Category Archives: DRUGS

KEEP IT SIMPLE

One of my favorite judges gives a bracelet to drug diversion court participants when they hit their first barrier to success.   It is a simple and bright rubber band type of pull-on item, nothing fancy.  Nothing complex.  That is part of the message.  It is hardy.  It will not tear.  It is washable and can take a lot and still hang on.

She tells the defendants a few things when they get handed their KEEP IT SIMPLE bracelet.  The words change, but the message doesn’t.

“It is time for you to embrace the gift of sobriety.  The gift of living with awareness.  You don’t have to live in a fog any more.  You can be alive.  You can wake up curious and greet the morning, wondering what the day will hold, and ready to take one step at a time.

“This KEEP IT SIMPLE bracelet is a reminder that when we complicate our lives, our lives gets harder.  When we fight ourselves, we truly lose.  We have to let go of the struggle.  Accept what is.  Move on from where we are at, even if we don’t want to be there.  The goal is so simple, and yet so hard for most of us.

“Quit worrying about all the crap.  Quit regretting your past and being anxious about your future.  Just promise yourself to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and taking each day as it comes.  And keep your promise to yourself.  Keep it simple.”

 

THIS TIME

Drug Court Graduation Speech:

I wrote this for my Mom, who’s in the audience.  I’m gonna read it now.  If I don’t choke up too much.  And if I can read my own handwriting.  I shoulda typed this sucker.   Anyway…

Mom.  Love ya, Mom.  Okay, start over.

Mom, you got sick and tired of me a lotta times but you never gave up on me.  That’s how come I’m alive today.  The only reason.  Since I was 13, I remember promising you that I would get sober.  You were always so worried about me, and you would beg and explain, and make me promise.  And I promised you, and every damn time – sorry to swear, Mom, you raised me better – every time, I lied.  I didn’t mean to lie, but it turned out that I did.  I let you down.  Every time.

Because no matter how much I love you, and you know I do, Mom, I couldn’t stay sober for you.  But now I’ve been sober for a year.  Yeah, maybe it’s partly the pee tests.  I made a commitment to tell the truth for the rest of my life, and that’s part of the truth.  The pee tests, the threat of jail, the threat of prison, yeah.  But the real reason that this time was different?

I always promised you, Mom.  Or whatever fly-by-night girlfriend I had that week.  Or my boss.  Or even my kids, I’m sorry to say.  Even my kids.  But this time, because of treatment, and yeah, the threat of prison, and yeah, the pee tests, Mom, go ahead and laugh at me, but this time, I promised myself.  I promised myself.  Not you.  Not my boss.  Not the court.  I promised myself, and I did it for myself, and I am not gonna give up on myself.  Because you never gave up on me, Mom.

And Mom, I gotta say how sorry I am, that I could not do it for you, back when I was 13, when you first found out about it and gave me that talk.  Everything would have been so much easier, so much better. But I can only go from today forward, that I know.  And now I am 47 and the therapist says I gotta go through puberty now because I kinda sorta missed it,  Yeah, I see my girlfriend is kinda laughing at me back there, like yeah, I coulda told you that, yeah, he’s about 13 still, but anyway…

Anyway, back to the letter, I’m gonna go through whatever I have to go through, but this time, I’m gonna do it sober, Mom, because you taught me to believe in myself, and I’m kinda a slow learner, but whatever.  Here I am, still alive, and clean and sober.  Graduating from Drug Court.  With another chance.  My last chance.  More than I deserve, but I hope to earn it.  Love you, Mom.  And thanks everybody.  Hey, anybody gotta kleenex?  Dang!  I must have allergies or something!  Or maybe it’s puberty kicking in.  They say you get a lotta mood swings.  Anyway, thanks!

DEAR ARRESTING OFFICER: THANKS!

I love Drug Court.  I just do.  I wish more people had the opportunity to be in this safe and supportive nest, so they could have the best possible chance for fledging into a new life of sobriety.

One of the key aspects of all good recovery programs is learning to “own your shit”.  Way before psychologists coined the terms “projection”” and “transference” and probably before we even walked upright, I am pretty sure we were pointing the finger at our loved ones and others in our community, to explain how everything bad is coming from somebody else.  Nothing is my fault!

I have a theory that those of us who still do this finger-pointing regularly suffer from an atavistic fear of rejection.  At some point in human history, rejection meant actual death.  Social animals rarely survive without any support.  So rejection goes deep, and not taking on blame is a way to protect ourselves.  But we don’t get far by blaming others for our own failures and shortcomings.  It builds distrust and chaos all around us. Thus, “owning our shit” comes in.

One small part of taking ownership through Drug Court is writing a letter to the arresting officer.  This happens close to graduation.   Before they can graduate, participants have to be clean, sober, productive and stable.  Upon successful graduation, the original charge against them is dismissed and they are free.   This usually takes a couple years of intense supervision, support, and occasional sanctions such as jail time.  As they work the program, addicts go from blaming everyone (but themselves) to owning their shit, apologizing, and eventually even thanking everyone.  It is lovely and humbling to witness.  We can all learn from it.

