What’s Your Morbid Hobby?

Life is full of “which is worse” scenarios. There’s the “death by fire” or “death by ice.” Here it is in the poem “Fire and Ice,” as could only have been written by the great American poet Robert Frost:

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

The political parties have us vying for which is the worse social problem and no, it is not Planned Parenthood. I’ll tell you straight out I’m going with opioid addiction. The biggest threat to our nation. The biggest threat to our people. That’s right, the fact that many people don’t want to acknowledge even exists. And this is why it’s so dangerous.

One of my more morbid hobbies is collecting headlines that deal with opioid addiction and drug overdoses. I’ve been doing it for years, the pile is getting higher, but recently it’s been a real jackpot.

It wasn’t always that way. In the beginning, I collected the rare articles of addicts who had fought through their addictions and made it. Addicts who had ultimately gone to college and gotten major degrees in major universities. One black American from an inner city who went on to graduate from Harvard Medical School. If I can dig the article out from my ever-growing pile, I’ll add the link here. There were articles about homeless who had gone into halfway houses and used that as a place from which to stabilize their lives, which included finding steady work and thus having a stable and proud income.

I clipped and sent these articles to send hope to a young relative of mine who was an addict and always feeling darkness. “See? You can do it too.” I’d like to think my hobby made a difference, helped this relative make good choices, but it seems like it did not. And now I cannot find the articles, even online.

Several years ago I would talk to a lot of my friends about this problem, and this pain of mine. On days when my relative was being arrested, or days when he was being released from prison, or days when he was beginning rehab and there was hope, I would sit in my seat during religious services and cry to myself. I’m not sure if anybody ever noticed my red eyes or my irregular breathing. If they did, they sure didn’t say anything. A few would tell me an aside about a relative who was an addict if I brought up the topic.

A few years back, my stepson died of an overdose of legally prescribed painkillers, shocking us all. He was a pleasure-seeker but he was not an addict. So my headline search and article clipping widened to include deaths by legally prescribed painkillers for things like, quite simply, pain. You know, those pain centers that are everywhere? Particularly in Florida?

Within the last few years, several parents in my community have lost a young adult child. Some of the parents have been brave and willing to confront this public epidemic. Others have not.

A few years later, after I was already personally grappling with this problem, the headlines expanded to include elderly adults who had been bankrupted by their addict children and grandchildren. I knew about this from personal experience, too.

The Untold Cost of the Opiate Epidemic: Elder Abuse

The headlines have continued to change over the years. In the last election, people started to care about the problem of “solving” the problem by throwing people in jail or prison. Were we creating solutions? Or new problems for even more people? A few times I sat in at a drug court. I saw young hopeless male adults. Five or so young adults would stand in front of the judge, who would ask them if they were on anything at that time. I saw them, in unison, lie. Five No‘s. I saw a pained grandmother as the judge would approve this one for drug court and that one – her grandson – to return to jail.

In the months and years after that, I started seeing headlines about large and small towns that were creating drug courts as a new approach.

This recent headline shows where we’re going, as a nation:

Life Expectancy in U.S. Declines Slightly, and Researchers Are Puzzled

Get this subheading!

African-American men gained 0.4 year of life expectancy in 2014, to 72.2 years.

My monthly AARP magazine is getting into the act, too, and not just about elder abuse by those seeking to get grandma’s retirement money in order to fund their heroin addiction. Once a place to find articles about cell phones and travel destinations for seniors, this 2011 headline was a first:

Boomers on Drugs

What you didn’t know about grandma!

Opioids and addiction are a national issue now because of the attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which includes attempts to eliminate – just when America is acknowledging this deeply entrenched and growing problem – American’s ability to get detox and rehab not just for the rich, who can afford private pay rehab stays, but for the poor and middle class who cannot. The people who care about this are elderly, farmers, veterans.

About six months ago I sat at a forum in my town for high schoolers, the goal of which was to open up a discussion about opioid dependency and provide referrals for those who needed them, and so on. A few audience members asked questions, and the oldest was about 90 years old and he had become an addict after radiation treatment for cancer. Whoever we are, we are at risk. There is no safe corner.

Yes, this is no longer a problem that white Americans or educated Americans, and so on, can ignore, thinking erroneously that this is “their” problem and not “our” problem. There is no way to hide from this situation.

Sadly, my morbid hobby continues and my pile continues to grow. Urban, rural, east coast, west coast, white, black, young, old, rich, poor, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, we are one nation, drug addiction and opioid overdose does not discriminate, and neither should we.

More to follow.

