrapped up in her any longer; we have apart for months now. Do I care about her? Of course. She will always have a part of my heart; I will never not care about her, and I don't feel like I have to justify that feeling. But I have detached. I did not want to see her die, and I was truly hoping that she would take advantage of the opportunities she had to arrest the downward slide she's been in recently that did not involve incarceration. That hope proved vain, but she is still alive, and as long as an addict, any addict, is drawing breath, change is still possible. And I pray every day that it will come to pass.
But I pray to God. I am not God, and I can't make it happen. Intellectually, I've known this for a long time, but in my heart I see I was trying to help the change along for a long time. I'm not there anymore. I reached my own bitter end a long time ago, and I have no desire to stamp my passport back there, for any reason, for anybody.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


While the title of the latest Jefferson Bass whodunit, The Breaking Point, seems like it might an apt description of some aspects of my own life recently, it is in reality another installment in the Body Farm series. A forensic anthropologist noted for his research on corpses is called in to assist the FBI to figure out what happened in a plane crash in San Diego, and quickly gets ass-deep in a bunch of things that don't make sense... I'm a little tired of the Body Farm series, and this book is a microcosm of why. One, way too much is going on here at once; it's hard to keep track of the plot. Two, the villain is obvious from halfway through the book; when every main character but one seems to be an asshole, then paradoxically the exception is the guilty party. Three, some plot twists are left completely unresolved; much of the middle third of the book is taken up by a witch hunt undertaken at the hero's home, and we never do find out what the ultimate outcome was. Four, the ending is simply completely implausible, straight out of the original Batman TV show. A guy clever enough to set up the deception that fueled the plot is going to spend ten minutes bragging of how he did it before dispatching two impediments? Please. And five, I've  become unfortunately knowledgeable about visitation procedures in jails, and one of the sub-plots revolves around something that absolutely, positively would never happen, even if law enforcement was one of the parties.
It's time for Body Farm series to be retired.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Sleep Is A Wonderful Thing

I'm still groggy, about 30 minutes after I actually got out of bed. But I am rested, after a good night's sleep/crashing. I honestly do not know how healthy my sleep patterns are, but I do know I've adjusted to a routine that allows me to live some semblance of a normal life. It makes Sunday the pivot day, one where I am running on fumes for most of the actual day, and one where once I lay down on Sunday night, it's over until the morning.
I set my alarm for 6 AM on the days off I have, but I don't always get up. Today was one of those days; I was no more capable of getting up at 6 AM than I would have been of running a marathon at 10 PM last night. I dragged myself up at 7:50 because I had to call the state health insurance exchange today, and if you don't do that right at 8 AM, you will spend a good portion of your day on hold. But that task is now and done over with, and I am going to make do with the nearly nine hours of crash time I had last night.
The main thing that worries me about what has become normal practice is that the world could come to an end after midnight, and I would absolutely not be aware of it. I am out between 10 or 10:30 PM and 6 AM every Sunday/Monday. This is not unusual for a teenager, but for someone in his fifties, it is; older people tend to sleep lightly, and to need less sleep than younger people. And I've never been one that needed a lot of sleep anyway; the only times I have ever slept deeply for more than a few hours in my past where when I drank heavily or had been up a run for several days beforehand. So this is something new for me.
I've always been blessed with an ability to sleep. The only issue I've ever had was that I am caffeine sensitive; I try not to drink caffeinated drinks after 6 PM if I intend on sleeping before 2 AM, which means if you see me with a coffee at an evening meeting, I am working that night. But even in times of intense stress and worry, I do not have issues falling asleep. The manifestation of the stress I am feeling comes when I wake up after two or three hours and can't get back to sleep. It's actually turned out to be a benefit; working nights, I can function half the week after sleeping for two to three hours after getting home from work. I couldn't do it for seven days, but I can do it for three.
And my older-than-I-want-to-be self does not handle long periods of sleep well, paradoxically. I feel very stiff and sore this morning. It's getting better the longer I am up, and one good thing about being somewhat physically active the past few months has been that my body doesn't get wiped out  by something as mundane as playing softball for an hour like it did in early August. But my body is never going to be in the shape it was thirty years ago again, and my back gets stiff and my right side gets sore from laying on it for hours and my neck doesn't like it when my head is angled in a certain position on the pillows. As problems go, they are small, but they are also real.
But the good thing is that I can function as a normal human being for the next three days, going to sleep at night and being active all day. I suppose it is worth the cryogenic freeze of being dead to the world one night a week. And hopefully it will change soon; I finally interviewed for the position in the other program I applied for weeks ago last week. I've learned that one can never tell, but the general vibe and impression I got from the interview was pretty good. We will see what happens.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

