I love Robin Williams.

AbominableI love Robin Williams. Now I must be clear; working in the music biz I learned the foolishness firsthand of actually thinking you know someone just because you know their “art”. I put quotes on “art” because so much is actually more product than art. With this celebrity for-it’s-own-sake, reality show culture it is more apparent than ever the fallacy of those kinds of assumptions.

My love has a practical and philosophical foundation. I believe we deeply need our comics just the way we need, say, water engineers. If tomorrow, all those who run our water systems vanished, we would be in trouble. They keep it flowing. Same with comedy. Professional comedians remind us to keep laughing and the best remind us why.

I feel lucky that my life has passed through the finest of eras in comedy (no offense to Shakespeare), from the greats of Mort Sahl, Dick Gregory, Lenny Bruce and Mel Brooks, through the peaks of Richard Pryor, George Carlin and Robin. And many others. If I won the lotto I’d pay $10,000 to charity to buy lunch with Mel Brooks, a true national treasure. Carlin, a man who at the time of his death was in long-term recovery from addiction, appeared gruff and uncouth to casual observers but if you actually look at the trajectory of his work over the years he had a serious and well-reasoned (and researched) message that was backed-up with hilarious results. He reminded me of Steve Martin who, while different in temperament, brought a craftsman’s discipline and hard work to the art, subtly conveying illuminating images for us to ponder, if we pay attention. They busted their ass to make us laugh! And I do not know about you but looking at the atrocities of this world I need to be reminded to keep my sense of humor. Which brings us back to Robin.

Beloved, his death struck me hard and I watched all the media commentary with curiosity. In the end, this anonymous post captured a core truth from his death.

“If someone were to die at the age of 63 after a lifelong battle with MS or Sickle Cell, we’d all say they were a “fighter” or an “inspiration”. But when someone dies after a lifelong battle with severe mental illness and drug addiction, we say it is a tragedy and tell everyone “don’t be like him, please seek help”. That’s bull. Robin Williams sought help his entire life. He saw a psychiatrist. He quit drinking. He went to rehab. He did this for decades. That’s HOW he made it to 63. For some people, 63 is a miracle. I know several people who didn’t make it past 23 and I’d do anything to have 40 more years with them.”

Which brings me to the first of my two movie reviews this week, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn, released some 4 months before Robin’s death. Reviewers and the whole review field has morphed into such claptrap that it can be hard to get a sense of a film before you see it but my scant impression was this one was a failure. Now I take that back. Like many movies it is not perfect but it travels in that realm we’ve been discussing lately and I love; the need to process our grief and the damage done when we don’t. Meanwhile, it has some genuine laughs.

Supported by a strong cast (Melissa Leo, Peter Dinklage, Hamish Linklater) I don’t want to write any spoilers so suffice it to say: “A curmudgeonly man is mistakenly told that he has 90 minutes to live by his doctor and promptly sets out to reconcile with his wife, brother and friends in the short time he believes he has left.” Oh yeah, and somebody with Substance Use Disorder enters recovery during the journey.

Now, on to my 2nd and favorite movie in a while, which moves through similar areas, St. Vincent, with

Bill Murray, at his under the radar/indie film best. The kicker in this movie is the kid, played by Jaeden Lieberher. The boy stays true to the heart of an original character. And is ably supported by a good cast. “Vincent is an old Vietnam vet whose stubbornly hedonistic ways have left him without money or a future. Things change when his new next-door neighbor’s son, Oliver, needs a babysitter and Vince is willing enough for a fee. From that self-serving act, an unexpected friendship forms as Vincent and Oliver find so much of each other’s needs through each other. As Vincent mentors Oliver in street survival and other worldly ways, Oliver begins to see more in the old man than just his foibles. When life takes a turn for the worse for Vincent, both of them find the best in each other than no one around them suspects.”

My 61 years on Earth tell me that there is an order to the Universe and when life throws “stuff” at us it’s a part of the bigger picture. There are blessings and benefits to walking through them. What I need to walk through and grow from life’s events, with at least a modicum of style is, in a word: support. Friends, mutual-aid, prayer and meditation, introspection, service work, exercise, superb nutrition including herbal teas (and coffee), fellowship, books, movies, music, nature in all its glory, gin rummy tournaments, roller derby, you-name-it, I need it all. And more. Support is what allows me to process and breath into the emotional and energetic realities of life on life’s terms.

Alliance Resource Fair – ROSC

Resource Fair FlyerSeems to me the managed care organizations (MCO’s) of North Carolina have been increasingly jumping on the Recovery Movement/Recovery Oriented System of Care (ROSC) band-wagon, which is great to see.  Here is a flyer for an upcoming Alliance Resource Fair, with two showings of the Anonymous People plus panels to field questions and discussion afterwards. In NC, MCO’s handle the administration of “public” monies and the provider network for behavioral health. That means substance use disorder and mental health treatment, plus developmental disabilities monies too.

