God Moments?

 

Someone in recovery described a story of mine as a “God moment.” They didn’t mean God, per se. They meant those moments when the universe just seems to be there for you. One of those rare times when the “dots get connected” when you least expect them to.

The moment I had been sharing was hardly ‘heavenly.’ It was about the time when my seventeen-year old daughter had prematurely left drug treatment and gone missing. A tip on her location had landed me in court to have her arrested and involuntarily committed for treatment. The judge issued a warrant that was due to expire at the end of that very day. As I sat on the court bench and waited for her arrival I had a distressing front row seat to a slow parade of sadness, ugliness, and desperation. What I did not witness was the arrival of my daughter. (A year prior police escorted her in both hand and leg cuffs. There is nothing more shocking than seeing your child shackled this way; other than realizing a year later that you are now looking forward to those same custodial restraints.)

With one eye on the ticking clock I asked the court officer for the address to the local police station. Upon arrival I informed the officers that I was about to “do their job for them.” They warned that my efforts would be wasted since ‘no one would open the door in a drug den.’ I countered that it was much more likely my daughter would answer if she heard my voice and, regardless, I was going whether they came with me or not. Possibly shamed, but more likely legally bound, they agreed to accompany me. That was when I learned that the neighborhood was so dangerous that a second cruiser was needed. To top it off I was given a lecture about “staying behind the officers” when we entered the building. (No God moments thus far… instead It felt a bit like we were prepping to enter the fifth level of Hell.)

The address led us to a street that was a lifeless shade of grey. There were dozens of people milling about but they morphed, understandably, into silent watching shadows. The triple decker we approached was adrift in discarded clothing, empty cans and bits of unidentifiable metal debris. The front door was located on the second floor and had no discernible way to reach it. No staircase, no doorbell, no mailbox, no buzzer. Together we rounded the building and discovered a dirty basement door boarded over with plywood and nails. I envisioned prying it open and crawling through the darkness. I made a note to return to this door if need be. Rounding the last side of the building we were greeted with an entry level, dead bolted, door. And a woman. The same woman who had been silently watching us from across the street. Earlier I had thought she was a man. But now I was close enough to make out the large breasts that hung to the left and right of her plain cotton tee shirt. She was powerfully built in denim jeans and construction boots. She had a plain round face, and a long thin black pony tail that hung down her back: pencil straight. Her countenance was unreadable. She pointed to me and, wordlessly, pointed to the third floor. I replied “yes.” She nodded and turned her attention to the large brass key ring on her hip. Methodically she flipped through dozens of standard cut keys and selected just one. And she opened the door. The next few minutes were a bit of a blur. I know we climbed to the third floor and we knocked and my daughter answered. The officers put her in handcuffs and she was wild with spitting fury. Even so, the officers carefully tucked my daughter’s dirty blonde head into the back of their cruiser. Before following them back to the courthouse I sat in my car for a moment. I didn’t notice that the woman had approached my driver’s side window until I heard the knock. Rolling down the window she spoke her first word to me. “Drugs,” she said. I nodded. Staring hard at me she then said “Bad drugs.” I replied, “yes.” Then she said, “good mamacita,” and slowly crossed the street.

It was only then that I remember feeling truly overwhelmed. Unhinged may be a better word. I had been playing this game for a few years but this feeling was different. I rolled up my window, but not without the self correcting thought “this is what you do in neighborhoods like these.” Yes, this is where my daughter was lost. But this is also where she had been found. Someone – someone I never expected to help me – had done so. The police hadn’t. What if she hadn’t been there? What if she didn’t have those keys? Why did she help me when she knew there was drug activity going on in a building she obviously had some sort of responsibility for? Why had she helped me in front of the cops? Was it a gift from one mom to another?

It was, in the end, a coming together of disparate parts of the universe.

Of course I felt unhinged. I don’t know if I experienced a God Moment. I don’t even know if there is a God. But I am beginning to believe I may have met some sort of fallen angel. A fallen angel who was working hard on our behalf. A fallen angel in construction boots.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?