Each letter thanking their arresting officer for arresting them and starting them on the road to recovery is unique to the participant, but with many common threads.  A detective was telling us that these letters mean the world to the officers who receive them.  Spending years arresting people in the hopes of protecting society from criminal behavior, and even protecting the criminals from themselves, is rarely a thankful task.   Here is one of the letters to give you an idea:

Dear Officer:

You probably don’t remember me, but I will never forget you.  Thank you for putting me in jail.  You pulled me out of a downward spiral.  I am disgusted and humiliated by the things I would do for my next hit. I lost my family and even my children because of my addiction and criminal behavior.  Nobody could trust me any more, because I was not trustworthy.

Now I am clean and sober.  I have a job.  I have visitation with my kids.  I am earning their trust back.  My parents are talking to me again.  I am earning their trust, too.  I used to think I was so important and everybody was against me.  Now I just have simple dreams.  Stay sober.  Keep working. Take care of my family.  And be grateful.  I say a little prayer for you, officer, that even if you cannot see the good you do, you will somehow be rewarded.

There is no doubt in my mind that I would either be in prison, or dead already, if you had not arrested me.  I want you to know I am now sober for life.   There were times when I thought going back to drugs and even prison was easier than persisting.  But somewhere along the line I realized this is my last chance.  Because I don’t have another “getting sober” in me.  I’m tired and I’m getting too old to keep running this circle.  The drug court thing is the hardest thing I have done in my life and it took everything I had, but I am in a good place now.

I was frustrated and angry when you arrested me, and I blamed everyone but myself for my problems.  I blamed you for my arrest.  I felt like nobody loved me, but a lot of people loved me.  I was the one who didn’t love myself.  I was the problem.  Now I have learned acceptance and the power of persistence.  Now I finally love myself enough to know that all this work is worth it – that my freedom is worth something.  That I am worth something.  That there is something better in store for me than just hurting people and letting people down.

I understand that there is police brutality, and I don’t want to downplay that or say that nobody ever gets hurt by a cop.  I also know that us addicts cause harm every day of our lives.  We break up families.  We steal and lie.  We hurt and even kill people on the daily.  And when people love us, we break their frikkin’ hearts.  Especially those who love us and trust us and keep trying to support us.  But outside of all that, between you and me, there is deep gratitude for my arrest.  By arresting me, you protected others from me, and you protected me from myself.  You protected my kids, and you protected my parents.  I thought nobody loved me, but I was wrong.

You showed me love by arresting me.  On that day, you cared more about me than I cared about myself.  But now I have changed.  And I want you to know that I am going to work hard, and take care of my family.  I will always be an addict but thanks to you, I will be clean and sober until the day I die.  Because when you arrested me, you put me on my feet.  And hopefully someday everyone I hurt can forgive me, as I am trying to forgive myself.  But that’s my problem to deal with.  Just wanted to write and say, thanks for the opportunity.

SHOPPING FOR PEE

I am happy to say that I do zero holiday shopping.  Our family simply spends time together playing board games and eating good food.  But as several colleagues have asked me to post something in keeping with the holiday spirit, allow me to share with you a possible gift idea, which I hope you will not need.  Fake pee.

I was with a new defendant who had been ordered to day reporting with random UAs (urinalysis or pee test).  He nervously drank some water and was even more nervous when the young woman had him empty all his pockets and then led him to the bathroom with me in tow.  I think he feared we were actually going into the bathroom with him.  But in his case, as she informed him, he was not going to be observed unless they had reason to doubt that his pee was his own, or he was otherwise adulterating it.

As we stood outside, she rolled her eyes and shared with me that “observations have become a lot less pleasant since the whizzinators.”  Allow me to introduce this fine product, which according to their website, “is not to be used for any illegal purposes – follow all state and federal laws while using this product.”  The website advertises it for use by people who wish to pee on each other for sexual pleasure with clean, warm synthetic urine out of a spendy and unattractive fake dick.  Disingenuous, just like their potential clients.

Drug addicts have always tried to falsify their test results, whether by dilution, adding antacids or other maskers, or by bringing in the sample of a clean buddy.  But as the drug testing has gotten more scientific, the off-market products are trying to keep up.  The whizz kit, which holds urine  in a belt around your waist with a drain tube reaching to the urethra area works well for women and men not under close observation.  The downside is you need to wear the belt for at least an hour in order to bring your pre-mixed urine to body temperature.

The upgraded gentleman’s whizzinator offers a “very quiet, fast-acting, warm synthetic urine instantly”  delivered through a synthetic penis, so the drug addict can whip out something that if the observer is not too shrewd may pass.  As men are charged with drug offenses at a ratio of around 15 to 1 compared to women, these kits are gaining in popularity.  They are advertised on the website as “the most life-like realistic fake penis on the market!”

Only one problem, besides the fact that these poor replicas are all brutally circumcised.  Either the company doesn’t realize that there are many variations in skin tone, size and shape, or they just don’t care, because drug addicts who will pay around $150 to try and pass a pee test that is likely to simply put off their inevitable fall, are not real swift.  News flash to drug addicts:  If you are using drugs, somebody is going to notice, whether you strap on a fake penis or not.  But false hope is the hallmark of the addict.

The company sells in five colors: white, tan, “latino”, brown and black.  The white looks like the color of a plant that has never seen the light of day, like a dandelion stem one finds growing in a dark cellar.  The tan is closer to a white farmer’s back neck at the end of the summer.  The so-called latino penis, which is my personal favorite “color” option, because of course latinos come in absolutely every color, presumably with penises to match, is a fake brick-red color that reminds me of clay, but certainly not human skin.  The brown looks like cheap, waxy chocolate, and the black is pitch black, like the tarps we use in the yard.

