Hooked

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

It was simple really.
We were looking for nourishment.
We were looking for food
We thought we found it.
We were eager, driven by hunger.
We chomped down and we knew
Right away
We were tricked.
There wasn’t any nourishment
There was only a hook and we are on it.

It hurts.
It really hurts.
It pierces and mars.
It harms us.
It injures us

We flail and thrash.
We have to get away.
And in our best effort of pulling away,
the hook sinks in deeper.

I know a thing or two about hooks.
And the line
And the sinker
Got some scars to prove it.

Here are some things I have learned.
We never respond to people or events.
We never do.
Never.
Ever.

We respond to our own perception of people and events.
We respond to our own feelings from the perceptions we have of people and events.
This means most of what we tell ourselves is a way to frame and understand the world.
The stories help us figure things out, but the stories themselves are not true.
The stories are within us, written in such a way that we can face forward and keep going.
We are making choices based on what we think is happening, many times making choices out of fear.
We can enhance our capacity to make loving choices if we can understand the narratives are myth.

Fear is powerful. We try to respond with as much power we can muster by thrashing and pulling and fighting. The thrashing makes sense to the panic within us in times of fear and pain. Thrashing feels like a choice. It feels like we are doing something to help ease the hurt. We are not. We often confuse the expelling of energy as progress when really it often just makes us exhausted.

Frenzied thrashing does not work for sustaining life. It is fear based and reactive. It is dangerous if this is our main way of being.

The perceptions of our life is what hooks us. The lies and stories we tell ourselves, the justifications, the rationalizations, the ruminations all merge into a single, solitary hook that now hurts. We fall for it a lot and the thrashing begins.

But then…
after the thrashing
in the silence,
in the exhaustion ,
in the darkness,
we see some inklings of light, hope and peace.
If we can open our hearts to it, we will feel the know the true power of acceptance.

Many misunderstand acceptance.
Some see it as weak.
Others see it as surrender.
Still others see it as saying we are ok with the awful thing that just happened. That we endorse it in some way.
Not true.

Acceptance is not dismissing the pain. It’s acknowledging that the pain exists.
Acceptance is not surrendering to the harm. It is simply acknowledging that the harm happened.

This is hard stuff.
That hook changes things and makes us weary.
Getting off that hook is never poetic while it is happening.
A soundtrack of peace, love and ease does not accompany the process.
It is marring and bloody.
It is scary and painful.

In this process of thrashing and accepting, flailing and yielding the difficulty fades into the background as we foster a nurturing, loving heart.
It comes complete with its very own set of self-compassion and graciousness.
In that grace comes the realization that we are off the hook.

Finally.
Completely.
Fully.
Free.

On the Light Rail

by Abigail Conley

A street preacher made her way onto the train, walking down the aisles, calling people to repentance. The odor hovering around her made it clear that her newfound faith didn’t include regular access to showers. Her language was crass, naming all the sexual sins people fall prey to, including what makes them appealing. Substance abuse was a far second in what required repentance. My drunken neighbor said to no one in particular, “Well, she’s got passion. I’ll give her that.”

I knew her particular brand of fundamentalism well, chuckling to myself as she shouted some new tenet. Only one person took her up on her offer to talk. Graciously, I wasn’t close enough to hear any of the conversation. My neighbor continued to sip from his gas station cup, a whiff of what was most certainly not a soft drink wafting over occasionally. His running commentary on events continued for most of the morning.

“Get through the train, then start over,” he said of the man panhandling. It was true. I watched the man quietly make his way from one end of the train to the other, asking each passenger for some money. Even those who had in headphones to avoid conversation were asked repeatedly, until they took off their headphones and offered a response.

When he got to me, he told his story, “I haven’t eaten in two days. Do you have just a couple of dollars? Even some change?” Truthfully, I didn’t. The three or four dollars in cash I currently have are in the glove box of my car. As he spoke, the odor of cigarettes permeated the air around him. Looking into his eyes, I saw that they didn’t meet mine or focus as they should. It’s often that way with people who are chronically homeless. I’m not trained enough to recognize the whys, but I have the guesses of mental illness, low IQ, or lifelong trauma. Truth be told, in most cases, it’s the last one that means they can’t get off the street. They’ve lived under toxic stress their entire lives and there’s no way out.

Today, the light rail was more interesting than usual. My work and life don’t often give me an opportunity to use the light rail. When I can, I do, because I believe in systems created for the good of the public: public schools, public healthcare, public transportation. The world here is different than the one I inhabit daily. The homeless people I typically encounter are in a program. They’re not the chronically homeless whose struggles are so great that they will always be homeless unless offered free public housing. These homeless neighbors have been coached to be polite, to say thank you, to act how people who want to help expect people to act.

There is a rawness on this train, a rawness that grows as the day goes on. In the morning, it’s filled with commuters and college students. By mid-afternoon, it’s full of everyone. Get on a bus if you want to see truly raw, though. The bus is where people lug groceries, and coach their kids through boredom, and sit in pain. Buses that run late and clumsily roll down city streets are a different world than the reliable, well-policed light rail.

Here’s my confession: about every third ride on the light rail, I think about calling the police. So far, I’ve talked myself out of it every time. The conversation about my racism is one I’ll hold for another day. I know that’s part of it and why I must think through events to reach the conclusion that I’ve never been threatened in any way on public transportation. Instead, I’ve been taught to see people as dangerous even when they aren’t. To fix that, I need Jesus.

When I think, “Maybe I should call the police,” I start to tell myself, “These are the people Jesus loves.” It’s difficult, at first, to believe that Jesus loves the smelly street preacher, from her unkempt hair to her booty shorts. Jesus loves that man sitting across from me, in who knows what state of intoxication at 7:30 a.m. The man asking everyone for money, Jesus loves him, too.

Jesus loves the jerk who didn’t move from the handicapped seats until asked, even though she was obstructing the only place for a wheelchair to sit. Those noisy guys who were doing only God knows what, Jesus loves them, too. And Jesus loves the probably homeless guy who was overjoyed to find today’s sports section of the newspaper left on the seat of the train.

I don’t think that Jesus loves them more than he loves me, but am pretty sure he would be quicker to show them he loves them because they haven’t had enough people to love them. This in-between, nowhere sort of place is beautiful in its own Jesus-breathed way. On mornings like this, I am grateful that it pulls me closer to Jesus.

