Adverse Childhood Experiences 14: Hope

I keep reading bits about despair and about how a generation of children is being “ruined” by the pandemic.

Not so, I say. There is hope. We need to support each other to survive and then to thrive.

This generation WILL have a higher than average ACE score. If the Adverse Childhood Experience scale is from zero to eight, children in this time period will have at least one higher point than average and many will have three or four or more. Loss of a parent, a sibling, beloved grandparents during covid. Increases in domestic violence, child abuse and addiction. These are all part of the ACE score.

What does this do to children? They have survival brain wiring. They will do their best to survive what is happening. A friend and I both have high ACE scores, 5 or more, and we are both oppositional defiant. We showed this in different ways. He grew up in the same community. He escaped from home and knew all the neighbors. He walked to the local church and attended at age 3 or 4. He has lived in this community all his life.

His oppositional defiance showed up at home, where he consistently refused to obey. And in school, where he confounded and disobeyed teachers and passed anyhow.

My family moved every 1-5 years. I hated moving. I wouldn’t talk to kids in a new school for a year. It was very difficult. So my oppositional defiance was very very internal. I hid in books and in my head. In 6th grade I got in trouble for hiding novels inside the school book I’d already read. I also would just not listen and my respect for the teacher got even lower when she would be angry that I knew the answer to the question once she’d repeated it. I wasn’t listening because I was bored. She was the first teacher that I thought, well, she is not very bright. The next year they stuck me in the honors class and I stopped being bored, though I still questioned practically every opinion every teacher had. I wanted evidence and I did not believe it just because the teacher said it.

I am not saying that oppositional defiance is in every high ACE score. I don’t know that. Why oppositional defiance? Imagine you are a small child and you are beaten. There isn’t rhyme or reason. You can’t predict when the adult will be out of control. Why would you behave “well” if it makes no difference? You might as well do what you want, because nothing you do will change the adult. Or imagine you are a small child who is with one person, passed to another, then to another. You may not exactly trust adults after two or three repetitions. And you want to survive.

There is an increase in addictions, behavioral health diagnoses, and chronic illness in adults with a high ACE score. A researcher when I first heard a lecture about it said, “We think perhaps that addiction is a form of self medication.” I thought, oh, my gosh, how are we ever going to treat THIS? Well, we have to figure that out now, and we’ve had 30 years to work on it.

I was very comfortable with the oppositional defiant patients in clinic. I got very good at not arguing with them and not taking their behavior personally. They might show up all spiky and hostile and I might be a little spiky and gruff back: sometimes that was enough. I think the high ACE score people often recognize each other at some level, though not always a conscious one. With some people I might bring up ACE scores and ask about their childhood. Sometimes they wanted to discuss it. Sometimes they didn’t. Either was ok.

One thing we should NOT do is insist that everyone be “nice”. We had a temporary doctor who told us her story. Her family escaped Southeast Asia in a boat. They had run out of water and were going to die when they were found by pirates. The pirates gave them water. They made it to land and were in a refugee camp for eight years or so. She eventually made it to the US. She was deemed too “undiplomatic” for our rural hospital. I wondered if people would have said that if they knew her history and what she had been through. It’s not exactly a Leave it to Beaver childhood, is it? When she was telling us about nearly dying of thirst in the boat, my daughter left her chair and climbed on my lap. She was under ten and understood that this was a true and very frightening story.

We can support this generation of children. This has been and is still being Adverse Experiences for adults as well. Family deaths, job loss, failure of jobs to support people, inflation. Remember the 1920s, after World War I and the last pandemic, of influenza. “On October 28, 1919, Congress passed the National Prohibition Act, also known as the Volstead Act, which provided enabling legislation to implement the 18th Amendment.” (wikipedia). There were forces trying to legislate behavior, as there are now. The result in 1920s of making alcohol illegal was speakeasies, illegal alcohol, and violence. Some people acted wild after WWI and the influenza pandemic and some people tried to lock down control, by controlling other peoples’ behavior. It did not work then and it will not work now. The wildness is out of control grief, I think, grief dysfunctional and drinking and shooting and doing anything and everything, legal or not. We remember how the 1920s ended too. Let us not repeat that. Let us mourn and grieve and support each other and support each other’s decisions and autonomy.

Blessings.