White-Knucking Sanity in a Crazy Time

There is almost no way to describe the last 24 hours. Virtually every societal problem that we have been dealing with in this area, already declining like Gomorrah when the fires started, reared its ugly head at some point today. I half-expect that if I open the curtains by my desk here at work, I will see Mad Max and the rest of the freaks from the first Road Warrior movies screaming down Main Street. And while I am personally managing to stay afloat in a world where the waves are only getting rougher, there is only so long one can hold out in such choppy waters. As my current sponsor is fond of saying, "This, too, shall pass". But the knowledge that hurricanes and blizzards don't last forever is small comfort in the middle of them, and doesn't make the danger any less if one is exposed to it while it is raging.
I guess we can start with what has become the distressing norm around here. There were at least four more opiate overdose deaths this week, and at least two close calls in which Narcan had to be administered. Those are the ones I know about; there may well be more to report. This brings the overdose death toll to at least 65 in this county this year, and the increasingly widespread use of Narcan has saved, in all probability, at least twice that many people from dying, too. The numbers are absolutely staggering, with the rate of mortality increasing as time passes; it has become clear that unusally potent heroin, cut with fentanyl and/or large animal sedatives, has been inundating the area since early June. We are probably going to reach 100 deaths this year, which for a county with less than two hundred thousand people, is an insanely high number. If there is a positive to this, it is that the county executive's race could easily be decided by it; even the most obtuse redneck residing in the more primitive areas of back woods between Whitney Point and Harpursville is aware of how bad the problem is, and that the current county executive, however her campaign ads try to spin the matter, was saying as recently as the end of July that the true number of deaths from overdose was barely in double digits. Anyone wanting the problem to be addressed knows, whatever their politics on other issues, that Preston must go.
An adjunct to the rising death rate of overdoses has been a perception that violent crime is rising in the area. And at least in recent months, it certainly has. Today's news cycle was dominated by a shooting in a suburb of Endicott, and then an armed standoff in a house in that suburb (a neighborhood I remember well; a girl I was very hot for in the ninth grade lived on the same block, and I spent a few nights at the home of guy friends I had made that lived in that development). I believe that the standoff is over now, but one telling aspect of the areas's decline is that our local media, television and print both, are run with skeletal staffs and news that happens on the weekend barely gets covered. What little I know of the situation, I learned from my friends' posts on Facebook ( a function I performed for many of my friends a couple of weeks ago when a murder took place in Binghamton on one of my days off). I don't know how many shootings this makes for the year, but it sure seems like there are two or three a month now. It used to be a bad year when there were more than a couple.
As most of you that read this blog know by now, I am a recovering drug addict with nearly 18 years clean. One of the reason I have gotten the amount of clean time that I have is that I have taken seriously that those that have found recovery are obligated to give back to the fellowship that made it possible to recover, by carrying a message in institutions where people cannot freely attend meetings on their own. I was asked a few weeks ago by one of my close friends to share at the crisis center tonight. Earlier in the week, when Somebody was admitted to the crisis center, we had agreed that if she was still there today, he would share and I would run the meeting... As it turned out, she was not there (more on that in a bit), so I spoke. And the place was full; I knew many of them from previous tries at recovery. It is the one business that is booming around here. I shared much of what I experienced in the first year of recovery and some of what has come afterward, and I know I made an impression, a good one.
But the fact is, most of those people in there are not going to hear it and magically be transformed into the vanguard of the next decade's message carriers. The stresses and problems of everyday life, and more particularly of these lives, have proved overwhelming in the past. And now, with the added burdens of history of failure to stay clean and fear of consequences added to the mix,... well, of the 15 or so people there, maybe two will be clean a year from now. That's the nature of the beast. I already knew this, and it doesn't really bother me like it used to. Except that in today's climate, with the patterns of drug use that are prevalent, the odds that one or two of those people in there tonight are going to be dead this time next year are just as high. And that does bother and depress me, a great deal.
Because part of my experience was that I was addicted to the deadliest drug out there at the time I was in active addiction. I could not imagine that anything could be worse than crack addiction. One of the very few things I remember from rehab was a doctor saying that there were old drunks, old heroin users, old pot smokers, old acid droppers, even old angel dust users--but there were no old crackheads, because of the toll the drug and its usage patterns inflicted. You either got locked up,. died, or reached a true bottom relatively quickly. And that was my experience; as horrid as my addiction got at the end, I actually only smoked crack for less than two years. And in that time, I had suffered enough so that I was done. Once it was put down for me, I never picked it up again, mainly because I was intensely aware that only death and despair lay down the road of a relapse. Every other person I know that has stayed clean without relapsing for a long period of time--there are not many of us, but there are a few--shared my drug of choice.
And one of the things I find puzzling about today's heroin epidemic is that the suffering quotient of users seems to be much greater than it was when I was using. Granted, today's using population is quite a bit younger than the addict population of my day, and for a long time I missed the obvious reason why this was. One of the things that made active addiction so devastating to me was that I lost a lot--but that meant that I had, in my mid-30's, accumulated a lot to lose. It was true for a long time that the average age when people got clean to stay was around 35--because you had lost enough for the pain to be excruciating, but it was possible still to come back from it, and usually the physical baggage wasn't so great as to materially affect the quality of life.
But it didn't dawn on me until recently that one reason that the heroin epidemic has hit the young so hard is that the young have very little to lose. When I was in high school and college, a bright future for those that were willing to work toward it was still possible, even likely. That is largely absent in today's world--even the brilliant and the motivated have poor-to-shitty prospects for affluence and meaningful vocations as adults.
And if there is something that defines the using addict, it is a sense of hopelessness and despair that blankets the mind and spirit like smog. I now firmly believe that the reason the young are becoming addicted today is that there is no real reason not to get high early and often in their lives, because there is no real reason to be hopeful about the future. If life is dreary and devoid of hope from the time you really become aware of the larger world, starting about the fifth grade, then why not get fucked up? And why not go to the top of the drug food chain quickly? This is the dirty little secret of the battle to gain increased services for addicts--it's not going to make a difference in the long run if we as a society don't give the young a better opportunity to make a honest living and to find fulfillment as young adults. In our area, Preston's refusal to acknowledge the scope of the addiction problem is infuriating--but the bigger reason she needs to be removed from office is that she is clueless about economic recovery strategy. She has nothing to offer but two proven loser strategies--tax breaks and privatization. These ideas are two key elements of trickle-down economics, and trickle-down economics is what has been the ruination of America as a nation for 35 years. Anything would be better than four more minutes, much less years, of a failed mindset.
But for some of the  young, any possible improvement is going to come too late. Some are too dead, obviously. But the plight of Somebody, which has occupied so much of my mind in the last two weeks, is, among other things, an outstanding example of what I was just describing. Somebody has some virtues--she is somewhat book smart when she wants to be, has good if passive social skills, and in practical skill building at least doesn't have to be shown things twice. In another era, she would have been the perfect Zipperhead--what our generation called the thousands of IBM employees that populated this area in the 1970's. But in today's world--that option is not open to her. Her skill sets would have garnered a decent livelihood circa 1976, but forty years later, she will earn no more than ten dollars a hour, and that is not enough to live on. And I am dealing with a similar situation at work; one of our youth is AWOL, and the root of his problems are an addiction he can't shake--and the root of the addiction is that he really doesn't have a future, and he's smart enough to realize it. The root of Somebody's inability to keep from going back to her drugs of choice is that ultimately, the threat of incarceration is not enough incentive to stay clean.
Intellectually, she knows that she needs to stop, once she gets started. But emotionally and spiritually, the pain of withdrawal is the physical manifestation of the internal, psychological pain she has carried around since childhood, with no relief forthcoming anywhere (largely because she cannot cut the cord with the family member that has caused a great deal of it and isn't about to change. But I digress, and am allowing my simmering dislike, bordering on hatred, for Somebody's mother and her callous and cruel parenting technique, to bubble up to the surface).
There is no hope, you see, for any real improvement. Not with a record, not with the baggage she carries, not with a limited education. So what appeal does struggling for years for paltry wages (and being considered unfit to care for her child while doing so) hold for her? Not much. That is why, as painful as it has been for me to see this tragedy unfold, as much as I would love for her to feel otherwise, as much as I hate the degradation she is putting herself through--I understand why it is happening. And when you add in the fact that heroin fundamentally alters physiology in the brain to make it difficult or impossible to feely truly good without heroin in the body--of course people are going to use again. Repeatedly. And the consequences that I find so daunting and scary? She's been to prison twice, spent much of the last three years behind bars, and she survived. Granted, it's going to be somewhat different if she goes again, because the level of support she was getting during previous bids won't be there. But it doesn't scare her like I would you and I.
And the possibility of dying from hitting, from feeling the body shut down in an overdose? To someone with a life full of meaning and purpose, that would be insane. To someone whose life has been mostly painful up to this point and who has no real reason to look forward to the future--well, the possibility of life ending doesn't look quite as awful a prospect.
And unless something truly miraculous happens, the two possible outcomes now are jail and death. Obviously, I and everyone that cares for her--more than she thinks, but she's so far into the black hole that she doesn't believe it--are hoping for the former. I suspect, in her heart of hearts, she does, too--but I would bet a year of my life that the second possibility isn't filling her with dread right now. Her existence has been painful for virtually her entire life. It would be heartbreaking if it happened, and I don't think that she wants it to, but if it should--well, the war that she has fought and that has been one debacle after another would be over. And there's a part of her that wants that.
And she is not the only one that feels this way, not by a long shot. I don't think anyone is trying to get  high to commit suicide--but it's an acceptable risk for almost all of those that use heroin. And that is our real challenge in the years ahead--to make not getting high, not getting addicted, attractive enough so that people want to stop using. As it stands now, we're not even close to getting to that point, and that is why the epidemic is going to continue unabated even if 700 detox beds with Suboxone scripts waiting in them suddenly became magically available tomorrow.
And this is the dynamic, all you flag-waving nitwits, behind the anthem protests, too. To be blunt, respect is earned, not given, and as if any more evidence was needed to legitimize the grievances of minorities with the prevailing white culture, two more unarmed black people were killed by police officers in the country this week. The apologists are out, of course, but it seems like the response is growing less shrill, and definitely less widespread. Even people who aren't normally all that thoughtful know that there is something wrong with race relations in the country. And it is being proven again by the slant of the media in covering it, and, in a development that gives me apoplexy every time I read of it, the false equivalency narratives popping up in social and other media. Every time something like this happens, within a day or two, someone has cherry-picked a heinous black-on-white crime from somewhere in the country, and then piously asking, "Where's the outrage? Why doesn't this move blacks to cry for justice for white people?"
Well, listen carefully, dolts, because I'm only going to say this once. The difference between an 83YO white grandma being set on fire and killed by black thugs and an unarmed black man being shot by police officers while his hands were in the air during a traffic stop should be blindingly obvious. One was committed by criminals, you moronic yobs, and one was committed by police officers. And the entire point of the Black Lives Matter movement is that there is a disportionate number of black people that die at the hands of (white) authority for crimes that did not warrant a violent response at all. Words cannot describe how much I HATE seeing the false  equivalency argument advanced. It disgusts me to see what lengths many will go to justify their own racism and to make excuses for those engaging in it.
Anyhow, I needed some positivity during all this, and I got it at an NA event today. And really, that's the only answer I have seen to many of the aspects of these problems. For an addict, there is no substitute for a 12-Step program. For non-addicts, practically, much of the !2-Step program can be found in the gospels, in listening to the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes and other utterances that have survived the ages. It makes life bearable--not wonderful and not all by itself, but it keeps the addict from returning to addiction. This post has gone on long enough, and if I have time later in the week, I will give my thoughts on the new direction a new Activities and Events Subcommitte is embarking on. I have to say. though, that today was just what I needed, in the midst of so many stresses and setbacks and soft feelings. And at least I have that option; many of these poor people out there don't.
And just for today, the plethora of messages and the company of a lot of my fellow addicts was enough to get me through the ugly reality that was today. And that I can understand the despair and anger and hurt of many of those dying and suffering from addiction--without having to experience it on that level again.

