Fighting The Stigma Of Addiction & Recovery
Recently, I head people arguing whether a substance use disorder is a disease or not. I wanted to respond, but those arguing it was not a disease were so adamant I knew this was an argument I would not win. I find it hard to believe there are people who believe a substance user disorder is not a disease, but a ‘moral failing’, and that people choose that lifestyle because they are weak and can’t control themselves.
A substance use disorder IS a disease, NOT a moral failing. Substance Users are not weak. They are people like everyone else. They have families, jobs, and could be our neighbor or friend.
I believe the reason people feel a substance use disorder is not a disease is the STIGMA attached to people struggling with it. Stigma is a major barrier a substance user needs to overcome to receive help. They don’t want their employers to find out they are going into treatment for fear of losing their jobs. They are reluctant to share their use with their family due to the shame it might bring them.
We need to do more to end the stigma that surround people with a substance user disorder. We need to take down barriers so all who wish will seek recovery and lifesaving treatment. Their families need to find recovery as well. Substance Use IS a family disease, and all are impacted by the insanity that occurs with the substance user’s behaviors.
There are a few things we can do to end the stigma:
1. Reach out, let families know they are not alone. Others have been through this before. There is no shame admitting your family member is actively using or is in recovery. Families in this crisis feel isolated and ashamed. Parents feel they have failed, and have tremendous guilt and shame. This is a family disease, everyone is affected, and there are resources they can use as well.
2. Support treatment programs, either financially, with material donations, or your time and expertise.
3. Be an advocate for people fighting the disease. They need our support, and taking down barriers will increase their chance of successful recovery.
4. Help your community see that substance use is everywhere. Local papers are quick to publish the latest DUI, but overdoses or people entering treatment are not newsworthy. Substance use does not care about race, religion or socioeconomic status. Overdoses occur under the radar, and we need to educate the doubters so they see this is a serious public health issue.
Ending the stigma about substance use and recovery will not be easy. The more we talk about it, educate and spend time with community outreach, the more people will see that this is a health issue that affects everyone in the community. Lessening the stigma will allow individuals and families suffering from this disease to find the help they need, and see that true recovery is not just a possibility, but a reality.
Hello, It’s Me
It’s been awhile. I keep doing this. I keep starting something I love, and then life gets in the way. I can’t believe it has been over 2 years since I last posted here. It’s amazing how life just keeps going, and we get so involved in so many other things.
John Lennon (who, by the way, is probably turning over in his grave right now) wrote Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans. This is so true. In almost years our world has almost completed two laps around our son, we have experience all types of ups and downs, and all have had personal triumphs, tragedies, deaths, births, loss, elation, health issues, and all of the things that make up our lives. In other words, life goes on, Obla Di, Obla Da.
Personally, the last two years could have been better, but they could have been alot worse. Yes, there were deaths in the family that we are still reeling from, and I have been in more operating rooms being strapped to a table in the last two years than my entire life. BUT, we move on, and we get to the other side. The past is always behind us, always following us, and it is not smart to look back. It’s always there, sometimes closer than we want, and looking forward and not back is healthier, and keeps our minds on track.
Professionally, I am still in IT, but now year 3 of my 7 year career transformation. It’s an exciting time, and I am learning alot, but also working more hours than ever before. It is still too early in the process to see any light at the end of the tunnel, but in the blink of the eye I will know I will get there. The good news is I stopped circling the drain and did something I wanted to do, and I am now in the midst of working towards achieving my goal.
So, what’s next? For starters, I wrote this, and I am hoping this is the catalyst for more things to come. I have not been idle with my writing the last two years. I have been, yes, circling the drain and collecting content, and just need to SPEND SOME TIME AND PUT IT TOGETHER. Some may call it procrastination, others may call it laziness, or even a failure to launch. Personally, I like circling the drain or analysis paralysis. We all want to do things not just well but perfect. I need to let that go and just do them. That’s why I am back doing this.
