Please listen to this. You will find Cortland Pfeffers intro fascinating, and of course pamela as usual has much to say!
Here is a little new art to entice, just a small drawing i did while at fhe hostel in Boston during the Hearing Voices Congress. I hope to post that power point soon.
This poem is in my new book, LEARNING TO SEE IN THREE DIMENSIONS. Alas this final version did not get there as i had misplaced it and did not find it till after the publication date!
(pour ma jumelle)
Sometimes when you’ve spent hours rushing somewhere
and just as many hours rushing back
you ought to make yourself stop ten minutes from home
ten minutes short of where you think
you can put your feet up
finally, and get out at the road’s edge
and ask yourself where you are
going and where have you been and why
are you hurrying just to get it over with, or is there no point
to this day but in the ending of it?
Ten minutes, this pause
wrenched out of the rush by the roadside
getting the kinks out, lets you hear the sudden quiet
of your own thoughts
as the out-of-doors pours in and gives you pause.
What have you been doing all day
racing, rushing, wasting your time all day
for what, to get what over with?
Better to have rested more along the way,
to have seen, to have been, to have watched, listened
to have paid attention
than to have beeped and swerved so much
sped and sweated in bottlenecks
and cursed the traffic for what could neither be avoided
nor its fault, being its nature.
Where had you been all day
in your hurrying to get home, but on your way
along the only way there was: yours.
Oh, but you should have known better–
how all homes are but temporary shelters:
a roadside shack or leafy park bench,
a ramshackle timber lean-to —
each a place to rest as good as any mansion
ten minutes away. Ten mere minutes from home
the roadside beckoned with saffron mustard sprigs,
brave bouncing bet. But you had no time
to pay attention, so nearly home to rest and relax.
Oh, but you should have known better—
The day scattered like dry leaves
and ended without you.
Now you pay with the rest of your life.
Am I opinionated or what? But someone has to SAY these things!!! Peace!
Recently a friend wrote to me that she was exhausted with worry about whether the future would work out as she wanted it to. She has many concerns and young sons to generate a lot of worries, so i sympathize completely. Nevertheless, this is what i wrote to her and more…
Remember that there are plenty of futures out there and we have absolutely no way of knowing which one will come to us as the present, not until it is the present. So you can spend your time worrying in the present about a future you cannot change by worrying about it (can you?) or you can choose to ENJOY THE FUTURE now by assuming that it will all work out beautifully. That means of course, that freed from worrying about a disastrous outcome, you will enjoy the present, too. Yes, it is possible that what comes will bring disaster, but that pain will be of its time and place alone. You won’t have spent all the weeks and months leading up to it also in pain, dreading what your worry could not possibly change. If disaster does happen, but you spent all that time anticipating the best possible outcome, then guess what? You enjoyed your life, and if disaster happens you can say, well, so this is disaster, but i did not waste my life in fear, worrying myself sick anticipating it. No, no, i enjoyed every minute of a different future that may not have happened, but i lived life to the fullest. Now, life changed but i don’t regret a thing!
I believe that people who can enjoy the best future imaginable also build resilience to the worst future that becomes present in their lives, and in a feedback loop they end up never facing the worst outcome, because in the simple process of facing it, and facing it down, they have already begun to overcome it. But they could not do this without learning the skills of enjoying the best possible future now, instead of worrying. This is how they have become resilient and their resilience feeds back and makes them even stronger when like everyone else, challenges do come their way.
You can do it. You can stop worrying today. You can stop that flow of tormenting thoughts that say xyz is going to happen to ruin everything. How? Not by stopping them but by replacing them with daydreams that are far easier and better. You know how some teachers used to scold the class daydreamer and tell him or her to come back to reality and Stop daydreaming?! Well, i am going to say the opposite: when you are worrying yourself sick, start day dreaming instead, start fantasizing about the dreamiest most glorious future you can give yourself, and then goddam it, give it to yourself! I mean this. Start believing that that future is real and think about you would act and be “if you really knew this” it would change you, wouldn’t it? Well…be that future, enjoy that future as if you know right here and now that it will be on your plate at such and such a time…i promise you, you will enjoy your present so much more than you ever did worrying! And who knows, instead of Not paying the mortgage on time (your worry) you just might end up buying a boat as well as owning your home free and clear (your fantasy)…but even if not, you have not lost anything but your misery. And that, my friend, is a very good thing to lose.