Some Stories from Appalachia

by Abigail Conley

“They’ve got to come help those poor Appalachian people.” I remember the disdain in my mother’s voice as she said those words. I grew up in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. If you look at a poverty map of the United States, my county would be a lighter shade than those farther south or farther east, deeper into coal mining country. This was the place where coal was brought up on trains, then loaded onto barges to float down the Ohio River to Cincinnati.

As the trucking industry has replaced trains, the area has been bypassed. What were once company houses all along the river are now privately owned, though their outlines remain the same. Some Googling tells me that the population in that area was at its highest in the 1960s. My own thirty years of memory holds manufacturing and railroad jobs leaving, sometimes hundreds at a time, as recently as this year.

In high school, I participated in a leadership initiative funded by local businesses. “Leave,” they said. “Get an education. Then come back here. If our best people keep leaving, nothing here will ever change.” Looking back, I realize they had more vision than I gave them credit for. They saw we needed something. We’d do well to look at those somethings as progressive people, so here’s some perspective from someone who grew up in deep red, rural, white America.

Trust takes time. While Appalachia is a closed culture, this is generally true of rural areas. These aren’t places where someone can spend a few weeks or months, knock on doors, and get stuff done. People who have lived in a place for decades are still seen as outsiders. These are places where relationships reach back generations. There, I introduce myself by whose daughter I am. When I needed traveler’s checks in college, the fees were waived because the woman helping me knew my family. I couldn’t tell you who she was. It didn’t matter. There were generations of trust at play.

Drugs are one of the biggest threats. The stories I could tell you are horrifying. I remember an angry obituary a few years ago. One of the women in my high school class died in her mid-twenties. Her family took out their rage in the obituary, naming the “pill mill industry” and a few other things to blame. It’s true. Pharmacies pop up overnight, then disappear just as quickly. Oxycodone is nicknamed “hillbilly heroin” for a reason. These are places hurting from losing their children to drugs that they don’t understand. These are children turning to drugs because jobs are in short supply.

And yes, they need jobs. You’ve heard before that manufacturing jobs are drying up. That’s not just true in cities. The brickyards and railroads that used to be the good jobs are quickly disappearing in rural areas. My parents would love if I moved back there. I have no idea where I’d get a job if I did. Growing up, I never saw teachers as poor. These were coveted jobs because they meant good, steady paychecks and health insurance. Teaching would keep things afloat when the less steady but better paying jobs weren’t in season. A blue collar worker married to a teacher was common and worked out well financially. In the rest of the country, teaching is seen as underpaid and underappreciated.

Healthcare works differently.  Or at least most people wish it did. I went to the same doctor as my dad had gone to when he was a child. I think that doctor moved there when my dad was around eight years old. He was one of the people who wasn’t from there—and everyone remembered that—but had earned his place in the community. If you were sick, you just went to the office and they’d get you in. His prices were low enough that my parents didn’t even use their health insurance. In fact, later I learned that his prices were lower than an insurance copay. When he retired, the charge for an office visit was around $30. This was within the last ten years. I have no doubt he saw patients who couldn’t pay that much. I remember meeting him at his office in the night as a child, sick, before urgent care existed. At his office, he treated my sister for what was nearly blood poisoning, saving my parents a hospital stay he knew they couldn’t afford.

The first time I sat in another doctor’s office, I was overwhelmed. I’d never filled out paperwork nor seen my parents fill out more than a single sheet of paper. I’d never needed to find my insurance card. I’d never been somewhere that the office staff was unfamiliar. When we talk about health insurance and the Affordable Care Act, we’re already talking about systems that cause difficulties for these people. No one is inclined to sign up for more of it.

Guns really do matter. I don’t own a gun and doubt I ever will. That’s not true of anyone else in my family. Guns are for hunting. People care about how many points were in a buck’s antlers. Killing your first deer is a milestone. Some families rely on a freezer of meat for food. Also, in a place where police may not be able to get to your house within an hour or more, yes, guns are for protection, too. While there are some people who can’t imagine any gun control at all, there are easier conversations around guns for a large portion of this population. These are also the people who see guns as every bit as dangerous as they are, and treat them that way.

Paternalism never works. My mother’s offense that someone from outside would know better is real. We talk about that reality often with marginalized groups, worrying about being white saviors in black and brown communities. We talk about community empowerment, instead, and try to work with communities rather than dropping things we think they need. When we’re talking about white, rural and often poor people, we’re talking about people who are marginalized. They have to drive hours for services. They don’t have access to transportation. They live in old trailers instead of housing projects, but conditions are still bad. I fully acknowledge white privilege. The color of my skin means that no one assumes my childhood was spent living below the poverty line or questions whether I should be in certain rooms. That doesn’t change the reality that many of these people are struggling and existing systems don’t help them.

It’s easier to love some neighbors than others. I get that. Just this week, I officiated at the wedding of two lovely women. They’ve been together four years. They got married because they didn’t trust that next year they’d be able to. They got married because they were worried about one of them being deported. Most of us could tell dozens of stories of those neighbors who are more afraid now than they were a few weeks ago. Some of us could even tell stories of threats against those same neighbors. Still, Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As people of faith, we must work as hard to create relationships with the neighbors who offend us, and learn to love them, too. We must learn to see the brokenness they’re experiencing and help heal it, too. Those of us who are most privileged hold the most responsibility for this work; we are the people for whom this work is safe.

It is my deepest prayer that God will help us along the way.

The Farthest Place on Earth

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

The Christmas of 1997 I was 19 years old and preparing to travel from Tucson, Arizona to Willowvale, South Africa to teach school as a missionary. I actually didn’t even have knowledge of where Willowvale was on a map. I had very little experience traveling and I was giddy with excitement to head out to the farthest place on earth I could imagine. Christmas Day was the usual gathering at my grandma’s house with my mom and my brothers. My Uncle Mike, my mom’s brother, was supposed to be there too. He lived in town and we saw him quite a bit. He wasn’t there. I remember feeling bummed about that because I was excited to tell him the news.

As the day went on, I knew there were frustrating phone calls happening and I had gathered my uncle was on the other end of those calls. I watched my grandma nervously tending to the phone and then to the meal she was making, nervous whispering with my mom about whatever was happening. My grandma often had worry on her face, but this felt a bit different. When the phone rang next I answered it. My uncle was on the other end of the line, his words slurring and his tone angry and loud. When he realized it was me, he softened a bit. He wished me a “Merry Christmas” and then he told me to tell grandma to come get him. I knew he was drunk and I knew he was making Grandma upset. I said we weren’t coming to get him and hung up. My mom was on duty next. Her conversations were not a whole lot better. The phone was ignored a few more times as we ate dinner.

