Maxwell Chorak – Rest in Peace

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Sunday November 2, 2014

Today is All Soul’s Day, the Dia de Los Muertos. It is an especially painful day for our family this year.

On June 10th I was called out of an early evening meeting and told that my step-son, Maxwell, had committed suicide. He had jumped from a 5 story sky bridge at UC Irvine a few hours earlier that was known as a site for suicides. The parking structure had suicide prevention tiles with hot line numbers cemented into the walls from the third floor upwards.It was the culmination of every parent’s worst nightmare.

But it had been a long time coming. Susan, my wife, and I had been living in fear of “the call” for years. She thought that it might be drugs but had never thought of suicide. We are still deeply grieving. What we do know is that the system let him down badly.

Max - 6

How does one deal with the sudden, traumatic death of a child? There are no guidebooks. It is the worst sort of emotional blow. His sister and brother are distraught. We were all deeply concerned for him but the cold reality of such a violent death at a young age is searing. But somehow we must go on and help change a broken system.

Maxwell exhibited his first signs of mental illness at the age of ten. He would act out. He raged. He sometimes became violent. When the Sheriff’s deputies got to the house they did not know what to do. At the time, my wife as a single mother was on her own trying to chart new territory. There was no place in the county to which a ten year old child could be taken to be treated for mental illness. There still isn’t.

She eventually found a psychiatrist who tried to “get” him and he was treated for bipolar/schizophrenic disorder but not formally diagnosed. But Max was using street drugs to self-medicate and the doctors pulled back.

Maxwell entered high school but it didn’t last long. He was brilliant. He was bored. He was different. But he also had charisma. He was a handsome young man with a very gentle way most of the time. But by his sophomore year he was out. His erratic behavior, drug use, and inattention just were not going to get Max through a conventional education.

He was a wonderful young man. He would take his last dollar and spend it on a gift for his brother or take his 90 year old aunt out for a pedicure and manicure. He was kind. He wanted nothing more than to hang out with his family. He loved his brother and his sister devotedly. And then the voices would whisper in his ear and it would get scary.

He was too smart for his own good. He could argue the most absurd point until even a well educated person could be fooled. He could also listen to a guitar riff or even a whole song just once and play it back brilliantly. His guitar was his refuge. He could pick up a cello never before having touched one and play it better than his mother, who had studied for years.

Maxwell took the GED test without studying and passed with flying colors. He entered the local community college. He wanted to be a doctor. Shortly before he died he was discussing textbooks for the next semester.

Clonazepam is a drug used to control seizures. Usually an adolescent is given one pill and would sleep for 18 hours. They gave Maxwell five once and still had to restrain him. Marijuana has been well documented for its terrible effect on individuals with schizophrenia. The literature discusses adverse or paradoxical effects. You bet there are.

Maxwell would eventually learn to study the side effects of the various drugs prescribed for his treatment in order that he could tell the doctors that he was having them in order to avoid the drugs. The prescription drugs left him feeling lethargic and hemmed in. At least some of the illegal ones gave him a brown haze to find refuge in.

I call him Max because it was what my grandmother called me. She too suffered from mental illness. She had a nervous breakdown in the 1930’s after being thrown out on the Brooklyn streets one too many times with her 5 children after her husband had once again squandered his plumber’s salary on booze.

She ended up at a place called Creedmoor in Queens, NY for 40 years and it was only when Thomas Szasz and his accomplices in government closed the psychiatric hospitals in the 70’s that she came to live with us. Creedmoor had been her safe place. Now her life was disrupted. When she came to live with us it was a wonderful experience because of my mother’s love and compassion. She taught us to be kind and caring.

So I had a lot of empathy for Maxwell. He had no place to be safe. There was no safety net. We have since the 1970’s gutted out mental health care programs.

His condition was slowly deteriorating. It was only when he became 17 that the handbook of the American Psychiatric Association allowed him to be formally diagnosed as schizophrenic. By that point he had been in in-patient programs in Southern California and Idaho to help treat his condition.

Max - 25

By the age of 18 he had been in the local hospitals for six 5150’s, which refers to the section of the California Welfare & Institutions code which allows for an individual to be detained for up to 72 hours for psychiatric observation.

And through all of this, Max’s friends and family became isolated from him. His mom and his family visited him when he was in treatment, but the loss of human contact was deeply upsetting. We loved him, but one of the things one encounters with the mentally ill and addicted is that it is difficult to love them in a normal manner. It is sometimes impossible to be close and to be there for them. You often don’t know what to expect and a lot of what you do expect is bad.

He was arrested for petty crimes and began the cycle of being in jail and on the street. 40% of America’s jail and prison population have mental health issues. Experts here in Orange County have told me that it is more like 70% -80% in our local jail. It is a cycle that we somehow have to break.

