Showing posts with label addiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label addiction. Show all posts

12 April 2018

Metaphors and Morality Plays

by Eve Fisher


Image may contain: text and outdoorThe sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.
    - Robert Frost, "Two Tramps in Mud Time"


We're back in the middle of February here, folks.  With some regularity.  Now I don't mind a snow day every once in a while.  I think of all the things I can get done, like read a good book, finish cleaning out that closet, or (gasp!) writing.  But of course, too often, what happens is that I end up, hours later, looking up from an internet reading binge that is only occasionally informative, as in,
Do you want to see the oldest tree in the world?
Answer:  hell yes!

Image may contain: outdoor
6,000 year old Senegal baobab tree.
6,000 years old.  Think about that.  That means that huge tree was a little sprout/twig back in 4,000 BCE.  That's a long way back.  It's right on the border between the Neolithic (New Stone Age) and the Bronze Age; humans have learned to cast lead, smelt tin, copper, and are just starting to smelt bronze.  There's agriculture in China, Egypt and Mesopotamia, as well as animal husbandry, tamed dogs and cats, pottery, combs, beads, and lots of clothing.  But there's no writing, not yet, so we don't know how all of this happened.  We can only imagine.

(Fun note:  6,000 years ago, there are still mammoths on Saint Paul Island, Alaska, and Wrangel Island, Russia!)

Opium fields
The other thing that's already been developed is alcohol, both beer and wine, and perhaps strong liquor, in China, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Georgia, Sicily, etc.  Traces left of fermentation have been dated back beyond 8,000 years ago, which proves what I used to tell my history classes:  no society has ever been found that was able to live drug free.  They always had something.  

Alcohol, marijuana, mushrooms, and opium derivatives are universal and thousands of years older than any writing.  Which makes sense, because living in a physical body is going to get painful sooner or later.  Think of the pre-industrial world:  tens of thousands of years of hard work done without benefit of machines, accidents, wars, beatings, old age, botched surgeries, unsuccessful surgeries, cancer, medieval dentistry, ancient trepanning, arthritis, osteoporosis, rotten teeth, and all the other wear and tear of daily life.
As Dr. Samuel Johnson said in the 18th century, about alcohol:  "He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man."
I bring all this up because Buzzfeed posted a great article April 3, which I read while watching the snow whirling past my window, called "The Opioid Crisis Isn't a Metaphor".  Quite simply, it points out that - contrary to innumerable modern op-eds - people aren't drowning in opioid addiction because post-modern life in America is hell on earth.  People have been drowning in addiction and alcoholism since the Epic of Gilgamesh.  Life, any time, anywhere, will sooner or later get you taking serious medication. 

Oxycontin 
And - as the article says - that's why people generally start taking opioids:  they're in pain.  And when it comes to severe, teeth clenching pain, aspirin, Advil, or Tylenol just don't cut it.  For that, the best thing is still opioids, the derivatives of that ancient poppy plant, cultivated for multiple thousands of years, but now processed to a fare-thee-well:  codeine, heroin, morphine, all those oxys, and the latest scourge, fentanyl, which would drop an elephant in its tracks.

But even then, people in pain really do not "addict" that easily.  Unless they're widely available, as in West Virginia, where out-of-state drug companies shipped nearly 21 million opioid painkillers to two pharmacies in Williamson, WV, population 2,900, in 3 years (see Vox), not to mention millions more to other pharmacies in other small towns throughout the country.  Let's put it this way, if that much crack or meth had arrived in Williamson, WV, in 3 years, every law enforcement authority in the country would have been all over it.  But it was legal.  And all the physicians urged to give them out like candy, and renew the prescriptions at the drop of a hat, for as often and long as... well, as they're asked for.  And why?  Because:  profits.
NOTE:  Meet the Sacklers, the family behind the whole opioid crisis, (Daily Mail - and Esquire), $14 billionnaires and counting, most of which came from OxyContin.  (Oh, and they don't like to talk about it - they're very private people.  Spread the word.)
So, we have two chronic human needs - for pain relief, and to get wealthy - meeting in communities around the nation, and it's all legal.  (At least at first.)  Addiction and overdoses begin to skyrocket, especially as teenagers - who will do anything and everything to get high because that's what teenagers do - get their hands on them.  As people sell them on the black market to make some extra cash.  As people trade them around in search of better pain relief or a better high.  As it all rolls up into one giant white pill shaped ball and pundits ask "Why do people do these things?"  And cluck their tongues like America was such a Puritan paradise before this happened.

