This blog post actually starts after the following two Facebook posts from years past. I want to give people who don’t know the history some context for what I’m about to lay down. In the end, my intentions are not malicious, but I do hope this series of facts, stories, and thoughts makes you uncomfortable. Progress only happens outside of your comfort zone. If you've read my past posts - skip to "Oct 31st, 2019 - "
Jan 26th, 2016 –
This post is about to get very real. This will be the first and last time I will probably ever post about this topic. It has permeated nearly every conversation I've had this past year with people who know the situation. To be quite honest, I'm tired of talking about it because talking about it never really seems to help the issue or bring about a solution. And even though this problem is hopeless, I’m hoping spreading awareness will somehow help in some way. And here is my attempt at stirring up some of that awareness. If you're not up for the read, just move on.
I wanted to take a moment to thank a few of our industries here in America. I want to specifically thank the pharmaceutical industry, Kaiser Permanente, and heroin. And yes these are all part of a greater industry (more specifically the medical industry and the drug industry). I want to thank all three for giving me the now un-unique opportunity to mourn my brother while he is still alive. I want to thank you for the nightmares - both in my dreams and the ones that have, in the past year, become realities. Don't get me wrong, I know my brother also has some responsibility in this and I struggle with blame and anger for different sides of this every single day, but for the most part (besides his actual poor decision making) this is a bigger societal issue.
I know many of you will think "but he is still alive - be thankful for that". But "he" isn't. The little guy I watched grow up, with the amazing writing talent, inquisitive mind, love for baseball, and caring heart, is dead. Replaced by a manipulative, depressed boy with a forever changed brain chemistry. Replaced by a heroin addict. And no matter what anyone says, that addict is not my brother. That addict literally has a different brain. That addict is now a statistic - not a brother. That addict has now made my family and I all a statistic - we are no longer mothers and sisters and cousins; we are now people affected by addiction, heroin, and the pharmaceutical industry. And now all we can do is wait to become another more depressing statistic. And statistically it’s not if that will happen, but when. (Heroin relapse statistics are above 78% (NIH) and overdose rates have grown 286% between 2002 & 2013(CDC)).
So, thank you to the pharmaceutical industry. Thank you for making prescription pain pills/opioids/anti-depressant/etc so easily accessible (especially in white collar America). They are literally more accessible than alcohol, more legal than marijuana, and more dangerous than the two combined. The number of opioid prescriptions have grown from 76 million/year to 207 million/year in 22 years (Int. Narcotics Control Board UN Pub). Has the rate of injuries skyrocketed? Has the rate of people actually needing pain meds skyrocketed? I haven’t found any solid data on this, but I am going to assume that there hasn’t been a sudden influx of clumsier people – even though sometimes we can question a good portion of the population’s intelligence. So, why then has the doctor’s office suddenly become a candy store? I would be willing to hypothesize that if I took a deeper look it would directly correlate with the transition from a health/medicine profession to a pharmaceutical industry. The pharmaceutical industry is (as of 2014 in the US) is a $374billion dollar industry, which if you look back just 12 years has almost doubled (If you look at the global pharmaceutical industry, it has almost tripled) (NIH). That is a lot of money. So, I guess the candy store makes a little more sense now. I mean it is, after all, all about the money here in America.
So, then, my thanks will now be directed toward Kaiser Permanente. Not Kaiser as a whole, but more specifically the psychology coverage/department. I have had Kaiser for the majority of my life and I have no complaints personally, but when it comes to psychological (including addiction – it’s now classified as a brain disorder and not a behavior problem) care, Kaiser fails miserably. You basically have to flat-line in their presence for them to admit you into any sort of care or program related to drugs/addiction. My family has learned this from experience. The experience of my brother walking to the door of a Kaiser facility pleading to take him through withdrawals and wanting to be admitted into an intensive program, only to be turned away because his situation “wasn’t dire enough.” Well, are countless suicide attempts, a 6 month stint in jail, and countless relapses dire enough? Not according to Kaiser. So, thank you Kaiser, not only for, no doubt, supplying some of the opioids he originally got hooked on but also for turning him away at a crucial point on his journey – the point where he turned to heroin.
