I mentioned in my last post that I was attending the Candlelight Vigil for those who lost their life to addiction last Sunday. I was really tired from a long week and a first treatment, and it was freezing out (I thought it was outside, thank Jesus twice over, it was not) so I had to muster up the energy to go. As stated, the entire Melanie/AC clan went (sans Jay J who had to complete an English essay so he indeed graduates and does not find himself murdered by me). We had a big supper early and bundled up, preparing for the sad night ahead of us. I personally did not know any of the folks that had passed away, however, I have a good friend whose brother-in-law had and I was honored to meet his sister, who had come from Florida. As soon as we got to the Medford City Hall I was overwhelmed with relief that we would be inside since it was 4 degrees outside and the wind was trying to blow us all to the Land of Oz.
Walking in the front door of the City Hall I was overwhelmed with a completely different emotion. The stairs were lined with brown paper lunch bags, all with an electronic candle inside, and with the name of someone whom had passed away. There were so many bags. It was impossible not to feel the grief hanging in the air, it was so tangible I felt like I could reach out to grab it. It was so breathe taking, but that was only the beginning. As you ascended the stairs, to walk to the second floor, I was immediately taken by all the posters lining the landing. Family members and friends had made posters with pictures of those who had died. The love was evident as you looked at the pictures of young men and woman, and the grief was heavy. Lots of hugs, lots of tears, tissues everywhere. It was so agonizing to think all these lives were lost.
Not only was the amount of people attending both heartbreaking and heartwarming, but so was some of the information I learned. The program yield several speakers, a narcan demonstration, a singer, a moment of silence, and a slide show that kept playing, with all the names and pictures if available, of those that had died. It started with the narcan demonstration which was done by a woman from the Cambridge Needle Exchange. The Cambridge Needle Exchange offers a wide arrangement of services including testing, case management, needle exchange, narcan training and kits. This was so interesting. She started by explaining what the Cambridge Needle Exchange was before begin instruction on how to use narcan. She began by describe the signs of overdose, and warning that people often throw someone overdosing into a cold shower or trying other home remedies but warned that those things are dangerous. She stated that the best thing to do it is call 911- and warned NOT to say the person was overdosing, but to only say that there is a person not breathing, as response times are not as quick when someone is overdosing. I found this shocking. I know that is probably naive of me. I always believed when people said no one wants to save an addict that was an exaggeration but here is a woman well educated in the field confirming my worst fears. She also reminded everyone about the Good Samaritan law so active users in the room or even in recovery would know that they would not be arrested if they called. And, she concluded by demonstrating how to administer narcan (a few side notes: 1. A person can’t overdose on narcan itself, either it works or it doesn’t 2. It does expire but that just means the farther away from the expiration date the less potent it is, if someone is OD’ing, use it!). I also found it disturbing that only some towns have police that carry narcan, that there is resistance from many towns to begin doing that, and there is a ton of red tape before it can even happen. I am going to look into this more before I speak to it, I want my own facts before I form an opinion.
There were several speakers, and all of them were fabulous. And touching, oh my god, the emotions were raw and so honest. I commend them for getting up to speak about such a tough subject. There were two young men whom are both in recovery that spoke about their time in active addiction. It was so difficult to listen to them speak of the lows they had reached, as I could only imagine JoDee being in a place of those same lows. But there was a few remarkable things I heard from those speeches. Things that I would be remiss should I not pass them on. He remarked that the point of the vigil was to break the stigma or the brand of heroin addiction. To him, in his life, he suffered with restlessness and discontent most of his life. Using, to him, was getting well. Using made him feel whole. I have to believe that this is what it is like for so many addicts. I believe that JoDee is doing well because she has found medications that fill a void that do not require the use of heroin or other street drug. But she had resources to get that help. I can’t say the same for many. Many addicts never have a mental illness diagnoses, many addicts suffer with the trauma of sexual or physical abuse, and many addicts grow up in a hell that many of us will never know about. The one thing I heard loud and clear, and it was reiterated by the City Mayor, was substance abuse disorder is a disease not a life choice. And, not everyone who does drugs is an addict. I might be able to smoke pot or drink a few times a year, and it never accounts to more than having fun and being a little reckless which remains harmless. I learned that there is a reason that for some it graduates, even if we don’t always know what that reason is. In a lot of cases, the addict may die taking it with them, or many they never know themselves.
