Monday, September 6, 2010

My First Chip

Labor Day Eve, 24 years ago, I was stoned out of my skull. A then friend and I decided to let my brother get us pasted. It was a neighborhood event, with my brother announcing that I was finally gonna smoke weed, and all his friends chipping in on the stash that would get the job done. We had spectators, though I'm sure they were there for a share of the offerings as much as to see what I'd be like. I was a vocal assailant of anyone smoking my brother's product, and all of them were itching to see me 'blend' with the crowd I'd snubbed for years. My brother is 2 years younger than me, and back then had a thriving business from his homegrown. His customers, the local rif-raf, and anyone who'd heard the news was either in the room, on the porch, or somewhere nearby.

My mother was sitting in our living room, knitting. There's no way she couldn't have known what was going on, but she spectated, too. My friend spirited me out of the house, when I nearly fell over the couch into my mother's lap. We decided that a mutual boyfriend's house was the place to be, so we walked that way. He wasn't home. We sat there for hours, in his porch swing, hallucinating and sharing what we saw. At one point, we noticed his rubix cube and decided to fix it for him. My friend began peeling the stickers off and sticking them to my fingers. So, there I am, swinging, with colored squares on my hands, observing that it's wild how the world is completely still, but I'm moving back and forth. Yeah, my brother did a really good job...

I didn't have words for my psychological structure back then. I didn't know what shamanism was, or that I was a 'we' and that these two factors, more than any others, were how I'd stayed alive, and would continue to do so. I just knew that at that moment, I heard a very familiar voice ask me "Is this what you expected?" "Well, I didn't really know what to expect." I answered. "Are you safe?" I focused past the red and green squares on my fingers and spied my surroundings, "That's why we're here. It's safe, here." I went back to my squares, but Voice wasn't done, yet. "Would you be safe is he got to you?" I froze. "Or anyone else for that matter? Would you be able to defend yourself?" The 'he' in question was someone my mother was dating, who was obsessed with sexually assaulting me, to the point that I slept with knives, behind locked door and windows. He was as determined in his intentions toward me, as he was an angel in my mother's eyes. An image of the policeman standing in front of me, the only time I called for help, flashed. My mother's ensuing rage... I was straight and sober then, and it was a bad situation, but if it was now? I'd be just another hood whore arguing about something I forgot he paid for. Forget the police, I was too whacked to know how to dial the phone. I'd be completely on my own, and I definitely wasn't able to function. I'd be toast. I shook my head, forgetting my friend was there, "No," I answered, "I would not be safe." "How do we resolve this?" I didn't have to think about that, "Don't do this anymore. No drinking, no drugs. Nothing."

And so, with this clarity, I turned to my friend and said, "Ya know, this isn't so great, after all. We should swear never to do anything like this ever again."

She thought it over and nodded, "You're right. Let's swear."

So we did. We shook hands and everything. I cleared up a little after that, but I wasn't completely straight until the sun came up. We decided our friend wasn't coming home sometime after 0500, and migrated to McDonald's, two more stoner munchkins putting our coins together for a McMuffin. After that we went home, telling our parents we'd been at each other's house.

I spent Labor Day sorting which alcohol bottles were mine, from which were those of people I 'kept' liquor for. Since my room was usually locked up -and of no interest when I wasn't in it, anything anyone wanted to keep 'safe' was stashed in there. My drinking was with friends, or in secret, so few people even knew I drank, never mind how much.

I was 15. I was adamantly unwelcome at meetings, and my mother was so vocally hateful toward AA, that I'd be killed if she'd caught me. I never got a white chip, or sponsor, or help, aside from my Spirits, and Us, that is, which seems to be enough. I didn't celebrate birthdays, or even know the actual date of my sobriety until my husband asked me to look it up. There were many years when I forgot I had a birthday, and others when I couldn't do the math and know how many had passed. A Labor Day birthday was fine for me, and -somewhat- easy to remember, yes? My sobriety is marked by a national holiday. Cool, right?

So, this year makes 24. It was September 1, 1986 that I swore sobriety, and I keep my promises.

This year, my husband surprised me with my first chip. It's got 24 in Roman numerals on it, and comes with it's own case. My precious husband. He knows how I feel about the Program, and has witnessed how some in the rooms feel about me. His gesture of inclusion, acknowledgement and kindness has touched me in ways I haven't found words for, yet. I put my gold and silver XXIV chip on my altar, with O'Batala and my Spirits, since it is They who brought me to the point of earning it. "Are you safe?"

