Why We Need to Stop Comparing Addiction to Cancer

First, I think we need to acknowledge there is a difference between drug use and drug abuse. Some people can use substances recreationally, not everyone can. People are hardwired differently. I don’t know why some people don’t have an issue with having one glass of wine at dinner, while others struggle.

I’ve been noticing the growing argument for “addiction is not a disease” along with some form of an analogy about a kid with cancer. “That five-year-old didn’t ask for cancer”. Ok, I get it. I do.

And I think it’s a poor comparison.

Whichever side of the disease vs willpower side of the controversy you’re on, please know that addicts don’t choose to be addicts either. I understand no one “held a gun to a drug users head and made them inject drugs”. On the other hand, do you understand that when you’re cancer free, you don’t have to work every day to stay cancer free. You don’t have the temptations surrounding you or when the stress builds up or a family member dies and you need that relief, you don’t think “man, I could really use some cancer right now”.

I once heard someone say that if there was a cure for cancer half way around the world, nothing would stop that person from getting their treatment but if there was a pill that could cure depression sitting on the table across from someone who is depressed, they might not be able to get up off the couch to get it.

Depression is a chemical thing. Addiction is a chemical thing. How terrible is it that the affliction some people deal with destroys the mind to logic out? It doesn’t seem like a matter of willpower to me. It’s more believable to me that there’s a glitch in the brain.

Comparing addiction to cancer doesn’t make any sense. They are not the same thing.

It’d be a little easier to compare it with diabetes. Type two diabetes can be passed on genetically or a person can live a lifestyle that leads to diabetes. That person wasn’t asking to get sick. Sometimes it’s possible to make lifestyle changes that will help get blood sugars under control but that person has to be very aware of everything they put in their body.

I know firsthand what it’s like to have unmanaged blood sugars. I have made many changes and in turn, my sugars are lower and I am getting healthier. I also know how difficult it is to maintain those changes. Sometimes I just want handfuls of chocolate. Or cheesecake. Or pasta. Sometimes I indulge. A lot of times I don’t.

Addiction runs rampant in my family and I lost a sister to a lethal mix of rx drugs and heroin. Four days before she died, we had an intervention for her. She looked into our eyes and told us she was done. She wanted to be clean (and had recently celebrated 9 months of sobriety before this last relapse). She knew her lifestyle could kill her. She did it anyway. I don’t believe it was simply a matter of willpower. It’s not right to think that had someone stayed with her that night, everything would’ve been ok. She needed 24- hour supervision. Sometimes it’s not a “day at a time” it’s a minute or a second at a time. Do you think anyone in their “right” or healthy mind would conspire and lie to loved ones just to be able to essentially kill themselves?

Addiction at the very least is powerful, can we all agree on that? It’s killing people and it needs to stop.

Can we stop comparing it to cancer? Trying to claim there are no “victims of addiction”? I’ve never done heroin and it’s ruined my life. Because the bottom line is, blaming people doesn’t help anything.

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Struggling & Surviving

I know it’s been awhile. While I don’t like that it’s been so long, I am doing my best. I’m not going to make promises to do better because… I don’t want to set myself up for failure. If I can do better, I will.

I don’t even remember where I left off…

We did find a place to live, it’s in Burnsville. I’m so happy to be going back to that city. Even though I don’t care much for the name… BURNS-VILLE? Who came up with that? How? WHY? Ok, I couldn’t take it anymore. I did some research and if you can believe Wikipedia, “The name Burnsville is attributed to an early Irish settler and land owner, William Byrne. His surname was recorded as “Burns” and was never corrected”. Hmm. The city council must’ve been Irish too…

Anyway, we’re moving into a townhouse. It’s close to just about everywhere we go. I’m really excited. I think moving day will be July 28th. Now, if I could find the energy to start packing up boxes…

Work has been slow (and partially nonexistent when my car was out of commission). So, at the request of a friend, I applied for another job (to do in addition to, not instead of). Not many hours, which is ok with me. I’m still doing physical therapy for my back and am not 100% yet. It is a PCA job and while it’s nothing I’ve done before, the fact that my friend thought I would be good at it, really means a lot to me and makes me want to do my best.

