On Loving Someone More Than They Love Themselves: When Drugs Take Over

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Last night I woke up to news I am sick of hearing: someone I grew up with, someone I loved, had taken too much or gotten bad batch. This was someone who at one time told me that I was her hero. I took it for granted and cannot help but feel that I did not take care of her the way a hero should. I no longer have the opportunity to thank her for the inspiration she gave to me to push on even when I didn’t feel like it – because I knew I had people who looked up to me.

I’m not sure if it just happens that an unusual number of people who I love have turned to drugs, or if it’s that everyone is turning drugs in general. But as my life goes on, addiction to opiates especially has hijacked the lives of cousins, uncles, aunts, friends I knew since childhood, former classmates, my own brother. And more and more, the addicts in my life (or who are no longer in my life) are succumbing to this disease. Even for someone who touts being a strong woman, it is increasingly difficult to bear every time.

Anyone who knows anything about addiction, recovery, and relapse knows the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the Serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

The courage to change the things I can;

And the wisdom to know the difference.

I knew this prayer before I started going to Al-Anon and Nar-Anon, programs for the loved ones of addicts. But I knew a different iteration:

God, grant me the Serenity

To accept the things I cannot change

And the Courage to change the things I cannot accept.

The second iteration has become a social and political call to action; one that I had admired, and in a way, continue to admire. In fact, I saw a picture the other day of a Trump protester holding up a sign proclaiming this version. When it comes to remaining civically active, this is something to aspire to. But today I want to tell you that if universally applied, it is a surefire way to drive yourself insane. In order to return some normalcy to my out-of-control life (the one everyone who loves an addict knows), I had to unlearn that irresistible and embedded drive to attempt to change the things I cannot accept.

If I had not reached the point of absolute desperation that brings people to Al-Anon and Nar-Anon, I would have rejected the prayer as prose for the weak. In fact, the first time I visited Nar-Anon, I went home and pledged to never go back. I swore it was a place for people who had given up on their addicted loved one. For quitters. For the weak. For the selfish. Surely, one has the power to change any unjust and unfair situation in the world if they want it and work hard enough. This is the toxic mindset that led me to lose control of my life in the first place and desperately land right back in these programs.

Addiction is a family disease, and one of the things that makes the family most sick is the fallacy that if they just love the addict enough; if they just continue to “drill it into them” and show some tough love; if they stage enough interventions, they can change and control the situation. It truly drives you insane. It drove me insane. The desire to apply logic, strategy, and control to my brother’s addiction literally made me mentally and physically sick. I nearly became immobilized and incapacitated by it. Every day, my life was consumed by what was consuming him.

It may seem extraordinarily hypocritical for a professed “strong woman” to advocate for the relinquishing of control. But for the wisdom and motivation I want to offer to my readers, the Serenity Prayer and what I have learned from it is a vital context and backdrop.

Without learning (and every day continuing to learn) that there are things I truly cannot change in this world, I wouldn’t be able to take action on the things that I can.

So today I mourn my cousin, who once upon a time called me her hero. I also mourn all those I know who have passed of this horrible disease before her, particularly my childhood friend Adam. But I think my cousin would want me to recognize that I couldn’t have saved her. I sadly cannot be sure, because she’s not here to ask anymore. But I can’t change that she’s gone. The only thing I can control are my own choices and my pledge to never, ever miss an opportunity to tell someone I love how I feel about them.

More Than the Sum of Your Parts

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This morning, a former classmate of mine from high school posted this article on Facebook: Dear Liberals, Here’s The Letter You Can Give To Your Daughters. This old classmate supported Trump in the election and has expressed frustration with the derogatory labeling of Trump voters as racists, sexists, xenophobes, etc. She is among one of the bright, friendly, and ordinary people I know who voted for Trump. I would never call her, or most of the other Trump voters I personally know racist, sexist, or xenophobic (although, some of them definitely are, but let’s face it; in certain ways we are all racist, sexist, and xenophobic). So seeing this article, I was eager to see if it would lend some of the insight that I’ve been looking for. It did not provide that vital insight into why women vote for Trump that I was looking for, but demonstrated once again that whether Right or Left, no side “gets” the other.

The article of course attacks Hillary as a liar, self-interested, etc.; it predictably attacks liberal policies as raising taxes and getting cuddly with terrorists. I’ve grown to accept those characterizations will not go away. But what really gets under my skin, like a god damn splinter right under the fingernail, is the following passage:

Hillary and her slobbering feminist followers thought you’d only vote on certain issues and certain issues alone. They wanted to believe that you only care about abortion, access to birth control, parental leave and the mythical gender wage gap. They think they’re empowering you, but they’re not. They’re demeaning you. They’re assuming that you– a fully capable and competent citizen who happens to have a vagina– only care about issues related to your reproductive organs. That’s demeaning to you. They assume you don’t care about policies unrelated to your gender. What about the unemployment rate? Taxes? The national debt? National security? Fixing the VA? Immigration reform? Welfare reform? Regulatory reform? They automatically assume that you couldn’t care less about those issues.

If I wasn’t in the middle of a chorus rehearsal when I read it, I would have screamed, “No, no, NO!”

Not only do I resent being called a slobbering feminist (although I don’t take myself so seriously that I can’t admit to slobbering in my sleep), but I also am deeply troubled that the feminist movement is reduced to a small itinerary of issues (stereotypically revolving around sex and reproduction), not only by men, but by women too.