The Boy Outside of the Gym.

Today I saw a boy outside of my gym. He had his grey hood up and appeared to be waiting for a ride. It was 22 degrees outside. He was smoking a cigarette. Funny that; a cigarette outside of a gym. And then it occurred to me that he was in recovery. I have no proof of this random rush to judgement – just a hunch. I gave him a big smile and, contradictory to his rather unapproachable affect, he smiled back.

I felt like we had bridged, in some small way, a rather momentous divide. This may have been another rush to judgement on my part – but clearly we had plenty that separated us. Age, sex, income level and life experience for one. Most likely also politics, education, hobbies, and the content of our daydreams.

Once inside I focused on maintaining my speed on the treadmill. This is more challenging then it sounds because the desire to slow down is surprisingly strong with me – and it only takes the push of one sweaty button. Sometimes I bait myself with my daughter’s struggles… if she had the inner strength to quit drugs then you can certainly run for fifteen more minutes. (Maybe you could even, God forbid, kick up the speed.) It was then that I noticed the boy. I guess, unable to get that ride, he had returned to the warmth of the gym. He had removed his hoodie – and he was covered in tattoos. Not a tribal bracelet, soft green shamrock or the name of a lost family member. No, these were the scary kind. They traveled up his arms, his neck, his brow. They were dark and fresh and it would be hard to accept the challenge to look directly at them. I wondered if he had been a dealer. I wondered what kind of trouble he had gotten into in his brief life.

And then I saw him grab free weights – and he used them like a ballerina. Slow beautiful, deliberate arcs. Others grunted and watched themselves in the mirror. Some walked around more than they lifted. But he was lost in an interior world. At one point he looked like a Christ child; his arms impossibly spread, his posture shamelessly on display. I couldn’t help but imagine what he had suffered for his addiction. What avenues had he gone down to feed his fix? How could ones desire for something be so strong that they would risk destroying the beautiful body that they had been given?

Making yet another mad rush to judgement I decided that this is what we shared in common. A desire to both understand and to forget. And shouldn’t our interior worlds bind us more than our exterior ones?  It is unfortunate that they aren’t as obvious as race or culture.   Our interior worlds are often fiercely private and often lonely.  If only they glowed like some sort of mood ring – I am green I am working on liking myself, I am blue I am working on liking others, I am red I am working on controlling my moods, I am purple I am working on forgiving.  How cool would that be?  Then we could help each other, guide each other, or at least recognize a commonality:  I am not alone.

I have a strong feeling that me and this very different boy had lived through something regrettable and were working hard to reinvent it. A personal resurrection or rebirth of sorts. And it made sense to me, it was Christmas week after all.

I See You Mr. Double Standard.

I know many people believe that healthcare dollars should not be spent on those who choose to use street drugs. I get it. It’s about personal responsibility. Healthcare dollars are stretched enough caring for those who aren’t the agents of their own destruction.

However, I ask you to consider the following:

We cure cancer in those who continue to smoke cigarettes.
We staple the stomachs of those who ignore the food pyramid.
We perform heart surgery on those who have never seen the inside of a gym.
We given insulin to those who knowingly eat donuts.
We fix the broken limbs of those who practice extreme sports.
We pay for the delivery  of babies conceived by high risk mothers.
We stitch back the bodies of those who crash speeding cars.
We treat melanoma in those who refuse to stop sun worshipping.
We treat venereal diseases in sexually promiscuous people.

The costs incurred for treating these examples of “irresponsible behavior” are staggering: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is the number one preventable cause of disease in the United States and it costs $170 billion dollars a year in direct medical costs. According to the American Diabetes Association one in three medicare dollars are spent on treating diabetes at a cost of $322 billion dollars a year. And, “American use of tanning beds may lead to upwards of 400,000 cases of skin cancer annually.” (American Academy of Dermatology).

