On Jan 30, 2012, at 1:15 AM, Cristi wrote:
Hey, thanks for getting back to me so fast. I totally feel ya on the character allotment. It’s a terrible hindrance for any sort of meaningful discussion. I should probably give you more about my background to help you see where I’m coming from.
I’ve lost way too many friends to heroine. I grew up with a rather rowdy bunch of friends. Lots of parties, loud music, concerts, etc. As we got older, the heroine epidemic hit my group of friends like a brickwall. After my first friend died, I made a concious decision to find a new group of friends because it just became utterly depressing to see people I grew up with nodding off on so-called methadone “treatment” or lying in filth, smacked out. I remainded friends with a lot of friends, just not all at once.
Then in 2008, my brother was found with his throat slit and his girlfriend doped out with no memory of what happened. They rulled it a “suicide.”
My best friend is a psyciatrist, so I have a somewhat of a good spring board for a lot of my problems, but she lives in Portland and has a little girl. We dont get to talk often enough. I’m familiar with the “grieving process.” I just cant get passed “anger.” Not at my friends. As a Native person I completely understand addiction. My anger is with the treatment of drug/alcohol abuse. So much of what is provided to patient covers up the syptoms, but never truly help with the addiction. I find myself more and more angry with the FDA and the disgusting capitalist bulls**t that runs our pharmacutical system.
Since most of my friends had heroine addiction, I have extensively researched Ibogaine. If you’re not sure what it is, here’s a link http://www.ibogaine.org/ I cannot understand why it is illegal in the US and why most of the lobbyists against ibogaine research represent methadone companies and others of the sort.
Some days I think I dwell on it way too much. I dont go a day without thinking about it. I want to get passed the anger I feel while not giving up my stance on the issue.
From: Spencer Mellow ;
To: Cristi ;
Subject: Re: Discussion from Twitter
Sent: Mon, Jan 30, 2012 9:31:44 PM
Believe me when I say that I can relate to the pain and anger you feel. Granted, I have no right to say I know what you’ve been through, but the pain is relative between any and all who are affected by this. As you can gather from what I write about on the blog, I am not the biggest fan of the current state of the mental health/recovery world. I’ve done it all, man. Which has afforded me the opportunity to see first hand the exact issues that you have raised. Failed and naive policy, corrupt “treatment” centers/providers/advocates/spokespeople, increased stigma based on complete falsehood, and the soulless lobbyists & disease profiteers (ie… your feelings towards the prescription plutocracy). These are all things that I myself take issue with, as well. You have every reason to be angry. However, you recognize how toxic that s**t is. That tells me that you’ve entered into a stage of growth in your life. A time where it’s either fight or die. True, everything that we’ve talked about is deplorable. It would be easy for me to stay angry, but that would be a betrayal to myself. Same with you, as you mentioned. The conundrum has the power to remain this way forever, IF YOU LET IT. Awareness is the beginning. Then it’s the desire to change. Sounds like that’s already happened for you. Today you are at the “What’s Next” point. It’s now that I can actually offer any advice. I don’t know if we had struck up a discussion weeks (maybe even days) ago that it would’ve had the impact that this interaction will. Personally, I hate people who talktalktalktalktalk. Complaining incessantly. They remind me of seagulls.. Whiny and expecting others to just give them everything. I equally hate people who fight without philosophy. Who act without understanding. You are NEITHER of these people. I challenge you to seek out that happy balance. Continue to question everything. ONLY do so if a indiscriminate solution is your ultimate goal. Action in your case will be an honest search for your truth. The truth is never absolute. It should always be evolving. Beliefs need to be tested, or else you condemn yourself to a purgatory of sorts. Dead to growth, oblivious to the beauty taking place all around you. It’s okay to be angry too, it’s fucking natural! Again, ALWAYS SEEK THE SOLUTION. Think of what you can bring to the situation to help the suffering and to absolve the perpetrator. That’s what you should do next. Check out Carl Jung’s autobiography. The introduction is perfect for your situation.
I hope all of this makes sense! Ha! So… You have work to do if you truly want/need to move forward.
Remember: 1=Awareness, 2=Desire, 3=Exploration, & 4=Assessment. Honestly, the hard part is over. I have said these things because this is what I know. What was desolation is now optimism. These are my truths. That’s plenty of heavy conversation for today! Hahahaha- Let me know your thoughts. I look forward to hearing back from you.
On Feb 1, 2012, at 2:47 AM, Cristi wrote:
Hey Dude! You’re email made my day! I am so glad to hear from someone else that my thoughts and feelings are justified and, hopefully, more common place than I realize.
Growing up in the…gulp…so-called “punk scene” and being raised by very outspoken, American Indian Movement member Parents has made me hyper aware of the injustices surrounding everyone in industrialized society. It has also made me hyper aware of addiction and death.
I’ve been to more funerals for friends than anyone my age should have had to go to. With each one came more and more anger. It makes me more angry that I have no idea how or where to start my fight for justice.
Your email was exactly what I needed to hear! Growing up, I’ve been exposed to incredibly diverse spiritual guides. My grandma was our tribal healer, I practice Transcendental Meditation, we have had Monks staying with us. basically I’m the outcome of extreme nonconformist hippies.
I also learned a ton from the teachings of the Toltec and really strive to stick to my personal life agreements. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, there’s a great little book by Don Miguel Ruiz called “the four agreements.” It’s based around the teachings of Carlos Castenada.
Happiness is what it’s all about! Sometimes in my revolutionary state of mind, the line blurs and I tend to go into battle mode (You can take the girl out of the rez, but you cant take the rez out of the girl! Aye!)
Of course, never one to back down from a challenge, especially one that benefits my peace of mind, I whole heartedly accept!
It’s really rad to talk to someone with your insight and bravery! I cant tell you how much I respect you putting yourself out there and documenting your experience with such brutal honesty.
Oh! And I love to read so I will be checking out Carl Jung’s book asap!
There is a feeling of dire loss when one enters into recovery for the first time. The overwhelming ideas that you will not have anything fun to do ever again, for the rest of your life can be a powerful deterrent to sobriety. Which is why learning to have 100% unadulterated fun is so important to the success of recovery. The only aid to enjoyment you’ve had being suddenly ripped from your repertoire can be shocking, and often force one to put their guard up. What’s hard to see is the multitude of options outside of drinking and drugging that can be accessed in order to up the entertainment content of your life after you remove that element from your life.