Still, making ends meet is difficult. I know it is for most people. So what else can I do?

I can write.

I subscribe to a lot of writing newsletters, calls for submissions, writing groups etc. And I’ve found many writing projects, all of which pay. There is at least one a month, to keep me busy until November.

In May, I answered a call for submissions from “Chicken Soup” for the _________’s Soul about stepping outside your comfort zone. Trying something new. So I wrote a piece called “Mic Drop”. They say the selection process is a very long one, so not sure if/when I’ll hear back on that. I was just happy to have written and submitted something.

For June, I submitted and essay and a poem to a woman who is putting together a book called “Celebrating Sisters”. If you follow me on FB, I’m sure you saw the call. I wanted to do it. I wanted it to be an uplifting story. I wanted to let people know that even though Natalie is gone from this earth, she is not gone from my life. In some ways, I feel our relationship has gotten deeper. Stronger maybe. I believe she is ALWAYS with me. That’s really what I need. Someone who is totally focused, 100% on ME. 😛

I shed a lot of tears. I listened to her music as I wrote. I went through pictures. I cursed her. I told her I loved her and still love her… it was exhausting.

For July, I’m attempting to write for “Nevertheless We Persisted” about a turning point in our life.

2016 was such a terrible year for me… and there were many gifts that came along with the grief. I’m going to write about that. It’s due July 7th, so wish me luck!

August is about Risk. September is about Setting Boundaries. October about Mother’s of Angels and November on Redemption.

So that’s what’s been going on over on this end…

What have y’all been up to?

I Know It Was You…

This past Friday, May 19th marked one year since my sister passed away from addiction. I’ve been pretty preoccupied with it, with her… as usual.

I woke up Friday morning about 2:40 am. I cried and went back to sleep. I woke up again when it was time to take Tayla to school. I started to listen to some of the songs she sang and decided “nope, too soon”.

Back home I had to get ready for my writing class, which I didn’t want to go to but Jess texted and told me Nat would want me to go… ironically, it made me want to stay home all the more – (why should she get what she wants after what she did?) I was almost ready to go when I realized I didn’t have my glasses. My brand new pair of glasses. The glasses I’ve had for less than a week.

I tore around the house like a hurricane and enlisted Don to help me. After 30 minutes of searching and coming up empty, I decided I had to go without them.

I went on with my day, every so often reminding myself to breathe, not dry heave. Don made dinner, we watched some tv as a family (once again looking for my glasses, this time getting Tayla to help look too) and I went to bed early.

Saturday morning we had an appointment to look at a townhouse in Burnsville. The search for my glasses continued. I’m not kidding you guys, we turned this place up. side. down. Sweeping under the couch cushions, checking in the freezer, under the towels in the linen closet… places I KNEW they wouldn’t be but I’d already checked everywhere else, we all had.

Nothing.

I went to the open house with a backup pair and lived. Barely.

By the time Don had to leave for work, it was driving me CRAZY. I scoured the bedroom. I was in the corner by the window where I keep pictures of Natalie and in an exasperated tone said to her “I could use a little help, PLEASE!”. The corner was empty, as I expected. I flopped down on the bed, too tired to even cry.

A minute later, Don walked into the bedroom to tell me he was leaving for work.

“Hey, aren’t those your glasses?” he said.

“Where?”

“Right there…” he pointed to the wooden headboard which also serves as a shelf.

“Are you fucking serious?!”

I shot up and sure enough, there were my glasses, in plain sight.

“You have to be kidding me…” I muttered to myself.

“Those weren’t there before” Don told me.

“I know!” I said.

“They weren’t there yesterday, they weren’t there 10 minutes ago.”

“I know” I said.

“Well, I’ve got to go to work” he said before I heard the front door click shut.

