A Flash of Insight, or Magical Thinking?

cloud-ground-lightning National GeographicHave you ever had a dream so devastating that you woke with a headache and unshakable sense of doom? Yet so powerful it provoked flashes of insight about life and reality?

The Dream

I woke from such a dream recently. It was my daughter’s wedding day and everything that could go wrong went wrong. We arrived at the church only to discover no one had come to decorate it. The food we’d ordered was half-prepared. My daughter showed up in her beautiful gown, but we’d forgotten to get her hair done or her make-up. It was so horrible, we cancelled the wedding and sent everyone home. The wedding party climbed into a car and was driving away when my daughter said, “Stop! I can’t wait, I just want this over!”

So we stopped at a tiny diner, and that’s where the wedding took place. I tried to talk her into going to someplace nicer, where it wasn’t so shabby and depressing. But she insisted. I had wanted to take photos of the wedding to hang on our walls, but how could I take photos of this? It was too awful.

The beautiful wedding day we both had dreamed about was ruined, and there was nothing I could do to change it. Our worst nightmare had come true and it was all my fault. I shouldn’t have left the wedding planning up to her. I should have taken charge. I should have had a check-off list and made sure everything had turned out as planned. But it was too late. I screwed up. I let this happen. And now there was nothing I could do to change it.

Then I woke up. My head was pounding and I was gripped by sense of failure and doom.

It was crazy! Why was I having this dream? My daughter had already had the most beautiful wedding imaginable just last year. And she had planned it all! I hadn’t had to lift a finger. Why would I be worried about her wedding?

Then I had a sudden flash of insight. A whole series of them. One after the other.

Flash of Insight #1

This wasn’t a dream about my daughter’s wedding! It was a dream about my son’s life. About the terrible drug addiction that had ruined the beautiful life we both had dreamed for him. And I blamed myself. I shouldn’t have left something as important as his life up to him! I should have taken charge. I should have planned better. But now everything was ruined and there was nothing I could do about it.

Flash of Insight #2

My daughter’s ruined wedding had only been a dream! There had never been a reason to be so upset and despondent. I could have changed the dream at any point. I could have decorated the church, fixed her hair. I could have insisted to go to a beautiful restaurant. At any point in the dream I could have taken charge and created the perfect wedding. If only I had known I was just dreaming. If only I had realized I had the power to do so.

Flash of Insight #3

Maybe I’m still dreaming! I remember how real the ruined wedding had seemed in my dream. Like it was really happening. Like this was reality. So much so that even when I woke, I couldn’t shake the sense of sadness and failure. Maybe I will wake up and find out that my son’s ruined life, his addiction, was just a dream too. Maybe in “reality,” he’s living the perfect life I’d always wanted for him, just as my daughter had had her perfect wedding.

Maybe I’d wake to find him in his perfect house with his loving wife, surrounded by his beautiful children, happy and healthy. He’d flash me a big grin and put his arms around me and say, “Silly mama. Why so sad? You were just dreaming!”

Flash of Insight #4

Maybe in this current “dream of reality” we can change things. Maybe we have the power to practice a type of lucid-dreaming. The power to wake up enough to know this isn’t real, and to change the dream into something better. It’s possible, right? Isn’t change possible?

Flash of Insight #5

Maybe this is what they call “magical thinking.” What we do when every other avenue of escape from a reality we cannot tolerate is closed to us.

Maybe. But I’m not convinced.

Spirituality and Science

I keep thinking of some talks by Alan Watts about Christian mysticism and Asian philosophy that I listened to not long ago. He talks about the inter-connectivity of the universe and how it has evolved into human consciousness. How the very cells of our bodies and brains are made of star stuff. How we are in some strange way the universe made conscious. “We are the eternal universe,” he tells us. Each of us, individually, is a pinprick perception of the whole, and altogether we are the whole itself.

The Christian mystics and Zen masters and Hindu gurus all seem to tell us this is so. We are sparks of Divinity.

But the stories of science, of quantum physics, and cosmology also include fantastic tales about the nature of reality that seem “magical,” even “mystical.” And the reality science depicts sounds strangely similar to these spiritual teachings.

