America’s opioid crisis has become a common topic in the media and in conversations with friends. Surprisingly, much of the coverage has started to focus on families: stories about individual addicts are now being given a context and that context includes the family members who suffer right along with them. Debates about criminality versus medical condition continues to take up too much space but, just like individuals and families struggling with addiction, we can’t fix what we don’t acknowledge.
I’m glad we’re finally talking about it. I worked in the addictions field and was part of one of the first residential treatment programs for families of people with chemical dependency issues. Addiction — in all of its forms — can be devastating to families.
And, according to a number of experts in the field, it can also come from many forms devastation in families: abuse, neglect, addiction, divorce, abandonment, and violence. Such circumstances are now being termed ACE: Adverse Childhood Experiences. And, while most people have at least one such adverse experience, those with multiples are deemed high risk for a variety of health crises ranging from addiction to heart disease. (You can get your ACE score here.)
Back when I was developing addiction awareness programs for parents, we used to ask, “Why do teens use drugs?” The answer? “Because they work.” What that answer assumed was common sense that is now becoming part of the mainstream awareness: people use drugs to feel better. (I know, “duh.” Right?)
So why do people need to feel better? We could all fill volumes on the overwhelming pain and difficulties so many people face on a daily basis. And if we work at it together, we could probably fill an equal number of volumes about compassion, resilience, and prevention.
And, while opiate abuse has reached epidemic status, there are still simple things parents and grandparents, friends and neighbors can do for those who are closest to them.
- Set a good example
- Maintain rituals and
- Incorporate spiritual practice into your family life.
As much as most of us would like to guarantee good health and success for the young people we care about, the best we can do is try to stack the odds in their favor. Safety, security, and skills are a great place to start. Any work to decrease risk factors improves their odds.
In addition to creating a list of resources for families, I’ve put together this small list of resources to help families facing addiction. Please download and invite your friends to do so as well. In the meantime, please share stories about individual and community efforts that area working to enhance resilience and decrease risk. Thanks.
It took me a long time to become willing to be part of a writers’ group. Frankly, I’d heard some fairly awful things about them. I had heard such groups could be competitive and repetitive. That some groups were more in love with the idea of writing than getting anything done and that those meetings sounded more like a roomful of angsty teens than a bunch of grown-up word nerds trying to help one another improve.
Whenever I’m trying to get better at something, I seek out people who are striving to improve a similar skill set or someone who is far more accomplished and willing to share expertise. And, while I always hope to find people with a passion for improvement and excellence, I loathe the expression “like-minded.” When I’m trying to learn new skills, or I’ve backed myself into a corner, I can be impatient or hard on myself. I don’t want or need a mind like mine. I need fresh eyes, different experiences, humor, and compassion. I need my very own word nerds. The ones who love me and have got my back.
I made some false starts before finding my group. I attended some critiques that bordered on mean and others that appear to have been fueled by lollipops and rainbows. I’ve been asked questions by (usually male) newbies who proceeded to argue and mansplain my answers away or treated like a kindergartener by a facilitator. And there were groups that didn’t recognize my genre and people who believe that “real” writers limit themselves to longhand, legal pads and lead.
A year or so ago, a mentor of mine questioned me about my efforts to find a writers’ group. His experience had been wonderful and, not only did he want to understand my tenderness around the topic, he also wanted me to experience the growth that can come from participating in a good group.
I decided to pursue a new genre and joined a group as the member with the least experience with that sort of work. After attending a few meetings, they asked me to read. To my amazement, they listened attentively, respected my boundaries about the kind of feedback I wanted and encouraged me to keep going.
Today’s meeting was inconvenient. I hadn’t read the facilitator’s materials or found a segment of my work to bring for critique. Early this morning, I did a public presentation on an unrelated topic. My husband is hours away from some big, disruptive travel, and my son’s home decided to develop “issues” while he is somewhere at the other end of the country. I was hungry, over-tired, unprepared, it was raining again… and I was shocked. I couldn’t wait to get there.
As it turns out, everyone who showed up was in the same boat for different reasons: grant deadlines without cooperation from grantees, house construction delays, family member illnesses, returned-to-the nest adult children. Stuff.
So we tossed the agenda and talked about our stuff. Then we talked about some new and exciting projects. And awards we had applied for and conferences we were attending. And, eventually, after having each experienced one? We talked about character arc. And we laughed.
What does it mean to live an inspired life? It’s a phrase that can bring to mind images of artists, monastics, and martyrs. It also makes me think of sweeping the floor and tending my weeds.
I think the phrase got stuck in my head the other day when one of my friends referred to another as an inspiration. Word nerd that I am, I was intrigued; my friend the inspiration has a breathing disorder and one of the definitions of “inspire” is “to breathe in.”
Spending time with other writers and artists, I hear a lot of talk about “inspiration.” Sometimes it sounds magical and mystical; it can seem impossible to achieve. We can sound like we’re sitting around waiting to be hit by the inspiration stick. I don’t think I’m alone when I say my ability to produce quality work ebbs and flows. I’m not always happy enough with what I’m writing to share it with you — even here. I think that has more to do with my personal standards than a lack of inspiration.
“Breathe in. Soften. Go a little deeper.” I’m new to yoga and fascinated by the various instructors’ descriptions of breath… the ways they coach us to be aware of it. Maybe that’s what has me thinking about inspired life.
My husband goes on silent meditation retreats. Some of my friends paint. I write. And occasionally try my hand at other forms of art: redacted poetry, multi-media painting, landscape design. It all feels connected.
I also just finished reading Painting Life by my friend Carol Walsh. It’s a memoir about balancing her life as an artist and her life as a therapist. And about the endless process of reinventing the self. Sometimes I wish I had known more about self-care and reinvention when I was a young advocate but, eventually, I learned to embrace both. Maybe there is no “wrong.” Maybe there’s only “next.”
What if inspiration only meant “breath?” What if the fact that we have breath means we are inspired? What if it’s all really that simple? How do we best use that precious gift?