Yesterday Carrie Fisher’s autopsy revealed a series of drugs from cocaine to heroin along with methadone- “the cure” for heroin addiction. Fisher was a woman who had everything from wealth to fame and beauty, yet she couldn’t overcome her drug addiction. Her life and her death are a testament to the hook of addiction. Yesterday, the face of addiction hit closer to home where one friend- a week out of in-patient rehab was stopped and charged with a DUI and taken to the hospital. Another friend 6 months into recovery allowed former friends to derail her plans, leaving her stressed and vulnerable. My heart ached for these beautiful, talented women who have become ravaged by drugs and alcohol.
One of these women 5’9- model beautiful tests high-end ski equipment, the other is a medical doctor. One is Caucasian the other African American and both struggle with the “stinking thinking” of addiction and both returned to the environment from which their addictions spiraled out of control. In a perfect world there would have been transitional housing, wrap around therapy, medical treatment, medication and financial support, but the world is far from perfect.
When, I talk about recovery the number one thing recovering addicts can do to maintain their sobriety is remove themselves from the people and places where and with whom their addiction spiraled. This is hard to do especially if you are married or you are a parent or a minor. If someone you live with or with whom you are related to by blood or marriage, that person must also seek support and education in order to support their loved one’s recovery. Often times well meaning spouses, boyfriends, parents and children who are unaware of the psychological as well as physical aspects of addiction think “Why don’t you just stop using!” It’s simply not that easy- witness Carrie Fisher.
Drug addiction therapists now believe that to cure addiction one must heal the user from his or her adverse childhood experiences. Unless, this is done the rate of recidivism is high at about 70%. Experts say that the higher the number of adverse childhood experiences the more difficult it is for a person to cure thier addiction. About 64% of Americans have at least one adverse childhood experience which could include sexual or physical or emotional abuse, living with a parent with a mental illness, an incarcerated parent, poverty or divorce. People who have 4 or more of these adverse childhood experiences are 1200% more likely to abuse substances or commit suicide are 470% to suffer from mental illness,
Addiction is a complex subject encompassing both psychological and physical components. Put in a simple way, addiction is using a substance or behavior for reward or relief to the detriment to the addict’s entire life- social, psychological, spiritual, physical, financial and relationships.
Today this country is facing an addiction crisis which has caught the attention of the media because the new addicts are young white people ages 18-25 who earn less than 20 thousand dollars a year and white suburban women. At this time when so many are dying and suffering from addiction our Republican Congress is seeking to remove the coverage for mental health and substance abuse- one of the hallmarks of Obamacare. Most of this world’s tragedies stem from two things mental illness and substance abuse. If this Republican Congress wants to make America great again let’s provide the necessary services to those suffereing from addiction and mental illness which often times go hand in hand.
Many of us were fans of Carrie Fisher. I was not a Carrie Fisher or Star Wars fan where Fisher became a household name, but she is my contemporary. I would not trade my freedom from substance abuse for anything she might have had. None of what Fisher had eased her demons. I hope that her passing and it’s association with mental illness and addiction will allow people to see how addiction and mental illness can touch the brightest and best of America.
Photos by dmitryzhkov <a
The Civil War had always been portrayed as a moral clash between a divided America. I did not know what I would see when I arrived at the battle field of Gettysburg. Nothing I knew about the Civil War had prepared me for what I saw and felt there. I had always imagined the battle field to be about the size of a football field with steep hilly inclines of hundreds of feet. In every movie about the Civil War I had ever seen, the politically incorrect Southern Army, sabers raised, proudly entered the battle field “to defend their way of life.” The Northern Army, “the moral compass of America” would march through a hail of cannon fire and struggle to take a hill where the heavily armed South was perched.
No where in any history class or law school did I ever learn about the real forces that led to the Civil War. No, it was not initially about abolishing slavery, that did not become so until two years into the war, in 1863 when slavery became the cause that ignited the North who up until that point had been losing the war. In January of 1863 Lincoln, under pressure from northern abolitionists signed the Emancipation Proclamation.What the Emancipation Proclamation did besides ignite the North, was that it lured 200,000 slaves into the Northern Army. 40,000 of those slaves died during the course of the war where the war’s total death toll was 650,000.
As I walked the ridge which must have been a half a mile, and not a football field, every 20 feet there stood a cannon. The ridge that I thought was hundreds of feet in the air was at its steepest, maybe 12 feet high, but 12 feet is a huge length to climb when cannon fire is raining down on one’s head. I wondered how this heavily armed Southern Army had lost this battle.
