On Saturday, my wife and I took a drive over to Easton, MD and had lunch at one of our favorite Italian restaurants, Scossa. We ate lunch outside, despite it being 48 degrees. Admittedly, it is a bit odd to eat lunch outside in January wearing our winter coats, but it’s as close as we are coming to normal right now.
Yesterday, we met my brother and his wife and son for a walk at Cromwell Valley Park, north of Baltimore. We did a two mile walk and found an old rusted out car chassis. The engine block was an in-line six. The markings on the block suggest that it was a Chevrolet built in 1948 or 1948. Nature is at work reclaiming the natural materials that were used to build that car. It may take hundreds of years but nature always wins.
Today, I’m thinking about Martin Luther King, Jr. Our own African American pastor spoke about Dr. King eloquently yesterday and shard a recording of Dr. King speaking about his kitchen table experience in 1956, in which he talks about receiving a call around midnight with an ugly death threat, and finding the strength and courage to continue with his mission by calling on his God. My heart aches at the fact that we are still wrestling with white supremacy in this country, but I know that “the arc of the moral universe is long and bends toward justice.”
I am grateful for the day-date with my wife on Saturday, it was time together that was much needed. I’m grateful for the time with my brother on our walk yesterday, and nature’s gentle reminder that she always wins. And I’m grateful for the courage and strength of leaders which inspires me to be brave and strong.
It’s been difficult to keep up the gratitude posts over the last week. My heart is heavy and my monkey mind is in full gear. What happened on Jan 06, 2021 in Washington, DC is not supposed to happen in the United States. The President of the United States is not supposed to incite an angry mob to storm the Capitol building seeking to murder the Vice President and members of Congress while also over turning an election that has been certified by every state, the Presidents Lackey Lap Dog of an Attorney General who quit in an effort to save his own ass shortly before Christmas, and the US Supreme Court which has been filled with three justices by the President who lost the election. There are no doubts that the election was legitimate except in the minds of people who have lost their ability to reason.
I am trying. Trying to find things to be grateful about. And they are there. I’m grateful for the bike ride I got on Saturday. I’m grateful for the short outside visit with the family on Sunday. I am grateful for the time spent with my book club on Sunday afternoon. I’m grateful that we still have a marginally functioning democracy.
But I’m having trouble writing about these things. I’m having trouble concentrating on my work. I’m having difficulty not looking at every article that gets published about what happened last week. It is consuming. In the same way that 9/11 was consuming, except worse because we weren’t attacked by foreign terrorists — we were attacked by our own.
My son is fearful that other students will enact revenge on him because he supported Biden. It is not an unfounded fear. There are students who speak openly of their support for Trump and what happened at the Capitol. While I do not think this is a serious possibility and it would be easy to dismiss this as kids being kids we have a 25 year history of school shootings which stoke the fires of fear in my heart.
I reassure him that everything will be okay. That we will be okay. But secretly, I harbor my own fears. Fears that our country is falling apart. Fears there will be more violence. Living as close as I do to the US and Maryland Capitols, the most recent news of the FBI’s anticipated civil unrest at all 50 state capitols is disturbing.
I promise, this post will highlight some good things that happened in my life in 2020, but first I have to acknowledge some unavoidable and inconvenient truths about this past year.
There is no doubt that when the history books are written, 2020 will go down as an epic shit show of a year. In early 2020, it was evident that a major epidemic was brewing in China — a virus which would eventually break free of the Chinese government’s efforts to contain the damage and become the COVID-19 Pandemic. We watched in horror as first, Europe and then the United States struggled to control the virus. We watched an epic failure on the part of the Trump administration when they at first ignored the virus, then downplayed it, prematurely declared victory, and finally walked away from it while we suffer death rates in excess of 9/11 on a daily basis in the United States.
Our economy faltered and failed. The most vulnerable among us became victims as the pandemic ripped through communities and people who could not work remotely continued to go to their jobs so that they could put food on their tables, or lost their jobs. We watched as relief packages expired and our Senate Majority Leader blocked meaningful legislative action to assist those who needed it, as the chill of autumn crept in and people couldn’t afford food, let alone heat.
