Disaster relief: Step 3

Syd had a very fine post yesterday about the Gulf oil disaster and his feelings of defeat upon watching oil-slicked birds trying and being unable to fly.

When I read it this morning it made me think of the discussion at my home group last night. A friend is in grief for a family member who died recently of cancer, and she’s angry at God for letting such a disaster happen. How do we carry on turning over our wills and our lives to a God with whom we’re so angry?

Syd’s post doesn’t express anger at God for the Gulf oil spill—it expresses anger at the people who screwed up, who drilled so far below the ocean’s surface, who messed up the drilling, and who are now passing the buck while the wildlife and human life suffer. Still, it’s hard to “turn the problem over” when it’s so massive and horrible, and when we feel its enormity so keenly. How can we just “turn it over”?

Last night as I sat knitting in the meeting I immediately thought of my cousin Amy.

This is Amy. She was 37 when she died the summer of 2009. She had three kids, the oldest, a girl, 17.

She also had a longstanding drug problem, which she supported by shoplifting, identity theft, and sometimes turning tricks. Her kids were taken away from her. My cousins who were close to her tried to help her, but to give them credit, it’s almost impossible to “help” an active addict who doesn’t want to be helped.

She was beaten and strangled to death a year ago by her drug dealer and another guy. After killing her, the guys stripped her, wrapped her body in a piece of carpet, and dumped her in a wooded lot. She was found six weeks later—in July, high summer—unrecognizable, identified by dental work.

These are the guys who killed Amy. They’ve been convicted, and the one on the right has been sentenced to life—he was the drug dealer, the one who strangled her, while the other one held her from behind. The other one is waiting for his sentencing hearing.

Her grandmother is my godmother. She had to watch all this on TV.

Both Amy’s parents were addicts. Her father was a Vietnam vet, a skilled scout-dog handler who watched several of his dogs blown up in front of his face. He came back with PTSD and an IV-drug habit. He died at 31.

This was not just his “personal” problem. This was also a consequence of sending an 18-year-old off to work in a futile war, and then shipping him back home wounded in spirit and leaving him to deal on his own. It’s like the Gulf Oil Spill. Its causes are deep, and it spreads.

After losing both my parents to the consequences of addiction, watching this happening in my family last year made me feel angry and helpless. I’d worked hard to detox and get sober, only, it seemed, to see yet another person with potential in my family fall to the disease of addiction.

My addict-mind decided I was destined for the same outcome. After all—BOTH my own parents. This preyed upon my mind. I wrote inventory, I talked with my sponsor; but I continued to be a slave to the bondage of self. I compared myself with other “successful” people, people who earn more money than I do, who went to better schools than I did, who have won more recognition for their work than I have, whose houses are bigger than mine, who apparently are more secure and solid than I.

I used over this. I had seen a picture of Amy with her kids in my aunt’s house that day, and I took a Vicodin. Incredible. I stole two Vicodin and I took one—and I put the other one back.

Recovering addicts I know were like, “Was it only one, and if it was only one, HOW was it only one?” It was only one. It only needed to be one: when you say “Fuck You,” how many fingers do you raise? In America, one. That’s what I was doing: flipping my “higher power” off.

Putting the other one back allowed me to flip it back on, though… It was like saying, OK, I fucked up, I know you’re really in charge. Now just tell me what to do.

I told my grieving friend last night after the meeting that I figure, if we open ourselves up to the reality of life, and if we ask, we can be put to good use. One part of the reality of my life is that I’ve lost a lot of people to this disease. Another part of my reality is that I’ve written a great deal in the past 15 years about health care and health-policy issues. If my experience with my family can motivate me to write something that educates, inspires or comforts one person about the dangers of addiction and the benefits of recovery, I’ll consider myself “well-used.”

Meanwhile I’ll just do what my Al-Anon sponsor has always told me to do in times of trouble: keep the focus on myself and accept life one day at a time. She taught me to pray. The first prayer she taught me was:

I am a child of God, born of dignity and grace.

4 thoughts on “Disaster relief: Step 3

  1. I think that turning it over and understanding that there is so much that I can’t control has helped me. When I am troubled, I have lost Step 3. Thanks for writing about Amy. I am very sorry.

  2. Syd, thanks for commenting about Amy. Some people have commented privately… it helps to see someone put their feelings here. I appreciate your visits and your blog a whole lot… –G

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