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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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.

Good Mourning

Grief is complex and often times confusing. Today is the six month anniversary of my sister Natalie’s death from addiction. Six months. Six? As in 6, 6? Like 1,2,3,4,5,6? My how the time flies when your stuck in an endless loop of sadness… In a therapy group meeting, I mentioned that today would be a difficult day for me, given the occasion. Around the room I heard gasps and whispers, I saw eyes widen and heads shake. Someone made a statement akin to what I just expressed and… I, I was offended.

“What do you mean, 6 months already?”

Just what I said, how can you not know what I mean? How can you question the validity of my statement? Haven’t you felt her absence every second of every day? I feel like I have.

But what’s the point?

Here’s what I’ve learned in therapy:

Emotions. E-Motion. Emotions are guides to helping us understand what we need. The things we need to do. It puts the “motion” in emotion.

Fear is about keeping us safe. You’re afraid to walk down a dark alley in a bad part of town? Good! Don’t do it, you might get hurt.

Anger gives us the energy to make a change, to set limits and boundaries around situations or people that might be unhealthy.

Grief/Sadness? It allows us to be comforted. To bring us into relationship, at a point in time when we really need it.

I need it. I’m in a place where I’ve never before felt such intense levels of all three of those emotions, for this long of a time period.

I feel so lonely, even though I know I have lot’s of people to lean on for support… I just don’t have the energy to even reach out.

Nat’s death, especially with the holidays around the corner, is getting worse. It’s getting harder with the six month mark because I think, for me, the permanency is setting in. The holiday music is killing me. She loved Christmas and every time I got to see her, it felt like Christmas to me. I heard Mariah Carey sing “All I Want for Christmas” the other day. I’ve disliked that song since 2009, when grandma died…and not so much as dislike the song, just teary, every time I hear it, I cry myself into a little puddle.

Today we are going to a candlelight service at the Washburn – McReavy. It’s not just for our family but all of the families they’ve served this year… it just happens to fall on the exact 6 month marker. I kinda feel like I have to go.

“Why do you have to go? Can’t you just light a candle at home?”

I could, but I guess I kinda feel like how many more functions will there be where Natalie is apart of the event… I have to go. I have to celebrate her with others. I have to remind myself that death is a part of life and it’s not permanent… the separation, I mean.

I recently read a quote by Chuck Palahniuk that made me hold my breath in pause, in awe for a moment before resuming my breathing… Here it is:

chuck-palahniuk-quote

Interesting food for thought morsel, isn’t it?

What are your thoughts on grief or emotions in general? I’d love to hear about it or fell free to share a story in memory of a loved one in the comments section below!

Sometimes I’m a Judgmental Asshole

Sometimes I’m a judgmental asshole. Not always but sometimes…

Most of the time I consider myself an open minded and non-judgmental person.

Last night was not one of those times.

At the Overdose Awareness vigil last night, I was really paying attention to my body sensations… they’re usually the hint I get for when a big emotion is about to take over.

One of the first people I heard speak was a woman from Valhalla Place. They specialize in addiction and mental health treatment. Reasonable goals are set and they offer harm reduction options and medication assisted recovery among many other things to aid in the attainable goals set. What caught my attention was her piece on their needle exchange program. The purpose of these programs are to stop the spread of infection and disease caused by sharing needles. The needle exchange program is just what it sounds like. You bring in your used needles, where they can dispose of them properly and in exchange, give you clean (new) needles.

There was a knot in my stomach.

I understand the premise of the project… I do. It was the same logic I used when I gave Natalie some of my needles. (For those of you who don’t know me, I am an insulin dependant diabetic and receive a ton of sterile syringes, about 100 a month) Initially she told me she had a friend who was diabetic and he didn’t have insurance. I believed her, for the most part, at first. After a few times, it didn’t make sense why her friend wasn’t getting these needle prescribed himself… I knew she was using them for herself but I hid behind plausible deniability. Finally, I figured if she got them from me, I knew they were clean. After awhile someone asked me (probably my therapist, it sounds therapist-y) “How would you feel if Natalie died using a needle you gave her?” I told her that was it. Her *friend* would have to find another supplier.

Before I had my daughter, I always kinda figured I’d be the kind of parent who’d let her kids and their friends party at my house. At least I can keep an eye on them here. At least I know they’re not driving or riding around with someone under the influence… But now? That sounds insane. No fucking way she’s going to get the ok from me to do that shit. I know she’s probably going to experiment and I will be there for her but she’s not going to do it in front of me. How irresponsible is that? Sounds kind of like giving away free needles to drug users…

But most addicts are not my children. Though some of them are practically babies, they have an addiction. They need a way to get help, either through treatment, AA, NA or harm reduction. And because this is not a 13 year old experimenting with drugs or alcohol for the first time but rather serious users with an addiction, I support the needle exchange programs. As well as people who need Suboxone, Methadone or whatever medication will help with withdrawals, cravings and block the opiate receptors. I was sorry to learn that a lot of people don’t consider addicts who use these methods as “truly clean” or totally “drug free” by not only the general population but by others in the addiction and recovery field!

