Category Archives: DRUGS

GOT THE BETTER

Judge to Addict during Motion for Release pending trial:

I hear you say that you are ready for change, but that is not what your repeated actions tell this court. And because of your repeated actions, you need to understand that your words mean less and less each time you repeat them. Your intentions mean less and less. Your good will and your desire at this moment to change – it all means less every time you go through this cycle of hope and despair, where you let everybody down, mostly yourself, but not only yourself. Not only yourself.

I have sat on this bench long enough to understand that your struggle is real. I know that. I know that your addiction is overwhelming. I know you have tried in the past, but it hasn’t worked. It hasn’t worked. So there is no way I can just let you out on your Personal Recognizance. I can’t trust you. You can’t trust yourself. This is where you are at today. I am saying this with all due respect to you and with a full understanding of the power of your addiction. I get it. And I believe you when you say you want to get sober.

But you cannot do it today. And I cannot let you out today. I cannot risk it. From where I sit, and with these new charges, after your last promises, your addiction has gotten the better of you. I am not saying you will never get sober. I am saying that you cannot do it today. There may be a chance some day. But that day is not today. I order you held on Five Thousand dollars bail. Even knowing that it is highly unlikely, given your circumstances, that anyone you know is going to show up for you and bail you out. This is my bounden duty based on community safety. And best of luck in embracing your sobriety in the future.

SELFISH

They don’t mean to be, but they are. Addicts are selfish. They don’t see. They don’t acknowledge. They don’t consider the suffering of others. Especially, they don’t see, acknowledge, or consider, the suffering of those of us who try to help them to reach that golden shore – sobriety.

We spend time with them, because we hope. We listen to them, because we know they are isolated. But why are they isolated? Because they have broken their natural ties. Either because they view themselves as victims, and wish to protect themselves via distance – or because their natural ties, their parents, children, lovers, family, friends – have chosen to distance themselves to stay sane.

Not to be unfeeling, not be to crass. Not to mention our own suffering, but yes, I wish to mention humbly and seriously, in case any addict is listening, which I fully doubt, yet still hope: I wish to mention those few who still surround you. Those whom you can count upon a single hand, that you still feel that you can call in any emergency. Do you, Addict, realize, that we are real flesh and blood, real human beings, real thinking and feeling people, who suffer? Who bleed and fall down and get sad and feel disappointment and grieve? Do you realize that we are not just here for your use and your convenience, when you decide to pretend you are going to get sober, although deep inside you know damn well that you are not?

Surprise! We are not your blowup doll that you can pull out of the closet when your darkest needs arise, when your isolation and distance from all humanity stops you from having a real person who might consensually and mutually fulfill your needs. We are surprisingly enough, even though codependent, even if enabling, according to sober addicts who blame us for so much, real human beings, just as you addicts are. And whether you believe it or not, we suffer JUST AS MUCH as you do. We suffer, and feel, and hurt, just as much as you addicts do. And I dare to posit, more so, because we are clean and sober as we work through the betrayals, the disappointments, the anger, that your serial lies and false promises hook us into, lifting us higher only to drop us until every bone in our body is crushed.

We humble codependents and enablers don’t ask for much. We don’t even ask for your sobriety. Why? Because we know you cannot do it. We have a simple request – just quit lying to us. Lie to yourselves as much as you want. But quit lying to us. Quit telling us you are “good” and you are “fine” and you are committed to change when you have given up and don’t ever plan to change. Just leave us alone, so we can find sober people who want to do things that are mutually fun. No, that does not include standing by to be a witness to your pain. Believe it or not, we sober people actually have pain of our own, and yours is of no help to us. Leave us alone, so we can find people who want to be mutual.

What does that even mean, you ask. I will tell you. I seek someone who will listen to me, because I listen to them. Someone who will dance with me, because we dance together. Someone who will drive, because I will show them my secret mushroom spots in the green forest. Someone who will eat what I cook, but also cook for me. Someone who can talk about their suffering, but care about mine as well. Someone who is willing to be clean and sober and in touch and aware and sincere, because I am. Someone who is reliable, because I am. This is reciprocity. This is what addicts do not offer. They only offer their own suffering, as an excuse for their addiction. I don’t buy it, so please quit selling it. It has zero value.

THE GIFT OF SIGHT

It hurts to find out about things we don’t want to know.  Because then we have to act on them, and we have been avoiding that.  Yet it is a gift, to see what we need to see, and to see clearly.  It allows us to make decisions based on what is really before us.   We who have eyes, let us see.  If we can handle it.  Otherwise, we can shut our eyes.  But whatever don’t want to face is still right there, on the other side of our eyelids.