The court worker told me that the main reason these men get caught is because the fake penis color does not match their skin, causing a suspicious “zebra effect”.  Then the court worker assigned to observer has to awkwardly order the urinator to remove and hand over his fake penis, which is confiscated and added to the court’s growing collection.  The drug addict is remanded to court for a non-compliance hearing, where they will face the consequences of trying to buy pee instead of dealing with their real issues.

Expanding on this theme, just a holiday thought.  How many of the things we buy are actually helping us?  And how many of the purchases we make are just an attempt to put off the inevitable, which is figuring out what is really bothering us?  What fuels our desire to buy things we do not need with money we do not have?  Look around your home and see if you have things that are your equivalent of the whizzinator, although I am very sorry to leave you with that image.  But shopping as a distraction is also a dangerous addiction and a little aversion therapy could come in handy.  Happy holidays.  May you spend it in good spiritual and physical health, surrounded by your loved ones.

 

RELAPSE

While upholding the law, judges each have their own way of viewing things.  And they are given a certain amount of leeway in deciding what to do with the cases that come before them.  This is what is referred to as their discretion.  It comes strongly into play when they have to decide how to address people who have violated the terms of their probation or diversion programs.  When is it best to send them back to jail?  When should they be given a warning and no punishment?  What about changing the conditions of their release to add something like alcohol monitoring, or another class?  Or giving an in-between punishment like a few days on work crew?

In Drug Court it is common for the judge to acknowledge that “relapse is part of recovery”.  The focus is on reaching a healthy, sustainable sobriety.  The crime is considered a side effect of the addiction.  And the addiction is considered a disease.  So as long as the person admits – ahead of time – that their next UA (urinalysis) will come out positive (for drugs) they will likely get some kind of additional punishment and perhaps additional supervision, but they will usually be allowed to continue avoiding prison as long as they immediately get back into treatment.  The idea is that sobriety is going to be a win-win for society and for the individual, so it is worth “letting them slide” with certain protections in place.  Recovery is a bumpy road.  The judge acknowledges this.

Not all judges agree.  One judge I regularly work with is frankly sick and tired of the recovery model that allows relapse as a normal part of recovery, at least as a free pass on legal consequences.  The following is part of her lecture to a person who relapsed in her court after being granted a “dispo” or a dispositional continuance (which if done successfully ends with a dismissal and no conviction).

“I don’t believe that relapse is part of recovery, and I’ll you why.  Because when you relapse, there IS no recovery!  You are simply using again.  Now, you didn’t have to take a dispo.  You could have just pled guilty, or you could have gone to trial, but you chose to request a very special sentencing alternative – the Dispositional Continuance.  If your lawyer instructed you well, you would know that this is ONLY for people who KNOW they are addicts – who WANT to recover – and who are READY and WILLING to abstain for the rest of their lives.  Who are through with it!  If you are not, please do not come into my courtroom asking for favors while you use.  Not gonna happen.  This isn’t a program set up for you to avoid punishment for your crime.”

“Yes, we know that alcoholism and drug addiction is a disease.  But that isn’t a free pass to keep using and call it ‘part of your recovery’.  No.  If you are getting proper treatment, and you are putting it into practice, you are not going to relapse.  You are through.  So I don’t accept relapse.   Some judges will tell you that if you admit to your relapse ahead of time, before you are found out, and it is early in your process, then you deserve another chance.  I disagree.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  You certainly deserve another chance at TREATMENT for your disease.  But you do NOT merit another chance to avoid the lawful punishment for the crime that you committed.  That is a one-time deal.  As it should be.”

Following people for years through the courts, I see some people who end up in jail or prison.  I see others who graduate clean and sober from a drug diversion program.  And sometimes I see someone in drug court who picks up a new criminal charge while supposedly working the program.  A few have died of an overdose during a relapse.  The hard part for the judge, no matter what their personal philosophy, is how to handle that first relapse.  We cannot know ahead of time who is most deserving of a break.  We cannot know who is going to benefit from a break.  We cannot know whose relapse will be their last, and whose relapse is the first of many, until the addict just gives up for good, and others suffer for it.  In the above case, the “strict” judge did give the addict one last chance, with work crew days and tighter supervision.

When I first walked into a drug diversion court many years ago, I thought it was a little corny that people would clap for the defendants who had reached the next stage of their recovery and their criminal process.  Many years later now, after having viewed so many failures, so many heartbreaking setbacks, long prison sentences and even untimely deaths, I now clap along with the judge, the prosecutor, and the defense attorneys when the audience applauds at these promotions. Why clap for a law-breaking addict?  Because I now have a better sense of what heroic, sustained effort is needed for some people to simply stay sober.  For vulnerable people, it is a lot harder than it looks.  It is easy to fall, and hard to get back up.   So if one more person clapping can encourage one more person to stay sober, I say, clap.

 

 

 

GUILT

When a family member finally “gives up” on an addict, it can be devastating.  But there is some great support and advice for those who have to detach for their own safety and sanity.  If you are in this situation, do not let yourself be consumed with guilt.  If for no other reason, then simply because whatever you have been doing has not worked – so why beat yourself up for not continuing to do something that doesn’t work?  That is crazy thinking.