And if a Pandemic wasn’t enough, we watched again and again as police in America killed black men and women. Our cities burned during the summer as years of rage boiled over, but there were far more peaceful protests in the name of Black Lives Matter than there were riots. We watched as President Trump used protests as a politically convenient tool to further his agenda of hate and chaos. He used tear gas on peaceful protesters to clear a street in DC so that he could have a photo op in front of a church while holding a bible as a prop, upside down. He waged an very real press war on a very imaginary radical left that he calls Antifa. Let’s be clear, Antifa is Anti-Fascist. Every American should be anti-fascist — the Greatest Generation fought to destroy fascism in the 30s and 40s.
Yes, 2020 was a shit show. We have all suffered with isolation and fear this past year amidst the pandemic. However, I know that there were also good things that happened in my life this past year and I was reminded of many of them last night when I scrolled through the photos in my phone. Yes, it’s been a year of challenges, but I realized it wasn’t all bad.
Before I begin sharing some of the good things that happened this past year, I need to acknowledge that I am privileged. I work for an information security company that has been wildly successful during the pandemic. Our company has been successful in part because so many other companies were not prepared for a rapid shift to remote work and needed to make significant investments in their infrastructure as digital transformation accelerated as a result of the new realities of the pandemic. My job was 100% remote before the pandemic and the biggest change for me with respect to work was that I began meeting with my customers over Zoom rather than in person. I’m tired of this, to be sure, but I am also fortunate. Our company shifted to 100% remote for all employees early and has not gone back to in person work. We are truly fortunate because we get to work safely from home, day in and day out. This privilege has meant that I have been shielded from the harshest realities of the pandemic and for that I am truly grateful.
The year started off, much like any other year. I was blissfully ignorant of what has happening in China on January 1st 2020, as were most Americans. On New Years Day, we went to Harpers Ferry for a hike and enjoyed views of the Shenandoah. Over the course of the month, I began to hear the name “Wuhan” more and more frequently, but it was distant. It was something that was happening in Asia. It felt a bit like SARS to me. I was mildly afraid but not overly concerned despite the fact that during the SARS and H1N1 epidemics I’d been part of a planning exercise for a pandemic while working at a global media organization.
In February, news of the virus had started to become more urgent. My company typically hosts a technical conference in February for the global systems engineering and professional services organizations in Vegas. There was some talk about whether to cancel the conference, but it went forward. We were advised that our colleagues from APAC would not be in attendance and that if we felt unsafe, we could opt out of the conference. I went to the conference, despite some reticence. I have taken to going to couple of shows when I’m in Vegas now since I don’t drink or gamble. I saw Aerosmith on February 10th. It would be the last live show I’d see in a long time. Steven Tyler and Joe Perry put on an amazing show.
In the middle of March, I had my last in person meeting with a customer. I remember offering my hand for the customary handshake and my customer taking it and then saying, “oh, wait, we aren’t supposed to do this anymore.” Despite knowing that the guidance coming from the Trump administration that masks were unnecessary, I remember thinking that they would be a good idea. But they were hard to find and I felt that health care workers needed them more than I did.
In my town, there is a special place called the Donut Shack. The Donut Shack was a local independent business that was started 30 years ago and had the best donuts ever. In 2019, the owners retired and sold the shop. The first new owners, ruined it. They sold within 3 months. The second new owners, destroyed it. It sat empty for a few months. I was quite sad. Early in 2020, I was alerted to the fact that a third set of new owners was working with the original ownership to learn their craft. March was special because even though we got stuck in lockdown, the Donut Shack reopened and the donuts are as good as they used to be!
My wife loves San Diego Fish Tacos, and along with her quest to find the perfect Caesar Salad, she regularly orders fish tacos when we are out. They are almost always a disappointment. I don’t know who needs to hear this, but cheese does not go on a fish taco. Neither does lettuce. As the lockdown began to stretch on, we started to get antsy and she started talking about the foods that she missed. Fish tacos came up. I scoured the internet and found a few recipes. I tried a few and in April, I perfected Baja Style Fish Tacos! There was much rejoicing and even my picky son loved them!
If you know me, or if you have been following along for a while, you know that is love bicycles. As the lockdown stretched into May, I started looking for additional ways to get outside. I had done a 4 weeks to faster 5K training regimen in April and was getting tired of running. I wanted to get out on my bike, but I have been struggling with tight hamstrings as a result of too much time in the saddle for a few years. When I was younger, I rode mountain bikes but after a few gnarly accidents I’d put my Specialized Rockhopper into retirement. I was dying to get out in the woods and one day, I decided to take my bike to a local trail. After that ride, I came home and said to my wife, “I don’t know why I ever stopped doing that.” Thus began my re-entry into the MTB world and began my quest for a new ride which proved difficult because everyone in the entire United States was buying bikes last spring!