Saturday, September 24, 2016


Today wasn't the worst day I've had recently. But there were several minor things that didn't go the way I wanted them to go, and as a result I've been just on the edge of edginess all day.
The first was getting phone calls and texts when I was sleeping. In some cases, it's unavoidable; most people, after all, are awake during the day, not semi-nocturnal as I am during the work week. But I do feel like that most of my acquaintances ought to know better than to call me at 11 AM during my work week. For those who don't or that can't remember--I go to bed when I get home, usually around 9, and I prefer to get up sometime between 1 and 2. I couldn't do it five or six days a week, but I can do it for three, and that's essentially my work week (Thursday, Friday, Saturday; I'm tired Sunday, too, but since I don't have to work again until Wednesday night, I generally don't try to sleep on Sundays until night time).
It wasn't her fault, but Sabrina is now sick, too. We wasted an hour at the walk-in on Robinson Street and never even got seen. She's home now, hopefully sleeping, with a low-grade fever and congestion. We'll see how she feels when I get home... But in the matter of walk-in's, the UHS one by Union-Endicott High School is by far the best in the area. I've not liked Lourdes Hospital since my mother almost died there from an antibiotic-resistant bug she caught while convalescing after surgery, and their walk-in's aren't great either. This experience just reinforced it.
Then when I went to the meeting tonight, we were assailed by one of our members that has gone off his psych meds. This was the second loud, profane rant he's treated us to this week, and if there is a third, I'm going to speak up. The rooms are full of women that are domestic violence victims, there are often children there, and a lot of the men that attend don't really need to feel intimidated, either. I understand that sometimes people vent. But at every meeting you go to, for ten minutes at a time, and threatening violence and bragging about your jail time? Not cool. Go shout at your neighbors or your dog; that's not what meeting are for.
And in general, I'm just kind of blah space. It's mid-work week; there was a ton of crap that happened in my personal life this week that I have accepted but don't necessarily like; the heroin epidemic continues to rage--another two people died last night, bringing the known total in the county to 64 for the year. And the current county executive launched a bunch of negative campaign ads. A whole bunch of people commented on one that was on Facebook that panned the executive; the remarks were all deleted. It means, to me, that it's going to be an ugly six week until the election.
But we're going to win. Preston must go.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Not Done

I tried. I really did. Harder than I ever tried before in my life, for anyone. For someone that never gives second chances, I gave three chances on a romantic level, and several more on a friend/mentor/whatever level. But there is a point where surrender is necessary, where one realizes that what was once viewed as hope was simply denial. And I have reached that point, perhaps permanently, with Somebody I Used To Know.
Despite her admission into the crisis center earlier this week, it has become abundantly clear that whatever else she may or may not be, she is not done. And for recovery from active drug addiction to take place in anyone, one has to be done. Being done does not prevent future relapse, but it does open the door for present recovery, to get better, to start the process. Being done is exhibiting small but real behavior changes. Being done means becoming more, not less, honest, and less, not more, manipulative with the system and with others in your life.
She is not done. And as the week has passed, I became increasingly doubtful that the commitments I had made--to pack her apartment and store her belongings until long-term treatment is completed--were wise to keep. She is not going to even get to long-term treatment; if her final series of text messages this afternoon were not more obfuscation and dishonesty, she is not even in the crisis center anymore. Because she is not done.
The reasons are many and varied, why she is not done. But ultimately, they are unimportant as far as they relate to me. I will not be chained to this sort of life and lifestyle; I am not going to be left holding the bag, whenever the whistle blows. I am not going to deal with the toxic members of her family for any reason, ever again. I returned everything she owns to either her or to her apartment, including the keys to it. And unless and until she shows some signs of being done, I really cannot conceive of having anything more to do with her.
The bedrock principle of recovery is honesty. It comes before all else, and one reason why is that while people in early recovery aren't capable of a whole lot, all of us theoretically are capable of honesty. It is something that someone with days or even hours clean can do, in whatever setting, in the presence of those with much clean time. One of the few pieces of literature from the other fellowship that made an impression on me was the famous passage about "those incapable of being honest... there are such unfortunates." And Somebody I Used to Know is one of them, at this point in her life. Maybe she was all along, and she did a better job hiding it from me; or perhaps this is part of the progression of her disease of addiction and it is taking a signal turn for the worse.
Regardless, the fact is that I no longer believe anything she says about her motivations, about her feelings, about her. She is McHaling me nearly every time she opens her mouth; she is almost as bad as the archetype of the word. And this is dangerous to me, both emotionally and materially, and I need to detach immediately and all costs until she changes. And that, frankly, may never happen.
Do I feel good about it? No, I don't. But I do feel relief, and I felt it as soon as her apartment door closed behind me. The sad thing is that a number of people were willing to help in a number of ways, and it ultimately did not matter to her. She is not done. She is still in thrall and in slavery to her addiction. She is determined to fight alongside, not against, her disease, even though she is being routed by it at present. And I cannot force her to be in recovery.
She may come back some day. If she is ever done. But until then, I respectfully, even cheerfully, will keep my distance. I may be nearly 18 years removed from active addiction, but I can not only be taken out with this amount of time, but I also can lose my moral  compass and the sense of purpose I usually have in living my life. I only have those things because I am done.
And she is not. Because she is not, all interactions between us are a dead end. There is no real common ground between us anymore.
It hurts some. But it would have hurt a lot more to be a party to her inexorable decline phase. It will take what it takes to make her feel done. Steve is powerless over Somebody, and Steve cannot restore Someboy to sanity.
It's time to cut the cord. Until she is done.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Nothing But Tears

