Homeward Bound via the Boston Marathon

life1I had to think outside the box to connect the dots but holy mackerel, it took a fellow game player, with a bat, to show me how to hit it out of the park and help me see the metaphor, my own metaphor and all of ours in life. You see, it’s not about me anymore because I’ve set myself free.  It’s about all of us together and all of you who reached out their hands to give donations in multitudes of ways along the path of life to help me be in the position where I am right now….that of asking for help.  Help for my children.

I’m every mother out there and have been all of you good and bad, and all the places in between at one point or another in my life.  The good mother in me appeals to the good mother in you as running this race on the 50th anniversary of women running the Boston Marathon, is symbolic of all I want to do for my kids, all we women ever want to do for our kids, we lay down our lives for them but in doing so, we save ourselves, by running, what running gives back in internal freedom and joy.

I got distracted with “me”, and I thought it was all I’d ever see, but it’s about them, my kids, all of our kids, and the future and coming home.  Coming home to hope and faith that there is a better future for them with better treatments, more doctors and more public awareness of this disease of Tuberous Sclerosis Complex.

In some small way, I feel that this fundraiser has symbolized my attempt to give back to everyone in my life that has believed in me and seen the good in me and in all of us who want free from these chains of life, represented by dis-ease. Living life with a  disease, as dis-ease in all forms, physical disease, mental disease, soul sickness that we all at some level, at some point in our lives have run from.

Running for TSC, for me, is like finally waking up and realizing that I’m running home, homeward bound, as all of us are in life following our own curriculums and hoping for relief, salvation, in all sorts of forms.  As Ram Dass says, “We’re all just walking each other home”.  So tomorrow, the symbolism is not lost on me, especially as a mother.  Mother of 5, three with TSC.

I am asking one more time for donations  Don’t see me, see my kids, the TSC community and outward to the special education community, the mental health community, the general overall community of human beings at large. All of us helping each other in our various methods of recovery, and waking up from the game of life to realize we’re all in this together, walking and/or running each other home.  #IAMTSC

To donate online, click on the link below:

https://www.crowdrise.com/jillsraisingmoneyfor/fundraiser/jillwoodworth
Thank you each and every one of you as “donations” come in all forms and there have been too many to name so God Bless you all!

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Booze at the Big Y

So I walked into my local Big Y grocery store, recently and was confronted with the new addition of alcohol to the store.  Much to my chagrin, the alcohol was not just in one place, but was literally scattered, in stealth, and not so stealth displays ALL OVER THE STORE!! What’s an alcoholic in recovery to do?  My immediate reaction was to want to drop kick a 30 pack of Bud across the store and run screaming into the parking lot to the safety of my car.  From there, I planned to stay hunkered down, writing an anonymous letter to the editor of The Landmark about the state of affairs at the Big y and how this was messin’ with all of us ex alkies.  I did not do this.  What I did do, was talk to my other friends on similar paths of recovery and make jokes about it.  I posted on facebook and ranted.  Mostly, I thought about it and why it still bothers me to some degree and what it represents and I wrote this blog.

For those of you that don’t have addiction issues with substances, stop reading this and get down on your knees and thank your lucky stars or whomever you thank out there for this sort of nature/nurture scenario that did not set you on the fast train to hell that can be that which is the life of an alcoholic bottoming out.  After doing this, stand up and keep reading.

Booze in Big Y bothers me personally because it still triggers these “FUN” receptors in my head, that will probably always be there, and I’ve had to seek different, more reasonable ways to satisfy them as I am not willing at this time, a day at a time, to take the risk that the call of booze represents to me.  Thing is, I kind of have to honor and thank alcohol for all the fun because there was a lots of it.  Oh hell yes!  It kept me numb during a period of my life when I probably wouldn’t have made it otherwise.  But, it also did other things which I’ve discussed ad nauseum in other blogs so you can reference those if you don’t know what happened to me at my own hand and how I’m one of those touched by grace, that found my way back.

So I say to myself, “I see you alcohol and thank you for soothing me and holding my hand when I needed you but unfortunately for you and fortunately for me, I do not need to hold your hand any longer.  The feelings and emotions you were masking have been revealed and they are not so scary anymore now that I know from whence they came.  Now I am movin’ on and despite the boozy Big y, I am not listening to your call”….

Addiction to substances, is such a hot button issue right now, and the awareness of the importance of dealing with these issues in society has been raised so much so that we probably all know someone who struggles.  Those of us claiming that we are in recovery from addiction to substances are merely the ones willing to put our hands up in the air and say, “alcoholic”, much along the lines of saying “human being”.  Addiction is just amplified attachment to something, and it comes in all forms. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that most in our society are probably addicted to something, someone or some ideal to which we are a slave in serving….the slave in our head that tells us unless we get a “hit” of whatever it is we think we need, we are not enough.

Those who struggle with the idea that addiction to substances is purely a weakness, humor me, if you will.  We human beings are all in.recovery from the game of life.  Recovery from the life that we think we are supposed to have, the one that we see on TV, in movies, media in general.  We are bombarded constantly with messages of a life of physical and emotional perfection that in reality doesn’t’ exist, so we are constantly in a state of thinking we’re” less than” in some ways…it’s almost impossible in this day and age to tune all of this out and there is some really great stuff that goes with the new age of media too, so there’s that on top of everything else.