In June, the fact that we’d been stuck in the same 5 square miles was really eating at us. We weighed the pros and cons of going on a vacation heavily. I was initially very much against the idea, but after talking with a few friends I warmed up to the fact that I could quarantine at the beach just as I was here at home. We rented a place and went to the beach. It was lovely. There were very few people at the beach and we had all our meals in the house. Many of the restaurants were closed entirely, but a handful were offering take out. We were very careful and wore our masks and abided by the rules of Delaware at the time. One day, I went out for a paddle in a kayak on the Delaware Bay. As I was paddling I found myself surrounded by a pod of dolphins! They were so close to the boat I could have touched them with my paddle, which of course I did not do. It was a special moment.
I’d long wanted to upgrade to a full suspension mountain bike, but since I hadn’t been riding on the trails, I never felt that I could justify it. As I started riding on the trails more regualrly, it became apparent that my 22 year old bike was in need of an upgrade. I wrestled with whether to upgrade to a 29er or a 650b ride. After a few test rides, it was clear to me that I didn’t want a 29er. My buddy Eugene let me ride his Yeti SB140 and I was instantly in love. I ordered the last one I could find in June. In July, my new bike came after a long process (the original bike shipped with a crack in the head tube). I rode it a few times at my local trail system and in mid July, I went down to Virginia one Saturday for an epic ride at Fountainhead with my buddy Eugene from work. It was great to see Eugene after a few months of talking on the phone and team Zoom calls. We tore up the trails and it was one of the best rides of the summer on my new bike.
August found us feeling cooped up again. We made plans to go to NY to see my wife’s family for the first time since the previous November, but they got thwarted when Governor Cuomo announced quarantine restrictions on visitors from Maryland. After some searching we found that we could get a cabin on the grounds of the Greenbrier in West Virginia. We did not want be in the main hotel because we wanted to be as careful as possible and the cabin presented us with a way to go but maintain social distancing. When we entered the property, the staff took our temperatures. If you had a fever you would be turned away. We enjoyed our trip. Nearly all our activities were outdoors and by ourselves. When we were with others everyone wore masks. While we were there, a good friend with deep roots in the local area pointed us to an amazing little cafe in Lewisburg, WV.
In September, the restrictions in NY were lifted and we went to visit my wife’s family. Because we did not want to put them at risk, we stayed in a hotel rather than at their house and we met outdoors for a walk and lunch at an restaurant with outdoor seating. It was nice to get to see them and also to see some of the first fall colors of the year. And of course, September was also important because September 23rd was my 5th sobriety anniversary! I remember early in the Trump administration saying that it would be a miracle if I got through his presidency sober. Well, not only did I get through four years of ignorance and chaos, but I also got through the pandemic (so far) without taking a drink. Miracles.
In October, the restrictions on in person meetings of more than 10 people in Maryland were briefly lifted. This afforded my son’s scout troop the opportunity to meet outside with masks. We had about six meetings as a troop before it got too cold and the restrictions were put back in place as the virus began to rage again. We managed to get the only scout camping trip of the year in during the month of October. I vividly recall talking with other dads on the trip about how good it felt to be outside and how much we all needed that trip.
In November, we watched as 81,283,485 Americans showed the world that we don’t stand for fascism, white supremacy, and authoritarianism. Sadly, 74,223,744 Americans showed the world that these things are not deal breakers for them. The next 50 days would be filled with disinformation and flagrantly false statements from the president as he and his team of thugs worked to find any possible way to hold on to power. Every lawsuit that was brought was struck down by the courts because they were all baseless. It was a sad time in America. We have a lot to wrestle with as a nation. Somehow we need to find a way to bridge the gaps that exist between so many people. I genuinely believe that the vast majority of people vote more often than not out of fear than they do out of conviction. We’ve weathered a rough few years that nearly tore the country apart. But I have faith. Faith that things will get better. Faith that truth and justice will prevail. As Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently said when he paraphrased the 19th century Unitarian Universalist, Theodore Parker, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
December didn’t feel much like December. We lost my uncle Danny to cancer in December. He had been sick for a long time, and while it was sad to see him go, we all knew that he was finally at peace. Still, his death hit me more deeply than I originally thought. I’ve lost a lot of people over the years and many of them have been 65 or younger. As I am now 48, this can be scary and overwhelming. I know that I’m doing the right things to maximize my time on earth, but it’s still scary to see so many people die early in my family.
