Facing Addiction in America


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I met U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy last week in Los Angeles during the historic release of his report Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. When I introduced myself as part of the Facing Addiction team, he put a hand on each of my shoulders and said he was honored to work with us and that our organization is doing really good work.

Dr. Murthy is America’s top doc and he’s right. Facing Addiction is doing great work; I too am honored to work for an organization with such heart for getting America’s attention around the issue of solving the addiction crisis in this country.

What happens now?

I love this paragraph from Dr. Murthy’s preface in the report:

How we respond to this crisis is a moral test for America. Are we a nation wiling to take on an epidemic that is causing great human suffering and economic loss? Are we able to live up to that most fundamental obligation we have as human beings: to care for one another?

During this Thanksgiving Week, I wonder if we will remember our obligation to those suffering with, or touched by, addiction. Consider these facts reported by Facing Addiction’s co-founder Greg Williams in his recent Huffington Post blog:

  • Nearly 21 million people suffer from a substance use disorder but only one in 10
    receives treatment—that’s more than one and a half times the number of people who have cancer!
  • In 2015, substance use disorders affected 21 million Americans—approximately one in 12 adults and adolescents.
  • Implementation of evidence-based interventions around substance use disorder can have a benefit of more than $58 for every dollar spent.
  • Substance misuse costs society an estimated $442 billion each year in terms of lost productivity, healthcare costs and criminal justice costs.

Greg writes, “If every person in every community in America would stand up to addiction as they stand up to other major health issues, we would forever shift the way addiction is looked upon in this country. It’s our duty to take this historic moment and make it an enduring turning point for our children and generations to come.”

Indeed, there are walks, runs, ice bucket challenges and all kinds of other awareness-raising gestures for virtually every other health issue with critical needs. Where does addiction fall in the list of critical needs?

Alcohol- and drug-related deaths now surpass car accidents as the number one killer in the nation. When will we be sick and tired of these dubious distinctions?

The time is now. It’s time to join with the Surgeon General and say we’re ready to do whatever our hands and feet, hearts and minds can do.

We’ve seen reports from the Surgeon General’s office that have a major impact on societal change. Fifty years ago, the Surgeon General issued a report on the dangers of smoking and a call to end the tobacco epidemic gripping the nation.

Dr. Murthy issued a similar call to action last Thursday from the Paramount Theater in LA. Now his office is calling for an end to the public health crisis of addiction.

It’s time. Let’s make sure social media is our friend when it comes to spreading the news.

 

Surrendering to Election 2016: Let’s Move On!


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Election 2016 is nearly in the books. Nervous anticipation hangs everywhere; the words, “I’ll be so glad when it’s over,” are exchanged again and again in coffee shops, at train stops and every other locale where two or more are gathered.

Throw in a stewed  mess of negative campaigning (what an understatement!) that stirs people into an emotional frenzy and I’m beginning to believe that our next president will need a divine intervention to repair the damage done to the collective American psyche.

My Australian friend Patricia says watching the American presidential campaign is like watching the best reality TV ever!

Too, too much!

I find the entire spectacle childish and sad. There’s a downside to living in a time when our culture is seemingly controlled by social media. Don’t get me wrong, I love the connectivity and potential for good that social media affords us, not to mention that I make my living working with social media platforms.

But for months, every sound bite and pictorial moment among the political candidates has become embedded in the global Twitter feed and therefore deemed newsworthy. My journalist’s heart weeps.

In Texas, we can choose to cast an early ballot so last Wednesday I approached the polling booth, not with excitement as I usually do, but with trepidation. I did not want to vote for either candidate. I felt a surge of resentment just as the polling judge announced, “We have a first-time voter!”

The young woman looked so eager and fresh-faced as she waved to the room.

“Bless her heart,” I thought to myself. What an awful, worn out election to be casting her first presidential vote.

Then I found myself wondering who is blessing the nation’s heart.