Feeling conspicuous as the only woman of color and driving a luxury foreign car, I drove the two miles, yes two miles, to where the North would have been encamped. To my surprise there were no more than a dozen cannons spread atop a hill that was hundreds of feet in the air.
It was another reminder that my mental imaging of the battle of Gettysburg was completely wrong.
I read on one of the information plaques that the Northern Army had utilized the physical terrain to protect them. Because they were out numbered and out gunned the Northern Army used sharpshooters to pick off the Southern Army as it engaged on the battlefield below. Below is a picture of me imagining what it must be like to fire a weapon from behind a rock:
The battle of Gettysburg began on July 1, 1863, three days later on July 4, 1863 the Southern Army retreated to Gaithersburg, Maryland. 7,800 men lay dead on that day. The Battle of Gettysburg did not end the war which would continue for another 2 years, but Gettysburg marked the beginning of the defeat of the South which occurred at the Appomattox courthouse in Richmond, Virginia on April 9, 1865. Six days later President Lincoln would die of a gunshot wound to his head.
What might have happened after the end of the Civil War had Lincoln not been assassinated has been the subject of much intellectual speculation. What did happen would encumber the right to vote for 3 milion newly freed slaves and impoverish many poor non-land owning white people who became sharecroppers along side the newly freed slaves.
Today’s racial animosity of America’s poor white rural working class which led to a Trump presidency finds it roots in the years after the Civil War. Over the next months I intend to study the Reconstruction and how the ruling 1 percent pitted poor rural whites against 3 million freed slaves of which 90 percent were illiterate, but somehow would create a system of historically black colleges and universities. I will wrap these facts in a modern day novel, tentatively entitled Twisted”, where the story will take place in Baltimore. My intent is to entertain while I teach. I think understanding how America got the way it is today might shrink the racial gap when people realize that the issues of poverty have been hidden under the guise of race. Stay tuned.
At a dark and low point of time in my life, years ago, I pondered whether life was worth living. My then therapist suggested that I read Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Frankl’s book is about the power of hope and the will to live no matter the circumstances.
Frankl a Jewish Austrian neuroscientist and psychiatrist during the Nazi persecution of 6 million Jews opted to go to the Theresienstadt concentration camp with his elderly parents.
Frankl, a prominent psychiatrist had been granted permission to immigrate to the United States with his wife. For some reason, the United States wouldn’t allow his parents the same right. Instead of saving himself Frankl accompanied his parents to the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
Frankl knew that his parents were likely to die in the concentration camp by one means or another, but he knew they had a better chance of survival with him being with them.
During his years in Theresienstadt Frankl worked with his fellow inmates urging them to never give up hope. Years after Frankl’s release from Theresienstadt he wrote and published his internationally renowned book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”. The book inspired me then and still does today.
Oftentimes life events are staggering and we all try to sort out why horrendous acts of inhumanity occur. What I have learned is that the best in us as people make meaning from suffering by sharing the lessons learned from suffering.
I am no Viktor Frankl but the last year has brought me great joy as I share my experiences of childhood trauma as a means to create empathy for those suffering from addiction. I have created and earned the opportunity to share my story with policy makers in the areas of law, medicine and social services. I hope that sharing my story will provide insight and empathy for those suffering from addiction .
So, it will be with infinite gratitude that I will have the opportunity next month to speak with future Adolescent Counselors in the graduate program at Johns Hopkins University. With each such privilege I give meaning to my own suffering and hopefully relieve the suffering of family members, practioners and addicts.
Viktor Frankl reported that during his years at Theresienstadt the beauty of the sunrise eased his suffering and gave him hope. There is always a glimmer of light. It is never completely dark and the great resilience of mankind can find hope in the bleakest times. The sun always rises.
Day 24: My future is truly free or freer from my past no matter how glorious I thought that past to be.
My personal 30 day yoga challenge was not to end up looking svelte. ( I have been svelte.) This challenge was to explore my inner dialogue- for it is what has created my world, my life. I have spent hours in absolute silence. In that silence I have seen myself; the folly; and my desire to be authentically myself and finally honor my desire for service to mankind. I have been blessed with much and yet a lot of my life has been a discordant complaint. My future is truly free or freer from my past no matter how glorious I thought that past to be.