Doves Crying

Like Recovery, Creative Force is an actual, real thing, an energy which flows through the Universe and is available to us all. We can apply the Creative Force to any endeavor. It parallels and is akin to Love, the Energy that flows directly and hangs in the air waiting for us to loosen our armor and build our esteem so we can flow it ourselves. Love can heal anything, Love coupled with Mind created the Universe, Love is the one thing that is not the illusion and the hardest to know (and the ultimate answer).

Music was the Creative Force that triggered and represented the cultural explosion we called the ’60’s. For a moment in time, there was an organic expression of real creative force that empowered people to think and grow. Then came disco. Ok just kidding. Then came Altamont and corporations and co-option.

I loved much of that music, it influenced and affected me and later Prince continued to represent that moment better than almost anyone on Earth. He did it all; magnetic and astoundingly prolific, he could play all the instruments (and often did on his recordings) including startling guitar solos, he could write the songs, in numerous styles, he could produce the records, could sing his heart out, could put together the tightest bands on Earth and tour the world making you need to dance. Oh yeah, he sure enough could dance too. An epic creative force the likes of which we haven’t seen before. His music celebrated Spirit and he was peerless. James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and Michael Jackson all-in-one with Chaka Khan/Jill Scott thrown in for sass.

With all that, he managed to maintain a certain aloof mystique which implied the vulnerability of an introvert.

He was authentic, true to himself, taking the risky step of rejecting his record label to get free of their control and gain ownership of his art. Despite hurting his bank account he stuck to his principles, broke free and modeled how to be an artist.

In case it’s not clear, I am deeply experienced in addiction particularly narcotic addiction, personally and through working with people over years. This experience developed an intuitive ability to sniff out problems, from a distance, early and easily. I also worked in the music business for years.

Yet I had absolutely no idea or sense Prince ever had a problem and now it is coming out he used narcotics for years and it probably led to his premature death.

I loved the guy’s talent and music, saw him perform early (NYC in 1981) and multiple times after and I want to share how his death personally affected me.

I’ve gone through emotions when artists I love die, sometimes anger, of course sadness. This time what I feel seems related to Awe.

The overall take-away I feel is respect,

respect for the disease of addiction and my commitment to continue looking after myself in this world to ensure I am balanced, congruent with my heart and healthy.

I mean it, I’m dead serious; if this disease is so bad/so tough/so cunning/baffling and powerful it can kill Prince and imprison James Brown (not to mention countless millions) it sure as hell can get me. So I look after myself; body, mind, heart and soul.

The Backwards Brain Bicycle

Our Legal System

I attended the 38th Legislative Breakfast on Mental Health that Steve and Julie Bailey, from Josh’s Hope Foundation (and numerous others), put on each year at the Friday Center.  I must say I like the Friday Center.  This year’s event had a criminal justice reform focus, including a talk from the NC Division of Adult Corrections Commissioner W. David Guice. In the course of the morning I heard some great quotes and my favorite was from Rep. Graig Meyer. He is a Licensed Social Worker and has a daughter who has struggled with mental health diagnoses and he now represents NCGA House District 50 (Orange/Durham).  At one point, he said, as he walked us through an honest snapshot of what we are dealing with these days, “We need to understand the difference between those we are angry at and those we are afraid of.”

If you don’t quite understand what that means allow me to back up a bit.

Way back, my sponsor and grand-sponsor took meetings into Jackson Prison, to one of the felony pods, and for a while I went with them.  Do you know of Jackson Prison, about an hour outside of Detroit?  It’s the largest walled prison on Earth.
You’d think Russia or some other place would hold that record but no, it’s Michigan.  Angola prison in Louisiana is bigger, maybe, but they are not fully walled, Angola’s surrounded on some sides by swamps no one can escape.  If you run through those swamps the gators get ya. Getting back to Jackson, it was evident these were great meetings.  Honest authentic meetings from a group of prisoners who were telling it “raw”, as they say. But what really blew my mind; after a while I realized most of these guys were never getting out, they were here for life. Some were in for murder, plus, Michigan has three-strikes-you’re-out, what they call habitual offender laws. Three felonies and you’re in prison for life, no chance of parole. North Carolina has them also.  We’ll come back to that topic. The point is, these convicts had no reason to go to meetings except; they were in recovery.  There was no favor or early release or parole release they could work their way toward through good behavior. No reward except the purely spiritual.  Inner growth. That’s when it really sank in how good these meetings were, maybe the best meetings I have ever been to.

I like to say that recovery is a real thing, ’cause it is. People ask, “What does that mean?” and it is a bit of a problem to convey because it has an experiential transformative quality to it. What the early Christians we call Gnostics talked about. This example, this story, is an attempt to convey the reality of lived experience. To be authentic with no earthly reward, that is recovery.

