The Other One

each instrument
a coil of muscle
stretching the length of
the python of song

bass notes wrap and spiral
as guitar circle prey
the piano a calliope
confusion takes form

drummers raise pressure
burning one fuse
energy builds thick
tensions reach critical

but for you there
the darkness is now
in your tiny space
as your spirit takes flight

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This is a repost. But since it’s 2019 and we’re dealing with a fucking measles outbreak in the United States, I think it needs to be said again!

————

There have always been those who feel that it’s best to allow our natural immune system to grow stronger by exposure to diseases and the like.

I agree. Kind of…

In fact that’s exactly how we ended up developing the concept of vaccinations. It was really based on the idea that limited exposure to the most virulent and deadly of human diseases could help the body build resistance to something so that when it was exposed to a full blown attack, it would now have sufficient defenses built up.

So far, so good. Right?

In fact it worked so well that within a number of decades many of the most dangerous and deadly diseases became controllable and some were even wiped out of natural existence. Ethics aside about the rights of the life forms themselves, it was a clearly a huge win for the science of vaccinations.

Then in the late 1990’s a fraud of a researcher named Andrew Wakefield released the results of a study that showed a direct link between vaccinations and autism. Since then his work has been completely discredited, but the false link between vaccinations and autism that he completely fabricated lives on in a lively group of followers, affectionately named “Anti-Vaxxers”.

Anti-Vaxxers believe in going back to the roots of our natural strength against disease, our amazing immune system. And in some cases, smaller and less lethal cases, they have a strong point. There is ample evidence that the more substances we are exposed to in our daily lives, the less allergies we develop. The more we live indoors breathing canned air, the less we tolerate those little bits of nature that irritate and bother us.

So what’s my point to all of this?

Chicken pox, mumps, etc. These are all things we dealt with in my childhood. There’s no doubt they made some people very sick, and were even deadly in some cases. But on the scale of virulent human diseases they were on the lower end of the scale, nothing like polio or even small pox.

I’m writing all of this because today I was visited by the memory of a man I knew when I was a kid. His name was Richard (Dick) Chaput. Dick was an author of the motivational/religious variety. He touched a lot of people’s lives, and was a bright light in a dark tunnel for many people who were suffering. He died many years ago, but even today there is a small blessing he wrote that stands outside of the little chapel at Storyland Amusement Park in Glenn, NH.

Why was he able to help so many who suffered? Well you see Dick was a victim of polio, a disease that we no longer see, quite simply because of vaccinations. He was confined to something called an Iron Lung, and spent his life without the use of his body, locked in this ancient machine that gave him the breath of life.

My friends and I used to love to go visit him and take him on a walk around the facilities he lived in. Since he could only be outside the Iron Lung for short periods, the nurses would load him on to a gurney and away we would go for a quick trip in the sunshine. He spoke constantly about God on these walks, and about God’s love. Dick saw God’s beauty in everything around him. I don’t care what your religious leanings, you can’t spend time around a person like that and not be inspired, even just a little.

And then there were the bells. He had a huge collection of bells all over his room, on shelves, in cabinets, just everywhere. He loved the sounds they made. I’m sure at some point he told me what they signified, and I could make a guess what it was, and I might even be right. But in the end he found joy in them. Simple joy in simple bells. To this day we have a strip of reindeer bells that hang on our door during the Christmas season that was originally meant as a gift for Dick, now it is a regular reminder of him for me.

But here’s the real point: Below is a picture of a man in an Iron Lung (it’s not Dick, I wish I had one of him). This is how I saw Dick every time I stopped by to visit. This is what polio did to him. Polio is now a preventable disease because of vaccinations. But it may not remain so. Just because something says “natural” or “organic” on it doesn’t mean that it’s superior. While there are a great many benefits to natural and organic things, science is not a fad. Vaccinations have done wonders for humans.

People used to have to live like Dick, locked in an iron prison in order to live. As time has passed less and less people remember these images, and the lack of memory somehow makes the history less real. But the diseases are real, and they can come back, and if they do they will kill.