In an earlier post I had mentioned the importance of creativity in my life, and how it had overwhelmingly contributed to my well-being in sobriety. Drawing, painting, writing, photography, and overall experimentation in the arts proved to be an excellent outlet for my constant “ebb and flow” of emotion in recovery. Beating the hell out of the drums is the best way for me, personally, to get all of my unchecked and pent up aggression out. I cannot stress how important activities like these are to someone in early recovery. However, if you are like me then you are very easily excitable. Which, in some cases, can lead to spending sprees on new toys because of a healthy fascination of that “new hobby” in my life. I once spent $300 on one such spree on Lego’ds alone, in an attempt to retest my childhood obsessions. More recently I spent hundreds on art supplies using the holidays as an excuse. I couldn’t “afford” christmas presents so I was going to have to make them for everybody on my list. Much like the husband who buys the wife a chainsaw because she’s been nagging him to trim the trees for some time.
This digresses from the point I initially set out to make. Fun is integral to survival in recovery. When I was twenty I was shipped off to Minneapolis, MN for aftercare following a brief stint in the wilderness of Montana. All I knew of Minneapolis was what little I could gather from fragmented parts of Fargo that I had caught on TNT while channel surfing. I was not excited to be moving to what I thought was going to b a desolate and cold wasteland of boredom and people who talked like the mom from “Bobby’s World.” What I didn’t know was the booming art scene that the town boasted, or the unbelievably vibrant music scene. I didn’t know that Minnesota was the birthplace of Prince, The Replacements, and… Prairie Home Companion…
Nobody really cares about that last one, but I DID! These were revelations to me. That society impacting acts weren’t all born out of either the East or West coasts. That the midwest had this hidden hip that nobody knew about except those fortunate enough to live there, and they were keeping it secret! I felt a part of a hidden collective. To unknowingly stumble upon this treasure trove of culture hiding under the facade of a Siberia-esque landscape.
I didn’t have a car, and took the bus/train everywhere in the year that I lived up North. This allowed me to see the city from a different angle. To be able to look from the ground up, and out what different for me. Normally, when I drive I look at the horizon, occasionally glancing at my surroundings but only just. When you’re on a train, there’s only so many times that you can get caught staring at the people who are riding with you before some kind of altercation takes place. You have to stare out the window, or there could be a fight. I saw locations, districts, venues, where people walked, and why they walked there. The passing lights creating an air of curiosity. Hazy faces with blurry smiles as the bus drove by piqued my interest. Made me want to get off the bus, and postpone the arrival at my location for just a bit longer. In the year that I lived there I found a love for live music, for street art, for coffee and conversation at 1 am, for tattoos on a whim, and even for hometown hero, Mary Tyler Moore. It was the dreamworld of an artsy twenty something trying to find his place on this weird planet. Granted, it was also the hardest time of my life. I lived on $27 a week (after rent), and was a resident of what is called a “cash-cow.” This flophouse didn’t have heat in the winter or A/C in the summer, and presented itself as a safe haven for those seeking shelter from the perils of addiction. A shining example of everything that’s wrong with the addiction/recovery world these days. I hustled my way through my twentieth year. Seeking adventure, Fast times, and faster friends. Every night you could find me playing pool with women with a quick smile, or bobbing my head at the landmark “First Avenue.” I had friends that worked the doors of the juke joints, and acquaintances running coat checks at the best rock clubs in the city. Shaking hands with drunken rock stars, heads hung heavy from their current tours. Sleep was a commodity that I didn’t feel deserved my attention. All glorious, and terrifying at the same time. I learned more about life (& how to live) in one year than most do in five.
The reason why I mention my time in Minneapolis is mainly to convey that I sought life. I didn’t stay stagnant in recovery, rotting in a room wishing my life was better. I looked for fun, and I found it. Granted, I put too much in front of my recovery and ultimately lost it. I lost sight of the balance needed to have a productive life. The importance of remembering why you seeking that adventure, in that I needed it to stay sober, and not the other way around. Fun in sobriety is paramount, as long as sobriety comes first.
More to come soon-
I am what they call a “real” alcoholic. Meaning, that despite all the consequences I faced (Jail, Hospitals, & Death) I just could not stop using. There was a constant need to change how I felt every waking moment. It overtook my thoughts, governed my actions, and dictated my mood. There is no escaping the barrage of thought flowing through an alcoholic’s mind when their disease is in control. So, sobriety is the only possible route out, they hesitantly accept it. In fact, alcoholism is one of the only chronic diseases that those afflicted think they can get better on their own. Nobody gets diagnosed with bone cancer and says that they can treat it on their own. “I don’t need chemo… I know everything there is to know about cancer already, doc. I just need to be left alone for a bit, and I’ll be just fine after some time.” Any patient that says that would be considered out of their mind. When treatment is finally accepted, however, there is a separation from what is needed and from what actually gets treated.
Alcoholics who are in full blown practice are often dishonest, angry, unruly, and flat out ornery. The idea that the only thing that has brought you any semblance of comfort over the years is quite a terrifying concept. I was a spiteful cuss every time I reentered treatment of any kind. Scoffing at any rules, and voicing what I felt to be grave injustices as loud as I could. I was looked at as a rabble-rouser who was just unhappy to be in treatment again. While that might have been true, I also had valid concerns that I felt needed to be addressed. These issues would go unattended to usually because the person bringing them to light was me. A tattooed, resentful, and bitter man who spent the majority of his time trying to not face his own reality through the abuse of alcohol. On paper, I was not the most credible source. The point being that my concerns fell on deaf ears. Any that might have gotten back to my family were written off as the musings of a spoiled alcoholic who was just venting his anger at the expense of the treatment center.