I’m circling back to the Meyer quote but the real trigger for all this was; last week I heard a prisoner, in prison for life, give an open talk at a 12 Step meeting, OUT IN THE COMMUNITY. In the early 90’s, in a drunken black-out he had shot and killed a family member.  Native by birth, his childhood traumatic, he had seen much violence in his life. Introduced to recovery in prison, his recovery has progressed, he’s so rehabilitated, that he resides in minimum security and they allowed him to attend and speak at a meeting.  He was honest, real, and humble.

Recently, I linked to a flyer about an annual NC Alcoholics Anonymous conference on bringing AA into prisons. Some prisons in NC have developed such a good relationship with AA they allow sponsors to come and take prisoners to meetings.  THAT is recovery, both for the prison system and the individual.

Three-strikes-you’re -out: the thing about the habitual offender law; it doesn’t work.

  1. There are all sorts of offenses that are classified felonies, including non-violent, that don’t warrant life in prison and
  2. for true bad guys it is not an effective deterrent and
  3. States (like California) that had it and threw it out are glad it’s gone!  Their crime rates did NOT go up and they are saving millions of dollars. Three strike laws are ineffective at reducing overall crime rates and are responsible for crowding prisons. It was bad policy, bad lawmaking-originating out of the Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York era-and has been thoroughly discredited.

Btw, it’s been studied and it’s clear the same can be said for capital punishment. Believe it or not, the death sentence is not a deterrent.  If you want to better understand these issues, go see Sister Helen Prejean when she comes to speak.  Remember the movie, ‘Dead Man Walking’?  That lady.  She not only has a great personal story but this unassuming jailhouse nun paints a devastating picture of how out-of-whack and unbalanced our legal/prison system is.  Compelling cogent talks!  She’s speaking on April 14, from 12-1pm, in Room 5042 at the College of Law, UNC-CH and it is open to the public. In May I believe she comes back to receive an Honorary Degree.

Now-murder/manslaughter is profoundly serious business.  I sure-as-hell don’t take it lightly.  Grace of God I didn’t kill someone driving drunk, but the simple fact is recovery/redemption is for EVERYONE!  No one is excluded. Redemption does not mean religion; it means transformation from and through pain to restoration. From hell on earth to a chance at life.  So, back to the quote. There are some criminals we are afraid of, as a society and that’s ok.  Most of those addicted are not the ones we are afraid of, they are the ones we are mad at, and that’s ok.  It’s ok to for us be human and have feelings when we watch those around us, some we even love, kill themselves, sometimes quickly sometimes slowly, with drugs. The Recovery Community movement is not about making feelings “wrong”, it’s about framing those feelings within a broader landscape to give us perspective. Said perspective always leads us to hope and faith because recovery is a real thing.  We can be mad at them and still love them. They can engage in bad behavior and we can still comprehend they have a disease. The disease does not excuse bad behavior; it keeps us focused on the vision. The vision ahead-of recovery. That real thing up ahead we are moving toward.

I’d like to close with this story from a recent 60 Minutes episode. Their lead story, on prison reform in America, compares German prisons to ours and had some interesting perspective.

Part 2: many, many others

A core aspect of this vision, that I believe can be applied to systems as much as individuals, is that recovery, as an organizing paradigm, is about Restoration and Transformation. Allow me to expand this topic, with assistance from a favorite spiritual teacher, Richard Rohr.

In our duality-driven, either/or, win/lose, scarcity-not-abundance, retribution NOT restoration mind-set (My God, have you listened to these political campaigns?) we lack true recovery. Retribution appeals to the ego, Grace/transformation/recovery appeals to the soul. I’m not saying the ego is “bad”. In a healthy, actualized world, we all still have an ego, but unchecked ego is pure self-will and leads to grandiosity and always leave us unfulfilled. The biggest rock band in the world’s biggest # 1 hit was “I can’t get no satisfaction.” The anthem of our time.

Healing = movement toward wholeness and vice-versa. Ultimately, recovery always includes Grace – and Grace always brings abundance, not scarcity. A saying you hear around 12-Step is, “Religion is for those wanting to get into heaven and recovery is for those who’ve already been to hell.” This is not remotely anti-religion, just a way to lovingly portray the truth of transformation. Love is not there if and when I change, Love is there so I can change! Anybody can change given the chance. “No addict seeking recovery need ever die!” is a fact. Believe it. I’m living proof – and many, many others are too.

