Recovery

We Ended the Silence

final songIt’s been a week since 25,000 hearty souls gathered on the National Mall in Washington, DC to UNITE to Face Addiction. Finally, I have a bit of breathing room to write here.

These final weeks leading up to one of the most thrilling moments of my career have stirred a myriad of emotions for me. I’ve done precious little journal writing, but here is a peek inside my thoughts and feelings:

Sept. 20: Right now I’m asking myself how I feel about the day that is fast approaching–the day that has been little more than a square box on a calendar.

I think about the people I’ve known who are gone too soon because of addiction. We are so often marginalized as bad people who just couldn’t get it together.

Years ago–I wasn’t very far into my own recovery–I stood in front of my aunt’s casket while the family whispered in shamed tones. I gazed at her lifeless body, so small in an enormous satin pillow bed and I thought, how sad that I was probably the only person in the funeral home who truly understood the torture that my aunt experienced.

Much more recently, when my old high-school friend died under circumstances that his family can’t or won’t acknowledge, my heart broke thinking that the measure of his life is forever marked by the tragedy of addiction. Never mind that he was a gifted scientist, devoted father and a funny, funny friend.

Sept. 22: I remind myself about how we’ve changed norms around smoking, HIV/AIDS, breast cancer and other formerly shamed-filled health conditions. It sometimes helps when the feelings of “oh, what’s the use?” creep to the edges of my mind. Doubt is a persistent companion.

Sept. 27: I can barely believe that we are this close. I have this jittery, nervous feeling that probably comes no where close to what Greg and Jim are feeling right about now. Our eyes have been on the prize for so long that the real prize–ending the silence around addiction–seems nebulous.

How many people have suffered endlessly and needlessly because they felt no hope? That they had no options? That no one cared?

In desperation, how many people take their own lives because they can no longer endure the agony of addiction? My heart hopes beyond hope that we’re going to turn this massive ship around. My soul knows the truth of our mission and my whole being breathes gratitude for the part I’ve played.

Sept. 30: Tom Hill writes that a little more than 10 years ago this country was on the brink of passing constitutional amendments that would make same-sex marriage illegal. Today, the opposite is true as gays and lesbians are free to marry whomever they choose in any state.

Our goal is quite lofty as well. Legislative measures that provide insurance coverage on par with other medical conditions. An overhaul of the justice system so that offenders get treatment services mixed with their sentences.

An end to discriminatory workplace, housing and educational practices that keep people with addiction from obtaining entry into those systems.

News coverage that no longer glorifies the horrors of drug use. An elimination of practices in the film, television and entertainment industries that normalizes drug and alcohol use.

Celebrating recovery from addiction just as recovery from cancer or heart disease or AIDS/HIV is celebrated.

Can we do the same in 10 years? I do not know.

Oct. 4: I’ve written 10.04.15 so many times, typed it countless more, never feeling the immense significance of its meaning until today.

It’s here. I’m hopped up on three hours sleep, caffeine and pure, old-fashioned excitement.

Please, God, bring us people today. Keep the rain in the clouds if you would, and let those buses roll into DC.

Open the hearts and minds and wallets of all those present–and watching the livestream online–so they may heed the call to be a part of the journey to End the Silence.

It’s Time.

It’s Time to Dream On!

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UNITE to Face Addiction–the first-ever national rally/event for addiction–is 40 days away. Excitement mixed with nervousness and anxiety is building for the organizing team (at least for this team member!)

The Rally is rapidly becoming the place to be for anyone who wants to shift the national conversation about addiction from finger-pointing problems to holistic solutions. Here’s the news release headline out of Washington last week:

UNITE To Face Addiction Rally to Take Place October 4, 2015 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Featuring Performances from Joe Walsh, Steven Tyler, Sheryl Crow, Jason Isbell, The Fray, John Rzeznik and More

Rally Will Mark “The Day the Silence Ends” for the 1 in 3 US Households Impacted by Addiction

Big names, right? Six weeks ago we didn’t know if we’d have any talent lined up; now the magnitude of the effort is staring us in the face. The good news is the “us” is morphing into a stratospheric number. We have more than 500 grassroots mobilizing partners and somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,500 people are signed up to serve as ambassadors, volunteers, state captains and bus captains (For more info about how to book a Rally Bus, click here.).

[bctt tweet=”We expect 50k to 100k will join #UNITEtoFaceAddiction on 10/4–that’s significant real estate on the National Mall!”]

The national attention boggles my mind.

“Together we must find solutions to the addiction crisis and put a face on the hope that survivors offer,” said health expert and television host Dr. Mehmet Oz, in a PSA released in support of the event.

