Sthira vs. Sukha

Sthira and Sukha are popular yoga terms meant to convey a “yin and yang” sensibility. I think of sthira as “roots” and sukha as “wings.” A more accurate translation of the Sanskrit would be “stability” vs. “lightness.” When practicing Ashtanga yoga I have always sought the sukha, or the potential to fly. I sometimes giggle aloud when my feet release skyward or my heart floats up to the ceiling. It is such a rare treat to escape gravity’s pull.

Sthira, however, is quite different – in many cases it requires the engagement of the larger, lower, muscle groups (the quads, the glutes, the abdominals). For two weekends now I have been reminded that stability is key. Scot, our instructor, has had us feel our feet, bend our toes, challenge our inner and outer thigh muscles…he even put us in cat pose and had strangers balance their bodies atop us in a form of improv contact. These undulating movements required constant shifting of my center of gravity in order to take someone else’s flight – or to entertain my own.

I thought I understood: ground yourself before you take off in flight!

Once again, I required re-direction. I overheard Scot explain that being actively grounded allows the upper body to be consciously free. “Active” being the key word.  Do not rest in your present position – but fully feel it for what it is (whether it be crooked floorboards, the push of another body against your spine, or the outward turn of your imperfect feet.) By doing this you are not actively seeking flight or lightness of being. You are instead grounding yourself to the earth and thereby engaging an interior reservoir of strength. Only then will your body feel safe enough to bravely reach upwards.

That is when the lesson sunk in. I have lived this lesson. For years I tried to create and recreate stable, safe footing for my daughter who suffers from addiction. I bounced between “Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. Maybe I should have said this. Maybe I missed something developmentally. Maybe a new school will work. Maybe a new friend circle. Maybe a new therapist. Maybe a new medication. Maybe exercise. Maybe more consequences. Maybe less consequences. Maybe a different insurance plan. Maybe, maybe, maybe….” I left no rock unturned. I needed her, us, to be free. But sukha was nowhere to be found.

I remember the moment when I finally accepted our situation. I was driving and the sun was setting and and my whole sense of being was flooded by the fact that my daughter had relapsed again. I didn’t know how to be. How could I just be with this? I remember breathing and releasing into that moment with a complete acceptance of the truth. It was dusk and the sky opened up before me and I thought, “this.” There is “this” too.

This acceptance, which I still feel vaguely uncomfortable with, was a long time coming. I had to fully acknowledge that change may not be possible – at least not in this present moment. This is not an easy thing for a mother to fully feel. But once I did I noticed the sky. It sounds so cliche – but at that moment I was fully awakened to the incredulous sky. I also understood this to be the second part of Scot’s admonition: to be consciously free. I chose to see the sky.

Since that day, nearly three years ago, I have looked upwards and found something akin to flight. And, incredulously, for two years my daughter has stood on terra firma.

We are free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Wish I Could Be A Better Person.

I have seen addicts become better people than you and me. Those previously deemed selfish, sick, irresponsible, lost, criminal, hopeless.  Pick an adjective – at one point they all fit.  I know this sounds like pure hyperbole.  And to clarify, I don’t mean better than their old selves – that is obvious.  I actually mean better than you and me.

You and I, presumably, are the definition of good people.  We try to do the right thing on a daily basis. We live the Golden Rule.  But at the end of the day we close the curtains on the larger community.  We choose to be with just ourselves or the nuclear family we have created. We retreat to safety, comfort and self.

But the recovering addict doesn’t do that.

They often choose to mentor those who are still suffering severely – with little concern for the temptation that may present.  In the Big Book it is referred to as “giving back” or Step 12.  They claim that it helps themselves – but this, I think, is an overly generous sentiment.

I liken their behavior to that of a person surviving a fire… and then becoming a fireman. I don’t know about you, but I would never be that brave.

When those we love truly beat their addiction it can be hard to recognize them.
And it can be humbling to see that they have surpassed us in their ability to love and empathize.

For example, my daughter shares an apartment with three other individuals in long term recovery.  Their lease has expired, and two of them have decided to buy a home and possibly marry.  But even though this couple is ready for life’s next big step – they will not leave the other two women behind.  One could rationalize and say they are bringing them along to help pay the rent.  Until you learn that they are narrowing their house search to homes that can access the bus line.  My daughter is the only one of the four that does not have her driver’s license.  Purchasing a home within walking distance of public city transportation is of course more expensive.