A tear rolled down my cheek.

“Thanks, Nat” I whispered.

I Auditioned for Listen To Your Mother

I did it! Again…

For those who may not know, Listen To Your Mother is a yearly live production that “Gives Motherhood a Microphone”. It is made up of live readings on the good, the bad, the funny, the tragic, anything and everything that makes up motherhood. It is put on once a year, around Mother’s Day. This year is the Grand Finale, the last show.

I’ve read the previous three years and wasn’t sure I would audition this year. Not that I don’t LOVE rejection… I didn’t have anything written. I tried. So many times and ways. I’d get a paragraph or two in and scrap it.

I wasn’t happy with anything I wrote. I was talking myself out of going… What were the odds anyway? The past three years, I put so much work into my pieces. I remember that first year, sitting at my kitchen table… my tears blurring my sight and the ink. Feeling, literally like I was writing my heart out. I was so in touch with that pain that had happened a decade earlier… At that point, you could submit your story via email.

The second year, I took a different approach. A different angle. This year you had to read your piece in front of the producers of the show. I was so nervous. They were so nice though. They listened actively, were encouraging, I remember the rejection email even- they worded it in such a way that I didn’t feel bad about myself. They’d explained that each show was like a quilt, each story a patch. The stories that were not selected, it wasn’t a reflection of the writing or the quality of the substance, it just didn’t go with the rest of the blanket.

The third year, last year, they remembered me and were happy I came back. What can I say? I’m a glutton for punishment.

So, it’s that time of year again. They only audition four days in various locations. At the time I was signing up (telling myself I was just holding the spot, it didn’t mean I HAD to go… but in case I came up with something brilliant…) the only meeting place was the library in North East Minneapolis. I can drive downtown but I really don’t like to! So that was one obstacle.

I waffled so long, I had to check my butt for burns!

I didn’t even really decide whether or not I was going to go until 45 minutes before I had to leave.

I decided to use a piece I wrote several years ago… I wasn’t sure it was going to be anything like what they were looking for but it was either that or skip it. I didn’t want to have that nagging “what if” regret.

So there it is. I did it. I’m done. They said they’ll notify everyone in about a week.

*Breaking News* From the Listen To Your Mother website:

“Recently we proclaimed that 2017 would serve as LTYM’s Grand Finale season, closing out 8 consecutive smash-success seasons of live LTYM shows. Today, thanks to a licensing agreement with Miracle or 2 Productions, Inc. LTYM announces a new life for our beloved show! Beginning in 2018 it will be easier than ever for theaters (professional or amateur) and organizations/groups to host their own LTYM show events!!

LTYM has partnered with Miracle or 2 Productions! What does that mean?

LTYM shows will no longer be limited to a once-per-year Mother’s Day celebration! Instead LTYM shows will be available for production all year long and for performance runs (multiple performances per theater, as opposed to only one) beginning in 2018, in cooperation with Miracle or 2 Productions, Inc.”

So, I guess if I don’t get in this year, it’s not the end of the road… awesome.

Dogs Are People Too

* To prevent confusion, I wrote this post a couple of months ago. It’s been sitting in my “drafts” folder… waiting to be finished I guess. So, here it is. Enjoy.

Last night I went to my mom and dads… mostly to see them but to see the doggies too. Deano and Niles, they are quite the pair.

Deano is a prima donna if I ever met one. He’s around seven years old? I’m not sure but my parents don’t do much to dissuade his thinking that he is the king of the castle, everyone else is just allowed to live there and care for him. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, I don’t say it with judgement. I’m just trying to paint a picture.

Niles on the other hand… I think of as more of a court jester or a peasant. He was Natalie’s dog and like Nat, he’s a bit of a trouble maker… or is getting senile? I think they are close to the same age… anyway, Niles lost an eye a couple of years ago and his remaining one is failing. It’s a good thing the two dogs love each other because they need each other. While Deano gets a playmate, Niles relies on Deano to get around. Deano is Niles’ seeing eye dog. Other than needing his eye treatments, Niles is a pretty low needs dog. He’s content to be in the same room as people and not have to be the center of attention.