I was going to meet my old friend, after years of not seeing him.  And my heart longed to see his familiar features, aged and worn as they must be through life’s relentless scrubbing.  To hear him express our shared  thoughts.  When we finally met, we wandered for hours until long after darkness fell.  Then he reminded me that there is a song called Two Sleepy People.  An old song where they sing, we are two sleepy people – too much in love to say good night.

I loved the sound of his gentle voice and I loved his way of speaking.  I loved his boundless physical strength. I always had.  He was full of treasures, for me.  The space between us was alive and tingling, as if there had never been any distance between us, only proximity.  And I told him, I said, you are the most trustworthy and decent person I have ever loved.  I have felt you near at hand even in your absence, as familiar to me as my own heart.  And I meant it.  At the deepest level, I have always believed that he shares my core values.

He was staying at a small hotel in the village for the week, and we spent all our time together.  We visited his family and spent time with mine, and ran into old friends and schoolmates everywhere.  Hey!  Is it you?  Are you home?  Yes, I remember you.  Be well.  We went to a small factory to see his brother, and a curious worker walked up to me and abruptly asked, so are you his wife?  And I jokingly said, well, practically.  And the others laughed, and I laughed.  Everyone around us was happy.  We irradiated happiness.

Then we had to spend an afternoon apart, because my mother needed help.  He told me to come to the hotel as soon as I was free, before we met up with my cousins that evening.  I was on my way to the hotel when he sent me a text, hey a sailor came to the hotel and we just shared a bottle of alcohol.  What?  I didn’t know if he was making an uneasy joke, or if this was really happening.   Maybe he was reassuring me that he was sober, that he really wanted to spend this time with me.  Maybe he was waiting to see me even now.  I walked faster and faster until I was running toward him.

I found him in the hotel’s common kitchen area.  My strong and graceful friend was stumbling, falling down drunk.  While I sat there with him, he drank several more beers in quick succession and also something stronger from a bottle that he kept pulling out of a drawer and then hiding again.  I grew quiet and small and careful, not because I was afraid of him, but just out of habit, while he automatically and thoughtlessly drank on and on.  No one was there but the two of us.  There was plenty of alcohol for several people, but it was just him.  Him alone.  Drinking with urgent haste, running away.  I watched him grow smaller and smaller as the distance between us increased.

Watching someone drink like this.  Like watching someone overfeed a baby bird that you know will die.  They cannot stop swallowing.  It is very dangerous and usually fatal.  When I was little at least my big sister explained the bird’s stomach explodes.  I always got a sick stomach about that, from a deep well of sadness, thinking of the baby birds. People would find them when they had fallen out of the nest and then they would try to save them and not be able to, and this was how I felt now.  Like I was somehow the cause of his vulnerability, even if when I found him, he had already fallen out of the tree.  Way back when we were both children, I had found him earthbound, unable to fly, yet with wings.  And I loved his wings.

I tried to say nothing even if my heart was overflowing with a waterfall of salt-soaked words and he said a lot of things that didn’t make a lot of sense mostly about why he must drink.   And how bad he had been feeling.  And how hard things had been for him.  He didn’t seem to fathom even a drop of what my hardships might have been during our years apart.  Addicts are like that.  They come to believe exclusively in their own suffering.  They justify their flights into numbness as a necessity.  They cannot believe in anyone’s else’s pain.  How could someone so perpetually and persistently avoiding their own feelings be expected to care about mine?

He couldn’t leave the drawer alone – he kept going back to it .  The more he drank, the more embarrassed he became.  He had invited me here, to sit with him face to face, yet he acted as awkwardly as if I had come upon him unawares, as if I had come uninvited and caught him out.  Even though I was just sitting quietly before him and not making any comment or arguing at all.  Just saying in my silent throbbing heart to myself alone:  I wish.  I wish.  I wish.

Then he glanced at me and asked me why I looked so grieved, and told me I shouldn’t take it so hard.  Who cares?  Who cares!  Why do you care?  I don’t care.  Stop caring!  For all his running, he seemed to find me so close to him, as if I were literally a part of him, here to feel his feelings so he wouldn’t have to.  He was reading his own sorrow, projecting his own images of pain and suffering onto the pale and still wall of my silent, waiting face.  He was trying to find all his distress and the heavy weight of his life in my face and make it belong to me instead of him.