If this feels selfish to you, as it very likely will, ask yourself honestly how the addict has been doing as a result of your constant worry, loving concern, and attempts to manipulate the situation to create that miraculous and elusive sobriety you feel sure is the best thing.  How is that working out for you?  Probably like it does for the rest of us hopeless hopers – not too great.  It hurts us and it helps no one.  You get an A for effort, but nothing gets better.  Because the changes you want to make are out of your control.  So stop trying.  Let go.  Move on into living your own life, the only one you have.

I saw a beautiful and thoughtful card that said:  You can’t save him.  No matter how good, patient, strong, resourceful and self-sacrificing you are – even superhuman – you can’t save him.  He has to decide to save himself, and you have to let him.

This is hard to remember when the guilt comes at you in waves, and you fear you will drown in it.  It will hit you, and your stomach will tie itself into knots, and your heart will pound, and you will feel the tears coming.  But take a breath and remember that if you could have cured the addiction with your support, you would have.  If years of love and care would heal it, it would be healed.  So release this beloved person into their own life and trust the universe to take care of them.  And start taking care of yourself.

Taking care of yourself releases others from having to worry about you.  In that sense it is a gift you give to all of your loved ones.  But taking really good care of yourself cannot happen until you can let go of both blame and guilt.  Forgive your addict for not being able to do the impossible and cure themselves of their disease.  Forgive them for not being stronger, and better, and somehow good enough to be able to resist every second of every day, in good times and bad, the draw and the pull and the urgency to use their drug or addiction of choice.  And while you forgive them for not accomplishing the impossible, please forgive yourself for the same thing – for not being able to heal their soul and make them better.

It is not because they didn’t want to, and it is not because you didn’t want to.  It is not because you are terrible people and never deserved to have a clean and sober, happy and healthy life.  It is certainly not because you didn’t try.  You can think about it for the rest of your life, and wonder and chew on it and spit it out and take it up and chew on it again like dog vomit.  It will still never be resolved through thinking and analyzing and suffering over it.  Addiction is like other tragic things – we have to make our peace with it without ever being able to reach a point where we can say, “Oh, this makes perfect sense now. I can now see why it had to be that way.  Of course.”

No, addiction and other tragedies do not allow us the luxury of being able to work through them intellectually, and thereby come to a place of complete peace.  Instead, we have to overcome our chronic grief and guilt by simply accepting what has happened – and accepting that we have to accept it without thoroughly understanding it.  All our valiant efforts and hopes and dreams, and all our love that led to nothing – we have to accept that we will never understand it.  It doesn’t make sense and it never will.  And if we wait for it to make sense in order to start forgiving ourselves and others, if we put our lives on hold until we can clear the guilt by thinking and thinking again, then we will drown in it and we will never be free.

On that cheerful note, I invite you to forgive yourself and your beloved addict.  Forgive the world for being the way it is.  Forgive the universe for not making more sense.  You might as well, because the universe, the world, and your beloved addict are only going to change at their own pace and according to their own rules.  So forgive yourself as well for ever thinking that you were in charge of things.  And take that heavy globe down off your shoulders (that’s right – go ahead and let the whole world down!) and walk on your own path in your own integrity for as long as you have a breath left in your body.  It is not a sin; it is not a crime; it is not a betrayal to take care of yourself.  It just feels like it at first.  And then it gets better.

DETACHMENT

Seeing the family members of addicts in court fills my heart with a flood of pain and compassion for their suffering.  They show up routinely to fill the benches and support their loved ones.   Why do they do it?  Because they are still, no matter how far gone their beloved addict is, hoping against hope that their loving support can cure addiction in another person.  I can do nothing better than to pull from some Al-Anon literature on detachment here.

Detachment is neither kind nor unkind.  It does not imply judgment or condemnation of the person or situation from which we are detaching.  Separating ourselves from the adverse effects of another person’s addictions can be a means of detaching: this does not necessarily require physical separation.  Detachment can help us look at our situations realistically and objectively.

Addiction is a family disease.  Living with the effects of someone else’s addictions is too devastating for most people to bear without support.

In Al-Anon we learn that nothing we say or do can CAUSE or CURE someone else’s addictive behaviors.  We are not responsible for another person’s disease or recovery from it.

Detachment allows us to let go of our obsession with another’s behavior and begin to lead happier and more manageable lives, lives with dignity and rights, lives guided by a power greater than ourselves.  We can still love the person without liking the behavior.  We can detach with love.

In sober support groups, we can learn:

Not to suffer because of the actions or reactions of the addict.

Not to allow ourselves to be used or abused by the addict.

Not to do for the addict what he can do for himself.

Not to manipulate situations hoping to force sobriety.

Not to cover up for the addict’s mistakes or misdeeds.

Not to create a crisis, nor to prevent a crisis when that is the natural result of the addict’s actions.

Thus, we allow the addict to experience the consequences of his own actions, knowing that we did not cause the addiction; we cannot control the addiction; and we cannot cure the addiction.  No matter how much we love and how much we give and how much we do.  We cannot cure another person’s addictions.  We cannot.

I am guessing that many people who are caught up in this cycle simply cannot believe that we cannot help someone whom we love so very much.  It doesn’t make any sense.  Love conquers all, right?  We are trying so hard, and giving up so much, and trying some more; it must be helping.  It must.  But when we manage to take a step back and look objectively, we see that their addictive behaviors have not been cured by our loving behaviors.  Because it is out of our control.  So we must let go and lovingly hand the reins back to the addict.