These interactions weren’t unusual behavior.

I had actually just seen my uncle the week before. He arrived at our house wearing shorts, a tank top, and sandals at 11 pm on December. I was talking with a friend on the phone when he knocked and was very annoyed to see him standing there. He was slurring and asked me for a coat and water. I got him the water and found him a sweater. I wanted to get back on the phone with my friend. It was a rushed interaction. I remember saying something about my “crazy uncle” to my friend, my tone dripping with judgment. That wasn’t unusual behavior from me. I shamed others easily back then.

It was hard not to have Uncle Mike there on Christmas and it was hard to watch my grandma worry about the best thing to do. The calls stopped for a bit and then started again after dinner. My mom answered. He was hurt. He had fallen through his glass table and needed to go to the hospital.

I went with my mom and my grandma to Uncle Mike’s apartment. He was bleeding and had a shirt wrapped around his arm and hand. He saw me and asked that I be the one to help him down the stairs. I remember feeling scared for him. For all my judgment I adored my uncle and a lot of my anger and ire was because I hated to see what he did to himself. Back then, I thought he could just stop it if he wanted. I thought he was acting this way on purpose and it was too much.

The rest of the Christmas night we spent in the emergency waiting room. I was cold and aloof, arms crossed over my chest and staring at the floor. My grandma and mom were near each other. I realized that Uncle Mike did not know my big news. I told him I was going to South Africa to teach school. My uncle had this sweet smile spread over his face and his voice had an ease and lilt that was uncommon for him when he was suffering. He was proud of me. He told me. I saw it. I felt it.

I have a hard time recounting what happened next because nothing really happened, yet something changed. I remember getting this swell in my chest, sadness and love for my uncle as I took in our surroundings. There are not a lot of things more sobering than being in a sterile institution on a day of intended joy. I looked at him and smiled again. He laughed a little and shook his head. I laughed a little and shook my head too. The judgment fell away and I scooted next to him and leaned on his shoulder. I realized for the first time that Uncle Mike hated this more than we did. He was in pain and did not know how else to fix that pain.

A horse-whispering awesome friend of mine, Chris Edwards, taught me this: Everyone’s behavior makes sense to them at the time, otherwise they wouldn’t do it.

All of the things we do are an attempt to meet a need within, and my uncle sure had a lot of pain he was living in and a lot of solutions that no longer worked at all. He had been trying to find ease for a long while; most of my life I witnessed this.

I first heard that my uncle had bi-polar disorder when I was eleven. They didn’t call it that, though. They called it “manic-depressive”. The medical model used language that said mental illness WAS the person. Here’s the difference and it’s an important one: “my uncle is bi-polar” versus “My uncle has bi-polar disorder”. The first makes the person’s only identity be the mental health disorder while the second sees my uncle as a person with a disease. We don’t say “Ed is a heart attack”. We say “Ed had a heart attack.” We have diseases, illness, etc. We are humans with these conditions and the same is true for mental illness.

At age 11, I had witnessed a change in my uncle gradually and then dramatically. I saw him turning in circles quickly and I heard him say his belief that if he stopped spinning, a tornado would happen somewhere. He was making himself exhausted and dizzy because his mind told him he was controlling the weather. He didn’t want anyone to get hurt.

In my teenage years, I would spend time with him while he spoke of prophecies about the end times and his belief of the rapture, desperately wanting to make sure we would all make it in the afterlife. Remember that night he showed up the week before Christmas and asked for a jacket? He left my house and trudged up to up at the top of A-Mountain in our town of Tucson. His feet were cut and scraped because sandals were not made for this journey. My uncle had a chemical disease and he was attempting to treat that chemical disease with alcohol. He lived with bi-polar disorder and addiction on a daily basis.

Uncle Mike’s brain created so many scenarios that absorbed him into his own mind, leaving the world behind. I think we mistakenly call that selfish and don’t realize what a painful state it is to be left in your own mind, to make sense of the world all around, pushing away those who love you and who you love, alienation and pain being the unfair trade that gets made.

That Christmas night of 1997, my uncle was patched up at the hospital. I said my goodbyes to him and he to me, fully expecting to get time together in a year or so, after my mission work. I left about two weeks later to South Africa, having finally found it on a map and understanding where my plane would land. My grandma wrote to me all the time as the year progressed and I heard about Uncle Mike. He had been on some medication and it was seeming to be a bit better. I was heartened and my grandma seemed the same in the letters. If you had asked me about him then I would have expressed hope and gratitude based on the outside view of what “better” looks like.

About ten months into my life in South Africa, I got the phone call and was told it was an emergency.

Have you had this call? The two sentences of pleasantries, the tension in the voice on the other end. Some of us may have been asked to sit down before the caller continued on. Others may have heard the caller say “I have some bad news”. I have no idea what my mom chose to say to start.

I remember very few words as a sense of panic rose in me.

Uncle Mike.

Suicide.

Fire.

Died.

I ran for a friend who came to sit with me as my mom told me again, calmly, lovingly. This time I heard the other words: “Your Uncle Mike lit himself on fire and was found still alive. The fire was put out. He lived a couple days. We made the decision to end life support. Uncle Mike died on October 5th.”

Recounting this to you, so many years later, still takes my breath away. The internal pain he must have been in to take this action is overwhelming to me. I will say that the trauma of how he died likely increased the incredible pain we all lived with in the days, months, and years to follow. I remember taking my grandma’s car to the gas station for her to pump gas because she could not stand the smell of gasoline. Her tears were endless for her son and the painful way he died. My grandma never fully recovered and died a few short years after he did.

It has taken me a long time to be able to talk of my uncle’s death. I knew he was in a great deal of pain. The few times I had tried to talk about it outside of my family, I was met with some form of judgment. I heard the word “selfish” a lot when I talked about this. I knew, though, this had nothing to do with selfishness. This was some serious pain he was in. It would take lots of time to navigate the social messages about his death and suicide in general. I made it my life’s work to understand these things.

Here is what I know now:

My uncle Mike died from suicide and his death was not a selfish act, it was not a crime he “committed”, and it was not a lack of fortitude or strength. The brain is an organ like any other organ. Suicide is a potential outcome from the disease of depression and, if is treated, it can often be preventable. If the disease of depression is coupled with the disease of addiction, it increases the risk of completed suicide.