And then there was the lesson I was given on Christmas day.  I had told my husband I wanted a pair of earrings made by a local artisan jeweler.  I wanted any color but blue – because, lucky me, I already had so much blue!  On Christmas day I opened my gift… and they were blue.  My face fell.  I didn’t hide my disappointment.  I even said “Ohhh… but they are blue.”

My daughter looked at me and said “but they are beautiful.” And later she said “Mom, you should have been grateful.”  She was right.  I had put my feelings (not needs!) first in a matter as trivial as that of material abundance.

I can’t imagine living every day weighing my psychological, financial and material needs on an equivalent basis with the larger community.  I had thought the Golden Rule was enough.  But the Golden Rule is based on seeing things through your own eyes – treating others as you would like to be treated.  But how about getting the “you” out of it?

Becoming a better person is within reach.  I know this because I have learned it from the recovery community.

Watching Someone Die in Ohio

Once again I am reading of yet another police department bemoaning the fact that they have to use a nasal spray (Narcan) to reverse the fatal effects of an opiate overdose. Just last week Butler County Sheriff, Richard K. Jones, prohibited his officers from carrying Narcan by explaining “here in Ohio, the (paramedics) get there about the same time and they’re more equipped to use Narcan. Requiring deputies to administer the medication puts them in danger.”

While true that Sheriff Butler is in the midst of a maddening epidemic that is exhausting and frightening – his explanation is nonsensical.  Why would police officers allow paramedics to deal with people who, in his words, “turn violent once they are revived?”

Sheriff Jones further complains that this epidemic is “sucking his taxpayers dry.”  Jones next move may be to follow the lead of fellow City Councilman Dan Picard from nearby Middletown, Ohio.  Picard has requested that ambulances no longer be dispatched to previously revived people. (In fact, he would like those overdosing to be fined – on the small chance they survive without assistance.) Now here is a move that would doubly benefit the taxpayer!

What we are hearing, (if not job exhaustion accompanied by bigotry), is a need to revisit the department’s mission statement. It is not uncommon for large organizations to have to remind themselves of their core mission.

Most police officers are hired:
-to mitigate damage and destruction of property
-to defend and protect individuals in the community
-to operate as first responders*
*Contractual footnote: most stipulate a speedy emergency response even to multiple calls from the same individual – you do not get to choose who you respond to. Also, those served aren’t required to be instantly appreciative or futuristically compliant.

Those of us who parent addicts understand the frustration. We know they don’t listen. We know they go back to the drugs. We know our efforts are often ineffectual. Over and over again – the same honest effort, the same disappointing result. But confer further with those of us who are not in a position to “give up” and we will tell you to trust in that future day. Not all will be saved because no epidemic-sized rescue mission will ever be 100% effective. But the recovery community is surprisingly large. Imagine the day when the person you revived is healthy and whole and breathtakingly alive. Imagine you made that possible by the simple application of a quick acting nasal spray.

Now, imagine differently. Imagine you arrive at the scene. You see the boy you saved last week. He is blue. You try to ignore his crying parents as his breathing slows to a stop. You mumble under your breath “not my problem” because this time you are not permitted to expend any life saving measures. You console yourself that the boy willfully took the drug. Possibly it will feel like witnessing a goldfish jump out of its bowl and quietly allowing it to suffocate.

I imagine that Sheriff Jones forgot one crucial element in his cost-benefit analysis: the mental health of his responding officers. Did he consider how they might feel responding and choosing not to serve? Not to rescue? Not to mitigate the damage? Not to call forth compassion?

It is one thing to be tired of saving the same people over and over.
But it is quite another to watch them die.

The Power of Words

“I am an addict. I fucking love shooting heroin. I love it. You would love it too if you tried it.” – My daughter, April 13, 2015, calling home from Arbor Hospital in N. Attleboro

Until I heard these words I had not fully believed she was an addict. I thought depression, anxiety, poor impulse control and the wrong crowd had led to a misuse of substances. But addiction? To heroin?

The next day she refused further treatment and checked out of the dual diagnosis facility the ambulance had transported her to just a few days prior. The power of her spoken words just a memory. How could they let her leave? Why would she choose to leave? She called once more explaining that she would be staying with an unnamed girlfriend in New Bedford: “There won’t be any problems. She will teach me to drive. There is a community college nearby. I will go to a Suboxone clinic.”

