End the Epidemic Expo- Recap

Oh shiitake mushrooms… (My way of saying I messed up on Sunday and I’m sorry, see how much shorter it can be?)

I started this blog six months ago and have written faithfully, twice a week. I did it when Noah died. On Mother’s Day. Right after Natalie died. What could have possibly kept me from the practice that I hold so dear?

Disappointment. Sounds pretty lackluster but I assure you, it was a SPECTACULAR disappointment.

I’ve spent the past several days looking for my spin doctors. After spending the better part of three months pushing myself to get this “End the Epidemic” Expo going, I’d expected big things. Or, at least bigger things.

Here’s how the day played out:

Saturday a.m. I am up and moving by 6:00. I type out a very rough draft of the timeline for the days’ events. I am a little panicky about the open slot from 4:00-6:00 but overall, impressed by how much came together.

Call from dad.

“Can you swing by the shop and pick up the little table and chairs that sit outside? Mom wants them for her tarot reading.”

There is some finalizing of details and the enlightenment that we don’t have to wait until 10:00 or 10:30 to start setting up.

“Great! I’ll see if Justin can help with that part then.”

A little time goes by and there is a follow up call.

“Ang has got a ton of stuff. My car is packed. I can’t fit one more thing inside. Can you find out if someone is coming over to help haul the rest of the stuff? I think Barb was going to help out…”

I call Barb. Voicemail.

I nervously hope she’s not answering because she’s driving.

I send a text, not realizing that’s probably worse.

I call my mom. Voicemail.

Text. No reply.

I’m supposed to pick up Shar at 9:30 and I still have to make copies at Kinko’s.

She can meet me at Kinko’s.

I forget to make the fucking copies.

I sit in the car, not knowing if I should go to Minneapolis to help the set up or head towards Eden Prairie for the rest of the display stuff.

I figured since I hadn’t heard anything… things had gotten figured out.

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Just as we’re pulling into the church parking lot (a little after 10:30, expo starts at 11) the phone rings.

Honestly at this point? I don’t even remembered who called. The just of the convo was there was too much stuff to fit everyone in the vehicle and Mary Grace (17 year old cousin in from TN, super sweet & incredibly talented) needs a ride.

I turn the car around. I look at the time and it’s 10:45. I start laughing. A big, full, hearty laugh. Tears were not far behind, I was laughing that hard. Shar and Tayla look at me with a mixture of curiosity, amusement and a little bit of fear.

“What is so funny?” one of them asked.

I coughed the words out like a cat with a hairball. Between bouts and new waves of laughter, I say “It’s 15 minutes until show time and we’re driving AWAY from the church.” It reminded me of the time Don and I took a road trip to see my grandma. The nine hour drive ended up closer to 14 hours because we got lost in Iowa. Seriously? How do you get lost in IOWA? Anyway, the was an electric blue house that we’d passed several times before. Once we rounded the corner and saw the white trim of that fucking blue house… Don started to laugh. Hysterically. “We’re never going to find it” he said. “We’re never going to get there. May as well get comfy in the car, we live here now.” So, it was THAT kind of laughter. The laugh of desperation.

I pull into my parents driveway and see a large SUV with all the doors and trunk open. The two little wiener dogs come outside and spill down the steps, anxious to greet us.

Barb is inside, sitting on the bottom step of the staircase, shaking her head.

I start to call for mom.

“There’s still two more crates downstairs that need to go…”

I pack the two containers in the back and that’s all I can take. I can’t put the backseats down because I’ve got two kiddos in the back.

So I floor it, go as fast as I can (within the legal speed limit, of course) and we make it back to the church by about 11:30. My only saving grace is that the itinerary I posted earlier didn’t show much of anything scheduled until noon.

Finally through the Sanctuary doors to find things… looking pretty good. A lot of stuff is set up. I grab a card table, tablecloth and set up my own stuff while trying to slow my breathing and reminding myself I didn’t need to rush anymore.

The first speaker is scheduled from 12:30-1:00. By 12:20, I haven’t seen or heard anyone come into the church. I’m starting to get nervous.

Instead of Natalie’s music playing, it’s some kind of religious muzak. The 14 foot (approx) big screen is still rolled up (instead of a slideshow of photos of Natalie or the music video for Soldiers of Love by Sade).

There are people in the church, maybe a dozen? They are all here to help us set up, offer services or be emotional support (or all three)

“It’s five minutes until the first speaker is scheduled to go on… where the hell are they?”

“Oh, yeah. He’s here. He’s here. He uh, locked his presentation and notes in his car. The locksmith will be about 20 minutes.”

FanFuckingTastic.

I had someone else scheduled to go on from 1:00-2:00, so my stomach is knotting up. In a weird way, not having anyone there was a saving grace. There was a lot of flexibility.