Maxwell was homeless at times. His interactions with law enforcement bordered on the absurd. While he was in jail he was sentenced for a “failure to appear”. He spent several months at a local mental health facility which is outsourced by the county. And then he would end up back in jail for another petty offense. He began to hear voices, holding conversations with them and laughing to himself. He would end up in the psychiatric unit.

The drugs, especially those that were self prescribed, left him in a haze that was better than the suffering, but psychoactive drugs do not affect the mentally ill the way they do others.

For most of his last 18 months Max was either at one of the very few facilities for the mentally ill in California, a drab forbidding site in Riverside, or in jail. Maxwell was a prime candidate for long term care. But there is almost none available. There are 5,900 acute mental health care beds in a state of 34,000,000 people. There are almost no long term facilities. And there are an estimated 1.5 million Californians with serious mental illness.

When he was released from the facility (you really can’t call it a hospital) in Riverside he stayed with his father. He saw his brother and mom and things were looking up. He had a great day with an old friend just hanging out. He left his father’s house one night and didn’t come home.

He was found the next day in a catatonic state in a local park and taken to the emergency room. He was then transferred to UCI Medical Center, the regional acute mental health unit, where he stayed for 9 days.

When we were informed of his admission to UCI his mother immediately contacted the doctors and nurses regarding his care. Maxwell did very poorly on Haldol, the drug of choice for the zombification (aka control) of the symptoms of schizophrenia in state run facilities. We knew this from years of experience. Haldol can cause severe depression.
We knew that Risperdal was more effective for Max and told his doctors so. The nurse responsible for him told my wife “It doesn’t make any difference since they don’t stay on their meds when they leave here anyway.” They put him on a maximum dose of Haldol.

She had requested that she and Maxwell’s dad be notified before he was released. This did not happen. Max was released at @ 1:30PM on the day of his death with the clothes on his back and a bus pass given to him by the hospital. He took the bus directly to the main campus of UCI several miles away and jumped almost immediately. After his mother found out and after collapsing, she called the hospital to ask why he had been released. There was silence at the other end of the line.

To this day we don’t know if Maxwell jumped because he was disoriented on Haldol or because of other factors. We will never know. That hurts.

The system is broken. Many of the professionals are callous and uncaring. There are petty jealousies and a lack of communication. The system as designed and implemented is malevolent. Our brothers and sisters with mental health issues are warehoused in our jails and in a very limited number of beds. We read daily of misdiagnoses and maldiagnoses and even misconduct in psychiatric care.

Treating mental illness is a matter of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual. It is perhaps the most difficult of illnesses. With the mentally ill there are often no good answers. As a society, we don’t want to know. We don’t want to deal with them on a concrete level. The mentally ill are often stigmatized. And at the most basic family level it can be heart wrenching.

But Max is gone. He will be a statistic to most but he will have left a massive hole in the hearts of his family and friends. There is little understanding left except that he was deeply, fatally mentally ill in a world that does not treat those who suffer from this very well. He is at peace now.

We can honor him by doing better, as individuals and as a society.

“Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.”

Mother Teresa

© Matthew Holzmann 2014

8th Grader dies of overdose – Media silent

b6fc9d2c155111e3931722000a1fc67c_6The other day, an 8th grader at Niguel Hills Middle School in Laguna Niguel, CA died of a drug overdose. The cause of Branden Stock’s death was Vicodin, one of the most commonly prescribed drugs.

The only media report of his death was on Channel 5 News. His school and the district said nothing at all beyond their confines. He died at home alone. Imagine finding your child or your best friend cold and lifeless and there’s nothing you can do. His friends held a memorial service at Salt Creek Beach, where I spent many days in the water surfing like Branden was said to have loved to.

The death of a child is the most painful thing a parent goes through. No one should have to endure this burden. And yet his parents will carry this sadness for their entire lives. His friends will remember for a while and then more rarely and maybe a few will remember to pray for his soul sometimes over the course of their lives.

That the death barely made the news is indicative of the problem. Drug abuse begins in 6th-8th grade now. Kids are experimenting and going through new emotions and have left the cocoon of grade school. And the availability has never been greater. The taboos are gone. “Everyone is doing it.” I heard the same thing when I was a kid. And here we are 40 years later and we’re still getting it wrong.

And it’s not just public schools. It’s everywhere. Catholic schools, prep schools. If you go to the parking lot of Gelson’s in Newport Beach you can usually score within minutes. The Port Streets in Newport are considered one of the last bastions of the Ozzie & Harriet lifestyle and the drugs and alcohol usage by kids is pervasive. Laguna Niguel and every town in Orange County are the same.

