(Fifteenth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)
(This blog was posted on December 27, 2020, but due to technical glitches, it was not shared on some platforms – here it is again for those who missed it.)
For much of the world, Christmas and the holiday season this year has been nothing like our normal times of celebrating with family and friends. Togetherness is dangerous in most countries due to Covid-19. Yet, despite all the health and safety warnings, many have travelled and gathered with their loved ones. Why would people risk the well-being of themselves and their beloveds just to spend a few hours or days together?
Community. We all need it and ultimately cannot live without it. Communities may seem optional when all is well, but they become indispensable during hard times, whether personally or corporately. They can be small or large and most of us have several different sizes and types that we are part of: our family, school, sports, church, work, etc. What communities have in common are shared interests, beliefs, and needs, even while the individuals may have diverse characteristics. They are united and working towards a common goal and understand that they can achieve it because of, and with, the support and encouragement of others.
Fellow WordPress blogger, mechanical engineer, artist David Such has written a review of Opiate Nation and posted it on his blog site, Memoirs and Musings. Along with the review, David included some of his pen and ink drawings of our son, JL, and John and me. We feel honored and grateful for David’s desire to help reduce stigma and shame by bringing attention to the opioid epidemic that continues to steal the lives of our sons, daughters and loved ones.
I recently finished reading Opiate Nation: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Acceptance, by Jude DiMeglio Trang (with John M. Trang). I admit, this book was a difficult journey to travel.
Jude and John’s son, John Leif Trang (“JL”) battled various addictions from his early teen years. This story chronicles JL’s long and difficult struggle in and out of recovery up to his accidental heroin overdose and death at the age of twenty-five, and the long road through grief to emotional recovery for Jude and John that followed. Throughout the book, she includes excerpts from their private journals which provide an extremely personal perspective. She offers comfort and sage advice for others who may find themselves in a similar situation. The book takes you on a strenuous path, but is very well written and places the reader within all the confusion, family dynamics, regrets, and mixed emotions they experienced throughout this journey. The narrative is eloquently written, yet raw and purposefully honest in a bold attempt to shine a bright light on this “secret epidemic” that has destroyed many lives across North America and around the globe.
Jude is no stranger to grief. She had previously lost two brothers and a sister to premature death. The loss of JL would have been the final blow to anyone else who did not have a strong spiritual foundation. Don’t worry, though, she offers none of the trite Christian platitudes. John and Jude’s confusion and frustration are palpable. She is transparently honest about their generational family dysfunction as well as their own perceived failings as parents. Her authenticity is refreshing.
Readers will note that Jude is well-read, quoting relevant wisdom from sages throughout the centuries, from Leonardo da Vinci to C. S. Lewis, and from Beethoven to Bob Dylan. Numerous apt analogies help those not living with addiction to understand the nature of the struggle. I personally appreciated her intellectual rabbit trails into topics like the nature of time, and the physiology of memories. I also like the way she weaves together connected events throughout the years rather than marching through a dry chronological sequence. However, be forewarned, Jude does not hold back in her discussion of reality. Some of it is horrifying, but be reassured that the final chapter, “Stories of Hope,” is the reader’s opportunity to slowly exhale.
This book is a must-read for anyone who knows someone who struggles with drug addiction and/or alcoholism. However, the basic takeaway for all of us, even for those who consider themselves or their loved ones immune from addiction is this: The culture of “pain management at any cost” produces large profits for pharmaceutical companies (“Big Pharma”) at the expense of ruined lives. The default prescription for situations like a wisdom tooth extraction or a broken collar bone is almost always a heavy-duty opiate. Medical doctors “rubber stamp” these prescriptions every day. See the content of the book for details. PLEASE, don’t just fill a prescription because the doctor recommends it, especially if there is any family history of substance abuse or alcoholism. Search for safe alternatives, learn that pain is not an enemy to vanquish, and only reach for the opiate “solution” as the very last option
Opiate Nation was the well-deserved winner of the 2020 “National Indie Excellence Award” for best Addiction/Recovery Book. You will not regret traveling with them through their journey.
(Fourteenth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)
When Breaking Bad was released in 2008, our son, and most of his generation of young people, watched it. He told us about it and encouraged us to watch it while also warning us that there would be some parts we wouldn’t like – but to keep watching. We did and he was right. But JL knew that we wanted to be connected to his life through the media he viewed and so we became fully engaged and finished the series.
When I think back about it now I realize that we didn’t fully ‘get’ why JL wanted us to watch this series. I believe now that he wanted us to understand the complications and conflicts that drug use brings into a life, perhaps knowing it would reveal secrets that he just couldn’t talk about with us directly. His life was complicated and so he lived with many inner conflicts. It is the inescapable nature of any addiction.
(Tenth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)
When there is a rupture in the earth’s crust it creates a seismic disturbance, the prelude to an earthquake. Something seismic happened deep inside us the day our son died – a fissure opened, and all our energy was expelled. What followed that shock was the onset of grief and, as with earthquakes, the aftershocks. But unlike earthquakes, the aftershocks of grief continue for days and months and even years.
(Ninth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)
Shells are beautiful and fascinating to me. Each and every one is unique, differing from others just like our fingerprints. John and I just spent time at the central eastern coast of Australia and on our daily walks on the beach I just couldn’t stop picking up shells – especially the Nautilus shells with their logarithmic spirals of every size, shape, and color. These are empty shells that were once the home of a sea creature.