Alas, the solution for me isn’t avoiding Big Y, because that would be foolish.  I like Big Y for lots of reasons and I don’t have the time or energy, both valuable resources, to shlep to another grocery store all the time.  Plus, eventually, they’ll probably all have booze anyway.  It’s just an adjustment period right now, as I come to accept this new lesson in the classroom of life, and walk through the store, past all the new sorts of shiny bottles and packaging that are fascinating and present the query in my head of, “I wonder what that tastes like? …that wasn’t’ around when I was drinking”….that takes some negotiating to mute.

I also don’t want to go the other route and cling too much to a sense of self righteousness as a recovering alcoholic because I overcame this addiction, I am somehow better than the average Joe who never has had to overcome anything.  That is just arrogant and ridiculous as every single one of us has a story and every single one of us has some internal battle on some level to which we can say,  “I can relate….yo!…. you who…..human being, remember?”.

Mostly, I’ll just grin a bit as I remember who I thought I had to be when I was drinking and cruise on down the aisle of Big Y and of life, with a sly smile, and the knowledge that it’s just life after all and I’m just damn glad I’m still here to be a part of it.

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Running Out

rail trail

And so, I ran my way out of my crisis of faith. Faith looks like running shoes and the great outdoors. I have been a runner for many many years and find running outside such a solace; me, my shoes and the natural world.  Nature provides a metaphor if I know how to see, and often I go here to worship, to throw my arms up and open to it all…I often meet my fellow broken souls along this path finding their way back to knowing maybe this is truth.  Always evolving but always on the path to greater bliss and freedom.  And yet, It can be so very goddamn hard to keep going and doing this day after day.  I often just feel hopeless and tired and want to escape to the external rungs of some ladder I believe is firm and trustworthy.

Onward.  I was sitting in my addiction counseling class Wednesday night feeling like I was going to puke.  I was coming down with some sort of stomach bug but I didn’t know it at the time.  It didn’t help that earlier that day, I’d received the results from the neuropsychological re-evaluations I had done on three of my four children in December at Mass General Hospital. These lengthy evaluations are pretty much written on leaves of gold, so to speak, as they coming from such esteemed institutions of MGH, and Harvard Medical School.  They are crammed with detailed information regarding multiple aspects of each child’s cognitive, academic, behavioral and emotional functioning in the context of their medical diagnoses of Tuberous Sclerosis Complex.  Obviously they are very useful for the getting services and accommodations, however, they are heavy.

I left class early, got in my car, and cried hard, all the way home.  I mean gut wrenching, weeping and sobbing. I’m no stranger to tears, but it had been awhile since this kind of damn broke loose.  I made it home and completely collapsed on the floor crying some more. My 14 year old son came out to comfort me. He thought surely I must have broken up with my boyfriend.  I felt moved to explain in no uncertain terms that I felt awful that he, and his sisters had to suffer so much in life due to their having tuberous sclerosis complex.  And I was being hugged, by all of them, my beautiful, imperfect children and my beautiful imperfect self.

So thus it is that I found myself broken, on my knees with my arms up to the universe in surrender. A channel, thru which I received  5 children, all magnificent and perfect in their imperfections . I am starting to be able to understand that this is my life’s curriculum to teach them that broken is also cracked. Cracks are how the light gets in.  If only I could hold onto this wisdom and bask in it all day long, but alas I within hours after this experience, I was back on earth, washing the dishes, and going for long runs.

On the Mass Central Rail Trail in Rutland, there is a stretch of about 50 yards or so, before the underpass for Charnock Hill Road, where there is a gorge, a great open cut where they blasted years ago, to make way for the trains. I notice the jagged edges  and rough spots, with the water leaking thru..like tears, the tree roots jutting out while the trees are still reaching upward despite the erosion, determined to reach the sun. Much like our souls. Underneath what was once a solid part of the earth, now cracked and broken, to make way for humanity. Yet, nature finds its way to adapt and become something of a metaphor for walkers and bikers, now witness to the beauty in the return to nature’s recovery. This path of recovery is starts with being broken, in nature as so in my life. We are all on this path in one way or another and when I give up on my shiny exterior ego and let the love in thru these cracks, my path is directed back to slow dissolution into a richer whole.

Running the Boston Marathon this April to raise money for Tuberous Sclerosis Complex research, ties all this together, in metaphor and life on this planet. #IAMTSC

If interested in more on this, see my page:

https://www.crowdrise.com/jillsraisingmoneyfor/fundraiser/jillwoodworth

 

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Crisis of Faith

Religion-Unknown-e1444855639183I am having a true crisis of faith lately and I am struggling emotionally to come to terms with the life I have had a good hand in creating for myself.  If I can believe in God and that this God “blessed” me with my 5 children, 1 from my first marriage of whom I gave up custody, and 4 from my second marriage, with three of these four having a serious chronic inherited medical condition that affects every aspect of their lives, then I can accept my lot in life.  I was able to do this for a while and maintain faith and a connection with a higher power.