And yet he uttered no direct unkindness.  His voice was as gentle as the first time we met.  Then he stopped short and announced that we were going out to meet up with my family now, unless of course I was ashamed of him, and we both stood up.  This is when his body conveyed to me the jagged edge of what his deeply soothing voice could not transmit in words, what I had not yet been able to take in.  It was a warning, for my own good.  So I must take even this as a kindness, another of the countless gifts I have received from his hands.

He was very unstable as he stood.  He swayed and then when he said, “come on, don’t worry, let’s go,” he clapped me on the back very hard.  As if to knock me forward, startle me into a future moment when I could not see him, where he would no longer be before me, not like this.  It was not a friendly clap, but more like two sailors might if the one clapping wanted to remind the other one about who was boss.  His body conveyed the warning message.  And I saw it.  Like it or not. The addict’s broken glass and barbed wire better-leave-me-alone security system.  Made up of unclaimed remorse, resentful shame and outward disdain.  It was all there.  All of it.  Even for us.  Insurmountable.  In spite of a lifetime of shared love.

There I was, knocked off my balance, cast overboard, in danger of drowning, dog paddling with tired and shivering limbs over an immense watery expanse, choking on the saltwater splashes of the incoming waves, caught in the cross current of love and pain, treading water with sinking heart, blinking with salt-burning eyes.  Trying to see, trying to make myself see.  Asking myself, how can I go out and sit there among my own people with this gentle, angry, strong and utterly broken drunk?  This beloved and delicate, exquisitely sensitive creature, who furthermore disdains me for seeing him like this?  All I knew was the throbbing of my heart.

When I remember sad and traumatic memories, I tend not so much to remember but rather to relive them, in every detail, every word spoken.  That evening.  Everything.  The times he swayed, the times he leaned in, the inappropriate things he said, his horrible, sloppy weakness.  I am drawn back there, helplessly witnessing, exposed and vulnerable, and my heart shrinks and yet grows heavier, like a menstruating woman, with pain.  Just aching with it and bleeding with it.  So terrible.  So cyclical.  Best to thank those memories for their wisdom, and release their pain.  Not keep picking them up and carrying them around like heavy stones, heavy enough to yank my shoulders out of their sockets until my arms dangle helplessly at my sides.  No, I cannot carry this.  I cannot carry this and go on.

And there is another part of the story, as deep as the bowels of the earth.  He has had to survive violence, and you cannot take that out of someone’s soul by loving them, no matter how much.  Just like if a baby starves in infancy, you cannot feed the adult and build them up to their full size and strength.  They won’t end up fulfilling the promise of what was written in their original instructions.  The damage leaves scars that your love longs to heal, but cannot, so your love is marbled throughout with pain, like the cuts of meat they now tell us to avoid eating for our own good.  Thick veins of pain deposited throughout the love, inseparable from it.  And yet no one can say the love is not there.  The love is the main ingredient.

Most of us have encountered violence of several sorts, and we each have our personal wounds to tend to in varying stages of healing.   But the wounds of an addict look so much like repeated suicide attempts, like relentless self-mutilation, that they cut our hearts.  The self-harm is what makes it so gut-wrenching for loved ones, worse than any external injury, worse even than war wounds.  The internal battles are the fiercest and most vicious, because we can never escape our enemy, which is ourselves.  This conflict can only be resolved, if at all, inside the soul of the afflicted person.  Loved ones can only stand by.

I suppose I wanted to see him again to see if he had overcome his wounds and his love could – yes, what can love do?  Is love an living object that can take actions of its own, or is love a verb, something we ourselves must do?  In any case my heart longed to see him in person and commune with him.  Or… who can say?  Longing is a strange and limping emotion fraught with peril – a wistful yearning for something that may or may not fulfill its promise.  A heartfelt longing will linger on even if one obtains the desire, like the painful throbbing that continues in a wound long after the original injury, during the whole process of healing and forming our scars.  The cut nerve endings keep seeking in vain to find each other and reunite across the chasm of scar tissue.

Anyway, we had those first few days of quiet tenderness and nourishing words.  Seeing each other again, recognizing each other over time and space.  Drinking from the fathomless well of proximity and connection.  We had the shared remembrance of times past, and remembering only the good.  The possibilities of that time, and the long future stretching all the way to the impossibly distant horizon, ever receding before us, as horizons do.   And for those few days while we were reunited, every time we held hands I could literally feel his heartbeat in the palm of my hand, stronger than my own.

