Literally and figuratively.  I was driving from work to school a couple of weeks ago and had about 5 minutes to grab some lunch when I spotted a Taco Bell ahead of me.  Now, I’m no Taco Bell fan, really.  More of a Del Taco guy.  But there is something delightful about biting into a crisp, corn tortilla shell.  I love the sound, and it was fast so I signaled to make a right hand turn into the parking lot.  Someone was coming out of the drive at the same time so I slowed WAY DOWN so I could turn really sharp and get in, when I heard the screech of tires behind me a half a second before I was struck from behind.  Judging from the tire marks she only slammed on the brakes about 10 feet before she hit me at 40 MPH.  It sent my car sailing straight into the oncoming car that was exiting the driveway, and I had a head-on collision with him.

Oh, yeah.  The oncoming car was a police vehicle.

I had a head on collision with a cop.  (Oh my god can you imagine if that had happened while I was still using?  What a nightmare that would have been.)

So the back of my car was smashed.  The front of my car was smashed.  My computer flew off the seat and onto the floor and was smashed.  Two weeks later I still have a crippling headache.  My 2 major purchases of 2008, both destroyed in an instant.

The insurance company told me how much they think my car is worth.  A bizarrely low number considering that you cannot find my year/make/model under 70,000 miles within 400 miles of here, and when you do, or if you look 500 miles away, they are about $3000 more.  But that was over a week ago that I last heard from the adjuster.  In the meantime I’m in a rental car and my computer doesn’t work, and my head hurts too much to do anything about it, plus with all the school I missed, I fear being able to get caught up.  And it’s clear that I have a concussion.  Making sense is hard.

I discovered that the pain pill they put me on isn’t strictly speaking an NSAID.  It appears to be a partial opioid-agonist.  So I guess there is a potential to abuse it, and that makes me want to not take it.  It it better to be in pain or is it better to be running the risk of habituating using narcotics?

Hopefully the healing will speed up and I won’t have to ask that question much longer.

Anyone I think I could love is, by definition, so capable of and uniquely positioned to wound me that I can’t bear it.  Slight me and let me sit alone with it for 24 hours, thinking it’s my fault, and I crumble.  That’s why I don’t let anyone in.  I can’t.  I can’t afford the time off that’s required to cry.  And here’s the thing.  Harvey Milk and Barack Obama and a hundred others like them spoon fed us “hope.”  “You’ve got to give them hope,” Milk famously said.  The concept of hope was so central to Obama’s campaign that it was the only word on his most famous posters.  Machiavelli agreed; feed the people hope.  Side with the people and feed them hope.

The subjective experience of hope is no different that the subjective experience of false hope.  No one is so honest with themselves that they can discern hope from false hope one hundred percent of the time, so even ordinary people are stuck with hoping (against hope) for things that never come to pass.

You know what hope is?  Hope is evil.  Hope is deceitful.  Better to assume the worst and plan for it.

There may come a time
when I will see that I was wrong,
but for now this is my song

and it’s goodbye to love.

Philip Seymour HoffmanBy now we’ve all heard about the tragic death of one of the leading actors of my generation, Philip Seymour Hoffman.

I say tragic in the sense of lamentable and piteous.  I also mean it in the sense of deplorable, because it shouldn’t have happened.  Mr. Hoffman, a man with some experience at getting and staying sober, checked himself into a treatment center about 7 months ago and left ten days later.  Now, I don’t have first hand knowledge of exactly what happened, but I have some experience of my own, recently even, dealing with treatment centers and I will tell you that I am not impressed.  Granted, I live in the Great Redneck Desert and one can’t rely on anything here to work the way one would expect in the rest of the world, but even discounting for that, there appear to be flaws in the way that recovery services are delivered in this country that I believe contributed to Hoffman’s death, as well as the death of fellow actor Cory Monteith, who died shortly after leaving a treatment center.

Before I go further I want to affirm my belief that treatment works.  Study after study backs that up, and those studies also point to which treatments work better than others.  I also want to point out that for the purposes of discussing treatment, I don’t find it useful to differentiate between opioid prescription medications which cause 15,000 deaths every year, and heroin, which causes far fewer deaths, but which is incredibly dangerous and has terrible ramifications to global security.  Besides, most new heroin users are people, like Hoffman, who started on prescription drugs and moved to heroin; an unintended consequence of making prescription opioids safer. Combined, the total number of overdoses in the U.S. totalled nearly 40,000 in 2010.

I also want to emphasize that the reason treatment is necessary is that addiction is a chronic, progressive disorder (or disease in the parlance of many from a 12-step recovery background).  Those who experience a relapse into active addiction are not weak or immoral, they very likely understand the benefits of recovery, and yet experience some moment when what they have been doing is suddenly insufficient to keep active addiction away.  My own writing here can attest to my love for and commitment to sobriety.  In Mr. Hoffman’s case, in a 2006 interview he credited sobriety for his whole career and even his life.