Think of it! How strange is this: The story of the Big Bang, how creation exploded spontaneously out of empty space, a void. How an infinite number of galaxies are spinning through space, some being swallowed by gigantic black holes. How our own bodies which seen so solid to us are actually composed mostly of empty space. How an infinite number electrons and neutrons spinning are spinning through our cells like tiny galaxies. What could be more fantastical or magical than reality science teaches us! The reality we accept on “faith” because we believe what science has revealed.

Watts tells us that we each are sparks of the divine Creator, living an infinite number of lives over and over. Sometimes we choose easy paths, sometimes difficult ones. Sometimes we just want to see how much we can take, how far we can push ourselves, how bad it can get before we turn ourselves around.

Did my son choose his path? Did I choose mine? Are our night dreams and waking dreams just various stages in the ever-expanding understanding of who we really are? Will we wake to another understanding of reality and realize this life is just a dream within a dream within a dream . . . and each life is just as “real” or as “magical” as the next one?

We once believed the earth was flat and the distant ocean spilled off into nothingness. Later that the sun circled the earth, and we felt smug and special at the center of the universe. Then we woke up.

What more will we come to understand about reality–the universe and ourselves–as the eons unfold?

Wake up, I tell myself, wake up.

I still don’t know if this is “magical thinking,” the desperate hopes of a mother afraid to let go, to face the fact that there may actually be nothing I can do to help my son, to change his life.

Or a faint faraway flash of insight about reality that is yet too radical to be believed by most.

What do you think?

Kicking People out of Drug Addiction Programs – A Travesty!

Kicking%20ImageMy son was recently kicked out of a drug treatment program.  I can’t tell you how long and hard we had to work to even get him into the program.  But only two months after entering, they kicked him out, apparently for a relapse.

He begged them not to kick him out. “Give me any other kind of punishment to make me pay for my relapse, but please don’t kick me out!”

But out he went. He had no place to go, and the shame and fear and depression of having been kicked out overwhelmed him and he went downhill, losing his job. Soon he was living on the streets again.

They said he could come back in a week–if he tested clean!  How crazy is that!

By then he’d had two overdoses. Finally he was arrested–thank God!  He’s “safe” for a little while longer.

But I am so angry at those who claim to provide drug addiction “treatment.”  How could they do this to him? They kick him out for having the very condition he went there to get help for?

I don’t understand this system of “treatment.” They were supposed to treat his addiction, not kick him out for being being an addict! If he hadn’t wanted to be there, I could understand that. Maybe. But when he was still desperate to recover, when he still wanted “treatment,” how could they do that?

Am I crazy to think this was wrong???

I don’t think so.

Here’s a great article at WilliamWhitePapers.com on this very point, “Stop Kicking People Out of Addiction Programs.”

18% (288,000) of all persons admitted to specialized addiction treatment in the U.S. were administratively discharged (“kicked out”) prior to treatment completion.  Those persons whose treatment was terminated in this manner were often those with the most severe and complex addictions and the least natural recovery support resources–in short, those most in need of professional treatment.

The most frequent cause for administrative discharge (AD) over the past half century has been continued use of alcohol or other drugs during treatment in spite of threatened consequences, e.g., the central symptom of the disorder.  In our 2005 article, we argued that AD practices were flawed on both theoretical and practical grounds.

They go on to say:

AD practices in addiction treatment are unprecedented in the health care system.  For other chronic health care problems, symptom manifestation during treatment confirms or disconfirms the working diagnosis and provides feedback on the degree of effectiveness of the treatment methods being used.  In marked contrast, symptom manifestation in the addictions field results in blaming and expelling the patient.  It is contradictory to argue that addiction is a primary health care problem while we continue to treat its symptoms as bad behavior warranting punishment.

Expelling a client from addiction treatment for AOD use–a process that often involves thrusting the client back into drug-saturated social environments without provision for alternate care–makes as little sense as suspending adolescents from high school as a punishment for truancy.

The strategy should not be to destroy the last connecting tissue between the individual and pro-recovery social networks, but to further disengage the person from the culture of addiction and to work through the physiological, emotional, behavioral and characterological obstacles to recovery initiation, engagement, and maintenance.

You can read the rest of this excellent article HERE

This was not the first time my son was kicked out of a rehab or sober living home for relapse, and sometimes just for minor infractions, missing meetings, etc.  I understand the need for consequences for “bad behavior,” and the need to protect others in the program. But there’s got to be a better way to work through these set-backs than throwing them out on the street.

