A Woman of Little Substance

Serious mental health issues go hand in hand with serious substance abuse problems. It is an accepted fact in the mental health community. By some miracle, I have steered clear of the morass of drug and alcohol abuse and the long slow slide into addiction. Except cigarettes. I could eat cigarettes, I swear it. And I know that smoking is a nasty habit, and a very dangerous addiction. I fully expect to die of some disease caused by smoking. I’m okay with that. If I die of smoking, remember that I loved to smoke, remember that I used cigarettes to manage my anxiety, and remember that I said that I own those consequences, both the foreseeable and the unforeseeable.

But my mental health team is never worried about the cigarettes. They worry that I might be drinking, or smoking crack, or shooting heroin. Because substance abuse and schizophrenia are damn near like Siamese twins. If we throw a party, I might get drunk. It has been known to happen, but I’m talking about 3 or 4 times a year, not 3 or 4 times a week. I have had a long and glorious track record with psychedelics, but my body is no longer a fan, so I don’t eat acid or mushrooms anymore. And I never even used those drugs in a big huge way, except when I followed The Grateful Dead around for a while, but drug experiences while following The Dead are sort of like drug experiences in Brigadoon-great while it lasted, but no real world implications.

But I have watched the other patients over my years of treatment and group therapies. I have seen their struggle with substance abuse. I’ve seen them get clean, get sober, fly right for a time, and crash right back into the gutter. Amazingly addicts have taught me a lot about my own journey. I have learned that when my own life goes thundering off the rails that first and foremost I need to forgive myself. Then I need to earn the forgiveness of those I have harmed in my self-destructive cycles. Then, and only then can I stand up and start over at square one to rebuild my life. Addicts always come around to facing down their addictions, it is an amazing thing to watch.

I know that being in relationship with an addict is awful. I lost one of the great loves of my life to heroin. I know the lies, the broken promises, and the sordid dirty needles of living with an addict. I know that an addict will go to a NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meeting just to make a dope connection in a new town. But that same addict can hit rock bottom, skid through the gutter, do the strong hard, and awful work of regaining trust, fight the demons of withdrawal for the billionth time, and get back on the right track.

I thank my myriad shining Gods daily that I do not have to battle substance abuse along with fighting schizophrenia. I really really do.

Obatala y Oya
Thank you, my myriad shining Gods! Thank you!

But the addicts in our lives are a terrible, but precious gift from God. From the addicts we learn the strong, bitter lessons of trusting someone again after they have behaved in an untrustworthy manner. From the substance abuser, we learn to listen to the stories of an invisible war. We learn the art of compassion, and the art of letting go. From dead junkies, I learned how to behave at the funeral, how to identify a body, how to address a police detective, how to grieve with every cell in my body. It was truly an addict that forced me into a corner where I learned and accepted that unconditional love can really heal any horror. I don’t care who your God is, from gentle Jesus to raving Kali to the intellectual glimmer of Humanism, your religion still tells you to forgive, to help the less fortunate, to turn the other cheek, and to love thy neighbor, and if you struggle with the teachings of your religion, then make friends with an addict, they’ll take you all those places that I can not.

Sadly, we live in an addicted age. The social pressures upon us here and now are so great that many many souls seek the escapism of substance. From the middle aged woman with her boxes of chardonnay to the crack whore to the mid-Western kid bombed senseless on meth. And I’m not saying that addicts are heroes, and I’m not saying that addicts are victims, really I am not saying those things. In the throes of addiction, the user is a terrible person with a terrible and dangerous problem. Any sane and sensible person will avoid the addicted person at any cost.

But as spiritual persons, we need to expect more of ourselves. And most of us know an addict of some kind. So when the drunk or the junkie that you know comes to apologize, at least listen to them. If you can forgive them, do it. If you can’t forgive them, tell them why you can’t, and offer them a road back to your forgiveness. And try to be aware that people who are addicted are often fighting with a mental health issue; if they are not getting help, urge them to get help and do what you are able to facilitate them getting help. I can’t think of a single God who loves best His children when they are hard-hearted to the downtrodden. So try to forgive, try to accept and try to love them. That is a good way of doing God’s work, and we both know it.