A Sunday surrender

At church yesterday, I got the reminder I needed of who is blessing us all. As dark as our nation’s time seems right now, God–insert your name for the Divine–always offers light. The beauty of humanhood is we get to choose to walk in the light and to send the shadows away beyond our hula hoop.

With light comes hope and who among us doesn’t want to carry that torch? I was also reminded during Sunday service at Cathedral of Hope, United Church of Christ, that choosing to bear the light of hope is carrying the mission of countless other masters of hope and peace who came before us. Certainly Jesus, but also the Buddha, Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. were saints in that they lived and walked in light and love.

We would do well to emulate them. And we do.

You are an everyday saint when you speak words of hope to another and each time you encourage inclusivity instead of division. You are an everyday saint each time to listen thoughtfully without judgment or derision. You are an everyday saint when you see the world with eyes of compassion and when you touch someone else with your peace.

The votes that we cast in this presidential election are crucial–I’m praying for a future filled with optimism and goodwill among those who win their chosen offices.

But we have a higher calling. May you be blessed with an abundance of hope, love and peace this week, and in your blessing, pay it forward.

Photo courtesy of Morguefile:maryhere

Hemingway or Wilson: The “I’m Okay” Story


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Have you considered how often you say the words “I’m okay?”

Usually the response follows a question from someone asking how you are or how you’re feeling. I heard the words during a talk given recently by author and philanthropist Mariel Hemingway. She appeared at an Enterhealth reception at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.

The “I’m okay” story around mental health and addiction

Ms. Hemingway is known for her philanthropic work around mental health and addiction; in that work she speaks about her family–her famous grandfather, as well as her mother, father and sisters. Suicide from mental health conditions is rampant along with, in her case, obsessive attempts to control the out-of-control circumstances created from addiction and depression.

From the time she was young until she was 16 and moved to New York to make the movie Manhattan, Hemingway cleaned up the messes that followed her parents parties. In the middle of the night, she would get rid of the evidence, as she said, in hopes that the new day would bring hope (her word) and changed behaviors.

Like so many of us who grew up in homes where addiction was as much a part of the household as the furniture, Hemingway believed her role was a normal one. She believed every family had a fixer.

Ultimately, she spent decades trying to find where she fit, once she gave up her fixer role. She sought her identity through diets, religions, relationships and behaviors but nothing fit just right when she tried it on.

Finally, an answer

The answer to the identity she sought finally came during a private audience visit with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. She and a group were allowed to ask questions but she simply sat quietly next to His Holiness periodically exchanging a smile.

He must have sensed her seeking because at the end of the visit, he leaned over, touched her and quietly said, “You’re okay.”

So simple, yet so profound–and so much of what I know but have to practice. I no longer have to run from my story or fix my past because I am okay in this moment. As Rev. Neil said yesterday at Cathedral of Hope, sometimes when the glass feels half empty, the best we can do is simply be grateful for the next breath we draw.

Moment by moment, being present is a powerful exercise.

It doesn’t matter whether your family name is Hemingway or Wilson or any other name, Mariel reminded us that there are always gifts and baggage.

I say it’s time to let go of the baggage and embrace the gifts. For that realization, I am grateful and I’m okay.

Photo courtesy of takeasnap

Political Theater Lacks Compassion


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Like most of you, I feel disgusted with the daily tabloid-like fodder coming from the presidential candidates’ camps. Decency, respectability and admirability, like Elvis Presley, left the building weeks ago.

Political theater? We’re living the 2016 version of The Nightmare on Elm Street only this is no dream and Freddy Krueger is alive and well–he just has better hair.

Oh, I’m no Hillary fan either, except, she at least has  a comprehensive plan to address substance use disorder and addiction.

But even that topic, which is dear to my heart, takes a back seat to what is really missing in this election cycle.

Compassion.

The theater playing before us is not meant to be a laughing matter but it certainly is a joke. The joke’s on us–and it’s a cruel one–because we’re losing so much of what makes America great.

We need not lose ourselves too.

We have to dig deep

I’ve been tuning out a lot of news lately. I try not to watch the political back-and-forth too closely. I’ve decided that in this final month before the presidential election, I’m going to reach for the one thing that Jesus thought was “the dominant quality of God,” according to author Marcus J. Borg.