Between Danny’s death, the general malaise of the pandemic, and the aforementioned disinformation campaign coming from the White House, it was really hard to get into the Christmas spirit. There were no holiday parties to attend, and we didn’t get together for a family meal on Christmas Day. Still, we had a nice Christmas. I built a custom gaming PC with my son for him for his Christmas present and we got got a few more hikes in as well, including one at one of our favorite spots on the Chesapeake Bay.
Yes, 2020 was a shit show. There is no doubt about it. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. We did a lot less than we would have in a typical year, but we were also lucky to be able to do a lot more than others. We were cautious about when and where we went and we wore our masks religiously. I’m sure that some may judge us for all the activity that we partook in. That’s fine, we made our choices based on our circumstances. When we were home, we were isolated and so we were reasonably assured that we were not carrying the virus. We were fortunate that we did not come in contact with the virus in our travels. Thankfully, we have our health and there is hope on the horizon in 2021.
I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy lately, in part because the tone of our nation borders on uncivil at best and out right bellicose at worst. Indeed, the tone of the nation is not uniform. There are pockets of civility, at the individual level, but by and large, the tone of our national conversation rears its ugly head by envisioning anyone who does not think or act in the manner that we do as the enemy.
I am guilty. I am quite conscious that I have painted people who think differently than me as the enemy. I’m working to change that, and that’s where empathy comes in.
While I’m rabidly agnostic, I have always loved the Prayer of Saint Francis and was delighted to find that it was beloved by the 12 Step community as “the eleventh step prayer.” I love the dichotomies that it sets up, each line setting the intention to chose the high road.
Grant that I a may not so much seek…to be understood as to understand.
These lines set the intention of placing others before ourselves. They set the intention of working to understand others before insisting that they understand us. They ask us to drop the insistence that our world view is the correct worldview.
I’ve long known that we can’t fix problems if we don’t understand them. I’ve also known in my heart that we take the time to understand others points of view then we may see how similar we are rather than how different we are. Understanding others has long been an intellectual construct rather than en emotional construct. For many years I have thought this is enough.
And yet, I have come to believe that merely understanding rather than being understood is not enough. Understanding implies knowledge — facts, figures, even opinions — but it does not imply feelings. To truly understand someone, we must understand their feelings. To make progress we must empathize with others.
We must be in a position to take on their feelings, not necessarily own the feelings, but to feel those feelings ourselves. The oft repeated 12 Step anecdote “I never felt like people got me until I came to the rooms” has its roots in a common suffering, addiction to alcohol or another substance, but really, what it’s all about is empathy. We feel this way because empathy runs deep in the 12 Step fellowships.
It’s easy to empathize with someone when we share a common problem or common suffering, it’s not so easy to empathize when our lived experience is not shared. And yet, that’s what we need right now in our country. We need more empathy.
Over the summer, I spent some time at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. Deep in the heart of coal country. The Greenbriar is owned by West Virginia’s governor, Jim Justice. Mr. Justice supports Coal. He supports President Trump. He and I are unlikely to agree on much politically.
My son, upon learning this, asked me why we would spend our money at a place where the owner didn’t believe in supporting renewable energy. Where the owner, had made money on dirty fossil fuel. In my son’s eyes, fossil fuel is the old way (I agree with him on this) and it is also evil (I do not agree with him on this).
My son exclaimed, “Dad, we can’t support someone who makes his money off of an evil fuel like coal!”
It was a teachable moment. I talked to him about the fact that people need to make a living. That people need to put food on their table. That while Jim Justice may have made a lot of money in a lot of ways that might sit well with my personal politics, he was also employing a large number of people in the middle of nowhere in West Virginia who needed to feed themselves and their families.
I talked with my son about how we need to empathize with people who may need to make hard choices about their employment. I talked with him about coal miners who had for centuries gone into the mines, risking their lives, so that their kids could eat. I asked him, “who are we to judge that decision?”
So, today, as the nation awaits the final results of the 2020 election, I’m thinking a lot about empathy. Many people are stunned that President Trump held on to the margins that he did. It’s the tightest election in memory. People are asking a lot of deep soul searching questions:
How can people support this man who is openly racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic? Are people really okay with a grifter and criminal running the country? Why don’t the republicans wake up and see that the emperor has no clothes? Is this really who we are as Americans?