Then his territorial wall with sharp bricks of disdain, latent aggression, and insurmountable isolation.   His misdirected anger and denied shame.  I even told him, I said, I think your self-defense system is out of whack.  Because every time I try to get close to you, you literally attack me to warn me off.  You are on high alert, my friend.  You have a civil war raging and you are likely to kill civilians, I told him, and the people who have loved you will have to confront you to demand the changes they need or they will have to turn away.  That is what addiction does, it creates exiles.  Your loved ones will have to leave your country, leave your landscape, and wander off as restless souls, homesick for the love you can no longer give them, heartsick with the love you can no longer receive, the outpouring of their overcharged hearts.  Of course I could only say all this in my head.  You can never talk to a drunk.  That is one of their advantages.

The open-eyed person’s advantage is being able to see what is and what is not.  This is the gift of sight, the pain-laden gift that we so reluctantly accept with such tentative gratitude.  It allowed me to ask myself even in the midst of my fervent longing, what if every day for weeks or years were just like those first precious days of quiet happiness and peace?  What if it  just lasted and lasted, until I had planned my life around him?  Until I fell back against him as he stood behind me to catch me, not even looking first to see if he was even there?  If he was even ready?  If he was even sober?  I would fall defenseless, and nothing would break my fall.

And yes, I have fallen defenseless into my blind spot with nothing to break my fall.  The unutterable pain of it, when you expect to fall back into the loving and protective arms of someone who has pledged you his life in exchange for yours.  When you are shot in the back instead of held, and at such close range, so point blank, that you cannot possibly have enough healthy flesh left to draw over your open wounds, to repair yourself.  When every point in the landscape of your life turns out to be false, every reference point you had relied upon is erased or painted over with vulgar, screaming words.

She who has eyes, let her see.  Let her see past her wishful thinking, her fierce yearning, her battlefield nurse dreams of accomplishing heroic rescues with miraculous, happy endings.  Let her finally release those she might save, if only she could strive hard enough, love well enough, lay down her life in exchange.  Let her release them to stand or fall as they will.  Let her finally forgive herself for not being able to save her beloved addicts with her own heart’s blood.  Let her see what is and what is not, even if these images are blurry through her stinging, saltwater eyes.

Fate, destiny, God.  Someone shone a light across one of my possible paths and posed the question, is this what you want?  This man is honest, to his very soul.  He is not corrupt.  He will not betray you.  But he will betray himself.  Over and over.  If you take him on, you take on another life of endless servitude.  You will have to slave again like the servant at the ancient temple, working over and over to relight the fire that another has let go out.  Over and over.  Relighting, rekindling, reviving, something that dies over and over.  While your own hearth is condemned to stand cold and gray, emberless, because you cannot tend to both.  Look closely, as your life depends upon it.  Is this what you want?

The only possible answer is to tend to my own hearth.

I still trust in my old friend’s goodness, his gentle light within a very dark and gloomy lantern.  I know the light is there, even when he cannot see it.  But it is not about the trust.  It is not about his potential.  And it is not about me becoming his lightkeeper.  It is about the future I am walking toward as I continue my steps toward the receding horizon that will someday rise up and envelop me in a final embrace.  It is time to free myself from this endless cycle of hope and disappointment, hope and disappointment, where I am left perpetually hanging by a thread that someone else has unraveled.

I wish him the peace that I hope to find.  And I release him with infinite gratitude.  He is free to stand or fall as he will.  I am free to save only myself, repair my own wounds, revive my own dreams.  Knit myself together into a pattern of my own making and neatly weave in all my loose ends, until the cloth is truly made whole.  I will always love him with a profound and abiding love, even though it is marbled through with the pain of exile and impassable distance.  The love is the same, maybe even greater, to cross the saltwater-filled chasm, the ocean that separates us.

HOW YOU NURTURE

In one of the drug classes, they had an exercise that would be interesting for all of us to try.   It is set up to take a look at our social support network.  There are three tasks:

Identify several people who support, encourage and empower you.

Name the ways in which each of them help you.

Name how you nurture each relationship.

Most of us could fill volumes, couldn’t we?  Just take a moment to think of your top ten, your top twenty, your family and friends, your colleagues, those who share your interests and concerns.  Your special circle.  Think of people who helped you at school, or helped you get a job, who introduced you to those who became your dear friends, and think of those friends, too.  People who share music, art, money, knowledge and food with you.  Who freely give you the vital gifts of compassion and healing.  Who trust you.  Such an incredible web of interwoven people and such a circle of love that can hold us up in our darkest, most painful struggles.  We are so blessed in ways we cannot even begin to quantify.