Somebody once told me that having a child is like agreeing to have your heart walk around outside of your body, because you will never be happier than your unhappiest child.  Living with an addict is like that.  But if we finally manage to detach our focus from the painful, impossible task of healing an addict, we begin to turn inward to heal ourselves.   We start to construct a life for ourselves that is safer and less painful.  We sense a certain tentative peace and joy as we advance along this course.  Hopefully, eventually, we learn to live our own lives to the fullest, free to find our own well-being, our own truth, our own life path.

 

 

 

SODA LOITERING

SODA loitering sounds like someone hanging about drinking a carbonated beverage.  But SODA actually stands for Stay Out of Drug Areas.  It is a specific prohibition, like a trespass order, telling an individual that they are not allowed to hang around within a certain geographical location.  The law on drug loitering should be pretty narrow and straightforward, right?  If you have a court case ordering you to stay out of a specific drug area, you have to do it or you can get arrested.  But the law is actually way, way, broader than that.

With drug loitering as currently written, the police can take someone who is simply hanging around and arresting them for – well, for hanging around.  The person arrested does not have to have drugs on their person.  They do not have to be caught buying or selling.  They do not have to be watching for police, arranging for anything, or really doing anything but hanging around.  They don’t even have to have a SODA order.  Isn’t that strange?  Loitering itself is a strange concept.  It sounds a bit like the old Wild West movies, with a sheriff simply informing a newcomer, “This town ain’t big enough for the two of us” and warning the person to take the next train out of Dodge.

If you like legalese, you may enjoy these next few quotes from our drug loitering law.

It is unlawful for a person to loiter in or near a public or private place under circumstances manifesting the intent to engage in drug-related activity.   But what are circumstances?

“Circumstances” include being a known unlawful drug user, possessor, or seller.  But who is that?

A “known unlawful drug user, possessor, or seller” is a person who, within the past 10 years, has been convicted in any court of any violation involving the use, possession, or sale of any of controlled substances; or a person who displays physical characteristics of drug intoxication or usage, such as “needle tracks”; or a person who possesses drug paraphernalia.

So if you have been convicted on a drug charge – or you LOOK like a druggie, you fit the circumstances.

The law is even broader than that.  The police can also arrest you if you don’t fit any of the above, but you “behave in such a manner as to raise a reasonable suspicion that you are ABOUT to engage in an unlawful drug-related activity.”  So even if you have no convictions, and no court orders trespassing you from standing on that block, and you are not actually engaging in any drug-related activity, and don’t even look or act like a druggie, but you look like you MIGHT be ABOUT to engage in such activity, my reading is you can be arrested for drug loitering.  The trigger would be that you raise a “reasonable suspicion” in the police.  Get it?

But wait, there’s more!  If you are known to the police as a gang member or drug dealer, you can be arrested for loitering .  If you transfer small objects or packages for currency in a furtive fashion, you may be arrested.

If none of the above applies, you can STILL be arrested for loitering.  If you take flight upon the appearance of a police officer, you can be arrested.  If you manifestly endeavor to conceal yourself or any object which reasonably could be involved in an unlawful drug-related activity, you can be arrested.

In addition, you can be arrested without any of the above, if you area where you are hanging out is by public repute known to be an area of unlawful drug use and trafficking.  You can also be arrested for loitering if the premises involved are known to have been reported to law enforcement as a place suspected of drug activity.  You can be arrested if the vehicle involved is registered to a known unlawful drug user, possessor, or seller, or a person for whom there is an outstanding warrant for a crime involving drug-related activity.

I understand why some police and even some sectors of the public would want this kind of law to be enforced.  It is not easy to catch drug dealers and when we do, they are replaced overnight by new faces doing the same thing in the same spot.  Drug dealers have a lot of people who need them and are willing to be lookout or runner or help in whatever way in exchange for drugs or cash.  It is frustrating to go past certain bus stops in the city that have been nicknames “drug stops” and observe open trafficking with police on bikes or with vans seemingly helpless to do more than harass the dealers.  I get all that.  And I don’t want to get into drug policy overall here, but keep my focus on how broad a net a criminal statute should cast.

Is it a crime to hang out somewhere looking like you probably use or sell drugs, or might do so?  Is it a crime to walk off when police show up, or hold your backpack in a certain way, or just look furtive and sneaky?  I don’t think it should be.  And my reason is this.  I could hang out all day long and half the night standing at the side of another innocent person and I would ever get arrested.  Because the combination of my race, my gender, my age, my lovely maternal hips, and my strikingly innocent face, would stop the police from having a “reason” to suspect me.  I frankly don’t feel bad about that, because I am innocent.  But I do feel bad about that fact that another innocent person, just like me, but who doesn’t look like me, could be arrested, just for hanging out on the wrong corner, and convicted of a drug crime, with all its consequences.

If the suspect is actually doing something, such as dealing, selling, buying, using, being obviously intoxicated, making phone calls and arranging deals, being the gopher or the lookout, then go ahead and arrest that person.  All of those activities are already codified into law and are already crimes.  I understand the desire to have another weapon against crime, I really do.  But I don’t believe that we need law so broad and sweeping that the police are tasked with simply guessing who might be about to engage in drug-related activities,  based on how they look while they are simply standing or walking on the street.