In the last few months, something within me has shifted and I feel somewhat ill at ease with myself and my careless choices and my often obsessive fixation on what I believe was a bit of an addiction to pregnancy.  Somehow, when I was pregnant, I felt worthwhile and able to properly care for myself and look forward to the exciting event of having a baby. I was able to maintain sobriety and put the needs of my unborn baby first, as much as possible.  A newborn baby is a wonderful thing, yet like an acorn, I realize now, a baby comes coded with a map of life and despite my hope and determination to get the necessary help for all my differently abled children, I am not able to save them in any way and they are bound to more suffering in life than I ever experienced or can imagine.  Psychological suffering, physical suffering, emotional suffering and if I had thought through my choices while in a volatile relationship and understood the weighty matter of my choices, I would have spared these souls this challenging existence in a world that is not geared to enable these kids to aspire and attain typical life rewards.

Every morning I get up and am faced with the raw and increasingly emergent fact that as these kids age into adulthood, I am responsible for making sure they have at least a glimpse of an opportunity to feel some measure of independence.  One of the three with the disability is not compromised intellectually, and has the chance at a decent life, however medical issues will most likely become more concerning with age.  The other two children will continue to need immense medical and psychological interventions in order to survive in life after I am gone.  Every morning and throughout the day, as I am not working outside the home at this point, I feel complete and utter self-hatred and sometimes remorse that based on my careless decisions they suffer, I suffer and life becomes incredibly grim.

There is not a day that goes by that I am not confronted with some aspect of their disability which is gut wrenching.  The toxic combination of my ex-husband and myself gave rise to hellish behavior on both of our parts.  We were hit with a monsoon of stress when my oldest daughter from this marriage was diagnosed with TSC.  A relationship that had been somewhat stable and progressing, became mortally wounded with the crack in our universe of our small infant daughter’s diagnoses of tuberous sclerosis complex.  The word on the street back in 1996, was that the prognosis with this condition, wasn’t good.

It’s just this dark chasm to which I descend when I contemplate my plight.  I found much solace in my 12 step recovery program and was able to step outside organized religion and understand the idea of a higher power, something greater than myself, to which to surrender.  And it worked.  For a while.  After some time, it seemed to become a religion of its own with sly dogma and fundamental beliefs that while not scribed in stone, are comparable to every other form of religion to which I’ve been exposed.  I refuse to subscribe to the mentality that most AA-ers subscribe to which is subtle but undertones are rife through the program, that of “all or nothing” and those that cannot maintain continuous sobriety are subject to self-loathing and possible binges based on the idea that they have “failed”.  So I question and experiment.  So I guess I’m a failure if I relapse?  Eff. That.  But I won’t, because it doesn’t hold any long term promise anyway either.

My experience with conservative Christianity was similar.  I grew up with the idea that if you weren’t a Christian and hadn’t formally asked Jesus to come into your life, similar to the surrender that is “suggested” in AA, then you’d go to hell.   So I felt “different” and judged others based on their beliefs and was happy to go to a Christian school where I felt safe and at the same time where my beliefs were extolled.  Yet a part of me didn’t feel as if I bought the whole thing and I had to question.  That questioning led me down a dark road of drug use and alcohol soaked decision making ultimately ending up with me deciding that it was too much for me to care for my son and giving full custody to his father whom I divorced.

It seems the essence is that what is there to believe if all religions and groups that seem to be utterly convinced that their way is the right and true way when I cannot accept that there is only one path to a higher power?  Maybe a higher power is just within our own brain and our consciousness, and not outside of ourselves at all.  It gives me no relief lately.  The drive to survive my own neuroses ended up creating consequences of which with I am unable to come to terms.  I must drag around the reality of my selfish, impulsive choices for the rest of my life and the intense haunting shame and guilt for facilitating the creation of humans starting life with disease.  It is true hell and I don’t know where to go with these feelings other than writing them out and getting them out from inside me.

Post script:

Such a dark essay.  Morning breaks anew and I am always greeted by loving and kind children who refuse to be locked in any sort of box of diagnoses or limitations of spirit.  For this simple gift, I am grateful.   There are a few things which I’ve been told and to which I cling with a wrenching grasp. The first is that we are all doing the best we can with what we know at any given time and the second is that my children are their own people, with their own thoughts and feelings and who am I to judge the measure of their consciousness and experience in life?  I guess that’s enough to hold on to for now.  It won’t bring me to a place of ease as that is impossible for me in this lifetime.  I will always question and push the boundaries of any belief system which subscribes to the idea that any one entity is the answer.  #IAMTSC

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Scattered Roots and Holiday Musings

Prompted by an old college friend’s blog on coming back to her southern roots after many years of struggling with the contradiction of southern gentility and charm, in her mostly northern, well educated, intellectual and successful life, I started reflecting on my own roots, or lack thereof, and just what are “roots” and how can I springboard the very idea into a more in depth discussion on one of my favorite rants, that of fundamentalism, aka attachment or zealous self-righteousness in proselytizing one’s own opinions and not remaining open minded.

I guess it all started with my kids and being begrudgingly bullied into the Christmas spirit.  My youngest, at age 11, insists on listening to Christmas music in the car.  My 14-year-old son is in militant denial that despite the overwhelming peer pressure and factual proof of Santa’s nonexistence, he insists on peppering his conversation with questions on Santa’s milk and cookie routine and what time Santa actually arrives on Christmas eve.  I patiently and almost routinely, answer the questions and listen to the music while somehow finding myself reflecting on my own childhood Christmas beliefs and am catapulted back into the morass of my own journey from my roots to where I am today.