Who was this mystery person who would house my homeless daughter? How can you practice driving without a permit? How can you go to college when you dropped out of high school? How can you start a new life in hospital scrubs? All those motherly questions remained unanswered.

I wanted to believe this new friend was safe; but her last “safe” roomie was dead. Do addicts believe the yarns they spin?

Then my texted treatises begin. I had become as manic and as lost as my daughter. I warned that she couldn’t live a happy, healthy life on dope. I explained why “home is not an option,” and I begged her to reconsider treatment.  I feared her death and every morning I asked myself “will this be the day?”  I didn’t want her to leave this world hating me or not seeing a way out of the paper bag she had put herself in. I wanted to clear the mind debris; hers… and mine.

But my words got no response. Eventually I just texted that I loved her unconditionally…. even if she couldn’t kick this. Each time I wrote it I felt like I was signing a death warrant. But we all die. But not all of us die feeling loved.  I wanted her to know that her mother would always, always love her.

For weeks upon weeks I got no reply.

My daughter was a young adult of nineteen years. The law, the courts, the healthcare system all had decided that it was none of my business. My sick child was now the captain of her own ship.

After a month or two – I received a reply. She did not tell me where she was. But instead wrote, “you will always be the greatest mom in the whole wide world.”

I did not feel grateful. Instead, I felt sick. My daughter was now doing the equivalent of what I had been doing: making sure all of our interactions were kind because we may not have many left. I knew her words would save me if the worst came to pass. But I did not want to hear them.

This disease is so heart achingly difficult to process that sometimes silence gives more comfort than words. And how does a mother find comfort in that?

 

What Am I Here For?

 

My husband says it was to save our daughter. I have saved my child. At least twice she was within days of dying. But is this all I am here for? I can’t keep her alive if she doesn’t want to be. Hell, I couldn’t even keep her alive if she asked me too. In the end, the work necessary for survival is hers. I can’t do it for her. And saving your own child isn’t magnanimous. It is what most of us would do. And, more importantly, it is what we should do.

Doing what you should do can not be a life’s purpose.
And we are all bound to fail if the purpose is following some sort of moral script.

Sometimes I wish we could all be avengers and superheroes; performing spectacular feats of a magnitude that we never predicted on our little home radars. Why can’t the tiny ripples caused by good deeds be more like tsunamis?

There is an urgent need for a lot of saving to be done.
And sometimes I just feel plain powerless as I sit here eating my lunch.

What “War” on Drugs?

“We lost more people last year than the entire Vietnam War and Korean War combined.”

I received this text on a frosty Sunday morning from a friend who is a cardiologist. He can not ignore the obvious. Every emergency room bed is filled up and down the East coast. Patients line the corridors in gurney traffic jams.

So how are we addressing this home grown war of epic proportions?

JP Clark, West Point professor and author of “Emergence of the New Modern Army,” explains that the US military prepares for war by planning during peace time. Makes sense.

The US has spent a lot of money, and time, attempting to stem the flow of drugs and incarcerate dealers. I am not opposed to either effort – but it has been a one-pronged enforcement driven approach. Notably; the drugs have not been contained. They continue to cross the Mexican border, and be flown in from China and Afghanistan. But before preaching isolationism consider the role of American pharmaceutical companies and script writing doctors…

According the to the Nat’l Institute on Drug Abuse, 80% of all heroin users began their addiction with access to a legal opiate prescription. Let me say that again. 8 out of 10 American youth are shooting up, stealing, selling themselves and dying because they had access to a legal prescription. Prescription opioids such as OxyContin and Percocet ARE Heroin in pill form. The molecular structure of these opiates is nearly identical and are all derived from the poppy plant. All are extremely dangerous and highly addictive forms of pain relief.

Purdue Pharmaceutical, the maker of OxyContin, knew this. But profits were just too good to share that information. (Purdue has since paid $635 million in fines after pleading guilty to false marketing charges.)

Insurance companies happily complied. Pills provide an immediate short term solution for pain, and are more cost effective than lengthier physical and holistic therapies. Insurers then began to base doctor compensation on pain management. (If you are envisioning a noose around patient necks… you are seeing correctly.)

Recently the AMA, after a judicial wrangle, reluctantly agreed to limit first time prescriptions. But the war has not been won….victory does not include leaving the troops behind.