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What You Didn’t Know about Grandma

Life is full of “which is worse” scenarios. There’s the “death by fire” or “death by ice.” Here it is in the poem “Fire and Ice,” as could only have been written by the great American poet Robert Frost:

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

The political parties have us vying for which is the worse social problem and no, it is not Planned Parenthood. I’ll tell you straight out I’m going with opioid addiction. The biggest threat to our nation. The biggest threat to our people. That’s right, the fact that many people don’t want to acknowledge even exists. And this is why it’s so dangerous.

One of my more morbid hobbies is collecting headlines that deal with opioid addiction and drug overdoses. I’ve been doing it for years, the pile is getting higher, but recently it’s been a real jackpot.

It wasn’t always that way. In the beginning, I collected the rare articles of addicts who had fought through their addictions and made it. Addicts who had ultimately gone to college and gotten major degrees in major universities. One black American from an inner city who went on to graduate from Harvard Medical School. If I can dig the article out from my ever-growing pile, I’ll add the link here. There were articles about homeless who had gone into halfway houses and used that as a place from which to stabilize their lives, which included finding steady work and thus having a stable and proud income.

I clipped and sent these articles to send hope to a young relative of mine who was an addict and always feeling darkness. “See? You can do it too.” I’d like to think my hobby made a difference, helped this relative make good choices, but it seems like it did not. And now I cannot find the articles, even online.

Several years ago I would talk to a lot of my friends about this problem, and this pain of mine. On days when my relative was being arrested, or days when he was being released from prison, or days when he was beginning rehab and there was hope, I would sit in my seat during religious services and cry to myself. I’m not sure if anybody ever noticed my red eyes or my irregular breathing. If they did, they sure didn’t say anything. A few would tell me an aside about a relative who was an addict if I brought up the topic.

A few years back, my stepson died of an overdose of legally prescribed painkillers, shocking us all. He was a pleasure-seeker but he was not an addict. So my headline search and article clipping widened to include deaths by legally prescribed painkillers for things like, quite simply, pain. You know, those pain centers that are everywhere? Particularly in Florida?

Within the last few years, several parents in my community have lost a young adult child. Some of the parents have been brave and willing to confront this public epidemic. Others have not.

A few years later, after I was already personally grappling with this problem, the headlines expanded to include elderly adults who had been bankrupted by their addict children and grandchildren. I knew about this from personal experience, too.

The Untold Cost of the Opiate Epidemic: Elder Abuse

The headlines have continued to change over the years. In the last election, people started to care about the problem of “solving” the problem by throwing people in jail or prison. Were we creating solutions? Or new problems for even more people? A few times I sat in at a drug court. I saw young hopeless male adults. Five or so young adults would stand in front of the judge, who would ask them if they were on anything at that time.  I saw them, in unison, lie. Five No‘s. I saw a pained grandmother as the judge would approve this one for drug court and that one – her grandson – to return to jail.

In the months and years after that, I started seeing headlines about large and small towns that were creating drug courts as a new approach.

This recent headline shows where we’re going, as a nation:

Life Expectancy in U.S. Declines Slightly, and Researchers Are Puzzled

Get the subheading:

African-American men gained 0.4 year of life expectancy in 2014, to 72.2 years.

My monthly AARP magazine is getting into the act, too, and not just about elder abuse by those seeking to get grandma’s retirement money in order to fund their heroin addiction. Once a place to find articles about cell phones and travel destinations for seniors, this 2011 headline was a first:

Boomers on Drugs

It’s a national issue now because of the attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which includes attempts to eliminate – just when America is acknowledging this deeply entrenched and growing problem – American’s ability to get detox and rehab not just for the rich, who can afford private pay rehab stays, but for the poor and middle class who cannot. The people who care about this are elderly, farmers, veterans.

About six months ago I sat at a forum in my town for high schoolers, the goal of which was to open up a discussion about opioid dependency and provide referrals for those who needed them, and so on. A few audience members asked questions, and the oldest was about 90 years old and he had become an addict after radiation treatment for cancer. Whoever we are, we are at risk. There is no safe corner.

Yes, this is no longer a problem that white Americans or educated Americans, and so on, can ignore, thinking erroneously that this is “their” problem and not “our” problem. There is no way to hide from this situation.

Sadly, my morbid hobby continues and my pile continues to grow. Urban, rural, east coast, west coast, white, black, young, old, rich, poor, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, we are one nation, drug addiction and opioid overdose does not discriminate, and neither should we.

More to follow.