It was a long day, one that for me has not concluded, as I went to work last night. Suffice it to say that I do not like wakes in any event, and the one I went to yesterday may have been the saddest I have ever attended. There are no real words to describe what I felt, and honestly I'm not even going to try. It was my biggest nightmare that has, unfortunately, become someone else's reality. Small as it was, paying respects was important, because it acknowledges the depth of a loss that a parent feels when a child dies young.
And this is one cup I never want to sample. May God bless you and give you the strength to carry on, Claudine, Maykayla, and Dominic. And may God grant Haylee the peace that eluded her in life.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Book Review: THE RISEN

I've mentioned this numerous times before, but I am usually very reluctant to read any novel that is set in late Republican Rome, because Colleen McCullough covered the subject and the era so well in her "Masters of Rome" series that it is almost pointless for anyone else to try to work the same characters and material. I ended up picking up David Anthony Durham's The Risen because he has a decent reputation as a good historical novelist, and because the subject matter, the slave revolt led by Spartacus, was handled in less detail by McCullough than Durham's book-length treatment. And it helps that I have not seen any Spartacus movie, whether the Kirk Douglas classic or the more recent remakes.
This novel is good--not fantastic, maybe not even excellent, but good. Durham differs from McCullough's version in only two significant ways: one, he depicts Spartacus as an actual native of Thrace  (a region in what is now northern Greece), whereas McCullough depicted him as an Italian that was trained to be a Thracian type of gladiator. McCullough made a case that all gladiators of the time were trained to be either Thracian or Gauls; Durham seems to have made use of different source material. The decision materially affects the direction of the novel and plot development, but it actually didn't detract from the narrative at all; if anything, it made for a more interesting story than McCullough's arc within Forutne's Favorites did. Two, Caesar was an integral part of the story, as an aide to Crassus, in McCullough's book, and Caesar is completely absent from this book. McCullough's series of books portrayed Crassus as a complex, reasonably likable (for a Roman aristocrat) man; Durham portrays Crassus as much more of a hard, flinty asshole. Crassus is one of the few Romans of the late Republic that we do not have a wealth of source material regarding, and the odd thing while reading this book was realizing that both depictions were plausible. While McCullough's Crassus lingered in the background of my mind while I was reading this book, I had to admit that the Crassus of this book, while drawn so differently, also fit what we know about him and his actions (from a distance of 2100 years) just as well,
The story itself is familiar to a lot of people, from the movies. The idea that the book emphasizes time and again is that Spartacus led a nation more than an army; Roman society was very much divided into ruled and rulers, and there were more slaves than Romans and Italians in the peninsula by the time of this novel. And the revolt of Spartacus is one of history's great what-if scenarios, and through the eyes of Crassus' scribe-slave, this aspect is poignantly explored. Ultimately, I got lost and bored in some sections of the book, mainly the mysticism that fills the last couple hundred pages through the eyes of one of the female characters. But if there is an overriding virtue to the book, it is the portrayal of just how rotten and precarious life could be as a slave in the ancient world, especially for women.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Keep Swimming

The last couple of weeks have turned into one of the most hectic, emotionally draining times of my life. I have a couple of hours now to myself, and I almost wish I didn't--because a few minutes ago, it all caught up to me and I found myself weeping.
The 13YO sibling of my daugther's best friend did commit suicide, by overdosing on pills. I know a little more than I did yesterday, and I've been reminded of a basic truth: that no service will be of use if the one receiving the service doesn't take advantage of it. That's true of teens as well as adults. The larger point remains true. There should be a systemic approach to youth mental health, and services more readily available for those that cannot afford private counseling and therapy, and that it was a choice of our elected officials in this county to discontinue those services. Those elected officials need to stop being elected, and officials put in their place that have better senses of priorities. This is today's reminder that Preston must go.
The emotional turmoil with the deepest reach took a positive, if gut-wrenching, turn last night. Somebody is now in the crisis center. For all its faults, it is certainly an improvement over being on the streets and actively in addiction. I have few illusions about whether this will turn out to be a long-term turning point--that will ultimately be up to her. There are a few reasons to believe that something is changing--the one that has been asked to tend to her affairs while she is away--she is almost certain to be sent to a long-term facility from here--is not the person that gave birth to her and who is her biggest impediment to positive change, but me. I have the keys to her apartment, I've been asked to pack it up, I was the one that was asked to even take her to the crisis center. We've talked a lot in the last week or so, and I think, paradoxically, with the stresses of being romantically involved removed, she is more dependent than ever on me to be stable and supportive...A position I find difficult. I've been in close contact with several in my own support group while all this has been going on, and one of them told me that the depth of my feeling for her really hasn't changed, despite the fact that we've not been together for months. And I didn't argue the point. I know it's not what it was in the winter, but it's still there, and I'm not going to deny that. It is over on some levels--but it will never be over on others. Right now, I can deal with it. I will deal with whatever emotional cost and baggage come in the future as it happens.
For now, I'm just feeling more relief than anything else. And I've already done a few things that are going to be a change for her and for me. I talked to her sister this morning, the one reasonably healthy family member that lives 1500 miles away (and those two things are not coincidental). Of course, she had no idea of how bad it had gotten... I also have Somebody's phone. It's off, and it's going to stay off. I'm not going to be as invested in time or money in Somebody as in previous times--but I'm not going to let her go without stuff like socks, either. It's more effort than I would choose, in an ideal world, to make, but if not me, who?
I am aware that it is a fuzzy line, in pencil, between helping and enabling. But I also have realized, in a way I never have before, how much it means emotionally to those who are in the absolute depths of despair to have hope, to know that at least one person has not given up on them. She told me last night that when she was in the crisis center recently, one reason it didn't help was that she was emotionally devastated that her and I had had a serious blowout, and that she really felt that I was now permanently out of her life--and it was eating her up. I hadn't heard from her over the weekend, after she went squirrelly Friday afternoon. I had sent her a couple of texts Sunday AM and yesterday, and she told me yesterday she had received them, but hadn't read them--because she thought I was angry with her. The texts were supportive and encouraging, and she read them while she was in my car--and I swear to God, the look of wonder on her face and in her tone of voice as she said, "This isn't bad or mean at all" told me what I needed to know.
Because I've been wondering whether I've been doing the right thing. I've been wondering if I'm just setting myself up to be hurt even more than I already have. I've been wondering if it's the emotional equivalent of "good money after bad." I've been wondering if I've been delusional, whether I actually have a real place in her heart or whether she's just cold and unfeeling and soulless. But in that moment, I saw how lost she is, how starved for love she is and always has been, how little of it she has received, how much self-loathing she has--how low she actually was feeling. I'd love to tell you that it was her Eureka moment, that after three years of being the best man I could be, that who I am and what I feel about her finally penetrated the emotional rubble to her core and that now we can all move forward.
I know that's not realistic. But I also know, from mine and others' experience, that these instances are called "moments of clarity." That eventual healing and recovery is built on dozens and even hundreds of these moments of clarity. They don't last, but the impression that they make is never completely erased, either. And I truly believe that, as much time as we've been together in the past, as much as I've been there for her over the years, as supportive as I have been--she never really believed that my interest in her was because I truly cared about her, rather than seeing what I could get from her, until that moment in the car yesterday. It might be one of those "you had to be there" things, but it was real. She's told me a few times recently, for the first time in all the time we've known each other, without feeling under any kind of duress, that she loves me. But she told me six different times yesterday after that moment in the car that she loved me. And even two days ago, the idea of leaving her apartment keys with me, of trusting me to take care of her outside affairs while she went for help, simply would not have happened.
And I'd be a fool to assume that it's only forward from here on out. But it's progress, not perfection, and life is a journey, not a destination. I am glad that her journey, at least for today, has not led to another jail and penal institution. I am glad that, for the last ten hours, she has not had to chase the next one, and hopefully will not for the rest of the day.
Blessed are the merciful, indeed. It was and is hard to do, and I may not feel this way much past this moment. But I know I did God's work yesterday. And I can feel no better feeling than that.