I wouldn’t feel comfortable arguing this with any individual police officer I know, because I know they have some great arguments in favor of needing a wide-net law.  I have heard them all.  Too many people get away.  People have money from dealing and can work the system.  These gangs are causing so much harm to our community.  They are tied to prostitution, residential burglaries, robberies, and more.  It is all part of the same dangerous crap that goes down when we can’t put our foot down and “get the bad guys”.  We all pay for it when we tie the hands of the police.  We have to let them do their job.  There is much to argue here and it is endless.

I hate drugs.  I hate the damage that drugs cause to addicts and their loved ones.  But the law school dropout in me still remembers coming into constitutional law and stumbling onto the lovely discovery that in this country, you cannot be punished for who you are (or who you appear to be) only for what you actually do.  It is our actions, and not our thoughts, or the thoughts of others about us, that make us liable to arrest and prosecution.  Until standing around is a crime for everyone, it should not be a crime for a chosen few.  And if is must be a crime in order to safeguard the community, let’s make the code narrow and specific enough that it targets actual drug dealers alone.

REASONABLE FACSIMILE OF A HUMAN BEING

“You’re a reasonable facsimile of a human being – you present very well – but don’t you want more for yourself?”

And before you answer that, let me tell you a few things.  I don’t know you personally, but I do know addicts.  And a lot of addicts are very selfish.  Narcissistic.  Into drama and blame.  Pointing the finger at everyone but themselves.  You threaten and promise all kinds of things.  You tell your loved ones that if they would change, you could quit using.  You blame others for your mistakes.  It’s never your fault, right?  Wrong! That is a typical addict lie.  I see your mother is sitting in this courtroom.  Let me assure her that she is not at fault for your addiction.  Neither is anybody else.  You are, sir.  You alone.  Just you.  And no one else can get you clean and sober.  No one else in the whole wide world.   It is your choice.  Yes, it is a disease, but it is still your choice to get treatment.

Talk about the whole wide world, yours is shrinking.  You may not realize it, but if you get into treatment, you will come to see that through your addiction, your world has gotten very small.  Your world is diminished, and you are diminished.  You have gotten smaller.  The things you used to care about, and the people you used to care about, have fallen away one by one.  You aren’t doing well in school.  You lost your part-time job.  You don’t have anything you like to do, anything you enjoy, any more.  You just use.  Some of your own family don’t even want to talk to you.  Would rather not be around you now.

Your world is shrinking, and you are shrinking with it.  Your life now, and the lies you live in that you desperately try to believe, it’s all closing in on you, and you are getting smaller.  Don’t you ever want to take off the mask, and see what is behind it?  Because that person under the mask is the authentic you.  And you are in the process of losing yourself.  You are in danger of disappearing into your addiction, and just being a reasonable facsimile of yourself.  It is already happening.  Is it worth it to mask your pain with drugs at that price?  Is this all you want from life?  To hide from your pain and then blame others?  To cause others pain?

Part of the problem with you addicts is that you are convinced that only your own pain is real.  That only you suffer.  And that you suffer in some new and special and extra-hard way that no one else can feel or understand.  But I am here to tell you that your suffering, as great as it may be, is actually no more special or intense or important than the suffering of any other human being, sober or drugged.  You are no more important than any other human being, sober or drugged.  Your particular life history is not the worst or hardest or most excruciating suffering that any living human being has ever been through.  Surprisingly enough, other people also feel, just as deeply as you do.  But you just can’t see that, can you?  Because it’s always about the addict.  Everything about you is more important than anything and anybody.

As you progress in your disease, drug addicts tend to see other people as mere props in your play,  to be manipulated and controlled so you can keep doing what you want to do  – use drugs.  As drugs lead you into more selfishness, people are less and less real to you.  But let me tell you they are certainly real to themselves.  I may be repeating myself here, but it is so important that I have to say more about it.  Believe it or not, other people feel and think and suffer just like you do.  Just because you are caught up in your own pain  does NOT mean that you suffer more or better than others.  It does not make you special.  Other people have their own life stories, and your story does not trump theirs.  You are a simple human creature, one of many billions, walking around with your pain and your potential joy, just like all the rest of us.  We all suffer – we all feel – we all doubt.  As an addict, I know you cannot see or believe that.  Not right now.

Addicts are unreliable – changeable – unsteady – jittery.  You make big beautiful promises, but you have no staying power.  Because you already start out with a fragile grasp on reality – borderline enough to actually think that drugs will help, which is pretty crazy, and then you use drugs over and over and guess what – they only make your ability to tell the truth and deal with the truth even more tenuous.  Your grasp on reality hangs by a thread.  And sometimes that thread breaks, and then we have psychosis to deal with.

Your so-called truths – the lies you addicts live in – become revisionist history, and depend on your mood of the moment.  You try to justify your addictive and selfish behavior with lies upon lies, looking back in time to try and convince yourself that what you are doing is someone else’s fault.  And you constantly revise the stories you live in.  What you say and think and feel changes by the minute.  Your feelings and impulses of the moment have taken over your personality.  Who are you?  Who is the real, authentic you?  How can anyone trust you?  How can you trust yourself?  Do you know who you are?  Truly?