At one point during the speakers last night, I burst out laughing. Not because anything was funny but because someone had said something so ridiculous, there was no other reaction appropriate. I don’t even remember who was talking now. I thought it was a mother talking about her son, Don said it was a man talking about his brother. Anyway, the statement uttered was “we just thought he was doing crack”!

OMFG. How do you do anything but laugh at that? Cry, I guess.

I’m going to reiterate, I didn’t laugh because it was funny. It was sad. I laughed because I understood. Hey, it’s not heroin. How bad is a heroin addiction when your family is holding onto the idea you’re “just using crack”?

Finally, the part I’ve been putting off… (the part where my judgy self shows through) there were overdose victims themselves who spoke.

At first I was glad to hear they’d survived. I was grateful that the people they were with had Narcan or Naloxone and knew how to administer it when it was needed. I noticed a little sadness as I’d wished Natalie… had it? Was with someone else who had it? Was saved by it, I guess. Then I noticed my jaw tightening. My breathing was getting shallow and my hands were balled into fists.

“I am a three time survivor of overdose. Naloxone saves lives, it saved mine three times.”

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

You didn’t learn your lesson after the first or even first TWO times? Fuck you. I’m not learning how to do this so you can have fun on a Saturday night. You obviously don’t value your life, why should I?

The ferociousness surprised me.

“Whoa. Where’d that come from?”

Yes, that is how part of me felt. How I still kinda feel… the other part, the bigger part of me says how powerful is that addiction that you almost died two times and you STILL went back for more?

So powerful we need an army. We need warriors. We need not just a day dedicated to overdose and recovery but a lifetime.

Every story is important. Every voice counts. Shame and stigma only serve to keep people sick and using…

Let’s End the Epidemic.

NOW.

So, that’s the end of my rant and the end of my judgment. I know critism won’t help anyone yet I felt I had to be honest about how I felt. Everybody judges. It’s human nature and sometimes you have to judge- to keep yourself safe.

In any event, I’m sorry if it came out as harsh.

me-sorry-me-apologize

Ok?

Addiction: Willpower or Disease?

What about both? Or neither? We don’t even really need to label it, do we? Does it help anything? It seems to only divide people and that takes the focus off of recovery. Before you even get started, you’re at a disadvantage.

Yesterday I got to hear Caroline Myss speak on addiction. What I heard, blew my mind, literally expanded my brain. I felt it grow bigger (I’ll have to remember to thank her for the headache). I’m sure much of the reason is because I used to be a very black and white thinker. There was always an absolute. Until there wasn’t.

I’ve been learning the DBT skills for a number of years and if you’re unfamiliar with DBT, I encourage you to read up on it! It has helped me so tremendously. The basic principle says it is both/and vs either/or. Just because something is one way, doesn’t mean it can’t be any other way. Childbirth is a great example. Happiest day of my life, finally becoming a mother. Also, saddest day because she was very premature, was born not breathing and it was touch and go for months afterward. But just because I was sad and scared, that didn’t take away my joy.

Anyway, after being steeped in this new way of looking at life , I couldn’t believe I’d neglected to see the dialectic aspects of the willpower vs disease argument.

I learned early on that addiction was a disease. I believe that, to some extent. On the other hand, I didn’t like surrendering to a Higher Power. Not because I don’t believe in God or because I thought I could handle it on my own but simply because it sucks to feel powerless.

If I turned it over to God, was he supposed to freeze me in my tracks every time I came close to a liquor store? Sour the taste of alcohol on my tongue? Come down from Heaven to personally lecture me on the evils of drugs and alcohol? That part wasn’t so laid out for me.

In her talk, she got my attention right away by saying “there is no way we’d ever think of treating a person with any other disease by suggesting that they first admit they were powerless”. That’s not an exact quote, it was more like, if anyone suggested I treat my illness that way, I’d kick them out of the room… That made sense to me.

I didn’t like the notion that when an addict (I use the term addict to include alcoholics, compulsive eaters etc just because it’s easier for me to write) had a relapse, there was very little in the way of consequences. Sure there are the natural consequences of the behavior but as far as family and support, the reaction (if you subscribe to the notion of addiction being a disease) is mostly, if not entirely, encouraging. Just pick up where you left off. It wasn’t you, it was the disease… I’m not suggesting you berate anyone for a relapse, that won’t help… AND, drugs (or whatever the harmful behavior) does not exist without the person. Heroin has never robbed anyone at gunpoint. A fifth of vodka was never pulled over for drunk driving… See where I’m going? We do have some control.