Truth be known, I often feel as if I have no roots, as in any one place I grew up or where my family still lives today.  I was born in one place, Rochester, NY, and moved about every three to four years right up through high school.  So when people ask me where I’m from, I almost stammer a bit and have a hard time coming up with a concise answer.    I didn’t know how greatly this lack of being “from” a place had affected me until I got into therapy.  Hah.  No, just kidding, I actually became more and more traumatized with each move though I was able to split off and fantasize each time about the new place, new start, new friends, better life circumstances, etc.

My father was not in the military, nor was he transferred for a job.  He was in the advertising/marketing field and I have been told that it is not that uncommon to change jobs a lot in that field.  However, part of it was my father’s personality and his general stubborn idealism and beliefs of living by the golden rule in a business world that places values on the something as silly as money.  Fortunately, my dad generally got decent jobs and we maintained a lifestyle of middle class throughout my childhood.  It was not easy, for any of us, but I have come around to the opinion (after years of therapy), we all do the best we can at any given point in our lives and thus my father was doing just that.  Plus, there are a whole lot of good things about moving a lot as well.  I have friends from most of the different places we lived, that I didn’t even realize I still had until I went on Facebook and looked them up.  This has been a boon.  As well, no one can pin down where I’m from based on any sort of accent or colloquialisms.  I’m stealth.

Seriously though, I’ve gained a vast wealth of knowledge from all my life experiences and come to terms with mostly all of them, better and not so positive.  At this time of year, when it seems people generally reflect and take stock of their past year, their lives, and practice their holiday traditions, I want to shirk the whole thing.  It initially exhausts me, as I’m always worried about the cost.  Not just financially, but as in what am I doing or not doing to give my children the memories they need to form the groundwork for their own beliefs and traditions.  Here’s one thing they have, living in the same friggin’ place, from at least the age of 5 (my oldest) onward.  It is a whole different game and I can see the value of having the same friends and going to the same schools.

So my roots are fragmented and scattered around the Northeast and Midwest.  I walk through life with an ability to maintain a sense of self without a good deal of attachment to people places or things.  I know how to move on and look to the future and integrate the feelings of loss triggered when people move and leave my life for one reason or another and honor those feelings.  Life is hard and Christmas is a time when we can remember our friends and family, whether with us or not and celebrate the roots that gave birth to our own process of change and growth.  Especially today where there seems to be such an undercurrent of anger, hatred and fear fueled by politicians and the news media.  How to explain this to our children that fear and hatred are not hats to wear, when police are suddenly walking the halls of their schools?

When they return home with questions and fears of their own, I must dig deep far back into my own childhood and roots and pull out the times when I felt fear and hatred just as they do and what I was taught and experienced in my family, that is a message of love.  A love that cannot be pigeonholed or owned by one religious tradition or method of recovery or any other path.  Love is above and beyond all, not ours to keep but ours to share.  I am grateful that I can give this to my kids and trust me, it ain’t always a perfect message, in a perfect package in a perfectly decorated home with perfectly wrapped presents under a perfectly adorned tree.  Did I say perfect too much?  Nah…that’s not how I roll.  I learned that walking in and out of town after town and school after school, house after house.  Perfection and control are illusions and what is under the tree that matters are the symbols of love given to each other in poorly wrapped, odd shaped presents, humorous mishaps at Christmas dinner or whatever you do or don’t do during the holiday season, grab it.  Hold it. Treasure it and share it.  Please. And show the family that love can still win.20151126_185515_001

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My Friend Paul

paul

So I wanna talk about this guy I know. I met him a few years ago at a meeting. Now I’m not going to say what kind of meeting, but all two of you who follow my blog and/or read my bio, probably can guess what kind of meeting. Anyways….I walk into a meeting and there’s this guy there, I was guessing probably late fifties, glasses, short, skinny, nothing remarkable, really quirky. He looks like he might have something wrong with one of his eyes, maybe a glass eye, not sure. He swears a lot when sharing. It’s funny though and it doesn’t bother me as I like to swear a lot as well. Sometimes when most of one’s vices are taken away, even if for the better, swearing seems to help. It helps him deliver his message, and that is one of incredible inspiration, depth and hope.

This dude comes up to me after the meeting, I was new and he knew it. New people stand out like a sore thumb, even though they don’t think they do. I didn’t sense any “hitting on me” vibes at all. None. Regardless, he told me to “keep coming” and asked me about myself, etc. There was this ease I felt in his presence, as if I could tell him anything about my sordid past and he wouldn’t judge me because ultimately, he’d probably done worse. I kept coming to meetings, like he suggested and I was impressed with how consistently nice this guy was to me and from my observations, to everyone else.

All the newcomers seem to have this sort of energy, steam coming off the fresh roadkill, and that was me. I was reeling, head spinning, trying to figure out how the hell I got to where I was and how in the hell anything was going to get better. I saw Paul’s face at almost every meeting I went to and within time, we were friends. He always came in with this woman and I thought for awhile that was his girlfriend, but it was not. It was another lost soul who had latched on to his positive vibration and was hoping some of it would radiate to her. Unfortunately, in this situation, it did not and she ended up dying young. After her death, in our grief, a bond was formed as we both really could understand this woman and her ways. On some level, we both knew she’d only be with us for awhile we had to accept that is just the way it goes, as loss too is a part of this rough game of life. I learned, as I watched him grieve the loss of his best friend , and come through it in such an honorable, authentic way.