If I take just one person in my life, and start to mention some of the ways in which she has supported me, it would make movie plots to last a lifetime.  Love, support, encouragement, respect, gifts, meals, mowing my lawn, babysitting my children, and thousands of other things.  Thousands upon thousands, during decades of uninterrupted friendship.  Sharing books, film, philosophy, spiritual ideas, conversations, adventures, nature hikes, hugs, and laughter. Being brave and vulnerable, trusting me, showing me honesty that invites my honesty, and helping me to see my life through a new lens.  Having sleepovers and giggling and falling asleep and waking up to talk again, cooking meals together.  Vacationing on a tiny budget, and saving us when we got seriously lost in a foreign country.  Keeping me out of harm’s way and caring for me when I have been at my life’s lowest points.  Listening with an open heart.  Caring through thick and thin, uninterrupted.  Showing up whenever I needed her, no matter how inconvenient.  Making me feel safe.  This is just a snippet of one person.  There is more, and there are more loved ones.  Treasures untold.

I have no doubt that this reflects the experience of most of my readers.  The details will differ, but most of us have at least a couple people we can fully rely on.  People whose trust we have earned, and whose respect we deserve.   But this is the not the typical experience for an addict.  Because while we have likely disappointed some of our loved ones in small ways, addicts have disappointed every single person who has ever loved them ever since they first started using – usually as a young teen.  Addicts have betrayed their best friends and their most natural allies, their partners, their parents, and most of all, if they live long enough, their children.

Many addicts in the workshop could not think of one person.  They were told to dig deeper and even consider their child self, their future self, or someone deceased.  A public figure or a famous person.  A religious figure.  Anyone to admire or draw upon for strength.  Most of them ended up mentioning either the paid staff of court, or their addict cohorts.  A social worker or housing coordinator, or the judge.  No one who had known them through time, because they had burned all those ties to the ground, and when they made feeble attempts to reconnect after just weeks of tenuous sobriety (for the umpteenth time) all they found was scar tissue.

One of the participants named his sister.  She was the only person  in his family who would still talk to him.

His example of how she helps him?  She lets him sleep in her garage.

What he plans to do to nurture that relationship?  He couldn’t really think of anything, so the drug counselor suggested a two things:

  1. Tell her the truth.
  2. Don’t use in her home.

When we did circle and he was asked if he trusts himself to nurture that relationship, he looked sad and admitted, “I don’t know.”

More proof that addiction is not the opposite of sobriety – it is the opposite of connection.  It is isolation, and broken cords.  For addicts who have repeatedly disappointed and betrayed everyone who ever  trusted them, these connections are very hard to come by.  They are as fragile as cobwebs.

CONVINCE YOURSELF

A young person, seventeen years old, is standing teary-eyed and apologetic before the drug court judge.  He has fallen off the wagon and been caught with a positive UA after six months of being clean.  Of course he will have his excuses – addicts always do.  But this kid is different, and that is why we all hope he will be able to get sober: He is not making any excuses.

He stands before the judge, facing a very long prison term if he is sent back to mainstream court.  Think about this teenager getting out of prison after spending more than half his life in it, and you get the idea.  The judge is looking at him as if she wishes she could see into his future, and she really is trying to see that far.

“I am sorry you have had this setback.  But you need to know, that although I am disappointed, I haven’t given up on you.  I have never doubted that you can graduate from drug court and have a good life.  I believe you can do this.  But you have to believe it.”

She turns to the prosecutor, who by law gets to make the recommendation on whether to send this kid to mainstream – adult court – and from there to an adult prison.  He asks for a week in jail punishment, and then one more chance to stay in drug court.  The prosecutor looks at him like a parent would look at their own beloved teen who just did something stupid that will cost them dearly.  That torn heart feeling of wanting to protect them, and knowing they must have their consequences, that their very life may depend on it.

“It’s so hard, because I don’t want to give up on you!  I feel just like the judge.  No one here wants to see you go to prison.  I want you to stay in the program, but you have to make that final decision, and not look back.  I know it’s so hard to do, but believe me, as an older person talking to a younger one, it only gets harder.  It will never be easier than it is today, with all this support, this prison hanging over your head, your youth, and your dreams to fight for.”