That quality, even more than holiness, is compassion.

In his book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, the Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith, Borg describes Jesus as a political rebel-rouser. He showed/demonstrated how to defy those who followed the lead of ridiculous men, even those who were rich and powerful.

“For Jesus, compassion was the central quality of God and the central moral quality of a life centered in God,” Borg writes. “These two aspects of compassion are combined most clearly and compactly in a single verse . . . ‘Be compassionate as God is compassionate.'” Luke 6:36

Jesus walked a walk of decency, compassion and reverence for people, not the possessions or status symbols that leaders and rulers of the time worshiped.

Jesus eschewed the rules of the day in order to be the Golden Rule.

It’s time for us to do the same

Admittedly, my view of the political theater is from the cheap seats. But I know this: there was a time when our country’s leaders were admired and emulated. Children were told they could grow up to be the president.

The presidency was held in high regard. Today, many believe it is little more than something to be mocked and derided.

It’s a sad situation with no single, nor simple solution.

Sometimes we must be our own solutions. We must take the lead, be the change.

Between now and November 8, a little less than one month from now, I intend to lead with compassion, the highest quality of Jesus, Gandhi, the Buddha, the Dalai Lama and other people of Spirit.

Then I’ll cast my ballot along with what will hopefully be a good majority of Americans. Political theater: the show must go on.

Celebrate Recovery Month 2016


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A friend of mine sent me a text yesterday saying she relapsed with addiction. She asked me to take her to a 12-step meeting–we’re going tonight so she can establish a new sobriety date.

I’m proud of her for reaching out. But why wouldn’t she? If she suffered with food allergies and ate chocolate cake even though chocolate and gluten cause an allergic reaction, would she tell me?

With every other health condition, when we “relapse,” we get the help we need, whether it’s medical, behavioral, spiritual. There is no shame, no blame, no judgment.

Addiction is different.

I’ve often said that if I relapse I don’t know if I could face my recovery support system–my friends, my sponsor, my meetings. Man, talk about internalized shame.

But if I practice what I preach–that shame and stigma should be eliminated from every facet of prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery from addiction–then I would hold my head high and say, yes, I did relapse into my disease. The chemicals in my brain rearranged my thinking and caused me to take an action I knew would be harmful.

If I practice what I preach, I would say, although I relapses, I’m here now. I’m grateful that I have X amount of time in recovery, in spite of this relapse. Yes, I have a new sober date but I’m ready to move on.

That’s likely what I’ll say to my friend tonight.

Every day is a miracle day, a day to celebrate recovery from addiction.

If you’re nice to people, do good things for others (including animals–definitely animals!), apologize when you’ve been an ass, treat yourself decently and remember to thank the God of your understanding for your recovery, then addiction stays in the back seat.

Recovery isn’t rocket science; it’s actually fairly simple. But my magnificent, magnifying mind can eff it up in a heartbeat.

When I start thinking about my needs, my plans, my desires, I’m screwed. Maybe not today. Maybe not even next week. I might be able to get away with grisly behavior for a few days, but not much more than that.

Did I run my needs, plans and desires by God? Did I pause when I was agitated or did I say the first asinine thing that came into my head? Who exactly has been in the front seat driving my MINI?

Lucky for me those errors in judgment that make me and those around me crazy have not sent me back to alcohol or other substances. I don’t know why I’ve been spared that hell on earth while others around me die every single damn day from addiction.

It could be me tomorrow. Or my beautiful love. Or my father. Or my friend.

But today, please God, let us be sober. Let us feel your power and your love, feel it surging through us like water surging at Niagara.

Then, let us turn to our brothers and sisters who struggle, to their families, and figure out a way to help them find peace. Show us how to reach out, how to open our hearts and our minds to help another who suffers.

Let us do what you would do if you were here. Let us love unconditionally as if our lives depended on it, because, in fact, they do.

Happy Recovery Month.