I have the disease of addiction and I have the disease of depression. For a while there, I was scared I would have the same outcome as my uncle had as though his death from suicide meant something about my future. It was as though I thought I had to make a decision to NOT die from suicide since he died from suicide.

That is a myth, dear ones. My increased risk is not because he completed suicide, it’s because genetically I am more predisposed to depression and addiction. It’s as simple as that. It’s not some taboo that I must now choose or not choose. It’s the potential end of a disease process for which I seek treatment.

Why is that important to know?

The stigma around suicide increases the likelihood that people who are having such thoughts will not seek help. I am sure I do not have to drive home the point that this increases the likelihood of attempts and completed suicides. What a difference the sliver of light can make in such a dark, lonely place.

My uncle died on 10/05/1998.

You can likely imagine that 10/05 is a hard day for me and my family. And it is. Yet, something else happened on that day just eight years prior to his death to make that day something we had been celebrating.

On 10/05/1990, my mom stopped drinking. I was 12 years old and was aware of the degradation and torment she was in due to her addiction. My mom got recovery first time asking for it. She admitted she had a problem and started a path of sobriety. I watched someone in deep emotional pain lay claim to a life with options and love. She had to work hard at it. She had to change so many things to stay on that path. I know I did not make it any easier for her, often flinging my resentments and anger her way. She was steadfast.

October 5th:

I lost an uncle who I loved dearly

I gained a mother seeking a path that would lead to wholeness

I saw a potential end of a disease that caused my uncle so much pain

I saw a potential beginning of a life that caused my mom so much joy

I learned that the loss of a dear one from suicide creates so many layers to sift through

I learned that the life of a dear one through recovery gives me so many foundations to stand on.

My mom introduced me to resiliency, seeking Spirit, believing I can and should do better. My mom showed me the way out and she was one of my first calls when I needed help years later.

My uncle is still with me in all the permeations of life he lived. When I think of him I remember he laughed easily and often (the Mulvaney Machine Gun laugh — I have it too. You’ll know it when you hear it). He enjoyed golf and often made me watch it. I always grumbled, but it is something I still put on in the background when it’s on because it soothes me. He soothed me. He was a chef with incredible talent. He was loving and kind to those vulnerable around him. He was fun to play with and learn from. He was proud to be my uncle.

He was human and disease happens to us humans.

It’s been almost 18 years since my uncle died. I still think of him all the time. The word “selfish” never once pops into my head in relation to him. How could it?

If our behaviors are an attempt to get a need met, what does my uncle’s death tell me?

It tells me that his co-occurring condition was so painful within him, death by fire seemed like a better choice.

That is not selfish.

That is suffering.

When we know that, we have new options. The reason I knew to call my mom and admit that I needed help is that my family does not cloak this in shame and stigma. I knew if I had depression, I would not be shunned. I knew if I had thoughts of suicide I needed to talk about them and not keep them locked inside. I knew that mental illness and addictioncause a person to go inside themselves, away from all who can help and who love them.

Christmas Day 1997, I leaned on my uncle’s shoulder as he waited to get some relief from the external pain he was in. I thought about this trip I was getting ready for and the plane that would take me farther than anyone else I knew had ever gone, the farthest place on earth in this big, wide world. I did not realize the farthest place we could ever go on earth is actually within ourselves, locked away believing the shame and pain of mental illness and addiction is reflective of weakness in character. And I did not know my Uncle, Michael Owen Mulvaney, had already made this trip alone.

You are not alone in this.

If you are considering suicide, please tell someone.

Check out some of these resources. Reach out to folks who get it.

Keep talking. Keep breathing. Keep being.

___________________________________________________________________________________

September is Suicide Prevention month. Here are some resources for you and anyone you love:

 

Image credit: Davin Franklin-Hicks

“Top left is me and my mom Teri and the same next to it. Bottom left is me and my uncle Michael Owen Mulvaney and the one next to it is him as well.”

 

I Just Wanted to Tell You Something

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

We lost a friend. And it’s all I can think about. When you lose someone you remember the most random things about them.

Sitting at IHOP hearing a crazy story that had us exchanging looks like “What the…”

Him vaping. Sitting outside vaping. Letting me try it and a fit of laughter when he saw the look on my face. He literally had the biggest tank for his vape. And the strongest dose of nicotine. Endless plumes of smoke.

When he learned I was trans he had this puzzled expression on his face. We were hanging out and I could tell he had questions. I prepared for the normal questions that often happen in social situations when folks discover I am trans, mostly about genitals. I said he could ask me anything. Ready for his question? “Wanna arm wrestle?” And that was it. Nothing more required to continue our connection.

Friendship as usual.

I was supposed to marry him and his wife. He told me he really needed me to show at their shower. It was important to him. Being the over-scheduled jerk that I am, I completely forgot and took my nephews to see Peter Pan. You know, posted pics on Facebook. Which he saw. At the shower. I did not attend. When I realized it I felt awful!

The next time I saw him I apologized profusely and his response “Oh, I am done hating you. I am back to loving you. Jerk.” And then the smile.

Ben introduced me to the Desiderata. And I read it all the time.

He gave me big hugs.

And I desperately want his big hug right now, as I grieve the loss of an arm wrestling, life affirming, forgiveness giving friend.

I lost the person who told me I need to get a suit because I was going to go to a lot of weddings and a lot of funerals. I never thought I would be attending his. Please read and share in honor of my dear friend who died this week at the age of 31.

[Editor’s note: The article below was originally published on this blog October 12, 2015.]

**************************************

I just wanted to tell you something. I think it’s time that I did.
I’m 37 when I write this.
I’ve known a lot of people who have died.
I’ve never been to war.
I don’t live in a prolific crime area.
I don’t work in a hospice. I don’t spend time in places where one would expect the end result to be death. Yet I have known a lot of people who have died.

“Get a suit. You are going to go to a lot of weddings and a lot of funerals.” Someone said this to me in 2013 when I admitted I had a problem with drugs and alcohol and wanted a different path. I spend time in places where one would hope the end result to be extension of life. Yet, I know a lot of people who have died.

What’s more is I have known a lot of people who have died recently. Their families are still reeling, recounting lost moments, angry conversations, desperate pleas, wishing they had done things differently. Their friends are still tearing up with the thought, “I can’t believe you are gone.” Their voice still hangs in the part of the brain where one can swear they JUST HEARD IT. It’s fresh grief because they just died last month, even the last week of the last month. It is likely going to happen today where I live that someone who is attempting to alleviate the endless aching of deep, deep soul pain will use the solution that always worked before and this time it will kill them.