Adverse Childhood Experiences 13: on gratitude

I saw a meme today about gratitude. It is saying that some people look at a garden and see thorns and weeds, but others see the roses. That we need to have gratitude. I think this is simplistic and papers over the trauma and grief that some people have. If they have endured a highly traumatic childhood, who am I to say they should focus on the roses? They may have a very good reason to see if there is something like a thorn that can hurt them before enjoying the roses.

I work with many patients with high Adverse Childhood Experience scores and mine is high too. I don’t tell my patients that they should have gratitude. I tell them “You survived your childhood. You have crisis wiring. Good for you. Some of your learned crisis survival wiring may not serve you as well now as it did when you were a child.” Then we discuss whether they want to work on any aspects and the many many different approaches. One example: a man who sleeps very lightly. He said that it was lifelong. When asked about his childhood he says, “We would have to leave in the night when there was shooting in my neighborhood. It was a very dangerous area.” I said, “I am not surprised you sleep lightly. You HAD to in childhood to survive. Is this something you want to try and change?” He thought about it and decided, no. Once it was framed as learned in childhood to survive, he stopped worrying about “normal”. He was satisfied that the way he slept was “normal” for him and he wanted to wake up if he heard shooting.

I think we have to ask why a person sees thorns and weeds in a garden before we judge them. My first thought with a new and angry or hostile patient is always, oh, they have been badly hurt in the past. What happened? I don’t worry that the anger is at me. I know it’s not at me, it’s at the system or a past physician or a past event. Under the anger there are other emotions, usually fear or humiliation or grief. I have brought up Adverse Childhood Experience scores on the first visit sometimes. One person replies, “I am a 10 out of 10.” The score only goes up to 8 but I agree. He was a 10. He stated once, “The military loved me because I could go from zero to 60 in one minute.” Very very defensive and very quick to respond. The response may seem extreme and inappropriate to other people: but it may feel like the only safe way to be to my patient.

I grew up hiding any grief or fear in my family, under anger, because grief or fear would be made into a story told for laughs. In college, a boyfriend told me I was an ogre when I was angry. I started working on it then and it was difficult to tame that. The person who took the longest was my sister: she could make me explode until I was in my residency. Medical training was excellent for learning emotional control, at least, on the surface. After my mother died, I had to do the next piece of emotional work: open the Pandora’s Box of stuffed emotions, mostly fear and grief, and let them out. It was such hard work that my day where I saw the counselor for an hour was harder than my ten hour clinic day. I did the work, for two long years. Blessings on the counselors who stood by me while I worked through it.

I do not think we are ever done with that sort of work. I think, what do I need to learn next? What is this friend teaching me? Why is this behavior frustrating me and I have to look in my inner mirror. Why, why, why?

Blessing on your healing path and may you not be judged.

Link about ACE scores: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/about.html

Sometimes I do feel like a fossil, now that I am middle aged. For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: fossil.

playing telephone

If they whisper from one end to the other, does it get garbled before it reaches the other end?

Isn’t gossip a sin?

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: chaos.

Update on Addiction 2022: Mouse Cocaine Addict Studies

Recent experiments on mice are giving us interesting information on addiction, and suggesting that l-dopa may be able to control/mitigate addiction. This lecture about how dopamine works in addiction using a mouse model (poor mice) blew me away. The mice fell into two categories: maintenance users and vulnerable addict rats. The study of the dopamine postulates a reason for the difference.

20th Annual Drug Conference Washington State from 2019

Notes from lecture 3: Paul Phillips PhD
Dopamine Neurotransmission in Substance Use Disorders: from Preclinical studies

For a long time there were no agreed upon animal models: rats don’t steal money from other rats to buy drugs. However, rats do get addicted and this can be studied.

There are features in rats, rat behavior and rat brains that might translate to humans.