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“Was He Black?” The Unfortunate Aftermath of an Incident

It was already scorching hot at 5 a.m. and the morning sun already lit up the city streets that stretched east and west, and those that stretched north and south, as well as the rivers that bounded the city limits, when the three cops parked their squad cars and walked into the street-level mini-mart on the southwest corner as soon as it opened. The morning coffee was hot and fresh, from the first batch of the day. The donuts, fresh and chewy.  The three cops walked back to their squad cars, ate their donuts, drank their coffee, and talked. In the background the scratchy 911 dispatches were already steady.

Joe the gay guy who lived on the ground-level apartment of a 3-story building in the middle of the block that housed the mini-mart was up early, as he usually was. But this morning was different, not just because it was so hot so early. This was the gay guy’s first morning unemployed, and he was awake out of habit. He used to wake up early to open up one of the neighborhood gay bars. I actually never knew this: For all the years he and I were neighbors I never asked him what he did for a living.

Somebody else was awake at 5 a.m. – the black guy who was making his way up the fire escape of our building, past the vacant second floor, and in through the tiny bathroom window that was open on the third floor. I first saw him as I heard the words, “Take off your clothes,” and opened my eyes to see him standing above me with a 12-inch knife blade pointed right at me.

I’ll skip the next ten minutes, except to say eventually the gay guy heard a lot of screaming and figured it was just my TV. When the screaming didn’t end, and when it sounded really loud to him, he went to his phone and called 9-1-1. Then he  went out to the street and waited for cops, with the front door wide open.

As fast as a donut crumbles, the three cops were there at the front door and running up the winding staircase stairs to my 3rd floor apartment. The cop with the biggest foot bashed the door down and all entered behind him.

Hearing the decisive call “POLICE,” the assailant abandoned his struggle with me, ran out the kitchen door that led to the fire escape, down the fire escape, down the path, and jumped over a high wooden fence, to the narrow cobbled street beyond.

The cops watched as he jumped over the fence, then quickly ran back out to try to capture him.  My gay neighbor Joe came up to my apartment to see if I was okay. I offered Joe some apple juice that I’d had in my fridge and had a little for myself. I think it was the first time that Joe was in my apartment. That’s also when Joe pointed to my hand and showed me that I’d been stabbed.

The next time I saw a cop, one was assisting me in getting downstairs to the street in front of my apartment where I was asked me to ID the guy, who was then led into the back of the waiting paddy wagon; and then the cop assisted me into the back seat of a squad car and sped me off to the hospital.

Later that day after I came back to consciousness, a black detective, dressed in a dark suit, white shirt, was by my side, gently asking me questions and writing my answers. His being there was comforting. I never saw him again; I think he got everything he needed.

The second day in the hospital was special. Beaten and wounded, I was recuperating when three cops came into my room. Three white cops, standing shoulder to shoulder, by the side of my hospital bed. They introduced themselves: Gary, Pete and Mike. Gary, Pete and Mike.

One said, “You look beautiful.”

I’m thinking to myself, my face is swollen and black and blue. I can’t find the glint in my eyes because the whites are now red. They told me even that the swelling had gone down from what I looked like the day before. (How mangled did I look like the day before??)

I asked “Why didn’t you shoot when you saw the guy running away?”

Gary said, “You can’t shoot at somebody who is escaping from a crime.” I think about that nowadays especially.

Pete told me how the guy, who was cornered in somebody’s back yard, was capture. He had “the business end” pointed at him – I had to use my imagination but figured out what that was – but didn’t use it and didn’t need to.

Mike was the guy with the big foot, and apparently his big foot left a big mark in the door.

Eventually I was discharged from the hospital, and then had to meet with the District Attorney on my case. He was a big D.A. – what I mean by that is that he was a big black guy with the smile of a teddy bear. I hadn’t seen many smiles lately. I liked him right away. I asked, and he told me a little about himself, where he had gone to law school, and about his father being a military man, about how his little son was looking forward to him coming home that night so they could have a “man to man talk.” As difficult as it was to go over the details of the case, as difficult as it was to look at photographs from my apartment, now the “crime scene,” I was comfortable and confident around him. We met again before the preliminary hearing. Same soft smile. Same personable air.

The days and months leading up to the trial involved lots and lots of physical therapy appointments.

People would see my injured arm and ask, “What happened?” They were more than I little surprised that the answer wasn’t something simple like “I was ice-skating” or “I fell off my bicycle.” It was painful to review the incident but I’d answer the basics, at least what they needed to know. My answer was usually something like “A guy came into my apartment early one morning….”

A good bit of the time the first question back to me would be:

“Was he black?”

“Why do you need to know that?” I’d ask. Or maybe I’d ask,”What does that matter?”

I never ever got an actual reason why. But maybe half the time they’d ask.