The funny thing is, there I certainly have enough content. Whether it is writing about some of the great music I have been listening to, or our current political situation, or the books I am reading, or anything else we are bombarded with each day, there is always something to write about. I just need to spend more time doing it, even if it is not perfect.
I’m back…….. stay tuned, enjoy every sandwich, enjoy the ride, and move forward with me as we together see what is still to come.
Until next time, which I promise will be soon.
Whatever Happened To (or How Did We All Turn Out)
The digital age has enabled us to stay connected with people much easier, or being able to re-connect with someone from your past. In the dark ages (pre-digital), if you had a friend that moved away (especially as a kid) you probably never saw them again. You might get a letter or two, but after a while your life moved on and they began a new one. In grade school I had a best friend and we swore we would always be friends. One summer I went away to camp and when I returned found out his family had moved out of town. That was it. Friendship over. The comet has left the solar system.
Today, if someone you know moves away, or changes jobs, or if you are a kid and make a friend at camp, you can still make instant contact with that person anytime. You can stay in the orbits of each other’s lives, and thanks to social media can passively keep track of each other, wish each other happy birthdays, hook up at a concert, etc. Basically, still be a part of the other person and their life.
Facebook is the great contributor to this new phenomenon. Today, you don’t have to wonder about that old high-school friend and how they turned out. You can check if the girl you had a crush on in 10th grade is still hot, or if the jock who bullied you got fat and now drives a truck. Thanks to Facebook, you can be “friends” with people that you grew up with that you never thought you would see again. And the irony of it now is that most of the people who didn’t like you or vice-versa, are actually pretty nice to be friends with. You share stories online, comment on each other’s family pictures, wish each other happy birthday, etc., something that would have been unheard of when you were growing up.
Some mysteries have been solved, thanks to Facebook and other forms of communication in our digital age. I may not actually SEE the people I grew up with, but we are now back within each other’s orbits and it has helped complete our lives. Perhaps we will get together again, and actually witness in person how we all turned out. Or maybe we will keep our distance, continuing with our current lives, content in the knowledge that not only did we turn out ok, but everyone else did as well.
It’s ok to look back, but don’t stare. The past is always back there, keeping a step or two behind.
I Have Been Humbled
I have been humbled.
Yesterday was my first day of OT (yes, Occupational Therapy). When I was in the hospital (12/9-11, 2014) to remove my cancerous prostate, my Ulnar Nerve received a trauma. For those of you who may not know what the Ulnar Nerve is or what it does, I have stolen the following from Wikipedia:
The Ulnar nerve runs near the ulna bone. The nerve is the largest unprotected nerve in the human body (meaning unprotected by muscle or bone), so injury is common. This nerve is directly connected to the little finger, and the adjacent half of the ring finger, supplying the palmar side of these fingers, including both front and back of the tips. One method of injuring the nerve is to strike the medial epicondyle of the humorous from posteriorly, or inferiorly with the elbow flexed. The ulnar nerve is trapped between the bone and the overlying skin at this point. This is commonly referred to as bumping one’s “funny bone”. The Ulnar nerve also helps fire the muscles for the grip.
We are not sure exactly the injury occurred. It may have been banged during or right after the surgery when they moved me. I may have banged it on the rail of the hospital bed, or I may have compressed the nerve while struggling to get myself up from a chair in the hospital room. The cause does not matter, the result is irritating.
I have constant pins and needles in my pinky and adjacent half of the ring finger in my right hand. I cannot touch my pinky to my thumb. My wrist/grip is weak because this nerve helps fire the muscles of the entire hand. During my OT assessment, the grip in my dominant right hand was 70% LESS than my weaker left, and the pinching tests (finger to finger) in my right hand compared to my left had similar results.