I’ve asked myself these questions over and over again for the past four years. I haven’t come up with good answers to them. I have many friends who support Trump, and I know that they are good people. They would give me the shirt off their back. They have given me places to sleep when I was without a place to call my own.
Increasingly, I’m questioning the questions. I’m not sure these are the right questions. I think the question we need to be asking is more along the lines of this:
What is it people who support President Trump are truly concerned about? What drives otherwise wonderful people to support someone who has so many obvious character flaws? What feelings are driving these decisions? Are we hurting? Why are we hurting? How can we help to address those feelings in a meaningful way?
When we seek to see the humanity of our fellow beings, then and only then can we seek to understand rather than to be understood, and develop a meaningful sense of empathy for them. And out of that sense of empathy, we may be able to forge a path forward towards national healing.
As the pandemic reaches the seventh month here in the United States, and our death toll continues to climb — in part due to mismanagement and disinformation on the part of the highest levels of our federal government — we are assaulted by science denial and lies on a daily basis. We watch as the President intentionally sows distrust of the electoral process, spreads baseless conspiracy theories, and has calls for his cult like followers to actively participate in voter intimidation at the polls, as it becomes more and more likely that he will lose the election.
We are, rightfully, wary of our fellow humans — no one knows who is infected or who has been exposed. Most of us wear masks, but some refuse to do so — I don’t believe in hell, but if I did, I’d be sure that there is a special place in hell for these people. For those of us who are practicing sanity, we have forgotten what life without masks looks and feels like. We don’t see other people smile.
For many of us, life has taken on a tone of monotony, as if we are living the movie, Groundhog Day, were we are going through the motions and every day feels the same. Blendsday — waking up on Saturday often leads to a moment of confusion about what I have to do for work, only to realize that it is the weekend.
But having the weekend has become small comfort — we can’t really do the things we’d normally do on the weekends like gather with friends and family. Put simply, life doesn’t feel much like the life in the land of the free and the home of the brave lately. It feels dysfunctional because it is dysfunctional. We aren’t living through a time that simple feels dystopian, our time has actually become dystopian in many ways.
This weekend has been different. My son’s scout troop went on it’s first camping trip since COVID started. Things were different on this trip. Each boy slept in his own tent. The adults prepared all the meals. We wore masks all day and gloves during meal prep. We used disposable plates, cups, and flatware. We camped on private land rather than at a campsite — the county parks are still closed to overnight camping and all the state parks are booked.
And yet, it was a change in homeostasis. We were outside. We were together. Doing things. Building fire pits and fires. Boys learning to use tools like axes and saws. Tug of war. Ultimate frisbee.
It was clearly not Blendsday.
Yesterday, in the middle of the day as I was prepping and serving lunch to middle school and teenage boys, I felt something in my chest. A peculiar sensation.
Buzzing. Tingling. Warmth. Excitement.
Moments of joy have been few and far between for so long I almost didn’t recognize it. I mean, I literally felt the feelings in my chest and wondered what was going on. As I made another sandwich, I took inventory of the rest of my body. It was only when I recognized that I was actually smiling under my mask that I could name it.
It was a feeling brought on by doing the next right thing. In this case, being a responsible father, serving young men, being a role model for them, and knowing I was making a difference.
One of the other fathers said it best while we were lounging around a fire mid-day yesterday day, “I needed this.” He was referring to being out in the woods, the fresh air, the petrichor of the forest floor after a passing shower, and the physical activities of camping.
And while I needed all of that, it was not just the experience of getting out in the wilderness that brought on joy. My higher purpose in life was being fully actualized in the moment. That’s what life is all about. That’s how we get through the dystopia.
“So if we can keep them from going on—and maybe by talking to youth and telling them: ‘No good, really bad for you in every way.’ But if they don’t start, it will never be a problem.” — Donald J. Trump, August 8, 2017.
As far was the public knows, this constitutes the entire White House strategy for addressing the Opioid Crisis in America.
Even if one ignores our President’s inability to speak in complete sentences, these words are those of a fool. But the fool didn’t stop there. He went on to say, “Strong law enforcement is absolutely vital to having a drug-free society. I’m confident that by working with our health-care and law-enforcement experts we will fight this deadly epidemic and the United States will win.”
Lets be honest with ourselves, “Just Say No” failed completely and utterly. During the peak of the “Just Say No” years our nation witnessed the crack epidemic, which devastated our cities.