One of the most truthful statements I heard that really related to me, the family member of an addict, came from a 14 year old girl. She said she is not an addict but addiction ruined her life. Her father died over a year ago. She was so strong. She spoke with force, with power, I was in awe. She summed up how many of us feel about our role as the family member of addict very clearly. And she wasn’t the only one. The speaker that left no eye dry, that moved every single person in attendance, was the mother of two sons whom have both died of drug addiction. The statement that she was a childless mother made my knees buckle. Not just for her, and her pain, but because many times I have said I could easily be a daughterless mother. She was living my worst nightmare. She is living many of our worst nightmares. She spoke about the reason she continues to go on (and I was thinking I don’t know if I could or would want too) was because that’s what her sons would want. They would want her to be alive, with her son’s children, trying to heal. Heal? How? And she says that every morning it takes her sometime after waking up to realize the nightmare is true, they are both gone. It sounds like this has been such a long battle for her. She stated that one of her sons had as much clean time as not, which is how I felt about JoDee. The clean time seems to go buy very quickly, but the time we are trapped in active addiction seems to grab ahold of our lives and linger for a long time. A big reason for that, for me, is because when she completes a program, I am counting the days until the next relapse happens. Relapse is inevitable in addiction, but not for everyone. Some addicts never get a chance to relapse, and rarely, some addicts stay clean after a first attempt at recovery.
Something else that happened was confirmation of my own beliefs. For example, one of the speakers spoke of how he went into detox to detox from heroin and prescription pills. Once admitted he was loaded up by their standards, sometimes as bad as he was on the street. I can speak to that. On more than one occasion I have thought JoDee was more banged up inside than out. First of all, patients were cheeking meds, passing/trading/selling them to each other, smuggling drugs in and otherwise partaking in medications not prescribed to them. Then, they are doled out their medications that are prescribed to them for the purposes of helping curb side effects, withdrawals and cravings while detoxing. The amount and type of medication is based on the amount and type of drug the addict was using on the street. So JoDee typically is a heroin user so she was typically given suboxone. Many times I felt that she exaggerated the amount of heroin she was using per day to have the psychiatrist or other prescribing physician order a stronger dose for a longer period of time. At a time she was on Leland Unit at Beverly Hospital, a former sponsor and I went to visit JoDee and we both felt JoDee was getting higher than anything else. And this was confirmed when she was moved to a step down unit where she really started to detox. The last time she went to detox in Danvers they gave her Librium which makes her a complete wackadoodle. She is completely disorientated to time and place, she is extremely combative and even more irrational than she normal is which is pretty effed up if you know her personally! When we made the decision to section her to WATC it was in part because she had already derailed, and while in detox was psychotic in my opinion, and she walked out of the front door to seek more of whatever she could get. I was told they gave her Librium because she was smoking crack and that was protocol. I also believe it’s illegal to dry detox anyone which for some addictions I can understand (alcohol comes to mind, a person can die from the DT’s) but not from heroin or even crack. A person might feel like they are going to die, or even want too, but they won’t. Lord knows I have detoxed JoDee at home enough times to know. I don’t think we should be cruel, but to some extent it does feel like the way the current system works, the inmates are running the asylum. The entire system is based on the information from the patient, i.e. addict-whom is known, generally, for lying to get the fix they need-to determine what type of drug they are detoxing from and the amount the body may be dependent on.
Overall, I believe the system is broken. It needs to be stripped down and rebuilt. But how can we do that in the middle of a war? Our addicts need us now. Too many are dying- of all ages and genders (though it was shocking the male to female ratio… way more males). Once they are done with a detox system that isn’t fantastic, we send them out into the world, in the same geographical area they know how to score in, with a list of names, N/A meetings and programs. With a good luck and a high five. After making NUMEROUS rounds of calls for JoDee I can tell you I felt it would be easier to stick a needle in my arm than to get help. It was so frustrating. Good programs have waiting lists, bad programs have too many drug addicts just place holding to avoid jail time, psychiatrists have two month waiting lists and many N/A meetings end up like a high school dance- full of drama and spiked punch! I’m not knocking N/A, because I believe it has saved JoDee’s life, but I also think it has a lot of issues in-of-itself. However, how can I even wonder how that happens when the addicts attending are not given the full potential at recovery with the way the recovery system works now? Vicious cycle. Makes my head spin just thinking about it. I feel like we set people up to fail, are surprised when it happens, and then use it as justification to judge. Great system. However, I heard a lot of talk about new laws and new programs and a new horizon for our addicts. I am happy for that, and I need to find out how I can help.