Overdose?

I keep hearing about people dying. Not the regular kind of dying I’d expect at 67 with friends well into their 70’s. No, these are other kinds of dying. Some end the life of the body. Some just slowly kill the soul.

A woman who was a member of AA for years started drinking again and died from alcohol poisoning.

Another woman who had years of sobriety drank again while caring for her dying parent and is going back to treatment.

A 60-year-old man struggled for years to stay sober. He started drinking again. He was taken from the bank to the ER and then admitted for an apparent stroke. He’s having trouble talking and walking.

A woman with grandchildren starts prescription pain medicine after a knee replacement. When the prescription runs out, she looks for other sources. She finds an opioid laced with fentanyl. It doesn’t end well.

A young woman with anorexia died because she was too weak to survive necessary surgery.

A man committed suicide after a long stretch of untreated depression mixed with a lot of alcohol and a gun in his house.

A woman dropped out of Social Work because she couldn’t leave her troubled clients behind at the end of the day.

A man is forced to retire from stressful, lucrative work because he has heart disease and unmanageable diabetes.

An 8-year-old overweight child is teased and bullied at school. Her mother gives her cookies after hearing her story saying, “These will help you feel better.”

A young woman becomes consumed by what’s in the news and what is wrong with her world. She doesn’t see how she can make a difference.

A husband with a young daughter gets hooked on internet porn. His wife asks him to leave.

An older woman whose kids and grandchildren have moved away starts to miss purpose, a reason to get up in the morning. She dwindles, begins to fade away.

Overdoses?

I say “Yes.”

An AA friend says we are all feel-good junkies, just wanting to feel better. Or not feel anything at all.

So we drink. We eat (or not). We misuse drugs. We stay busy. We become focused on sex or online porn. We care for others. We work. We just stop caring.  And because they work for a while, we do these things more and more until they start to do us harm.

Money or lack of it doesn’t seem to matter. It happens to people in good health and to those who with chronic illnesses. To those with families who love them and those who are truly alone. Some may appear happy and content.  Others may obviously feel bad.

Maybe the difference is being able to ask for or accept help. These holes are hard to climb out of alone. Love and support from others are good things, but enabling self-destructive behavior is not good. What all enablers have in common: they love someone who is out of control, and they find themselves taking more responsibility for the actions of that person than the person is taking for themselves. A woman once said at an Al Anon meeting, “Help is the sunny side of control.” Think about that for a minute.

So what do we do?

When one of my grown daughters was going through a hard time, a friend told me, “All you can do is love her and pray for her.” It didn’t feel like enough.

I think we also need to keep talking and writing, with friends and more publicly, about our own experiences with addiction and mental health issues. We have to lessen the shame.

And we need to listen mindfully and lovingly, without judgment, without trying to fix them, when others trust us enough to share their hard stuff.

And my friend was right. We need to love them and pray for them.

 

 

 

 

Published in: on October 9, 2019 at 12:32 pm  Comments (3)  
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All Are Welcome Here

Almost 300 people gathered at Kanuga Conference Center in the woods of the NC mountains.  All were somehow touched by HIV/AIDS.  The Southeastern dioceses of the Episcopalian Church have sponsored this annual June retreat for over 20 years. Clients and patients mixed easily with staff and volunteers from agencies in NC, SC, AL, FL, GA and even Texas.  Some rode many hours on buses.  Others carpooled.  For many, this was their only trip beyond their home county all year.

I attended this year, my 4th time.  I listened to stories of loss and loneliness and hope and resilience.  Many voiced gratitude for a place of no shame where the dominant message was “You are welcome here.

A young man in his 20’s told of being born HIV positive.  His mother died shortly after his birth and he was adopted at 3 weeks old from the hospital. At 8, his mother told him he was HIV positive.  He went to a support group and found a best friend.  As he reached adulthood, his adoptive mother died and then his best friend.  He was ready to stop his medications and die, too.  He found Higher Ground, a day center for people who are HIV positive.  He participated in a men’s support group and the men nurtured him and loved him and he decided to keep on living.

Another man shared that he doesn’t take communion at home because he is HIV positive and doesn’t want to make anyone else uncomfortable by drinking from the communal cup. He gratefully took communion and drank from the cup at the sunrise lakeside worship service because all were truly welcome that morning.  He cried telling his story.