This is nothing new. As long as there has been access to life threatening mind-altering drugs, people have used them and people have died. There is nothing new under the sun. Yet, I can still hear their laugh and their intention to stop as they wished for something better so I think I need to tell you a few things that will make me feel really vulnerable. I do feel vulnerable in this writing, but I also feel called so, here it goes…

I was different in my faith tradition and spiritual practice when I was younger. I was a super, uber born-again, biblical literalism Christian as a teen with values of complete abstinence from drugs and alcohol. I took myself to church when my friends were taking themselves to parties. I was scared of drugs and alcohol. I had lived experience of addiction from adults in my life since I was very young and I desperately wanted a life where none of that existed. I sought after a life where none of that existed.Though my values and my attempts at daily living were to walk away from any situation where drugs and alcohol were involved, there was also a deep aching for me where my sexuality and gender identity were concerned. Since this did not match the teachings and beliefs the broader church that I subscribed to at the time held, I very much felt intense shame and pain, constant preparation for rejection, a feeling of otherness at a level that sometimes relegated me to exist alone and isolated in my room, feeling desperate for love. It also led me to thinking of dying nearly all the time until I was 21. I am a queer person and transgender and this pain is a common story. My story is one of so many.

This pain accompanied me. One day, I tried alcohol. Hello, sweet relief! No pain, no worry, no fear. And the people I drank with did not care one bit that being a girl and female didn’t ever fit for me, but I was super glad it fit for them: “Hey girl, how you doing? Come here often?” I could tell the truth about the person I was and they did not reject me. With that first drink, my internal and external world had congruency. So I sought that moment over the next many years, again and again and again. Richard Rohr poses that the only reason we do something again is that the last time we did it, it wasn’t entirely satisfying. We were left wanting. The alcohol that flowed into places never touched before and met a need I never knew could be met before, awakened a wanting that would never leave. I wanted to feel that way forever and ever and ever. Amen.

I also did not want that addiction thing I grew up despising. The loss of control for me was gradual. I had dreams, I had wishes, I had hopes and even though I found sweet surrender in alcohol, it took some time for that to become my focus. It was gradual, seductive and debilitating. Without too many details, this ebb and flow of trying to be in the world and follow dreams, live values, be authentic, seek spirit while also trying to meet this ever growing need that took me further away from everything that was life-giving became a tsunami of pain, loss and certain death. I expedited this when I discovered opiates.

People often die when they combine opiates and alcohol. This combination is one of the deadliest in the world. They may not die the first time, often not the second, but if it continues, they will die at a higher rate than either alone. I know that. The reason I know that is that when all of this was happening in my life, I worked professionally as someone trying to help people who were in addiction and asking for help. It is my craft and my career. Those words, on paper, in front of me now, seem ridiculous. I was drowning trying to help those drowning. Here’s the thing, though, I didn’t know I was drowning. That’s the trickiness of this whole painful disease: you often don’t know you have it until it nearly kills you. And I thought I was breathing fine as the tsunami overtook me.

I knew if I took these pills and I drank, I could die. I didn’t consciously want to die. I had developed a lot to live for. There was incredible pain deep within that beckoned me to consider death, but I wasn’t aware of it most days. I drank and I took those pills. A few things led me to ask for help. We got that alcohol thing in check. That just freed me, though, to really start taking those pills. And I was addicted to opiates in nearly no time at all.

There are stages of addiction. It is a deadly disease, once activated, it often ends in death, but along the way, it separates the sufferer from experiencing anything loving and life-giving at all. It depletes the world from light; darkness overtakes everything in its final stages. What’s so awful, though, what’s so incredible soul wrenching, is when it started, I felt like I had finally found light. Isn’t that the worst thing ever? I finally felt peace. Ease. I felt equanimity, truly. I feel sacrilegious for that statement since there is nothing I know more soul stealing than addiction, but it finally gave me that “We are meant to love and be loved” awareness that overtook everything bad. And then it immediately started killing me.

Opiate addiction is its own animal in so many ways. I have a teacher in my life, Dr. Wen Cai, an expert in the field, who gives an amazing talk about opiate addiction I have listened to a number of times. One of the things he talks about is viewing this as the disease that it is. He describes opiate addiction as the cancer of addiction. People are dying at an alarming rate if it is not interrupted. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that every day in the United States 44 people die from prescription opioid overdose. Add another 21 people who die every day due to heroin overdose. Put another way to help us fully understand this magnitude, there are now more deaths from opiate overdose than all motor vehicle accidents and the numbers are growing. And how do we fare in Arizona? Arizona is ranked in the top 10 states struggling with this epidemic.

When someone activates the disease of addiction with their first use, opiates commonly administered the first time in pill form, they are stepping into a life and death situation. It’s a gamble every time a person uses. That alone is awful. You know what makes it even worse? The person putting that pill to their lips for the first time is often a teenager wondering what this thing their loved one has been taking feels like. And they just activated a disease that could have them dead before they ever have a chance to live.

I’m 37 when I write this and I have a full life expectancy because my disease, for all intents and purposes, is in remission due to the work I do daily to maintain recovery. If I were to use again, I would be back in the gamble of life and death.

I have known a lot of people who have died and I desperately want that reality to change. It is the work of the church with extravagant welcome to consider our role in addressing what the CDC has described as the worst outbreak of opiate and heroin addiction in the history of the world. This submission to you is just a start for a conversation I hope will be very much ongoing.

I just wanted to tell you something. I have the disease of addiction and I have hope.

Family Portrait

by Karen MacDonald

His arm is lovingly draped over her shoulders, his fingers holding a cigarette away from her skin.  She stands close to him with a comfortable smile, holding their cute Chihuahua dog. A handsome pit bull/terrier mix dog stands between them looking at the camera, one ear flopped over.  John and Pepper, Chico and Deuce posed for this portrait in the parking lot of a church where they’re spending part of the day.

Pepper and John met a year ago at a methadone clinic and have been inseparable since.  She says she’s never been cared for like this before.  By the time each of them was six years old, they’d been started on the road of harsh knocks in their dysfunctional and/or abusive families.  He spent many years in jail, she spent many years selling her body, both of them hooked on drugs.  Now their addictions are cigarettes and state-sponsored methadone.  They each have multiple serious health issues, they have survived living on the streets–and they have each other and their canine companions.  