All of this reminds me of a study I had once read about. A group of scientists put three chimps in a large cage with a button on one of the walls. This button would shock all three chimps in the cage if it were pressed. After a short time in the cage, one of the chimps ventured over to the button and pressed it, promptly shocking all three chimps. This resulted in the other chimps giving the poor fellow a beating for his actions. Next, the scientists introduced a new chimp to the mix. After some time in the cage, the newest member hesitantly walked towards the button, as if to push it. The chimp who had received the first beating initiated an attack on the new chimp before he could even push the button. The beaten new member didn’t even know why he been attacked. Then, the scientists took one of the chimps out and added another new one. This new chimp began to head for the button, and like the others before it, got a beating. The scientists did this twice more, with the same results every time. At this point, all of the original members of the cage (the only ones who had felt the shock of the button at all) were gone, but the beatings still took place. This is a good example of what the world of rehabilitation for drugs and alcohol are like today. Rules and regulations established by someone else, but followed by a completely new set of people. Enforced for reasons they might not even know. This often results in an unhealthy environment expected to treat the unhealthy. Most rehabs are just chimps beating the new chimps for not yet pushing a button…
In fact, this is the case for most of recovery. Stagnant practices established by someone a long time ago that really have no bearing on the current state of affairs. Without enough people to speak out against what is really going on, then everything stays the same. Mainly because of how much money these establishments rake in every fiscal year. A state-funded & nonprofit faith based rehab here in OK, for example, pulls in six figures a month selling banana nut bread and bringing in new “sinners.” Nobody knows the true success rate, mainly because of the dishonesty of someone who has relapsed and is in active addiction. This often rules out the dishonesty of the treatment facility, allowing them to continue their shady ways unimpeded. It’s a sticky situation. The addict often leaves worse-off , and the rehab’s pockets get a bit bigger. This same allegory can be used for lots of situations our society is currently facing now. Just because it’s normal and has been accepted, does it make it okay? Of course not. Please, be aware. Please, speak up.
More to come soon.
It’s very easy to get tied up in a number of things when entering recovery. One’s first instinct is to fix everything as quickly as possible. To make everything “okay” again. This rarely works out in the way it was intended, which can often lead to a hasty return to the old life. Another mistake is that we want everybody to see that we are healed. Cured of this terrible occurrence, and ready to put the whole thing in the rearview. This usually leads to the need to hide what’s really going on behind a facade of success and good intentions. This inevitably leads to yet another relapse if not taken care of quickly, and without hesitation. One of the most prevalent offenders in the return to using that often goes overlooked is stagnancy of the mind. Boredom.
To keep the mind moving forward is a tremendous way to restore a sense of purpose in the life of the alcoholic. Another avenue in which we can find safety in recovery should NEVER be overlooked. The more things I have going for myself at any given time the better. Before I wouldn’t let myself get to involved with anything because I would be afraid of it getting taken away somehow. Distancing myself was a way to protect against anything that could take away a source of enjoyment. Which eventually meant that I enjoyed very little. Backwards , huh? I have had to relearn how to enjoy even the most trivial activities in order to stay not only sane, but also sober. That’s exactly why I’m such an advocate for creativity in recovery. There’s an unspoken outlet that needed to be filled when my source of escape was becoming detrimental to my health.
The act of creation itself, is a wonderful concept that can be exploited for a number of reasons. All of which are beneficial in one way or another. Stagnancy of the mind is the killer in this particular equation. If I were just sitting around, going to work, going to meetings, and then going home to close the night off with a fix of television, then my life would be redundant and borrrrrrrrrriiiiiing. A man much smarter than myself once told me, “Boring people get bored.” So, keeping that in mind, I have avoided being bored because of the implications behind it. I know I’m not boring, but the only person I have to prove that to is myself. Alcoholics can easily get locked into this “woe is me” downward spiral where the lack of beneficial downtime is translated into feelings of self-pity. Speaking from experience, this is a lame cop out. Nine times out of ten, this was just an excuse for me to stay comfortable in my discomfort. To successfully avoid my fear of public interaction and decimation of laziness. All of which would eventually contribute to yet another relapse.
Most in recovery do this without even being aware. If you hang around the rooms long enough you will see an increased acquiring of tattoos, actual and formulated opinions, and new contributions in the workplace. Chefs will experiment with new items, businessmen will introduce new models, retailers will see displays in new ways, and everything in between. All stemming for hazy sources of inspiration. Sobriety unlocks parts of the mind that have lied dormant for some time, allowing the alcoholic to begin to fire on unchartered cylinders. The beautiful thing about all of this is that creativity is never wrong. Execution of that new business model might not go as planned, but something is always learned. That is why I feel this is a major/overlooked part of the recovery process.
If you’re new to recovery I say this: GO OUT! Have fun. Listen to new music. Draw things you never would have before. Carry a notebook and write in it. Take photos everywhere you go. Read books. Experience life!
I’m going to start this story off with something that happened to me on the 3rd of December. Originally, this was going to be a piece about what hasn’t worked in the treatment of Addiction and Mental Health. It has now turned into something quite different. After extensive investigation, I feel that this development solidifies my opinions and concerns about the troubled state of recovery. All of this started with an innocent inquiry as to the progress of my writing.
My roommate wanted to read the posts on my blog, so I told him to google my name and it should be there. He clicked on a link and then asked if I was really the author of what he found. Curious, I went over to see what he was talking about. I was more than confused by what I was looking at. It was an article on a website for a faith-based treatment center, aptly titled “Oklahoma Mother Thankful To God For Helping Son With Recovery From Addiction.” The post included both of our names, quotes from my mother, and even some details from the night I overdosed in April of 2008. There was something disturbingly familiar about the whole thing. Seeing that it was posted on May 19th of this year, I immediately looked at my calendar. I had been in town (I was still living in Austin) a few weeks before to speak with my ma for the Oklahoma Outreach Foundation. Slowly, the pieces began to come together. I recognized the quotes because I had read them before. I searched my email for the article my mother sent me the same week we spoke. My suspicions were confirmed. Ken Raymond penned the article, and it was published on the 2nd. The articles were almost identical. This discovery was only the beginning.
Normally, I wouldn’t have paid any more attention to this theft of intellectual property. However, this new site closed their post with “He has now been sober for the past three years and acknowledges that his Christian faith played a significant role in his recovery.” That’s when I got a bit angry. If anybody knows me they can attest to my faith in a “Higher Power.” I’ve never hesitated to talk about what the God of my understanding has done for me. All that being said, I have never claimed to be of any one religion. Don’t get me wrong, religion can and does do wonderful things in this world, and I respectALL paths of faith. The best way to describe my belief is with the old adage that religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell, and spirituality is for those who have already been there. All of that aside, the fact remains that an entity used my story, and falsely molded it to fit their philosophy to inadvertently profit. It was at that time that I began my intense information binge on the institution.