1. Basic discoveries about dopamine neurotransmission in substance use disorders is discussed.
A neurotransmitter study checking every ten minutes in brain examines two areas: dorsal and ventral striatum. Dopamine is increased in the area between cells from the administration of substances “first time use” in animal models: cocaine, alcohol, methadone, cannabinoids, nicotine, amphetamine, morphine. This is the first clue re addictive drugs, whether there is an increase in dopamine intraneuronally. The endpoint is that direct effect on dopamine receptors, which has a different brain mechanism for each drug. Cocaine blocks the receptor that reuptakes the drug into the neuron. Methamphetamines and amphetamines reverse the reuptake pump, makes the receptor spit it out. Gaba neurons act to inhibit dopamine neurons, normally mu receptors on the gaba interneurons and the opioids block those. Ethanol has another mechanism of action. It changes inhibitory activity, lowering the inhibition of the gaba interneurons. Nicotine REALLY messes with multiple receptors and multiple cells, but main effect is increase of dopamine in the striatum.
Increased dopamine in human brain relates to the feeling of being high: brain PET scans show amphetamine and dopamine bound less, reduction in the binding. Subjects were substance abusers. Subjective questioning of how high they felt correlated with the amount of dopamine released on the PET scan. Methylphenidate was used in that study. Canada study: cocaine increases dopamine in human brain by PET scan.
Addiction does lead to changes in the brain, on both PET scans and functional MRIs.
PET scans measuring dopamine binding in the brain show that the baseline in brains of substance abusers differs from non-abusers. The levels of dopamine receptors is lower in the substance overuses and there is lower binding than controls: heroin, alcohol, meth, cocaine (and obesity and ADHD…..). (This has been known for opioid overuse and chronic use for a while: the brain cells withdraw receptors, so the same dose does not reduce pain because there are less receptors. The change in receptors appears to vary in different subjects. Recovery is very slow.)
The role of dopamine has been confusing. It is known that it is involved in the cue evoking cocaine “craving”, but is also involved with — satiety. This has been confusing and contradictory — what does dopamine do but also the dynamic structural signaling.

2. The animal studies demonstrate that the dopamine signals are phasic.
Rat studies measure changes in dopamine minute to minute electrochemistry for sub-second dopamine detection in vivo, which means we can measure changes in dopamine in real time. There is an identified output signature for dopamine levels, measure in 8.5 millisecond, ten measures per second.
The rats were voluntarily taking cocaine. The cocaine was available in a liquid with a light that would come on when it was available, for two hours daily. The animal presses a lever when the light cue is on and gets an infusion of drug. With the ten measures per second, the first and smaller dopamine response in the brain is before the lever is pressed. That is, there is a rise in dopamine BEFORE the rat presses the lever. If stimulated dopamine, the animal would go press the lever. Then there is a larger reward dopamine signal when the drug hits.
Dopamine is the chicken and the egg: signal to USE and signal that has ARRIVED.

3. Changes that take place with drug use
There is a signal change over time that correlation with features of addiction.
The mice had an implanted brain electrode, tinier than human hair, 7 microns, biocompatability — don’t make the brain attack it as a foreign object so rat brain keeps working. The study involves tyrosine hydroxylase, a precursor of dopamine. A food pellet response of the tyrosine remains the same at 1, 2, 6 months so can monitor substance abuse brain changes. These are cocaine addicted rats. They get cocaine via a nose poke of a button when it lights up. Pellets, not iv (they learn that faster). There are 2 ports to nose poke: active and inactive. The signal that cocaine is available and the pellet is active: a light comes on for 20s and then drug arrives. Can take again after 20sec. The rats titrate cocaine use: not continuous. They pace cocaine use, wait for it to wear off. Over time, drug use 1 hour access daily… slow increase, relatively stable.
When the access is bumped up to 6 hours access daily… rats do increase use — first of 6 hours, escalation of drug use faster — in humans development of tolerance.
With 1 hour cocaine availability, the dopamine response to the cocaine in the rat brain is lower by the 2nd and 3rd week, slowly decreases, then with 6 hours of access the loss of dopamine is very robust, happens faster, dopamine signal gets smaller every time.
Rats long access: were there individual differences? Yes, metric, nonescalated vs escalated groups so like humans. 60 escalated 40 didn’t and stayed stable. So essentially I named these “Vulnerable addict rats” and “Maintenance rats”.
Which group most motivated to take cocaine? The study ups the price of cocaine for rats, how many times are you willing to receive the drug? The escalating animals made more responses, “worked harder” for the drug. The escalator brains, Vulnerable Addict Rats, had just about a complete loss of dopamine signal by three weeks.
The nonescalators had more stable dopamine responses, retained some dopamine brain function.
The greater the loss of dopamine, the more the animal escalates the drug use.
The Vulnerable Addict rats would use cocaine to the exclusion of food, water, sex and sleep and died early.
This is a feedback loop. The rats get a success signal when the drug is taken — but over time don’t get the success signal because dopamine receptors are gone — so take more. In the Vulnerable Addict escalators, the dopamine signal of anticipation goes down in response to the cue, the drug effect takes a little longer but the pharmacological response to drug actually remains.
They tried giving l-dopa, a parkinson’s drug and if treat, the rats get a restoration of the dopamine cue — pharmacological response didn’t change — how does this affect behavior? A daily shot of l-dopa and the animals on the l-dopa have less escalation. (wow!) The l-dopa didn’t affect the nonescalators/maintenance rats. When they remove the l-dopa in the vulnerable addict rats, the animals jump to higher use and so the brain changes are happening even when it is masked by the l-dopa but does not stop the brain changes.
They ask the question: can you reverse escalation? With the the l-dopa, they use less.
Dopamine signaling to take drugs (the anticipation cue when the light goes on) decreases in animals that escalate drug taking, but does not change in animals with stable drug taking.
Restoring dopamine signaling with l-dopa can prevent or reverse escalated drug taking.
This dopamine signaling….