You can view and bid on this on Ebay now, here: http://www.ebay.com/itm/-/302192985982?
Please tell anyone who might be interested in an historic sculpture? Thank you!
Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2015). The range of conditions includes depression, which the CDC estimates will soon become the second leading cause of disability in the world…
Folks, below this I post part of Hillary Clinton’s grand Mental Health Care plan, not because I believe in it, but because I want you all to see what our next president has in store for us. And because I hope you noted what the last thirty years have wrought in DAMAGES. Yes, after all the miracul0us advances of SSRI’s and SRI’s and adjunctive atypical anti-psychotics added to these so-called miracle anti-depressants. OOOooh, we have gotten so much healthier on our miracle pills.YES! We have gotten so much better that we now, get this, commit suicide at a rate 24% HIGHER than we did in 1999, In fact we kill ourselves at our highest rate in 30 years.
Well, I am sorry, people, but this is fucking BULLSHIT, just bullshit. You don’t believe me? Okay, i am used to that. No one ever believes me. So go ahead and read what dear Hillary posted in her Mental Health Care Plan below, from the National Institute of Mental Health. Those are not my numbers but right from the NIMH. So let’s go ahead, take our happy pills and tell ourselves we feel better, go right ahead, but what do we do when another buddy kills herself or himself despite the sweet help of his or her neighborhood pusher, er, psychiatrist???
Well, don’t tell me they did not warn us: ANTI- DEPRESSANTS DO NOT WORK THEY KILL. And it is posted very clearly right there, above.
Okay. Being forwarned is only part of the battle, we have to listen and we have to act.
Sorry for being so strident, I am really sorry.
I AM JUST SO ANGRY, SO FUCKING ANGRY AT THE LOUSY BASTARDS THAT DID THIS TO ALL OF US.
Go ahead and discount me, I do not care. But look at the statistic I posted above and ignore the implications at your peril.
Hillary CLinton’s MENTAL HEALTH CARE PLAN
Federal Support for Suicide Prevention
Suicides, which are usually fueled by mental illness, are rising among numerous population groups, from adolescents and college students to veterans and older adults. The overall rate of suicide increased by 24 percent between 1999 and 2014, and is now at its highest level in 30 years. Over 40,000 Americans die of suicide every year, making it the tenth-leading cause of death nationally. As the former director of NIMH, Dr. Tom Insel, often notes, suicides have 11 victims: the person who dies, and at least 10 people close to them who will never be the same. Hillary believes that suicide is a critical issue that she will prioritize as president. She will:
- Create a national initiative around suicide prevention across the lifespan that is headed by the Surgeon General: As president, Hillary will move toward the goal of “Zero Suicide” that has been promoted by the Department of Health and Human Services. She will direct all relevant federal agencies, including HHS, the VA, and the Department of Education, to research and develop plans for suicide prevention in their respective settings, and create a cross-government initiative headed by the Surgeon General to coordinate these efforts. She will also launch a citizen input and feedback mechanism, to enable outside groups to comment on agency recommendations, and explore how we can harness technology to reach out to people who need support.
- Encourage evidence-based suicide prevention and mental health programs in high schools. In 2013, a survey of high school students revealed that 17 percent considered attempting suicide in the last year, with 8 percent actually attempting it. The suicide rate among American Indian/Alaska Native adolescents is even higher, at 1.5 times the national average. There are effective ways to respond. It is critical that school districts emphasize evidence-based mental health education, so that students, teachers, and school nurses are aware of the warning signs and risk factors of mental illness and how to address them. The Model School District Policy on Suicide Prevention, released by four leading mental health organizations, includes concrete recommendations that school districts can follow. Hillary will direct the Department of Education to emphasize mental health literacy in middle and high schools and will work with regional and national PTA, school counselor associations, and associations of secondary school principals to encourage school districts to adopt this model policy.