I am having difficulty with many of the tasks I love. I am having difficulty playing the piano, not just because of my weakness but because my right pinky can’t keep up with the rest of the hand and lags behind the instructions my brain is giving it. I can’t bowl because while I can grip the ball, when I go to the release it falls off of my hand. My horrible handwriting is now worse, and simple everyday activities such as handling a fork, typing, shaving and brushing my teeth are now a chore.
My neurologist (yes, I have a neurologist now!) said that the nerve will heal and the symptoms should go away, IN A FEW MONTHS!!!! In the meantime I am going to OT to help re-strengthen the muscles that are not getting the signals from the damaged nerve.
So, I said humbling? How about it took me 15 minutes this morning to try to button my shirt sleeve button on my left arm (I was stubborn, I wasn’t giving up!). How about how difficult it was for me yesterday in OT to pick up toothpicks with my third and fourth fingers and thumb and press them into putty, or using a hand-held spring tensioned vice device to pick up 100 cotton balls and put them back into a box. How about sitting at a table performing these therapies with three other people, all stroke survivors, who have it much worse off than I do. I am doing OT just for one injury, they are doing OT as part of a regiment of therapies to recover from their injury.
We all take many things for granted. The air we breathe, the food on our table, etc. We don’t even think about the countless things we do each day. It’s easy to forget about these simple things (they are just there for us), until we lose some of that ability. Like a fish out of water who can’t process oxygen, this simple injury has had a major impact on almost everything I do each day. Even now, as I type this I am unable to use my pinky (I am a 10 fingered typist) and it has taken me twice as long to write this as it would have two months ago. But then again, two months ago I wouldn’t have given a second thought to type this out quickly, or button my shirt, or pick up toothpicks, or touch my thumb to my pinky, all activities that require much more work or are impossible right now to achieve.
I have been humbled.
Life Happens, Cancer Happens, Life Goes On
So, what happened?
Having a busy schedule and commitments happened.
Not writing a post since June is not what I wanted. But somehow life just got in the way.
AND, getting prostate cancer and having a Radical Prostatectomy on Dec 9 happened.
It is absolutely amazing how the layers of life can get so complicated
and busy and then you receive a cancer diagnosis on top of it and all
of the shit that is hovering near the fan hits and gets all over
The good news is I am cancer free.
The bad news is recovery after surgery can suck the life out of you. My surgeon
was great and did an excellent job. What they don’t tell you before the
surgery is how tough the recovery is, especially after a major four hour
The first few weeks were horrible as I had no energy and all I wanted
to do was sleep, not to mention going home with a catheter and an abdominal drain for a week. My continence is getting better but still not the greatest but I am told that this will improve with time. I need to be patient.
The most important thing is I AM CANCER FREE.
This whole experience has taught me alot about myself. I am not as strong
as I thought I was and I truly now know what it means to have to live one day
at a time. In the hospital I had to learn how to live sometimes one hour at
a time when I was waiting for my pain medication. My Al-Anon program
really helped me through the tougher times of this recovery and gave me the
strength and the guardrails to weather the days when my patience with my
body wore done and I started to lose it.
I still have bad days, but as I get stronger my resolve gets stronger and I am
able to weather and push through the tough moments. I am very lucky the cancer
was found in such an early stage and I am grateful for my long term prognosis.
I just need to be more patient with my recovery, take the bad days that come
along with the good, and live my life one day at a time.
More to come. Stay tuned….
Reading, The Old Fashioned Way
A book, with paper pages dog-eared, words underlined to look up later, and a cover. A book sits with other books on a shelf, or is waiting on a nightstand or a table, ready to be picked up so the reader can re-enter that unique world.
Despite being a ‘techie’, I do not own a Kindle or a Nook. I prefer my reading the old fashioned way, with a book on my lap. I don’t need any of the distractions that technology brings. I just want the book and nothing else. I use my Ipad as a computer alternative for quick lookups, email, video, shopping, maps, etc. For me, reading on the Ipad is like reading a magazine article, quick and informative, as opposed to immersing myself into the world of a book.
