Recovery

And Still I Rise


“And still I rise,” Maya Angelou nearly cries out the refrain in her achingly beautiful poem that feels wholly comforting to souls that wake weary these mornings.

I wrote Angelou’s words in my journal on January 16th, the day we celebrated the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. On that day, so many gave pause to honor the man whose eloquent voice rang out, “I have a dream,” in what seems a lifetime ago when considering today’s tumultuous times.

On August 28, 1963, when King called for an end to racism and for civil and economic rights, I’m sure many dared to hope as they hadn’t for a very long time.

And now, here we are, perched hesitantly on thin branches as the new president threatens hopelessness again. Oh God, I pray it isn’t so.

Maybe this 10-day-old period of rushed presidential edicts will turn into an eventual time of quieter order and understanding–miracles do still occur. In the meantime, we cannot ignore the real civil uprising that is occurring in cities and towns across our still-great nation.

The people need to speak. They need to be seen. They need to raise their voices against what seems at the moment like abuse of power.

Now is a time for care and caution. As a person in long-term recovery, I am not immune from rapidly accelerating thoughts that can lead to wrong action. I urge all my brothers and sisters in recovery to stay vigilant on their respective recovery paths and to stay “prayed up.”

Remember too that no one can take your joy or change you without your permission. Hear the rest of Angelou’s words:

“You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.”

In the Daily Word  on January 16, the passage about the word Dream, read, “I must act, pursue, and above all else, live in faith-filled awareness.”

I must remember that my life is about action now, not passivity laced with complaint. The latter was a part of my old life.

Today, I have a dream. I have a purpose. I will rise.

From James 1:25: “But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act–they will be blessed in their doing.”

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.

 

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

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.

White Heron or Range Rover?


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Over the weekend, I was leaving my neighborhood when a majestic white heron, like the one pictured here, flew low across the street in front of my car.

Seconds later, I turned left onto Village Boulevard (speed limit 30 mph, I believe) when a burnt orange Range Rover with out-of-state plates suddenly appeared behind me, swerved around me and zoomed toward the main entrance.

Definitely not neighborhood etiquette, not to mention downright rude! I quickly opened my iPhone camera and tried to snap a pic of the license plate but I was too late.

I was furious! Good thing I was on my way to my regular Saturday morning 12-step meeting.

Then it hit me

Suddenly I realized how the previous 30 seconds was a microcosm of my life.

Two quick moments: Close encounters with a beautiful white heron and a rude driver of an ugly Range Rover–each eliciting strong, instant emotions. Which do I focus on after the moment has passed?

I laughed out loud when I got a mental picture of Little Beth stomping her foot and muttering through clenched teeth, “Range Rover.” But the adult, more expansive me? White heron, of course.

Choosing where to place your focus

You’ve had similar experiences, right? A moment of awe or wonder or thrilling adrenaline? And a second moment–maybe within the “good” one, that is ugly or hurtful or just yucky.

It’s the Cherokee fable about which wolf do you feed?

Your decision is crucial because it sets the tone for what comes next–darkness or light? Kind-hearted or gritchy? Loving or hateful?

In the split second you’re given to make the decision, try to see past your self-focused vision to the people your decision impacts. Your family, children, neighbors, or in my case, the people with whom I shared the suburban streets. Our decisions always have consequences.

James Allen said, “Man is made or unmade by himself. By the right choice he ascends. As a being of power, intelligence, and love, and the lord of his own thoughts, he holds the key to every situation.”

My entire Saturday hinged on the decision I made in the 30-second flash of the white heron and the Range Rover. We make those choices multiple times each day.

Teach yourself to be present to those moments and then choose wisely. Your day, and the days of everyone you encounter hinges on your choice.

Peace to all!

P.S. A quick shameless plug for Facing Addiction and the team on the ground in Cleveland at the Caucus for Addiction Solutions during the Republican National Convention. Catch Facebook Live news coverage and interviews. Next week it’s on Philadelphia to host the Caucus during the Democratic National Convention.

Photo courtesy of AcrylicArtist