It is the client’s chance to speak.  He makes no excuses.  He blames no one.  He doesn’t even claim it is a mistake the lab made.  He doesn’t talk about how important he is and how he is just about to do great things.  No.  He says he is sorry.  The judge shakes her head.

“You don’t need to apologize to me.  Apologize to yourself.  You let yourself down.  You owe yourself better than this.  You have already done so much.  I tell you what.  I am going to follow the state’s recommendation and give you one last chance.  You will spend a week in custody.  Then straight back to treatment and your clean housing and your job.  And you get back to it.  And you stay with it.”

The client tries to speak, but he is so disheartened and clearly disappointed in himself, he just chokes and swallows tears.

The judge is still looking intently at him.  She leans forward.

“You can do this, my friend.  You can.  I have never had a doubt about you, from the day I met you.  But you need to convince yourself.  Spend the time in custody deciding that you can do this.  Become sure of it.  Stop doubting it.  Convince yourself, once and for all.  The rest will be easy.  You will feel a relief that you have never known.  Trust me.  I know this.  I am going to be at your graduation, and I am going to remind you of this day.  Please be convinced of this.”

The client puts his hands behind his back to get cuffed.

Like the judge and the attorney,  I don’t want him to end up like most addicts, who cause more harm than they could ever make up for.  Who suck their loved ones dry and then turn on them.  I want him to have the chance to become a fully fledged adult.  Not an object for contempt or pity.

The judge has given him one more chance.  I hope his story has a happy ending.  I hope this for himself, his future partner, his unborn children, and anyone else who needs to trust him.  I hope this for all of us.

 

 

CHECKLIST

Talking with a drug counselor and activist who has a different view on addiction than many:

Here is how we are dealing with drug addiction.  If it is legal, we mostly ignore it.  This covers sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco.  Also marijuana in some jurisdictions, and of course our favorite prescriptions.

If it is illegal, even if it reaches epic proportions and we can see with our own eyes dealing on street corners, addicts passed out or begging, and the consequences of drug addiction in the courts and emergency rooms, we tend to follow this checklist:

Deny.  Deny that it is “that bad.”  Deny that real people, like us and our loved ones, are using or getting caught up in addictions.  Deny, deny, deny.

Blame Victims.  Those users are just losers.  Weak.  Not like us.  Bad homes.  Bad values.  No willpower.  Not. Like. Us.

Isolate.  They are out there.  We are in here.  We are clean and good.  They are clearly not.  This means they kind of deserve what they are going through.  We try harder.  We deserve more.  We are separate.

Normalize.  There have always been addicts.  There always will be.  We really don’t need to do anything.  It’s not going to help anyway.

Neutralize.  Homelessness and addiction are just problems somewhere else, that I can get away from when I get onto my own property.  Addicts may be wandering the streets, and sleeping in doorways, but they are mostly staying on land between public and private, such as churches and parks.  They are not in my space, I don’t want to go to theirs.

Sanitize.  Drug addicts can live in our nice homeless encampments now.  We even have “wet” encampments, where they can drink and drug and use Sani-cans and have showers.  It is not that bad, and there is not that much suffering now, right?  They can clean up and sell us our Homeless Newspaper and everything is fine.  We have solved it, pretty much.  That mess has been cleaned up.

Hide.  Addiction?  Drugs?  Homelessness?  Dealing?  Begging?  Stealing?  Predators taking advantage of vulnerable addicts? Suffering and dying?  Sure, it happens, but I don’t have to see it.  Some losers in a broken down camper or under a bridge – what do I care?  I am safe in here, in my cozy hiding place.

And all the above checks on the typical checklist lead to constant triage – going from one emergency to another.  Ambulances for heroin overdoses.  Prison sentences for PCP-laced marijuana.  Residential burglaries to try and feed Oxycontin addictions after a legal prescription runs out.  Families who have to decide whether to cut off a beloved relative or keep fueling their addiction.

Yes, it is pervasive.  Yes, it is real.  Yes, it affects almost all of us, even if we deny this, and hide, and ignore, and excuse, and justify.

And the drug counselor asks me, asks us: Are we going to get brave enough to lift our heads and look at this?

ACCEPTING CRITICISM

A judge explained the following to a drug court participant who was about to get kicked out.  The addict was telling her why everything he had failed to do was someone else’s fault.  They gave bad directions.  They told him the wrong thing.  They didn’t call him back.  His sponsor isn’t helping.  The housing is not quiet.  The other guys in group are stupid. His family isn’t supportive enough.  His girlfriend is using again.  He could have gone on all day with his list of grievances.