And finally thank you to the final nail in the coffin – heroin. If you don’t know anything about it, just quickly Google (or better yet Google Scholar) the drug and you will get to know the awful thing it is. It literally changes the chemistry and cognitive ability of the user. With this, you no longer have the sweet/caring/joyful/bright brother; you have a cold/depressed/fidgety/manipulative addict, prone to mood swings and disappearing. I could keep going but hopefully that paints a pretty enough picture. So, thank you, heroin, for turning potential into a disaster – for turning my brother into statistic.
What is there to take from all of this? I’m not sure. I probably won’t even end up posting this, but if I do hopefully it can open eyes or at least let other people in the same situation as me know they aren’t suffering alone. I will be the first to tell people not to trust my brother, I am the first to question his actions, and I was the first person in my family to completely discredit every word that has come out of his mouth the past few years. I will also be the first to tell you my brother has hurt my family and his friends in ways that only those in the situation could understand, and that is unacceptable. But I will also now tell you I don’t believe this is just an individual issue – it is a cultural and societal issue that probably will never be touched. It’s a hopeless situation unfortunately (from what I’ve learned first-hand and from my research) – there is just too much damn profit from the issue for anything society-wide to happen. But that doesn’t mean we have to be okay with it. So, this is me not being okay with it. This is me not being okay with having to mourn someone who is still alive. This is me not being okay with constantly waiting for a call that is bound to come. This is me not being okay with the nightmares – seeing your brother die every night and living through every day not knowing whether or not today will be the day that nightmare becomes a reality. This is me hoping to open people eyes to the issues at hand with our pharmaceutical industry and ultimately with the drug industry.
“Pain is a feeling. Your feelings are a part of you. Your own reality. If you feel ashamed of them, and hide them, you’re letting society destroy your reality. You should stand up for your right to feel your pain.” -Jim Morrison
Jan 26th, 2017 –
What a different way to start the year. I still wake up every morning not knowing if today is the day, but instead of a steady state panic there is a steady state of hope. Don’t get steady confused with static though - I know now that this will be a lifelong battle, filled with many different dynamic states. A lifelong battle not only for my brother, but for my family.
Hope is now a four-letter word. Needed and used, but not necessarily accepted without a sting. A sting of pain, of guilt, of knowing better. Because, when the reality settles in that a battle you're currently fighting will probably never end, it's hard in times of “peace” to have hope, it's hard in times of peace to be merry - to be normal. But I'm trying to learn to embrace it, trying to pay no attention to that impending cloud that hangs just far enough away in the distance that I don't constantly worry. But I’m always mindful to keep it in my line of sight. Because it will always be there, forever hanging - forever a shadow, no matter how bright the sun is shining. And it's better to acknowledge it's there than to be suddenly and rudely jerked back into reality when the cloud decides to become a storm.
This year differs from last in many ways, but none more noticeable than, for the time being, my brother is sober and actively fighting off addiction. Also noticeable is my family's active fight to regain strength and "normalcy" - whatever that means. We all, individually, are finding avenues (new or old) to deal with our wounds from the past few years and we are finding ways to emotionally strengthen ourselves to handle whatever is to come.
Ideals are peaceful, but history is violent.
I was recently in SLO and came across an article in the New Times titled “A Quiet Epidemic: SLO County’s Opioid Problem.” It’s interesting how quiet this society wide epidemic is. How quiet we and the doctors are about the prescription they practically throw at you. How quiet we are when our family member initially extends use/uses them recreationally. How quiet we are when addiction slowly seeps into the cracks of a house and family. How quietly we all suffer – addict included – because drugs are a choice and bad choices are shameful. It’s getting harder and harder to justify the choice argument anymore though.
When obesity became an epidemic, research and industries that directly contributed to it came roaring their angry heads ready to fight it. And now new investigative research shows how the food industry literally played with our biological and evolutionary traits to make us addicted to sugar and the processed foods they made with it (Look up “bliss point”). Obesity can technically be labelled a choice epidemic – just like opioid addiction. You choose to eat sugar, processed foods, and a burger that has 200% more calories and fifteen more ingredients (one or a few of them a derivative of sugar) than that same burger did just 50 years ago. It’s important to compare these two epidemics because of how similar they are. You can die from both; both are currently rampaging society and yet one gets no attention/resources to “help.” Doctors know the highly addictive properties of these drugs and still willingly prescribe them. But apparently, drugs are a much less important issue – or not an issue at all. Ideally, everyone would choose not to become an addict, right – but we all know where that statement leads us.