The money they manage to panhandle goes to the dogs’ food, bus passes, and cigs.  Their food stamps go mostly to support the woman who invites them to spend the nights at her apartment.  John hopes to land a job at a pizza joint near where they’re staying, though his felony record doesn’t help.  They’ve been attacked (with the scars to show), they’re ignored by individuals and the system, they’re sick, they’re tired.

And still Pepper says she loves life.  And they love each other and Chico and Deuce.  They’re a family.  They’re astute and compassionate.  The dogs are sleeping on the strip of grass between the parking lot and Wetmore Road.  Looking at Deuce, Pepper says, “’This dog is so judged. It’s because he’s part pit-bull….He’s not judged by the content of his character, but by his species….’”

In a different, though related development, there’s a push to prohibit (homeless) people from selling papers or panhandling on street medians in Pima County.  This would go along with a similar law in the city of Tucson.  The judging goes on, individually and societally.  Our work of compassion goes on.

(The story of John and Pepper and the quote is found in the Tucson Weekly, May 5, 2016, article entitled “The ballad of John and Pepper, hurting and homeless” by Brian Smith.

image ©Johnny Sajem 

View what’s possible: an astonishing experience of the infinite

By Kelly Kahlstrom

I don’t know if you recall the View-master’s from childhood. A “reel” of slides could be dropped into the stereoscope and with a click the slides would change and tell a story. Even the slogan “View-master- View what’s possible” held great intrigue for me. I am asking you to imagine this blog as a story in a View-master.

*click*

Title: ChazzyBear: a story in four pictures.

*click*

I was in the car driving to Tucson for a weekend with my grandchildren. I hurriedly leave right after work hoping to arrive before they go to bed; a few minutes of Oma time and perhaps a few books before lights out. Just outside of Marana I received the text. Chaz was dead. So many questions I could not address in the car nor adequately from Tucson. I was alone with my thoughts and my time with the kids was frequently punctuated with images of Chaz. Chaz my love…such a short life you had…woefully packed with more than your fair share of demons…Early life trauma begat addictions to food, nicotine, alcohol and pain meds which seemed to manage you for much of your life as did the medical complications that followed…Your anxiety and alternatively your depression seemed immeasurable and endless… You had aged out of services but were not yet ready to fly… You did not fit the gender binary… So many obstacles for one young person to have to hurdle in a thousand lifetimes of trying…The pathology was overwhelming… And then you were gone… a death out of the normal sequence of time…suddenly, regrettably, but sadly, not unexpectedly.  

*click*

Now imagine her peer group huddled together in disbelief at this turn of events. It had been 3 days since the news broke of her accidental overdose. Skillfully encouraged by an adult volunteer, her peers offered their expressions of remembrance…Silly, brave, fun, divine, daredevil, genuine, compassionate, funny, artistic, wonderful, thoughtful, mindful, deep, enduring, laughter, real, outspoken, smile, caring, open, sharing, friend, courageous, supporter, leader, sassy, survivor, inspirational, powerful, heartfelt, dancer, joyous, empathetic, rebel, charismatic, non-apologetic, beautiful, challenger, fearless, forward, radiant, sparkle, confident, loved.

To her peers she was a bad-a** woman who was not afraid to own her issues, and who expressed her pain and joy through music and dance.

*click*

Flashback, if you will, to a time before photography, at the turn of the 19th century, in the center of cultural life in Berlin. The literary salon; “a simple tea-table with a charming hostess, enthusiasm for reading and discussing literature, sparkling conversation and an atmosphere of friendship”. The Aufklärung, or the Enlightenment, dominated the world of ideas shared in these salons. Reason was fast becoming the primary source of authority and legitimacy. Yet, one member of Henriette Herz’s salon was something of an enigma to the typical salon participant. A brilliant and gifted conversationalist, by all appearances an Enlightenment thinker, but also a cleric who retained his Moravian roots and, seemingly, the antiquated beliefs of the church. For his 29th birthday, the salon participants gave him free reign to “explain himself” to the “cultured despisers” of his day. This is what he said to them:

  1. You think religion is only about priests and rules (or knowing and doing). It is not.
  2. This is what I think religion is: an astonishing experience of the infinite which can be found in the most mundane, finite moments of our lives if we are awake to them.
  3. Learning to “stay awake” must be cultivated and takes practice.
  4. These experiences of the infinite are so cool that they beg to be shared with others. The more they are shared with others the better each of us are at recognizing the infinite when we see it.
  5. There is a social structure already set up to cultivate and talk about these experiences. It is called church. You should try it sometime.  The only differences between the experiences of those inside church and those outside of church is that the church calls these experiences God.

Young Friedrich Schleiermacher was able to convince some of his closest friends to consider this possibility.

*click*

Now picture the conference office, fondly called the 917, filled to capacity and decked out in flowers, candles, and pink and purple balloons. A video projector played a loop of the many pictures of Chaz dancing, singing, and participating in the life of this community. Through the outreach efforts of Elizabeth Youngberg, pastor of Rebel & Divine, Chaz’s mother, younger brother and maternal grandmother were present for the service. It was peer led; her friends offered the prayers, the music, the poetry readings, and the remembrances. Simple…Heartfelt…Tearful…Beautiful.

This was the environment that Chaz’s brother stepped into when he stood to say a few words. He was, by his own admission, as shy and introverted as Chaz was outgoing. The dress shirt and pants purchased for the occasion seemed uncomfortably out of character for him. He apologized for his perceived lack of eloquence and then, with quiet sincerity, he shared his thoughts. He was surprised to learn of Chaz’s attachment to this community – a community that we call church. And through this experience, he realized that he had never really known his sister. This led to a request for conversation; an open invitation to all who knew Chaz to share their stories with him so that he could fill in the gaps of his own, and perhaps fractured, experience of her.  

*click*

Epilogue: Only Chaz’s brother can say if the service and fellowship afterward constituted an experience of the infinite for him. It certainly was for me. Like the View-master slogan- “View what is possible,” I am continually amazed at the opportunities we have to adjust (and by this I mean broaden) our own perceptions when we actively participate in the life of a community. Especially a community that finds experiences of the infinite so cool that they beg to be shared with others; whether or not they can call these experiences God. ChazzyBear…you left bigger shoes to fill than I first imagined. Rest in peace.

Vulnerability is Sacred

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

Vulnerability is sacred.