Monday, September 19, 2016

No Words

It hasn't sunk in yet. Sabrina has had two best friends since the beginning of middle school, and Makayla was one of them. Makayla is the oldest of three siblings, and her little sister Haylee was someone I frequently saw for years. I particularly remember the day I took our softball team to Old Forge, to Enchanted Forest, and Haylee went with us; she had a blast, as did the rest of us. She was 11 then, seemed to have her whole life in front of her.
That life is over. Details are not clear at this time. She did have a heart murmur, but those usually do not lead to death. In the context of Broome County's ominous heroin/opiate epidemic, that is, unfortunately, where everyone's first thoughts go. Haylee did not use drugs, to anyone's knowledge. But an OD of some sort is a possibility, because there is an endemic mental health crisis around here and indeed nationwide--that of teens with mental health issues so deep and pervasive that suicide is on the table for a distressingly large number of teens. And Haylee, without getting too deeply into private matters, had serious mental health concerns. We don't know the answers yet, and although I know some people's motivations aren't malign, it really brings no comfort to the family and friends of the family by speculating. We can wait a day or two to find out for certain what happened, can't we? People don't have to talk about the matter like they actually know what's going on.
I am pissed, though, and yes, this is going to go in a political direction. Several years ago, a conscious decision was made by the county executive's office to close the county's mental health department, and the first part of the department to close was the juvenile services unit. In my former job, there were a lot of my clients that needed counseling and therapy, and most if not all of them could not afford to see a mental health professional regularly. At the time, a whole lot of us were screaming that things like this could happen, that young people desperately in need of help were not going to be able to access it.
And I remember the commissioner of Mental Health, who also runs Social Services, airily dismissing concerns, saying that no child that needed services would go without them. Well, guess what. Art? At least one child went without them, and that child is dead now. And I am quite sure that Haylee isn't the first one that wasn't able to get the help she needed because services that were once available aren't anymore.
I am aware that the financial health of the county isn't great. But there's enough money around to make necessary services available. It's a matter of priorities. And this administration has consistently proven that its priorities are somewhere other than providing necessary services for the citizens it serves. Governments are supposed to provide services for those that can't access them reliably or at all through any other provider. There is a constituency that is morally OK with not providing those, because their basic world view is Social Darwinism, that people that need those kind of services are burdens upon society and that nature should be allowed to run its course.
I despise those kind of people. They are failed human beings. And when something like this happens, it is all I can do not to go off on a rant of epic proportions. But it does underscore the necessity of voting this fall. Trump vs. Clinton is ultimately not half as important as changing the nature and focus of local government. And we have an opportunity to make a change, to stop the rot, to start to take care of the very real problems bedeviling our community.
Not taxes that are too high, not too many people stealing welfare services, but actual, real problems. Like kids that need counseling. Like young people that get addicted to opiate medication that end up heroin addicts and have no realistic options for help and treatment. The problems are real, and unfortunately, so are the consequences. People DIE when the problems are not addressed. And the current people holding county-wide office are not willing to change their priorities, not willing to face reality.
They must be retired. Preston must go.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Talking of the G Word

There are many things that people not in recovery programs do not understand about aspects of them, but one of the most common misconceptions out there is that 12 Step programs are somehow religious because a few of the steps use the word "God." Many people in recovery programs don't understand that particular aspect, either. So many people want to focus on the program as something that stops substance abuse for a long time, one day at a time, but they don't seem to understand that what the program offers is a new way of life, one free from substance abuse.
And the new way of life centers around developing a belief in a loving and caring Higher Power, which for convenience's sake is usually referred to as "God," using that belief to find the courage and strength to examine our beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors, and learn to change those and live a life based on the application of spiritual principles in our daily routines. That doesn't sound particularly religious, and it has been my experience that although there are certainly a good number of people in the fellowship that attend church and that will tell you that their concept of God is the one promulgated in the church they attend, people that are religious for the most part--there are exceptions, so don't anybody get all bent out of shape because they believe I'm referring to them--tend to be less obviously spiritually-minded, often lead lives marked by unmanageability and chaos, and are somewhat hypocritical in their practice of their avowed faith. The biggest and most obvious example in the circles that I move in is sexual activity. I don't know of a single Christian or Muslim sect that does not disapprove of sex outside marriage, but almost everyone in any 12-Step fellowship is sexually active, and the number of married people is a hell of lot less than the number of people that are sexually active. And those that are openly part of religious groups are just as sexually active as everyone else in the fellowships. I remember discussing this with a sponsee of mine several years ago who had been "born again;" I took him to task regularly because he was randier than a goat, and I knew that his ostensible faith was strongly against extramarital sex. He responded by pointing out that I was sexually active, too, but I had a rather easy rebuttal--I didn't profess to believe in any organized religion, and so I was not guilty of any hypocrisy. And I further pointed out that his particular sect claimed that (and I'm paraphrasing, but only a little) being "born again" was not only a ticket into the heavenly afterlife that was going to be denied to heathens like me, but that he was marked as one of the 'select' on earth, those who were to serve as an example to the rest of this world to follow in his footsteps. I really found it hard to believe that the average person was supposed to have sex with fifteen partners, if not more, a year, and told him so, repeatedly. I think that my point won the day; I stopped sponsoring him when it became clear he had no intention of either finishing Step Four or changing his behavior, and his life eventually became so unmanageable that he moved clear across the country, to California, where he has no doubt continued to act on the belief that his born-again faith is at least partially sexually transmitted.
The subject has come up in the last couple of days because of substantial exposure to my former sponsor, who quite consciously aspires to live by the spiritual principles of his Higher Power (he alternates between "God" and "HP" in his everyday talk). Aldo sponsored me for thirteen years, and of course he had a huge impact on the way my own development of a relationship with a Higher Power developed. And we got into a  long discussion after the meeting was over on the way our God works in our lives, mainly because today's daily meditation was about the last two-thirds of the step process, and the working of those steps is predicated on having a functional and working belief in a Higher Power. One cannot do a thorough moral inventory of ourselves without a true belief in a God that loves us and cares about us no matter what that inventory reveals. One cannot ask for the willingness to have God remove our shortcomings without a functional belief in God. One cannot make amends to people we have wronged without believing that God forgave us, and also that God will be all right with us even if the people we make amends to are not. We can't take a daily inventory of ourselves without knowing when we are wrong, and knowledge of right and wrong is largely a function of a deep belief in God. We cannot seek the will of something we don't believe in, and we certainly aren't going to help anymore else if our example does not reveal someone that has made a great deal of progress past active addiction and who is living by principles.
I am not religious, and yet my belief in God is the single most important part of my life. And it took a lot--a lot--of work and effort to come to that belief, and even more effort to put the belief into consistent practice. When Aldo and I talked tonight, we ended up reminiscing about just how much of a struggle it really was for me--and how imperative and necessary it has turned out to be. I have come so far and covered so much ground, changed so much, that it seems difficult to credit now that I was stuck for a long time about whether God even existed. I'm not going to write about that process and what my beliefs are now in any detail, but suffice it to say that my understanding of God today is my own understanding, fought for doggedly.
And without trying to sound smug or self-righteous, I fell that my understanding of God is much deeper and more meaningful than almost every religious person I've ever met. Why? Because with very few exceptions, they are taking someone else's word for it about who and what God is, what He wants from us, what is right and wrong, and what the application of God's will really means in our everyday life. And as a result, their relationship with God is rather shallow--and tends to be found wanting when they are faced with situations where relying on God's love for us is necessary or helpful in getting us through them. Because they don't really believe in it, or they 've been told how it ought to be and are finding that for them, it isn't working that way.
And for people in recovery, the consequences of that shortcut, of that lack of work, can be extremely damaging and even fatal. And the benefits of actually having a strong relationship and knowledge of our own God cannot be overstated. There is no way that I would have gotten through the various relationship roller-coasters I have been on over the last year without my belief in God. I would not be of use to those I have been helpful to this year--my daughter, my friends, my exes. I would not be able to have the perspectives I do, and I certainly would not be able to forgive perceived wrongs and to give credit when it is due to people that I have had differences with.
It is this relationship with God which has allowed me to make some sense of the world and to function within it. And once I learned to function within, I really lost my interest in what happens in the afterlife. I simply am not concerned about it. I do not believe in an afterlife, but I'm not worried in case I am wrong, because I have done a good job in living this life in the manner outlined by Jesus of Nazareth--better, in fact, than most people that believe he was God incarnate. And most of all, it has allowed me to be able to live a manageable life, one where the pain, when it comes, is bearable, and where solutions to every seemingly intractable problems have presented themselves when I was ready to deal with them.
There are no shortcuts. Those that go to meetings that do not gain an actual relationship with a Higher Power they understand and believe in do not make their lives manageable, and as a result they often relapse. Even when they do not, they tend to be isolated and relatively miserable.
That is not my fate today.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Notes From The Sports Desk, Mid-September 2016