Sometimes my answer would be, “Why do you need to know? My DA is black and he’s really really great.”  People cared when the criminal behavior reinforced a negative notion they already had of the black race, but didn’t care, or weren’t impressed, when the person and his behavior was exemplary.

About one month later, I went back to my old building and visited Joe. Joe-whose-last-name-I-don’t-even-know. Joe the gay guy. I thanked him for what he’d done to save my life. He didn’t see calling 9-1-1 as anything heroic. Thinking about it now, I should have gotten Joe a gift. But at that time, and for many many months after, I was traumatized. I wonder where he is, what he’s doing.

During the months of my recuperation and while awaiting the trial, I heard on the radio that one of the three cops had been brought up on charges of abusing somebody he was taking into custody. One of the three cops who had visited me by my bedside. One of the three cops that had rushed into my apartment, and that had pursued the assailant through the city streets, and who had been so careful to not injure an escaping assailant. To the court, I submitted a written character witness statement, and showed up to his trial to attest to his character. The lives these cops live.

In the middle of everything,  the Italian judge sitting on the case was fired for corruption charges and we had to wait until a new judge was assigned.

Then I was told that I had a new D.A. Why? The name of my very likeable District Attorney had been submitted by President George W. Bush to serve as a United States Federal Judge. Sorry to lose him, but cream rises to the top, and he was recognized, and he was deserving. But the Republican Senate refused to ratify him. I followed for months, when his name was resubmitted by President Bill Clinton and he was approved by the United States Senate for the Federal judgeship. Which is where he honorably serves to date.

256px-Liberty_Bell_2008

My next D.A. was also male, and he was white, like me, and Jewish, like me.

What a varied bunch we were, working together for life and for justice. But that’s what it looks like, in order to secure the blessings of liberty… And some cop to tell you – when you’ve been down and almost out – that you look beautiful.

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Movie Review: AMY (Directed by Asif Kapadia)

Many of us in the United States did not know who Amy Winehouse was when we learned Amy_Winehousethrough media reports of her tragic death at the age of 27. I was one of those. Asif Kapadia’s moving 2015 work of cinematography, AMY, ensures that we know who, and what, we lost that July day, 2011, and that we feel that loss intensely. It also unapologetically asks us to understand when sudden fame – and its associated institutions – projects itself, full blown, on young, talented, and vulnerable artist and ultimately contributes to the demise of those very artists.

The documentary is full of home videos, photographs, and films of professional and amateur performances of Amy singing live and in studios, and we hear interviews with her best friends Juliette Ashy and Lauren Gilbert, her managers Nick Shymansky and producers Salaam Remi and more, her keyboardist Sam Beste, her bodyguard Andrew Remi, people who loved her as a person and recognized her as the unpretentious person she was, the person with the big giant laugh and spoke from her heart. We hear her father speak. We see videos of and hear her boyfriend/husband/ex-husband Blake Fielder-Cecil speak – who always seems to be undermining Amy’s sobriety. As Amy’s  fame skyrockets, we’re shown hoards of paparazzi’s flashbulbs going off like a hailstorm outside her home. We see her TV performances on David Letterman Show, concerts around the world, and some very moving cuts from the taping of her duet of ‘Body and Soul,’ whose lyrics Amy wrote, with her hero, Tony Bennett. Tony Bennett is one of the few who understood that Amy was a jazz singer, not just a great voice, and who understood her potential as a musician, not as a commodity.

Kapadia so touchingly portrays on screen the moment when Tony Bennett pronounced her album “Back to Black” as the winner of the 2008 Pop Vocal Record of the Year, it beating out the likes of Rihanna and JayZ, Justin Timberlake and Beyonce, while Amy is in a room with her band, managers, and fans back in the UK via live feed with the Grammys and spontaneously commenting until the moment of truth: We see her stunned upon hearing her name pronounced by Tony Bennett, her idol, but it was not that she won: It’s that her her idol, Tony Bennett, had pronounced her name.

I rallied when I saw Amy clean, and writing lyrics and music, and it was painful to see her failures to remain drug- and alcohol-free. Footage of Jay Leno getting laughs at Amy’s expense over her early use of crack cocaine, as she struggled with her dual addictions to heroin and alcohol are difficult to watch. But there is a humane method to Kapadia’s Amy, as the director reveals little by little, the layers of Amy’s emotional complexity: Halfway through the moving he reveals a new struggle: her struggle with her bulemia, which had plagued her from when she was a teenager. We are rooting for her to succeed and just be Amy, but this adds one more challenge now, and meanwhile we hear quotes from her physicians that her heart is being weakened from successive uses of heroin, alcohol and bulemic episodes, and imploring her to stay sober. The movie deals gently with the depression Amy experienced (“I always go back to black”), of which she is aware. In the opening scenes of the movie she expresses her dissatisfaction with her emotionally weak mother and her absent father, an unhappiness which followed her through her life. She is not a person who has no self-awareness; she is a person who is trapped by her neediness,  her disease of alcoholism, and the demands of entertainment contracts to perform.