HA!  The original Puritans banned dancing, drama, cards, gambling, and most toys, but they did drink.  The Mayflower was loaded with more beer than water, and the very first Thanksgiving meal was served with beer, brandy, wine and gin.  And I'll bet they used whatever they could for pain relief.

And then there's the little issue of withdrawals.  As the Buzzfeed article says, "And once you’re addicted, you don’t take a hit because you’re surrounded by postindustrial despair. You do it because not taking a hit makes you feel worse than you could have ever imagined. If you go long enough without it, you’ll vomit, crap your pants, and want to die, just for starters. So of course you'll do anything to get another hit."  And it's not just opioids.  Untreated, alcohol D.T.s (delerium tremens) has a 15-40% death rate. 

Crack cocaine
Now many have noticed that the idea of drug addiction as a way of coping with a life lacking any hope, purpose, or possibilities, was never applied to black urban neighborhoods anywhere.  When the crack epidemic erupted in urban America back in the 1980s and 1990s, no one tried to understand why urban blacks were using crack cocaine in such high numbers, or how a life of unemployment, racism, urban decay, hopelessness, etc., could affect their addiction.  Instead, America got tough on crime, to the point where, "the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 increased penalties for crack cocaine possession and usage. It mandated a mandatory minimum sentence of five years without parole for possession of 5 grams of crack; to receive the same sentence with powder cocaine one had to have 500 grams."  BTW, poor urban blacks used crack; powder cocaine was more often used by rich urban whites.  5 grams vs. 500; nothing to see here, folks, just keep moving...

So yeah, this whole idea of drug addiction caused by post-industrial despair only cropped up when white people began to become addicts, criminals, and die in epidemic numbers.

Addiction:  From Morality Play to Metaphor of Modernity in only 30 years.  Depending on where it happens, and to whom...










19 January 2017

An Addict's Life

by Eve Fisher

Divine in Heaven T-shirt.jpg
Divine
(Source)
I grew up in Southern California in the 60's, which explains a lot. (Thank-fully, there was no Facebook, and no cell phones that took pictures, so I can deny everything.)  As I've said before, it was an interesting time and place to be a teenager.  There's nothing like starting off in a place where there are people of every ethnicity and religion.  (I still love the good juicy mix of people that you can only find in a multi-cultural city.)  Where people still might not be officially out of the closet - although wearing great designer drag - but the euphemisms were very thin and nobody was fooling anyone. (I learned about Jim Nabors when I was ten, and it didn't bother me a bit.) Where cult-shops were on offer everywhere you looked (which is why I know a cult when I see one, even if it's called a church, a party, a membership, or a club).  Where you were never sure if what was going on was reality or someone shooting a movie/tv show (now that could get a little weird...).

And then there were drugs.  Everywhere, oceans of them, both on and off-label, as it were.  I remember when I went to junior high, and the girls' bathroom reeked of what I quickly found out was not just cigarettes (my parents smoked), but also marijuana.  Reds and whites (downers and uppers) were widely available. And other things.  And wide recreational use was helped by the fact that both my junior high and high school were outdoor campuses.  Literally.

Only the actual classrooms and the auditorium were indoors.  The lockers were under the equivalent of concrete carports; the cafeteria was a row of vending machines (they even had burritos, which we all somehow ate and survived...) under their own concrete carport, and there were metal tables (never enough) under their own sheds.  The idea was that we students would dine and relax and run playfully on the wide and spreading lawns.  And we did.  Just not the way they [officially] planned.

Now, my personal experience in life is that almost all children and teenagers, given half a chance to run amok, will.  And in Southern California, where the weather was good and the teachers were worn out...   So freedom, space, opportunity...  most of us took it.