Alliance oversees Wake County. Right now, the companies are merging so I’m not clear exactly how many there are, maybe 8 covering the state. Many have sponsored Anonymous People and Messaging Trainings for their staff plus community providers and stakeholders. They are also reaching out to learn and understand the principals behind ROSC. It’s all good and I for one appreciate those staff working to bring this understanding about.

Cheers to you all!

The Guidance of Pain

surfing gif“…how complicated a life can get without the guidance of pain.”

I used the movie Get Low, in my last newsletter, to talk about the damage caused by the hidden shadow; un-addressed grief, guilt and shame that plagues our world, and the solutions to this. At the bottom of the blog I mentioned something said to me the second time I went to treatment and here’s a bit of that story.

I wrote previously of my first time in treatment in 1968, a lock-down ward with meds but no 12-Step or anything we traditionally came to equate with substance use disorder treatment in the second half of the 20th century in America. Eventually I made my way back to treatment some 15 years later. Finally, the third time, 8 years after that, took.

My final time in, detoxing & sick, the intake was, shall we say, quite cloudy. It’s all fairly standard questions/paperwork, but when asked if I had ever been to treatment before I answered no. I didn’t count the first time and had completely forgotten the second time. My brain was stuporous and dazed and sustained detox coupled with supervised living and regular spiritual actions began to lift the fog around 90 days later. There were a number of spiritual revelations that came to me in the coming weeks as the fog lifted, usually triggered by the loving support that was around me. Some went off like clarifying grenades in my head (and heart) and I cherish each and every one of those and search for more until this day. A biggy was the moment I remembered I had done treatment before. Immediately, what my counselor said to me came flooding back.

The short time I was there she only said one thing to me. As those in long-term recovery who work with people suffering do, she repeated it often. She was planting a seed and years later, around 90 days detoxed, it sprouted. At the time I didn’t understand. You see, I didn’t “think” I had a problem, having been sent to treatment by a loved one. I viewed it as a health spa and I was just resting up. The fact that it was a Salvation Army program (a great one, btw) and there was no massage or hot tub did not compute. But when I remembered this treatment, what she said came rushing back and instantly made complete sense. She kept saying, “You can let this pain be enough”.

Man did it come flooding back. As everyone says, the three key components of the disease of addiction are: progressive, incurable and fatal. Incurable but it can go into remission, there is a way out; fatal if un-checked and; the progression looks different from person to person and mine was picking up speed.

When you have the disease of addiction and you don’t think you do and you keep going, the progression tends to speed up which creates wreckage. It’s a part of the holistic/holographic nature of the Universe, issues we ignore eventually come back to us swifter and harder. And all that’s painful and that is what she was saying; if I end my denial and get with the disease, respect it, I can stop the pain that’s coming. And she was right, I left treatment (early), resumed my ways and began to roll down the tracks at breakneck speed. I hadn’t had enough pain yet.

What a toweringly elegant spiritual concept. Now this gets into philosophical nuances that some debate so allow me to place this within context. I am talking of myself and my own experience, first off. The fact that pain works is our hardwiring. There’s no sin in that. That is a fact neither good nor bad. It’s actually a good thing. There are children, a statistically small amount, born with a congenital nerve disorder, that means insensitivity to pain and they are at serious risk of burns and bone breakage as they play and live that present real issues for the families. There was an article in the New York Times about the disorder and I love this quote. “Her life story offers an amazing snapshot of how complicated a life can get without the guidance of pain. Pain is a gift, and she doesn’t have it.”

Nervous system pain response is reality, we cannot change that. What we can control, the question in all this, the spiritual lesson for me, the blessing of it all is; we have control over how much pain we need.

That’s what she was saying! I could let this pain be enough! I could change starting right NOW!

All this led to actual surrender, which literally freed me completely from the obsession to use drugs, released me from the bondage of addiction, from then on. There’s a future topic, including as it relates to the medical; A spiritual principal gave rise to a physical benefit. The spiritual actually affects the material. E=mc2!

I have not wrestled one tiny bit with drug usage ever since, and let’s be very clear; that was a full-on gift given to me and I take no credit for that gift. I do attempt to show my gratitude.

Since then, I have wrestled with numerous other things in life before realizing that surrender would be the best response and it has been curious to me that despite such a wonderful gift and experience with surrender I still needed to wrestle with many other things and THEN it really hit me. Letting this pain be enough could be applied to many things/lots of things/anything!

The upshot of it all, now, twenty two years later, is that I know anytime I wrestle with something, stress over something, I am self-willing and attempting to control and that ultimately leads to pain. By letting go, giving it to the Universe, trusting, not just focusing on what the little i wants, there is freedom. And we’re not talking about wanting “bad” stuff. I don’t wrestle with robbing banks and such. In recovery, I can be ego driven about all sorts of “good” stuff. We can think we are doing good, when actually it’s still ego. We’re trying to control way too much around us because that was the pattern we learned when we were young and the pattern we repeated in our addiction. Those were the tools we learned and needed at the time, to cope and there comes a time to learn new tools. The saying goes, Do the right thing, for the right reason. The second part is most important. And that has been my lesson. In searching for the higher good, effortless effort is the way to surf. Straight up to the Heavens.