A few weeks ago I was having a quick solo dinner at Panera Bread, a friendly place like a Starbucks for people to eat, read, meet with friends and use their free Wi-Fi. Many of the people eating by themselves had some type of an electronic reader. I was one of the few people there who was reading an actual book, and was actually not envious that they had their shiny electronic device to use while I had an old-fashioned book.
Yes, I know, having an electronic reader has many advantages. They are often lighter than many books, and you can have more than one title at your fingertips (even though you can only read one book at a time). You can also use most readers as a tablet as well. All you need is a Wi-Fi connection.
But a book, oh for me there are so many advantages to having an actual book, and it is often more than just the joy of reading. I know what I am reading just by glancing at it, and others know what I am reading as well. A book is a great conversation starter, and at this Panera I had two conversations with people about books. The first was with the cashier who saw the book I was holding (The Leftovers) and asked if I had read any other books by the author (Tom Perrotta). We had a great conversation about similar authors and recommended to each other additional books to read. Then, while getting up to leave I had an excellent conversation with the older gentleman sitting at the next table about the book he was reading, which I had finished a few months previous (Stephen King’s 11/22/63).
I am a “people person”. I love talking with others, even complete strangers in a public place, often to the chagrin of my family (“there he goes again, talking to strangers”). Having a book, as opposed to an electronic reader, is a natural ice-breaker and an easy way to make a connection with someone else. You may consider this nosey, but I want to know what others are reading and if they like it. I may want to read that book one day!
The Corner Of Our Eye
They are in the corner of our eye.
People that come and go, in and out of our lives.
We may not see them every day, or even think about them more than once a month, or sometimes even less.
But they are always there, hanging on the peripheral of our daily activities.
We often forget about them, but then something happens that brings them back into focus.
Perhaps it is a memory, or a picture we see, or something they post on Facebook.
Or we see them at a wedding, or at the store and we are polite and make promises to get together.
Maybe we get a “hey, ‘what’s new, how are you” text.
And then we find out what has been going on in their lives, while they have not been part of ours.
And we find out that they are sick, or lost their job, or their mom has passed, or their kid did something great or perhaps got into some trouble.
And we weren’t part of it, or there to help them, to comfort them, to help get them through it.
And we feel horrible about it.
Not because we weren’t there, but because we were too busy to be there.
And then we feel guilty, and bad, and lament that so much time has passed.
Because it is not that hard to keep in touch with the people that mean something to us.
No matter how peripheral they may be.
A quick email, a quick text, a quick call.
Hey, how are you? Hope all is well. Let’s meet for lunch, dinner, coffee.
No pressure. Just a quick connect, let them know that they still mean something to you.
We should all do it before it’s too late.
Square Pegs, Round Holes & Solving Problems
Some days just don’t work, like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. No matter how hard you try, things just don’t fit together.
You have a busy Saturday with errands to run, appointments to keep, and kids’ activities to watch or drive to, and suddenly you realize it is not humanly possible to do be in two places at once. You try to figure it all out, but sometimes a problem will seem so insurmountable that it will ruin the carefully planned dance of the day.
The only way to make things work sometimes is to either find a new peg or a new hole, or reshape the edges of one so they fit together. Easier said than done, but sometimes moving things around in your life makes things fit together better and will help restore our sanity.
Thankfully, most problems have a solution. You may not like it, but a solution can always be found.
I was at my dad’s the other day to change one of his high ceiling light bulbs. Nobody wants their 80 something dad climbing a ladder, trust me. We started to talk about a trip they were planning. As senior citizens a drive to Boston is not made without careful planning. Where to eat, where to pee, did we remember the hearing aids, things like that. Each transportation mode (driving, and who drives and how far, train, etc) have positive and negative aspects, and potential problems and pain points are all over the place. As we discussed the possibilities I realized that each stumbling block had a solution, which I carefully placed in front of him, until he agreed there was no reason why they couldn’t go to Boston via one of the many ways we discussed.