Locksmith shows up, speakers grabs his stuff and does his thang. He was from Progress Valley and knowledgeable with how the brain reacts differently to opioids than other drugs. It was fun! As odd as that sounds, it was interactive, informative, engaging, so interesting. I learned a ton! He spoke to our small group, which may have been smaller than 12 as people rotated smoke breaks…

The next presenter, from Valhalla Place, I was so excited to have come. I’d only met her once before and it was very brief but she is so good at what she does! So much to offer and share. She had to be somewhere at 2:30. I don’t remember what time it was, but it wasn’t looking good. Until a couple of coworkers showed up and were unwittingly volunteered to take her place. Because the day got off to a rocky start and we didn’t start on schedule, time slots were running into other time slots.

Jesse Seward, the musician who came to perform (and later I found out, actually knew Natalie) had also come early to help us set up. I had him down to sing from 3:30-4:00, he thought it was 3:00-3:30. There is a minor hysteria as I’m searching the church for the pianist (whom I hadn’t met, didn’t have a name so how would I know him/her if I saw her?).

The volunteers heard they got bumped back to 4:00 and had to leave. I wanted them to stay but there still wasn’t anyone there, not who didn’t come with us… I told them I appreciated their willingness to come and apologized for the confusion. He told me he felt bad and told him (in part to reassure myself) that this is merely a learning experience. It’s not going to run perfectly the first time out on the floor…

Jesse sang. It was beautiful. My phone ran out of memory and I didn’t get any of it.

 

“If anyone needs me, I’m going to my car to cry for five minutes, have a cigarette and come back in.”

There were a lot of sympathetic nods.

Tayla asked if she could come with. I told her of course. It’d been a long day in those few hours.

I get to the bottom of the stairs and start to push on the door when I heard a sickening crack and a thud from behind me.

Tayla had fallen down the stairs. She didn’t get up right away and she seemed very, out of it. She kept falling asleep. She didn’t look good. Someone suggested I take her to the E.R., sadly, this was the high point of the day for me. I was ready to change the name from End the Epidemic to End the Expo!

We drove to Fairview Southdale hospital where we received the fastest visit in history. Seriously, it was so fast, I considered pushing her down a bigger flight of stairs. Just kidding. Mostly.

I dreaded going back to the church. To dealing with the emptiness. The deep well of sadness that was threatening to overflow.

We were pulling into the parking lot just before 6:00 and almost everything was packed up. People were leaving, the people who came with us. “There just wasn’t anybody there” someone said in response to the question I didn’t ask.

I dropped my head back and saw through the partly dark clouds, a rainbow. A rainbow that I saw both end of. It felt right, to see it but not in response to how the day went.

It wasn’t just how much time I spent making the flier or how many people got them, it’s that almost everyone was EXCITED to come. “I’ll for sure be there!”, “Oh man, I’ve got a couple of friends who NEED this, we’ll be there”, “This is a wonderful thing you’re doing, see you Saturday” … it just didn’t make sense that from 11:00-6:00 no one. showed. up.

In the car on the way home, Tayla asked me if the day was a complete failure.

“Ya know honey, it kinda looks that way doesn’t it? But we don’t always (in fact, rarely) see how our actions or words might affect someone. At the very least, there are now seven more people who have Naloxone and can possibly save a life. I personally got a lot out of the first speaker. Who knows what someone else may get out of having gotten a flier? They didn’t make it this time, but maybe it planted a seed… maybe they acknowledged on a very small scale that they have a problem and need help… You just don’t know.”

So that’s the story I’m sticking with…

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?

Overdose Awareness Day

I feel gutted. My head hurts, my eyes are puffy, my heart feels filleted and drained.

I went to the Overdose Awareness Candlelight Vigil tonight, where a handful of people spoke about heroin, opioids, overdose, prevention, reversal and loved ones lost.

It was very interesting to hear people from different areas of expertise talk about what they saw and what they knew.

I learned about brain chemistry, a needle exchange program, new laws and Don, Tayla and I attended the Naloxone training afterward.

After all the info., after all the heartbreaking stories, there was the tribute video. I think Miles said he added 36 new names this year, bringing the three year total to 103. It’s too much! Too much senselessness. Too much loss. Too much heartache…

Natalie was there too. I felt her. I saw the signs. Don pointed out shortly after we’d gotten there, this:

IMG_2650

I wish I had more energy to describe everything…

The video started to play and I started to panic that maybe Natalie’s info didn’t get added. No! People have to see her face, know she was important! This is what was racing through my mind. Until the song “You Raise Me Up” started to play. Grandma’s song. I started to relax a little. She’s with grandma. Everything will be ok. About the middle of the song, Natalie appeared on the large, white projection screen. Sorry about the video quality… my phone had run out of space, so Don took the video and once you see Natalie’s picture, I start bawling… so. There’s that. The photo doesn’t show up that well on the video, so I’ll include it below.

Video Tribute

I love you Natalie.

Goodnight.

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