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Walking The Talk
So, at nearly 62, I just ran/walked my first 5K, along with 1,100 others, in downtown Los Angeles at the inaugural Rise Up LA event to support Shatterproof--
https://www.shatterproof.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the devastation the disease of addiction causes families.
Was I ready for it? No, although in my mind, walking nine holes on the golf course the day before with my husband did help a bit. Admittedly, I can be a bit delusional! Was it worth it? God, yes! Was it the most amazing experience? You bet your ass it was! It was awesome on so many levels, for so many reasons. Like most of those who participated, my reason was personal. We all had someone suffering from, or deceased from, the result of drug addiction.
Some of those participating were celebrating joyously as a result of sobriety for themselves or for a friend or a loved one. Others were a bit more somber because their participation was, is, and will always be, in remembrance of someone whose life was cut too short because of addiction.
The beauty of this collective effort was the amazing community it brought together, all hoping to raise awareness that addiction is a disease that should be treated like any other disease out there. Addiction is not a character flaw—it is a brain disease! We gathered in support of each other. We belong to this village even though we don’t want to belong there. Support is incredibly important when it comes to surviving our paths!
I walked/ran for my beautiful daughter who has struggled with addiction for more than 18 years. That’s more than half her life. She is currently sober for a little over two months now.
So, who is my daughter? She is the sweetest soul on earth. She is the fruit of my loins. She is pure, and delightful, and beautiful, and on occasion, drama free and happy! I have witnessed her trying to help others when she can’t help herself! I have watched her try to come out from under everything that influences her, from everything that alters her, from everything that drives her to get high, and each time that has been met unsuccessfully, I raise my bar of hope for her, for, till my last breath, her wellness is my mission. My dream—to see her out from under so she can finally be back on top of the world, or at best, distanced from deaths door! She is my life goal! She helped me find my purpose in life, which has made me happy and one of the luckiest people in the world. Although I can’t fix her, I can be part of the solution where collateral damage sits in the forefront. I help other Mom’s become girls again. I help them find their way towards helping themselves by showing them that, although we are dealing every day with a life and death situation, that is just a part of our ‘new’ normal life, and that we deserve some happiness regardless of our situation.
For those of you who have never had to live with the nightmare of addiction, count your blessings! Count every stinking one of them because they are fucking priceless! You are truly blessed and very lucky! When I see my friends children thriving out there in this world, it gives me great joy and I always remind their parents to really, really be grateful their children were able to avoid the trap of addiction. My heart fills up when I hear that their children are on their way to a bright and successful future, or they’ve achieved a major life goal, or they got married, or, well, that list can go on and on!
When I speak about my daughter, it’s a different kind of success we discus—life, death, and how the hell do we get through this! The fact that after all these years, her body is still warm, her mind still mostly in tact, that when she experiences those beautiful moments of clarity, well, that gives me pride and comfort. The smallest accomplishment feels like there’s a Pulitzer Prize lurking just around the corner. They are, in our world, milestones! The fact that she rises each day just as the sun does, reinvigorates my heart and continues to fill me with hope and the possibility that she still gets a chance to turn her life around.
Our ‘normal’ is not like most other families ‘normal’. We live hopeful, but at the same time, we live prepared for the worst. We cringe at the sound of a far off siren! Our blood runs cold when the phone rings in the middle of the night! Watching the news and hearing the words unidentified body turns us to stone! When they go MIA for days, or weeks, or months at a time, our imagination takes on a life of its own! There is no guarantee that life, as we know it, will exist tomorrow! That’s just the nature of the beast!
Where your normal family builds monuments around your children, we’re thinking, what kind of headstone would be appropriate? We live knowing that at any moment, of any day, we can get ‘the call’ informing us that the worst has happened. We spend years bracing ourselves for that moment and our daydreams often veer towards what kind of funeral we could throw. That’s the reality of being the parent of a drug addict!