In addition to Dr. Oz, other folks who have already embraced and endorsed this event include Congresswoman Mary Bono, Miss USA 2006 Tara Conner, Congressman Patrick Kennedy, Author & Activist Christopher Kennedy Lawford, Author & TV Host Pat O’Brien, Entrepreneur and Music Producer Russell Simmons, former Major League Baseball Star Darryl Strawberry, Best-Selling Author William Cope Moyers, Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, Former Astronaut Steve Oswald and many more.

“UNITE to Face Addiction will mark the first time our nation will collectively stand up to addiction, a health problem that impacts 1 in 3 households,” my friend, Greg Williams, said. Greg is co-founder of Facing Addiction and a person in long-term recovery.

“Twenty-two million Americans are currently suffering from a substance use disorder, and more than 23 million others are living in recovery. When you include the families of the afflicted, addiction impacts over 85 million people – we all know somebody. It’s not ‘those’ people, it’s all of us.”

“When I lost my son, Austin, to addiction, I had no idea this tragedy was happening all over America – and that in our country, a life is lost to addiction every 4 minutes – the equivalent of a jumbo jet falling from the sky every day, with no survivors,” my friend and Facing Addiction co-founder, Jim Hood, said.

“We know there are solutions to the addiction crisis and it’s time for America to face addiction and exercise the political and social will to act on those solutions.”

Stay tuned for updates–including a special Dream On announcement–here and on my Facebook and Twitter pages. See you in DC!

It’s Time to End the Silence

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See the photo above this post? It was taken last week on a sultry summer afternoon near the foot of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.

Now imagine the grassy area that you see stretching toward the Washington Monument filled with tens of thousands, maybe upwards of 100,000 people on October 4, only 70 days from this writing.

Can you see them on both sides of the reflecting pool? If you look closely at the photo, you can make out the World War II Memorial which looks like it’s right next to the Washington obelisk. Actually, it’s about halfway between the Lincoln and the Washington monuments.

About three quarters of a mile past the Washington Monument lies the Capitol Building currently encased in scaffolding. From the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, the National Mall stretches nearly two miles.

Can you picture the scene on October 4th? People from every state in the nation, every walk of life, every diverse background, coming together to form a united bond against the common enemy: addiction.

It’s time; it’s our time

The UNITE to Face Addiction Rally is all-systems go for October 4th. I hope you’ve heard about it by now; I’ve written about it here a couple of times.

What is UNITE to Face Addiction? It’s a transformative event that will make history as thousands come together to ignite and build a movement to address one of the most pressing health issues of our time.

UNITE to Face Addiction is a grassroots advocacy initiative bringing together people, communities, and organizations working on addiction solutions across a wide spectrum. We are coming together to let the nation know that addiction is preventable and treatable, that far too many of those affected have been incarcerated, and that people can and do get well. Addiction can no longer be ignored.

October 4th is our day; it’s our time. At this writing, we are 70 days away from October 4th, the day 50,000+ people descend on the National Mall to help the 22 million Americans with addiction, to stand up for the 23 million in recovery and to end the silence around the crisis that kills 350 people every single day.

That’s right. One person, usually a young person, dies every four minutes from an alcohol- or drug-related incident.

It’s our time.

The National Mall

My sweetie and I wanted to get a taste of what it might feel like to be at the Rally on October 4th.
Sitting on the steps beneath the Lincoln Memorial, I could almost hear the echoes of all those who took their place in history while leaving the memories of their causes on the Mall.

I thought about how the ground had shaken with the footsteps of marchers for civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights. I thought about how the water in the reflecting pool had collected all the tears shed for lives lost when breast cancer and AIDs were shameful secrets.

The very air around us absorbed decades of cries demanding freedom to live with respect and dignity, free from stigma and discrimination, deserving of empathy and respect.

Soon–in less than 70 days–people in recovery from addiction, their families and friends and entire supportive communities will take to the National Mall to stake our well-deserved place in history.  It’s time to end the silence that shrouds addiction and come together as a single unit demanding solutions.

It’s time to let the nation and the world know that we are Facing Addiction. It’s time to Recover Out Loud.

Join us, please. For more information, go to FacingAddiction.org.

K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple Sweetie

_DSC0862One of my early recovery mentors was a diminutive woman named Shirley Rapp who lived and breathed the 12 steps.

Shirley, who died a few years ago, wrapped her recovery around me when I was new and scared. She’d say, “Now honey, you’re gonna be alright. All you have to do right now is stay sober and God will take care of everything else. Just keep it simple, sweetie.”

An acronym of love

I don’t think KISS–originally known as Keep It Simple, Stupid–is talked about much anymore. I never liked that version of the acronym anyway. Shirley’s version–Keep It Simple, Sweetie, is much gentler and more loving.