There is a period, from say 12 to 25, where people will do as much drinking, drugging, etc. as they can.  Whether or not they really feel like it.  Those of you who have ever worked at a candy store or a pizza place and been told, "eat all you want" will know how after a while, you don't really feel like it anymore, but you keep doing it because it's free, man, and you're supposed to want this stuff... Most people, after a few weeks/months of gorging will stop.  They may never want the candy, etc. ever again.  But during that time of gorging, you'd be really hard pressed to figure out who's an addict/alcoholic and who isn't.  I know anyone who watched me from 14 to early 20s would have been sure I was headed to rehab.  I drank, I smoked, I did some prescription drugs (my parents had bottles of both booze and Darvon everywhere), and later, when I left home, I did everything I could get my hands on. Just about everyone I knew did the same.

And then, it got old.  I quit doing pretty much anything but pot, alcohol, and cigarettes when I turned 18.  I quit smoking dope a couple of years later, when I figured out that it did nothing for my writing but make me think it was better than it was.  And then there was the early morning (2:30 PM) after the last big New Years' party of my life, where I turned to my new husband and said, "There has got to be a better way to start a new year than this."  And from then on, I was a social drinker.  One glass of wine, two at the most, and I'm done, thanks.

So, if you want to figure out if your teenager is an addict or alcoholic, chances are you really should wait until they're in their 20's to make a final call.  (I know, I know, what if you can't wait that long? Go to Al-Anon.  I am dead serious.  It can save your sanity, and perhaps your life.  Check HERE for a meeting near you.)

So, everything worked out great for me, right?  Yes, it did.  Except that I had one addiction I could not shake:  cigarettes.

Marlboro - my brand for years
Now this didn't bother me for years.  I loved smoking.  I loved the taste of it, the feel of it, the style of it, watching the smoke curl up to the ceiling, the activity, the movement of my hands, and the knowledge that I always had something to do.  It warmed me when I was cold, cooled me off when I was hot, tamped down the hunger pangs, tasted sooo good after a meal, fit in perfectly with my reading addiction (see my blog of 1/5/17), and was somewhere between the best thing that ever happened to me and my pacifier.  Smoking was entwined in almost everything I did, in almost every moment of my day.  I didn't know and I didn't care whether or not I was addicted: smoking was GREAT.

Fast forward twenty, thirty years.  I'm in my 40s, and I'm starting to feel it.  Colds sink into my chest and stay there.  I kind of want to quit, although I don't actually say it.  I'm struggling to cut down, to keep it under a pack, which I manage, and then under half a pack.  If I only smoke half a pack, that's fine, right?  It's better than nothing, and I still can't imagine being without cigarettes.  How do people live without smoking? How did I?  I can't remember it?  I can't envision it - not without a panic attack.  I am hooked, although I'm still in denial...

In my 50s, and I want to quit, God do I want to quit.  I can't deny it anymore:  my lungs are foggy, I'm coughing too much, my wind is gone, this is not good.  My journals are all about my struggle with addiction:  I tried Chantix (didn't work); I tried tapering down even more; I tried to quit outright, and failed, because I kept being ravaged by desire for a cigarette...  and I couldn't not give in.  I kept doing that years.  Tapering off, cutting down, going back, quitting, going back, on and on and bloody on...  I couldn't live with out that damned cigarette.  And the next one after that.  And the one after that...

Image result for horehound drops
Not me, but close enough...
(Source)
When I did quit, it was a miracle, plain and simple. My husband had a heart attack, and was hospitalized for 3 days.  I spent those days in the heart hospital with him, and I knew that that meant the nicotine was physically out of my system.  So - now or never, baby! And, by the grace of God, along with a sack of horehound drops big enough to choke a small hippo and a stack of straws, I quit.

TIP OF THE DAY:  If you cut a straw in half, it is the exact size and shape of a cigarette, and not only can you can puff away on them, but it fills that space in your hands, and that hand-to-mouth action of smoking, that cigarettes held for years.

There were times I thought I would die.  I'd walk by someone smoking and smell that warm, wonderful smell and practically reach down their shirt pocket for a smoke.  Something stressful would happen, and I would walk around the house puffing madly on that damned straw and thinking "this is lame."  And there would be that time, late afternoon, work mostly done, sitting on the sofa with a cup of tea and my heart breaking because that had been the best cigarette of the day.  (That and the one after lunch, the one after dinner, the one after that, and...)  But, through the grace of God, I bulled through.  For one thing, I kept telling myself, "Fine, go ahead and have one.  But if you do, you'll just have to quit again."  And I knew I could never go through this again and make it...

