Bayer’s phenomenal invention, which they touted as a “cure” for morphine/laudanum addiction. As Vonnegut might have said, “And so it goes.”
Last Sunday my local paper published an epic piece about four people who OD’d on heroin last year. The writer ran a journalistic marathon following these survivors to see how they fared. That’s hard to do, it takes dedication, and I respect him for it. One subject is doing well. Two are struggling. And one, a 21-year-old man, fatally OD’d in his own bedroom.
His mother found him. She is suffering the grief of the world, and my heart is with her.
It’s important in journalism to get facts right.
They got two wrong.
First, he quoted a person with active addiction saying that if you don’t share needles and don’t OD, then “heroin is the perfect drug.” The perfect drug!! Well, hell. OK, it’s easier to control not sharing needles, but not overdosing?? Good luck with that. Easier (but not impossible) not to OD with pharma drugs, because you know what dose you’re getting. Heroin’s a total craps shoot.
It’s easy to justify this quotation by saying, “The subject said it—not me.” But it’s the journalist’s responsibility to check facts and provide perspective to skewed opinions.
For example, in terms of not being “perfect,” you may as well write sex off the list of stuff you’ll be doing as long as you’re shooting heroin. Also, women have a decent chance of going into early menopause, meaning they’ll wind up with thinning bones at, say, 35. This isn’t guaranteed because how many of us have heard stories of babies being born addicted to heroin?—another reason heroin ain’t “perfect” by a long shot.
Second, and this is the one that bothered me more: they said the autopsy showed the young man had “only” two track-marks on his arm, “which likely meant that the young man was no addict.” Holy Moses, Allah, Jesus and Buddha. The writer had just talked about how much pharma shit the guy had blown through for YEARS. His addiction to expensive pills he could no longer get was what drove him to the street to buy heroin.
These errors are such a sad commentary on the pervasive ignorance of the press and other powerful voices in our society about what addiction is and how it works. Hopefully in his next piece the writer will reach out to some expert voices to check out his speculations.
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I hardly ever cross a bridge in this city of 950 million bridges, but I went to the suburbs to hear a rabbi talk about addiction. Danny Schiff, who splits his time between Pittsburgh and Jerusalem, is the scholar in charge of adult education for the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh.
As a middle-aged woman who was raised strict Catholic, I found his remarks refreshing in their recasting of some of the Bible figures I’d grown up with. For example, Schiff said Noah was the world’s first addict.
Noah giving orders for the ark. (Wine not in picture.)
Whoa. I either never learned or had forgotten this, but Schiff said that when Noah gets god’s directive to build a sealed boat fit for one pair of every animal on earth so god can go ahead with his plan to demolish the planet (only a male god would think to do this), apparently Noah has the same instincts many of us would have had: he runs to the cellar to get a few bottles of vino.
And then, Schiff said, “he has shame about what he does when he drinks.”
“Noah had a problem with life,” Schiff said. “He underwent an enormous life-transition.” Well, hell yeah: imagine living conditions inside a sealed boat with the planet’s largest animals doing what they do best.
But then he said: “Something about Noah’s life made the wine seem like the only solution.” Yeah, bingo. And addiction does not automatically make people morally bad, he said: Noah is described as “the most righteous man of his generation.”
Schiff has never counseled anyone with addiction, and he doesn’t have addiction in his family. He said Jews have no standard set of texts about addiction the way they do with other problems of life. The problem of addiction, he said, is “at once as old as time, and also has been outside Jewish conversation.”
We have denied that Jews could be involved in addiction. We say, “Jews know how to moderate drinking—just take a little Kiddush wine.” We have Purim—the one time in the year that we’re allowed to overindulge. But we have as many alcoholics as any other group in society.
Addiction, Schiff said, can be seen as a kind of “physical reductionism,” or materialism: we rely on a physical substance to solve problems whose structures are essentially spiritual. He said although most people identify 12-step organizations as Christian, when read through the Jewish lens of “teshuvah” or “return,” “the twelve steps read like a process of how to return my life to God.”
Another stunning statement:
Jews introduced the world to the idea of a personal god who cares about humans.
Wow. I don’t even know how to fact-check that idea, but it’s pretty powerful, simply considering how old the spiritual practice of Judaism is. (That would be more than five millennia.)
To illustrate the idea of “teshuvah,” which he said most Jews misunderstand as “repentance” but which really means a spiritual “return,” he quoted a verse from Genesis:
Behold, I am with you, and I will not leave you until you have returned from whence you came.
The Bible’s various phrasings have god promising to bring the Jewish people back to their land.But the way Schiff interpreted this verse is different: it can be read as god promising to accompany humans on their life’s paths, and not leaving us until we’ve returned to our mysterious origins.
These words draped a little veil of comfort around me. As long-time readers of this blog may remember, I have a little tiny problem with the god-thing. That problem has grown in the last three years or so. When my marriage broke down, I fired God’s ass, and I had security escort Him the hell out. I’ve fired god before, and then rehired god (with more or less lengthy probationary periods). But firing god is pretty unhealthy for me. The first time I fired god was 1999, the year my mother died at age 58, and that was the beginning of my descent into uncontrollable pill-popping.
The fact that Schiff was so naïve about addiction actually helped him see the problem in the terms he’d see any problem. In that way, he normalized it: it’s a problem, like any of life’s other problems, and we can use the same principles with it that we’d use to think about any problem.
For example, he said:
Ultimately, if you think you’re in control of your life, you are delusional.
He stole this line from “Kung-Fu Panda.” 🙂 One of my best friends quite often quotes Master Oogway’s lecture to Shifu: “You have to let go of the illusion of control.”
Note: you don’t have to let go of control. You have to let go of your illusion (or Schiff would say delusion).
So Noah went home and got fucked up, but he followed orders and built the ark.
“We are required to get on with life,” Schiff said.
"Already an award-winning blog, Guinevere Gets Sober is as good as it gets. As a professional with two degrees and a track record of success, Guinevere’s viewpoint reflects the reality that not all addicts fit the stereotypes. She has the guts to take a public stand for addiction advocacy and rehab success. She fights to reduce the stigma that prevents people from seeking treatment, and with a blog like this, she is surely succeeding."
When in 2008 I decided to recover from addiction, I started writing under the pseudonym "Guinevere." An ancient name meaning "white" or "fair," Guinevere is Welsh for my given name, Jennifer. And Queen Guinevere—though lovely, powerful, and rich—still lied and cheated to satisfy her desires.
A writer by habit and profession, I started this blog to examine issues of addiction in the culture. I'm especially interested in reducing social stigma that prevents people from getting timely help, and in supporting the many people who write to me looking for help in reducing their chemical load in life.
I love books, film, and art, and I review all of these here, along with the ongoing appearance of addiction and recovery in the news ... and of course I tell great stories.
Please share your comments here, or email me at guinevere (at) guineveregetssober.com.