Tuesday, October 17, 2017
As many of you know, The McShin Foundation was founded as an authentic peer to peer organization, with the knowledge that the best way to help an individual searching for recovery is to share one’s own lived experience with Substance Use Disorders and Recovery. Because of this, everyone who works at McShin is in recovery, everyone besides me.
Because I’m not in recovery, I’m constantly questioned about why I work here or why I want to work with people with Substance Use Disorders. This question has started to frustrate me – why wouldn’t I want to work here? Why wouldn’t I want to work with people with Substance Use Disorders? Why shouldn’t people who AREN’T in recovery care about people living with a disease, fighting for a better way of life?
This care, motivation and passion started from witnessing the wreckage that Substance Use Disorders caused in the families of some of my best friends. Since then, and through my experience working at McShin, it has grown into so much more.
Four years ago, I was visiting one of my friends in Boston, where she was living for the summer. She had been volunteering at a recovery organization called New Directions, working with men with Substance Use Disorders. It was the summer after my sophomore year of college, and I was a psychology major toying with the idea of focusing on Substance Use Disorders and recovery. The day I visited New Directions happened to be a graduation ceremony for five men who had completed the program, moved out, and stayed in recovery for at least six months. I toured the house, spent time with some of the residents, sat in on a group and was able to attend the graduation ceremony.
Being part of this ceremony and hearing about the transformation that took place in these men’s lives was like lighting a fire inside me. I spent time after the graduation talking to the director of the program, asking how she got into the field. Over and over she kept saying how yes, it is great to see the successes, but the job comes with countless disappointments as well. I told her that I was aware of the statistics, aware of how many people relapse or go to jail or die. I knew all of this, but was frustrated at why people thought that all of this should discourage me from wanting to help.
I returned home from my trip to Boston and told my family that I had an epiphany about what I wanted to do with my life. Immediately, my parents were worried and tried to talk me out of it. They worried about me getting too attached, being put into dangerous situations, or getting burnt out because of disappointments. They tried to talk me into working with children, or the elderly, and I kept insisting that this is where my heart was.
I knew that because I am not in recovery, I would be met with skepticism and the assumption that I shouldn’t care about this population. I adjusted my psychology courses to focus on Substance Use Disorders, learning as much as I could from books, articles, movies, shows, documentaries, scientific research, and recovery literature. Working at McShin, however, has taught me more about Substance Use Disorders and recovery than I could have ever learned from any class or book. Nothing compared to spending day in and day out with people working through these issues.
I am a worrier. I worry about absolutely everything. This was not a good trait when I started at McShin, I struggled with getting too attached to people, then having my heart broken time and time again whey they would return to using. I felt overwhelmed and powerless. I had to come to the realization that I can’t keep anyone in recovery, it’s not up to me. As much as I wish I could do it for them, or take away some of the burden and the challenge, I can’t.
After I accepted this, I started to pray every night, probably for the first time in my entire life. I would ask for everyone to stay safe, be willing to work for their recovery, and be there when I went back in the morning. These prayers were probably the first true, unforced relationship I had with any God or Higher Power. I had to believe there was something greater than myself out there, because I had to accept that I don’t have the power to save people. Prayers and having faith in something more was as much control over the situation as I could get.
When I was visiting my friend in Boston, the director of the recovery organization asked me if I had ever heard of “The Starfish Story.”
One day a man was walking along the beach, when he noticed a boy hurriedly picking up and gently throwing things into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, "Young man, what are you doing?" The boy replied, "Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them back, they'll die." The man laughed to himself and said, "Don't you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish?" You can't make any difference!" After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, "I made a difference to that one."
So, when I get asked questions like “How can you work in this field?” or “Don’t you get discouraged?” I think back to the Starfish Story. I think about all of the amazing, resilient, strong, talented, dedicated, incredible people I’ve met through McShin and the recovery community. I think about their families, so desperate to see their loved one do well. I think about all the changes I’ve seen in people. I think about how amazing it is when the lightbulb goes off in someone and the miracles that happen when someone truly chases recovery. I think about families being brought back together, people getting jobs, rebuilding relationships with their children, and reaching out to the people who come after them. I think about all of the people I love and care about celebrating the milestones of their recovery, creating beautiful lives, and having such a profound impact on my own life.