Skull with a Burning
Cigarette -
Vincent Van Gogh
And now, I have over 6 years smoke free (after 40 years of smoking). God is great.  Huzzah!

Why am I telling you all this?  Because addiction is real.  Addiction is a disease.  I learned that the hard way.  There are still times when I want a cigarette.  There is a part of my mind that - against my will, I swear to God - likes to look back with nostalgia and regret for the good old days of smoking.  I've got my addiction, like a gorilla, bound up in a corner in my mind, but if I give it an inch, it will come roaring out and eat me alive again.  I know that.  And I'm terrified of that.

And at the same time, I'm so glad.  Because otherwise, how would I understand what it's like for alcoholics? drug addicts? addictive gamblers? other addicts? How could I relate to the guys at the pen, most of whom have been wrestling (and mostly losing) the battle with the gorilla for years?

It's not a matter of will power.  It's not a matter of moral fiber.  It's a mental/physical disease that takes a long, hard time to uproot.  That sometimes is never uprooted.  That is waiting, always, to lure you back again, into one more dance with the devil.  And the worst part of it is the mental, not the physical.  It's the mind - that devious, malicious, faux-nostalgic, faux-friendly, faux-helpful f***ing mind that still screws with me, and that I'll have to watch out for until my dying day.  And so will every other addict.

Image may contain: textMaybe someday our laws will reflect that.  As I've said before, mental illness has been pretty much made illegal in this country.  Rather than getting treatment, it's expected that the family will get their loved one the help they need -
(a brief intermission while all of us in Al-Anon or other family support groups have a long, hard, bitter laugh - again, HERE's the link to Al-Anon, and to NAMI
that the family will somehow get their loved one to the treatment they need, make sure they take their meds (if any exist), and keep them out of trouble.  It doesn't work.  (In fact, usually, it's the people closest to you that you can help the least.) Allow me to repeat that:  IT DOESN'T WORK.

Addiction, like any other mental illness, like any other illness, needs professional help from the get-go, not shame and secrets and expectations that do nothing but drive it further underground.  And then, when the addict finally does something that lands them in the hospital and/or prison and/or the morgue everyone acts so shocked!  How could that happen?

Because there isn't enough treatment.  Because there aren't enough facilities.  Because there aren't enough programs.  Because none of them, without really GOOD insurance, are affordable.  Because we don't believe, as a nation, that addiction is an illness, that mental illness is really an illness, and that treatment / medication / therapy really works.  Instead, we keep talking this BS about willpower, and then, when people's lives have crumbled, we say stupid things like, "I hope they get the help they need."

Maybe.  Someday.  In the meantime, I am so fortunate, and I know it.  


10 September 2015

Presumed Guilty

by Eve Fisher

A while back at the pen we did an exercise which started off with the question, "Have you ever been falsely accused?"  We only had one guy who went off about the reason for his current incarceration, but by the time they get to an Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshop, the inmates are generally up front about what they did, and sometimes even why.  But everyone could think of a time or two when they had been falsely accused - and presumed guilty - including me.

When I was a child, my mother operated under the assumption that I was getting into trouble, and she just hadn't caught me yet.  She would search my bedroom while I was at junior high.  She would never let me close the door.  And other things.  I lived on a very tight leash.  Thirty years later, she told me that she'd known that I'd been having sex with someone (before I was 14).  I told her the truth:  she was dead wrong.  (I don't think she believed me, even then.)  The truth was, I was a nearly straight-A student (except for gym class, where I always got "D"s), obedient out of fear, and an extremely quiet bookworm.  Over time, I did drink some - there was booze all over the place and (what the hell) nobody kept track of the levels.  I also did do some drugs - there were bottles of Darvon all over the place, and nobody kept track of those, either.  But both of those were survival tactics.  Sometimes you have to numb the pain.  And I left home as soon as I was old enough to survive on my own.

The thing is, I could never convince my mother that I wasn't doing what she thought I was doing.  I was presumed guilty - and that happens a lot, to a lot of people.  In my case, I was presumed guilty for two main reasons:
(1) She as an alcoholic, and alcoholics/addicts believe what they want.  Anything for another reason/excuse to have a drink.
(2) She had done what she suspected me of doing.  I didn't find that out until much later, until after she was dead, and her only brother filled me in on the secret parts of her life and their family life (alcoholism ran in the family for generations) that she had kept hidden for so long.