4. Mechanisms — drug cue elicits dopamine.
So this is about triggers. This is a paired drug cue: the light signals that the drug is available. If a non-contingent drug given to animal, the light still elicits drug seeking. Using a naive animal: pair reward with cue, over time the cue will increase dopamine.
(hmm. Facebook. blogging. Instagram. “You have mail”. )
The initial addiction has a short access time. One hour out of 24. When this is changed to long access, some animals escalate vs non escalation — as take more and more drug, the response to the drug taking cue gets larger in the escalators/Vulnerable Addicts. Presentation of cue — by investigator vs animal:
If elicits drug seeking than the dopamine response gets larger to the cue over time.
If the cue is given but other choices of liquid, then the dopamine response gets smaller in some rats — so terminating drug seeking. The Vulnerable Addict Rats had a larger and larger dopamine craving cue spike, the longer they were off the drug. The the increase in the cue drives craving and decrease drives seeking — so both bad.
The conclusion in the rats is that craving for drug, related to cues, is dependent to length of time off drug. The longer the rats were off the drug, the larger the dopamine spike when the cue light comes on. The measure of cue behavior gets worse …. 60 day study in rats, this is not physiological withdrawal, is prolonged way beyond the withdrawal.
1. noncontingent
wait a day or wait a month
work harder to get drug, harder a month out
reaction to drug cue presentation, enhanced over time
at start of drug small signal to drug cue
long access then cue gets bigger
same a day after stop drug
but huge in a month after no drug — huge dopamine response

(my thought was then swearing. how do we treat this?)
In chronic drug use the cue signal shrinks which reinforces drug use AND stopping increases the cue response which ALSO reinforces.

5. Implications for treatment
treating rats
They discuss a virus with promotor that affects dopamine cells, light activated ion channel, cells release dopamine when light stimulated
only activates release of dopamine, to understand mechanisms.
For the self administered nose cue …. In the nonescalator maintenence rats, dopamine cue response stays fairly robust, stimulate those cells and no change.
In the escalator/vulnerable addict rats… if do a virus stimulation of dopamine in the brain, more dopamine to cue boosted, so they use less cocaine and look like the non-escalators.
5th cue less dopamine than 1st cue: if put dopamine back then maintains the drug seeking.

What underlies the decrease in dopamine release?
When the animals use cocaine, dynorphin goes up (kappa antagonist).
They injected a kappa receptor blocker — animal no longer escalate (not in humans at this time, don’t understand well enough) treating animals that are escalating, so the bad addict/vulnerable rats.
Most animals don’t escalate — but pretty serious amounts of drug cocaine so not abstinent.

For future
Dopamine diametric changes: dopamine may reduce consumption but might increase craving, so it is difficult to treat.
l-dopa — treatment — some studies, looking for abstinence, does NOT produce abstinence. Does not make abstinence worse. Says that promise seen relates to the status of the subject — helps with people who are still using (some) but doesn’t help increase or prolong abstinence. So could reduce harm but not abstinent….politically unpopular. Happier with turning alcoholic into a social alcohol user, but that idea is less popular/politically ok with cocaine/opioids (and especially meth).