“I have so much empathy for these young actors that are 19 and all of a sudden they’re beautiful and famous and rich.  I’m like, ‘Oh my God. I’d be dead.’ You know what I mean? I’d be 19, beautiful, famous and rich. That would be it. I think back at that time. I think if I had the money, that kind of money and stuff. So, yeah [I would have died].”

If you’ve been following my blog lately you know that I recently left an outpatient treatment program long before I was supposed to because I felt like the treatment I was getting was totally pointless and prevented me from doing other things that I felt were more important.  Hoffman left his treatment center after only 10 days.  One can only speculate on what that means, but in my case, I left because I didn’t feel like what I was getting from treatment was useful; it didn’t add anything to what had previously been long(ish)-term recovery.

The fact that substance use disorder is real should by now be beyond dispute.  There is less volition in the process of picking up a drink or a drug than even those with the disease even imagine.  This will fly in the face of the law-and-order crowd or those whose worldview hinges on the concept of free will, but the facts as demonstrated through the best available scientific techniques tells us another story.  A hijacked brain is still a hijacked brain, no matter how healthy the brain may tell its owner that it is.  And this is where the story of treatment for the hijacked brain becomes critical.

Despite containing other, really useful information about addiction that needs to become more understood by the public, todays news reports on Hoffman’s death are focusing on the fact that Hoffman died despite having had returned to rehab last March. This places the blame for his death squarely on the disease and on Hoffman himself.  This is an error and treatment providers and the Federal government should have their feet held to the fire for spinning the tale this way because it fails to acknowledge a basic fact: treatment services in this country are low quality and under-provided because of rules that don’t mandate training and licensure or provide a mechanism for the kind of long-term follow-up that is empirically proven to save lives.

I can’t say that Hoffman didn’t, but I know I haven’t received a follow-up call from my outpatient provider.  No-one there has reached out to me to ask about how I’m doing or to mention that they had identified some needs that remained unaddressed in treatment and to suggest that we sit down and talk about them.  I have even had the experience of having a clinical director of a state licensed treatment facility tell me flatly that I’d never get sober unless I held my cigarettes in a more manly way.

We don’t permit other chronic diseases to be treated this way in America.  My brother had non-Hodgkins lymphoma and he had major, full work-up follow-up visits for years after he went into remission.  I was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus and I never go more than six months without hearing from my endocrinologist for a follow-up visit complete with blood work and more education when it has been required. But for some reason we allow the providers of addiction treatment to ignore evidence based protocols and to throw their patients, who cannot, because of the very nature of their disease, be relied upon to always make perfect decisions regarding their care.

There are rare exceptions.  There are some fantastic places in America to get treatment.  People like Hoffman could certainly afford them.  I cannot.  For 2 years before my relapse I dreamed of going, I ached to go to spend some time at Hazelden’s Renewal Center, a facility my late sponsor credited with keeping his own recovery alive in difficult times. There are other, similar programs available to those that can afford them, but most of us end up relying on some kind of public funding or on the provider that our insurance will pay for, and what our insurance will pay for is something far short of the mark that the good people at NIDA know works.

There is no way that one can view Hoffman’s 10 day stay at a detox and subsequent death as anything other than a failure of the treatment system.  Nor can we view Cory Monteith’s release from treatment and his overdose death a short time after as anything but a failure of the treatment system.  Hoffman and Monteith cannot be held culpable for picking up as they had very little if any choice in the matter.  The health care system charged with providing them with support and healing failed them when they could not stay abstinent on their own.

How treatment is provided and paid for, including types of treatment provided, quality of care, provision of care and reimbursement require an overhaul from top to bottom.  Until they are, we will continue losing 100 people every day to overdose, and countless others who will suffer and die slowly and unnecessarily.  We must demand better.  We owe it to those whose lives hang in the balance.

add the words

Former Idaho state Sen. Nicole LeFavour is arrested after blocking the entrance of the Senate chambers at the Idaho Statehouse on Monday morning. She was part of a group of protestors who blocked the entrance while advocating adding gender identity and sexual orientation to the state’s human rights ordinance. They cover their mouths to symbolize their feelings of disenfranchisement. JOE JASZEWSKI

February 3, 2014 by Chris Mecham | 1 comment

Keep a fire burning in your eye
Pay attention to the open sky
You never know what will be coming down

I don’t remember losing track of you
You were always dancing in and out of view
I must have thought you’d always be around
Always keeping things real by playing the clown

Now you’re nowhere to be found

I don’t know what happens when people die
Can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try
It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear
But I can’t sing, I can’t help listening

And I can’t help feeling stupid standing ’round
Crying as they ease you down
‘Cause I know that you’d rather we were dancing

