Killing Time

time

I found these cigarette butts in the canister outside the library. I’d not heard of them, but I found the name amusing and disturbing at the same time. Time is the one thing that cigarette smokers don’t have. They smoke it away. They are literally killing time when they smoke. Worse, they are killing time in multiple ways. At first, it means not doing anything meaningful with their lives during the fifteen minutes they take to smoke. It ends with years cut off their lifespan. In the middle, their quality of life is lessened (why am I using the passive tense – they lessen it themselves, it isn’t done to them) by the diseases they get – cancer, emphysema, heart disease, etc.

When I was growing up, cigarettes were known as “coffin nails” or “cancer sticks”. Perhaps something like that would be more honest. But this is pretty good.  Maybe it will make them think about what they are doing to themselves.

These are discount cigarettes, so they most certainly have more “filler” and less tobacco in them. Thus, they are even more dangerous to smoke. It seems logical that if someone wants to save money, they’d quit smoking altogether.

The sad part is that the poor suffer even more when they smoke because of the unnatural ingredients in their cigarettes. (Again, why am I using the passive voice? Smoking is a choice. Nobody forces you to smoke.)

Advertisements

There is hope after diagnosis

A guy came into my workplace yesterday, obviously experiencing the mania that comes with unmanaged mental dis-ease. He was raving about conspiracy theories and the Temple Mount – said he was even frisked by the police in the Holy Land just 50 days ago.

Little does he realize but I speak Crazy fluently, being a citizen of that country. I’ve also taken classes and read books on how to safely interact with people who are on the edge of “dealing with it”. I enjoyed the challenge of the conversation, but was also reminded of how far I’ve come.

Today is marks the 17 year anniversary of the last time I was in a mental hospital. There is hope after a diagnosis. Since I started taking care of myself, I’ve had the same job for 16 years, I’ve been married for 12, I’ve published four books and I have excellent credit. You can have a mental disorder and be fine – with proper care (a lot of it is self-care).

Like many people, I went through the trap of thinking it was a temporary thing and got off the meds (which weren’t good for anyone anyway – they no longer prescribe the one I took) and went off the deep end again. I went to the hospital again (both times self-initiated) and got on different meds that gave me clarity so I could start taking care of myself. It is hard to be “normal” when the high is so vivid and interesting. Everything is connected. Life is 31 flavors when high with mania – but only vanilla when “normal”. I’ve learned how to be in the middle.

A lot has to do with getting enough exercise, eating right, and enough sleep. Writing helps me a lot. But Americans aren’t into self-care for anything – do whatever you want and damn the consequences – and blame them on someone else. This is true with every disease we have.

The only way out is to –

admit that there is a problem,

that it won’t fix itself,

that it is chronic (think heart disease, not the flu),

and that you have a lot you can do to help yourself get better. It isn’t all about the meds – but they are important.  Look through my “Survival” book list for books that will help you help yourself.

 

Most of all – remember that a diagnosis is not a definition.  You are a person who has a mental health diagnosis.  You aren’t the disease.

 

 

Maybe addiction isn’t just for substance abusers

Here’s a rule – if you choose to ignore good advice, you don’t have the right to complain about the results.

If you eat mostly meat and drink sodas, you will get kidney stones. This is an expected result. If you know better and refuse to change then you are stupid. You are not ignorant because you know better. You’re willful and childish. It is crazy behavior.

This is my working out my anger at a friend who repeatedly has kidney stones and complains about them. They are very painful and keep him from living his life. Or perhaps this is the life he wants – a life of pain, of feeling victimized – that this just keeps happening. I realized I was very angry about this behavior of his, and dug deeper.

I realized that part of it is that I’m still angry because my Mom was so surprised that she was dying from lung cancer. She smoked two packs a day of cigarettes for 20 years. Duh. Of course she got lung cancer. She should have known better. So many people act like this.

Addiction isn’t just about abusing substances. It is about maladaptive techniques for living life. It isn’t just about using drugs or alcohol. It is about loving pain more than loving being healed.

I’m angry because I got out of my hole of addiction and I keep seeing friends in their holes, wailing. They want attention, but not help. They want to be noticed, to have people feel sorry for them. I have to stop listening because I feel so upset when I hear them like this. It is almost as if they are celebrating their pain. I was obese, addicted to pot, and I smoked clove cigarettes. I got myself out of that terrible place, slowly but surely.