I first thought this when I had been attending First UCC Tucson for about three years. I was spending a great deal of time, attention, thought, and meditation in developing relationships, including the one that I had once known with God. It was a communion Sunday and I often did not partake in communion. This was due to a resentment that I had against those who created insiders and outsiders at the communion table. The other aspect of my refusal was that I did not know what, if anything, communion meant to me and my path.

Vulnerability is sacred.

The work that I get to do in the community where I live is often heart-wrenching at times and  celebratory at other times. Working in the realm of substance dependence and mental illness, I see people often at their most vulnerable. The stripping away of ego is so hard to watch, especially when it is due to illness. Many of the folks who fill our jails and psychiatric facilities have a large number of adverse childhood events, also known as trauma. As trauma increases, health needs and disparities often increase. As safety increases, health needs and disparities often decrease.

Vulnerability is sacred.

The return to the sense of safety often comes on the heels of talking about that which made it unsafe, most often trauma. The concept, “the only way out is through” is very applicable here. Finding that way through trauma is not for the faint of heart. That being said, I shall now give you a bit of a gross comparison that a coworker of mine uses. He says, “This whole time we have been together, you have been swallowing your saliva without any thought about it. It’s natural to you, it’s normal. If you were given a cup and told to spit in it vs swallow the saliva, that would likely gross you out. If you were then told to drink from that cup (my note: my stomach is turning too, ugh) you would likely refuse.” Here’s why that is: when it is out of you, it changes. We interact with it differently, we see it differently, we address it differently.

Vulnerability is sacred.

The telling of trauma is exhausting, scary, and so incredibly hard. The pain that induced the trauma feels fresh and feels awful, most do not want to talk about things like that. Yet, we must. To some degree, we must. In the telling, we are no longer alone with it. In the telling, we are able to look at what exactly it is that was inside us. In the telling, the event of the trauma can be a single event versus the overshadowing painful, all consuming thing that it had been. It is out of me, it is out of you and we can look at it together.

Vulnerability is sacred.

That communion table. What am I to do with that communion table? Can I just fake it and hope the feelings of acceptance for communion comes? Can I continue to ignore it and just check out while it is being served? I could do that. Or I could work on this a bit more. I chose the latter. The only way out is through, after all. Within the same hour that I opted into contending with communion and determining my beliefs and practices, a thought came to me. Communion is the telling of trauma. As we sit with the understanding of the horror that was done to Jesus in his execution, we are bearing witness. We are bearing witness to injustice. We are bearing witness to something intensely private and very human. We are bearing witness to trauma.

Vulnerability is sacred.

I look very closely for the vulnerability in those around me. I have a strong desire to protect that vulnerability, to ensure they are safe and cared for in whatever way the vulnerability arises. I have a strong connection to vulnerability and I have a strong disdain for abuses of power. The Sermon on the Mount, or the Beatitudes made perfectly clear the expectation that we would look for the vulnerable and honor that vulnerability with love. In so doing, we are reaching beyond what is in front of us or what is our present reality and we are inviting the sacred into our relationships. When I am vulnerable with you and when you are vulnerable with me, I do believe God is there. The whole, when two or three people are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them. The presence of the sacred.

May we tell our stories.

May we look for our shared humanity.

May we be vulnerable. And may the sacred be present.

Your vulnerability is sacred.

 

…Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Stuff

by Dr Don Fausel

I remember reading a Christmas article by Dorothy Day back in the early 1950s. In her inimitable style she paraphrased Luke 2:1. Her version was:

“…a decree went out from Macy’s, and Walmart, and Sears, that the whole world should do their Christmas shopping.”

I substituted Walmart and Sears because the other department stores she mentioned are no longer in business.

I believe Dorothy Day was a prophet of excessive consumerism that has become more contagious in our society in recent years. According to Peter Stearns in his book Consumerism in World History, consumption has been around for centuries in different societies, but excessive consumerism is more current. To go way back in history, the Sacred Book of China, Tao Te Ching, which literally means the way, was written in China around the 6th century BCE by Lao Tsu. Verse 46 seems to be a forewarning of what we are experiencing today. Here are several lines from that verse.

“There is no greater loss than losing the Way, no greater curse than covetousness, no greater tragedy than discontentment; the worst of faults is to always want more—always. Contentment alone is enough. Indeed the bliss of eternity can be found in contentment.”

We all know that many of us buy things we don’t need; that advertisers exploit consumers through promoting campaigns that encourage us to buy stuff we can do without, because they know that we believe that more stuff will make us happier, smarter or more loved as we pursue the American Dream that’s built on the mentality that more stuff is better. The American Dream has become the American Nightmare.

I suspect that the philosopher/comedian, and later day Lao Tzu, George Carlin was way ahead of his time when he chose “stuff” to characterize consumerism in the early 1980s in a routine that he named A Place for my Stuff. Since then the word “stuff” has become the symbol for all those things that we buy, but could do without.

As you might know, there are 12-Step programs for shopaholics. Compulsive shopping can be as debilitating as gambling or alcohol addiction. Psychologists believe that the person who is a compulsive shopper uses shopping to soothe him/herself rather than dealing with life’s challenges head on. Obsessive shopping ultimately can lead to worse problems than the one from which the person is seeking relief. In many incidents the compulsive shopper’s behavior puts his/her family’s welfare in grave jeopardy, which often leads to divorce.

In the words of Lao Tsu,

“She/he who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.”

Here’s another quote, this one from I Wish You Enough by Bob Perks,

“When having more leaves you empty, you’ll discover true happiness lies in enough!”

Or how about one from Gandhi,

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.”

or as we used to say in the Bronx,

“Enough already!”

Although all these quotations might be thought-provoking, they don’t provide a black and white answer for our problems with stuff, or the answer to the question, “What’s enough under every situation?” We need to determine whether we’re concerned about how much stuff we need versus how much stuff we want. For example, do I need to buy a car because my car doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that the new models have? I don’t believe we need a bureaucrat to figure it out for us, but sometimes we need help to motivate us to make the right choice in answering the question—what is enough for me?

Here are two YouTube videos and a book that you might find to be helpful:

This one is by Annie Leonard, The Story of Stuff:

She also wrote a book with Annie Conrad titled The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health and a Vision of Change. The title says a lot.

This video is a TED TALK, A Rich Life with Less Stuff: The Minimalists:

In future blogs I will continue with the theme of happiness and point out how the pursuit of stuff produces more destruction than just what it does to us as individuals, but is also is connected with the damage it creates for Mother Earth.