Recovery illuminates meaning for our human suffering, it shows us what to do with our pain, with the absurd, tragic and nonsensical injustice we see in the world. We transform and transmute our pain, so we do not transmit it. The “blessings” of all become evident and our wounds become sacred. Our wounds are sacred. All of life is sacred. This brings hope, purpose and direction. Our hurts become home to our greatest hopes. This renewed and implanted hope washes away the cynicism, bitterness, many -not necessarily all- resentments and nihilism. The soul cannot live without purpose and meaning, but shines with it. Science itself affirms and reports that everything in the universe is deeply connected. There is no such thing in the whole universe as autonomy. It doesn’t exist. Our cultural indoctrination that promotes this illusion of separation, coupled with a lack of soul purpose, supplies the nutrients that feed the very roots of the rampant rates of loneliness, addiction, depression and suicide we see.

All of this demands we change (and change is the word that most represents recovery). It’s easy to be cynical in this world. The transformation of recovery and release from cynicism compels and demands action, advocacy and activism. We live happily while advocating for change. Individual advancement is incomplete without the social connection that activist change brings about. Think globally, act locally.

As we see the whole, we create “wholeness”. Mistakes make sense and are used in our favor. Life is a school and mistakes become our supreme teachers. Hope compels us forward even into Mystery. Honest Abe Lincoln said something like, “The winner feels good, but the loser is smarter.” People who have the gifts of faith, hope and love are indestructible. In the beginning this process is scary. Powerlessness, vulnerability and surrender are SCARY! Surrender goes against everything our culture teaches. All of this demands we detach and observe and change our own thinking which certainly demands humility. Taught by the dark, we only need enough light to be able to trust the darkness. A little bit of humble courage and I do not need to be absolutely certain before I take the next right step.

REMBA

REMBA stands for Rehabilitation of Ethnic Minorities with Behavioral Addictions, their 10th annual conference at NC A&T April 14-15. Hosted by the Department of Human Development and Services at North Carolina A & T State University, the focus this year is Women, Trauma and Recovery and I am honored to be presenting, focusing on my treatment work experience and how the shift to a Recovery Oriented System of Care will benefit all.

“The REMBA Conference attracts rehabilitation counselors, community counselors, school counselors, counselor educators and supervisors, social workers, psychologists, administrators, students, and others interested in learning more about the impact of addictions and trauma in underrepresented communities. CEU, CRC, and Category B (NC Psychologists) credits will be offered.”

Here’s the link for registration

For me, the honor of being included is about the history of NCA & T and Historically Black Schools and Universities (HBCUs), particularly in North Carolina. My own snapshot of civil rights, seen through the lens of living in Detroit, what I saw and experienced growing up, coupled with study since moving here, has driven home the fact that North Carolina was a home of the Civil Rights movement and HCBU’s were instrumental in leading the way. And let’s be clear; the African-American (and LGBTQ and women and disabled peoples and native peoples and other) movements, to grow civil rights, benefit all peoples here in America, so their history is my history is our history. And let’s not forget that NCA&T has a growing Collegiate Recovery Program, which grows civil rights for those dealing with substance use disorder.

Wikipedia says, “There are 107 historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the United States, including public and private institutions, community and four-year institutions, medical and law schools.”

North Carolina has eleven historically black colleges and universities, including the oldest in the South, Raleigh’s Shaw University, founded in 1865, and North Carolina’s newest HBCU, Durham’s  North Carolina Central University, founded in 1910 and today one of the sixteen senior institutions in the University of North Carolina system.

So sign-up, check it out and Say Hi!

NC Recovery Advocacy Alliance Summit

NCRAASBy the second day, my neurons were pinging at such a rapid rate I (kind of) blew my intro on the Governor’s Institute. I wanted a do-over. Ever have that happen, ever want a do-over? Let me step back a minute and fill you in. Tom Edwards, Outreach Coordinator for Pavillon, a leading Western-NC treatment center in Mill Spring, is a friend, a BFAM. He put a Summit together down in Florida (2013 CORE Conference) and wanted to recreate it here. It was an attempt to bring groups together, to breach divides between the various components of our SUD system and to create synergy and solutions. For example, Physician Health Programs (PHP) – professional monitoring organizations (doctors, dentists, in some states multiple professions) – have a set standard of care for doctors with substance use issues, including responses if a person is reported and in legal trouble. This standard of care can include mandatory urine analysis for illegal drug usage monitoring (UA).

In the budding Collegiate & Recovery Community world, the movement is in the opposite direction, away from mandating and toward person-centered, self-directed choices. This is an example of an apparent clash when in fact, both sides can appreciate the others position because we humans have much more in common than not. The fact is that PHPs are the gold standard of care for SUD as it is a 5-year model, among other reasons. So Tom planned and put together a summit bringing various groups to review, discuss and create action plans to take the state’s Recovery Oriented System of Care up some notches. He got buy-in and support from his Clinical Director, Brain Coon, and Medical Director, Dr. Roy E. Smith, Board Certified in Addiction Medicine & Family Medicine. They got investment from other centers like Fellowship Hall, Red Oak Recovery Center, Magnolia Landing, C4Recovery and my own Governor’s I to cover expenses. We met for two days at a hotel conference room in Greensboro. So, as far as “pinging”, allow me to offer some perspective.