The Road Less Travelled aka The Christian Treatment Center is located just South of West Palm Beach in Lake Worth, FL. I found that it is a branch of The Treatment Center which shared the building, but not necessarily the same mode of recovery. They are thirty day programs where the patients spend the first part in detox (ranging from three to fourteen days), and the second being inpatient treatment. They have 125 beds between the two programs, each of which costing $16,500. That’s an average price for an “upscale” thirty day program. However, I haven’t heard of a rehab that split the recovery and the detox. It would seem that the people who would need to be in detox longer (chronic alcoholics,benzo/opiate addicts) would get less time in the recovery process. Thirty days are a very short amount of time for a true alcoholic/addict to really grasp what treatment has to offer. For instance, it takes between three and four weeks for brain to begin to rebuild its damaged cognitive capabilities. I have seen longer. The “haze” brought on by abstinence from chemicals doesn’t just go away after detoxification.
I’m sure they have helped plenty of people, and I have no right to say that it wouldn’t work for some. I am basing my opinion on my personal experience. Being a real alcoholic I needed 4 months of treatment to be in a place mentally and spiritually where I was able to go out into the real world and work on my sobriety. Again, it’s not my place to say what can and cannot work for others. The treatment program isn’t what I take issue with in this case. My problem leads us right back to the post that started this whole thing off.
Once I had begun my investigation it was like opening Pandora’s Box. One thing led to another, andeach new somehow worse than the last. Each site has a blog, and the Treatment Center has a “press release” section. Upon further inspection, I found that an alarming number of their entries had employed the recently controversial “cut and paste” form of journalism. It wasn’t hard to find the similarities using software that checks for plagiarism across the internet. Establishments such asWebMD, Fox News, and even the University College London were all victims. I found that the Treatment Center is a paying member of TransWorldNews/WooEB company which is a news mining search engine. Now, I’m sure there is some kind of loophole in this whole nonsense that provides a safe haven for companies that are using other’s intellectual property for their own monetary gain. Here’s how it could work. Based on certain keywords my account will be sent a number of articles from different sources. I then could cut and paste these articles on my TransWorld account, changing a few details just to be extra shady, and then further post them on my personal blog or site as my own. Any link will go back to my account at TransWorld, and unless there’s further investigation it will seem legitimate. If I were questioned by the source, I could put it off on TransWorld, and visa versa. My website remains untouched through the layers of anonymity, and then my company presents itself as a well versed source of expertise.
Again, all of this could be just on the border of illegality, but just not crossing it. The biggest thing I take issue with in this whole debacle is the execution of creepy business practice. Not only did this rehab post articles without proper citation, but they used the same technique to create their program itself. On the main page of their website there are five tabs that feature borrowed material. The tabs are titled Alcohol/Drug Detox, Alcohol/Detox Rehab, Pain Management, Do I Have A Problem, and Find Your State. Even their treatment philosophy is strikingly similar to another Palm Beach rehab calledRecovery Road. Now, I understand that all of this might still be legal no matter how sketchy it is. It doesn’t really matter to me. I’ve found that corruption will never change without public awareness and action. All of this is a slap to the face of the sick and suffering.
A severe lack of originality, a low treatment to cost ratio, even lower staff to patient ratio, little accountability in aftercare, and unethical business practices are all part of unsuccessful treatment programs. The awful truth is that this facility is just one of the countless others who prey on the weaknesses of Alcoholics/Addicts and their families. This is happening all over the country, and has gone largely unnoticed. Maybe it’s because we have become accustomed to dishonorable business procedures. The product, however, is not an iPod but a human life. The focus shifted from the need to help the sick to the worship of the ‘bottom line.’ I have seen zero evidence that the Treatment Center andCompany do not belong in this category.
People need to know what is happening, especially those looking for a way to recover. The money grubbing impostors operating under the guise of salvation should know that their reign is nearing an end. I take solace in the fact that there are so many who have survived this system and are demanding change. Whether it be the reform of legislation, the creation of accessible treatment options, or the elimination of stigma. Things are going to be different. The only question I have is “how can I help?”
All through this week I will be continuing with the “Early Recovery” series. The next installment will be about what hasn’t worked and why. The reasons behind why institutions like this were ever allowed to exist.
Allow me to end this entry with a quote from the great Carl Sagan:
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. The bamboozle has captured us. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”
More to come soon…
It’s hard to explain what takes place in the brain of an alcoholic in early recovery. Imagine being locked in a room filled with televisions from floor to ceiling, each one tuned to a different channel with the volume at full bore. The bombardment of noise barely allows you to hear the thoughts in your own head. All the while, you are aware that one of these TVs is broadcasting a message that will lead to your escape from this surreal prison. The inability to sift through the cacophony and focus on salvation would only perpetuate the reality of hopelessness. This is exactly like the battle taking place inside the mind of the untreated alcoholic/addict.
This is the power that this disease can hold over those in early recovery. Walk into any newcomer’s meeting (AA, NA, CA, faith-based recovery. It doesn’t really matter.), and see the sad, sober eyes of some in attendance. Men and women who have lost so much that they have nowhere else to turn. Believe me, this is a hellish existence, and will stay that way until they take a vital step. Maybe for the first time in their entire life they are ready to honestly reach out and ask for help. The realization that everything they have tried has failed, quickly sets in. Finally, they surrender. This is an extremely powerful moment in the life of an alcoholic/addict. A glimmer of optimism shines through, and something begins to stir within them. They are now faced with an intense desire to do whatever it may take to end their pain. This is just the beginning of their epic journey into recovery.
I wish I could say that it all gets easier after this experience, and that the hard part is now over. This is not the case. The disease of alcoholism is still in control, and will ceaselessly remind the poor soul that relief can only be found in using. The lucky ones white-knuckle it through the night and make it to another meeting the next day. Often, holding on to that tiny sliver of hope they felt the day before is the only thing that kept them sober. Sadly, this is not always enough and they return to the life that caused them so much misery.
This is only a brief portrayal of the torment that takes place mentally the first few days of recovery. The situations described earlier serve as a grim reminder. All over the world there are people suffering in a similar way as you read this. Not only the addicts, but also those who love them. There are very few people who have not been affected by this disease in one way or another. So, why is there such a stigma looming over Alcoholism and Addiction? This disease has gone misunderstood for far too long, and the time has come to demand change. The recovery of a loved one or even your own may depend on it.