There are so many reasons why these naive polices have failed. First and foremost is that the “Just Say No” camp fails to understand the effect of peer pressure on teens. According to this article, “psychologists used functional magnetic resonance imaging scans on 40 teenagers and adults to determine if there are differences in brain activity when adolescents are alone versus with their friends. The findings suggest that teenage peer pressure has a distinct effect on brain signals involving risk and reward [my emphasis], helping to explain why young people are more likely to misbehave and take risks when their friends are watching.”
Now, it’s well researched and documented that drugs and alcohol affect our brain’s reward center. Specifically, drugs and alcohol increase our brain’s production of dopamine. It’s thought that the reason that people need more and more of a substance as they become addicted to it is because their dopamine receptors become accustomed to the high levels of dopamine that are produced when we partake in a drug or alcoholic drink.
So, lets put these two things together. Kids have an increased level of risk taking when in the presence of friends, as a result of heightened activity in the reward centers of the adolescent brain induced by the mere presence of peers. This leaves them susceptible to trying the drink or drug in the first place. Then when they do try it, they experience the rush of dopamine that further heightens the activity of the rewards center of the brain.
Add to this that many teens who try drugs or booze are doing so in order to escape from some form of trauma whether they know it or not. I certainly was. When I first started experimenting with booze and marijuana, I was about 16 years old. I turned 16 in 1988. Between January of 1988 and the middle of 1989, I had 5 relatives die. One Uncle, 3 Grandparents, 1 Great Uncle, and my Great Grandmother. I don’t remember anything from from my Junior year of high school. It’s blackness.
Now, I’m no psychologist. I’m not a neuroscientist. But I am a recovering alcoholic and I can tell you in no uncertain terms, that the rush of the first drink was pure pleasure every damn time. And when I was in that fog of death after death after death, the promise of a short escape, the promise of relief was not only tempting, it was awesome. There was no fucking way I was going to say, “No” when I was first introduced to booze and marijuana by a friend.
I was well educated on the topic of drugs and alcohol. I’d watched my alcoholic grandfather throughout my childhood. I also knew that several of the deaths were the direct result of smoking and booze. Nonetheless, I desperately wanted the relief that came with a bit of escapist experimentation — especially because my friends were doing it.
That’s why telling kids “Just say no,” or “No good, really bad for you in every way” isn’t going to do shit to address the opioid epidemic.
So lets look at the second part of Mr. Trump’s asinine strategy: Enforcement and Incarceration.
It turns out that this hasn’t worked either and it’s well documented.
“Despite the logic of limiting the availability of drugs and threatening and punishing those who are involved in the drug trade and using drugs, the report card for this tough method of enforcement is bleak. We have invested more than $1 trillion during [Fortune’s link not mine] the past 45 years in the war on drugs. Yet there is essentially no evidence in support of the success of that effort.”
Why has this failed?
Because addiction is a medical problem, not a moral problem. Even in the 1930s the medical profession knew this. Dr. Silkworth who contributed to the chapter “The Doctor’s Opinion” in the book Alcoholic’s Anonymous knew that it was a medical problem not a moral problem when he wrote, “We believe, and so suggested a few years ago, that the action of alcohol on these chronic alcoholics is a manifestation of an allergy”1
And because addiction and trauma are closely linked there are often other mental health concerns at play as well.
“To complicate the landscape, approximately 40% of opioid-dependent individuals have depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, and some have other co-occurring psychiatric disorders. Post-traumatic stress disorder and personality disorders are also present, though less frequently. Punishment is not only ineffective; it often exacerbates these mental health problems.”2
Punishment does not address the fundamental issues that an addict faces. It does not address depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or PTSD. And neither do our incarceration centers.
When I was freshly sober, a friend on Twitter asked for sober people to write letters to one of his friends who was in a detention center after a DUI. I offered to write to this person and told my story in the letter. I fully expected that I might never hear back on the letter, but to my surprise I got an email one day and one sentence in particular struck me:
“Thank you for taking your time to write to me, I have read your letter over and over and have continued to read it daily. The support meant so much to me while I was in jail, especially since there were no meetings or AA literature to read.”
I was dumbstruck. I simply could not believe that there were no meetings or even literature made available to a person who was being held as the result of a DUI. It turns out, sadly, that this is not uncommon. According to a 2014 article in the Washington Post, while 65% of our prison population met the medical requirements for substance abuse disorder, only 11% of our prisoners were offered treatment. That’s a travesty. It is no wonder that the recidivism rate for people with substance abuse disorders exceeds 80%.