They are studying mouse nosepokes for alcohol — reduced intake when the rats are on l-dopa.

There is a functional agonist for kappa receptors == buprenorphine, might have effects on drug consumption, speculation across different drugs.

Dynorphin is a stress related peptide, so does that signaling produce escalation of drug taking? So other stress drugs — like corisol, CRF, plan for more studies.

Question: Stress related hormones– babies in stress in utero and in stressful childhood have less dopamine receptors and need more dopamine for pleasure, susceptibility to drug addiction (ACE scores) so is still really early studying neurotransmitters.

Dr. Question: why do people do better with agonist therapy than abstinence in opioids vs other drugs? Answer: we don’t know….. yet.

further information:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1920543/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC80880/
https://archives.drugabuse.gov/news-events/nida-notes/2017/03/impacts-drugs-neurotransmission
https://nida.nih.gov/

mad skills

What are your mad skills?

My maddest baddest skill, shared with my younger sister, is reading hidden emotions. Children of alcoholics and addicts learn that one young. Or die. Or start drinking/drugging to numb young.

Our culture is bloody weird. Emotions are stuffed like turkeys until people are near bursting. I swear that half my clinic time was letting people talk about emotions and then saying, well, those seem like pretty reasonable feelings in view of the insanity going on in your family. There would be a silence while the person thought about the horrible terrible feelings being reasonable and then I would say, “You said you want an antidepressant. Do you want to discuss that?”

Often people put it off. Once the feelings are OUT and present and looked at instead of stuffed/contained/terrifying, the person would say, “I don’t know. I don’t know if I need it.”

“Do you want to schedule to come back in two weeks?”

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. If they wanted to start an antidepressant, I would caution that the recommendation was to stay on it for six months minimum if tolerated. Also, if they were starting it in June, I would say, “Don’t stop it in January. Wait until the sun is back. Here that can be July 4th. At least wait until spring.”

The plants are all thinking about spring now. My magnolia would like three more days of sun and then it will burst into bloom. The plums are budding and close to exploding. My camellia is usually first, but I trimmed it at the wrong time of year and so it is not blooming. It looks healthy, though. It is sort of sulking for a season. I would like to sulk for a season too.

Why is our culture, the US, so terrified of emotion? We think everything should be about logic. Emotions are both hormonally and electrically mediated through nerves and blood and they are INFORMATION about our environment and each other. We should let emotions roll through us like waves, and not worry about them so much. I think of myself as an ocean. The emotions are the weather. They roll through. Ok, big storm. Then rain, and lightening. Then low clouds and some fog. Then sun and a beautiful day to sail with a light breeze. But the deeper currents change slowly and the weather is not really that important. I reside in the depths.

The furor over rising prices seems ridiculous to me. The roaring twenties has begun already in housing and buying stuff on Amazon. I have bought two things from Amazon in the last two years. I like to buy local. One order was for my future daughter in law’s wish list. I think people are buying so that they do not have to feel. It is cultural mania. Everyone is rushing around trying to make money instead of grieving. Yesterday I thought, if this keeps up, we WILL have a depression like 1929.

Don’t do it. Don’t buy stuff to avoid the stuff inside. Sit still twice a day, for at least five minutes, and just listen. Try to listen to the depths.

Adverse Childhood Experiences 13: unsense

As a child in an alcoholic/addict household where you can not trust adults, who do you trust?

You either trust yourself or you buy in the alcohol story.

If you buy in, you have a high probability of either becoming an addict or marrying one, depending if you prefer the enabler or the enablee role.

If you trust yourself, you develop certain senses. You pay attention to people’s emotions. You pay attention to what people FEEL, what people DO and not what people SAY. You do not care what they say: what matters is what they do. My sister said she used to walk my parent’s house during high school and try to feel the mood. Did she need to hide?

The enabler role is trying to control the other person. There are amazing variations on this. I cared for a person whose sister would not take care of herself. Every time the sister is hospitalized, the person goes and cleans tons of garbage and rotted food from the apartment.

“Stop doing that,” I say, “You are enabling her. Call Adult Protective Services to go look at it instead.”

It can be very difficult to stop and can take years. People can change.

I have noticed that the enabler role is lethal. The enablers seem to die before the enablee. Certainly in my immediate family and with many patients too.