Sometimes things just don’t fit together. But with a little sandpaper, reshaping of plans, and a willingness to compromise we can make the square pegs and the round holes fit together nice and neatly.
They Said It’s Your Birthday
Happy birthday to me. Woo friggin hoo.
Another lap around the sun. Another lap getting lost, wasting time, being productive some days and others not getting a thing done, and wondering what I want to do with my life when I grow up. Another lap of laughter and tears and happiness and grief and hard work and absolute amazement of the good and the bad in this world. Another lap wondering how Plan A is going, and thinking about Plan B, C, D, etc.
Being overly reflective? Yes. Less work years ahead of me than behind. Wondering about the career choices I made in my life. One kid out of the house and thinking about a different future for himself (and we told him, take the chances now before you get old and regret it, just make sure you can pay your bills), and another kid that will leave the house in the fall to start the next phase of his life.
I think it’s ok to reflect now; after all it’s MY birthday. I think its ok to wonder where it all went and what I could have or should have done differently. I know I am not alone. Not only us, but all of our friends have kids that our moving on and parents (those of us that still have them around) that are really aging and we are getting those aches and pains and sprains and tears and torn cartilage and more gray hairs, and we are beginning to see that we are not young anymore.
I DO have a lot of gratitude. I have an amazing wife, and two wonderful boys who make me proud, each in their own way, have a lot of close family, and am blessed with many dear and close friends.
We continue to take the laps around the sun. We don’t give up. We continue to go through the everyday grind of life. We get up in the morning and go to work each day (paraphrasing The Boss), we take care of our chores, and we pay our bills, and fold the laundry, and call the plumber and go to our kid’s games. And in all of that chaos it is so easy to forget to take a minute and smell the flowers blooming in the spring and pull out of the bottom of our pocket the good things in our lives that often get pushed there by all the crap that we have to do.
Enjoy life, it’s too darn short. Today is my birthday. Happy birthday to me.
Masks, Lies, & Faking It
Kurt Cobain said that “the worst crime is faking it”. When Nirvana was active I was not a big fan, but I have grown to enjoy their music, appreciate their legacy, and influence on countless other bands. It is hard to believe that twenty years have gone by since he took his own life.
This post could be about Nirvana and music, or about women faking it in bed, but it is NOT about either of them.
This post is about masks. Not Halloween masks, but the masks we wear daily.
We all wear them. Don’t lie and say this does not apply to you. This applies to nobody specific but everybody in general. I am as guilty as everyone, and use one of those multi-layered rock solid locking masks sold at the high-end mask stores (not the cheap one sold on late-night television).
Our masks are on every day, from the moment we engage with people, until we settle down at night with a book or in front of the television. We could be having a horrible morning, after a fight with our spouse or we are worried about our kid’s schoolwork, but when a co-worker asks “How’s it going?” we always respond “Good!” To do otherwise would be to go against social norms and admit that something is bothering us and that life is not peachy keen perfect.
Masks are our protection. They are comfortable and behind them is safety. They allow us to look and feel better than we actually do. Masks are the force field that keeps people at arm’s length and away from our troubles. Our masks allow people to only see the public persona that we have constructed for ourselves. We can live and act like everything is fine, and nobody can see the bad and ugly parts of our lives.
But this is a lie. A safe lie, but a lie nonetheless. Our masks allow us to deny to ourselves and others how we really feel. It is much easier (and safer) to make believe everything is great, than to admit that we have a problem, or are troubled by something.
It is easy to be a faker and make believe that everything is OK. It is a lot harder to be honest with how we feel, and that starts with how we feel about ourselves. Living life the safe way is easy, and our masks help keep us safe. Taking a chance and taking our masks off a little bit takes courage, but allows us to be who we want to be.
I am trying to peel some of my layers off. It’s scary, but I will let you know how it goes.