I Just Wanted to Tell You Something

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

I just wanted to tell you something. I think it’s time that I did.
I’m 37 when I write this.
I’ve known a lot of people who have died.
I’ve never been to war.
I don’t live in a prolific crime area.
I don’t work in a hospice. I don’t spend time in places where one would expect the end result to be death. Yet I have known a lot of people who have died.

“Get a suit. You are going to go to a lot of weddings and a lot of funerals.” Someone said this to me in 2011 when I admitted I had a problem with drugs and alcohol and wanted a different path. I spend time in places where one would hope the end result to be extension of life. Yet, I know a lot of people who have died.

What’s more is I have known a lot of people who have died recently. Their families are still reeling, recounting lost moments, angry conversations, desperate pleas, wishing they had done things differently. Their friends are still tearing up with the thought, “I can’t believe you are gone.” Their voice still hangs in the part of the brain where one can swear they JUST HEARD IT. It’s fresh grief because they just died last month, even the last week of the last month. It is likely going to happen today where I live that someone who is attempting to alleviate the endless aching of deep, deep soul pain will use the solution that always worked before and this time it will kill them.

This is nothing new. As long as there has been access to life threatening mind-altering drugs, people have used them and people have died. There is nothing new under the sun. Yet, I can still hear their laugh and their intention to stop as they wished for something better so I think I need to tell you a few things that will make me feel really vulnerable. I do feel vulnerable in this writing, but I also feel called so, here it goes…

I was different in my faith tradition and spiritual practice when I was younger. I was a super, uber born-again, biblical literalism Christian as a teen with values of complete abstinence from drugs and alcohol. I took myself to church when my friends were taking themselves to parties. I was scared of drugs and alcohol. I had lived experience of addiction from adults in my life since I was very young and I desperately wanted a life where none of that existed. I sought after a life where none of that existed.Though my values and my attempts at daily living were to walk away from any situation where drugs and alcohol were involved, there was also a deep aching for me where my sexuality and gender identity were concerned. Since this did not match the teachings and beliefs the broader church that I subscribed to at the time held, I very much felt intense shame and pain, constant preparation for rejection, a feeling of otherness at a level that sometimes relegated me to exist alone and isolated in my room, feeling desperate for love. It also led me to thinking of dying nearly all the time until I was 21. I am a queer person and transgender and this pain is a common story. My story is one of so many.

This pain accompanied me. One day, I tried alcohol. Hello, sweet relief! No pain, no worry, no fear. And the people I drank with did not care one bit that being a girl and female didn’t ever fit for me, but I was super glad it fit for them: “Hey girl, how you doing? Come here often?” I could tell the truth about the person I was and they did not reject me. With that first drink, my internal and external world had congruency. So I sought that moment over the next many years, again and again and again. Richard Rohr poses that the only reason we do something again is that the last time we did it, it wasn’t entirely satisfying. We were left wanting. The alcohol that flowed into places never touched before and met a need I never knew could be met before, awakened a wanting that would never leave. I wanted to feel that way forever and ever and ever. Amen.

I also did not want that addiction thing I grew up despising. The loss of control for me was gradual. I had dreams, I had wishes, I had hopes and even though I found sweet surrender in alcohol, it took some time for that to become my focus. It was gradual, seductive and debilitating. Without too many details, this ebb and flow of trying to be in the world and follow dreams, live values, be authentic, seek spirit while also trying to meet this ever growing need that took me further away from everything that was life-giving became a tsunami of pain, loss and certain death. I expedited this when I discovered opiates.

People often die when they combine opiates and alcohol. This combination is one of the deadliest in the world. They may not die the first time, often not the second, but if it continues, they will die at a higher rate than either alone. I know that. The reason I know that is that when all of this was happening in my life, I worked professionally as someone trying to help people who were in addiction and asking for help. It is my craft and my career. Those words, on paper, in front of me now, seem ridiculous. I was drowning trying to help those drowning. Here’s the thing, though, I didn’t know I was drowning. That’s the trickiness of this whole painful disease: you often don’t know you have it until it nearly kills you. And I thought I was breathing fine as the tsunami overtook me.

I knew if I took these pills and I drank, I could die. I didn’t consciously want to die. I had developed a lot to live for. There was incredible pain deep within that beckoned me to consider death, but I wasn’t aware of it most days. I drank and I took those pills. A few things led me to ask for help. We got that alcohol thing in check. That just freed me, though, to really start taking those pills. And I was addicted to opiates in nearly no time at all.

There are stages of addiction. It is a deadly disease, once activated, it often ends in death, but along the way, it separates the sufferer from experiencing anything loving and life-giving at all. It depletes the world from light; darkness overtakes everything in its final stages. What’s so awful, though, what’s so incredible soul wrenching, is when it started, I felt like I had finally found light. Isn’t that the worst thing ever? I finally felt peace. Ease. I felt equanimity, truly. I feel sacrilegious for that statement since there is nothing I know more soul stealing than addiction, but it finally gave me that “We are meant to love and be loved” awareness that overtook everything bad. And then it immediately started killing me.

Opiate addiction is its own animal in so many ways. I have a teacher in my life, Dr. Wen Cai, an expert in the field, who gives an amazing talk about opiate addiction I have listened to a number of times. One of the things he talks about is viewing this as the disease that it is. He describes opiate addiction as the cancer of addiction. People are dying at an alarming rate if it is not interrupted. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that every day in the United States 44 people die from prescription opioid overdose. Add another 21 people who die every day due to heroin overdose. Put another way to help us fully understand this magnitude, there are now more deaths from opiate overdose than all motor vehicle accidents and the numbers are growing. And how do we fare in Arizona? Arizona is ranked in the top 10 states struggling with this epidemic.

When someone activates the disease of addiction with their first use, opiates commonly administered the first time in pill form, they are stepping into a life and death situation. It’s a gamble every time a person uses. That alone is awful. You know what makes it even worse? The person putting that pill to their lips for the first time is often a teenager wondering what this thing their loved one has been taking feels like. And they just activated a disease that could have them dead before they ever have a chance to live.

I’m 37 when I write this and I have a full life expectancy because my disease, for all intents and purposes, is in remission due to the work I do daily to maintain recovery. If I were to use again, I would be back in the gamble of life and death.

I have known a lot of people who have died and I desperately want that reality to change. It is the work of the church with extravagant welcome to consider our role in addressing what the CDC has described as the worst outbreak of opiate and heroin addiction in the history of the world. This submission to you is just a start for a conversation I hope will be very much ongoing.

I just wanted to tell you something. I have the disease of addiction and I have hope.