There used to be a show on television where the contestant would have to guess which of three people pretending to be someone was the real one.  There were questions and answers, and the answers might be true or a lie.  In the end, the presenter would say, Will the real Mr X please stand up?  So I ask you, will the real You stand up?  Well, that is a tough one because there isn’t a real You right now, is there?  Not a solid, reliable, core personality that anyone can trust and believe in.  Addicts lie to everyone but most of all to yourselves.

You live in fantasy-land.  You are not a reasonable person.  That’s why your mother and all the others who have tried to help you cannot continue to support you for much longer.  It’s not because they are bad people or they don’t love you enough or they’re not smart enough to understand you.  It’s because they cannot reason with an unreasonable person, an addict who is not living in reality.  Who is denying reality, and living in a made-up world of your own lies.  They cannot trust your word because you have become a liar.  Accept this fact and you are ready for treatment.

They cannot believe a thing you say because it changes every five minutes:  You love your family.  You hate your family.  You miss your family.  You need to get away from your family.  You are guilty and feel bad for all the crap you have pulled.  It was somebody else’s fault that you did all that.  You actually didn’t do anything wrong.  You feel great and using is not a problem.  You are afraid to quit.  You are going to quit.  You did quit.  Oh, no, you didn’t.  You started again.  You would quit if everyone would stop telling you to quit.  You are going to treatment.  You don’t need treatment.  You are fine.  You feel terrible.  You don’t need anyone.  You are using.  You are fine.  You are using again.  No, you’re not using.  You’ve got it under control.   Oops!  No, you don’t.  And now you don’t want to talk about it – until you do.  Then you go around asking for help that you won’t ultimately take.

Sober people cannot follow you down this rabbit hole into the darkness of your addiction, my friend, so do not get mad at them if they decide to watch what you do as you do it, real time, rather than trying to believe in the ever-shifting kaleidoscope of your ever-changing words.  Especially after a long, almost endless series of disappointments and betrayals that are part and parcel of living with, and loving, an addict.

Don’t blame your family if they cannot keep pretending that you are fine, that they are the ones with the problem.   That is too much to ask of them, no matter how much they love you.  They cannot do that.  They cannot play your addict games.  Because they always lose, and they are weary.  The most patient, loving heart, even the maternal heart, gets tired in the end.  You are asking so much and giving so little.  You are taking so much of their happiness, and giving nothing but pain in return.

Here is another of the lies you tell yourself and others, and I see this over and over every day in here. You are a very important person and you are just about to do very important things.  If other people would just be the props in your play, and be all about you, and support whatever you do, even if it’s gonna change again in five minutes, then you could really get somewhere.  Wow!  Drum roll – the orchestra plays.  Everyone is invited.  The curtains open, and there you are.  Da-tada-ta-da!  Watch me!  I’m so great!  But then, oops.  There’s not much of a show, is there?  There’s not much there.  Not so fun to watch your very special show called Crackville, or Marijuanaville, or PCPville.  So you look out in the audience for someone to blame for your shortcomings.  Why aren’t they clapping?  Why are they leaving?  If only you had a truly supportive crowd, you could really show them!  It’s somebody else’s fault – again.  Oh, boy.

I like to ask my addicts, and this might not mean much to you now, and you don’t even have to answer on the record, but what else do you want to lose to your drug before you can say you hit bottom and you are ready to quit?  You already lost most of your family.  You already lost your chance for a straight path through school and into the workforce.  You lost a lot of friends.  I am guessing you have lost a lot of self-respect.  But you haven’t lost your mother yet – here she is with you still.  Do you want to lose her before you turn your life around?  You haven’t lost your freedom yet – if you do drug court, you can avoid jail while reclaiming your life.  Do you want to lose your freedom?  You haven’t lost your life yet – but you will if you stay on this path.  Do you want to lose your life?

What else will it take, or in other words, what else do you want to lose, before you choose to do the hard work of recovery?  NA, support groups, treatment, in-patient, whatever it takes?  Are you ready yet?  Have you lost enough to your drug yet?  Or do you want to lose even more?  It’s up to you.  I know you don’t believe me right now because you are still clearly in denial, but this train to hell has many stops and you can choose to get off anywhere you want.  You have free will.  It is your choice.   There is no law that says you have to self-destruct.  That you have to destroy your family.  That you have to break people’s hearts and leave them with a lifetime of guilt for not being able to save you, heal you, fix you, help you enough, so that you can get sober.  It is not written in the stars that you have to die an addict.

You can get treatment.  All you have to do is be willing and open, and all the support and help you need is right here.  This is your chance for the wake-up call.  Time to wake up and face your own life.  It’s not too late!  Not if you don’t want it to be.  But it isn’t about anybody else or what anybody else did to you, or said to you, or didn’t do for you.  It’s just – you.  That tiny spark of life in that little bit of flesh you call yourself.  And you’re gonna have to stand all by your little lonesome self at the very edge of the abyss, and look into that darkness, if you want to face your demons and claim your full adulthood.  Your full humanity.  It is a chance for reinvention, if you are brave enough and curious enough to take it.

You have the opportunity to recreate yourself out of the ashes.  And once you face the void and clear away all the lies and denial and numbness, and work through the underlying pain, what is left, if you can do it, is pure gold.  It is you, yourself.  And you will finally look yourself in the face and know yourself, and can gather up your broken pieces and make yourself whole.   Your true self.  The one you have been afraid to know, and accept, and embrace, and eventually, love.  Do it – go through it – face it.  And then, my friend, you can call yourself a true human being, in the full meaning of the word.  In all your glory.