Prescription drugs are the new battlefield. Vicodin, Codeine, Oxycontin, Zanax, Opana, Percocet, and Valium are all being abused at record levels. Between dirty doctors, pill shopping, and stealing from mom & dad’s medicine cabinet it is an epidemic. That people can even obtain some of these drugs like Opana, which is prescribed for very limited applications, indicates how awry the system is. And it is hitting 12 & 13 year olds, those who haven’t got a clue, the worst.

And after they can’t find the prescription drugs or can’t afford them, heroin lurks in the background ready to offer a brown haze from which there is little chance of escape. $80 for an Oxycontin or $6 for a bindle of Afghan white or black tar? This is the reality on the street here in the OC.

The Orange County Register did an article a few weeks back on heroin abuse in our high schools. The number of OC kids trying heroin has doubled since 2006. And once heroin has you it is a monkey on your back that is very difficult to remove.

And a lot of people just don’t want to know. Two girls were caught recently smoking heroin in a bathroom at Laguna Beach High School. “The girls caught smoking was an “isolated incident,” Laguna Beach High Principal Joanne Culverhouse said.”

30 years ago when I lived in Dana Point, Laguna Beach High School had one of the worst drug problems in the county. Nothing changes much, it seems. Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.

In San Clemente, the community has bonded together through CURE, which links the church, counselors, schools, parents, other stakeholders and the kids. We need such programs in every city. Every loss of a child is one too many.

Education is vital and we need to get to the heart of the matter and educate parents and children about the consequences of bad choices. We have the resources. But first we must recognize the problem honestly and without blinkers.

Drug abuse and self medication are the scourges of our times. Between addiction and mental health issues we have responded in a woeful manner. We must open our eyes and our hearts to this plague.

 

 

Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida, Sartre, Foucault, Gramsci – Getting It All Wrong

Michael Totten noted the publication of the diary of the philosopher Martin Heidegger as critiqued in the most recent issue of The Weekly Standard with proper disgust. You see, Heidegger was an early convert to Naziism and even though he lived until 1976 he never expressed any regrets.

As  the most admired philosopher of the 20th century except for his political philosophy, Heidegger questioned the very essence of Being. That which had been assumed to be obvious for 2,500 years was called into question. “Cogito ergo sum” and all of the other variations on that theme became “WTF?”

The essence of philosophy centers on Ontology, or the nature of being; Epistemology, the nature and scope of knowledge; Logic, Metaphysics (the eternal why), and Aesthetics. Heidegger’s premise was to turn the work of his predecessors on its ear and deconstruct the history and principles of Western philosophy.

Heidegger’s work was considered the epitome of 20th century philosophy. His followers included Sartre, Derrida, and Foucault, the architects of modern existentialism, deconstructionism, and relativism and revisionism. His reputation was built on the work of Friedrich Nietzsche. Heidegger felt that Nietzsche was the culmination of Western metaphysics.

Nietzsche built his theories on Kierkegaard’s work and the dynamic of the aesthetic versus the ethical.  Nietzsche  attempted to synthesize Kierkegaard’s deeply held sense of the religious and of commitment and personal responsibility to strive for a higher level of being into the core principles of existentialism as outlined in “Man & Superman” which became the basis for Hitler’s Aryanism and perversely for Stalin’s New Soviet Man as well.

But it must be pointed out that Nietzsche was the Jim Morrison of 19th Century philosophy. He lived the lifestyle and threw philosophical bombs regularly. His arguments were contradictory, but the complexity and sheer scale of his eruptions of thought were overwhelming in the Victorian Age when all began to be questioned. He campaigned against morality and God Himself. He attacked the dichotomy of good and evil and his central expression of nihilism was the  greatest assault upon the nature of good and evil in history. He railed against Socrates and Aristotle and called for the death of metaphysics in favor of a transfigurative collapse and rebirth of the superman, separated from the masses through intellect and force of will.

This is the foundation of modern philosophy. The triumph of the Id over the Ego and Superego.

Existentialism fit the times. As all of the old order in Europe was collapsing in the midst of World War I the old ways were under extreme pressure. Religion, so deeply identified with the state in Europe, became another casualty of war. Faith was challenged by the carnage. The absurdity of war bred the absurdity of surrealism. Expressionism became another outlet for the authenticity demanded of existentialism.

Existentialists argues that authentic existence involves the idea that one has to “create oneself” and then live in accordance with this self. And yet Kierkegaard was explicit in his faith in an authentically Christian life well led. Nietzsche preferred the romanticism and role of the natural man outlined by Rousseau and this help synthesize his own ideal.

Marx and Engels developed the theories of dialectical materialism and class struggle that entranced those disillusioned by the economic divides of the Industrial Age. The romance of Nietzsche and of Rousseau was transformed into the new, atheist city on a hill offered by Marxism. In Germany Nietzsche’s social Darwinism drove National Socialism. the failure of both systems was both practically and philosophically inevitable in retrospect.