There’s a limited amount of people like Dick out there, those who inspire. There are far more who prefer to profit from fear, who insinuate connections and conspiracies, and prey on our doubts. People like Wakefield.

So here is what I’d like: Just take a minute to look at the picture below. Does a vaccination with no proven link to autism really scare you more than living in a metal tube like this? Do you remember the real history of mortality in America only a generation or two ago?

It would be nice if Dick could somehow inspire people just once more. Even if it’s just to bring their kids in to get their shots so they won’t get themselves, and especially others, sick.

Medical Cannabis and Recovery – Part 2: What does it mean to you?

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This post is the second part of a previous essay: Medical Cannabis and Recovery – Part 1: High Time For Change

Why I care at all about the topic of medical cannabis as it relates to substance abuse and recovery?

First off, I am not a fan of attending funerals and wakes of people who were once lived clean and sober, only to died suddenly of an overdose. I also don’t get any joy from watching someone overdose and turn blue, even if they pull through and live. For me, it seems to be the one way I can live with my own brother’s overdose and death, by trying to help others not follow the same path. I may not be the country’s leading expert, but I can certainly hold my own when in discussions with medical and substance abuse professionals on the subject.

Of the people I know in recovery who utilize medical cannabis, few of them are willing to talk openly about their use of this one particular medicine because of the ‘shame’ factor. But where does the shame come from, since shame itself usually comes from the knowledge that you are doing something you know you shouldn’t be doing. Where would the idea that people in recovery shouldn’t use certain medicines, while others are “recovery approved”?

Twenty years ago, the idea that someone was claiming to be clean and sober while also using a daily psychiatric medicine, would draw the ire of some very dedicated, very crusty old timers grumbling their opinion from the back of more than a few 12 Step meetings. They categorized most psychological medicines as “just chewing your alcohol”. They themselves would proclaim that they had been sober for X number of years, which they defined as ‘not using anything that affected them from the neck up’ (a popular label that is officially backed by exactly no one). Presumably, this hyperbole didn’t probably didn’t include other items in their drug free lifestyle, such as coffee and cigarettes. Those never seemed to make the list of unapproved medicines in AA to these self-appointed pillars of recovery.

And this goes precisely to the main points for this entire series:
• What is our personal perception of what is constitutes ‘a drug versus a medicine’?
• How do you defines ‘acceptable recovery’ for yourself?
• How do you define ‘quality of life‘ for yourself?
• Whether or not the individual themselves know what they can safely use of the first question, in order to obtain the rest.

Despite what some random AA member insists in the truth, these are questions that each person must ultimately work out for themselves. However, barring someone’s own willingness to get introspective on these points there is always a church basement full of people willing to tell you what they themselves did, and why you should do what they say. I mean honestly, has that kind of thinking ever worked on an alcoholic? Telling them what to do and how to live their lives? By the time most people have developed a substance abuse disorder, they have limited or lost their ability to accept suggestions willingly. And a large portion will never accept any outside input whatsoever, even long into their recovery.

One thing is for absolutely for certain, there are few humans who can actually persuade an active alcoholic to do something they don’t want to do. The same goes for a drug addict. Alcohol and/or drugs are often the only thing that the addict will listen to when it comes to curbing their use, up to a certain point. And, if the person is truly an addict or alcoholic, they usually no longer have the ability to even influence that choice themselves.

And yet, few can argue that at some point something deep inside of the alcoholic/addict kicks in and takes over, allowing them to suddenly rally and seek help when they normally wouldn’t. Call it what you like, their spirit, a sudden moment of clarity, a gift of desperation, a last gasp… whatever you like. Luckily, for some addicts there seems to be a hidden safety switch that gets triggered, suddenly saving them from themselves. And where once sat a sick and stubborn alcoholic hell bent on destroying themselves, there now stands a person willing to do things to save themselves that they would never have even considered before. Of course, that doesn’t always happen. Some people never rally, some try repeatedly and fail, and others simply choose this way to die.