In part 2, I will get into the current state of the recovery community. What hasn’t worked and why.
I know there has been a lot of publicity recently, especially in the recovery community, surrounding a man named Dr. Murali Krishna. If you aren’t privy to this gentleman’s media attention then I recommend leaving this blog (only to return very shortly!) to check out Kelly Fry’s newest nDepth: Fighting Back piece titled “Seeking Truth: Dr. R. Murali Krishna.” The editor does a bang-up job detailing the good doctor’s accomplishments, as well as, what led him to this point in his life. I could sit here and tell you about all the awards and positions he has deservedly upheld throughout his career. But, I’ll let the professionals handle that. What I want to do with this post is let you see this man through the eyes of an alcoholic of the most hopeless type.
It’s hard to determine the first time that I actually met Dr. Krishna. I do, however, recall an encounter from back when I was about ten years old. My old man would spend his Saturday mornings playing doubles tennis with a rotating group of men. I liked going with him because it was a chance to sit and watch whatever the hell I wanted on TV, completely undisturbed. They also had donuts. The best part was eavesdropping in on the crotchety old men lounging around, telling their creepy dirty jokes and war stories from their formative years. On the day in question I vaguely remember that as we were leaving my father saying “Spence. You remember, Murali?” I didn’t. The doc was wearing one of those intricately woven sweater vests over a polo and those awesome mid-nineties tennis shorts. Most of all, I remember the quick smile he beamed my way. All cheeks with an obvious sparkle shining from behind his glasses. It caught me off guard. It was as if he knew I had no idea who he was, but wanted me to know that it was okay. Still, I nodded and shook his hand and sheepishly said hello before he returned to telling a corny joke. I liked that he laughed more during the joke than most listening for the punchline. At that point, I must have seen something shiny because my attention shifted elsewhere. I’m sure that if I really dug deep I could extrapolate further on this recollection, but that would be a waste of both our time.
The reason I mention that day is only to relay the warmth and serenity that Dr. Krishna exuded that morning. The impact it had on me still resonates some fifteen years later. I recognize it now as something along the lines of Truth personified. Pure and genuine happiness. Even more, Murali has greeted me with that exact same grin since then. It’s like those dimples emanate invisible beams of calm that wash over everything in their vicinity. That might be stretching it a bit, but it’s the strange truth. Murali has remained a friend of mine over the years. He has seen my family and I through some pretty damn rough times. As I said in my last post, I’ve been in and out of recovery since I was fifteen. Murali has no doubt been a sounding board for my father. My old man is also a doctor, and considers Dr. Krishna to be a close pal. I know that his analytical and scientific mind conflicted with his undying love for his son. There were countless times when I couldn’t put into words the pain and never-ending gloom I was trudging through. Murali was there to explain what it was that was actually happening in a way my father could understand. There were just as many times that my poor mother didn’t know who else to talk to about her concerns regarding my mental stability. Murali never hesitated to answer her questions, and address her concerns. Dr. Krishna has been an invaluable piece of my recovery from the beginning, and in multiple ways (some of which he isn’t even aware). While my parents looked to him as a confidant and a wealth of expertise, I drew from him something completely different.
I remember very clearly the first time I met with Dr. Krishna as a patient, as opposed to a social setting. I was twenty-one and had just emerged from my first stay in detox. I was admitted to that lovely facility following an eight month drunk, also know as, “What I Learned At Texas Tech.” My drinking had gotten so severe that inebriation meant survival. Hallucinations were an every day occurrence, and vomiting blood no longer frightened me. What was truly frightening to me was that my fears were turning into an inescapable reality. Visions of disappointment on the faces of loved ones, never-ending sadness, and the confrontation of my past were all too much to bare. I wanted to die. I had never entertained the thought of suicide before. Intrusive images coupled with the quick thought that there’s nothing else left bombarded my consciousness. I knew I would never act on them, but they were a constant reminder of the awful truth I would soon have to confront. This was the darkest time of my entire life.
I decided that I was going to do my damnedest to drink myself to death. I figured that if I came out on the other side, then it just wasn’t my time and I would have no other option but to ask for help. I could go into details about my final days in Lubbock, but it would be a severe digression from the intention of this post. Somehow, I made it through the hellish ordeal. I gathered all the change that littered my dark apartment, bought one more pint of my go-to rum, and put Lubbock, TX in my rearview mirror. I arrived in OKC 6 hours later, exhausted and fighting back severe withdrawal symptoms. I put on the best show I could muster when I walked into my parent’s house. Of course, they knew something was terribly wrong. The jig was just about up. I had spent the past nine months painstakingly constructing a facade of success and sobriety, and finally zero hour had arrived. It took only a few hours for me to completely break down, and reveal the awful truth. In a moment of clarity, I told my family that I needed help, or else I’d be living on borrowed time. Twelve hours later I was checked in to the Detox facility.
The reason I have decided to include this part of my story is to properly convey how dire my situation was upon entering Dr. Krishna’s office for the first time. I was ridden with anxiety and still a bit foggy from Detox. I remember the unshakable tenseness of my entire body. Clenching then releasing my fists in unnervingly perfect 4/4 rhythm. I was startled when a hand rested on my shoulder, a gesture meant to say “Calm Yourself” without saying anything at all. When I turned around I was greeted yet again by the familiar grin of Dr. Krishna. He embraced me in a hug before I could even attempt a handshake. All of this was very strange to me. My M.O. regarding most therapy I had received up to that point was to be as standoffish as possible, combative when threatened, and withholding of anything that somebody could use against me. This was different. I immediately felt the tension drip away, and some semblance of placidity calming my troubled mind. Worries of judgement and condemnation were now fleeting thoughts. The doc offered me a chair, and sat almost knee to knee with me. We sat their in complete silence for about a minute. There was an unnerving sense of understanding and empathy on Murali’s face. I say unnerving because this was nothing like what I had come to expect from shrinks. The doc just knew. I broke the silence and began talking. For the first time in my life I opened up. I blathered on and on while Murali sat listening and occasionally nodding in agreement. I must’ve talked for thirty plus uninterrupted minutes. I told him that I had never done that before, and that I talked about things that I planned to take to my grave. Dr. Krishna then began to break down my entire abuse history. He pointed things out that I was either too afraid to address, or too stubborn to accept. He pulled my disease apart, and told me exactly what I needed to do. His only concern was that I just wasn’t done yet.