This was proven starkly by the fall of first the Nazi, and then the Soviet Empires. The moral and ethical underpinnings of each were rotten. Sartre defended Marxism, arguing that it had been applied incorrectly. We are still waiting on the workers paradise.

Foucault and Derrida pushed existential thought even further, into deconstructionism and revisionism. Gramsci’s contribution was historicism. Ideas simply cannot be understood outside of their historical or social contexts.  If all philosophies are simply alternative narratives how can one be held to be better than another? And if one can disassemble and then reassemble the facts into a new narrative that supports ones views, how can any narrative be true? There is, then, no objective truth according to these theories.

And yet this flies in the face of logic. Of course, both logic and metaphysics posit the existence of a higher force, God, who does not exist because His existence cannot be empirically proven according to the new rules.

But, as C.S. Lewis points out, the Tao exists across philosophies and cultures.

“The Tao, which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgments. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory. There has never been, and never will be, a radically new judgment of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems or…ideologies…all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they posses.”

This set of principles has been arrived at completely separately in many cultures; In Greece; by the Jews; in India; in China. Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and many other traditions all reflect similar values on the basic levels.

These were not formulated as the tools for domination or the social constructs rationalizing ruling classes as deconstructionists or Marxists believe, but rather as social compacts derived from divine sources.

The histories of civilizations were best prepared by scholars to accurately depict the events of the times under study. Perhaps certain biases seep into narratives, but overall these histories are confirmed by multiple sources; scientific, mathematical, and historical. In each tradition accountability was demanded by a shared responsibility to future generations. You may not like some of history, but you are not allowed to choose that history. It can be critiqued, but it cannot be changed.

So if the foundations for modern philosophy can be so easily discredited why have our intelligentsia chosen not to do so?

Rationalism demands logic and order. Facts must be confirmed. The greater the theory, the more demanding the criticism of that theory must be in order to confirm or deny it. And yet if rationalism and logic are denied, how can we ascertain the essential truth.

Marxist dialectics emphasizes the primacy of the material way of life over all forms of social consciousness and the secondary, dependent character of the “ideal.”Thus as with Nietzsche’s theory God does not exist.

As St. Thomas Aquinas argued for the existence of God, there are 5 principles:

Motion -Some things undoubtedly move, though cannot cause their own motion. Since there can be no infinite chain of causes of motion, there must be a First Mover not moved by anything else, and this is what everyone understands by God.

Causation- As in the case of motion, nothing can cause itself, and an infinite chain of causation is impossible, so there must be a First Cause, called God.

Existence of necessary and the unnecessary- Our experience includes things certainly existing but apparently unnecessary. Not everything can be unnecessary, for then once there was nothing and there would still be nothing. Therefore, we are compelled to suppose something that exists necessarily, having this necessity only from itself; in fact itself the cause for other things to exist.

Gradation- If we can notice a gradation in things in the sense that some things are more hot, good, etc., there must be a superlative that is the truest and noblest thing, and so most fully existing. This then, we call God.

 

Ordered tendencies of nature- A direction of actions to an end is noticed in all bodies following natural laws. Anything without awareness tends to a goal under the guidance of one who is aware. This we call God.

The alternative is that Sh*t just happened. Which is more logical?

Today the vestiges of Nietzsche, Marx, Derrida, Sartre, and Foucault live on in a world of wishful thinking. Our intelligentisia see the world as the want or demand it to be rather than as it is. The destruction of logic and of critical thinking is leading to a new dark age, not in a physical sense but rather as one of illogic and superstition.

As we are finding out the hard way with dictators and national interests, reality is conflicting with the received wisdom. Despite 2,500 years of dialectics, we are being coerced into beliefs which defy logic.

Orwell, Huxley, Bradbury and others wrote of the dangers of modern irrationalism. Hofer’s True Believer was based upon the zealots of Naziism and Communism. Book burnings did happen. Races and those who disagreed were exterminated. The Jews, the kulaks in Ukraine, 50,000,000 victims of the cultural revolution and 3,000,000 more in Cambodia were all sacrificed within living memory on the altar of atheistic idealism.

Even in the face of the evidence the intelligentsia still hold many of those same beliefs in historicism and relativism and failed ideologies.

And yet the alternative is so simple that it has been obfuscated in a hurricane of sophism. All God has ever asked is to be believed. It’s called faith. Nietzsche is long dead. God isn’t.

To be continued…..

 

A Great Disturbance in the Force – The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church

An incredible thing happened the other day and I am still digesting it. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange and Saddleback Church held “The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church“. This is a first certainly for California and perhaps for the world. From all over Southern California and the country, 3,500 people gathered at Saddleback Church and thousands more participated on-line in a frank discussion of how faith-based organizations can contribute more to ameliorate a problem that is growing out of control.