But for those who choose to seek help, make the necessary lifestyle changes and do actually recover from alcoholism with the help of a 12 -Step program, they now face something even far more challenging: life. Or, as the saying goes in AA culture, “life on life’s terms”.

To Be Continued…

Medical Cannabis and Recovery – Part 1: High Time For Change

*The following is repost (technical difficulties) of the first part of a multi-part series on the rise of cannabis as a medicine, how it affects alcoholics and addicts in recovery, and how to go about changing the information we have in our minds.

On June 10, 1935 the modern recovery movement was born when Alcoholics Anonymous came into being. And with it came an entirely new way for society to view alcoholism. While this isn’t the only method for people to recover, it’s going to be my primary starting point for now.

AA presented alcoholism as a disease, and one with no known cure. They also offered an ongoing “treatment” for alcoholism that would help the sufferer keep their illness in remission. It soon became very well respected, primarily for the recoveries that it had helped foster. Rather than branching out into other problem areas in society, it instead offered up its 12-step formula to other organizations, to adapt as they saw fit to help other populations with different needs. AA also offered its help to the world of science and health, helping to catapult much of the medical research on alcoholism and addiction that we now benefit from. They firmly put themselves in a position to only help, and never to engage in opinions one way or another. AA also tried very hard to foresee the future in order to avoid falling prey to medical fads, or fickle politics. In doing so, it necessarily took a step back, offering no opinions or endorsements. It’s that kind of foresight that has allowed the program to help as many people as it has over the years. It also gave the mistaken impression to many that the organization itself was mired in the past, advocating faith-healing over science, and allowing people to blame their problems on a disease instead of taking responsibility.

On August 2, 1937 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Marijuana Tax Act, setting in motion an eighty-year assault on plant that had previously been cultivated for a variety of uses by Americans up until that point. The bill itself was drafted by Harry Anslinger, who served (not at all coincidentally) as the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. There is more than enough evidence indicating that cannabis was already under assault on different fronts prior to this point, but history has also shown that Anslinger played a pivotal role in cannabis prohibition. And, like many of the other substances that were being regulated, and prohibited during this particularly active period of American puritanism, cannabis went from being a plant of many uses, to a fast and efficient way to ruins your life just from the penalties alone.

So, for 80 years those two worlds existed on parallel planes, rarely interacting. As the 12-step world grew and expanded to include organizations like Narcotics Anonymous, and Marijuana Anonymous, the idea of members using any sort of medicine that alters consciousness became taboo in church basements around the world.

It’s here where I need to step and explain something. I have and will use the terms organization, program, members, and culture to describe things like AA, and that isn’t accidental. It also needs to be pointed out that they aren’t synonymous with each other, something that becomes important as this narrative continues.

The organization of Alcoholics Anonymous is just that, the parent organization that exists to serve the groups, and individual members with information to aid in their recovery. This is the same type of organization that I mentioned had “firmly put themselves in a position to only help, and never to engage in opinions one way or another”. Unlike most organizations, they never set rules or requirements for their members to follow, at most they will offer suggestions. Not everyone at the organization is a member, let alone an alcoholic or addict. If asked about their position on different forms of cannabis being legally prescribed as medicine, or about recreational legalization, they would very likely say that they have no opinion on those kinds of issues.

The program of Alcoholics Anonymous are those 12-step things you hear mentioned in TV and movies all of the time. If you actually use these twelve things to help you in life, you are following the program. You don’t need to be a member, or even an alcoholic or drug addict to use them. They were designed to be “open source” long before that was a term of use.

The members of Alcoholics Anonymous are just that, the people in the seats. Someone becomes a member when they say they are, that’s all there is to it. Of course, because the membership is made up of people who get to decide if they are members, or even if they are alcoholics at all, it is as flawed as and varied as people are in general. And while that means no one person is in charge, it also means that anyone who thinks they are, will try to be. I invite you to someday attend an AA meeting someday, and then randomly suggest they move their coffee pot across the room. Watch to see how many people think they are in charge. This will become is a crucial point in this narrative, because they are people with lots of opinions, who talk to each other all the time.