All of this info brings me to my point.

While at mom and dad’s last night, the two dogs sat outside the little gate of the dining room, whining. They aren’t allowed in the dining room because of all the accidents.

Speaking of accidents, I had to pee. I excused myself and when I came back, there was Deano, sitting on his two hind legs. Still whining. Tears in his eyes like “I stayed at your house, remember? Why won’t you hold me? I NEED ATTENTION!” So I scooped him up and held him for awhile. (I don’t do much to correct his thinking either, come to think of it…)

When I set him down, there was Niles. Looking up at me with his one good/mediocre eye. Not saying anything or whining or crying.

“Does Niles like to be held?” I asked

“He does, it’s just a little more awkward because he’s bigger than Deano.”

I grabbed Niles and hugged him to my chest. I held my breath as his kissed me all over, bathing me in his saliva. I kissed him back. His ears, the top of his head and I tried to imagine Natalie there with us.

It wasn’t long before Deano got jealous though and started to whimper.

“I held you first, it’s not your turn.”

He cocked his head to the side and barked.

Then mom came around.

I set Niles down and reached for Deano.

Would he let me pick him up? Of course not! Mom was here! Not only was mom better but he watched me to make sure I saw him rejecting me and illustrating I wasn’t the only one who wanted him.

To keep me in my place, I guess.

Well buddy, she was my mom first, so whatever…

What’s the point of all this? I don’t know. Does there have to be one? I guess I just found it highly amusing and wonder how in the world people can think animals are stupid.

 

My Christmas Miracle…and Michael Jackson!

I expected this Christmas would be hard. Almost unbearable, even. But it’s just one day. I can make it through one more day, that’s what I told myself.

For some reason, I’d compartmentalized my grief to just Christmas day. I don’t know why I thought I’d be “fine” until Christmas day but it doesn’t really matter.

It started on the 19th. Monday. The seven month mark since Natalie’s passing. I went to sleep with a sense of dread that Sunday night and when I got up Monday morning… I felt broken.

I’m pretty sure I was late to work, it’s hard to drive while crying. I probably should have pulled over but I kept trying to talk myself into being okay. “It’s just another day” I told myself. I have work to do, I have things that need my attention and while I do honor my grief, now is not the time. I thought it was a fairly decent pep talk…

Pulled into the parking lot, tried to swallow past the lump in my throat and went inside.

I walked around back and saw dad standing there. I quickly fell apart. “Just breathe” he said as I buried my face in his sleeve and tried to stuff what emotion was overflowing back into this cracked chalice.

Later that night I called my mom. Everyone was having a horrible day. It’s because it’s the 19, I decided. Tomorrow would be better.

Ha! Nope. Tuesday was worse and Wednesday worse than that. The Christmas music, the decorations, the light displays, the gifts… she loved it all and I felt like I was dying.

Yep, holidays are hard but THIS? WTF was this? I had this image in my head of a cartoon Goofy. He was at the top of a mountain, skiing. He went downhill so fast… off a cliff, I think.

“EEEEEHHHHHOOOOOOOOWWWWWW”

Natalie and I loved that part! It was a cartoon. Goofy was, goofy and we didn’t have to see him lying lifeless in the snow after that surely fatal jump.

Monday was the top of the mountain and December 24th was the drop off. It just sped towards disaster.

I expected Christmas eve would be hard. I couldn’t really fathom the kind of hell that this has been. Each day took another hit, punch, kick, scratch, chunk out of me…

I slept most of Saturday day.

Saturday night, as we halfheartedly opened gifts with forced smiles, we all expected Nat to come barging in, as she did, arms full of gifts and eyes full of life.

I can see her as I write this. Arms outstretched, ready for embrace. An unconquerable spirit… Voice just as powerful as the day she was born…

Anyway.