How could I not want to be part of that miracle?
Monday, October 16, 2017
So you walk up to the bench as the judge on the other side looks through his glasses at his documents. He looks up at you and says “Ma’am, I see you're a diabetic?”. “Yes Sir” is your reply, as you hang your head in shame. He then proceeds to remind you that your blood sugar is sky high into the 300 levels. The gavel hits the bench and there is your fate! You're told you will be spending the next six months behind bars in your local county jail for you disease. Completely absurd, correct? Yes drugs are criminalized and yes stealing is a crime, but my disease IS NOT.
My name is Jessica Hall and I am the Director of Judicial Programs for the McShin Foundation. I am also a person in long term recovery from substance use disorder. This mean I haven’t used a substance in over three years. Being a young person in recovery has given me a life of a million open doors with my name written on them, and for that I am grateful. My lost dreams have truly been awakened, but it's the new possibilities that continue to baffle me. Who would have thought, me, a high school drop out, could be this beautiful young woman that I am today. So please give me a moment to tell you a little bit about why I love what I do.
Picture this little girl, scared and alone, in the back of a police car being transferred to a big girl jail on her 18th birthday. Not to sure how she got there but also having to wear a brave face because life just got real. Felony conspiracy to sell, manufacture, and distribute a controlled substance on 4 counts. I would think that some one would see this and think “Hmmm this may be a problem”. NOPE. I was slapped on the wrist and told to go home and be “a good girl”. My disease was fully alive and well at this point and no-one stopped to take the time to be in the solution. I wish I could tell you that this was end.
Moving forward a few years I find myself in and out of multiple local county jails around Virginia, but still, no help. Overtime 10, 30, 60 days behind bars!! Yes because that is completely the solution.Would you find it crazy for me to tell you that upon every release I was met with a pill or a pipe, fully loaded and ready to get back to business. What if… Just what if someone had said wait….and reached out that hand to tell me that I never had to use agin. If someone had seen the disease running rampant in my life and I was caught in the grips, that my days on earth were numbered, why not take the chance to pull me from the trenches, to plant that seed. I can’t tell you if it would have helped then, and don’t get me wrong, I love MY story because it is mine, but I can’t help but wonder, what if.
Knowing now what I didn’t know then it is apart of my duty, and it is also my honor, to be that hand. When that 19 year old girl walks through the jail doors with her chin in her chest, just as scared and alone in her own prison, to be able to take her into my arms so that she knows there is a way out, I am that light today, and so are you. For me, being that seed, is what makes me wake up everyday with purpose. I could be angry at the world for watching as mush as I could myself, or, I can be in the solution today. I mean there is a reason that I found my way out of the same hole right?? I believe that reason is right here.
Monday, October 9, 2017
Thank you for letting me back in
You thought you got rid of me in the 70s.
In the 90s, I was barely a blip on the radar screen, overshadowed by all the new party drugs. I was weaker back then, too, so pure and powerful now. Every new formula more tempting and deadlier than before.
I thrive in chaotic, fast-paced worlds where people don’t take the time to talk to each other. I can be delivered to your door like pizza and you can shoot me, smoke me or snort me. I like to be versatile!
I’m a killer. But I like to play with my prey first. I wrap my talons around them, leak into their brains, make them feel good at first and never let go. I tease them, tempt them and just when they think they are free of me, talk them into one more party. At some point, they become pathetic, needy and no longer any fun at all and I get rid of them. Vamoose! Or talk them into getting rid of themselves.
Those little white prescription pills you invented were mere bread crumbs right back to me. Greed and opportunity revived me.
I’ve made the lowest scum bags rich as hell. I’ve made mothers sell their children into human trafficking for just one more party. I’ve invaded the bodies of newborns, left children orphaned, wiped out entire families and created trauma so devastating, it will affect you for generations to come.
You thought you could punish your way out of this with a ‘war on drugs.’ And even after decades of failure, you stupid mother f—kers kept at it-- like slamming your head against the same wall over and over was going to produce a new result.
I continued to flourish. Thanks to shame and silence. Thanks for letting me, I couldn’t have done it without you.