But you know what?  Those individuals receive treatment with care, efficiency, and efficacy. The same can not be said for those with substance use disorder. This time a year ago my nineteen-year old was turned away from a detox center because there were no beds. She then walked to Boston City Hospital’s emergency room, sweating and trembling, for help. They too turned her away. Desperate, she spent that evening trolling Mass Ave looking for the drug she needed to tide her over for one more day. The next morning she returned to both the detox center and the emergency room. And once again she was refused admittance. She called crying; “could I please, please help?”

Help should have been as simple as a request.

I spoke with the ER doctor. He explained, “we don’t treat drug addicts here.” He then explained that he would also not admit her for mental health reasons because he didn’t believe she “would kill herself.”

I felt weak at the knees. How does one mount a spirited defense when powerless?

“My daughter is only nineteen years of age. She is not yet a hardened street addict. She is high on a drug that is killing people at an unprecedented rate. She is asking for help. You are that help.”

Silence.

“We are not asking for charity. She is insured by two separate policies.”

His reply: “Hospital rules do not permit admittance.”

“Surely,” I argued, “it is time for hospital rules to change. This is an epidemic. Turn her away and there is a strong possibility that she will die tonight.”

Silence.

“Why wait for the hospital to change it’s policies in response to a dead child and a lawsuit?”

Silence

“You took the Hippocratic Oath.”

Silence.

“You could lie about the reason for her admission…”

Do you know how it feels to beg when you shouldn’t have too? Begging when the stakes are so ridiculously high?  It feels like swimming against the tide while trying to reach your drowning child. Swimming and swimming…and then the dorsal fin appears.  But hope is not lost: a lobster boat comes into view!  You yell for a rope. But they don’t throw one.   No, they don’t.  Instead, they sit back and watch.  Because, you know, she shouldn’t have been swimming in those waters.

I know I sound angry. That’s because I am.  I spend $1500 a month out of pocket for health insurance – and I have had to beg for life saving services.  Addiction is classified as an illness by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III).   But the double standard most assuredly remains.

Don’t Categorize This.

We categorize and sort things:
Linen closet. Junk drawer. Shoe rack.
We differentiate and label people as well:
Type A. Neurotic. Extroverted.

Classification by the human brain is typically helpful. It is meant to move us quickly and efficiently through an increasingly busy and varied world.

There probably was a day when rapid generalization of objects and people wasn’t required. Possibly we had less things to sort and each thing had intrinsic value. That spoon was a spoon. (Not a silver spoon or a plastic spoon or a baby spoon.) Possibly at some point in time we all lived in small insular villages. Each inhabitant couldn’t be categorized by a singular adjective because they were too intimately known.

Addict = Junky.

Unfortunately, this characterization exists. And, to be honest, by the time an addict’s addiction has fully consumed them there is very little left by which to define them. Jobs, families, homes, hygiene, self respect, love….. all gone. The addict becomes the equivalent of an item in the proverbial “junk drawer”…..something that used to function, but is no longer useful.

But, just like those that know the value of that random fob or tube in their small kitchen junk drawer, those of us who parent children with substance abuse disorder know their inherent worth. They are valued and loved. And worthy of repair.

-The most stand out characteristic thing I can say about my son is when he enters a room and smiles the whole room lights up.

– My son is well read, a wicked movie buff, likable, handsome, has common sense, is a great athlete, loves fishing, boarding, and biking. (He has) so many amazing qualities which makes it so difficult to understand this disease.

– My son is so smart! He was offered the Abigail Adams award for 4 years of free tuition at any MA state university or college. If only he had accepted it. He’s also so generous and thoughtful. There were so many days that he would just show up at my work with a bouquet of flowers for no reason. And he has got the greatest personality. Of my 4 adult children, he’s the only one I can carry on a full, engaging, adult conversation with.

– My son ends every conversation or exit with love you.

– My daughter has a quick trigger – but also uses it for good. She is quick to call someone out when they have hurt another. Or to notice the injustice in situations she encounters. She is a defender, with a capital D. And twice on her birthday she had friends donate money to a local animal shelter instead of giving her a gift.

– (Even) when I visit my son in jail, he can tell a funny story and make me laugh…which is a good thing!