It is possible to get out of the jails we put ourselves in as soon as we admit that we are the ones who put ourselves there. We have the keys.

How are we as a culture so asleep as to cause-and-effect? I’m angry how often people complain “My head hurts” (metaphorically), so the answer is to quit banging it against the wall. We are our own worst enemies. I cannot stand listening to addicts. I was one. I got over it. Grow up. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. You cannot spend all your money and still have savings for retirement or emergencies. You cannot have a lifetime of inactivity and expect to be healthy.

Americans are willfully ignorant of cause-and-effect. They think poverty / illness / death happens to other people. Or that it is somebody else’s fault or responsibility. They blame someone else (parents, their boss, the government, for instance) for their being in that situation or demand that someone else (often the same list of people) get them out of it. These are all lies. They are all habits of addicts. It is so frustrating to watch people kill themselves slowly.

It is like we are in an abusive relationship with ourselves, and nobody is willing to tell us. Consider when you have a friend who’s dating a guy who is a jerk. He steals her money, talks bad about her, he makes her feel like she’s no good or makes her feel like she can’t do anything without him. All of her friends see this and yet they don’t tell her because they’re under this collective lie that she’ll just ignore their words. They believe that she has to figure out her problems on her own. But what if she lacks perspective to know that she has value and that there is a choice, that there is a way out?

I think it’s cruel to say nothing when you see someone hitting their head against the wall when the door is right next to them.

I think that it is not the sign of a friend to let someone continue to abuse themselves without showing them that there is a safe way out of their problems.

Now once someone has been shown how to take care of himself, been shown the doorway out of the room that they were trapped in, then it is up to them to take the next steps. You cannot shove someone through the door but it is perfectly loving to tell them that there is one.

Part of the problem of recovery is that not every door works for every person. It is like diets. Some people have to have a raw diet, while some people have to have a macrobiotic diet. Some people need to grow their own food, while others feel they don’t have the time to do it and go to grocery store. Somewhere in the middle are those who go to the farmer’s market. Every person has their own path and it’s important to remember that their path is theirs and theirs alone.

There is a fine line between compassion and codependency, and I don’t know where that is.

So in the meantime, I’ve “unfollowed” a lot of friends on Facebook, rather than hear them complain about their lives. I want to rescue them, to kidnap them. I want to force them to learn how to get better, because I think that will help me get better. Maybe I’ll get “a star on my crown” if I heal them. But I can barely take care of myself.

On depression, addiction and following God’s commandments

Several of the many blessings in Judaism give thanks to God for sanctifying us by giving us commandments. What does this mean? We are made sacred when we follow the commands that God has given us.

While reading this week’s Torah portion (Bechukotai), I was struck by how this relates to depression and addiction. When we stray from the path of order, we get sick. The word “Sanitary” refers to being clean. Insane literally means “not-clean”. When we act in a good way, we stay clean and sane.

In Leviticus Chapter 26, God is telling us what will happen if we don’t follow the commands that we have been given.
(14-17)
14 “But if you do not obey Me and observe all these commands— 15 if you reject My statutes and despise My ordinances, and do not observe all My commands—and break My covenant, 16 then I will do this to you: I will bring terror on you—wasting disease and fever that will cause your eyes to fail and your life to ebb away. You will sow your seed in vain because your enemies will eat it. 17 I will turn against you, so that you will be defeated by your enemies. Those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even though no one is pursuing you.

“Terror, and your life will ebb away”? Sounds a lot like anxiety and depression. And we will run even though nobody is pursuing us? That sounds like anxiety too, always in a panic.

Note that this is not some random punishment. It is the natural result of dis-order – of not following the order, the commandments, of God. It is more that we are punished by our bad choices, rather than God is punishing us.

19-20
19 I will break down your strong pride. I will make your sky like iron and your land like bronze, 20 and your strength will be used up for nothing. Your land will not yield its produce, and the trees of the land will not bear their fruit.

“Your strength will be used up for nothing” sounds very familiar. Depression feels like nothing you do is meaningful or worthwhile. What little energy you have amounts to nothing.

