THE WOMAN WHO HELPED ME UNDERSTAND ADDICTION IS COMING TO MERRIMACK HALL

I haven’t written about addiction and recovery in a while but the subject is never far from my mind. When someone you love has the disease of addiction, you pay attention to the headlines. Over the years, I’ve read all the books. I’ve watched all the Ted Talks, been to all the seminars, attended all the support groups. Like anyone who has a loved one affected by addiction, I’ve tried it all…tried anything in a desperate attempt to gain a glimpse of understanding about this progressive and deadly disease.

In the bookshelves on my kindle and iBooks account, there are dozens of books by John Bradshaw, Johann Hari, David Sheff, Gabor Mate, Maia Szalavitz and so many others. “Beautiful Boy” by Sheff, and “Chasing the Scream” by Hari were pivotal to my comprehension of addiction. But no matter how much I read, I never believed the mantra I had been taught in those support groups: I didn’t cause this, I can’t control this and I can’t cure this. And I didn’t know what real recovery looked like until…

Sometime in March 2014, I stumbled across a blog post by a writer I didn’t know, entitled “We Don’t Start With Needles In Our Arms.” I read it twice. The next day, I pulled it up from my browsing history and read it a third time. The author’s name is Janelle Hanchett. I read her words over and over but wasn’t sure why. What was it about this version of “I was an addict and now I’ve recovered,” that was resonating so strongly with me?

Eventually, I made my way to her blog, Renegade Mothering, where I was surprised to find some of the most hilarious observations about motherhood, raising kids and being a woman that I’d ever read. Her keen social observations caused me to think about everything from keeping a tidy house or taking kids to eat in restaurants to our society’s rape culture. Janelle wrote about feminist topics that I hadn’t thought about since college, juxtaposed with side-splitting versions of Valentine’s Day Cards for married folks and tender stories about her adorable toddlers.

Maybe I was drawn in to Janelle’s writing because I had never heard a woman’s story of recovery. I must have heard the narrative, “I was a terrible alcoholic but once I saw that ultrasound, I never took another drink,” but I hadn’t thought about the mothers who suffer through recovery/relapse cycles. I must have had some arcane notion that mothers who are addicts must white-knuckle it until their kids are in college? I certainly had friends who drank too much and twice had to extricate myself and other friends from carpools where we suspected a mother might be drinking before she drove our kids but I had no frame of reference for a typical mother trying to fight for her life, and the life of her children, through the darkness of addiction.

I’d read Janelle’s posts like, “Hey, Hi. I Want Off Your Parenting Team” and then go back to “needles in our arms,” fascinated by Janelle’s recovery. I added “resilience” to the list of traits required to beat addiction because someone would have to be resilient to return from the depth of addiction into the wide open space of sobriety with the humor, joy and gratitude Janelle’s writing expressed.

After reading the post dozens of times, I started to feel something I hadn’t allowed myself to feel in a long time…I felt hopeful. Janelle gave me hope that recovery was possible, that some people actually do get better.

And then one night, as I despaired for the life of someone I love, I read “needles in our arms” again and for the first time, I found absolution.

It was this sentence that did it:

Most of us start out good and decent and wanting a real life with kids and a house and job, and we start out fooling around and maybe we’re a little overzealous but by the time we’re really, really in trouble, we’re dying, and we’re powerless, and the chances for recovery are really, really freaking slim.

And I finally understood what everyone had been telling me for so long. Addiction IS a disease. Those who have it ARE powerless over its relentless intention to destroy their lives. The Three C’s ARE true…no one chooses addiction, no one can control the progression of the disease and no one can cure it. The cure is found in working a program of spiritual recovery. Janelle’s blog post helped me think about addiction with compassion instead of anger, with understanding instead of judgement and with hope instead of despair.

I hope you’ll join us Thursday, October 25, 2018 at 6:30 at Merrimack Hall to meet Janelle, listen to her story and hear her read from her newly released memoir, “I’m Just Happy To Be Here: A Memoir of Renegade Mothering.” The book is an Amazon Top Seller and the reviews are fabulous. Here’s just one example:

“By turns painful and funny, [I’m Just Happy to Be Here] explores the pressures of modern motherhood while chronicling one woman’s journey toward acceptance of her own limitations and imperfections. A searingly candid memoir.” Kirkus Reviews

You can reserve your spot at her reading by visiting merrimackhall.com. If you choose, you can make a suggested $5.00 donation at the door. All proceeds will benefit Not One More Alabama, a non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating the stereotypes associated with addiction and to offer support to those affected by addiction and their families.

At the event, you can purchase a book if you’d like (or bring your copy), have it signed and ask her anything. It’s my hope that we will fill the house. I hope that everyone will leave with a better understanding of addiction, more compassion for those who have the disease and their loved ones and an increased commitment to erase the stigma associated with addiction. And I hope that you will find the same comfort and understanding in Janelle’s words that I did.

 

Marriage Equality…For Everyone?