- Provide federal support for suicide prevention on college campuses. Hillary believes that every college campus should have a comprehensive strategy to prevent suicide, including counseling, training for personnel, and policies that enable students to take leave for mental health Such multi-layered approaches have a proven track record of decreasing suicides. For instance, the Air Force launched an initiative in 1996 that brought together multiple intervention programs and reduced the suicide rate among Air Force personnel by nearly a third in under a decade. Groups such as the Jed Foundation, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, and Active Minds have created frameworks around suicide prevention tailored for colleges and universities. Hillary will dramatically increase funding for campus suicide prevention, investing up to $50 million per year to provide a pathway for the country’s nearly 5,000 colleges – whether private or public, two-year or four-year – to implement these frameworks on behalf of students.
- Partner with colleges and researchers to ensure that students of color and LGBT students are receiving adequate mental health coverage. Evidence suggests that the psychological needs of students of color are disproportionately unmet, impeding their ability to adapt to college life. LGBT students face added burdens as well, with gay youth being four times more likely than their straight peers to attempt suicide. Hillary will direct the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services to work with universities, researchers and community programs to determine how best to meet and respond to the challenges these students face and to provide specialized counseling.
Edited on July 29, 2016 and reposted.
The poem below is the introduction to my third book, and my second book of poems, this time with art, which should be published in the spring of 2017 by Sundog Poetry and Green Writers Press, both Vermont publishers. Wowee!!! I am thrilled. Tamra Higgins of Sundog has generously said that she wants to make sure that I have an art show and reading at the time of the book launching. Moreover I believe that Sydney Lea, Vermont’s wonderful former poet laureate, who had agreed to write the forward for it when it was still going to be published by CKP will still do so for the new publishers. I feel especially blessed!!!
I am very much a novice watercolorist and these are two beginning paintings.
TO THE READER
who may be sitting as I am
in a green recliner with a cup of tea
staring out through the porch
to a darkened streetlamp outside the diner,
with a book in her lap, mine, I hope
the only one I feel I should have to mention
if I mention a book in a poem I write;
to the reader, the nitpicker, the one
who may be wondering why
on p. 47 there are two ands, one
right after another, and whose fault that is;
and to the reader, who may be tired
after a long ride home on the bus
after dark and a meal not worth mentioning
who picks up my book but finds his eyes
closing before he has opened the cover,
I say: Forgive me
I am only a writer sitting in a green recliner
with a cup of tea, I can’t explain
those two ands or the mysterious
streetlamp or warm the feet of a tired
reader in his bed. I can only put music on
and tell him stories to make movies
turn in his head, to let him wake
with the sudden understanding that poetry
may be all it takes to make a life—
well, my life at any rate, and maybe his,
and maybe the nitpicker’s and yours, too,
staring through the porch to the streetlamp
where what happens so mysteriously is poetry—
and the whole night is wrapped
in the words spoken by two strangers
meeting there, or not spoken, which is poetry too,
and all of us who listen are waiting
for the music of what is to happen.
Zentangled easter eggs!
These are the latest fractured portraits and artpieces i have done at Rutland Regional Medical Center’s PICU. The portraits are not meant to be recognizably anyone, unless of course, they are. The set of small oil pastels were just experiments. The last picture is a gouache painting, about 22″ by 36″. The others are about half that size and in colored pencil.
(Sorry but my last post about their use of the restraint chair was very unexpectedly deleted…i still have the draft and can find the emailed comments, but i dunno that i have the heart to repost it unless someone requests it…)
So sorry to every one for disappearing so unexpectedly. I was sent to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital Emergency Room on December 31, 2015, largely because MRR was short on staff, and there i was brutalized for 6 days before Rutland Regional Medical Center took me in, on their state hospital PICU unit.