This addict, like most, had a long list of what was wrong with everything and everyone – except himself.  He was so angry at all these people who had let him down!  Typical for the addict who wants to keep using.  I could see on the judges’ face her mixed feelings about whether to take the time to advise him once more, or just give up on him.  She decided to advise.

“Here’s the problem I hear with what you are saying.  If nothing is your fault, then nothing is your responsibility.  If nothing is your responsibility, then you can’t do anything about it.  If you can’t do anything about it, then you are helpless.  You’ve got no power.  And you can’t change anything.  Right?  But here’s the problem.  This is about YOUR LIFE!

“The guy you don’t like in group therapy isn’t going to prison for you.  The lab tech isn’t having consequences for your positive UA.  Your housemates aren’t going to get kicked out for things you do.  Your lawyer’s not going to lose her license because you get kicked out of drug court.  Sure, the crap you pull will affect your mom, your family, your friends, and yes, it might even dishearten some of us who are here to help you.  But it’s your life.  And you can’t change it if you don’t have any  control.  And you can’t have any control without responsibility.  And if you are responsible, then yes, some of this is your fault.

“A big part of addiction is learning to accept criticism without just turning it back and pointing the finger and telling someone else what they did wrong.  This show isn’t about what anybody else did wrong.  It’s about you avoiding prison by shouldering some responsibility, and getting clean and sober.  And to do that you have to get humble enough to learn.  You are not there yet.  I honestly don’t know if you will get there.

If and when you get real good at accepting other people’s criticism, and really hearing how what you did affected them, and really taking that in, something will change inside of you.  You’ll be able to drop your defenses.  And you can say, yeah, you’re right, I did that, and I’m gonna own it.  I did that, and I can see it.  And I am sorry.  And I want to change.  And I want to make amends.  And I want to get better.

And once you get there, you are going to start hearing a quiet inner voice that also criticizes you and calls you out when you are lying to yourself and pulls you out of denial and addiction and further pain to yourself and others.  And that is the voice of your conscience.  As you take your steps toward sobriety and mental health, you are going to hear that inner voice, watching you, guiding you, and yes, when you start taking positive steps, even encouraging you.

But it starts right now, if it starts at all.  It starts with you learning to accept criticism.  Learning to be humble.  Having acceptance, patience, and over time, feeling the peace that comes with it.  But as I sit up here watching all this, I can tell you from the heart:  None of this will happen on its own.  No matter how many chances you get.  None of this will happen, unless you are teachable and willing to change.  And that starts with accepting criticism, right here, and right now.  Can you do that?

And just to warn you, if you start your next sentence with ‘Yeah, but…’ this conversation is over.  Because this is a yes or no question.  Can you own it?  Yes or no.  No more excuses.  Yes or no.”

DEVIL’S LETTUCE

Now that marijuana has been legalized in our state, instead of a zero tolerance policy, an amount at which a driver is said to be “impaired” had to be set.  Along with this came  further guidelines for officers on the street to detect potential marijuana impairment at traffic stops.  The current level is .05 nanograms of THC in the blood as being comparable to our state’s .08% blood alcohol level which is per se impaired driving.

No one seems able to state how much smoking that is, for a variety of reasons.  The strength of each batch varies wildly.  The fact that THC stores in fatty tissues has all kinds of results.  Most importantly, an overweight chronic user, according to some research, would register over the legal limit, or even double the legal limit, at all times.   My personal take on this is that simply shows that such a person is chronically impaired, and should quit smoking.  That could also help them lose weight, and they would have the bonus prize of releasing the fat-stored THC into their bloodstream while they detox.

For officers, they need to make an assessment to decide whether to go through the process of having blood drawn in the first place.  With alcohol, we have the simple “blow test”.  You blow into a tiny plastic tube and it gives you a pretty reliable alcohol level result. If you are over the legal limit, you are taken back to the station and you retest within two hours of driving on their in-house machine.  Blood draws are rarely done and can be quite expensive.

So what do officers look for in assessing possible marijuana impairment, according to the testimony I have heard during trials?