And, I get it. It is REALLY HARD. That’s why we need support groups and sponsors and activities to keep us engaged. There are far too many practicing and deceased individuals who want(ed) to quit and it didn’t happen. Natalie wanted to quit. She had quit… and, there is a reason I don’t have any regrets about how we as a family, handled “it” (her addiction). Like someone said to me earlier, “when you have the flu, that’s not the time I want to hear about how washing my hands will help me in the future”.

We couldn’t stay with her 24/7. Or even if we did, there’s no guarantee she would’ve stayed clean. I know I talked about this already and I don’t mean to ramble…

My point is, in addition to Caroline explaining her viewpoint (which by the way, odd as it may seem, really was a very non-judgmental way of looking at things. It was more just fact to her, let’s figure out where the problem is so we can find a working solution) there was an article I read that looks at addiction as a learning disorder.

Addiction is basically a maladjusted coping method. If we can look at it that way, without the shame and the stigma… acknowledge that yes, a part of the brain is affected but it’s not a degenerative illness we can focus on the recovery aspect. We can STOP debating the cause and concentrate on re-learning.

Caroline Myss has videos on YouTube, this particular one was part of a paid course so I can’t create a link to it. I will include the article about school of thought on addiction being a learning disorder though.

The NY Times “Can You Get Over an Addiction?”

What are your thoughts on addiction? Or your views on how addicts are treated? Do you have any ideas on how to make things better? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section!

Ps: I am still doing the GoFundMe campaign to help #EndtheEpidemic and #ShameEndsWithMe event to be held on October 15th, 2016. Time is TBD. If you can help with a donation or a share of the link, I’d really appreciate it!

EndtheEpidemic

Thanks so much! ❤

It’s Time

I’ve been sitting on an idea. For years, it’s been in the back of my mind. Natalie’s passing has brought it to the forefront and it seems with each passing day, it gains more energy.

Today, all that momentum has come to a head. Today is the day to let my “baby” out into the world… because I need help. I can’t do it alone and I don’t want to.

The daily word prompt today is muse. One of the dictionary definitions for the word is: “The goddess or power regarded as inspiring a poet, artist, thinker, or the like.”

I remember the moment with crystal clarity. We were driving home, (the old place) down McAndrews Road. As we approached the stoplight, I saw in my mind’s eye, a vision. A flash. An image… It was shortly after Natalie passed and I was drowning in a sea of my own thoughts and grief.

In 2015, police in MN seized 18 pounds of heroin. That is equivalent to 8,200 doses and heroin has been steadily on the rise.

“This HAS GOT to stop” I thought.

Then I saw it.

FullSizeRender (5)

I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it but it has been one of a handful of times where I was sure I was merely the instrument for some higher purpose.

A month or so goes by and I am realizing how much shame plays a part in addiction. “We’re as sick as the secrets we keep”. If people can’t talk about it? They aren’t getting help for it. Addiction has been scientifically proven to be a medical illness. Even if it wasn’t, I still don’t see the good or the point of shaming anyone because of it… if they are talking about it, it’s because they want help.

Anyway, I was reminded of a very low point in my life. I had a lot of shame. A ton of it. So much so, I figured the word shame and my name could be interchangeable. “It even SAYS me in the word” I thought. A minute later, I realized the “me” in shame is at the end. Shame ENDS with me.

This is what we need to realize to stop the stigma.

FullSizeRender (9)
Sample of a cell phone case.

People are dying everyday from this shit. We can not afford to pretend this isn’t a problem or that this doesn’t affect us. My life, my world was shattered nearly three months ago from heroin I never touched…

I keep hearing the mediums voice in my head.

“She says she doesn’t want to be just a number”

The only number Natalie will ever be to me is number one.

I am (hopefully soon) starting a line of products, cell phone cases, t-shirts, magnets etc. to raise money and awareness. A percentage of the proceeds will go to Progress Valley, the treatment center where Natalie stayed and The Steve Rummler Hope Foundation who is committed to ending the problem here in MN. I’ve included links to both organizations, check them out!

We do better together… It doesn’t have to be this hard.

Please, help us?

Steve Rummler Hope Foundation

Progress Valley

 

 

What She Left Behind

(Not a complete list)

In her bag we found:

An empty planner.

A half a pack of Camel cigarettes.

A notebook full of song lyrics she’d written herself.

A bus pass.

A Starbucks gift card with a balance of $1.03.

A pair of headphones.

Two pairs of ear buds.

Gucci sunglasses.

Several notices to appear in court.

Outside of her belongings:

A funeral bill.

Another case for detectives.

A futon and mattress stained with death.

Us.

A legacy of beauty, harmony, love and music.

What She Took With Her:

The hope of a sober relationship with my sister.

The person I grew up with- and the person I was, when with her.

That laugh.

That enthusiasm.

That voice.