You smile, you think it’s impossible?  I have watched people do it.  Over and over.  Hundreds of them.  They had their pain and they faced it.  And they got sober and they moved on with their lives.  You can.  If and only if you want to.  Remember, this program is voluntary – I cannot make you enter into drug court and I cannot make you stay.   I can only kick you out if you lie to me and fail.  It is wholly up to you.  You decide to enroll.  You decide whether to fail or succeed.

So I repeat my question: You’re cute.  You’re smart.  You’re quite charming.  You’re well-spoken and convincing.  Like so many addicts, you’re a reasonable facsimile of a human being – but don’t you want more?  Don’t you feel like you deserve it?  What?  You don’t feel up to it?  You don’t want to try?  You want to give up?  You feel like dying?  Well, so what?  That doesn’t even come into the question.  That’s a problem that will solve itself.  Think about it.  You’re going to die without any effort on your part – we are all mortal.  In fact, I have a sign in my office that says: “Alert!  Death rate stays steady at 100%!”  So don’t worry about that.  It will happen.  We all reach that finish line, no matter what we do in the interim.

But while you are alive, here, today, aren’t you just the least little bit curious to get to know yourself, truly know yourself, and become whole, before you just throw in the towel?  It is an adventure that only you can choose to take.  Are you willing?  I suggest that you take a moment and ponder this.  Your full and rich humanity is a treasure that only you can manifest into the world.  So please, for your family’s sake if not for your own, before you give up and let the drugs win.  Can you dig deep and look for that tiny little spark within you that still thinks, still knows, that you are worth the effort, worth the fight?  If so, then embrace this, embrace this opportunity.

 

 

IMPULSE CONTROL

Drug court seems to be on my mind.  I am growing fond of the judge was wishing that more people could profit from her advice.  Then it occurred to me that I can voice some of her wisdom here.  I heard the judge making this observation to a defendant who was expressing a lot of rage and impatience, the usual “life is so unfair to me” story:

I can see you are frustrated by the way things are going in your life.  But do something for me.  Take these challenges as a way for you to learn to handle your daily struggles.  Because believe it or not, we all have them.  This will give you the opportunity to handle it better next time you have to be where you don’t want to be, and do what you don’t want to do.  Because believe it or not, we all have to do that at times.

Learning to handle it when you don’t agree with what you are told to do, yet you still have to do it, is hard, but it is all part of the program.  Because in real life, we don’t always get to control what happens around us or to us, no matter how badly we want to.

I am asking you to be patient and use these frustrations as an exercise to strengthen your character so you will be less likely to use drugs again.  Think of these challenges as exercises and see if it helps.  because if you can reach equanimity in the face of future hardship you are much less likely to relapse.

I know your goal is to ultimately reconnect with your family and try to make some amends for the collateral damage that you have finally begun to realize your drug use has caused.  You told me so yourself when you asked to get into drug court.  So keep your own goals in mind.  Think long-term.

I am no expert but I have certainly seen a lot of things as judge here and I have formed a theory.  We don’t have enough resources to help people with their behavioral issues across the spectrum, and I wish we did.  But one common thread running through so many of the cases is a lack of impulse control.

You don’t seem to have the impulse control off-switch that is the sign of a high-functioning mature and responsible adult.  When they feel like doing something like shouting or assaulting someone or using drugs or giving up, they are able to pause before acting, and think through their decision.  Impulse control is the key difference between an adolescent and an adult, an addict and a sober person.  The mature, sober adult thinks carefully before acting.  They care enough about their own future self to take care of that person in the present moment.  It’s called planning.

You, on the other hand, just do what you do.  Others have an intellectual stop and you just have your emotional go.  That is what I mean by impulse control.  You are ruled by your feelings of the moment.  And yet you have been alive long enough to notice that your feelings change at every moment.  Right?  So they are not a good compass to guide your actions, especially since some of your impulsive actions, as you have seen, have long-term consequences.

So start to think of self-control as the opposite end of the spectrum from being impulsive and just doing what you do.  There is a certain self-indulgence in just acting without thinking but it never really pays off in the long run.   You need to work on learning how to plan ahead and think through instead of acting in the heat of the moment.

A lot of addicts come here and tell me they didn’t mean any harm.  Since they are not capable of planning ahead, or just never do, they seem to think that gives them a free ride.  They come in and say, “I just didn’t think”.  But I am here to tell you that is is your job, your duty, your responsibility, to think through your decisions before acting.  Just like every other sober adult does.  Especially since in so many situations, it is other people, from strangers to loved ones, who pay the consequences for your thoughtless and addictive behaviors.

So back to square one.  Make a list of what frustrates you.  And examine that list.  Look for life lessons.  What can you learn from each source of frustration?   Where you stumble, there is your treasure.   What is hard for you is where you can learn.   Look for the positives in the things you can learn – patience, self-control, trusting others, building community, becoming trustworthy yourself.

So make your list, examine it, learn from it, and see if you can find a way to stay sober.   And if you end up getting back into treatment, ask them to help you focus on impulse control.  I think that’s your ticket.  And by that, I mean your ticket to true adulthood.  And that also means sobriety.  This is your wake-up call, and it could be your last one.