You see, Paul was a heroin addict. His journey back to sobriety was one of gut wrenching proportions where he descended to a black hell at his own hand, as horrific as any of which I’ve ever heard described. His stories from his days of addiction are as unbelievable as they are at times, hilarious. No matter what, Paul brings his past to life to help us all remember that a new way of living is possible. He lost a lot. His physical health took a hit, as did his financial situation, his family, his son and much more. He was often arrested and spent time in jails, detoxes and rehabs. He was a hopeless case. But, as I believe there are no coincidences in life, he got better. Middle age recovery is rough when you’ve lost it all, however, grace is abundant and spiritual abundance was made available to Paul and he took it. He was so broken and cracked that wildflowers grew right up through his soul and made it beautiful.

His purpose to me is clear and illustrates how little financial wealth and success are not necessary to true joy and peace. This man’s path has been so difficult but as he opens to the power of love on a daily basis, this enables him to touch so many lives and has been the touchstone of transformation in my life as well. Now he is leaving us. Soon. Like in a few days… and I am in some sort of denial phase of grief. He’s said for awhile now that he hates winter and is “moving to Florida”. Well, folks, he’s finally doing it. His cats are leaving first and if there’s anything we all know about Paul, it’s that he’d never abandon his cats. I know this has been a tough choice for him to leave behind his community here but it makes sense for many reasons and in some ways, his work here is done. It is now time to carry the message to new faces sitting at the table, much like me, who are ready to groove with “faith, hope and love, the greatest of these is love”. We’ll miss you Paul. Godspeed!!!

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Everything Is Broken

broken

“Seem like every time you stop and turn around
Something else just hit the ground
Broken cutters broken saws
Broken buckles broken laws
Broken bodies broken bones
Broken voices on broken phones
Take a deep breath feel like you’re chokin’
Everything is broken.” Bob Dylan

Can I apply those lyrics to the state of mental health in this country? I think I sure can. Today I almost lost it. I deal with fall out from mental health issues and sometimes mental health crises on a daily basis. Daily. My son wakes up most mornings and says, “F$@# you, Mom, I hate you”….this is his process, and he ends leaving for school with a hug. This is a behavioral aspect of tuberous sclerosis complex but it is also mental illness….we are coping, but this is not fun. Just last week we called a mobile crisis unit and had an emergency psychological evaluation performed at our house. This is a wonderful service but the follow thru….well, not to mince words, but it sucked. I called mobile crisis again yesterday as I felt he might need a short term hospitalization and was told that because of his medical issues….(Tuberous Sclerosis Complex related…past history of seizures….the last seizure over 2 years ago…), no local programs will take him. Now this had not been mentioned in his psych eval and it was my sense that the next time I felt the need to call, inpatient treatment would be available. Apparently not.

My 19 year old daughter, also with TSC and on the Autism Spectrum, was supposed to meet with a mental health counselor on Monday for intake, after being on the waiting list for this particular program for months.So Monday morning, I got a call from the therapist scheduled to come to the house explaining that intake would have to be put off until some sort of prior authorization related to insurance was put through. Ok….breathing…..I understand….but not really. My daughter lost her job on Monday due to a statement she made stemming from her Autism Spectrum Disorder related obsession. Long story, but it was brutal, losing a job, and now this.

It’s excruciating to walk through these low places with loved ones. Many days I feel as if I am pulling my daughter back from the brink of the hell that can creep in to her own mind. And my son, the anger explodes, but he always always ends dissolving into tears, no matter how mean and volatile he gets. They don’t want to live in these dark places in their heads and treat others and/or themselves with such cruelty, but they do.

So what about the caregivers? I’ve often found myself in my car. In tears. Or at the gym, on the stairmaster. Or running in the woods on the rail trail and in my head, I am always on my knees asking for help, from the universe, as it seems there’s no human power big enough to handle all this. I’ve learned to use these tools, after years of personal struggle coping with my own mental illness. I feel I am medicated into calm placidity at times and this doesn’t seem right either, but it is better than the alternative. I guess. I can tell you that this morning I felt as close to “burn out” as I have felt in a long time. Fortunately, I have a great support system, friends and family I can reach out to and the aforementioned tools, and I come through, better, stronger but not without cracks.

There is something very very wrong with the state of mental health and mental health care in this country and as I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I believe the drug problem in the news every day now, is more of yet another manifestation of the mental health crisis and the problem with the way mentally ill, desperate people called addicts are viewed and treated than a “drug problem”. It seems to be coming to a head and finally getting the attention it deserves. Which is good, as it’s all connected. You can’t push “perfect” too far and we seem to love to spin the idealized images of what’s perfect and beautiful in this country leaving little room for the masses. I wish I could write the worst Yelp EVER for the whole umbrella of mental health care, like I do for the local Quicklane that did a less than stellar job on my car, or the mexican restaurant down the street that has poor service….if it were just that simple.