Safe, sober, loved, and loving.

Blessed Be

Sunday, September 5, 2010

280 Days

I've been trying to come up with a way to get this point across for twenty years. I can't say this one will work any better, but if one mom gets it, and her baby has a better start, then I've done something, yes?

Let me start by saying that if you're reading this and you know or suspect you have an addiction, you need help, preferably before getting pregnant. AA, and many other recovery programs do work, if you do the work, and your life will be a whole different experience without addiction controling it. If you are pregnant, and that statement applies, inform your care provider immediately. Any intervention is better than none at all.

The other thing is this. I'm not getting into the scientific evidence -prolific that it is- of what alcohol or drugs, or even diet soda can do to your pregnancy, so don't expect me to list footnotes. I could, and do, sometimes, with individual patients, but I've seen absolutely NO positive results from this approach. So, here's my new tactic for getting this very important and life-changing (sometimes saving) point across.

280 days.

From conception to birth, 280 days.

Now, if you want to be really on task, you could be taking vitamins and exercising well before conception, but that's not a world most of my patients live in, so we'll keep it simple.

280 days.

We can't control destiny, or basic genetic contributions. We can't control all sorts of other things that can go right or wrong during a pregnancy. This is a given. And, yes, the line of what is, and is not in our control is changing with IVF pre-screening and genome charting, reproductive surgeries, hormone interventions, etc., but all that's an aside.

Women, you have 280 days in which you lend your body to another human being so that it can be created, grown and birthed into this world. How much of that time will you waste?

For this example, I'm going to use alcohol. You can substitute anything you want, but the formula holds the same.

Consider the last time you drank. How much time did you stay buzzed? (Relaxed, trashed, or passed out could be other words for 'buzzed'. I'll leave that to you.) Consider that alcohol passes through the placenta, so a hypothetical baby would have been drinking with you. How much time was your hypo-baby impaired?

People can tell you exactly how they felt when they got drunk. The police and MADD can demonstrate the level of impairment at different stages of drunk. Physicians can tell you how the alcohol chemically affects neurotransmitter function, cholesterol synthesis and cell replication, among the total picture of intoxication. It's not a pretty scenario.

Babies don't have a fully developed body to process all this raw toxicity. Their response is that they simply can't do the task set for the period of time that alcohol is affecting them in the way it needs to be done, or at all, depending on the fetal age, and amount of toxin. An adult can 'sleep off' a night of drinking, but a fetus doesn't have that option. They lose womb time. Some part of their development doesn't happen, and there is no make-up. We know so much about fetal development that we can match up what hypo-baby was doing at the time the drinking happened.

The levels or kind of impairment are defined by amount of alcohol and fetal age. Let me assure you, there is NO SAFE LEVEL of fetal alcohol exposure, just as there is no level of alcohol that has no effect on you. You may not feel it, or sense the real impact of it, but you are affected by the drinking you do. So is your baby.

So, I ask you. What part of your baby's life do you want to limit? Brain development? Intestinal function? Reproduction? Intelligence? Drinking at a given time during pregnancy will do any or all of these things. What mother wants this for her child? If given a choice, would you check off an item from a list of lifelong issues that your child could suffer? Would you choose a few hours a week of 'buzz' for your child's ability to do math, pay attention, or digest food? If you drink alcohol during your pregnancy, you are.

280 days. It's all your baby gets. His or her only chance to get their work done to prepare for life on this planet. Is that such a long time to abstain? Absolutely, sober gestation is the BEST gift any mother can give her baby.

With all the other things we ban from our diets while we're pregnant, with all this talk of 'doing our best' for our babies, why are so many women still drinking? Why is the topic even being debated? If we know how alcohol affects us, why can't we see what it's doing to our babies?

So, this is my challenge. You're going to get pregnant? Put your baby first. Not just in words, but in deeds. It's only 280 days. Keep away from drugs and alcohol. Get help if you can't do it on you own, but get sober before you conceive, or as soon as you find out you have. Give your baby a clean start.

I know this is a hot topic. I know I'm going to get a lot of resistance to my ideas. I'm not concerned, and I'm not going to respond to hostility. I have no expectations of acceptance or popularity, either. I simply want to try to find a way to end the suffering we can control. Humanity has too many hurdles. Fetal alcohol and drug exposure is one that, in some cases, can be prevented.