We live in an increasingly secular world today that is overwhelming us both emotionally and physically. New technology is bringing us closer together than ever before and yet isolating us even further. Old boundaries are crumbling and as a culture we are becoming ever more dysfunctional. The effects of our physical and psychological world are taking a toll on our souls that is sometimes unbearable. The widespread availability of drugs both legal and illegal has turned us into a self medicating nation.

According to the experts at the Gathering, 26% of adult Americans will be diagnosed with some form of mental illness this year. 7-8% of our population suffers from addiction. from depression to bipolar disorder to schizophrenia to personality disorders were are facing a crisis.

These are issues that hide in the back of our collective closets. Individuals feel stigmatized and marginalized and our societal bias against the mentally ill and addicted is deep and pervading. Families are tortured and damaged and the mentally ill are reduced to hopelessness by a system that is deeply fractured and nonresponsive.

There is a War on Drugs that costs over $50 Billion/year. Mental health treatment costs our nation over $170 Billion/year. Incarceration costs our country over $40 Billion/year. And there are significant overlaps. And what is ever more clear is that we are doing it wrong.

Government is the large hammer. Our medical system is designed to prescribe medicine and perform surgery. Even psychiatry has been increasingly defined as the adjustment and prescription of medications.

The etymology of the words psychology and psychiatry is the Greek word ψυχή, or soul. And yet in our modern, rationalist, scientistic world the soul is the last thing that is considered in the treatment of mental illness. Holistic treatment of mental illness is secondary to biochemical investigation and treatment. And this is where faith based organizations are increasingly seeing the need and the gap.

Pastor Rick Warren and Bishop Kevin Vann assembled a stellar array of health care professionals, psychiatrists, neurologists, and mental health experts from a wide range of specialties in order to examine and propose how faith based organizations can deliver effective care to those with mental health problems.

Saddleback Church has taken mental health on as one of their core ministries. Church is one of the first stops for many people with mental health issues and their families. Faith helps individuals and families cope and hope.

But there is a wall between faith and the rest of the world today that must be broken down if we are serve our brothers and sisters effectively. I am not neutral in this. I have skin in the game. We lose two young people per week to overdoses just in Orange County and mental health issues have affected my own family.

In studying what works in addiction treatment, 12 step programs stand out as the most effective tool. What is even more evident is that compassionate faith based recovery and treatment increase the likelihood of a successful outcome. Almost every study confirms these results. Compassion and empathy are critical.

Working with those with addictions and mental illness is among the most challenging of callings. Addicts are often not nice people. Certain mental illnesses can be especially difficult to cope with on a daily basis. I know.

But it is often that engagement that is at the heart of the matter. Depression may not be logical but to know that someone cares and is listening can be a lifeline.Borderline Personality Disorder is a license for drama and conflict but can be managed. Dual diagnoses such as Bipolar Disorder/Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder/Addiction require fortitude and compassion as well.

And yet our society is doing its best to remove faith from our national dialog. We warehouse the addicted and mentally ill in our prisons and an emaciated psychiatric treatment system. The VA is very good at dispensing pills but is not so good at counseling and longer term treatment of problems such as PTSD. Government is the large hammer and a scalpel is often required in mental health treatment.

Modern humanism has become a cult of its own using deconstruction, revisionism, and disproven cultural models such as Marxism to support an ever growing disassociation from reality. Perhaps this may contribute to the psychological dissonance of the mentally ill and addicted. They are adrift in a culture that makes little logical sense.

Faith is the ultimate expression of reason. It is only through logic and metaphysics that we can make sense of the world around us. It is imperative that we as a society use all of the available tools at our disposal to re-think mental health care and treatment.

Stigmatization has done terrible damage to the mentally ill and everyone around them. The first step is to remove this stigmatization. The Church is one of the most effective tools for doing so.

The Church, as was made obvious time and again during the Gathering on Mental Health, can also take a lead position in working with specialists in providing a support network and counseling of the mentally ill and their families. As Pastor Rick Warren and Bishop Vann said time and again, the Church can also take a lead role in counseling and providing resources to those with mental health issues. The Church is one of the first stops, regardless.

Mental health issues are some of the most delicate and complex to face those involved in them. Proper training, empathy, and the right personalities are critical to successful outcomes. It is not for the faint of heart. Compassion and competence must go hand in hand. It is not just a job. It is a calling.

Who better to make this critical contribution but the Church? We have been on the front lines of health care, both physical and mental, since the beginning. The Byzantine Church was the first to set up hospitals in the form quite recognizable now. Today we are being called to re-think and to commit to a new ministry, the healing of minds and souls.

The Gathering was a call to arms for Christians. To open our hearts and our eyes and our minds to the treatment of mental illness. Movements, like chemical reactions start with catalysts. I believe this was one of them.  The Force has been disturbed in a great and wondrous way.