In the ER not only did they restrain me as i have depicted, but they injected me with 15mg of Haldol and much more over the course of those 6 days, despite my advanced directive, signed by four people and notarized, that explicitly states that under no circumstances am i to be given Haldol!
The ER doctor admitted that he violated, knowingly, my advanced directive. Due to facebook supporters calling the local newpaper in outrage, the newspaper called not the hospital–that would have violated my privacy, so they claimed, even though i had alerted the paper myself to their treatment of me! No, the newspaper, the Brattleboro Reformer, called my twin sister, Carolyn Spiro MD and asked her if this treatment of me, her sister, and her twin, was proper, and her amswer was, Absolutely!!!!
So you see where she stands on the issue of the torture of both psychiatric patients and her own twin sister! I have had nothing to do with her for years because of this.
Meanwhile, i have many many good words to say about the Rutland Regional Medical Center PICU but i don’t have enough time on my iPad tonight to say them all. So i will just end with this other artwork. I hope tomorrow i can tell you more about RRMC where they are trying, in a very small constricted place, to do things right, at least in terms of seclusion and restraints.
Please watch The Mottster’s short tribute to his mother …it will leave you in tears.
Hi everyone, i hope you will enjoy hearing this show, despite the fact that it was recorded several years ago. I plan to update you all on my progress since then and about M–V— in Brattleboro, where i live now. But it may take some time to get that organized and myself in gear. So in the meantime, i found this older radio broadcast that most of you likely have never heard, being out of the NYC area at that time.
For myself, it has been nice to hear my twin sister’s voice and her sounding so very kind and sweet to me. I have not felt that from her or about her in such a long time…and i dunno whether it is me and just a perception, or a real thing. But i wish i had her back in my life in some way that could work for both of us without either jealousy or anything that threatened either of us. (I mean jealousy on her part, not on mine…)
Anyhow, i hope to write a longer and more uptodate post soon, but thank you all for sticking out my long absence and waiting for my return.
Ps this table below was made from cardboard and fabric and paper and glue….largely because we have only beds in our rooms and i needed somewhere to store some of my things. So the table hides a small storage compartment under its removable top.
Sometimes you never know who it is that has a disabling mental “illness,” not even when they are right in front of you. Not every person who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, for instance, looks like it or pushes a shopping cart laden with household “extranea” down the street, homeless, filthy, and laughing wildly to themselves…Not that this is so terrible either, frankly. We should all not be so quick to judge. And no, we should not judge even this notion of the homeless-shopping-cart-person as “bad” or “wrong” — not until we know the person and understand what he or she wants from life and his or her history. I am not saying that anyone should freeze to death from exposure, or suffer from hunger or from any unwanted basic deprivation, only that no one understands the life conditions of another until you talk with them and come to know that person…
Too many people make assumptions that are wrong and/or erroneous based only on what they want and are comfortable with, not on what the other person needs and wants. Believe me, I know, having been there way more often than I wish and experienced it from that “other side.” Far too many times have people claimed to be “helping me” and have only hurt me! It is not that I think they were badly intentioned, so much as that they were only thinking about how they felt or would feel. They were not being truly empathic, not giving an inch or a nanosecond to trying to think about how I, personally, did feel nor for that matter asking me what I might want or need at that moment.
I want to remind people to remember that “ASSUME makes an ASS out of U and Me..” so instead of assuming anything about another person, especially someone who has an apparent mental “illness” or someone who at any rate seems somehow “different” from the people who are familiar to you, ask them questions…Find out what they want and what makes them comfortable!
As Toltec spiritual advisor Don Miguel Ruiz tells us in THE FOUR AGREEMENTS, which is the best book of its sort I have ever read, you can and should ask any question you want to, so long as you are honestly prepared to accept the answer.
