Deep within the bowels of a New York Times article from July 2014, on Tasmanian poppy crop production, is a wonderful sentence.

Tasmania, an island off the southern coast of Australia, down near Melbourne, and about the size of West Virginia, has a monopoly on a certain strain of poppy production. Different poppy plants contain different alkaloids which net different narcotics.

“Tasmania…….grows about 85 percent of the world’s thebaine (74,000 acres), an opium poppy extract used to make OxyContin and a family of similarly powerful prescription drugs that have transformed pain management over the last two decades. It produces all of the world’s oripavine, another extract, which is used to treat heroin overdoses and shows promise in controlling other addictions. Tasmania also accounts for a quarter of the world’s morphine and codeine, two older painkillers from opium poppies that are still widely used, particularly outside North America.”

While reading the article, it idly crossed my mind, “With all that poppy right there, what is the addiction problem like on Tasmania?”.  Then I read this section:

“Towns like Launceston, Longford, Evandale and other current-day hubs of poppy production in north and central Tasmania had been settled by tens of thousands of British and Irish convicts transported here in the early 19th century as a cheap alternative to prisons in the British Isles. They were followed by thousands of so-called free settlers, who built communities with main streets still lined by two- and three-story pink sandstone buildings.

Then people largely stopped moving there. With 500,000 people, Tasmania now rivals Iceland in having one of the world’s least mobile populations, with little immigration or emigration. Particularly in rural Tasmania, people do not just know everyone in their towns – their families tend to have known one another for at least four generations, and often five or six. Secrets are few, helping to keep drug use in check.” (emphasis mine)

What a beautiful piece of poetry that sentence is!

That “tip” represents an iceberg of wisdom that could lead us back to the Promised Land, people! It is a universal snapshot of what is meant by Recovery Supports and Recovery Community Centers. It’s about what healthy human communities look like.

Addiction is a disease of isolation. Disappearing from sight, from view, greatly enables those going down the road to addiction. Visibility greatly enables those going down the road to recovery. That sentence is referring to the nature of small towns, villages, tribes, families knowing each other’s business.  Implied is that if someone, a person in the community, is developing a problem, someone will notice and bring it up!

Where we stand on this concept, this way of living is truly instructive. There is no recovery that does not embrace community, so if we want the whole nation to recover we want the whole nation to become community. That conflicts with various ideas we have about freedom. It also deeply conflicts with the way of the world currently. Studies show that communal activities, from attendance at sporting events to civic organizations, have plummeted. We are increasingly isolated.

The fact is:  “… is not just sporting events. Public lectures, church services, labor unions, Veterans of Foreign Wars halls, Masonic halls, Rotary clubs, the Knights of Columbus, the Lions Club, Grange Hall meetings, the League of Women Voters, Daughters of the American Revolution, local historical societies, town halls, bowling leagues, bridge clubs, movie theater attendance (at a 20-year low), advocacy groups such as the NAACP and professional and amateur theatrical and musical performances cater to a dwindling and graying population.”

“A generation has fallen down the rabbit hole of electronic hallucinations-with images often dominated by violence and pornography. They have become, in the words of the philosopher Hannah Arendt, “atomized,” sucked alone into systems of information and entertainment that cater to America’s prurient fascination with the tawdry, the cruel and the deadening cult of the self.”

My experience in the world shows this to be true yet there are multiple solutions. This is not doom and gloom though we can dig a hole so deep it seems overwhelming to climb out. There is always hope.

Something you learn going to treatment and learn to model working in treatment is how showing care and concern within our community looks. It is not about nosy snooping, or vindictive tattling or constant surveillance. It’s about speaking up when something is becoming apparent. It’s speaking up about the proverbial elephants that haunt our living rooms. Getting it out in the open is a prime step in bringing visibility to recovery. And the benefits are proven in Tasmania. That much poppy right across the street in some places would lead to rampant addiction. They have the answer to avoid such pitfalls.

In that vein, the Times article also points out that:  “The bulk of the opium poppy extract produced in Tasmania is shipped to pharmaceutical factories in the Northeastern United States. With its wealth and a largely private health care system willing to pay up for drugs, the United States accounts for three-quarters of global opiate painkiller sales by tonnage and five-sixths by value.”