– My son is extremely sensitive. He is a hard worker, a talented musician, and a kind person. He loves to make people laugh even at his own expense. He is so sweet with his elderly grandmother who adores him.

– My son is an extremely hard worker and his staff always would say how much they loved working for him.

– My son loves animals and is very compassionate. He is passionate about his music and loves to read. Even when he was at his worst I always felt that he loved his dad and I. He is a vegan and always concerned about what happens to animals and to our planet. He tends to take care of people he meets that he feels are struggling like him.

– My daughter has a beautiful singing voice.

– My daughter gave away her winter jacket at a detox. “She needed it more,” is what she told me.

– My son is funny, charming and charismatic. He is a fighter and so tenacious for beating the odds and overcoming so many learning disabilities, stuttering, and of course heroin addiction…at least for now.

– One day my son came bustling into the kitchen looking for something to eat. He began making pbj sandwiches and putting them into a bag with gatorade bottles and chips. A little time went by and I looked out of the picture window and saw the top of two heads.  When I looked closer, it was my son and a stranger sitting on the porch step. The stranger was eating the food!  When my son came in a little later, I asked him about it.  The man was someone my son had met days before. He was homeless and hungry. My son told him if he was in need to come round and he would help. He also sent the man off with extra food, a comb, soap, bottled water, tooth paste, Tylenol, his old sleeping bag and rain poncho. That’s my son. I have NEVER loved another human being as much as I love my beautiful son.

– My addicted daughter used to tell me when she was little that she could see into the future, I always thought that it was a strange thing for a little kid to say.

I realize it is hard for many to see the humanity in those who have lost the ability to reflect their own human potential. And most likely the world will never be a perfect place. But fully seeing the marginalized amongst us….that helps bring the village back.

 

Triggers Are Not Real.

“TRIGGERS ARE NOT REAL.”

My daughter stated this, firmly, when I tried to stop her from taking a bus through a neighborhood full of triggers. Addicts are supposed to avoid triggers….just like someone on a diet should avoid a bakery, and someone thinking about a new dog should avoid a pet shop. It’s good common sense.

This particular neighborhood, for three years straight, had replaced days meant to be spent at school. It was where she met her first, of many, older, opiate-addicted boyfriends. The neighborhood where she drank with her girlfriends until they couldn’t stand up. The neighborhood she went missing in for nights on end. The neighborhood she partied in to the point of hospital intervention, repeatedly. The neighborhood with the drug store street corner. All of this would be within memorable reach.

“I don’t want you to take the bus. I can get you in the car.  I would be happy to come get you… “

“No.”

Trigger has to be the perfect colloquialism for “classical conditioning.” I appreciate the way it brings to mind the image of a loaded gun to the head. When you are the parent of an addict it becomes that clear. That person, that bent spoon, that ball of singed tinfoil, that street corner…. all become sensorial reminders capable of triggering relapse. And relapse is nothing short of a game of Russian roulette.

To be clear, my fear of triggers isn’t a case of playing probabilities or trusting in a predictable pattern of personal weakness. Classical conditioning is scientifically proven. Most of us are familiar with Pavlov and his bell salivating dogs. This early study in classical conditioning proved that a learned process can change a previously neutral stimulus into a potent stimulus. This potent stimulus in turn creates real biological change in the body. Biological change where none existed before. Replace Pavlov’s bell with a street corner and excessive saliva with irrepressible craving and the problem becomes all too real.

“I want to take the bus. Triggers are not real. Like, everything is a trigger. A song. A boy. The bathroom. The sunshine. A nice day. A bad day. Even the breeze. You have to deal with your stuff, mom. If taking a bus makes me relapse then I haven’t dealt with my stuff. You just don’t understand.”

I am trying to. Classical conditioning is not equivalent to the loss of free will. Biological stimulus does not have to be a siren call to action. We are a little more complicated than a bell drooling hound. But how difficult must it be to retrain our rewired and tired brains to see each situation clearly and non-reactively? Can we be our own psychologists, neurosurgeons, life style coaches and cautiously present Buddhas?

In the end, she took that bus. And you know what?
She made it safely home.