Now, the crack epidemic of the 1980s, it didn’t register on the radar of most of America, for a lot of reasons, but primarily because it never became a drug of choice across socio-economic boundaries. But today, things are different. Today, we are witnessing an opioid epidemic that affects all socio-economic classes of our society — rich, middle class, and the poor. It also touches nearly all of the other classifications we use to identify people: black, white, brown, gay, straight, trans-gender, and cis.
Not that the crack epidemic of the Reagan years wasn’t horrendous, but the opioid epidemic is even bigger. And its destroying our society.
It turns out that our “No good, really bad for you in every way” President, actually has very own bipartisan panel investigating the opioid crisis and their report makes the recommendation that he declare a national emergency.
“With approximately 142 Americans dying every day, America is enduring a death toll equal to Sept. 11 every three weeks,” the commission members wrote, referring to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “Your declaration would empower your cabinet to take bold steps and would force Congress to focus on funding and empowering the executive branch even further to deal with this loss of life.”3
In addition to this recommendation the report makes several smart recommendations including:
Rapidly increasing treatment capacity.
Mandating prescriber education initiatives.
Immediately establishing and funding a federal incentive to enhance access to Medication-Assisted Treatment.
Providing model legislation for states to allow naloxone dispensing via standing orders.
Requiring the prescribing of naloxone with high-risk opioid prescriptions
Equiping all law enforcement in the US with naloxone to save lives
Enforcing the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) with a standardized parity compliance tool to ensure health plans cannot impose less favorable benefits for mental health and substance use diagnoses verses physical health diagnoses.
These are good recommendations. These are recommendations that make sense and would have an immediate impact on the opioid epidemic. But president Trump hasn’t declared a national emergency and his comments aren’t about expanding treatment. Why not?
I don’t know the answer, but I suspect that he probably hasn’t read the report (it’s well known that he doesn’t read) and even if he has read the report, these recommendations don’t fit his agenda.
What can we do?
So, if you’re like me (and I don’t just mean someone in recovery), you may be wondering what you can do. Here are two recommendations.
Sign this petition asking that the President follow his own commission’s recommendation and declare a national emergency.
Contact your representatives make your voice heard. Tell them that you want to see the opioid crisis addressed in a meaningful way and that the president’s reiteration of the last 40 years of two failed policies isn’t the answer.
A.A. World Services Inc. Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition (Kindle Locations 265-266). A.A. World Services, Inc.. Kindle Edition. ↩︎
I went to bed with feelings of fear and guilt. As the rhetoric toward North Korea from the White House fired up to unprecedented levels my lizard brain went kicked into high gear last night.
I’ve been reading Ken Follett’s “Century Trilogy” and I’m on the last book Edge of Eternity which is about the Cold War period of the twentieth century. I’ve just gotten past the Cuban Missile Crisis in the book and can’t help but compare that crisis to our current crisis with North Korea. I’m not alone.
Slow down, think strategy Mr. President. Playing nuclear chicken with North Korea could make the Cuban Missile Crisis look like pinochle.
I’m not so old that I remember air raid drills, but I was old enough to watch and understand as Reagan negotiated with Gorbachev to bring about treaties leading to a much safer world in terms of the threat of nuclear war. While many credit Regan with bringing down the Soviet Union, I am quick to remember that the fall of Communism lead to a economic vacuum in Russia resulting in several wars and ultimately the installment of an insane former KBG agent as dictator.
My father worked for FEMA and we lived near enough to Site R that I remember seeing the tunnel entrances from the road in my youth. Of course, no one was supposed to know about this Underground Pentagon, but everyone in the area did in the same way that folks who live near the NSA always knew that “No Such Agency” was right off the Baltimore Washington Parkway.
All that’s to say, that I grew up aware of the fact that Nuclear War with the Soviet Union was a grim possibility. So, as the rhetoric turns more and more bellicose toward North Korea, and as our relations with the Russian Federation grow more strained, I’m worried about the safety and security of the world.
And last night, as I sat alone in my house, a scant 35 miles from Washington DC, while my wife was at dinner with friends and my son is away at sleep over camp, my mind raced with the thoughts of nuclear war. And in a moment of weakness I tweeted.
And I felt like I’d let my twitter followers down.