At that same lakeside worship service, just as the priest was consecrating the bread and wine, a flock of geese circled the lake, flew over our heads, and landed softly on the water.  They stayed there, floating, as we went to the front for communion.  Flying geese are a Celtic symbol of the Holy Spirit.*

I volunteer at Higher Ground, a house in my town where people infected and affected by HIV gather. I’m on the board of directors for its parent agency, Triad Health Project.

Once a month my church provides lunch at Higher Ground for about 30 people, sometimes more.  Over the years, we have fed over 6,000 hungry mouths. One time I fixed baked chicken breasts.  I knew how many I cooked and I knew from counting heads it wasn’t enough.  We had leftovers.  And no way to explain them.  There is always enough food.

Once or twice a month I lead a group, called Robin’s Nest on the calendar. Sometimes we write in journals–everyone gets one and they’re stored in a big wicker basket in the back room.  We’ve played with Model Magic, weird stuff that’s like new-age Play Dough. We’ve used markers and crayons.  Always I play music, usually soft jazz like Kenny G or Boney James. We’re quiet for a while and then everyone has a chance to share.  We talk about life and death, faith and fun, anger and love.  We tell our stories. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry.  We listen and we are heard.

Most of the folks who participate have lost something because of their disease.  Lovers, family, honesty about themselves, mobility, health.  They are more likely to talk about what they have gained.  For some, days free from addiction.  For most, faith in a loving God.  Often, it’s Higher Ground, where they have a community of welcoming friends who care where they are and ask how they’re doing.  They daily choose to keep on living because they have come so close to dying.

Nine years ago, when I was diagnosed with cancer, I went to Higher Ground.  I knew they would understand my fears and would show me how to keep living each day, one at a time.  When my rheumatoid arthritis is acting up and I’m in pain, Higher Ground is one of the few places I will go.  They accept me as I am and it’s okay.  They offer compassion; there is no pity.  They know how to live life on life’s terms.

I know the Holy Spirit was at Kanuga. I saw Her geese. I feel God’s presence every time I pay attention at Higher Ground.

14 years ago, I resisted the call to Higher Ground.  I had just resigned after  6 1/2 years as a Hospice volunteer coordinator and I said, “I don’t want to be around people who are going to die.” I’m not sure when or how that changed.

People I love have dwindled and died.  But more have come close and then gotten well again.

I think I have more to learn from my friends at Higher Ground.  My heart needs to continue opening to new friends.  I’m willing to take the risk.

 

* “Wild Goose” is a Celtic spirituality metaphor that evokes unpredictability, beauty, and grace.

 

 

 

Published in: on August 1, 2014 at 4:39 pm  Comments (7)  
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A Rabbi, A Sheikh, and A Pastor…

…waited for the room to fill.  They had a story to tell.

Don Mackenzie, Jamal Rahman, and Ted Falcon were leading a break-out session at the 2010 Spiritual Directors International Conference in Atlanta based on their book, Getting to the Heart of Interfaith: The Eye-Opening, Hope-Filled Friendship of a Pastor, a Rabbi & a SheikhThese three men came together in their community after 9/11.  First they got to know each other;  then they  included others in their interfaith discussions.

I could have listened to them all day.  Their well-practiced “act” was informative and funny.  They laughed at each others’ jokes and listened carefully to each other as they taught. The speakers described their faiths, emphasizing how each incorporates compassion (the theme of the conference).

The Book of Mormon Girl  filled my morning reading time last week.  Joanna Brooks, the author, is a Mormon mom who supports a woman’s right to choose and gay marriage, not the usual Mormon positions.  Her book describes her childhood as a Mormon in Southern California and the evolution of her faith as she matured.

Julie Peeples, my pastor, suggested  Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong.  These Twelve Steps include:  (3) Compassion for Yourself, (4) Empathy, (5) Mindfulness, (8) How Should We Speak to One Another?, (11) Recognition, (12) Love Your Enemies.  Armstrong never says the Steps are easy, just necessary.

I watched the Republican convention and the Democratic convention is on as I write.  I know who I will vote for in November and why.  As a lifelong learner, I enjoy listening to and reading about others’ values and beliefs, even when I strongly disagree.

We are all children of God doing the best we can.  We may worship differently (or not at all).  We may take different stands on issues.  We must all live together on this planet and in this nation.

Everyone has a story to tell.  Listening leads us to our commonalities rather than the contentious issues.

Please, listen to each other, respect each other, get to know each other.  We can and should let go of the anger.

Children are watching and listening.

Published in: on September 5, 2012 at 9:38 pm  Comments (6)  
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