1) Baseball is interesting again. Not because of any great changes in the sport, but because my favorite team is good again. Funny how that works...The Red Sox are not home free yet; they lead the division , but there are still four teams within six games of them with fifteen to play, and the wild card picture is too complicated for even someone at home with this sort of stuff like me to figure out. And this team is unlikely to win the World Series; their bullpen is an absolute horror show, they have an annoying tendency to either score fifteen runs or one in a given game, and a few players that looked like they were having seasons for the ages earlier in the year have cooled off.
But there is a lot of reason for hope. They have the majors' only 20-game winner, and he is the third-best pitcher in their rotation when everyone's healthy. David Ortiz is having the best season of any 40YO in major league history; if not for Jose Altuve in Houston running away with the batting title, he would be a legitimate Triple Crown threat. At 40 years old, I repeat. Although Travis Shaw, Xander Boegarts, and Jackie Bradley, Jr. have cooled off, Hanley Ramirez and Mookie Betts have heated up, and the other long-time veteran Sox, Dustin Pedroia, is hitting close to .500 the last month and is, improbably, the best leadoff man in the game again. Catching, a weak spot since Tek retired, is being handled by Sandy Leon, one of the best stories of the year; he had a career average of .180 coming into the season, and is still hitting .350 well into September.
And they can play defense, too. Bradley, Betts, and Pedroia are all are Gold Glove caliber, and Ramirez, a shortstop just three years ago, has found a position he can play effectively again at first. Again, the bullpen kills this team; they should be leading the division by ten games, but couldn't close out a game with the lead for three months. But it seems to be coming together at the right time, and the last two nights, they have beaten the Yankees with an improbable rally and an ass-kicking. I am looking forward to October, and will even tolerate Joe Buck and whoever announces games with him now for the chance to win a fourth World Series in twelve years.
And three words I haven't heard in many years are Bucky Fucking Dent.
2) The Bills have turned into the Ryan Shit Show. They are 0-2, look lost, and have pissed away all the seeming progress made only two years ago. I don't  have the heart to list all the stupidities of Rex Ryan, but like his father, he has become a caricature of himself, wedded to ideas that were novel a decade ago but are not really effective anymore. And they simply do not have an offensive line capable of sustaining a decent offense. The Bills are going to be 4-12 this year, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
3) NASCAR's Chase for the Cup starts tomorrow. And I couldn't tell you who is in it. Much to my surprise, my interest in the sport completely evaporated after Jeff Gordon retired. I suppose, if I had to name one, I would admit to a passing interest in Kurt Busch, but that's about it, and he's certainly not enough of an interest to make me chase down whatever obscure cable channel NBC has relegated the telecasts to. What a waste of time and money that was. And with ESPN now not covering any races, good luck finding coverage online from the world's biggest sports network.
All snark aside, there is one thing above all else killing interest in NASCAR; the perception that some teams are cheating and getting away with it. Several teams routinely fail post-race inspections, and the worst that happens is some poor crew member loses a paycheck for six weeks. But the competitive advantage remains unabated.
On the plus side, several unknowns won races this year, putting them in the Chase, and in the world's most unsurprising development, Danica Patrick never sniffed the winner's circle for the 431st year in a row. I think her contract is up this year, and she has been thoroughly exposed as a no-talent bimbo. Her sponsorship is drying up, and I can only hope she is without a ride next year.
4) Soccer season has started in England. Yes, I know hardly anyone gives a shit on this side of the pond (although I must give a shout to my work colleague Manny, who is a big international fan, and who has passed a few hours with me debating the various merits of teams around the world), but the Premier League started a month ago. And for the first time in a while, my favorite team, the Everton Toffees, are near the top of the table (what the Euros call standings). They've benefited from an easy beginning schedule, but they also have improved by subtraction in two key areas. One was a coaching change; whatever the merits of the former guy, the team had clearly quit on him by last spring, and so Ronald Koeman looks like a genius in his new gig. The other is that one of the few soccer players Americans know, goalie Tim Howard, was finally let out to pasture by Everton, largely because his 16-save performance in the last World Cup against Belgium was the only good game he played, it seems, in the last four years. Everton has gotten quality goalie play, and it is making a huge difference.
And they have one of the world's best-kept secrets, Romalu Lukaku, as their star. He had a hat trick last Monday, and if he is going to fill the net all season long, this team may well be playing in the Champions League next year. A second improbable league title in a row would be too much to ask for (especially since last year's Cinderella story, Leicester City, are the ordinary team they likely always were this year), but Everton, always good-to-OK but never a contender in the last twenty years, would be a great story, too (they are based, for all you reading that don't know, in Liverpool). I am looking forward to seeing how this plays out.