Red eyes.  Poor muscle coordination.  Delayed reaction times.  All of which sounds like a drunk person as well.   Some more distinguishing characteristics are of course the famous skunk smell.  Abrupt mood swings from relaxed to anxious to panicked to relaxed – back to antsy and anxious.  Oh, so familiar.  And some things that were news to me.  Fluttering eyelids.  I don’t know why, but apparently marijuana causes muscle spasms and it shows especially on the eyelids.  Raised tastebuds, which leads me to wonder if that heightens taste and leads to some of the food cravings.  Problems with focus and memory, and difficulty following instructions or concentrating are also signs.  Delayed reaction time.  Decreased perception of time and distance.  Otherwise known as “being spaced out”.

I live in a marijuana-friendly community, where most smokers are as casual about smoking and driving as my Dad’s generation was about drinking and driving.  And the marijuana is only getting stronger thanks to genetic engineering.  Of course, Dad’s drinking buddies who would invariably accept “one more for the road” just before getting behind the wheel had no intention of harming their families or others.  They just saw alcohol as a friendly, social kind of thing that was relaxing and fun.  And luckily for all of us, there was much less traffic on the roads.

I wonder how many years it will take for people to take smoking and driving as seriously.  I cannot imagine that delayed reactions, decreased perception of time and distance, and other problems focusing would be anything less than a danger to pedestrians, other drivers, and anyone you choose to put in your car after you get pleasantly high.  As traffic in our city becomes more aggressive and our reaction times subdivide into split seconds, it seems worthwhile to reconsider your position if you smoke and drive.  So why don’t you and your twitchy eyelids consider staying home and enjoying your devil’s lettuce from the safety of your back porch?

READY FOR CHANGE

“You can send me to prison, I get it.  But you may not get this, Judge.  Prison will be just like the streets.  I can get my drugs there.  I know, I’m sorry – you don’t wanna know this, but I have to say it.  You said I can talk, so I’m gonna talk. I can get my drugs in prison.  Believe me, I’ve been there.

“I’ve shot my liver.  I know this.  My fault – I’m not gonna blame anybody.  I’ve shot my liver.  Pretty soon I’m gonna need a transplant or I’m gonna die.  And of course I’m gonna be at the bottom of the list because I deserve to be.  I gotta stay sober for real.  No more relapses.  No more excuses.  I get it.  And I wanna stay sober.  I’m trying.  I really am.

“But here’s the deal.  I’m not scared of prison.  Really.  I’m not.  I get a roof.  I get my three square meals a day.  But I won’t get sober.  I’m facing four years.  I get it.  But in four years I’m gonna either be dead, or getting out of prison where I am today, with the same problem.

“I’m gonna be four years older, but still an addict.  If willpower could do it, Judge, I’d be sober today.  I’m not gonna get sober from willpower.  I’m an addict.  So please understand, I’m not afraid of prison.  It’s just that prison means no change, and I’m ready for change.  That’s why I’m asking you to keep me in treatment.

“It’s my only chance to be anybody.  It’s my only chance to help anybody.  It’s my only chance to make up for some of the sh- sorry, Judge, some of the crap I’ve pulled.  I know I’m gonna die, but I’d just like the chance to die a little bit happier, a little bit less guilty, than I feel today. I know, I’ve been a liar for so long I don’t even expect you to believe me.  But I am ready for change.”

A DAY IS LIKE A THOUSAND YEARS

I found myself interpreting for a Field Sobriety Test expert the other day.  The old police officer was wonderful at explaining some of the reasoning behind different sections of the Field Sobriety Test such as Stand and Turn, Horizontal Gaze, and others.  What struck me the most was why they ask the suspect to close his eyes and silently count off 30 seconds, then open his eyes.

The obvious reason, see how the person balances, was not the main point of the countdown.  Rather, it is used as part of the drug recognition testing.  This expert told us that for someone cycling on any “uppers” such as cocaine or meth, their minds are racing at a speed that is multiple times faster than someone sober.

He testified that someone on meth, for example, will keep their eyes closed for an average of just 6 seconds, before opening and stating they are done with their 30 seconds.  This is a real window into the time perception of someone racing on uppers.  I can only imagine their heart rate and other physiological markers.

It makes me think of a biblical quote about the passage of time which to the best of my memory is “a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day”.  The quote is an explanation for why God is so blessed slow at times, but it fits well into our varying perceptions of time.

Add drugs to that, and just imagine standing with your eyes closed and having time race by at five time the rate of the earths’ rotation, inside your head.  Sounds overwhelming to me.  Hopefully, once you get sober, if you ever do, you will regain the ability to rotate around the earth both physically and mentally in sync with our lovely planet.