By the way, the Second Agreement, in his book, an Agreement I find so fundamentally important, is Do Not Take Anything Personally. By taking things personally — that way danger and disappointment and all distress lies. Truly this is so. People are all in their own little bubbles, taking their own lives personally and frankly, think about that! We are only on the periphery of everyone else’s thinking and living, and in a very real way they cannot ever know us as we know ourselves, they can only know us through the lens of their own lives, their own bubbles. This revelation can be freeing if you let it…
That is why we should not take anything personally — because other people are too busy doing the same thing and not seeing us as we are, but only as adjuncts to their lives and thinking. If we truly knew and accepted this, we would be free from a great deal of angst and upset. But of course this is a very difficult thing to do…to free ourselves of the notion that we are as important in others lives as we are in our own. No, they are the important actors on their own stage, we are not. We really need to get over thinking that we are prima donnas in everyone’s drama as well as our own…Is not our own life enough? I should think so. Who would want to star in more than one drama at a time?
FROM THE HUFFINGTON POST:
The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think
By Johann Hari
It is now one hundred years since drugs were first banned — and all through this long century of waging war on drugs, we have been told a story about addiction by our teachers and by our governments. This story is so deeply ingrained in our minds that we take it for granted. It seems obvious. It seems manifestly true. Until I set off three and a half years ago on a 30,000-mile journey for my new book, Chasing The Scream: The First And Last Days of the War on Drugs, to figure out what is really driving the drug war, I believed it too. But what I learned on the road is that almost everything we have been told about addiction is wrong — and there is a very different story waiting for us, if only we are ready to hear it.
If we truly absorb this new story, we will have to change a lot more than the drug war. We will have to change ourselves.
I learned it from an extraordinary mixture of people I met on my travels. From the surviving friends of Billie Holiday, who helped me to learn how the founder of the war on drugs stalked and helped to kill her. From a Jewish doctor who was smuggled out of the Budapest ghetto as a baby, only to unlock the secrets of addiction as a grown man. From a transsexual crack dealer in Brooklyn who was conceived when his mother, a crack-addict, was raped by his father, an NYPD officer. From a man who was kept at the bottom of a well for two years by a torturing dictatorship, only to emerge to be elected President of Uruguay and to begin the last days of the war on drugs.
I had a quite personal reason to set out for these answers. One of my earliest memories as a kid is trying to wake up one of my relatives, and not being able to. Ever since then, I have been turning over the essential mystery of addiction in my mind — what causes some people to become fixated on a drug or a behavior until they can’t stop? How do we help those people to come back to us? As I got older, another of my close relatives developed a cocaine addiction, and I fell into a relationship with a heroin addict. I guess addiction felt like home to me.
If you had asked me what causes drug addiction at the start, I would have looked at you as if you were an idiot, and said: “Drugs. Duh.” It’s not difficult to grasp. I thought I had seen it in my own life. We can all explain it. Imagine if you and I and the next twenty people to pass us on the street take a really potent drug for twenty days. There are strong chemical hooks in these drugs, so if we stopped on day twenty-one, our bodies would need the chemical. We would have a ferocious craving. We would be addicted. That’s what addiction means.
One of the ways this theory was first established is through rat experiments — ones that were injected into the American psyche in the 1980s, in a famous advert by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You may remember it. The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.
The advert explains: “Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It’s called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you.”
But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexandernoticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?
In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.
The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.
At first, I thought this was merely a quirk of rats, until I discovered that there was — at the same time as the Rat Park experiment — a helpful human equivalent taking place. It was called the Vietnam War. Time magazine reported using heroin was “as common as chewing gum” among U.S. soldiers, and there is solid evidence to back this up: some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers had become addicted to heroin there, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Many people were understandably terrified; they believed a huge number of addicts were about to head home when the war ended.
But in fact some 95 percent of the addicted soldiers — according to the same study — simply stopped. Very few had rehab. They shifted from a terrifying cage back to a pleasant one, so didn’t want the drug any more.
Professor Alexander argues this discovery is a profound challenge both to the right-wing view that addiction is a moral failing caused by too much hedonistic partying, and the liberal view that addiction is a disease taking place in a chemically hijacked brain. In fact, he argues, addiction is an adaptation. It’s not you. It’s your cage.