Friday, September 16, 2016

On the Shore of the Styx

The River Styx, in Greek mythology, was the circular river that surrounding Hades, the underworld. Unlike in Christian lore, Hades was not a place of torment or a place reserved for the damned; it was just where the shades of all but the most decorated war heroes spent eternity after earthly existence ended. There were only three figures that ever crossed the Styx more than once--the goddess Persephone, daughter of Demeter, who spent six months of every year in Hades as the wife of the eponymous ruler of the realm (a way for the Greeks to explain the seasons of the year), and the husband/wife team of Orpheus and Eurydice. Eurydice, unfortunately, never made it all the back to the world of the living; Orpheus was bidden to not back at her while ascending, could not resist temptation, and so Eurydice was sent back to the realm of the dead.
There is a lesson in the latter myth there. I don't want to seem overly dramatic, but there are certainly elements of the story in my life at the moment. The spiritual Hades that is active addiction is fortunately more easily crossed in both directions than the mythical Styx-- but there any ascent from it is not necessarily permanent. For those that would be Orpheus, who gained entrance to the underworld due to his skill as a musician, one would be wise to remember that only faith that the gods would do what they said they would do would bring his wife back--and when he wavered on that faith, she was lost irretrievably to him. Similarly, too, for those that would lead their loved ones out of the living hell that addiction is--blind faith is required, and certainly a look at the shade of the dead often leads to the loss of someone dear.
The example and the message must be enough. And the trust in God's will we talk about in meetings incessantly is merely, at heart, a heartfelt belief that the example and the message will be sufficient. We cannot control others. We cannot make someone on  relapse run say "Enough," or pinpoint a time when the pain gets great enough to become willing to change. All we can do is what we do has recovering people. We support, we love--but we do not enable, and when we are not sure of basic human decency (in our own minds) would qualify as enabling, we ask others for their take on the situation. The example must be enough; we cannot waste energy and good will by surreptiously checking to see how many are following us.
I cannot, at this time, say more without violating anonymity. And that is part of the example I am trying to show. The example must be sufficient. And we cannot drag anyone out of the dark and into the light of our own accord. They must want to follow close behind.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Brutal Reality Check

I have a major vested interest in this topic, so I'm going to be careful in how I present it. But it dominated my day--it's dominated a few days here, to be truthful--and it really angered a lot of people that up until recently had no idea of how the "justice system" really works in this state, so I'm going to address it. Gently.
To make a long story short, two women that are on parole in our county have recently slipped back into serious opiate addiction. One of them is Somebody, and the other is another woman that I know, not real well but well enough to talk to semi-regularly. Both had champions within the organization I volunteer with, and through yeoman efforts, beds were found for them in the local inpatient treatment facility. And within a few hours of each other today, both were denied those places by their parole officers.
In the case of the first one, she was actually was in some trouble. She had already been sent to the crisis center and then the halfway house because of her problem (the crisis center is not a detox, which pretty much makes it a big ball of worthless when 3/4 of the people that are admitted there are suffering from opiate addiction). She was sent back to the crisis center from the halfway house because she was still in the throes of withdrawal, and left the crisis center without permission from the officer because of her withdrawals. She had spent a good week or so using heavily before getting this bed, and was admitted to the inpatient this morning. Her parole officer, a large, obnoxious West Indian woman (think visually of one of the three enormous women that used to be on What's Happening that speaks with a Jamaican accent) with a notable lack of tact and compassion by even the standards of bullying law enforcement officers, flipped out, and sent the police to the rehab to arrest the woman and take her jail.
While she is detoxing still, mind you. Confronted with this fact, it was reported by a reliable source that the officer sneered that the woman had chances to detox in the crisis center, that she should have stayed there and "toughed it out." This shows a stunning ignorance of the physical process of detoxification, one that is really unjustifiable in this day and age. But more importantly, it shows the attitude that many officers in law enforcement--and parole officers are most certainly considered law enforcement--have toward people convicted of crimes and of addicts in general.
That they are sub-human and not deserving of even tiny drips of compassion, for any reason. Legally, the attitude is not out of line. Morally, it is dung, an indication of a gangrenous soul. I have had to deal with this creature before, and I will be brief and to the point. She is a test of my faith in a loving, caring God, and it's all I can do to muster up hope that if she ever finds herself in a situation where she needs to be cut a break from other people, she finds people that do not act like she does.
Having said all that...the parolee technically was in violation of several parts of the parole agreement she signed which was the reason she was free in the first place. Legally, what the officer did was within her job parameters, and so no consequences are going to come her way, no matter how loudly people scream and no matter how heartless and bullying she appears to be to neutral observers. I will return to this in a moment.
The second, as I mentioned, is Somebody. I will always have deep feelings for her, and so this one hurts me, badly. She was given the opportunity to also be admitted to the inpatient rehab today; she had an interview with the director in the early afternoon. She reported to her own parole officer, as she does every Wednesday, an officer that before today had a reputation as being somewhat benign in nature. It was strongly suggested to her, but not required, that she report first thing in the morning, and did not, for a number of reasons, one of which was trying to secure this bed. She was planning on reporting after the interview was over; the Parole office is open until five on Wednesdays, so there would have been plenty of time. And to cut to the chase, when she called the officer at 11:45 to tell him of the interview and her plans, he forced her to report immediately upon threat of violation. Once there, he told her not to bother showing up for the interview, because his belief was that she needed a placement in a long-term residential facility. He was extremely condescending, asking in a mocking tone of voice "Do you think a 14-day rehab is actually going to help you?
The facility which he is sending her to is familiar to me, because MOTY spent much of 1999 there. It has no detox or indeed any medical services for the women that are in residence.
And it further transpired that no referral has yet been made to this facility; she is weeks away from being admitted there. And again, the officer seemed either dangerously ignorant or callously uncaring that she is going to have to detox, if she even does, cold turkey, without medical assistance.
These women are not saints. They are on parole for a reason, and being addicted to opiates is something that was a result of decisions they made to use drugs while on parole. But I am fully aware of the trauma that Somebody is trying to assuage with her drug use, and I suspect that the other has a similar story, too. They are not evil, and they are not morally leprous or compromised. They are human beings that have paid a bigger price for poor choices than you and I ever will, in many different ways. They are human beings, with a serious medical concern; the fact that their addiction is to an illegal substance can be addressed later in the process. The fact is that the dependence and the withdrawal the dependence engenders are life-threatening, and need to be regarded as such.
And they do not need or deserve ridicule, and snide judgments that serve as "reasons" to deny them what is regarded by all decent people as necessary medical care. And unlike you or me, they have no options to seek alternative opinions. As a friend of mine said a few years ago when on Drug Court, "they own you." And they do; they are under the thumb  of their officers of the law as much or more than a plantation slave of Louisiana in 1858.
And the point of the background here is that after this happened, the woman that played the largest part in securing the beds for them posted on her website her outrage at what had happened. She has a large following, and there have been dozens of comment in the hours since the post was put up. And not for the first time, I thought about what the true long-term significance of the opiate epidemic is going to be.
"All-American" white people are finally discovering what people of color and other minorities have known forever. The legal system does not care about actual justice. The legal system does not care if, in the immortal words of Charles Dickens, that "the law is an ass." And the legal system is a magnet for the type of people who can indulge in their bullying, misanthropic and misogynistic, and often just plain sadistic tendencies without fear of being called to account in any way. And the parole system seems to gather up the real dregs, the worst of the worst. And why not? It's not a dangerous profession, like actual police work often is. There is not the tense and wary sense of tending a fireplace near stacked dynamite, like being a correctional officer in a jail. No, parole officers aren't dealing with the unknown, and they are not dealing with people with nothing to lose--in fact, they are dealing with people, exclusively, who have the most basic human right to lose--their freedom.
And it does not attract the idealistic and the well-adjusted. It attracts those that get off on wielding power over those that cannot fight back. It attracts those that crave the ability to exercise their will without having to justify why to any point of accountability. It attracts those that find the ability to determine the quality of life of other people supremely intoxicating.
It is the childhood bully's dream job.
And now, along with the ongoing discovery of many about how broken our chemical dependency treatment system is, many are finding out just how awful the "justice" system is. They are viscerally recoiling from what they see and hear. I am glad to see it, because the only way real change is going to occur is if there is enough pressure coming from the (formerly) silent majority to make the status quo unacceptable. And so, if there was an encouraging result today, it was the knowledge that close to a hundred people had some more of their remaining illusions shattered by finding out just how vapid and venal those manning the parole system are capable of being.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Passion Addiction Treatment Arouses