My nurse friend gently, ever so gently nags me about my cigarettes. I don’t get mad or resentful when he does this. I know he is doing God’s work, too.



Time Out.

There are actually things in the big world that annoy crazy people.

Tomorrow is International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. And, as always, holidays like this annoy me. These holidays should be obsolete. There is no reason for us to need a holiday to remind humans all over the world to quit hating other human beings. There is no reason to need these holidays.

But, reason aside, we need them. Shame on us, and all the Gods help us, we need these holidays.

How frikkin difficult is it to not hate another person because they choose to love, or Hell, simply to be?

It takes time, effort and energy to hate, to harm, to oppress. How much time for good works, good deeds would this weary old world have if we just stopped squandering all of our time in hatred and oppression?  Sad to say, but we would have a lot more time to do good things, if only we would stop doing evil things.

I’ve been crazy for so Goddam long that I’ve been on locked psych wards with people whose only mental illness was being gay, or trans. And putting them there was a hate crime.

Dear world, stop being cruel. Stop for just this one single minute, and see how easy it is to breathe, to be, to just calmly exist without trying to prevent anyone else from breathing, from being, from existing.

A long time ago, there was the “Gay Rights” movement. And, to me, that now sounds dated, funny and quaint. I don’t say it sounds funny to detract from any person who ever stood up as a member of that long-ago “Gay Rights” movement…but to point out how lonely Gay Rights sounds without rights for Lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered persons, or other queer persons represented. Because, over the years, that umbrella of Gay Rights has grown to include a lot of other folks who were treated horribly simply because they loved someone, or simply because they chose to live authentically as who they are.

GLBTQ persons around the world are not asking for anything particularly special, or even difficult. For the majority of humans, they are not asking that you do anything. At most, they are asking that you stop doing a few things. Like stop throwing rocks and insults at them. You know damn well your momma taught you not to throw rocks or mean words, entire world. So just stop already.

These people are asking of you nothing more, entire world, than to be treated like people, like human beings. Is that so much to ask really? Apparently, it is, because a lot of you still treat them wretchedly.

If it was in my power, I’d send everyone to their room for a time-out; to think about how you acted, and to think about how you would do better.

But, sending the entire world to its room far exceeds the scope of my practice.

So, entire world, instead, I’ll point out a quirky, difficult, inconvenient truth. These people who you feel weirdly entitled to deprive of their most basic rights? Yeah, them. They started out as the Gay Rights movement.

Call that oppressed, hated group G.

Soon they added the letter L, for the lesbians. So, hated oppressed group GL.

Then the bi-sexuals…GLB. And they rested briefly, but soon added T for trans-genders. GLBT.

In many places the letter Q has been added for ‘Queer’ to kinda make room for everyone who didn’t fit in one of the convenient pigeonholes above. GLBTQ. We now have accounted for 5 out of the 26 letters of our alphabet. It didn’t take centuries, or even decades to go from one letter to 5. At this rate, honestly, how long will it take before a letter is added to this group that includes your precious human-rights-denying-holier-than-thou-up-on-your-high-horse self?

Personally, I’m no math whiz, but anyway I consider this question, the answer comes back as ‘not very long.’

So, why not consider not oppressing these people. Or if you must oppress them (and I don’t think you must!) then oppress them for something more relevant than who they choose to love, more significant than how they choose to live closer to how they know they were created?

Because, you know, and I know, that there really is no phobia in homophobia, or in transphobia. It never was, and is not about phobia, or fear. It is about hate and repression. It is about getting your mean bone out and exercising it over someone for no good reason.

As long as we need a day to Internationally be Against Homophobia and Transphobia, then I’ll support us having tomorrow on the calendar. But if I wake up tomorrow, and this day is no longer necessary, I think I’ll have a parade.