I am not surprised at all to hear of these school shootings, racial unrest, drug overdoses, child abuse and neglect flashing over and over again in the headlines. Not surprised at all. It’s going to keep happening and blaming, whether the blame is attributed to guns or bad parenting or poor morality isn’t helping either. I guess I don’t have the solution but I know it needs to change and if by sharing my experiences I can be one more voice that says it’s not working, America, land of the free, home of the brave, it simply ain’t working. Playing the national anthem before a cheerleading tournament seems to sum up the mass irony of the whole situation. Not that intent is bad, it’s just the message we get, over and over and over. Perfect is attainable. It’s not, because perfect is non existent.

I’ll keep on keepin’ on, this, my mental health stump and raise my voice and remember again, love wins, go deep and ditch the perfect crap. #IAMTSC

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Love wins.

11390047_10206205265747215_5981296829891411143_n  It’s been a summer of love and loss.  As I brace  myself for the final week before school starts, I cannot help but reflect.  Last Sunday, my beloved boyfriend left to live in VT for a new job.  One of my very best friends is moving to Florida in September, for the next phase of his life.  Two of my children are starting in new schools this year, I am going back to school (first time in 25 years), for an addiction counselor training program, and my oldest daughter will soon be headed towards some big changes in her life as we attempt to facilitate her higher education combined with support systems needed to stabilize her mental health.  All these things are good and blessed, but all these things bring with them their own set of emotional baggage which seems to be unpacking all over me right about now.  I also was not able to run.  Running has been my treasured coping mechanism for years.  It was a hardcore bummer when it was discovered after multiple doctor visits, that I have a tibial stress fracture.  I think subconsciously or semi consciously, I perpetrated this injury to see if I could deal with the loss of my old standby obsession.  I pushed and pushed and ran and ran and eventually, hurt and could barely walk.  I handled it, not always like a rock star, but  I stopped running.  I also had hernia surgery.  It knocked me down, the hernia surgery recovery did, my mindset being one of obscene denial of my age.

I started to read more to fill the void left by long runs meandering through the meadows and gallows in my head.  Somehow, I find myself becoming a fervent learner.  I have passionately immersed myself in following the addiction crisis in this country and the evolution of common understanding that we need better ways to handle what seems to be a screaming  of the masses.  What they’re screaming is that something in life, in our lives, in our country, is simply not working.  I’d be a fool if I failed to see the connection between my own life and that of this outcry of the underbelly of society, the voice of we addicts, recovered, in recovery, active or passed on.  I am learning.  I realize I am one of the lucky ones, to be alive, first of all, as well as to have recovery, that is working. I have and had family and friends that cared enough about me to intervene and get me help, before it was too late.  I am on my knees in prayers of gratitude for this yet there are so many who have the family and friends to help and still end up in the morgue. It again bangs home to me that we are no different, we are all connected.  

I must see the addict as my fellow human, my fellow sufferer, someone I have been and may be again, I can accept the complete nonsense of behavior, the path  of destruction that follows us and at least consider kindness. I know that  in my life, at least in my head, I have been have been  both the victim and the perpetrator, the abused and the abuser, the criminal and the innocent. I have done many of the same things, as those on the margins of society, in prison or still on the streets, caught in the cycle of addiction  The difference being, my path was just directed differently, one small move and I would be one the other side of bars because Lord knows, I just got lucky.  Or is it luck?  It’s what I’m trying so very hard to understand.  It is my belief we are put here on earth to learn, we all have a different curriculum and so in everything now, I ask myself, what am I supposed to learn? I don’t expect because I ask the universe or God for favors, that I’ll get them, more that I’ll just be able to accept.  Anything else is a bonus.

It’s taken me my life up until the last few years to start to understand even a minute amount about love and loss and and of course if I had learned them earlier, I’m sure I’d have a much more lucrative position (a.k.a. fancy-ass job) in life, but it wasn’t in the stars this time around, and that is ok.  I see so many who are less than content with far more than I have and many who have less and are more content.  I’m getting it …plodding along, heavy footed and lumbering, toward a much greater sense of peace and freedom.  

And love totally, hands down, wins. Connects us all and I know this I can try to remember that the triumph of an unsedated MRI for a boy with Tuberous Sclerosis Complex, is as much of an accomplishment as any that are earned by other typical 14 year old boys, it’s just his syllabus looks different, as does mine.  

Yet…. i’ve stood there too, on the brink, the cliff, close to my jumping off point, at least in my head, many times.  I didn’t quite go there. But what if I did? And for those that do, and leave so many behind, in pain, wondering if life holds any meaning when 16 year olds and 50 year olds, overdose on heroin or crash their cars into trees or hang themselves in their closets? Did their lives matter less? Are they completely a failure based on how their lives ended? I think not.  A friend recently described to me the gift of remembering certain lovely things about her brother who she lost to addiction, and the way he had touched so many, despite his life’s burdens.  He was on a different journey than mine.  

So I must must must, remember now, it is in the moments when we smile at those with whom we come in contact, offer a kind word or open a door or even send a text with intentions of love, we have the opportunity to touch another life and in turn, enrich our own.  We are all so worthy of this life we have, right here, right now and the more I allow myself to remain in touch with the ways I am broken…the more love gets in through the cracks.