A last quote, from the NY Times article; “It is an extraordinary disorder,” Woods said. “It’s quite interesting, because it makes you realize pain is there for a number of reasons, and one of them is to use your body correctly without damaging it and modulating what you do.”

JOTO

jotoMy good friend Tim Simmons, Consumer Affairs Specialist in the Piedmont, pitched me a wonderful service and I’m glad to pass it on.

Goodwill Industries, in Burlington, is offering employment preparation training/job search assistance to help individuals with a criminal history find employment

Jobs On The Outside (JOTO) is a 24 hour comprehensive training program that prepares individuals with a criminal background to successfully obtain and keep a job.

Here’s the flyer for more information.

RCNC Announces Executive Director

JASOn the local front, RCNC’s role as the anchor for NC RCO’s was solidified with their Executive Director hiring. Founding Board Member John A. Salgado, in sustained recovery since 9/2/09, has served as Executive Director of Fellowship Home of Raleigh and was the finance committee chair for RCNC before his new role as helmsman.

This role will include responsibility for opening a Recovery Community Center in the Triangle and continued cultivation and support of RCO’s around North Carolina.

Please join me in welcoming John to this new position.

Get Low

getlowI want to recommend a great & sweet movie, Get Low, starring the inestimable Robert Duvall. Movies that deal well with the topic of grief touch my heart like no other. It was clear to me, early in recovery that I had grief to deal with. Feel, Deal and Heal is the saying. The work I did, ably supported by knowledgeable practitioners and teachers, made it possible for me to become comfortable with grief to the degree that, I wouldn’t say I seek it out but I definitely don’t run from it and that is a huge blessing.

The question becomes H.O.W. do we feel deal and heal? In my recovery the studies of body and energy work confirmed that which I had suspected all along; to cope with pain too great for the childhood nervous system, we block the corresponding emotional flow that events trigger. Over time, the blocks become permanent and therein lies the damage. Unable to loosen our armor, we are unable to consciously feel inflow and outflow and the attendant emotions. To put it another way, we can’t grieve and cry, for example. This impedes natural emotional growth. A common fact for many men (and women) emerging into recovery from addiction. Energetic and emotional blockage creates a “backlog”, like a reservoir holding back water.

A) Many children are subjected to pain great enough that we feel overwhelmed, “swamped” with the fear and pain, which for us, as the little tykes we are, amounts to a feeling we might die. The child may not be conscious of that, but this is the purpose of the blockage, to keep us from a feeling of overwhelm.

B) In our adult state a backed up reservoir, in and of itself, feels overwhelming and as we begin down the road of recovery toward healing, the fear of overwhelm, being swamped, comes back. That’s the very thing causing us to hold back, to not cry and to not heal. Much of the addictions of society, not just drugs but too much work, money/shopping, food, love/sex, consuming, you-name-it are all in the name of keeping blocked and busy and distracted enough to not feel this backlog.

 

The body always seeks homeostasis but must have flow and feel supported to really achieve balance and optimal health. Think of a dam, sitting over a town and it’s going to blow, or a river, that rains are overflowing and causing a flood. The townspeople scurry fast and hard to get to safety, running to and fro, worried of destruction, and yet, after the storm, the waters do recede, the soil is replenished and everything comes back to normal. One of the reasons some Native tribes developed tipis, knowing the natural rhythms of the earth and life, was so they could pick up and move before the flood and come back later when the soil was healthier. Meanwhile, if one does not get pro-active, the barricade hampers the natural development of our being.

I love these movies when well done because various supports gave me the help I needed to drain (or lower at least) the reservoir, so to speak. Grief and emotional flow became safe for me. In time, I knew I would not be overwhelmed, in fact, the adult organism can’t be overwhelmed and has built in defenses that maintain safety. Our childhood trauma made life, being in our skin, not safe when in truth the body is always safe. We can self-regulate, learn to feel deal and heal and emerge into a much healthier emotional life. It’s a process, a titration.

Whew, lots of words. This movie and topic; armor, grief and emotional health, reminds me of a time, 10 years before I entered recovery, when I was in treatment for the second time in my life, and what the counselor said to me. But hey, we’ll save that for next time.I’ll post it on my blog next Wednesday.

Now, Get Low; Duvall, my favorite living actor, plays a 1930s Tennessee hermit, a fabled curmudgeon , who famously threw his own funeral party while he was still alive. Well supported by a wonderful cast, beginning with the quietly hilarious Bill Murray, this movie gets us to the heart of guilt, shame, grief and secrets keeping us sick. Our need to beat ourselves up, to not forgive ourselves and others, creates a downward spiral and can lead us to miss a lifetime of LIFE and here we see the pain and glory of it all. It’s a worthy journey.

Long-term addicts describe paths to better life


Jimmy Cioe, Program Coordinator for the Governor’s Institute on Substance Abuse and man-in-long-term recovery and Chris Budnick, Vice-President of Programs-The Healing Place, Raleigh, were interviewed by WNCN Anchor Sharon Tazewell on addiction, recovery and treatment issues, and the meaning of recovery for the nation and its people.