No wonder jails and prisons have become revolving doors for addicts.

I realize now that my sense of hopelessness for my son rests mostly on the fact that there is no real help out there for him, for the chronic addict. There is no structured, systematic support and treatment program for addicts, period.

And most of what is available–the sketchy, seriously flawed programs–are either too expensive, or have long, waiting lists for beds, or require patients to subscribe to a particular religion.

I feel like we live in the dark ages when it comes to treating drug addition. Everyone recognizes that addiction is a major health epidemic, and a national tragedy. But nothing is being done to help those who need it most–the chronic addict.

What’s wrong with us?

Suffering is Relative, But Love is Absolute

Rodin_-_The_Prodigal_Son_-_LACMA

Rodin – The Prodigal Son

Two blog posts I read recently remind me how all suffering is relative, but love is absolute.

The first blog post was by writer Christian Mihai. He starts with this quote:

“You cannot save people. You can only love them.” ― Anaïs Nin

Then he goes on to say:

“[N]ot every battle can be fought with someone holding our hand. Some battles, we are meant to fight alone, to try to conquer our fears and insecurities. . . . . You can only love people, and that is more than enough, more than anyone should ever ask for.”

The other post I reblogged here yesterday, which includes this quote by Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. He writes about a revelation that comes to him during a death camp march, with fellow victims dropping by the roadside. He is remembering his beloved wife as he marches, and this is what saves him:

“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth — that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way — an honorable way — in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, ‘The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.’”

The take-aways for me from these post while I try to help my son in his battle with heroin addiction is this: I may not be able to save him. This may be a battle he has to fight alone. But the love I bear him can help bear me up when I feel like falling by the wayside. And perhaps knowing I love him helps bear him up when he’s falling under the weight of addiction.

If Frankl could bear his suffering during his internment at the Nazi death camp with only love to bear him up, surely I can survive my far lessor suffering. And so can my son.

My new truth: While suffering is relative, love is absolute.

Thank God My Son’s in Jail

800px-Recreation_of_Martin_Luther_King's_Cell_in_Birmingham_Jail_-_National_Civil_Rights_Museum_-_Downtown_Memphis_-_Tennessee_-_USA  wiki commons Adam Jones PHdI’d been waiting for a call from the Coroner’s office when I found out that, instead of lying in a morgue somewhere, my son was “safe” in jail. For now. Thank God.

I’d like to say I was overjoyed with relief, but that lasted only a few moments. Then the anger and frustration and weariness descended, and I felt heavier than stone. Because the hope that had once kept the grief and fear from crushing me is slipping away. And I’m not sure I’ll ever get it back.

I remember the first time he’d gone to jail for a DUI charge 20 years ago (before he became a heroin addict) and how freaked out I was. I talked to a substance abuse counselor on the phone, and he told me to calm down. Jail isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a young man. He’ll be okay, he said.

And I learned through the years he was right. Jail isn’t the worst thing that can happen to my son. Prison isn’t the worst thing, either. Sometimes they can be the best thing that can happen to him. Sometimes they can be a life saver, like now.

The last time I heard from he told me he didn’t think he had long to live. He’d had two overdoses the week before. One where he woke up in the hospital. The other where he woke up in a motel room. His companions had left him for dead after stealing the little he had (a bike and a backpack stuffed with dirty clothes) and even the shoes off his feet. He was barefoot when he called, using someone else’s phone. He’d lost his own weeks ago (again).

I begged him to get help, to go an NA meeting, go to a church, go to a detox facility, go to a shelter. But he was too embarrassed. He was covered in staff infections, he said, and he looked like a zombie.

I’d seen him that way before. I knew what he meant.

I begged him to go to an ER and get medication for the staff infection. Then I gave him the address and phone number of detox, and told him to get there. He said he would. But it didn’t sound like he meant it.

“Say it,” I told him. “Say it like you mean it.”

“Promise me,” I demanded. “If you don’t want to die, promise me.”

“I feel like I’m dead already,” he said. “Like I’m in Limbo, you know? Or purgatory. Everything seems so surreal, like I’m walking around in a nightmare.”