There’s an elephant we could begin with.   The numerous players and factors that create a situation where we- about four and a half percent of the world’s population–consume ¾’s of all the narcotic pain killers manufactured.  Holy Schnikes!  That’s an awful a lot of untreated pain, much of it emotional or psychic.  It’s the secrets that keep the bulk of that pain alive rather than resolved.

Next acronym-NRC—no regrets coyote.

Recovery Events

Tech difficulties kept this flyer, for the 1st Annual Eastern Area Rally for Recovery-in Wilson, from posting last time so we wanted to rectify that:

Charlotte has a Recovery event September 19th.  Melissa Enoch-DeBerry, a woman in long-term recovery and a licensed therapist, is having her 10th Annual National Recovery Month event, 9/19 from 10-2.  Sponsored by the Women of Strength non-profit, it will be located at 1801 N. Tryon St., Suite 311B, Charlotte, NC 28206.   More information at 704) 807-2181 or Melissa Enoch

One state above us, leaders in the recovery movement are hosting their 11th Annual Recovery Fest & Championship BBQ Cook Off.   Advocates (and husband and wife) John Shinholser and Carol McDaid are hosting, led by the McShin Foundation,  9/12 in Richmond VA.

“Founded in 2004, The McShin Foundation is Virginia’s leading non-profit, full-service Recovery Community Organization (RCO), committed to serving individuals and families in their fight against Substance Use Disorders (SUDs).  While providing the tools for recovering individuals to create positive lifestyles, we aim to spread the word of recovery and educate families, communities, and government regarding SUDs as well as reduce the stigma attached to them.”

Here’s a flyer with all the info! Event Flyer

Part 2 (b)

This newsletter goes out every other Wednesday. Being gone on vacation last week, I spent hours yesterday crafting my next one. When I went to “save” it, it went away.  Lost.  Gone.  Finito. Aaarrgghh!

But hey, a chance to explore the spiritual topic I had written about. Which was on the holographic nature of the Universe meaning that life is a mirror showing me my “stuff”. So here’s my chance to check my levels of patience. :)  The whole essay is not coming back, or let’s say only in parts. It’s like it flees my brain once it’s done, but I’ll try again.

I wanted to weigh in one more time on the whole AA/spirituality topic. Bill White and Ernie Kurtz-AA historians and researchers-had written a response posted here.

There are themes I keep returning to, and here’s a couple. Information becomes knowledge through experience which eventually distilled down becomes wisdom. I took my first drink at age 10, some 51 years ago. These years allowed my research to be thorough. In my study of treatment, some 18 years in the field, working with thousands of those struggling, I heard again and again that 12 Step was not for everybody and I saw the fact of that. What I would propose is that the underlying principles of 12 Step are wonderfully thought out, simple and necessary for recovery from substance use disorder and pert near anything else.

Outer forms, the external, are not so important. It’s the spirit of things that really matter and that is deeply true for recovery. We can and do -all of us-sometimes- “fake it ’til we make it” -but ultimately, it’s the Spirit that bring results.

The distilled wisdom of 12 Step, the spirit so essential, I state as:

Get honest Truth telling
Clean out the wreckage of the past Amend
Help someone else Service

It’s essential to keep it simple. Brains love to complicate, in this culture especially and recovery can be hard but is simple.  In fact, life is simple.  There’s a true difference:  Complicated vs Hard. –Those aren’t the same things.

Honest, Open, Willing are challenges that grow our character and resilience, moving us closer to truth and reality, grounding us in something universal.  Thus lies the doorway to spiritual connection.

There are many other practical suggestions that facilitate growth of recovery capital. Looking after ourselves with nutrition, exercise, play, mind work, body work, creative endeavors and you-name-it– all contribute to a safety net of recovery. Whatever strengthens the immune systems of our life builds safety.

I’ll end this with a link to Bill W’s most spiritual stance on AA critics:  “Our critics can be our benefactors”

“As a society we must never become so vain as to suppose that we have been the authors and inventors of a new religion. We will humbly reflect that each of AA’s principles, every one of them, have been borrowed from ancient sources.”