Finally, there is the culture of Alcoholics Anonymous. This is where most misunderstandings and conflicts arise within the world of recovery. And it’s here where opinions become dogma, regardless of evidence.

To be continued…

 

High Time For Change: Medical Cannabis and Recovery – Part 1

*The following is multi-part series on the rise of cannabis as a medicine, how it affects alcoholics and addicts in recovery, and how to go about changing the information we have in our minds.

On June 10, 1935 the modern recovery movement was born when Alcoholics Anonymous came into being. And with it came an entirely new way for society to view alcoholism. While this isn’t the only method for people to recover, it’s going to be my primary starting point for now.

AA presented alcoholism as a disease, and one with no known cure. They also offered an ongoing “treatment” for alcoholism that would help the sufferer keep their illness in remission. It soon became very well respected, primarily for the recoveries that it had helped foster. Rather than branching out into other problem areas in society, it instead offered up its 12-step formula to other organizations, to adapt as they saw fit to help other populations with different needs. AA also offered its help to the world of science and health, helping to catapult much of the medical research on alcoholism and addiction that we now benefit from. They firmly put themselves in a position to only help, and never to engage in opinions one way or another. AA also tried very hard to foresee the future in order to avoid falling prey to medical fads, or fickle politics. In doing so, it necessarily took a step back, offering no opinions or endorsements. It’s that kind of foresight that has allowed the program to help as many people as it has over the years. It also gave the mistaken impression to many that the organization itself was mired in the past, advocating faith-healing over science, and allowing people to blame their problems on a disease instead of taking responsibility.

On August 2, 1937 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Marijuana Tax Act, setting in motion an eighty-year assault on plant that had previously been cultivated for a variety of uses by Americans up until that point. The bill itself was drafted by Harry Anslinger, who served (not at all coincidentally) as the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. There is more than enough evidence indicating that cannabis was already under assault on different fronts prior to this point, but history has also shown that Anslinger played a pivotal role in cannabis prohibition. And, like many of the other substances that were being regulated, and prohibited during this particularly active period of American puritanism, cannabis went from being a plant of many uses, to a fast and efficient way to ruins your life just from the penalties alone.

So, for 80 years those two worlds existed on parallel planes, rarely interacting. As the 12-step world grew and expanded to include organizations like Narcotics Anonymous, and Marijuana Anonymous, the idea of members using any sort of medicine that alters consciousness became taboo in church basements around the world.

It’s here where I need to step and explain something. I have and will use the terms organization, program, members, and culture to describe things like AA, and that isn’t accidental. It also needs to be pointed out that they aren’t synonymous with each other, something that becomes important as this narrative continues.

The organization of Alcoholics Anonymous is just that, the parent organization that exists to serve the groups, and individual members with information to aid in their recovery. This is the same type of organization that I mentioned had “firmly put themselves in a position to only help, and never to engage in opinions one way or another”. Unlike most organizations, they never set rules or requirements for their members to follow, at most they will offer suggestions. Not everyone at the organization is a member, let alone an alcoholic or addict. If asked about their position on different forms of cannabis being legally prescribed as medicine, or about recreational legalization, they would very likely say that they have no opinion on those kinds of issues.

The program of Alcoholics Anonymous are those 12-step things you hear mentioned in TV and movies all of the time. If you actually use these twelve things to help you in life, you are following the program. You don’t need to be a member, or even an alcoholic or drug addict to use them. They were designed to be “open source” long before that was a term of use.

The members of Alcoholics Anonymous are just that, the people in the seats. Someone becomes a member when they say they are, that’s all there is to it. Of course, because the membership is made up of people who get to decide if they are members, or even if they are alcoholics at all, it is as flawed as and varied as people are in general. And while that means no one person is in charge, it also means that anyone who thinks they are, will try to be. I invite you to someday attend an AA meeting someday, and then randomly suggest they move their coffee pot across the room. Watch to see how many people think they are in charge. This will become is a crucial point in this narrative, because they are people with lots of opinions, who talk to each other all the time.