I walked away from his office, confused but oddly at peace. I knew what I needed to do, but I didn’t know how to ask for the help that was necessary to succeed. The doctor toppled the defenses I put up in one fell swoop. It would be six months after this fateful meeting before I was aware of the impact this man had on me and on my future. My sponsor asked me to write about an example of an honorable man who’s way of life is something to ultimately strive for. The first person to pop into my head was Dr. Krishna. I couldn’t explain why, and I even tried to quickly think of someone else. Every thought led right back to Murali. Then it hit me like a bag of hammers. Dr. Krishna is embodies damn near EVERYTHING I strive to be. Murali is truly an honorable man down to his very core. Compassionate, knowledgable, giving, progressive, and serene through and through. The only man that I respect more than the good doctor is my dear old man!
That realization came just about three years ago to the day. It’s very easy for me as a recovering alcoholic/addict to say that Murali has set into motion the wheels of change for the recovery community. The recognition of new medicines. Integration of Eastern medicine into Western practice. Creation of free clinics where both doctor and patient benefit. A passionate undertaking to inform as many as possible as to the true nature of mental illness. Not to mention, his countless presentations,podcasts, speaking engagements, seminars, and community outreach programs about spirituality, balance in life, and the power of the present moment. I stay aware his influence on myself, and countless others as I walk through early recovery. Keeping in mind to always do as best as I can, to maintain a sense of calm, to keep an open mind and be accepting of others, and to smile as much as possible.
I no longer see my relationship with Dr. Krishna as separated into friend or patient. I felt like a human when I finally let my guard down. I know I’m not the only one who feels the way I do. The amazing thing is no matter who you talk to about this man, their experiences are basically the same. I don’t admire him because of his eloquent speaking abilities, but that his words match his actions. We should all strive to be like Murali.
I am going to start this whole thing off with a kind of bang. Instead of going through the typical rigamarole of telling you my story and tediously explaining why I might be qualified to be writing a blog titled as such, I’m going to drop this piece in your lap and let it do the explaining for me. It’s a little foray about my recent stay in a local detoxification center. Believe me, we will get into the details in the following days, but this should do for now. It’s called Detox Manifesto:
As I sit, sweating, alone in the basement of our steamy Florida condo, I contemplate the risky hazards of my future actions. I knew there would be consequences surely to come. I stare blankly at the television for an extended period of time. I see Luke Skywalker mouthing words to Darth Vader. I inherently recognize Empire Strikes back, but I am not listening. All I hear is the cacophony. Erratic words, one after another, bouncing off the inside of my skull. “It’s been so long,” they say. “JUST F**KING DO IT!!!” Relentlessly screaming at myself, in my own head. Suddenly, I put the bottle to my lips, and without hesitation take a gargantuan swig to the count of five.
As I knew it would, the familiar warmth and bitterness cascaded down my throat, like tepid arsenic entering my bloodstream. I quiver and hold back the bile with my eyes closed. It is done. Three plus years after my last drink. I was using again. I take a breath and exhale. Complete numbness. “It has begun” I say to myself.
It would only be a relatively short couple of months off the proverbial “wagon,” but the pain returned with the same vengeance as I had left it in April of ’08. Nights spent alone, days living in fear that the nightmare would become the quick norm. Pushing away any and all I had worked for and those I loved. I lost everything I had accomplished in one swift motion of a hand. All was gone. Time to start over once more. The question now is “What in the hell can I do differently this time?” But, we will get to that later.
Yeah, sure, it’s a small blessing that I don’t have a criminal record this time. And I don’t have to go through a year’s worth of withdrawal symptoms. Does any of that make this experience any different? The answer glaring me in the face is a most resounding YES. Unfortunately, I have extensive experience with recovery and rehabilitation. I knew that once I started, I would not be able to do anything but focus on the continuation of abuse. These past six months have just been another level of hell in my life. I have literally done nothing productive this half year. Slowly wasting away, drowning in the ocean of dissolution sloshing around in my brain.
I ponder these sinister series of events while disgustedly donning a pair of hunter green scrubs. Detox. . . I can hardly believe I’m here yet again. Currently waiting for the time of day known as “Vitals.” Again, I’ve been here before albeit under completely separate circumstances. Now, in an oddly reflective moment of clarity, I can see without anger why my life has turned the page into this new chapter. I regret to say that I knew, deep down, that all of this would happen once more. Choking down ham sandwiches for a third of a month. The pills to keep my now violently shaking hands at rest. The familiar expressions on faces I’ve never before seen, but somehow know. I have been to this denizen of depravity before, and I deserve every second of it.
The old adage goes, “You will lose everything you put in front of your sobriety.” Just like every other cliché I’ve ever heard, I just had to challenge what I thought to be untrue in my infinite wisdom. Now, if you do not know the sinister nature of the disease of Alcoholism and Addiction, you might ask yourself, “Why would he do this to himself?” or “Why didn’t he just stop when it started to get bad?” The answer, my dear reader, is just not that cut and dried.
I write this while uncomfortably leaning over a legal pad on my plastic bed. This monochromatic room shared with two equally damaged souls is a grim reminder of how this disease rampages through the lives afflicted. The fluorescent lights above eerily flicker as if moths were trapped inside the tubes. For the first time in months I am forced to accept my bleak reality. I, for some unknown reason, cannot bring myself to fantasize about the world outside this institution. It’s as if God is coercing me to be present in this situation. It’s a strange predicament. Anytime prior, my imagination would already be taking off, doing anything it could to keep me out of “right now.” This time is different. This time I sit, I watch, and I listen.
The group at this particular facility are an odd mix of people who would never normally socialize. All walking zombies, infused with medication to keep the tremors from surfacing, strangers discussing topics usually reserved for the middle school boys’ locker room. Each hour that passes in here becomes more and more of a jumbled mess. I feel like I’m trapped in a room with a pack of doped up hyenas- maybe docile for the moment- but I remain wary that at any second the narcotics will wear off and my limbs will be torn from my body, then distributed to the fittest of the pack. As the late Hunter S. Thompson once said, “You can turn your back on a person, but never turn your back on a drug…” The fact remains that I knew exactly what I was signing up for the second I imbibed that first drink. I knew that once it started, I would never be able to stop on my own volition.