Updates and Events

The Solstice has passed and the dog days of summer await. As I attempt to develop a tan here are some upcoming Recovery events around our lovely green state:

  • Western NC has Anonymous People showings followed by Recovery Messaging Trainings: Bryson-6/29 & WCU/Cullowhee-9/14
  • Speaking of September (Addiction Recovery Month) Eastern NC has checked in with their Recovery Rally in Wilson-9/26
  • Look for more Rally announcements from around the state as we get closer to September!

Examining Power Structures: Part 2

This second part on the online debates about 12 Step, medical, treatment, recovery, etc. is proving tough for me to articulate.  Bear with me as I give it a shot.

Everything is spiritual.

To coin a double-negative, nothing’s not spiritual.

This seeming conundrum is a linchpin to all we are looking at when addiction, treatment, recovery and healing are at stake. Understanding illuminates solutions.

What the brain thinks, when it hears “Everything is spiritual” is;  “What, anything goes?”  and no, that’s not it. It’s not remotely about how engaging in bad behavior is ok, the opposite really, it’s why we can’t engage in bad behavior.  Because everything’s spiritual. It’s about how everything’s connected. Literally.

Ever wonder why the song, “Amazing Grace”, says, “T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear. And Grace, my fears relieved.”?  Grace includes fear?

That was shown me, in real time. At some point in recovery I saw that the affliction of my addiction gave me the supreme blessing of recovery. I could not have one without the other.  That does not “excuse” the bad behavior included in addiction.  What it does mean is recovery delivers us into a life where we have the chance to grow, heal and amend, making amends to those we can along the way and being of service when we can’t amend directly. I make indirect amends when “mending my ways,” changing my attitudes, and altering my behavior.

Do you know the story of the author of Amazing Grace? There are film and documentary biographies that detail the life of John Newton. A wretched ship captain and slaver who sold humans for a living and how his moment of clarity transformed his life, changed him forever and led to the song. A great story!

The problem with trying to understand and communicate spirituality is, as Sy Safransky says, “…… divides the world into what is and isn’t spiritual, which is about the least spiritual thing you can do.” It’s like trying to explain which part of the ocean is wettest.  It’s all wet/ocean/spiritual.

We can definitely be out of balance. Balance is crucial, the key to all health. We can have darkness running rampant.  Self-will run riot as the saying goes. Darkness is un-acknowledged shadow and as we acknowledge, it rights itself and balance increases. Darkness is where stigma lives.  There is always shadow, let’s not be in denial, so it’s all about getting it out, getting honest, not covering up, ending denial.  That’s how we bust stigma.

So we’re back to: What is spiritual?  It would be in our best interest if the medical world understood and integrated that;  Everything’s connected includes ourselves. We are spiritual beings, which on a practical side begins with; We are one being:  body, brain/central nervous system, emotional body, Mind, Heart, Soul. You cannot separate these apart in treatment, to treat one all must be considered.

Every physical issue has an emotional/spiritual component. Every spiritual/emotional issue has a physical component.

Hippocrates, a father of medicine, said “It’s far more important to know what person the disease has than what disease the person has.”

It’s the same with the system of care. It’s One World, what happens to one happens to all so we want to factor that into our vision.

On the flip side, what we all need to do as we grow a more humane system is apply a core tenet of recovery; “I must participate in my own recovery”. Another seeming paradox, we need community AND we are all, individually, responsible for our lives.  This brings benefits back to us on the medical side.

What we are seeing at that point is a true tenet of spiritual:  Self-awareness, getting to know ourselves. Who am I, what do I want, how do I align my life with my core heart and ethics and actualize and express my gifts out into the world?

Bill Wilson, father to A.A. said, “More than most people I think alcoholics want to know who they are, what life is all about, whether they have a divine origin and an appointed destiny, live in a system of cosmic justice and love.”   I know I do.

All this implies an order to the Universe and the wisdom of aligning with it, or we humans can arrogantly continue self-willing ourselves right into extinction.