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Closer to Fine

So here’s the thing, lately, I’ve been thinking a lot of all the different roles I have had over the course of my life, because when you get to be my age, “you’ve seen some shit” (JD).  All these roles that I’ve identified with over the course of my life have somehow have become less and less important as time passes. Some are permanent roles and some crop up from time to time and I don their cloaks, so to speak, to play the role.   Among  these roles are two time divorcee, mother without custody of one, mother of 4 more, 3 with TSC, TSC mentor and advocate, mother of special needs kids, mother of a cheerleader, wife, exwife, recovered anorexic/bulimic, recovering alcoholic/addict, clinically depressed woman, long distance runner, real estate secretary, writer, blogger more recently, biohacker, reader, seeker, pacifist, buddhist, hippie, ex fundamental Christian, girlfriend, and whoa.  There are probably tons more that I’m forgetting.  I take a little piece of each of them and have incorporated them into who I am today.  The tricky thing is not falling in too deep with any of them to the point where I really think that that’s who I am.  I like to quote Ram Dass who said that when we are born, we enter “somebody training”.

All this to say that it certainly is not easy, especially when parenting.  I go out running most days which is how I worship, amongst the trees, my feet kissing the roads and dirt trails.  I often shed a tear, as I feel a strong connection with all that is, and especially the trees. God, a higher power and that connection reminds me of who I am.  But back to parenting.  I get done with the run and enter “the house”.  Most days, my calm serenity falls away within seconds of walking through the door, especially upon seeing 85 dishes all over the surfaces in the kitchen, snack fragments everywhere and my 14 year old son sitting facing the snack cabinet, ready to inhale the last few pretzel sticks I was saving for myself.  Done.  I’m mom again.  Mom of this teenager, this struggling, hormonal, learning disabled kid, and I’ve lost my footing.

The meaning of life is coming into form through the fog as time passes.  Maybe all this chasing the “American Dream” and accomplishment, constant driving ambition, achievement at all costs, wealth, success and all the external trappings of a life well lived are really not all that they seem.  I tend to believe it’s one’s inner life.  Our job here on this planet, as humans incarnate, for this brief blip of time, is to learn who we really are, beyond all the roles we play, way out there beyond all that seems so imminently important.  All those things we strive after day after slaving day, are maybe not the point.  What really matters?  If I had to guess, I’d say it’s learning to love each other, and I don’t mean just the loveable ones.  I mean the ones that we love to hate, the sticky ones that irritate the crap out of us and the man on the street who is begging for change, maybe just to buy that bottle of hooch, yeah, we gotta love him too.  The only way I can personally do this is to put down all my armor, maybe for a moment, imagine that whoever it is that I hate or want to hate, cries too.  I mean really cries.  The power of evoking an image of my worst enemy crying, always opens a window in my heart, a way in, a gleam of light.  Some days it’s all I can do to open my grinch heart enough to  let in a glimmer of the light of love.

You know, most of the time, I may remember that I’m not the roles I play and to quote one of my favorite lyrics of all time, by The Indigo Girls, “the less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine”, is more of a lofty ideal, than my minute to minute reality, but at least now, I know what it means and how to continue on the path or getting there.  I imagine myself getting dressed in the morning and picking out my costume.  Shall I be the rad neo buddhist, aging hipster fem fatale in heels?  Or maybe the exhausted soccer mom in the SUV with the dunks latte, in sweats and no make up, taking my kids to school? I can’t go back to being the drunken, drugged up barfly or the girl hanging her head over the toilet every night puking up the feelings she couldn’t express….

I’m grateful for every bit of pain and angst I’ve felt at the hands of who I thought I was at the time and who taught me truly, over the course of many many ragged, careworn years, just who I might be becoming.  I’ll continue going to church in the trees where I worship what is new every day and of which I am a part of changing and growing and evolving.  Please everyone, lets just all try to tweek ourselves a little bit and move toward more gratitude for this life, our greatest teacher, and smile at a stranger, or even an old enemy as you pass by.  Let light and love in through the window of our smiles and often, that is enough.

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War On Drugs?

I read a fascinating article recently titled, “A War Well Lost Sam Harris and Johann Hari discuss the “war on drugs”.”(samharris.org 4/7/15) It is a riveting, however lengthy article and prompted me to weigh in on this topic in my blog. Additionally, local NPR is airing stories on the opiate problem in Massachusetts and what is being done right here in our own state to address this issue. I am motivated to blog about this subject as I have direct personal experience as an addict/alcoholic, almost 3 years into recovery.

We have a problem in this country and it is my feeling that our models for addiction treatment in this area are inadequate and often don’t address the core issues that those caught in the throes of this awful scourge, much face. Some of the misinterpretation of addicts and alcoholics stems from past history of the “war on drugs” combined with a model of addiction as more of a personal failure and requiring much more personal responsibility than of many can muster to face and deal with the issues at the core of why addiction was chosen as a mode of coping. We addicts (I am including alcoholics under the umbrella of addicts from here on), don’t wake up one day and say to ourselves, “hey, I feel like screwing up my own life and the life of those around me and risk spending the rest of my life in a personal hell of which might be included being arrested, sent to jail and/or instituted or dying”.  It’s not that simple. While for me, I had the support of family and friends and financial resources to get a foothold in recovery and continue on a journey of self discovery and personal responsibility via the 12 step program, many are not so fortunate.