As someone who has been around family members dealing with addictions and co-dependencies for many years, I appreciated Kapadia’s efforts to look not just at the disease and addiction side of chemical dependencies and bulimia, at major efforts by many of her associates to encourage her to go to rehab and who scheduled interventions, but I also appreciated his treatment of the psychological side of her neediness. Kapadia never explicitly blamed Mr. Winehouse, Amy’s father, for the role he played in her depression, but he doesn’t shy away from providing us with footage and interviews that reveal Mr. Winehouse’s failure to be the father who Amy wanted and needed. When a trip to remote San Trope island for a badly needed vacation and opportunity for Amy to stay sober and be herself with friends who support her sobriety is scheduled, Mr. Winehouse has brought along a camera crew. The voiceover indicates Amy wanted her father, plain and simple, something that it seems to me she sadly did not resolve within her short life.

Amy was fortunate that she had friends who cared enough to insist she go to rehab and who initiated interventions. She was fortunate that she had friends and associates in the music industry who knew to not be enablers and to be able to draw the line on doing business with her as well as maintaining friendships with her. This is so often not the case with entertainers and those who are not entertainers. But the ‘power person’ in her life, her father, advocated for Amy to keep her contractual obligations over her obligation to protect her own health and life, which this we hear clearly in footage in Mr. Winehouse’s own words. Being the ‘power person and recommending that Amy fulfill the contractual demands, Mr. Winehouse is the one who Amy listened to because that’s whose acceptance she was most needy of. It was an unfortunate spiral downward.  While I was rooting for Amy, and hoping she would say NO NO NO to global tours that were detrimental to her health, only to see scenes of her drunk onstage and being booed (“I want my money back!”), the deep emotional scars of her life were evidently playing themselves out over and over again. Even when Amy committed to changing her life, the scars and the disease were still there, and one more transgression was all it took to silence her artistic genius.

Amy was a prolific songwriter as well, and when we watched and listened to her sing, the lyrics, line by line, rolled across the screen. The lyrics handwritten on paper, and we often saw her actual – and very neat – handwriting of the lyrics, with their chord progressions, didn’t always make so much sense to me, but when shown as she sang them, the lyrics rose to tell a fully compelling story that the public could relate to.  Amy’s was a rare talent.  We learn to care about Amy all the more because she didn’t want fame; she wanted to make music. “I don’t think that I could handle it. I’d go mad,” she said early in her career.

One image from early in the film stuck with me throughout: the video of the emerging superstar in the back of a car, wrapped in a blanket, not just any blanket but a “Hello Kitty” blanket, trying to get some sleep. Amy was a child thrust into the limelight because of her immense talent, vulnerable to the end, and Kapadia wants us to remember this.

Even in the end of the movie we see photos of her as a teenager, as a young girl again, with an easy smile, as a teenager, and young adult with a big and generous heart who just loved to sing and make music and to record albums.

The final scene of the movie shows the outside of the London synagogue where Amy Winehouse’s funeral was held, as guests were filing out. I saw her male friends and musical associates, many not Jewish, but wearing kippot (head-coverings) to show their respect, and weeping at the loss of their friend and a great talent, who many of them had tried to save. I thought to myself that in the end, Amy Winehouse was always always just a simple Jewish girl from North London.

Five Stars.

Women’s Health Week – The Importance of Friends by author Olga Núñez Miret

Thought that smoking, obesity, lack of exercise and alcoholism are bad for your health? Have I got a surprise for you!

Check this out, reblogged from Olga Nunez Miret, via Sally Cronin:

Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life

women

I am very grateful to Olga for taking time out this week to contribute this article on The Importance of Friends.  And congratulations on the release of her third book in the trilogy Angelic Business this Thursday.

The Importance of Friends by author Olga Núñez Miret

Thanks so much to Sally for asking me to participate in her series of posts to celebrate national girlfriends’ day with a week of posts on women’s health. It’s a very important topic and one close to my heart.

I’m a doctor, a psychiatrist, a writer and translator, and evidently, I’m a woman. Although I’m not working in psychiatry at the moment, I worked for nearly ten years in male psychiatric units (because I worked in Forensic Psychiatry and secure units, like prisons, are segregated by gender. There was a move to do the same with general psychiatric units and in some places it…

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