Enablee is the person controlled. Alcohol, drugs, gambling, anger, emotions. It is very very interesting to watch. I have read parts of my mother’s diaries. She was the enabler, with my father as the enablee. However, the diaries document them fighting in the middle of the night when he is drunk. And I remember high school, putting the pillow over my ears, because they were screaming at each other.

But wait. Why would she argue with her drunk husband? Why would anyone argue with a drunk person? You have to wait until they are sober.

And slowly I realize that my mother too was an alcoholic. I remember her drinking. Best cover for an alcoholic is a worse alcoholic, right? It’s fairly horrid. But it explains some stories and my food insecurity. They would not get up in the morning to feed me. My mother told stories of me trying to feed myself: cheerios and laundry soap. If my father was hung over, ok, but, why wouldn’t my mother get up? I think they were both hung over. That or else she really did not want a child. Especially a nine month old with opinions while she was trying to get over tuberculosis. She never got to hold me after birth until 9 months. And then I did not want her. I wanted her mother.

Trusting yourself, life can be a bit complicated. You sense the emotions others are hiding. Being a physician allows me to ask about the hidden things, very gently. Sometimes they come out right away. Sometimes it takes months. Sometimes years and sometimes never. My sister and I discussed going to parties and thinking, oh, that person is the child of an addict/alcoholic. This person is in pain. This person is quite happy but hiding stuff.

I told a counselor I do not know how to turn it off. She replies, “Why do you think I am a counselor?”

I don’t see auras. I feel things: like a cloud. Like a tiger, like a bear, like a whale, singing.

I think I will go with the whale.

Ode to defiance

Is oppositional defiance running YOUR life?

I am oppositional defiant. I have been for as long as I can remember. I ALWAYS want to argue when someone tells me to do something or gives me advice. BUT, I have learned to work with it.

I work with it by arguing with myself.

Give me a topic. Or advice. I will promptly argue the opposite, internally or externally. Then I will argue the original side. Then my demon fights my angel until they are both tired and decide to go have a beer. Somewhere along the way I will make a decision and also I will laugh, because it’s funny.

B has figured this out. “You argue with EVERYTHING.” he says.

“Yes, and if there is no one around, I argue with myself. All the time.”

However, he is also oppositional defiant. He is smart too, and doing some self examination.

“I am thinking about my life. I think ALL of my important decisions were oppositional defiant ones.”

“Someone told you you couldn’t do that?

“Yes.”

He’s chewing on that. Heh. He accuses ME of overthinking. I replied that I am making up for his underthinking, heh. He suggests that I STOP overthinking and I say, “You want to DESTROY the SOURCE of my poetry?” Double heh.

The point is, some of us are oppositional defiant, but really, we don’t want that to run our lives EITHER. We don’t want ANYTHING or ANYONE to tell us what to do.

B says, “I think that everyone refusing the vaccine is oppositional defiant.” He has a lot of friends, both liberal and conservative.

“That is interesting.” I say. And I wonder if it is worth dying for, to be oppositional defiant. Not if it’s running your life, right? I don’t want ANYTHING to run my life except ME.

So then I spend a bunch of time arguing with myself about the causes of refusing the vaccine. And I have not reached a conclusion. Yet.

I took the photograph at the Bellevue Mall on Monday. A three story waterfall. Really? Isn’t there enough rain in Seattle? We should have a three story sun instead.

Why care for addicts?

I posted this in November, 2015. I am reposting it.

_________________

Why care for addicts?

Children. If we do addiction medicine and help and treat addicts, we are helping children and their parents and our elderly patients’ children. We are helping families, and that is why I chose Family Practice as my specialty.

Stop thinking of addiction as the evil person who chooses to buy drugs instead of paying their bills. Instead, think of it as a disease where the drug takes over. Essentially, we have trouble with addicts because they lie about using drugs. But I think of it as the drug takes over: when the addict is out of control, the drug has control. The drug is not just lying to the doctor, the spouse, the parents, the family, the police: the drug is lying to the patient too.

The drug says: just a little. You feel so sick. You will feel so much better. Just a tiny bit and you can stop then. No one will know. You are smart. You can do it. You have control. You can just use a tiny bit, just today and then you can stop. They say they are helping you, but they aren’t. Look how horrible you feel! And you need to get the shopping done and you can’t because you are so sick…. just a little. I won’t hurt you. I am your best friend.