After the first phase of Rat Park, Professor Alexander then took this test further. He reran the early experiments, where the rats were left alone, and became compulsive users of the drug. He let them use for fifty-seven days — if anything can hook you, it’s that. Then he took them out of isolation, and placed them in Rat Park. He wanted to know, if you fall into that state of addiction, is your brain hijacked, so you can’t recover? Do the drugs take you over? What happened is — again — striking. The rats seemed to have a few twitches of withdrawal, but they soon stopped their heavy use, and went back to having a normal life. The good cage saved them. (The full references to all the studies I am discussing are in the book.)
When I first learned about this, I was puzzled. How can this be? This new theory is such a radical assault on what we have been told that it felt like it could not be true. But the more scientists I interviewed, and the more I looked at their studies, the more I discovered things that don’t seem to make sense — unless you take account of this new approach.
Here’s one example of an experiment that is happening all around you, and may well happen to you one day. If you get run over today and you break your hip, you will probably be given diamorphine, the medical name for heroin. In the hospital around you, there will be plenty of people also given heroin for long periods, for pain relief. The heroin you will get from the doctor will have a much higher purity and potency than the heroin being used by street-addicts, who have to buy from criminals who adulterate it. So if the old theory of addiction is right — it’s the drugs that cause it; they make your body need them — then it’s obvious what should happen. Loads of people should leave the hospital and try to score smack on the streets to meet their habit.
But here’s the strange thing: It virtually never happens. As the Canadian doctor Gabor Mate was the first to explain to me, medical users just stop, despite months of use. The same drug, used for the same length of time, turns street-users into desperate addicts and leaves medical patients unaffected.
If you still believe — as I used to — that addiction is caused by chemical hooks, this makes no sense. But if you believe Bruce Alexander’s theory, the picture falls into place. The street-addict is like the rats in the first cage, isolated, alone, with only one source of solace to turn to. The medical patient is like the rats in the second cage. She is going home to a life where she is surrounded by the people she loves. The drug is the same, but the environment is different.
This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.
So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.
When I learned all this, I found it slowly persuading me, but I still couldn’t shake off a nagging doubt. Are these scientists saying chemical hooks make no difference? It was explained to me — you can become addicted to gambling, and nobody thinks you inject a pack of cards into your veins. You can have all the addiction, and none of the chemical hooks. I went to a Gamblers’ Anonymous meeting in Las Vegas (with the permission of everyone present, who knew I was there to observe) and they were as plainly addicted as the cocaine and heroin addicts I have known in my life. Yet there are no chemical hooks on a craps table.
But still, surely, I asked, there is some role for the chemicals? It turns out there is an experiment which gives us the answer to this in quite precise terms, which I learned about in Richard DeGrandpre’s book The Cult of Pharmacology.
Everyone agrees cigarette smoking is one of the most addictive processes around. The chemical hooks in tobacco come from a drug inside it called nicotine. So when nicotine patches were developed in the early 1990s, there was a huge surge of optimism — cigarette smokers could get all of their chemical hooks, without the other filthy (and deadly) effects of cigarette smoking. They would be freed.
But the Office of the Surgeon General has found that just 17.7 percent of cigarette smokers are able to stop using nicotine patches. That’s not nothing. If the chemicals drive 17.7 percent of addiction, as this shows, that’s still millions of lives ruined globally. But what it reveals again is that the story we have been taught about The Cause of Addiction lying with chemical hooks is, in fact, real, but only a minor part of a much bigger picture.
This has huge implications for the one-hundred-year-old war on drugs. This massive war — which, as I saw, kills people from the malls of Mexico to the streets of Liverpool — is based on the claim that we need to physically eradicate a whole array of chemicals because they hijack people’s brains and cause addiction. But if drugs aren’t the driver of addiction — if, in fact, it is disconnection that drives addiction — then this makes no sense.