Here in the United States, addiction is seen as more of a moral problem and not a health problem. This creates issues from the start. Countries such as Portugal have decriminalized possession of anything less than a 10 day supply of every substance from marijuana to heroin. If a person is found in the possession of less than a 10-day supply of anything from marijuana to heroin, he or she is sent to a three-person Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction, made up of a lawyer, a doctor and a social worker. The commission recommends treatment or a minor fine; otherwise, the person is sent away with no penalty, the majority of the time. The money spent on arresting and prosecuting addicts is poured into other social support systems such as recovery programs involving employment opportunities and loans to get the addict back on their feet. The end result is a huge fall in drug induced deaths, lifetime, yearly and monthly prevalence of drug use.(mic.com, Zeeshan Allen, 2/11/15)

Environment is a factor.  I’m sure most remember hearing about a study that was described a while back where they put a rat in a cage where it had nothing to do but choose between drugged water and plain water.  We all know what happened. So Bruce Alexander, in the 1970s, tried the same study a bit differently. He built a very different cage and called it “Rat Park”, where they had everything a rat could possibly want. And they had both the water bottles, drugged water and otherwise. They hardly ever drank the drugged water, and if so, not in a way that looked compulsive. (samharris.org 4/7/15) There’s this component to explaining why our war on drugs model for drug users in this country fails, as addict returns to “rat cage”, not “rat park”. Released from rehab to go back to the same circumstances and lifestyle that fueled the addiction in the first place, with few tools or viable resources to improve their environment. The post rehab admonishment of “go to meetings”, is often too slow and tedious a process to handle, the addict is set up to fail once again.

Our view of addicts as human beings, not derelict criminals, despite active addiction, has to change.  There’s a story about a group of heroin addicts in Vancouver, British Columbia, who had a leader that stalked the then conservative, right wing mayor, Phillip Owen, for two years until the mayor went incognito to meet with addicts. He was totally blown away. He ended up opening the first safe injecting room in North America in 70 years and 10 years later, death by overdose was down 80%.(samharris.org 4/7/15) This story illustrates compassionate drug policy and the results shown by treating addicts as human beings. We fall short in this country, repeatedly and thus is seems despite all our focus on rehab and recovery, addicts continue to seep up through the cracks in society and end up filling our prisons and institutions where few seem to be looking at why they became addicts in the first place and what we can do to help them.  In the meantime, keeping them alive and educated is a huge first step.

Mental health is an enormous issue for addicts. Many addicts deal with underlying mental health issues precipitating and perpetuating addiction.  Mental health calls for a psycho-therapeutic aspect of addiction treatment. Psychotherapy as well as 12 step groups help.  What I love about the 12 step program is the chance to look at one’s life history through the process of acknowledgment, accounting for harm done and making amends. This undertaking is excruciating at times, but one comes away with a deeper understanding of what drove them to addiction in the first place and how they can begin to forge a conscious path to a new way of living. In my opinion, the 12 steps should be taught in schools as a model for honest living. However, it takes much time, time that many cannot tolerate and despite their well meaning efforts to start on this journey, the urges to use or drink again is too much to ignore.

From a standpoint of possibly shortening the phase of self discovery, come several other alternative treatments are proving successful in clinical trials. MDMA assisted psychotherapy is one of them. I’m not talking about dropping some ecstasy and coming to a place where one is free from addiction. This involves trained therapist-assisted, monitored MDMA sessions requiring patients to meet certain protocols for entry into the studies and follow up support with therapy and re-immersion to a life of support via community programs such as 12 step. The key is that the MDMA as a psychoactive substance, brings to one’s awareness of key emotions and feelings that one is often unable to access at baseline.

As well, another psychoactive substance, ibogaine, shows much promise.  Ibogaine is derived from the root of an African plant. “Studies suggest that ibogaine has considerable potential in the treatment of addiction to heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine, methadone, and alcohol. There is also indication that it may be useful in treating tobacco dependence.  A single administration of ibogaine typically has three effects useful in the treatment of drug dependence. Firstly, it causes a massive reduction in the symptoms of drug withdrawal, allowing relatively painless detoxification. Secondly, there is a marked lowering in the desire to use drugs for a period of time after taking ibogaine, typically between one week and several months. This has been confirmed by scientific studies. Finally, the drug’s psychoactive nature is reported to help many users understand and resolve the issues behind their addictive behaviour” (http://www.ibogaine.co.uk/)

So any sort of focus on the “war on drugs” makes my skin crawl. My personal experience and continual research leads me to conclude that much is lacking in this country in terms of adequate support for recovery and reentry into a meaningful productive life in which the recovering addict has a chance other than being caught in the continual cycle of addiction.  There are alternative solutions and the raising awareness that our traditional solutions are not working, is encouraging.  However, our underlying, long standing views of addiction must be addressed and the addict given lucrative psychological and environmental supports and tools to gain a leg up as a contributing member of society before any sort of progress can be made.

This is not to diminish in any way, those currently employed in the recovery field on the front lines and behind the scenes, as I have found, again from personal experience, much compassion and personal support. True heroes. It is discouraging that few make it, and statistics are grim for relapse, as many as 50 to 90% of those recovering eventually relapse.

As I continue on my own path in recovery, I am grateful for all those who believed in me, supported me both financially and otherwise, and guided me to many fantastic resources which have all aided me in my ongoing awareness of my own potential for raising human consciousness through the channels of addiction recovery.  That I am able to sit here with the presence of mind to have an opinion and a voice to write this blog, speaks volumes to the fact that hope springs eternal.

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