"This man beside us also has a hard fight with an unfavouring world, with strong temptations, with doubts and fears, with wounds of the past which have skinned over, but which smart when they are touched. It is a fact, however surprising. And when this occurs to us we are moved to deal kindly with him, to bid him be of good cheer, to let him understand that we are also fighting a battle; we are bound not to irritate him, nor press hardly upon him nor help his lower self." - John Watson
Or as everyone today quotes it:
"Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind, always" - Ian MacLaren
Oct 31st, 2019 –
I missed the anniversary of this post this year. I didn’t have much constructive to say – in truth, I was mostly angry – at my brother, at the world, at my family – but I was also hopeful, and I was scared. I was trying to live my own life. Finally wanting to break free from the burden of worry because a lot has happened since Jan 26th, 2017. I’ve wanted for so long to wash away the trauma and hate, but it’s hard to wash away past trauma when wave after wave of it keeps crashing onto your shoreline. My silence on the subject has been a choice, mainly decided for me by my brains unwillingness to wrap itself around everything - also decided by the fact that society’s ears are no longer listening, my family’s story must be over by now, right? But I think it’s important, now more than ever, to highlight the fact that the battle is still being waged. My brother is still fighting – we are still fighting.
Ignorance really is bliss. Chosen ignorance is also bliss. And ignorance really plays nicely with everyone else’s expectations for this common story. Because, unfortunately, this “story” gets boring and tired for the people only bearing witness. They are uncomfortable with battles, wars, & stories without ends. They’re used to the movies about moms of addicts ending – either in utter sadness or with the child walking into a treatment center. They can bear watching the movie because they can walk out of the theatre touched and heartbroken but with a false sense of security – “my friend whose child is suffering, won’t suffer forever.” And maybe that’s why parents of addicts play along when someone asks how their child is doing. “He’s fine, doing great actually, truly” Or “yes he’s still sober, thriving, and moving on” – even when they certainly are not. It’s uncomfortable and a burden to still be saying, “actually, he’s going through another tough time and this time is still just as bad as the times before, but worse – because we have to go through it in silence.” Because who wants to hear about an addict’s 5th plus year of battle.
Let me tell you though, who wants to talk about an addict’s 5th plus year of battle. I sure don’t. I’m also tired and bored and fed up. But damned if you don’t, damned if you do. If we don’t talk about, it’s like it’s not happening. If we do talk about it, we’re equivalently crying wolf. But it is happening, and the warning cry is real – there’s a wolf at the door every, single, time.
Keeping the conversation going is hard at times, hence my almost two years of absence on social media about it, but it needs to keep going. We had a big win this year – literally. Look up the case: State of Oklahoma vs Purdue Pharma. But we can’t let one big win derail our intentions. We can’t let this big win fall flat. Because, in reality, this “big” win is just the small snowball, waiting for its turn to roll down the hill and gain mass; waiting for its turn to be feared. “Purdue’s wrongdoing, however, does not stand alone.” (Paul J. Hanly Jr., Paul T. Farrell Jr. and Joe Rice). This court case was just one in thousands filed against big pharma companies across the US. Culturally and societally influential people are finally starting to face the facts we’ve been throwing at them, but that doesn’t mean we can stop throwing.
I guess, what I’m getting at, is talk about it. Talk about it as often as you can bear. And, to the people not directly affected by it, listen. Listen as often as you can bear. This war is about more than money – even though it’s estimated the cost of this epidemic in 2015 was a whopping $508 billion (White House Council of Economic Advisors), up from $78.5billion in 2013 (CDC) and I can’t even imagine what it’s up to today. This war needs to be about society wide change; it needs to be about treating mental illness, crushing stigmas, fighting corruption and acknowledging pain. All dangerously uncomfortable things – all things that big players are hoping will silence us. So, if nothing else, stop being silent. Talk, grieve, cry, connect, yell. Our stories may be situationally different, but the pain is the same; the problem is the same. You don’t have to be a part of the solution but don’t ignore the problem, bliss lies.
“It’s better to speak your mind than to silently resent.”
“If you avoid conflict to keep the peace, you start a war within yourself.” – Cheryl Richardson