The exoskeleton of mollusks is the hard, outer layer that protects the tender creature inside. As the creature grows, layers are added to accommodate it. One day, as I was picking up shells in the surf, the inhabitant was still inside. It immediately retreated as far back into its shell as possible.
(Fifth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)
After many years of not having a dog, we decided to adopt one from our local shelter. We found a beautiful German-shepherd/wolf mix who was 18 months old. Bella was docile, sweet and quiet. The next day, as I headed out to the grocery store, I gave her a hug and saw her watch me through the window as I got into the car.
When I returned an hour later, I was met with a shock. I found her, panting rapidly and pacing nervously in our bedroom where our wooden shutters were open and had bite marks. She had tried to escape while I was gone. I had no idea why. I immediately called the shelter. “She is having separation anxiety: she needed to escape being left alone.” We found out that she had been with two families previously when she was dumped at the shelter because she continued to try to escape when she was left alone for hours on end. They gave us the name of a dog behaviorist and we started down the long road of helping Bella manage her fear when we had to leave her at home.
Children and adults can experience separation anxiety when someone they are attached to leaves them. They can have recurrent and excessive distress just anticipating being separated from loved ones and the anxiety can be so intense that it is hard to function in everyday life. Panic attacks and physical symptoms such as nausea and headaches can occur. For me and my husband, on the morning of our son’s death from overdose, standing over our son in that body bag we experienced the ultimate separation anxiety. The overriding emotion we felt was fear: fear of the unknown future we were facing. We couldn’t visualize how we would survive without our son as part of our lives and the future we thought we all had together. He had not only been an integral part of our lives for 25 years but he was literally a part of us–the combination of our DNA that formed him as a particular and unique human being. To say that it was like having part of you taken away doesn’t describe it. This was having our hearts torn out.
We would never embrace or kiss or stroke the cheek of our son again. We were facing an existential crisis, shaken to the core, questioning our reason for living. Regardless of our strong faith that had seen us through many other deaths in our families, this separation seemed incomprehensible and cruel. It was only by falling down on our faces and waiting for Mercy to gradually pick us up that we were able to survive this traumatic separation from our son and move forward again in life.
(Third in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)
Chapter 1: The Letter
Most of us have felt like we were “in over our head” at some point in our lives. Maybe it was in a job, or a class, or a relationship. Perhaps in the ocean, or on a steep mountain trail or having made a commitment to an event or project that turns out to be more involved and time consuming than we thought. When we finally realize there are more problems than we can handle or a difficulty that we just can’t surmount, what do we do?
I remember one time when John and I were in Morocco and the friends we were traveling with were gone for the day. We decided to explore a lighthouse we saw ahead. As we walked through an opening in a wall that surrounded it, we started to feel we might not be in a safe place. We felt fearful as we saw trashed looking apartments and expensive cars with black tinted windows. What made us turn and literally run was the sound of mean dogs barking. As we ran back through the opening, several came in view with their spiked collars and bared teeth. Thankfully, as we hit the main street, their owners called them off.
We are a global community – like it or not. We are connected down to the minutia of life, from what we breathe, to what we eat, to what we think, to what infects us. And right now, the world, our world is in a life-or-death struggle with a microscopic enemy that seems to keep gaining the upper hand. The result in just one area is massive unemployment and the subsequent loss of access and funding for public and private support services.
I don’t want to get in to the politics of whether economies should be opened up regardless of Covid-19 and suffer the consequences in lives lost, verses lives ruined by no work and massive personal and societal debt. What I am concerned about are the consequences of what so many millions of people are facing from having lost their means of livelihood, and in particular, those whose lives were already balanced on a knife edge on a daily basis.
It has been said that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it is connection – to others, to a community. The Coronavirus pandemic has brought disconnection and magnified loneliness and stress for people the world over due to social isolation, economic instability, reduced access to spiritual communities, and overall national anxiety and fear of the future. “We certainly have data from years of multiple studies showing that social isolation and social stress plays a significant role in relapse…and relapsing to drug use can play a role in overdose.” Dr. Wilson Compton, deputy director NIDA.
The acronym HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, is used in Alcoholics Anonymous and most recovery programs. It is a simple reminder that when our basic human needs are not met, one is susceptible to toxic thoughts and self-destructive behaviors including relapse and suicide.
With so much distress in the world with the Covid-19 Pandemic, especially the effects it is having on the weakest and vulnerable members of our societies, I have hesitated to announce a personal accomplishment. Yet, my hope is that as Opiate Nation gains more visibility, it will get into the hands of people who could be most encouraged and benefit from our story.
I am a member of a group of 35,000 women called “The Addict’s Mom” on Facebook. I confess, I rarely read the posts because it is so depressing: Story after story of mom’s who have been holding out for years to see their daughter or son released from the hell-hold of addiction to drugs, only to then post that “…today I lost my daughter/son…can someone tell me how I will survive this?” It is for these mom’s and dad’s and siblings and friends that we wrote Opiate Nation, but one of the stipulations of being a member of the group is no self-promotion. So I hope that, with more visibility and more reviews and re-posts on social media, our book will get to these most desperate of people.