Ironically, the war on drugs actually increases all those larger drivers of addiction. For example, I went to a prison in Arizona — ‘Tent City’ — where inmates are detained in tiny stone isolation cages (‘The Hole’) for weeks and weeks on end to punish them for drug use. It is as close to a human recreation of the cages that guaranteed deadly addiction in rats as I can imagine. And when those prisoners get out, they will be unemployable because of their criminal record — guaranteeing they with be cut off even more. I watched this playing out in the human stories I met across the world.
There is an alternative. You can build a system that is designed to help drug addicts to reconnect with the world — and so leave behind their addictions.
This isn’t theoretical. It is happening. I have seen it. Nearly fifteen years ago, Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe, with 1 percent of the population addicted to heroin. They had tried a drug war, and the problem just kept getting worse. So they decided to do something radically different. They resolved to decriminalize all drugs, and transfer all the money they used to spend on arresting and jailing drug addicts, and spend it instead on reconnecting them — to their own feelings, and to the wider society. The most crucial step is to get them secure housing, and subsidized jobs so they have a purpose in life, and something to get out of bed for. I watched as they are helped, in warm and welcoming clinics, to learn how to reconnect with their feelings, after years of trauma and stunning them into silence with drugs.
One example I learned about was a group of addicts who were given a loan to set up a removals firm. Suddenly, they were a group, all bonded to each other, and to the society, and responsible for each other’s care.
The results of all this are now in. An independent study by the British Journal of Criminology found that since total decriminalization, addiction has fallen, and injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. I’ll repeat that: injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. Decriminalization has been such a manifest success that very few people in Portugal want to go back to the old system. The main campaigner against the decriminalization back in 2000 was Joao Figueira, the country’s top drug cop. He offered all the dire warnings that we would expect from the Daily Mail or Fox News. But when we sat together in Lisbon, he told me that everything he predicted had not come to pass — and he now hopes the whole world will follow Portugal’s example.
This isn’t only relevant to the addicts I love. It is relevant to all of us, because it forces us to think differently about ourselves. Human beings are bonding animals. We need to connect and love. The wisest sentence of the twentieth century was E.M. Forster’s — “only connect.” But we have created an environment and a culture that cut us off from connection, or offer only the parody of it offered by the Internet. The rise of addiction is a symptom of a deeper sickness in the way we live — constantly directing our gaze towards the next shiny object we should buy, rather than the human beings all around us.
The writer George Monbiot has called this “the age of loneliness.” We have created human societies where it is easier for people to become cut off from all human connections than ever before. Bruce Alexander — the creator of Rat Park — told me that for too long, we have talked exclusively about individual recovery from addiction. We need now to talk about social recovery — how we all recover, together, from the sickness of isolation that is sinking on us like a thick fog.
But this new evidence isn’t just a challenge to us politically. It doesn’t just force us to change our minds. It forces us to change our hearts.
Loving an addict is really hard. When I looked at the addicts I love, it was always tempting to follow the tough love advice doled out by reality shows like Intervention — tell the addict to shape up, or cut them off. Their message is that an addict who won’t stop should be shunned. It’s the logic of the drug war, imported into our private lives. But in fact, I learned, that will only deepen their addiction — and you may lose them altogether. I came home determined to tie the addicts in my life closer to me than ever — to let them know I love them unconditionally, whether they stop, or whether they can’t.
When I returned from my long journey, I looked at my ex-boyfriend, in withdrawal, trembling on my spare bed, and I thought about him differently. For a century now, we have been singing war songs about addicts. It occurred to me as I wiped his brow, we should have been singing love songs to them all along.
The full story of Johann Hari’s journey — told through the stories of the people he met — can be read in Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, published by Bloomsbury. The book has been praised by everyone from Elton John to Glenn Greenwald to Naomi Klein. You can buy it at all good bookstores and read more at www.chasingthescream.com.
Johann Hari will be talking about his book at 7pm at Politics and Prose in Washington DC on the 29th of January, at lunchtime at the 92nd Street Y in New York City on the 30th January, and in the evening at Red Emma’s in Baltimore on the 4th February.
The full references and sources for all the information cited in this article can be found in the book’s extensive end-notes.
If you would like more updates on the book and this issue, you can like the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/chasingthescream