Christmas day I felt like I’d been in a boxing match. And lost, badly. I didn’t want to do gifts again. I didn’t want to get out of bed again. I wanted to be Grinchy and left alone. My tooth hurt, my body ached, my spirit was fractured.

And I have a daughter. A daughter that was in part, named after Natalie.

So I dragged myself out of bed. Popped more Tylenol and cracked my last Mt. Dew.

“How about some music” Tayla asked.

“Sure”

I don’t know what station she had it on but it was music from the 1920’s. I gave her a thumbs up and she passed out the gifts.

After everything had been unwrapped and “ooohhhed” and “ahhhed” over… Tayla went to her room and immersed herself in her drawing.

She left her phone though. Her phone playing the 20’s music. I didn’t mind, I liked it but it quickly faded to the background of my consciousness as I turned my attention to other things.

I don’t remember my exact thoughts, only that they were about Natalie. WHERE was she? I still haven’t fully grasped the fact that she’s gone…

And that’s when it happened.

This station we’d been listening to, this old time-y radio station started playing The Jackson 5. Michael Jackson. Oh how she loved Michael! She even had a MJ DOLL. And what song was playing?

I’ll Be There

You and I must make a pact
We must bring salvation back
Where there is love, I’ll be there (I’ll be there)
I’ll reach out my hand to you
I’ll have faith in all you do
Just call my name and I’ll be there (I’ll be there)
I’ll be there to comfort you
Build my world of dreams around you
I’m so glad that I found you
I’ll be there with a love that’s strong
I’ll be your strength
I’ll keep holdin’ on (holdin’ on)
Yes I will, yes I will
Let me fill your heart with joy and laughter
Togetherness, girl, is all I’m after
Whenever you need me, I’ll be there (I’ll be there)
I’ll be there to protect you (yeah baby)
With unselfish love that respects you
Just call my name, I’ll be there (I’ll be there)
I’ll be there to comfort you
Build my world of dreams around you
I’m so glad that I found you
I’ll be there with a love that’s strong
I’ll be your strength
I’ll keep holdin’ on
Ooh ooh ooh
Yes I will (holdin’ on, holdin’ on)
Yes I will
Don’t you know baby I’ll be there
I’ll be there I’ll be there
Just call my name, I’ll be there (I’ll be there)
Just look over your shoulders honey, ooh!
I’ll be there, I’ll be there,
Whenever you need me, I’ll be there (I’ll be there)
Don’t you know baby
I’ll be there, I’ll be there
Just call my name, I’ll be there (I’ll be there)
Oh oh oh oh I’ll be there, I’ll be there

“Let me fill your heart with joy and laughter”. That’s the message I keep getting. That’s the part of the song that caught my attention.

I started to cry out of happiness and sadness.

I’ve been thinking all along that I wasn’t going to make New Year’s resolutions but I’m starting to rethink that. Nothing major but maybe keeping a “joy journal” or a gratitude list… something to remind me that she wants me to be happy. She’s here and wants to help.

It feels like an insurmountable task but one that I must at least try.

Merry Christmas

6 Month Anniversary, part 1: Washburn-McReavy

Yesterday was the “Service of Remembrance”, I believe it was called, at the same Washburn-McReavy where Natalie’s viewing/wake was held. I’d been dreading it, as I’m sure we all were, but the fact that it was on the 19th, the six month mark exactly, made it a must attend event. I’d expected it would be hard. I wasn’t looking forward to walking back into Washburn-McReavy and I drug my feet on the way in.

The first thing that surprised me was how full the parking lot was. I guess I’d imagined it was going to be a small, intimate gathering. We almost didn’t have room to park (maybe I was hoping for that? Oh, nowhere to park? I guess we’d better just go home…). But, we found a spot. The cold wind forced me to hug myself tight on the way in.