So, for those of you who look at that child on the street holding that sign asking for spare change, for those of you who cross the street to avoid contact with that disgusting, dirty, ‘junkie’, no matter how old they are, that child that is likely living on a whim and a prayer. Please, try to remember that that is somebody’s child! I often stop and talk with the ones I come across. I’ll ask a simple question like, when was the last time your spoke with your family? I’ll let them use my cell phone to call home just so their family will know they’re still alive. I’ll get them something to eat and a bottle of water! They are not contagious. You do not need to cross the street to avoid them. They are simply someone’s child who has the disease of addiction! You can’t catch that! Ignoring them just feeds the shame they already feel.
We are losing these children of every age, race, and religion, at a rapid rate of 174 deaths per day across our great nation. (As data provides, NIDA, 64,000 people died in 2016 from drug overdoses) There is no outrage! There are no protests! There is nothing for them. It’s as though those who became addicted ceased to exist the day they made that one bad choice and got caught by drugs. They are referred to as scumbags, junkies, failures, etc. Their survival exists one breath to another. They are one needle, one snort, one smoke, toke or poke away from death on a daily basis.
No one is judging those who are hooked on Ambien or other sleep products, or anxiety meds, or pain meds that have surpassed their original use but are still being taken long after their malady has been fixed. I know many people who are hooked on those but we would never refer to them as addicts or junkies because it’s been deemed they have a medical condition. Their medication is doctor prescribed. That little oxycodone (OxyContin®) or hydrocodone (Vicodin®) pill they depend on for that ache or pain, did you know that that is pretty much the same as taking heroin? Did you know that’s why some people can’t seem to stop taking them even though they’ve recovered from what it was prescribed for? Did you know that maybe you’re addicted to them? Did you know that it can be that easy to become an addict? Interesting, huh? Maybe that’s why you can’t bring yourself to stop taking it! Something to think about at least! If you or that awful drug addict could just stop taking this stuff, we wouldn’t have this problem to begin with, right? But…we have this problem, and this problem has become a National Crisis!
Families of addicts are judged so often that most just stop talking about it and silently feel shamed or alone. You know what that self-imposed silence feels like? It feels like a black cloak wrapped around our hearts as we continuously mourn someone who is still alive, someone we love unconditionally, someone we are powerless to fix!
We are told that we are bad parents, that we didn’t do a good job raising them, or my favorite, ‘how could you let this happen to your child’ as though we somehow encouraged the behavior, as though we stuck the needle in their arm, as though we forced them to take that pill! No matter what though, we don’t have a choice. We have to suck up and take it because we understand that people fear what they know nothing about! We persevere and we continue to love our children regardless of what you think about us or them because, to not hold that deep love for them in our heart, then they have nothing, no rope to hold on to, no place to fall, no one to see that they exist in this world. The silver lining—we become much stronger because of this, and sometimes, we can move mountains just by being present and sometimes—we can’t. When we keep the light on the porch, it’s not to ward off burglars; it’s a beacon of hope for our addicts.
So, the next time you look at us, at our addict, and think that you are better than us, take a minute to try to walk in our shoes before you unfurl that statement that wants to one up us, or shame us, or blame us. That old adage, ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all’ comes into play here. We already have enough on our plate when it comes to emotional collateral damage! Instead, before you hurl that opinion or judgment at us, I would encourage you to turn it around, turn it inward, turn it towards your luck and say to yourself, ‘Thank God that’s not my life! Thank God my child is okay’ instead of adding to our agony. I will always thank God it’s not your child because it’s a terrible way to go through life. But, if you really need to say something contrary to this, just know, many of us have become fucking bulletproof!
I’ve learned to swim through the muddy waters over the years and finally found the safety of the shore. I am strong enough now for both of us! Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me!
For those of you who are not in this dance with the devil, you may think life is too short, but for our addicts and for us, each day is the longest day of our lives!
Life’s first rule is—first do no harm!
Life’s second rule—Be kind! Be grateful! Be helpful! Be respectful!
Be thankful for everything you have because…it can all change in the blink of an eye!
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