The order of the Universe includes fine-tuning that allows for complexity and laws that follow mathematical formulas.  No (seeming) “miracles” happen outside of these laws. There is Grace, but everything happens within a Cosmic structure whether we understand it (yet) or not.

What I saw working with Native Tribes was:  A) Most ceremonies- Sweat Lodge, Sun Dance, Hembleciya (Vision Quest), Pipe Ceremony–are prayers and  B) there’s no worry or problem with the fact that it’s a Great Mystery.  We don’t have to figure everything out to move in the right direction. That felt comforting to me.

All of this relates to how we think and perceive ideas/things/people.  One way to characterize recovery is:  “closer to reality”. So much of our thinking is unconsciously motivated that we want to start by examining that.

I was pondering all this while reading Malcolm Gladwell, a writer who attempts to shift paradigms. In a recent New Yorker he walks you through the Ford Pinto car safety case from the 70’s to make some points about how we think. His story outlines what we thought was the deal versus what actually were the facts of that large story.  Remember how those little cars had the gas tank in the back, right behind the bumper and they (supposedly) burst into flames when rear-ended? A van going 50 mph rear-ended a Pinto and three teen-age girls died horrifically, 60 Minutes did a gripping expose and it ended up a big landmark Federal case against Ford.  How I remember and think about it still has proven to be false.

Gladwell showcases the bigger story from an engineer’s viewpoint. He uses humor to start it off.

An engineer, a priest, and a doctor are enjoying a round of golf. Ahead of them is a group playing so slowly and inexpertly that in frustration the three ask the greens keeper for an explanation. “That’s a group of blind firefighters,” they are told. “They lost their sight saving our clubhouse last year, so we let them play for free.”

The priest says, “I will say a prayer for them tonight.”

The doctor says, “Let me ask my ophthalmologist colleagues if anything can be done for them.”

And the engineer says, “Why can’t they play at night?”

I’m drawn to this article for our purposes because it weds the ideal and the practical. Engineers work to solve problems (the practical) and we can apply that practical approach in the spiritual realm (the ideal). Spiritual has practical application. Then you achieve some balance.

Here’s a nut and bolt breakdown of what I could classify as a spiritual issue.
Gladwell’s summary taken from many competent engineers:

Ford won the case, because:

  • Pintos did not explode and catch fire statistically more than actuarially projected.
  • Numerous small cars had the gas tank close to the bumper back then (Gremlin, Vega, VW Beetle, Dodge Colt, Datsun’s).  Though it’s hard to argue Pinto’s are safe it was not abnormally inclined to explode into fire.

What we were “told” by the media and what is reality were two different things.

Studies from around the world and in the US show us that if you want to lessen highway fatalities there are two main items that greatly shrink the number of deaths.

  • Everybody slow down-seriously.-“excessive speed is implicated in an overwhelming number of fatal crashes.”
  • Raise the price of alcohol by adding fees and taxes-again seriously.-“as the price goes up drinking-esp. outside the home-goes down.”

These two actions significantly lower highway deaths, head and shoulders over all others combined.

One final issue. Don’t allow 4000 lb. cars run in to 2000 lb. cars. At some point, no matter where you put the gas tank, speed, drunkenness and huge cars add up to death.

So are we willing to slow down, not drink and drive, improve and grow public transportation infrastructure and all drive small cars? Or is that too much of an assault on our “freedoms”?

The spiritual path says everything’s an illusion except what isn’t and the task is to discover what isn’t. The Self, the I, the Ego (Latin for self) says the only thing not an illusion is that hardest of all things-Love.

I ask, do we love each other enough to come together and change, as a society?

This week’s acronym: JS—-just saying…..

Town Hall Meeting

My Brother Michael Dublin has great trainings every three months at his South Central Church of Christ in Raleigh and this next one is no exception.

Free credit hours and lunch included. More info here:

Inaugural Western Regional Recovery Rally

Speaking of Recovery Community Organizations (RCO) and Rallies, here’s a flyer from the R.O.C.K. in the USA RCO of Waynesville/Western North Carolina: Communities Rallying for Recovery are having a rally September 19th in Lake Junaluska, NC.

Check it out!