26
26 When I cut off your supply of bread, 10 women will bake your bread in a single oven and ration out your bread by weight, so that you will eat but not be satisfied.

Depression and addiction both feel like you are never satisfied. Nothing ever makes you happy. You never feel fulfilled.

36
36 “I will put anxiety in the hearts of those of you who survive in the lands of their enemies. The sound of a wind-driven leaf will put them to flight, and they will flee as one flees from a sword, and fall though no one is pursuing them.

More anxiety and terror, even though there is no discernable reason for it. Once again, this is part of depression and anxiety.

43
43 For the land abandoned by them will make up for its Sabbaths by lying desolate without the people, while they pay the penalty for their sin, because they rejected My ordinances and abhorred My statutes.

And this is all for when we choose to disobey God.

Yet, even though we abandon God, God does not abandon us.
44-45
44 Yet in spite of this, while they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject or abhor them so as to destroy them and break My covenant with them, since I am Yahweh their God. 45 For their sake I will remember the covenant with their fathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their God; I am Yahweh.”

We can turn around right now, and start acting correctly. We can be like the prodigal son, and return, right now, to obeying God.

Jesus boils down all of the commandments to two – Love God, and love your neighbor. Treat your neighbor how you like to be treated.

(All translations are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible)

In sickness and in health

I know a lady who said that she had to get divorced from her husband because he was schizophrenic. I know another who said that she had to get divorced because her husband was an alcoholic. Neither husband was these things when they got married. They became this way after. They changed.

These are not acceptable reasons for divorce. What part of the vow that you will stay with each other “in sickness and in health” did they not get? When you marry it is a package deal. You don’t get to choose “health” or “richer”. Sometimes it is “sickness” and “poorer”.

When you marry it is for life. It is not something that is only when everything is working out fine. It means you’re going to stick with that person no matter what. Marriage isn’t easy.

I wonder what those women would have thought if the shoe was on the other foot? What if they were the ones to develop a severe and difficult form of mental illness? What if they were the ones to fall into addiction? Her bad situation would suddenly get worse because her spouse – the person who had sworn to be by her side through thick and thin – had left.

If you are not willing to stay with someone regardless of how things evolve, of how they change (and change is part of life), then do not get married.

Lost and found

Lost and found1 012816

detail
Lost and found2

Praying the Lord’s Prayer at McDonalds.
A man who was lost/homeless/mentally ill/addicted/blind (any or all)

I went to McDonald’s to get “second breakfast” after attending mandatory substance abuse awareness training for my job (This class has to be taken every 5 years). This man outside the store asked for change.
I find it significant that panhandlers ask for change – not money. Change is what they need, true change.
I gave him money and said “God loves you.” He initiated the prayer. He held out his hand to me. It was grimy – grey/green. We held hands while we prayed the Lord’s Prayer together. It was beautiful. I remember my years of struggling with addiction and feeling lost.

Ingredients:

8.5 x 12 inch Strathmore visual journal

Map torn from a book, missing some of the reference points. Paper that reminds me of prison bars. Receipt. Matte medium. Distress ink spray (crushed olive)
Created 1/28/16

Poem – becoming sober

Becoming sober is like
doing surgery
on yourself.
Everything hurts,
because the things that you used
to run away
from the pain
are the very things
you know
you can’t do
anymore.
So you have to sit down
with yourself
and dig deep
and uncover
all the pain
that you ran away from,
no matter how long ago,
no matter how it happened,
with no anesthesia.

Nobody can do this work for you.
Nobody gives you the tools.
You can watch others
with their struggles
and pick up an idea or three
of what might work for you,
but you’ll only know what works
when you try.
It might work that week,
but not next year.
You’re a different person then.

When we drink or smoke
or do drugs or overeat or
blame others or make excuses
we put up walls
around ourselves
so we don’t have to feel.
We become divorced
from our bodies,
from our lives.
We become immune
to the day to day feelings
of being alive.

Being sober
isn’t just about
stopping using
whatever it was that you used
as a shield,
as a crutch,
as anesthesia.
Being sober isn’t about
forgetting
the past or
the pain either.
Being sober is about
being alive,
and facing your past
and present reality
with courage
and love.