 

Addiction is a disease

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The papers are still trying to figure out what happened to Philip Seymour Hoffman. One of the most engaging actors of our day died with a needle still sticking in his vein sitting on the can in his apartment. It was a “hot shot” and now his family is stricken with the loss of a father and lover and his friends are devastated.

The costs of addiction are terrible. I know. I have seen the needle and the damage done. A family member is struggling with recovery and it ebbs and flows. My wife and I pray on this every day and night.

There are many kinds of addictions. Prescription drugs are the worst at the moment. There is a pipeline from “Pain Management” centers to the pharmacies who are the new dealers. Oxycontin? Vicodin? Zanax? Opama? Percocet? Morphine? Valium?  Add Meth to the list as well. Ecstasy has had its toll as have many other drugs.

National Review’s Kevin D Williamson describes the Oxycontin Express, a bus route that runs from Florida to Kentucky and West Virginia bringing prescription drugs to the “Pillbillies”. It’s a short hop from Oxycontin and Opana to heroin. Oxycontin is expensive. Heroin is cheaper and more available and more pure than it has ever been. Philip Seymour Hoffman is an example but here in Orange County where I live, we lose 1 to 2 young people per week to narcotics. The toll from alcohol addiction shows up in the hospitals and police statistics. The toll from these addictions and others such as sex or gambling addiction show up in divorce rates and broken families and repetitive behavior from generation to generation.

The world is facing a crisis of addiction. In Iran, in Afghanistan and in the West and even in China.

20% of our population is susceptible to addiction according to the statistics. The National Institute on Drug Abuse data indicates that 50% of addicts have experienced childhood trauma. Close to 90% of young addicts start with pot and alcohol. If one wishes to add in adult trauma, the numbers increase even more. Veterans returning home with PTSD reach for a bottle or a joint or something more and once they are hooked, the monkey is well and truly on their back same as with all other addicts.

It doesn’t want to let go. It is there for the duration. Alcoholics Anonymous has pointed this out since 1935. A gentleman named Rowland H. visited Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychoanalyst, who told him that the case was hopeless from a medical treatment perspective. Jung directed Rowland H. to the Oxford Group, who were dedicated to recreating the spirit of the first Christians. They were founded on the Four Steps and the Four Standards, the predecessor to every 12 step program today.

Addiction is powerlessness. It is physical and it is spiritual and it is biochemical and neurological. You cannot run from it just as you cannot run if you are infected with HIV. In fact, the recovery rate from HIV is better than that of some addictions. Addiction is not a choice.

Addicts are often filling a psychic or spiritual hole. They are often damaged goods long before that first toke or sip or pill at a party. Others become addicted in more traditional forms. An athlete is injured and begins to use painkillers. A veteran does the same. Slowly the drug hijacks the body and the soul. I have met all of these types. They are our children and neighbors and co workers and friends and even go to the same churches and schools and jobs. There are functional and non functional addicts, but in the end they are all non functional since they usually die long before they should have.

The drugs themselves are ruthless. Heroin, cocaine, and meth can all grab a soul in just a few days. And then Satan owns their soul until they can crawl back to normalcy. Addicts often believe they can handle it at the outset; that they are in control. But the statistics say otherwise.

The illness of addiction is often linked to our dysfunctional mental health system and is certainly wrapped up in our penal system. Over 50% of the prisoners in the Federal system are there for drug offenses. According to the National Institute of Mental Health over 50% of all prisoners in our penal system have mental health issues. What is the overlap? 30%? 50%? More?

Fr. Don Calloway is a Catholic Priest. He wasn’t always. He was an addict when he was young. He was in rehabilitation and the doctors, the best in the field, told him that he had a 3% chance of recovery. He was stunned. He said to himself “They are telling me that I have a 3% chance of recovery? With all of the best minds and years and years of experience they say only 3% of opiate addicts will recover? They’re doing it wrong!”

We, as a society, are doing it wrong. As a society we do not wish to credit faith and moral guidance as key elements of recovery and yet time and again these have proven to be the keys. It is a constant process. It is not easy. But just as a HIV infected patient or a diabetic can keep death at bay, so can addicts. Addicts also have a disease of the soul. All of the symptoms and the root causes must be addressed.

But we have to begin to view the problem from a new perspective. With compassion and empathy and respect. Just as the Catholic faith teaches to condemn the sin, not the sinner we must begin to do the same. The addiction must be viewed separately from the person.

Treatment, sober living and living with relapses are all a part of recovery. Continual reinforcement is necessary, even years later. Perhaps especially years later as in the case of Mr. Hoffman. Mental health related issues are one of the scourges of our times. But we can do better. The solutions are there if we wish to seek them out. Neuropsychology, Neurology, Metrology and other sciences are pushing the boundaries back on our understanding of the brain. We have always known the source for the understanding of the soul.