Sincerely, Heroin, King of the World
By Anne Moss Rogers, a writer and public speaker on the subjects of addiction, mental illness and suicide prevention. She owns a blog called Emotionally Naked where she features guest posts as well as her own story on taboo subjects. In June 2015, Anne Moss lost her youngest son Charles, 20, to suicide when he was experiencing withdrawal from heroin.
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Why Advocacy in Recovery Fails?
By: Tim Alexander
“We must all work in harmony with each other to stand up for what is right, to speak up for what is fair, and to always voice any corrections so that the ignorant become informed and justice is never ignored. Every time a person allows an act of ignorance to happen, they delay our progress for true change. Every person, molecule and thing matters. We become responsible for the actions of others the instant we become conscious of what they are doing wrong and fail to remind them of what is right.”
― Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem
The path I chose has been difficult to say the least. I’m an addict. I’ve lied, I’ve cheated, and I’ve stolen from all those who have ever loved me. For many years I sacrificed my morals for the lonely degradation of a spoon, a needle, and heroin. I invested my entire life into a farce, a posy scheme designed to steal the most important assets we as humans possess, each other.
From childhood until my journey into recovery I was unable to connect with other people. The truth is that I didn’t know how to connect with people. I was shy and insecure as a kid. I was taught to believe that vulnerability is a kind of weakness. If I wore the wrong clothes I might not be cool, the wrong shoes I might be a loser. If I didn’t date a pretty girl I was ugly. These are the first run ins with the stigmas of our culture, and being judged as a person.
Over the years I found myself judging others according to societies unwritten rules. I labeled people. I bullied those smaller and less fortunate than me to calm the identity storms that headed my way. The fact that I had to drink beer or smoke weed to connect with others never occurred to me. As my tolerance built, I had to use more substances to continue my path of self-omnipotence to maintain my image. Little did I know, the more that I used, the more I became detached.
These actions led to many years of suffering and self-centeredness. Rehabs, prisons, and isolation from my community. If you’re wondering what that beautiful quote has to do with this blog, it’s quite simple really? And no, I’m not going to rant on about our failed drug policies, although that would be an easy topic to target. Placing blame on others has always came easy to me. #itsnotmyfault.
Today I rant about hope in unity. Our ability to come together as human beings for the sake of other human beings who suffer and die as a direct result of substance use disorder. This topic also entails mental health disorders and suicide. The question is how many people have to die before we stand up to the bureaucracy involved in human life?
When is the right time to stand up and let our voices be heard? How long will we allow pointless squabbling among lawmakers to continue while people suffer and die? Is it until it affects us individually?
Maybe I can help.
The day that we unite as one and show our country that human life doesn’t wait years for a bill to pass.
How is this done? Well, we become active in a movement. We participate and sacrifice our time and energy in selfless service. We show up although something “fun” is on the same day. We ask questions and research answers. We get out of our own self-righteous views and do the very thing we feel in our hearts, contribute to the greater good of our country. We love others until they can learn to love themselves for we are beacons of light in a world that has quickly become detached from the very thing that fuels our existence, compassion.
Don't spend pointless hours surfing Facebook, and Instagram, while Snapchatting stuff that doesn’t contribute to making our world a better place, mix it up a little. Not everyone, but collectively “We”, as a whole, fail to follow through with the gifts of freedom. Freedom of speech. Freedom from tyranny and oppression. The freedom to choose leaders who value what is important to us all…life!
This isn’t a personal indictment on any one person. This is a plea for help from our community. It’s time to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. It’s time to stand as one, and love everyone in our communities and make it through this epidemic. These issues take more than a handful of people to overcome.
I work for the Mcshin Foundation. My name is Tim Alexander and I’m in the business of saving lives. Come stand with us Saturday October 7, 2017 at the Virginia Historical Society for an amazing event known as CARETALKS. The event starts at 5pm and if you need tickets, guess what? They are free! Help unite our communities and bond with those who are fighting hard to find solutions to our deadly opioid epidemic. I love you all and if you need help and support we’re a phone call away. Tickets can be secured at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/care-talks-richmond-tickets-36001328944.