I now sit in this amoeba shaped semi-circle, surrounded by the seemingly continuous coughers, the constant yawners, and those yearning still for that heavy drink awaiting just outside these walls. Most have a profound look of disinterest, like the old men sitting outside Dillard’s waiting for their wives to finish shopping so they can go get a pretzel. There’s a man speaking to us much louder than he should be, like a preacher would if he were left alone with a group of sinners. Addressing our motley crew of foggy head abusers about humility in recovery. Right now, in this moment, I hate this. However, I know I deserve this.
After the meeting, I walk trepidatiously down the linoleum floors reminiscent of an elementary school circa 1972. There’s a caricature of a man who introduces himself as “Bones” walking with me. His voice reminds me of an Oklahoman Tom Waits who has hot gravel lodged in his throat. He is literally one of the most genuinely nice people
I have ever come across. A broom bristle mustache adorns his ever present toothless smile. Suddenly, he stops mid-stride, turns to me and says “Ya know, Bubba, life ain’t half bad when you leave the devil at the doorstep…” This has a profound impact on my consciousness. It was like being punched in the soul by Mike Tyson. He turned and walked away as if nothing had happened. There’s absolutely no way this frail junky could ever know the effect those words would have on me the rest of my stay. But, again, we will get to that later.
We return to our cavernous rooms once it’s time to distribute the cocktails painstakingly customized for each patient. Mine consists of a pill to keep from having seizures, one for my high anxiety, one to keep the incessant trembling at bay, and lastly one for the nausea. This happens four times a day. The scene reminds me of an image I once saw in National Geographic. It was a black and white photo of five gaunt and beaten down men standing in the soup line during the height of the Great Depression. Hardened nurses chime “next” repetitively and hand out dixie cup concoctions, one after another. They haven’t looked me in the eyes once. After years of addicts attempting to manipulate them into getting heavier drugs, I am not at all offended. I take my pills and head back to my spot, a secluded corner I have carved out for myself at the only table in the common room. It serves as my observation desk as I watch over this Gonzo Zoo.
When I sit there, uninterrupted, my mind runs rampant. The unchecked clamoring of thoughts flow like an opened fire plug on a Brooklyn street on 4th of July. It’s hard to explain my thought process, but I will do my absolute best. It’s much like standing between two parallel mirrors, both extending to a seemingly perpetual infinity. Either way you look it never ends. Well, imagine each one of those images is a new thought. The next always reflecting something from the former, but never quite the same. If I get lost in this purgatory of deliberation, it becomes very simple to be marooned on a haunted island, locked into the depths of my depressive thoughts.
The reason I mention this is only to convey that if these thoughts go untreated, these “musings” will tear through my consciousness like the planes through the Twin Towers, and with the same amount of spiritual destruction. There’s a section of the book that Alcoholics Anonymous follows that says; “The Grouch and the Brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison.” Now, when this book was written in the 1930‘s the term “brainstorm” meant something completely different than it does today. The definition then was “a severe outburst of excitement, often as the result of transitory disturbance of cerebral activity.” So, imagine this “hall of mirrors,” is completely filled with resentments, fears, anxieties, lost dreams, and memories of personal failure. Logic would obviously dictate that trapping myself in that limbo of pain would be terribly detrimental to my emotional well being. Allowing these brainstorms to invade my reasoning is exactly what led to my admission to this facility.
I am am writing this in October of the great year of our Lord, 2011. My demons caught up to me in July. I had stopped doing everything I knew I needed to do in order to maintain my sobriety. When life inescapably happened and I no longer used the tools those who remain clean had taught me, my world began to collapse around me. Being one to rarely ask for help, I stuffed these disappointing experiences into the recesses of my mind, waiting to deal with them another day. It became paralyzing. The bottle was the only choice I thought I had. Remember, I didn’t drink to feel better, I drank so I didn’t have to feel at all. All because I allowed myself to delve into the chaotic processes that my alcoholic mind finds familiar and comfortable. Today, in this moment, I refuse to go back to that place.
So, instead of dwelling within the incessant ramblings of my brain, I find temporary solace in the stories meandering in this building. I relate to every man and woman who are in the trenches with me, all of us fighting for our lives. Please allow me some of your time to tell you about a few of my brothers in arms:
- There’s the man who’s detox is so severe he can hardly walk, let alone walk without assistance.
- There’s the rockabilly who is more talkative than a 14 year old girl who just got her first cell phone, but has a heart of pure gold.
- There’s the feisty tattooed hairstylist who’s no-holds-barred attitude brings an ornery joy to her struggles.
- There’s the wannabe Latino gangster who had nobody to look up to other than those prone to violence and immorality.
- There’s the crotchety old man man who believes he was in the big war, but is only suffering from delusions brought on by “wet-brain.”
- There’s the woman who never drank her whole life, but after back surgery began an addiction to pain pills and was soon searching the sordid streets for her maintenance.
- There’s the twenty-something self proclaimed philosopher who loves it when people love what he has to say.
- There’s the sometimes wheelchair bound beauty who looks like she could’ve been a movie star in the 50’s. She truly wants to be here, which is refreshing. Most of the people just want to get their families off their backs.
- There’s the man facing pending federal charges. He wakes up every morning to get more toilet paper to keep others from seeing the tears rolling down his cheeks. He wants nothing more than to see his son once again before he goes away for a long time.
- Finally, there’s my roommate. The man that I became the closest to in this wild experience. After years of trauma, including the brutal murder of his little brother, he has developed severe social anxiety. He’s my perfect foil in this non compos mentis story.
We, essentially, are all the exact same person. It doesn’t matter that our withdrawals are different, because our pain is the same.We may all look different, we all have come from varying backgrounds, and we represent all walks of life. The fact remains, we are the same.
This epiphany of unity leads me to another profound experience. I slowly come to see that I want nothing more than for my pain to stop. Do you really think that every day I was using I thought to myself “today I’m going to work real hard at destroying my family and all of my relationships…” The answer is a most definite NO. None of us burdened ever wanted to hurt anybody. So, what’s the solution? Well, I’m here and I want/need to be. The next step is much more complex; the easy part is stopping. The hard part is staying stopped. But I digress.
