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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

“PTSD” – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

This is when I am supposed to reference Webster’s dictionary. I can picture the bulleted item list that has been carefully compiled by doctors and psychiatrists, and craftily winnowed down by editors.

Yet words are bound to fail. PTSD creates a feeling that can not be contained by bullets or paragraphs. If forced to use words they would be: “sense of dread.”

A sense of dread accompanied by unwelcome imagery. Imagery that is not imaginary. Dread that is not unjustified.

The ring of the phone makes me ill. Physically ill.
A knock on the door? Visions of a police officer.
An envelope without a return address?  Bad news.
My daughter not texting for a few days? Relapse.
Sad song on the radio? Message of doom.
Bitter snow? Frostbitten child.
Cheap motels off the highway? Sadness, loneliness, death.

My list could be longer. But it hurts to write it. If I suffer from PTSD, how badly must my daughter suffer? I have seen the results of her use, but have not lived through the experience of it.

“Conquer your fears” is written everywhere nowadays – from business journals to self help magazines. But the kind of fear they often refer to is that of financial risk. (Or a lifestyle change: try that new vegan diet! get a new partner! make a career switch!) I am talking about a different kind of fear. A primal fear. The fear of losing your stormy green eyed child to something so unpredictable, so misunderstood, so maddeningly unacceptable. I have written my daughter’s obituary in my head. I have actually looked in my closet to see if I have an acceptable black dress. These were my attempts to conquer my fear. My attempts to claim and manage the unacceptable.

Nelson Mandela says that “courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” That the “brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

I am not there yet. But my daughter is. She is putting one step in front of the other…. steady and straight. Even with those swirling thoughts that must exist in her head. If I had to provide a picture of bravery for Webster’s dictionary it would be of my stubborn green eyed child making her way across a tight rope.

And I am waiting on the other side.

Observing the Pattern.

“I woke up twice last night. And not to go to the bathroom. My body was sweating, heart racing, my eyes impossibly open. Normal nightmare body response. Except this was not a typical nightmare. I wasn’t falling, or being chased, or recycling scary bits from a ridiculous movie. This was real. I saw Sarah running up to my car window proclaiming that she had been discharged from the hospital, and asking me to buy her some cigarettes, that “she’ll owe me one.” I was so happy to see her. And then it dawned on me that she had run. That she wasn’t going to accept any help. And I was filled with anger, and fear, and sadness and anger and fear and sadness – I was spinning, and sweating, and desperate. And she was tying a long pink lace on a fancy hightop sneaker.”

Just another dream. But it is uncanny how the subconscious pinpoints the most fearsome fact of substance abuse: that the addict appears ignorant to the danger they are courting. The family, however, sees the train wreck approaching. It’s a well worn cyclical pattern. First you note the restlessness, the mounting body tension and the explosive language. Then comes the quiet storm of evasiveness brought on by late nights, sickness and lies.

This is the worst part of living with an addict. Seeing all the signs that they apparently miss. I have heard it said that the addict is a “selfish person.” A “liar.” And “hopeless.”

Addicts definitely lie to cover their tracks for as long as possible. And they are selfish – to a degree. But it is hard to think of someone who is self destructive as truly “selfish.” Hopeless? – yes, it often does seem hopeless.

Putting all labels aside; how in God’s name can you help someone who does not think they are in trouble? Who will sweetly tie a pink shoelace while contemplating where to score their next hit?

I am convinced that the addict has to slow down long enough to recognize the internal rhythms of their own bodies and minds.  Not an easy process considering man’s natural tendency is to tread the well worn path – thoughtlessly.

Unfortunately the addicts behavior is so extreme. And the consequences of their behavior that much more obvious. What they really need is the space and time to redefine their relationship with their own patterned responses.

Insurance companies, in our experience, have offered ten days within which to make this lifestyle change.   Ten days!