There's a lot of that around.  Presumed guilty.  Shifting guilt.  Projection.  Think of all the politicians and preachers who have been rabidly anti-homosexual or screaming about family values and then been caught with their pants down in a men's bathroom, sexting their interns, screwing hookers, or more recently, being outed in the Ashley Madison hack.  It's classic psychology:  people with guilty consciences accuse everyone around them of doing what they have done or long to do.  Especially if they're alcoholics/addicts (and you can get addicted to fame - look at the Donald).  Addiction makes the addict accuse everyone around them because it's an excellent way to deflect attention away from their own behavior.  Go on the offensive:  attack, so that the people around them end up defending themselves, apologizing, perhaps even profusely apologizing, begging, pleading, etc., while they go get another drink/hit/high.  And guilt can work exactly the same way.

We talk a lot about presumption of innocence - and thank God for that concept - but presumption of guilt is pretty high, from the personal to the international level.  The assumption that the kid from the wrong side of the tracks is going to be trouble.  That family is always bad news.  That THEY (neighbors/cousins/in-laws, etc.) will never change.

Internationally, that guy with the turban is dangerous.  THAT country is always going to be trouble. Everyone wants what we have, and will do anything to get it.  Thus, with the whole Iran thing: Iran must want nuclear weapons, be working towards nuclear weapons, be stopped from getting nuclear weapons, despite their endless denials of wanting nuclear weapons and despite the fact that they've never gotten them, even though they have the oil, the money, and the willing suppliers, and more of all three - for decades - than Pakistan or North Korea, who did get them.  But Iran is presumed guilty. Always.  Why?  Well,

Destruction of the Shia tomb of Husayn
at Karbala, Iraq, at the hands of
the Mughal (Sunni) Empire
(1) Perhaps because we have an old grudge against them, because of the 1970s hostage crisis.  (Of course, they've got one against us for when the British MI6 and the United States CIA toppled their democratically elected Prime Minister Mossadegh in 1953 and put in General Zahedi, who was a nasty piece of work.)

(2) Perhaps because we chose the other side in the current religious civil war.  In the Middle East, Iran and southern Iraq are Shia, and almost all the rest - Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Oil states in general, etc. - is Sunni, and nobody is giving up any time soon. BTW, ISIS is Sunni, too, so those who conflate Iran and ISIS are just plain ignorant.  (For a better understanding of what's going on in the Middle East, I recommend a study of the European Wars of Religion, 1524-1648, which were nasty, bloody, often more political than religious, and one big brutal mess.)
NOTE:  Yes, I know that Iran supports Hezbollah and other anti-Israeli terrorists (not that they're the only Arab country that sponsors anti-Israeli terrorists, including some of our allies, cough, cough, hint, hint).  It's still not nuclear weapons.   
(3) And perhaps it's because we, the United States of America, have the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons in the world, and are the only country who has ever used nuclear weapons, and so we expect everyone to do as we did.  If they get the chance.  We did it, so everyone else must want to, too. We're constantly arming ourselves, so everyone else must want to, too.  Presumed guilty.

But back to the daily round, the common task.  Look around your neighborhood.  Or, if you've moved and don't know your neighbors, think back to your childhood.  Who was the kid who was blamed for everything, sometimes justly, and sometimes as a very handy scapegoat for whatever happened? Who was the family that everyone looked upon with disdain?  Who has been falsely accused of something they didn't do, and can never prove that they didn't?  Who has accused someone else?

I used this concept of presumption of guilt in "Public Immunity". In that story, everyone in Laskin comes to believe that Grant Tripp, the police officer who often narrates my stories, is guilty of killing Neil Inveig.  And they're going to give him a pass on it, because Inveig deserved it, and God knows Grant had good reasons.  And there is nothing Grant can do about it.  Because of people's determined beliefs about what happened one night, he can't explain/persuade/prove his innocence.  He is presumed guilty for the rest of his days...  It's a recurring (though not always obvious) theme with Grant, that he's stuck with a reputation as a killer that he will never be able to shake, because no one will ever talk about.  At least, not in front of him...

Presumed guilty.  God help Grant, and all like him.