I want to take this out of the context of the presidential race just a moment, because I want my points to be made, unattached to Hillary Clinton and the gender dynamics of this race. To me, it has always been evident that feminism (as a philosophy) is the only logical road for me to be on. Why wouldn’t I want women to be empowered to chase their dreams and given the same tools and freedom men are to pursue them? Feminism as a political movement is a bit trickier because of how exclusionary of minorities and LGBT women it has been. But I still have felt an intimate connection with feminism, so long as it continues to evolve toward greater inclusion and intersectionality.

But what I have never, ever felt as a member of the feminist movement is reduced to my reproductive organs. In fact, it is because I am so much more than a vessel for reproduction that I feel a commitment toward advancing “the women’s agenda” (as if the “women’s agenda” is uniquely beneficial to women alone). Advocating for reproductive rights is a huge part of my personal agenda. Granted. But it is precisely because I think women are so bright, diverse, and such valuable civic participants with wildly untapped potential that I am a feminist.

Now, deciding which candidate to support (once Bernie was out) was easy for me, because in terms of policy, I am staunchly on the Left to begin with. That’s not my gender; that’s just who I am and what I think government’s role should be. But the thing that’s really heartbreaking to me about this article (or infuriating, depending on what you think the intentions of the author are) is that the writer wants her readers to believe that feminists and liberals think women only care about issues related to their gender. This is simply not so.

It is because I believe my fellow women have just as much capacity to think about and form opinions on these issues as men that I proudly call myself a feminist. Though our participation in political life is strengthening, women are still vastly underrepresented in political leadership. Women account for approximately 50% of the population, yet we occupy only 19.4% of seats in Congress and 24.4% of state legislatures. The figures are even more disappointing for women of color, occupying only 6% and 5.4% of seats in Congress and state legislatures, respectively.

Reproductive rights, the gender wage gap (which is not mythical), birth control, and parental leave aren’t on the feminist agenda just because they affect women. They get a lot of attention on the feminist agenda because our legislatures, primarily composed of males, are voting on these matters that disproportionately affect women, without sufficient direct participation from women. And it further seems that many legislators tend to take stances on these matters that are to the detriment of women.

So as a feminist, do I think these matters should take precedence above all other policy considerations? Of course not. We all come from different places and are colored by different experiences that form our priorities. And perhaps your prioritization of matters will dictate that you vote for candidates on the Right. I accept that even though I may not always understand it. But I will not accept the accusation that I, and other feminists, boil a woman down to nothing more than a container for her womb. It is precisely because we know that every woman is so much more than this that we take the name “Feminist” at all.

I’m angry. There, I said it.

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Accepting a Trump presidency is “painful,” in the words of Hillary Clinton.

At first, I treated the pain as the kind I experienced when I fell into a hole at my condo complex and twisted my ankle. I’d previously noticed the hole, but didn’t really respect the fact that it could hurt someone until I was feeling the pain. “Wow, I totally did not see that coming!” was the lie I told myself. And then I got angry.

I was angry that someone didn’t properly maintain the pavement and fill in the hole. Some unknown, invisible someone.

But now I realize how futile and frankly, childish it is to treat this injury (and Trump’s victory) as one I had no possible way to see coming. I am no longer angry at someone else for neglecting the pavement and leaving a hole there for me to trip in. I am angry that I did not personally approach a maintenance authority and point out that hole. And if the maintenance man didn’t listen to me, I should have organized my community to demand action together until what we needed was provided.

I not only failed myself by neglecting to do this, but I failed my community, because that hole is still there to hurt other people who truly don’t see it. And once an ankle is broken, the person to whom it belongs will always be changed even if the ankle ends up healing just fine despite fears of future difficulties posed by the injury. In parallel, Trump may not end up inflicting legal harm upon all the populations he has threatened and disparaged. But the damage created by his victory and all the fear attached to it will forever change each affected person. Even if they end up being okay, they’ll never be the same.

We should have seen it coming. We should have done something. If right now you’re saying, “But I did do something,” my simple response is that, “But clearly you — we — did not do enough.”

I am angry because I did not appreciate or respect my own agency. Departing from the metaphor of the hole in the pavement, I mistakenly believed it was enough to cast my ballot on November 8th and move along. I believed I would go home to watch my vote and others like it define this election. When that outcome did not materialize, I was in shock. I was speechless beyond the cardinal phrase I could not help but repeat that night: “Oh my God.” I woke up the next morning and it was then that I truly realized there was nothing I could do. And in retrospect, had I appreciated and respected my own agency, there were things I could and should have done. I have no excuse, as much as I wish I did.

Last night, I applied to join my county’s Democratic Committee and am waiting for word on my application. Because what I should have been doing this past year or two was participating and organizing. I should have taken every Facebook post and share I made and put my “likes” where my mouth is. How could I have been so lazy? How could I have been so careless? How could I have slapped right in the face every bright and strong female mentor, friend of color, and gay or transgender classmate I’ve ever known by not acting as I knew I could?

I am obligated to respect my own agency to compensate for the fact that other vulnerable citizens feel (perhaps correctly) that they have diminished agency, or none at all. I don’t have much money, and frankly as someone who is chronically ill, I don’t have very much energy. But what I do have a lot of is time to be better spent. And although Lilly Allen truthfully sings, “It’s hard out there for a bitch,” I know that the challenges of being a woman in a man’s world are things I have already faced from the cradle to this very minute.

I’m angry like a bullet is, having been fired from its safe and familiar magazine — impossible to push back through the barrel; put in motion toward its long-anticipated trajectory by one final defining moment. A last straw. The pull of the trigger.

But back to the present. As it stands right now, I may just be a BB or rubber bullet. But boy, can I sting.