Finally, there is the culture of Alcoholics Anonymous. This is where most misunderstandings and conflicts arise within the world of recovery. And it’s here where opinions become dogma, regardless of evidence.

To be continued…

 

Happy New Year

For about a decade I taught one of those classes you have to take when lose your operator’s license for driving while impaired.

It’s been a few years since I left that job, but much of it has still stayed with me. Like the fact that, come February, work would always pick up. It was the only job I had where I actually got sad if we had plenty of work.

I had a unique way with people, and so they used to book all of the crazies, and easily half off the assholes (even though I taught only an eighth of the classes). For some reason people trusted that I was trying to help them get their lives back on track, and had no ulterior motives. I think most times I was actually able to do that.

The reason I mention all of this is that it contributed to how much I heard and saw while teaching in that classroom. Mostly what I saw was and constant line of people who just wanted their freedom back. But, it’s the stories that stick with me these days. And I still remember many of them too vividly. Some were funny as hell. Many were boring. Too many some were soul-crushing. But one thing that every story had in common was the fact that none of them had planned on it happening. Witnessing that kind of regret never really leaves you. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to try to live with it.

Tonight is a night celebrated around the world. The cyclical nature of the new year reminds us of the passage of time. Both in looking forward to the future, and for hindsight and memory. Plan for the first, so that the latter is something you actually want to revisit.

Please have a safe and healthy new year everyone.

Peace.

I Separate Myself

I was just texting with a friend who had just come back from a house party, and part of his comments were that he didn’t feel like he fit in with that particular group of people. My initial response was, “I feel like that at every party.” Which isn’t entirely true, but it sometimes feels like it. In fact, for about 95% of my life, I’ve felt like I’ve only had about 5% in common with any person in the room.

For myself, I feel as though that happens to me when I am acutely aware of my-self. You know, that part that tells me that J am actually separate from others. There’s something about those feelings of isolation, or separation that seem to fuel the egos growth, solidifying the belief that we are unique and different from others.

Of course, none of that is actually true. The more I lose myself in any situation, whether some music or even just a really good conversation, the less I am thinking about myself. I don’t think about whether I’m hungry or not, or if I’m bored, or even if I am being self-conscious about the clothes I’m wearing. Instead, I am engrossed in the moment, in the now. I am present.

Self-talk, that chattering monkey in your head, necessarily requires you to pause your attention to the current moment, and asks of you to step slightly outside of it to gain perspective. While this view is only a subtle difference, it’s more than enough to stop you from being fully present.

When we aren’t present in our own life, we miss the magic of the moment. And by missing that we begin to separate from others, just a little bit. We begin to see the differences between ourselves and others. And when we do that, we begin to make judgements, even the most well-meaning of which encourage us to compare and separate again. And each time it needs just a little bit more, inch by inch, stretching on for miles.

And we find that, no matter the teacher, the message is the same. “Judge not, lest ye be judged”, is nothing more than a statement of cause and effect, one that we can expect to happen if we allow ourselves to step back in order to observe the differences between ourselves and others. That in itself is neither a good nor a bad thing. What it is though, is simply the statement of a natural law that we can count on as surely as gravity pulls us back to earth.

It is a mile built on inches.

Because, once we do, we have begun to lead ourselves into the hell of no longer truly being on the same plane as others around us. Each judgement one more small wedge that we use, to split ourselves off of the larger tree of society.

When I am sitting in a party and begin to think, “I’m not sure I agree with that lady’s politics”, or whatever other differentiation I might toss to my mind for fodder and fun, is the moment that I set that this separation in motion.

And only we can do it to ourselves. I am the only person actually capable of deciding whether or not to put chasms of thought between myself and the person sitting right next to me.

I was listening and laughing to David Sedaris’s Santaland Diaries near the end of this writing, and during a discussion about forced enthusiasm and fake authenticity, David uttered such a profound line that I stopped dead. It summed up everything I was saying about the cause and effect nature of self-judgement that dooms then dooms us as individuals. And it’s that line I will end with:

“All I do is lie, and that has made me immune to compliments.”