We can do this. But first we must rethink our strategies of dealing with this scourge.

The UN goes to war with the Catholic Church

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The headlines in the press all over the world are screaming about the UN’s condemnation of the Roman Catholic Church for child abuse by a small number of priests of a faith that encompasses 1.2 Billion adherents around the world.

The members of the committee of 18 experts include representatives from Saudi Arabia (vice-chair), Egypt, Bahrain (vice -chair), Tunisia, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, The Russian Federation, Norway (chair) among others. In fact, one could hardly ask for a more hostile Commission.

You can get the flavor of the attacks here, here, and here. They include:

UN accuses Vatican of adopting policies that allowed priests to rape children

Daily Telegraph

U.N. panel blasts Vatican handling of clergy sex abuse, church teachings on gays, abortion

Washington Post

U.N. Panel Assails Vatican Over Sexual Abuse by Priests

New York Times

The headlines capture a broad condemnation of the Church’s perceived failings, including its stances on gay marriage, birth control, and abortion. Little of this made the headlines. But if you dig deeper and read the report some of the gems include:

“The Committee recommends that the Holy See undertake a comprehensive
review of its normative framework, in particular Canon Law, with a view to ensuring
its full compliance with the Convention.”

How very statist.

“The Committee welcomes the information provided by the Holy See during the
interactive dialogue that it has initiated a review of its legislation with a view to
withdrawing the discriminatory expression “illegitimate children” which can still be found in Canon Law, in particular Canon 1139. While also noting as positive the progressive statement delivered in July 2013 by Pope Francis, the Committee is concerned about the Holy See’s past statements and declarations on homosexuality which contribute to the social stigmatization of and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adolescents and children raised by same-sex couples.”

The Committee willfully and categorically misstates the Church’s position.

“The Committee recommends that the Holy See bring all its laws and regulations, as well as its policies and practices, in conformity with article 2 of the Convention and promptly abolish the discriminatory classification of children born out-of-wedlock as illegitimate children. The Committee also urges the Holy See to make full use of its moral authority to condemn all forms of harassment, discrimination or violence against children based on their sexual orientation or the sexual orientation of their parents and to support efforts at international level for the decriminalisation of homosexuality.”

The Committee wishes to reinvent the law and the language.

“Amend both Canon Law and Vatican City State laws to explicitly prohibit all corporal punishment of children, including within the family”

Spanking? Really? It worked in my case.

“The Committee also regrets that the Holy See did not provide precise information on the measures taken to promote equality between girls and boys and to remove gender stereotypes from Catholic schools textbooks.”

Hmmmm….same size fits all? I think the facts speak for themselves.

“The Committee is concerned that the Holy See restrictively interprets children’s
right to express their views in all matters affecting them, as well as their rights to freedom of expression, association and religion.”

Children are children and it is integral to teach them in all matters, including faith and morals. Freedom of expression in a child can range from tantrums to acting out to inappropriate behavior. Let’s ask the Saudi, Bahraini, and Malaysian delegates how they interpret this.

“The Committee strongly urges the Holy See to cooperate in studies to determine the root causes of the practice of anonymous abandonment of babies and expeditiously strengthen and promote alternatives, taking into full account the right of children to know their biological parents and siblings, as enshrined in article 7 of the Convention.

The Catholic Church’s commitment to life is centered on the protection and care of children, wherever they are. In India, where Mother Teresa care for thousands of babies born into other faiths. The Church takes in the abandoned, the halt, and the lame and yet the UN Commission has the effrontery to challenge this mission, which has been abnegated by the state in so many countries?

The Committee also urges the Holy See to contribute to addressing the abandonment of babies by providing family planning, reproductive health, as well as adequate counseling and social support, to prevent unplanned pregnancies as well as assistance to families in need, while introducing the possibility of confidential births at hospitals as a measure of last resort to prevent abandonment and/or death of a child.”

“The Committee urges the Holy See to adopt a policy for the deinstitutionalization of children placed in Catholic Church-run institutions and for the reunification with their families, where possible. The Committee also recommends that the Holy See take all necessary measures to ensure as a matter of priority that children under the age of three are not placed in institutions.

“The Committee urges the Holy See to review its position on abortion which
places obvious risks on the life and health of pregnant girls and to amend Canon 1398 relating to abortion with a view to identifying circumstances under which access to abortion services can be permitted.”

“The Committee is seriously concerned about the negative consequences of the Holy
See’s position and practices of denying adolescents’ access to contraception, as well as to sexual and reproductive health and information.”

“Assess the serious implications of its position on adolescents’ enjoyment
of the highest attainable standard of health and overcome all the barriers and taboos
surrounding adolescent sexuality that hinder their access to sexual and reproductive
information, including on family planning and contraceptives, the dangers of early
pregnancy, the prevention of HIV/AIDS and the prevention and treatment of sexually
transmitted diseases (STDs)”

“Guarantee the best interests of pregnant teenagers and ensure that the
views of the pregnant adolescent always be heard and respected in the field of
reproductive health.”