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what it means to write a blog about recovery and to participate in the online recovery community. I know that my blog provides many people with inspiration because they tell me so. I know that my tweets and posts have inspired others to seek sobriety. In short, I know that I’m making a difference.
I have written about struggles here and I’ve shared my struggles on Twitter many times. In many ways the online recovery community has been more important in my recovery than my local 12 step fellowship.
But still I worried that I’d slipped up and somehow indicated that it was acceptable to consider a drink if we’re about to die. Maybe it is and and maybe it isn’t. I mean, shit, if I’m gonna get burnt to a crisp by a nuclear bomb, I’m not sure that it matters if I have one last glass of bourbon and a final cigarette. Then again, it would likely not be very enjoyable and I’d much rather spend the last few minutes of my life holding onto the people that I love.
I don’t know what my responsibility is to the recovery community when it comes to this blog. Am I only supposed to write about my triumphs? Am I only supposed to lift people up? Do I have a duty to constantly support those who need support?
I don’t know what the answers to these questions are.
What I do know is that I’m just another guy who has a problem with booze. I’m not special. I just share my story with the world and sometimes that story is inspirational and sometimes it isn’t.
I also know that despite lying awake well past my bedtime, the sun also rose this morning. The earth continues to spin on its axis. I got up, made coffee, read the news, tweeted, kissed my wife good-bye, and started my day. This afternoon, I’m going to have lunch with my brother.
Life goes on even when our leaders are acting like children. We’re probably not about to have a nuclear holocaust.
I am going to go a bit off topic today, but I will try to bring this back to recovery. I know many of my brothers and sisters in recovery share my thoughts and are feeling sad, lost, and afraid this morning. I also know that many do not. You may not agree with my assessment. You are welcome to your opinion. I respect your opinion, please be respectful of mine.
Once again, I find myself sitting on a plane on the way to a business meeting, so familiar, and yet so ungrounded. I left the house well before my son woke, after a fitful few hours of anxious sleep. Benadryl didn’t help.
Like many, I watched as the election was televised and saw my fears become manifest. I watched as a man who had campaigned on a what I saw as platform of hate and intolerance gained more and more ground, defying the polls. I’d never trusted the polls. I’d gone to bed, expecting the outcome, but not quite accepting.
I wonder how my son is this morning. He was genuinely fearful of this outcome. He is almost nine. I contributed to his fears by letting my own fears show over the past eighteen to twenty four months. But there were other factors in his fear. He heard the cyanide laced words of the man in the media – you couldn’t avoid them.
He understands what it means to build a wall, he understands what it means to dislike others based on skin tone, he understands distrust of other religions. And he knows what’s right. When he first understood racism in the first grade, he spoke of wanting to protect his friend Jameson who is mixed race.
I wish I was there today to tell him that things will be okay. That the world will continue to spin on its axis. That we have a system of government that ensures that even if we elect a megalomaniac full of vitriol to the highest office in the land, we have the legislative and judicial branches to prevent a dictatorship.
But, I am not at home. He will take his comfort from his mother.
I am not so saddened that we did not elect our first woman president as I am that we elected a man who I believe represents everything that I do not. I honestly never thought she was electable. Nor were her opponents in the primaries. I am saddened that the political parties couldn’t come up with a single candidate who I felt represented what the country needed, and who was electable. I am saddened that we have such a divided country. I am saddened that so many people chose to take comfort in words that cause so many others such distress.
I am shaken, but I am not shattered. Last night, I thought I’d be shattered. There were times when I thought that a drink would help. That numbing out would make this pain go away. I wanted the pain to go away. But I didn’t have a drink. I am not shattered.
I am resilient. Those of us in recovery are resilient. We are survivors.
The world will not end. We’re in for rough weather. We have a strongly divided country, and I suspect that many who chose to vote for hatred will soon find that the promises are empty, that we are in a ship without a rudder, and that our captain might not have an actual plan at all. Things will likely get worse before they get better. It’s gong to be hard. But we will get through it.
Those of us who choose love and kindness over hate and vitriol, we have work to do. We cannot afford to continue in the us vs them mentality. We must find ways to be inclusive. We must find common ground – it’s there I assure you. We must continue to work for what we believe is right and just.
We must do as Saint Francis guided us.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
Brothers and Sisters in recovery, it is okay to feel sad, lost, and afraid, but today is another new day. A day to begin the begin. A day to remember what we have overcome.