I’m pacing the cracked and settled tile floors pondering my next move. The staff is currently setting up the room for the one inevitable thing that gives me the most anxiety and is about to come to fruition. Alumni Meeting Night. This is the time in our stay where the room is literally split in half. We inebriated shells of our former selves, and those who’ve graduated from this humble program. They stare us down, undoubtedly remembering when they were sitting on our side. I feel judged even though I know I’m not. They chant cute things like “F**k That” when reading the rule about no cursing. I slowly realize that I only hate this because I used to be the guy on the other side. I feel like the patient in the hospital bed working hard to overcome his deadly ailment, when suddenly a doctor bursts through the door, throws back the curtain, and begins to coldly explain the disease to the 10 interns who eagerly flank him. The healthy studying the sick.
A year or so of repressed emotions can destroy a man’s soul, if allowed, weakening the psyche, pushing the acid of guilt and lost dreams to the forefront of one’s awareness. Taking time to analyze the meaning of this pain is a futile endeavor. I’ve found it doesn’t matter what happened to me or the things I’ve done to others in the past. It was all for a reason. A reason that will endlessly remain just out of my mental comprehension. I sit in these awfully uncomfortable, repurposed banquet chairs trying, in vein, to make sense of all this.
The easy thing for me to do is be angry. I do this because the disease I have tells my mind that it does not want to change. It wants to remain docile and numb. Reflection on the things that actually incense me, in reality, are some of the most ludicrous reasons ever to remain so damn resentful. What I know is that my disease wants me dead. I was afraid of this Alumni meeting because I knew I would see a few familiar faces. Of course, when the time came, there they were. Staring me down in my shameful state. This is my fear and anxiety revealing themselves in an awful concerto of emotional and spiritual turmoil.
Now, deep down, I see that I will be able to look back on this moment in the months and years to come and say to myself, “do you remember how damn powerful that night was?” But right now, I couldn’t care less. My higher power has a great sense of humor. There is no accident in the series of events that transpired leading up to this dreaded meeting. I sit in my little chair, shaking like I just ate a handful of broken glass. I force myself to swallow this God sized lump in my throat, also known as my pride. Suddenly, and without warning, I snap out of this “woe is me” pity party going on in my head, I come out of my haze just in time to hear a gentleman say “Life can always start over. The best part is figuring out how you want that life to turn out..”
I cannot describe the sheer terror I felt when the meeting dwindled to a close and the one thing I dreaded the most inched closer. The second when they give you what’s known as the “desire chip,” a coin coated with a cheap metal that is supposed to represent an outward symbol of an inward desire to live the sober life. When I shuffled up, eyes on the floor, to accept my chip, I was completely defeated. I felt as though I had failed. A man wiser than myself once said “the defeated do not get a chance to negotiate the terms of surrender.” For the first time, I know I am done. Forcibly humbled, a calm washes over me.I know exactly what I need. This program, these rooms, these people. These are the only things that have ever worked for me. I want this. Yeah, I might’ve gone down fighting like King Kong swatting at his attackers from atop his ominous perch. But, now I know instead of falling to my death in the streets, I’ll be falling into the open arms of the fellowship of recovery. That night I would sleep more soundly than I had in close to a year.
As I awoke the next morning in my windowless room, I slowly remembered where I was, and was aware of a strange sensation coursing through my body. A symphony of thought was floating through my skull, not the incessant blathering I’ve heard the past six months- much like what you would hear on the floor of the Stock Exchange just before the closing bell, but my voice is the only one present. They call this the chatter of a thousand monkeys. Somehow, I’ve cut through my subconscious accidentally to reveal truths I was unaware of before. Today, I feel in touch with those old feelings again. I felt a need to reaffix the ideals and spirituality that had lost touch with these past twelve months.
I don’t tell people this very often, mainly because it makes me sound egoic and a bit crazy, but ever since I was a little kid I’ve felt as though I was put here to do something very important. Like everything that has ever happened to me happened in the exact way as it was intended. It took place for a direct and destined purpose. So, that being said, why would I subject myself to so much self destruction? Well, that, my dear reader, is the million dollar question. I’ve come to the conclusion that nothing, absolutely nothing, happens by mistake. I’m sure you fall either under this school of thought or you subscribe to the never ending chaos and randomness of our existence. I can respect what you believe, but as I look back on the events that have
transpired preceding this exact moment, I feel there is no other explanation. Today, when I woke up, I knew in my heart of hearts that I just can’t do this again. I can’t promise that everything will be rainbows and kittens from here on out, but I want this so bad I can taste it in my spit.
Right now we’re in a group in which they explain the ins and outs of our disease. Now, I’m not saying I know everything there is to know about alcoholism, but I have been playing this dangerous game for over ten years now. Just because I have relapsed recently does not mean I just forgot the years of acquired knowledge. What I did was choose to forget everything that my sobriety gave me. Newly in the rooms (yet again) it’s easy for my ego to tell me I already know everything there is to know. What I’ve come to find out is that I don’t know a damn thing anymore. The experiences I’ve met with over the years, whether good or bad, have ALL taught me something. My problem is I think I know it all. My solution is that I need to forget all I think I know. Enter into this newfound chance as a complete layman. You can never be too stupid to gain access to the glories of sobriety, but you sure as hell can be too smart.
This will definitely be another long road filled with potholes and speed traps. If I stay open and willing enough, then maybe I’ll be aware enough to look out the window every now and again, pausing to contemplate the ever-changing landscape of this new journey I’m on. I should just be able to see the true beauty that is beyond my slowly clearing vision…
This disease washes over the people of this world like a tidal wave. An unstoppable force trudging through the hearts and minds of families everywhere. This malady affects every person in this country. The sad thing is very few want to admit that they or their loved ones suffer endlessly. Mitch Hedburg, a comedian who died of this malady himself, once said “alcoholism is the only disease that you can get yelled at for having.” Nobody who was born this way wanted to be the person we turned into once the substances entered our bodies. Our brains are just wired a bit differently. It is everywhere, and the time has come to stop ignoring this. Can you imagine the impact if every single afflicted soul were to find the solution? There would be an enlightened army of do-gooders, all looking to help one another in any way possible. We have the capability to be that immovable levee to that unstoppable tidal wave. We are legion. Maybe this is what I’m here to do. Maybe this piece will inspire someone to accept help just as I, and the others in this place, did. Maybe something can finally be done to change the perception from a terrible disease to a blessing in disguise.
More to come soon. . .