These last demands by the UN Commission go against the core teachings of Christianity.

The Church’s teachings are believed by Catholics to be the Word of God. The Church is centered upon the imperfection of man and on the redemption of sin through faith and good works. The Roman Catholic Church established the world’s first hospitals and orphanages and considers caring for the world’s poor, regardless of faith as a central mission. As the UN Commissioners met in Geneva, one of the world’s most elegant and expensive cities Catholics all over the world were carrying out this mission. In a world that sees more dark clouds every day the Church has been a ray of hope.

We believe that our Bible is the Word of God and that we must follow its tenets. Central to these beliefs is the Right to Life.

The United Nations has most decidedly advanced a statist, anti-life agenda in this document.The report is a contradiction in itself. It is deeply in error. This is unsurprising considering the composition of the Human Rights Council. It includes a number of countries where Sharia Law rules and women are supremely oppressed. In the Russian Republic the Orthodox Church is the state religion and religious freedom for other faiths, especially Roman Catholics, is forbidden. In many of the member states on the Committee Christianity is suppressed and persecuted.

At the same time the diseases of the libertine Left permeate the report. Anything goes and everything is allowed.

It is deeply ironic that in this country those same Leftists who almost uniformly condemn the Church are silent in the face of Woody Allen’s  crimes.

And while the Church is deeply imperfect, to question its fundamental teachings is a grave offense.

When will we read of a report on the enslavement and stoning of women in Islamic countries? Or the Abrahamic code of punishment of Sharia? Are these not greater offenses? Or will we see a report on the damage done by the casual taking and ending of life through abortion and euthanasia?

Christianity and the Roman Catholic Church in particular have become easy targets for the failings of men. Lost is the message that faith should lift humanity to a more responsible and moral life. Much of the report’s condemnation concerns practices that ended many years ago. Where is there a recognition of this?

The clouds of darkness are gathering. Again I think of Yeat’s Second Coming:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

The United Nations, the supposed guarantor of religions freedom, has spoken. And now its position is clarified. It is at war with Western Values.

Overtaken 2

Last night I spent the evening with a bunch of speed freaks, junkies, pillheads, and other addicts.Or at least they were at one time as many of them will tell you.  And no one was getting high. And the message was one of love and hope. It was the premiere of the movie Overtaken 2, a 28 minute film about how addicts have recovered and are recovering from their addiction.

It is both cautionary and hopeful. There is hope. There is a community of recovery. But that community is fragile, underfunded, and facing some very high hurdles. Recovery isn’t easy but there is a deep well of support and love and acceptance.

One of the subjects of both Overtaken and Overtaken 2 has been arrested over 130 times. She has been clean for several years and has built a loving family. Another was an MD in the Inland Empire who began to partake of his own prescriptions and was ready to end it all in the depths of despair. He has now been clean for over 25 years. Cheerleaders, athletes, just plain normal adults and kids, everyone is susceptible. 20% of our population is at risk of addiction. And in a culture of permissiveness, many become addicted.

Here in Orange County, one of the wealthiest and most beautiful places on earth the problem is hidden behind gated communities and the tinted windows of expensive cars and denial. One to two young people die here every week of overdoses. One drug court commissioner works on over 80 cases of juvenile and young adult drug arrests per day. There are both adult and juvenile drug courts at five different Orange County Justice Centers. These numbers don’t include the criminal court system. The people in Drug Court are the lucky ones.

The introduction to drugs in Southern California’s suburbs starts as early as 5th Grade, it seems. Pot is around for those who want it, and the subjects of Overtaken 2 are clear that this is where it started for them. Marijuana may not lead to hard drug usage in many, but in some it is the first step off a very high cliff.

The film is direct. It uses the voices of its subjects, all of them empathetic characters, to show that there is recovery and there is hope if one is willing to accept change and get back on the horse when they fall off. The film doesn’t preach. It doesn’t have to. The stories are powerful enough. And underneath is the message of faith and love and acceptance. In oneself, in ones friends, and in sobriety instead of addiction, and in speaking with so many of them afterwards, in God.

These are our children, our brothers and sisters, our friends. Addiction is a terrible thing. It is the monster that takes over the soul. It is a beast that takes control and does evil things as any of these people will tell you. But it is separate from the individual and it is the soul of that individual that can and does survive as is so well depicted.

The production values are excellent despite a shoestring budget as are the sound and editing. Overtaken 2 is an excellent extension of the message of its predecessor and should be valued even more for its message of hope and love.

Overtaken is mandatory viewing in drug courts in 18 states. Overtaken 2 should be as well.