Dancing our sorrow away
(Right on dancing)
No matter what fate chooses to play
(There’s nothing you can do about it anyway)

Just do the steps that you’ve been shown

By everyone you’ve ever known
Until the dance becomes your very own
No matter how close to yours
Another’s steps have grown

In the end there is one dance you’ll do alone

Keep a fire for the human race
Let your prayers go drifting into space
You never know what will be coming down
Perhaps a better world is drawing near
And just as easily it could all disappear
Along with whatever meaning you might have found

Don’t let the uncertainty turn you around
(The world keeps turning around and around)
Go on and make a joyful sound

Into a dancer you have grown
From a seed somebody else has thrown
Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own

And somewhere between the time you arrive
and the time you go
May lie a reason you were alive

But you’ll never know

(thanks again, Joe.  I love you.)

 

SONGWRITERS
BROWNE, JACKSON 

PUBLISHED BY
LYRICS © JACKSON BROWNE/SWALLOW TURN MUSIC/NIGHT KITCHEN MUSIC/OPEN WINDOW MUSIC

January 30, 2014 by Chris Mecham | 1 comment

Through all the wrack and blubber of the last week there has been something on my mind; the idea that permanent recovery is possible for anyone.  Joe sponsored me for 5 of the last 7 years, but I had worked with him before that, too.  I knew the man for probably 17 years, and in all that time he never shoved any particular dogma or method of recovery down my throat.  He always said that the only right way to “work the steps” was the way that worked for me.  Sure, he had some specific suggestions, but when I told him the story of my escape from the first treatment center I went to he seemed ecstatic.  Who were they to tell me that how I held a cigarette was the determining factor in whether or not I recovered.

Joe used to run the aftercare program for a notable drug treatment center, and with 43 years sober, and having sponsored hundreds of us throughout his time, he had the opportunity to see, up close and in a way that few people get to, that recovery from addiction is possible for everyone, and that the path that delivers us is personal to each of us.  For many of us, that means checking in to a treatment center.  It did for me.  I left the first center and followed it up with a different treatment center.

I’ve been looking at drug treatment centers lately, toying with the idea of another inpatient stint and one of them stands out.  Advanced Health and Education is a New Jersey addiction treatment center.  In pouring over their site it is clear that they understand that recovery is not a one-size-fits-all kind of product.  This outstanding New Jersey addiction treatment center embraces the philosophy that treatment needs to be appropriate to the patient and needs to include the whole patient, and with the right balance of treatment, accountability, and support, we addicts can get our lives back on track and live fully.

Joe had the opportunity to tour many notable facilities, Cirque Lodge, Betty Ford, Hazelden, and had good things to say about all of them, but he insisted that celebrity clients didn’t insure one’s recovery.  The real question was whether you got quality treatment, had access to exercise or yoga, something to get your body moving again, and whether appropriate, quality aftercare was available—all the kinds of things you find at Advanced Health and Education.

For information on NJ drug treatment center options contact Advanced Health and Education

 

 

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Joe K. at home.

Joe K. at home. Photo by John L.

  

I was searching my hard drive earlier today and uncovered what may be the last recording of my dearest friend and sponsor, Joe K., speaking at a local meeting.  The digital recording device he was using was sitting on the podium he was speaking from and it gets knocked around quite a bit, making a ton of noise that shouldn’t be there.  I’m working on getting the recording cleaned up, but in this very informal share he recounts a couple of my favorite stories and you can really hear what recovery did for him and how grateful he was for it.  Enjoy.

I’m much too tired at the moment to figure out how to make the embedded player work, so you’ll just have to download the file if you like or just click here to listen to listen to Joe K.

 

"I believe that when I go it will be like sailing over the horizon.  I'll look behind me and you'll all be gone.  But I'll still be sailing."

“I believe that when I go it will be like sailing over the horizon. I’ll look behind me and you’ll all be gone. But I’ll still be sailing.”

A few moments ago I lost the best friend I ever had, my mentor, sponsor, and spiritual guide; the person who knew me inside and out, understood the back story, had experience with all the characters, and somehow believed that even with all that, that permanent recovery was God’s plan for me.  When I said I’d received a crazy phone call from my mother, he knew what I was talking about; he had been on the receiving end of those calls.  When I told him I didn’t believe in God, he took me to his cabin and helped me find a Buddhist based, philosophical approach to the steps that I could live with.  Everything to Joe was “the most fabulous” thing ever.  Joe spent decades of his life taking people through the steps, always helping each of us find a way that we could get through it.  He was never dogmatic, was always embracing of wholeness and unity and inclusiveness.  He was the most loving, most optimistic, most positive person I have ever known.  His absence leaves a hole in my heart that goes all the way to China.

 

You can read his extraordinary memoirs in The Lover and the Madman.

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