Right inside the doorway was a fountain. Behind that was a set of double doors. Behind those white doors, was the viewing room where everyone else saw her for the first time. I’d driven to Minneapolis with my friend Shar earlier to possibly help with Natalie’s makeup. They didn’t need my help they told me but I could go in and see her if I wanted…

*If you want to hear more about that part of the experience, check the blog posts right after the 19th, I don’t think I can do it again now and still finish this post.*

Suffice it to say, once I realize which room was directly in front of us, I got sick to my stomach. Fortunately, in front of those doors was a long table filled with Christmas ornaments with the names of loved ones lost. We collected our ornament and were led to the chapel. There was a singer/piano player in the hallway. She sang/played “Amazing Grace” and I mentally cussed her out because I could feel the tears start to burn.

Since the parking lot was full, it should’ve come as no surprise that the chapel was also almost at capacity. For a few seconds, it reminded me of high school or riding the bus. All the cool kids were in the back… The further away from the teacher/event speaker, the better. So, imagine my elation when I sat myself in the very front row… I probably could’ve fit in the second row with my family but I felt strongly about sitting as close as I could (read: I am not a cool kid, ha!). I went for the spot on the far end of the pew, the corner. That way I could prop myself up with the bench and the wall.

I faced forward, looking at this…

 

wb-chapel

The only difference was there was a single candle in the center of the open space and a pastor in the chair near the podium. I think there was also a water fountain somewhere… I heard running water, I guess it was probably from the fountain in the front, now that I think about it. Man, the acoustics in that place… my full bladder was going crazy!

I digress.

The sermon?, the speech? I don’t know what it was called… was very moving. I took notes, honestly! He had a soothing voice and the words of God. I almost missed going to church. He talked about his brother-in-law who was a grief counselor and the three main things to focus on after losing someone.

Number 1. Ask yourself “What have I really lost?”

Number 2. Ask yourself “What do I have left?”

Number 3. Ask yourself “What are the possibilities?”

We closed with a prayer and rose to leave. The woman next to me, who’d been reaching for the tissues about as often as I was had a big button pinned to her purse and it took me by surprise. “Does your button say ‘I love Gaga’?” Her face lit up with a smile and she said “Yes, my son calls my mother that!” I tried to find words, I guess “Gaga” isn’t all that original, but still, I was surprised to see it anywhere outside of Tayla and Mary’s relationship.

“Who did you lose?” She asked, her face returning to a somber expression.

“My sister” I said.

“Me too! She was young, wasn’t she?”

She reached for me and we hugged each other so tight, I imagined she thought I was her sister and she was mine.

“Yes, 36”

“Well my sister was 59…”

“Still too young” I said.

She nodded.

“Can I ask what happened?”

Before y’all start… I know that I *can* ask and I should’ve said *may* but grammar be damned! (in this situation)

“Cancer”

For the first time, since I can remember, I struggled with telling someone how Natalie passed. I don’t know what was wrong with me, why I couldn’t find the words but it was several seconds before I was able to spit out the word addiction.

“She must have been in a lot of pain…”

I nodded, so grateful to not have this woman recoil away from me in horror and question my right to be there and be grieving. I don’t even know where those thoughts came from!

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of” she continued.

I kept nodding.

Finally, I was able to speak. “She was going on 10 months of sobriety. That heroin… it’s a kind of monster I don’t think too many people understand. I don’t understand it but I know that recovery from it,  it’s not like any other drug I’ve ever heard about…” I had been staring at the carpet for most of my comment. Finally, I looked up and asked her

“How long has it been?”

“May 20th”

“Wow. Natalie was May 19th. Six month ago, today.”

She gave me another hug and said “We’ll get through it”.

I hoped to myself that she was right.

As she was about to walk away, she said “Oh, by the way, thanks for bawling and making a scene, it made me feel like I could cry too…”

I think I smiled and said something like anytime.

“Bawling and making a scene”?!?!?! Ha. Lady, you have NO IDEA how much restraint I was using. I thought I was doing a fairly decent job, actually but… maybe not quite as good as I thought? All I know is I was making sure to focus on my breath and not dry heave in front of the entire chapel.