When you’re new to recovery, keeping things simple is a really, really good idea (not a bad plan for long-term recovery either!) but attaching a derogatory term like stupid only emphasizes a recovering person’s low self-image and esteem.

Instead, using sweetie eliminates the negative connotation. It’s softer and helps me take it easy on myself.

Most recently, Keep It Simple, Sweetie has opened my eyes to the beautiful surroundings of working the 12 steps all over again with a woman who reminds me a little bit of Shirley.

Step One: Powerlessness and Unmanageability

Working through the steps with a couple of decades of sobriety is an interesting proposition. For instance, I didn’t really understand that honesty is involved in becoming aware of my lack of power and seeing how my life is unmanageable.

Digging into what honesty means is daunting. Think about this one: Dishonesty includes the delusion of control.

Being honest implies telling the truth which is fairly easy until you begin to consider all the lies we tell ourselves, like: we’re happy when we’re not, we’re satisfied when we’re not or we’re okay when we’re not.

So, are you completely honest today?

Acceptance is the key

The trick is to do this work with no judgment. Any thought I have like, I should know this already with 24 years in recovery needs to exit the head space.

Instead, I keep it simple, sweetie. Go easy, be loving, be gentle. Listen to the words of Melody Beattie as you say then aloud:

We do not move forward by resisting what is undesirable in our life today. We move forward, we grow, we change by acceptance.

And these words:

Overcome not by force. Overcome by surrender.

Just as I never really thought about Step One including honesty, I also didn’t realize that it included acceptance.

I’ve always just plowed through the first step as it’s written: I am powerless over alcohol and my life is unmanageable.

There’s a fairly famous story in the book Alcoholics Anonymous called “Acceptance Was the Answer” (fka “Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict”) in which the author describes finally getting to the core understanding of how it is possible to stay sober.

Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept my life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.

Indeed, acceptance is the necessary response to  all my problems–real or perceived–today.

Now that’s what I call keeping it simple, sweetie.

Photo courtesy of scottsann

Gay Marriage: Yay! Now, Addiction Recovery . . .

file701299029783There’s a part of me that remains awestruck by the Supreme Court decision that makes gay marriage legal anywhere in the United States. I mean, seriously, did I ever think that the law would change in my lifetime?

No I did not.

I want to believe that love always wins but then I see so many of my friends posting on social media that they’ve had to “unfriend” people they knew, were even close to. In the meantime, purported Christians with a pulpit or lectern–let’s be clear that they’re mostly just old white guys–thump their chests and quote the Bible.

“Jesus says you’re a sinner . . . but he would forgive you and so do I.” Can’t you feel the condescension? Then they try to convert you to their brand of righteousness.

Some people are natural-born dividers.

They shove a wedge between themselves and whoever thinks, acts or believes differently from them. Oh, their righteous and religious indignation is impressive, but in the end, they lose.

Why?

Because love does always win.

I’ve lived long enough and have been in recovery long enough to know that no matter what swirls around us, if we want to be happy we have to love and be loved.

Sad and depressed people focus on the things that divide us instead of choosing to see what unites us.

If it were easy, more people would choose love. But setting your sights on love takes commitment, fortitude and a willingness to let shit go. I’m telling you, love ain’t for sissies.

We’re told in 12-step meetings that love and tolerance of others is our code. Tolerance and acceptance of others’ behavior is a problem for a lot of us, especially when our “rights” are trampled.

Don’t get me wrong. I am over-the-moon thrilled that the Supreme Court ruling fell on the side of love. But I have to honest. I’m also jealous.

There is still so much love missing for people with addiction. The LGBT community suffered decades of shame and stigma before the gay marriage ruling. When will people in long-term recovery, their friends, families and supporters get to shed the shame and stigma attached to addiction and recovery?

[bctt tweet=”We don’t need a Supreme Court ruling to do right by addiction recovery.”]

Will we get a flag of freedom raised after eliminating employment and housing discrimination or criminal justice inequalities or inadequate treatment care options?

Yet people in recovery struggle every day. People trying to get into recovery fight the system’s substandard levels of response every day.

People die from addiction every single day. In fact, one person–typically a young person–dies every four minutes from addiction. That’s the equivalent of a jet falling from the sky with no survivors–every single day.

The time to show love is now.

We’re ramping up to a phenomenal rally on the National Mall in DC on October 4th. Called UNITE to Face Addiction, tens of thousands of people will descend on the nation’s capital demanding recognition of the love that it takes to stand up for recovery.

My sweetie and I will be there. I’ve already told her to prepare for me to be a blubbering mess. I don’t care because on that day, I’ll stand on the Mall as a gay woman with marriage rights and as a person in long-term recovery.

I can almost feel the love now.

Photo courtesy of Arashdeep