I think of drug and alcohol addiction as a loss of boundaries and a loss of control. I treat opiate overuse patients and I explain: you are here to be treated because you have lost your boundaries with this drug. Therefore it is my job to help you rebuild those boundaries. We both know that if the drug takes control, it will lie. So I have to do urine drug tests and hold you to your appointments and refuse to alter MY boundaries to help keep you safe. If the drug is taking over, I will have you come for more frequent visits. You have to keep your part of the contract: going to AA, to NA, to your treatment group, giving urine specimens. These things rebuild your internal boundaries. Meanwhile you and I and drug treatment are the external boundaries. If that fails, I will offer to help you go to inpatient treatment. Some people refuse and go back to the drug. I feel sad but I hope that they will have another chance. Some people die from the drug and are lost.

Addiction is a family illness. The loved one is controlled by the drug and lies. The family WANTS to believe their loved one and often the family “enables” by helping the loved one cover up the illness. Telling the boss that the loved one is sick, procuring them alcohol or giving them their pills, telling the children and the grandparents that everything is ok. Everything is NOT ok and the children are frightened. One parent behaves horribly when they are high or drunk and the other parent is anxious, distracted, stressed and denies the problem. Or BOTH are using and imagine if you are a child in that. Terror and confusion.

Children from addiction homes are more likely to be addicts themselves or marry addicts. They have grown up in confusing lonely dysfunction and exactly how are they supposed to learn to act “normally” or to heal themselves? The parents may have covered well enough that the community tells them how wonderful their father was or how charming their mother was at the funeral. What does the adult child say to that, if they have memories of terror and horror? The children learn to numb the feelings in order to survive the household and they learn to keep their mouths shut: it’s safer. It is very hard to unlearn as an adult.

I have people with opiate overuse syndrome who come to see me with their children. I have drawings by children that have a doctor and a nurse and the words “heroes” underneath and “thank you”. I  have had a young pregnant patient thank me for doing a urine drug screen as routine early in pregnancy. “My friend used meth the whole pregnancy and they never checked,” she said, “Now her baby is messed up.”

Addiction medicine is complicated because we think people should tell the truth. But it is a disease precisely because it’s the loss of control and loss of boundaries that cause the lying. We should be angry at the drug, not the person: love the person and help them change their behavior. We need to stop stigmatizing and demeaning addiction and help people. For them, for their families, for their children and for ourselves.

werewolf

Time out word warning, in this poem. This poem is about discrimination. Substitute practically anything for werewolf…. disabled, bipolar, depressed, autistic, substance abuser. I am sick of discrimination. For human, substitute “normal”.

You know I’ve been a werewolf my whole life

Started in the womb
triggered by antibodies
to tuberculosis

And I am tired

of people telling me

I’m a werewolf.

Ok? I fucking know that.
I have known it since Kindergarten
where I arrived full of joy
ready to sing

and was shunned

we didn’t have a television

but I knew that wasn’t really it
I was different
I am different

and fuck you humans
different is ok.

I am a werewolf
and I am fucking proud
of all I have accomplished
in the teeth of humans hating me
and trying to shut me down
and shunning me
and reporting me
and doing everything short of shooting me
with real guns

I’ve been told to sit down
shut up
stop arguing
be nice
be good
go away
die
don’t read my writeups
don’t C! my work
don’t talk to me
stop making waves
been fired
been reported
been shunned
been alone

and fuck you humans

get ready
because I am middle aged now
for a werewolf
and I am ready

to be one all the timee

damn the torpedoes
full speed ahead
fuck you humans
for how you’ve treated me

I’ve turned the other cheek
for sixty years

and now
I
will
fight

ring

I dream a night sky thick with stars

all the stars start falling

I think “That isn’t good.”
sore afraid

all the stars are angels falling

I think “That isn’t good.”
sore afraid

an angel falls close past me
in space
face at perfect peace

I think “Why do they fall?”
sore afraid

I am falling in space
head down
no earth beneath me
with the angels

crying, imperfect acceptance
sore afraid

I wake
I put the dream away

it comes back
in a decade

I write about wings
sore afraid

I try to understand
sore afraid

I am asked what my small self
my child self
wants

wings

I say yes
no longer
sore afraid

did you hear the bell?

yes