I thought about driving the 200 miles to get him and pack him in my car and bring him home. But I’d already just done that, only a few months earlier. And it hadn’t helped. He wasn’t safe, even at home anymore.  I’d picked him up off the streets so we could get him into a drug treatment program and brought him home, so he could make the daily calls you need to make while waiting for a bed. He sounded ready, optimistic.

“A few more days,” they told us. “A few more days and we’ll have a bed ready for you.”

The next morning I found him on the floor of the bathroom with a needle in his arm. He looked gray and lifeless. I called an ambulance and the medics revived him and took him to a hospital.

Two days later a bed finally opened up, and he got into the program. Then he got a job, and he got back in touch with his girlfriend and his baby girl. He sounded so happy. They applied for low-cost housing as a couple (she was also in recovery). They were going to make a life for their baby together. He came back home to pick up the rest of his clothes and books and surfboard. He looked healthy and happy.

“Okay, now’s the time. Now he’s going to make it,” I told myself.

Then a few weeks later I found out he’d relapsed. He was kicked out of the program. He lost his job. His girlfriend turned her back on him. He became homeless, strung out on the street (again).

And I was urging him to get into detox before the next overdose killed him.

“Call me,” I told him.  “As soon as you get into the hospital, or get to detox, call me so I know you’re safe.  You have to do one or the other,” I urged. “Today. Do it!  If you don’t want to die, do it.”

“I will,” he said, but he wouldn’t promise me. And it was just as well. He’d made and broken those kinds of promises before.

I hung up the phone and the tears came and wouldn’t stop falling. I’d given up hope, you see. I didn’t think he’d do any of the things I told him to do. And I didn’t think I would ever hear from him again.

How many OD’s can you have before you have your last? Has his luck run out?

Apparently not. I didn’t hear from him until a week later, from jail. He said he was stopped by the police the day after our conversation and arrested for outstanding warrants. Thank God.

But the relief, as welcome as it was, was short-lived. Because jail is a kind of limbo too. For him and me.

As soon as he gets out, the insanity will start up again. All the nearly overwhelming logistics of starting over again from scratch will begin (again). We’ve been through this a dozen times already: The mad scramble to find some place to live, to get a job, to buy a phone and a bike and clothes and all the other things he needs to live a normal life, after having just lost all those things, again and again and again.

Then will begin the anxious, nail-biting wait to see if this time, this time at last, he’ll stay clean long enough to turn his life around. Or if the struggle to regain all he had lost will take its toll (again).

Everything is twice as hard as it should be. And it’s so heartbreaking–trying to pump up the hope and optimism again and again, so we both don’t sink down under the weight of the knowing that his chance of making it this time is slim to none.

But he’s safe now, I remind myself. That’s good! I don’t have to jump when the phone or doorbell rings, fearful for the worst. I can relax. When he’s in jail have been the most peaceful times of my life during these last fifteen years. And the most hopeful: “Maybe now he’s hit rock-bottom,” I tell myself. “Maybe now he’ll turn his life around.”

But those days of optimism are past. I know better now.

So. Jail is as good as it gets these days. Not knowing where he is and waiting for the Coroner’s call, that’s bad. And worse than that, as I’ve imagined a hundred times, is getting the call. At least I’ve been spared that. For now.

Count yourself lucky, I tell myself. And I am.

Walking on the Wild Side

800px-Near-Death-Experience_Illustration public domain

Near Death Experience Illustration public domain

If someone who is close to you is suffering from drug addiction, you know what I’m talking about.  Addiction, as horrible as it is for addicts, can be terrifying to those who love them as well.  Like it or not, if we choose to be in their lives and support them while they fight this cruel affliction, we’re taking a walk on the wild side, going places emotionally and spiritually, and sometimes even physically, that are dark and scary.

And often we’re alone.

Too often when all hell breaks loose, and the dust settles, one lone family member is left standing to walk this scary path alone with their loved one.  Most others get blown away, or turn away, or run away eventually.  But a mom, a dad, a sister, a lover–hopefully for the addict’s sake, one of us remains behind.  One of us stays by their side all the long, and wild, and weary, and heart-breaking way.

I’ve been there, and maybe you have too.

I need someone to talk to, someone who has travelled this road, or is travelling it still, and those Al-Anon groups haven’t worked out for me.  So I’m just going to start talking–right here, right now. To myself at first.  And to you, maybe. Or anyone else out there who would like to keep me company on this long and lonely walk on the wild side.