Beth and Frank are deeply in love. They have been in a committed, exclusive relationship for nearly 20 years. They have a wide circle of friends and a wide variety of shared interests. They take pride in each other, encourage and support each other. Their extended families are connected. Their’s is a deep, complex, nuanced, long-term relationship that gives them both great satisfaction. Beth told me once that her greatest dream for her life is that someday, she and Frank can get married. But they can’t get married, nor can they live together outside of wedlock. Beth and Frank aren’t real but their story is true for dozens of couples I know. bill-and-shelley-wedding-photo When the Supreme Court made its historic ruling on same-sex marriage, I celebrated. But then I remembered all those couples I know who are still denied the opportunity to marry and decided the battle for marriage equality is not over yet. And it won’t be over until all the Beths and Franks that I know – and the millions of Americans like them – are afforded the same chance to marry that you and I are. The reason they can’t get married has nothing to do with love or religion or morality and everything to do with money.

Their relationships face the same derision and marginalization that same-sex unions have been subjected to for so long. Then, these relationships are further devalued and disrespected because should these couples decide to marry, they could be subjected to substantial financial penalties on the government benefits they receive – benefits they rely on to live as independently as possible.

As one woman said to me, “No one will let us get married because we’re special.” special-needs_539_332_c1 I’ve done some research to find out why the marriage penalty for people with disabilities even exists in the first place and, on paper, it makes sense: two married people who live together can save money on shared living expenses – rent, utilities, groceries; if those two people also happen to receive government benefits, then those benefits could be reduced because of the savings. In the case of people with intellectual or physical disabilities, each person could receive a 25% reduction in their benefits if they married. If they chose to live together outside of marriage, as soon as their living status was reported, their benefits would be cut.

We say that we want people with special needs to live as independently as possible, that we want to educate them in a “free and appropriate environment (FAPE)” and that we want them to live in the “least restrictive environment (LRE)” and yet we hamstring them at every turn. If they have jobs, they are restricted from earning more than a pittance or their benefits are jeopardized. If their families place money in their names to insure for their long-term care, their benefits can be reduced (unless the family has entrusted this task to a team of highly-skilled attorneys and accountants who set up a Special Needs Trust). If they live in a co-ed group home, they are forbidden from having relationships with the opposite sex out of fear that love might bloom, risking the benefits that pay for their housing.

Raising a child is an expensive proposition. Raising a child with special needs is exorbitantly expensive, even for families with deep pockets and the best insurance. Families rely on the assistance of a complex chain of entitlements and benefits that make it possible for their children to have the therapies, services and assistance they need to live full and rewarding lives. Explaining those benefits goes beyond the scope of this post – partly because I can’t begin to interpret them all and partly because they are so intertwined and include SSI, SSDI, Medicaid, Medicare, Welfare, Section 8, food stamps and others.

People with disabilities rely on some or all of these benefits but in order to retain them, we expect them to basically live in a state of poverty and restrict the amount of money they can earn, save or have in their name. This article from The Huffington Post includes resources and links, along with a simplified explanation of the benefits most at risk for the majority of people with disabilities, should they marry.

My purpose here is to raise awareness of the issue and to ask this question: Should people with special needs be allowed to marry, without any financial penalty?

Justice Kennedy, in writing the opinion for the majority, said of marriage that, “Its dynamic allows two people to find a life that could not be found alone, for a marriage becomes greater than just the two persons. Rising from the most basic human needs, marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations.” Justice Kennedy also wrote, “Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there. It offers the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live there will be someone to care for the other.” couple-with-disability-wed-photo I believe that everyone who wants to be married should be afforded the right to fill that basic human need, to assuage the loneliness of living alone and to have the companionship of a partner, regardless of their IQ or physical limitations.

Granted, adults with special needs who want to get married may require additional support systems to insure their success. Most of the families that I know would be more than happy to provide those support systems to their loved ones…they just can’t afford to take the financial risk.

People may question how two people with special needs could actually live independently, in a state of marriage. A documentary, Monica and David, paints a lovely and realistic picture of marriage for two adults with Down syndrome. This touching film won numerous awards and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in the topic (it can be found here on Netflix).

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More information can be found on the Marriage Equality for People With Disabilities Facebook page. A petition is available on change.org to end the penalty that prevents people with disabilities from getting married. I signed it and I hope you will consider signing it too.

Society can debate about government subsidies and programs, healthcare expenses, the feasibility of people with special needs living independently and other details in abstract all day long. I can’t think of these things in the abstract because when I think of them, my mind immediately goes to all of the Beths and Franks that I know.

I think of adults who love each other and long to share their lives together in a legally recognized union.

I think of adults who deserve the dignity and respect that marriage would bring to their relationships.

I think of adults who deserve to have lives like the rest of us because the only difference between “them” and “us” is a few IQ points…or the way we move around…or the way we communicate.

They” are not people with disabilities…they are people, who experience the full range of human emotions that we all share.

Their” love is no less than our love.

And if #lovewins is true, then everyone’s love should win. 11722330_848694518546662_4909391832293084721_o