Astrologers tell me that I have 5 fire signs in my chart. Are you familiar with the elements? Ether, Air, Fire, Water, Earth? For eons, all over the globe, virtually all Native tribes study and work within the elements, as they run through us and the world. Each element has a “purpose” and each of us tends to be strong in one though they all come into play. Ether is Intention, initial form/space. The Mystics say there is an actual Etheric Plane, influenced by all thought, where all creation for/on our Earth begins. We think and it forms on that Plane first, like a blueprint. Air is Formation, where those thoughts take on some form of harmony in moving to the material plane. Fire is Impulse/movement/heat/intensity. Did I mention I have 5 of those? Water supports Completion and intuition. Earth is History written. Aries, Leo and Sagittarius are the three fire signs in the astrology chart. Fire is the engine that gets things going, though it’s not great at follow-through – hence Water supporting completion. Fire creates a lot of “heat”. One way I would characterize my recovery is bringing balance to my Fire.

As a Sagittarius and an Enneagram type 8, I’m gifted with a bit of capacity for vision and a desire to make a difference. BUT, as an Adult Child of Alcoholic-co-dependent (ACOA) I have a compulsion to save/rescue my “family”, wherever. There’s a magnificent saying, “Do the right thing, for the right reason”. The second part of that sentence is key. “Why am I pushing for this (seemingly) good thing”? If I am motivated by my unconscious need to rescue my “family”, it creates issues/problems. As I do my work, over the years, I get healing and my relationship to my ACOA etc. changes and does not have sway (usually) upon my actions. However, last week I found myself in a room full of people wanting to work together (hearing each other), people who understand recovery and want to make a difference (i.e. a “loving family”), people asking me what I want (and actually present to hear). So throw in too much caffeine and some morning sugar (which I usually avoid), too much work and not enough recreation and you have a recipe for a bit of “tweak”. During my post-event inventory, I felt this and instead of second-guessing myself, I just wanted to get honest. The Summit was so exciting to be in that when it was my turn to plug Governor’s Institute, I found myself tripping over my own words.

The Summit included Recovery Allies and Champions, Collegiate Recovery (including superb experience from Texas and Minnesota), University Counselors, Graduate Professors, the aforementioned professional monitoring organizations, Drug Court reps, Advocates, Division of MH/SUS/I-DD people, a Harvard researcher, MD’s, lawyers with a stake in advocacy, Peer Support Specialists, lots of lived experience and more I’m forgetting. It was inspiring.

A take-away from the Florida conference is that advocacy alliances (real working relationships) should be built at the local and state level. Benefits I saw from the Summit included:

  • Developing relationships toward collaboration across systems after the summit
  • Shape the direction of collaborative work and future Summits
  • Increase advocacy in your work and across the field, best supporting those we serve
  • Improve awareness of the philosophies, programs and practices in these allied systems, and benefit from educational efforts and resources

The summit planners submitted questions and topics to learned friends who could not attend, to answer and discuss. Here’s a link to questions Bill White answered.

In the interest of keeping this shorter, I’d like to expand on this, from the personal to the macro, in my next newsletter. A core aspect of this vision, recovery as an organizing paradigm, can be applied to systems as much as individuals. ‘Til then: Keep Summiting out there!

Radio, Radio

I got to know Eddie LeShure while working in the Asheville area. He’s a man in long-term recovery, a drug counselor and a yoga teacher, integrating holistic wellness work into drug treatment. That is not only needed but the wave of the future. His background and heart intersect with mine in multiple ways and give me that brother-from-another-mother (BFAM) feeling that recovery brings. He also has a radio show, with his life & work partner, Margaret Kirschner. The show is on WPVM 103.7 Mondays @ 7pm and I have been invited on to talk about all things recovery April 11th, 7pm! What a blast, I grew up on great radio, volunteered at a college station back in the day, am still devoted to commercial-free radio and expect it to have a renaissance soon. There was a time radio meant something. Let’s bring it back! So listen in if you’re out west, or online at wpvmfm.org. Before you do that, check out this excellent interview Eddie gave.

My April 11th WPVM interview in Asheville, precedes, by one week, the Addiction Professionals of North Carolina (APNC) Spring conference, also in Asheville, where I’ll be presenting on Recovery Messaging with able support from my Special Guest Richie Tannerhill, Peer and Family Support Specialist at Smoky Mountain Center LME/MCO, on the multiple aspects of creating Recovery Community. With Richie in tow, we’re going to blow the roof off the sucka, to coin an admittedly ancient disco phrase. APNC’s conference is April 20-22, say Hi if you’re there!