As I have become more deeply involved in our local struggle--which is becoming a state and national one, too--over combating the heroin epidemic and improving the range and quality of services available to those that suffer from addiction, I have discovered and re-discovered a couple of things. I'm not going to get into the nuts and bolts of the debate this morning; God knows I do that enough. But I do want to touch on a few subjects.
One is that addiction treatment is one of the few, if not the only, fields of medical treatment where the experiences of the survivors of the condition are barely taken into account by those that ostensibly provide "treatment." Many recovering people attempt, in what some of us call only half-jokingly the "apostle" stage of recovery, to get into the field of chemical dependency treatment, and without exception disillusionment and despair set in. Some conquer it and manage to find viable intrinsic compromises that allow them to stay in the field, but many more either give up or manage to get themselves fired because the way treatment facilities administer care is often not in the interest of the patient's recovery, either short or long-term. In a field where the only proven long-term effective approach that results in long-term abstinence is based on the "therapeutic value of one addict helping another," there is an entrenched, ingrained, and incredibly resilient opposition among those running facilities designed to combat and alleviate addiction to actually accepting input from recovering people and implementing their suggestions when it comes to treatment approaches. Bluntly, treatment not only has become big business, a money-making apparatus, but it is also increasingly becoming a closed shop. The field is absolutely dominated by men and women whose knowledge of addiction and strategies to combat it comes from books and "education," and they zealously defend their position and their privilege, often at the expense of actually effectively treating the population they are supposedly helping.
I am still active in the recovery community, obviously, nearly two decades after my own journey through the treatment process. And I have said, only half in jest, dozens of times over those years that I am irritated that the facility I went to can claim me as a success story--because I have stayed clean in spite of what I experienced there, not because of. And everything that was a problem in my own experience in 1998-99 with the facilities I was in is still causing problems for people going through facilities in 2016; I hear it all the time from the people in early recovery now. It is an outdated treatment model, with a limited history of success that is shrinking with every passing week, as it is proving woefully unable to combat the reality of widespread opiate dependence in the society at large. And yet the models being used are based on practices of thirty or more years ago, when there were basically four drugs that people were addicted to. And those in charge of those facilities are proving to be more interested in defending their own positions than in adjusting to current realities.
And a whole lot of people are dying as a result.
Those that are battling through opiate dependence today are actually very consistent in what they find helpful, what they don't find helpful, and in what they feel is needed from the places they are seeking help from. Those that have managed to put it down and keep it down for a period of time also are consistent in what should be done, in what they found helpful during treatment and what they did not. And yet those running the facilities, not only here but across the state and probably the nation for all I know, steadfastly and consistently discount and ignore that input, and doggedly continue to treat the condition in ways that are not effective against the changed reality of drug addiction today. And this blows me away. It is akin to prescribing antibiotics for a patient who has caught a bug that is resistant to that antibiotic. It is similar to offering a hat to someone who is barefoot and needs a pair of shoes. It is becoming increasingly similar to still applying leaches and poultices of crushed rat livers or something to cancerous tumors. And yet no one except those that are addicted or that have addicted people in their families or among their loved ones seem to notice...Medical practitioners always take patient feedback into account when treating virtually any other medical condition. And if a course of treatment for virtually any other medical condition has a success rate of somewhere between 5 and 15%, it is discontinued and discredited. Only in the field of addiction treatment is patient input so easily dismissed, and treatment strategies that do not work continue to be implemented.
And one of the reasons that this happens is the second thing I've been rediscovered. I have dealt with the stigma of being a recovering addict for many years. In some ways--some--it's not as prevalent as it was in, say, 2001. But it sure as hell is still out there... There is no real way to sugarcoat this. Attitudes are changing and evolving, as the opiate epidemic continues to rage and more and more "respectable" people are directly affected by it, as either addicts themselves or because someone close to them suffers from addiction. But much like the reactions and noise with other hot-button topics like homosexuality and racism, while attitudes are evolving, those hanging onto old views and prejudices are becoming more shrill and virulent in their denunciations of not only addicts but those who have come to believe differently about the true nature of addiction. The sheer moral ugliness of trolls in the comments sections of social media no longer surprise me. I have experienced it, as I mentioned, for a long time.
And I also know that it is a deep-seated need among a significant portion of human beings to feel morally superior to other human beings. It is the easier, softer path to blame the victim. It is the easier, softer path to side with authority, to justify our own inaction in the face of injustices and wrongs being done by constructing an alternate reality concerning what we see. It is common practice among many of us to "not get involved." It makes easier to live with our own defects, our own failures, our own expectations not being met, by setting up those even less fortunate as straw targets. We can't kneecap our bosses, or take on the corrupt politicians, or confront the asshole cop in our city, or burn down the troublesome neighbor's house, or do ten thousand other things that would directly change our life but carry too many consequences to actually carry out.
So we blame those and take out our ugly feelings on those that it is safer to do so with. In a way, I am less upset with the trolls, ugly as the rhetoric can be, ignorant as the attitudes are, than I am with those that are in a position to both know better and to effect changes. This fire is cynically stoked by those who actually wield real power and influence. The political and power structure in this country, from top to bottom, from the federal government to the smallest villages, feed the misconceptions and the misanthropic beliefs--feeds the hate--because it ultimately protects their own positions and their own privileges. And a large majority of us schlubs are too busy or too uninterested or too nasty to look behind the curtain, and buy into the bullshit and perpetuate the nonsense, doing the dirty work for those whom it suits to not address the root and true causes of our societal ills because they benefit from the status quo.
And continuing to view addiction as a moral failing serves two purposes: 1) it allows the person holding the view to justify their own shortcomings and failures by saying, "At least I'm not as bad as them addicts," and 2) it lets those that benefit from the way things are now to continue feeding at the trough. Prisons are big business. Large police departments are ultimately money-makers; if you don't believe it, how many of you have had no traffic tickets or no parking tickets in the last couple of years? Chemical dependency treatment as it now stands is a money-maker, not only for the insurance companies and medical providers that are peddling services and products that aren't effective, but also have served to perpetuate an entire "profession" that is fast becoming as relevant as alchemy is to modern scientific practice.
And to be truthful, another common human failing is impatience. Attitudes and beliefs and even practices are changing and evolving. But it is at a snail's pace, it seems, especially for those of us that are watching loved ones suffer and die as we wait for the larger majority to get their heads wrapped around the true nature of the problem and what it will take to effectively combat it... This past few weeks have been a roller coaster for me. My own life has gotten better in many ways. But I am also suffering a great deal of internal turmoil, as I have watched people very close to me descend back into the maelstrom of active addiction. I struggle with the difference between enabling and being supportive, all day every day. I pray for those suffering souls more than I've ever prayed for anybody at any point in my life. The emotional price of becoming more of an activist in this cause is becoming aware of how many people this is affecting, and while pain shared is pain lessened, there is a staggering amount of it out there. There are small individual triumphs, but there are also skirmishes that end in defeat.
The struggle continues. But passion, once awakened, is difficult to douse. And one front in this battle that I am finding it easy, even pleasant, to fight on is the one to refute and expose the ignorant, hate-filled twaddle that comes from those that have only judgmental invective to offer.
And don't forget--Preston must go.