We need immediate investment in rehabilitating our sick youth and adults.

Medicine is a big, big business, right? According to B. Lee in Forbes Magazine, “seven of the top ten profitable hospitals in the US were non-profits.” (Your eyebrows should most definitely be raised.) He quotes, “the system is broken when nonprofit hospitals are raking in such high profits. The most profitable hospitals should either lower their prices or put those profits into other services within the community.” Well why not push for a large percentage of those profits to be spent on improving addiction services?

Being a foot soldier, I have suggestions.

1. Outpatient service; often the first line of treatment, is notoriously ineffective. Heroin is classified as the most addictive drug on the planet with 1/4 becoming instantly addicted. (It also creates real physical and physiological changes to the brain.) Outpatient might be a form of acceptable treatment for marijuana abusers or sex addicts… but certainly not for heroin addicts. Why do we accept this as a permissible form of care?

2. If you are lucky enough to advocate for inpatient care, two weeks is the average stay. Two weeks only reduces tolerance and increases risk of fatal overdose. 90 days is the minimum amount of time needed for treatment to “catch.” (A full year is required for normal brain functioning to return.)

3. Removing an addict from their environs is important for success. Addiction is a brain disease. Removing quick access to destructive behaviors and people makes rehabilitative sense. There should be a demand for quid pro quo arrangements with out of state insurers to benefit those with HMOs and medicaid plans. We must find a way to do this or else only the rich or those with premium insurance plans will benefit.

4. Spiritually based programs work. Addiction is a disease that requires a form of “spiritual surrender.” That doesn’t sit well with some because it seems to imply an inherent moral failing or belief in God. Neither is true. What it fosters is recognition that self reliance is not an option when you suffer from a mental illness like addiction.

5. An increase in MAT (medication assisted therapy). Some addicts need it – and right now the number of physicians licensed to prescribe it is too low.

6. Increase the number of physicians going into adolescent psychiatric care. (One reason there are so few is because they are paid much less by insurers for their work.)

If we don’t do these things we will continue to watch our youth die.

My daughter has lost many acquaintances. Twenty-two to be exact. One male friend I recall frequently. He had a “thing” for her and had stumbled all over himself buying her shoes, groceries, and red roses. The relationship didn’t last, and he texted me, desperate, that he was “heartbroken and would never love again.”

It all seemed so overly dramatic. But he was right; he never would love again.
A week later he was dead from an overdose. He was just 22.

Stone Heart.

“Too Long a Sacrifice Makes a Stone of the Heart”  – William Butler Yeats

This week I had cause to worry about my child’s commitment to her sobriety. I had been led to believe that she had traveled by train to our hometown to spend time with a friend who is an active alcoholic and was, or still is, a crack cocaine abuser. This friend has a boyfriend who regularly beats her. She is a petite blonde with glassy eyes and bird like bones – but he throws her against walls and routinely blackens her blue eyes. My child was to spend the entire evening with them in a Boston hotel. She did not share this news.

Why would she choose to do these things? What good could come of this?

I felt fear – and anger.  I had a hard time sleeping that night. I took a melatonin, but it didn’t offer much relief. I also turned the phone off. I didn’t want to be woken by what I assumed would be a midnight phone call from an overcrowded emergency room. Or the police demanding I pick her up at 2 am. I imagined changing out of my warm pajamas, programming my gps, and driving into yet another cold, fraught ridden night. And then to be greeted by a kicking, screaming addict, a disgusted police officer, and the mind numbing question: how do you want to handle this?

I am still so tired and it’s been over a year.

I never got that imagined phone call. A few days later I drove up to Maine to see her myself – and she appeared healthy, happy and whole. Which made me ask myself, “why would I turn off the phone when I had a sneaking suspicion that she would get into trouble?” Why would I put limitations on coming to her aid when she had worked so hard for so long? People make mistakes. People relapse. Is it because I didn’t want to look at that fact? Or because I didn’t want to be inconvenienced?

In retrospect I should have made sure my phone was fully charged. I should have had a type written list of detoxes to call when the sun rose. And if her relapse had been fatal (as it often is after having significant clean time) I should have rushed to the emergency room to hold her.

I have a beautiful child. Despite it all she is caring, funny, hard working… and mine. Why had I allowed the past to make a stone of my heart?