Portraits From Social Work – Part 2: Paul

Even since I lost my last job doing social work with high risk, low income adults out in the community, I have missed the clients I used to see everyday. While I’m not sure if these people ever knew it themselves, the time I spent with them was much more meaningful to me than just trying to get a paycheck. This was the first time in my life that I was really able to get to know some interesting characters and bond with people older than me, with totally different and unique life experiences. Even though I was supposed to keep a professional distance, I simply couldn’t help holding a space for each of my clients in my heart. I believe these people are interesting to learn about in general, but I am also writing about them today to ensure that I can keep them with me even if they eventually fade from my memory. (I obviously won’t use their real names for confidentiality reasons.)

Part 2: Paul

Where do I even start with describing this man? Paul was a gruff 60-year-old man (although he looked much older) with a skeletally thin frame, long peppery grey hair, a handlebar mustache, one hand and one leg. The leg he lost a long time ago in an accident when he used to ride a motorcycle. The hand, well that’s a mystery to all of us. When I first met Paul, his left hand was curled into a permanent fist. The way Paul tells it, he woke up in the middle of the night a few years ago feeling as though his forearm, wrist, and hand were on fire. He traced a ghostly, zigzagging, white scar on his skin to show me the path the “flames” took. His hand clenched shut and hasn’t opened since. We went to many doctors and specialists, but none of them had a definitive answer. Their best guest seemed to be that it has something to do with his excessive drinking, and I’m inclined to believe it. Paul, however, would never take complications from years of drinking as an answer to any of his health problems, of which he had many.

Paul was one of the most sever alcoholics I’ve even known. He was never a violent or angry drunk. He never caused any problems that I knew of except for himself. Paul’s favorite drink was vodka. And he drank about a pint of it a day, despite only receiving around $700 a month from social security. There were a few instances where he ran out of money at the end of the month and actually had to be hospitalized due to DTs or alcohol withdrawal. Once he even called me to his hospital room to ask me to bring him vodka and cigarettes. (I felt bad for him so I actually did agree to bring cigarettes, knowing he wouldn’t be able to smoke them anyway. The nurse promptly took them away.) He actually reminded me a bit of Frank Gallagher from Shameless, although Paul was a bit more irritable.

Paul was definitely a character. In addition to drinking and smoking cigarettes, he also loved to smoke weed. He even had a marijuana leaf on his wallet. As soon as medical marijuana became legal in the state he demanded a prescription from every doctor we went to. Of course he didn’t get it, even though he was eligible. The system was not yet ready to dispense actual medical cards, and there were no dispensaries even if they could have. There was no telling Paul that though. He was hard-headed to put it mildly. He was often angry and impatient, but honestly, could you blame him? His life was a constant battle with pain and poverty.

In the end, Paul’s life was evenly split between drinking in front of the TV and traveling all over the state for medical appointments. When I last saw him, I knew his time was limited. He was bleeding internally. It was clearly caused by his drinking. Still he refused to stop. I’m honestly not sure if it would have made a difference at that point anyway. As I sat down to write about him today, I decided to check the local obituaries. I held my breath, hoping I’d find nothing. Instead I discovered that Paul passed away in the summer of 2019. The obituary listed so many surviving family members, children and siblings. I new he had family, but seeing just how much and how close by they lived really broke my heart. They had all left him in the hands of the state to whither in darkness and die alone. I’m sure Paul wasn’t the best father or brother, but he certainly wasn’t deserving of that sentence. At least he got to spend his final days in the warm, sunny atmosphere of summer. That was one thing we both shared, an infatuation with summer, and a deep hatred of winter.

I wish I could have been there for him in the end. Or that I had at least gotten the chance to say goodbye, the chance to tell him that he was truly my friend, not just my client. Sure, he gave me a lot of anxiety over the years by giving this people pleaser so many unethical requests, but I am thankful for the time we spent together. Despite all his flaws, he was a good man. It saddens me deeply to know he’s gone. At least I know his pain has finally ceased. I hope he has found peace. The next time I drink vodka, I’ll pour some out for him.

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Kratom Propaganda

I’ve written one post on here about the new “drug” being talked about and sold everywhere from headshops to gas stations, kratom. My last post was about how wonderful this drug has been in helping me cope with my, at times, crippling anxiety. I 100% stand by everything I’ve written about kratom. However, today I wanted to dispel some of the horrific rumors, propaganda, and straight up, bold faced lies I’ve seen about it. It’s Refer Madness all over again.

Just to be fair, I do probably lean on kratom a bit more than I should. Although after years of taking it daily, I will just note that I haven’t needed to increase my dosage at all. I still get the same effects from a rather small amount which lasts for a consistent amount of time. All that being said, for the first half of the day at work today, I have been feeling extremely tired. Not super out of the ordinary for me, I often suspect I may have chronic fatigue syndrome. But just because I am a curious, inquisitive person, I decided to see if it might have anything to do with the fact that I skipped my morning kratom. I know that kratom is related to the coffee plant so I thought it might have similar withdrawal symptoms to caffeine. Not thinking much of it, I decided to google: kratom withdrawal.

I was not anywhere near prepared for the kinds of results that popped up. The first thing on the page was a huge 1-800 number for a drug abuse hotline. “That’s kind of funny,” I thought, but continued skimming the rest of the page. As I read the titles of each website and article that came up, I became less and less amused. After clicking on one from a “reputable” health source, I became downright infuriated.

I wasn’t even sure this mild tiredness I’ve experienced after around 24 hours without any kratom was linked to that at all. Yet these websites and articles were fearmongering in some of the most disgusting ways. Highlighted in bold, snippets of text proclaimed that kratom withdrawal is practically the same as opioid withdrawal! Absolutely outrageous and utterly untrue. Symptoms that were listed included: flu-like symptoms, body aches, hallucinations, even seizures! Of course not even a mention of the slight tiredness I was experiencing.

I am aware that there is a big movement to make kratom illegal. My sister even donates to an organization that is fighting that legislation. However, I had no idea how bad this misinformation campaign had actually gotten in the last few years. It makes me sick. I am especially bothered by how easily the general public is eating it up. Even some of my family members have repeating back outlandish propaganda to me about kratom. They hesitate when I explain to them that it’s just like refer madness, but still don’t seem to stop believing the lies they’ve heard. I can’t believe that the same bullshit is working all over again.

Just like with marijuana, the government and pharmaceutical industries don’t want this drug to become popular because it will cut into their profits and prevent people from needing other expensive medications and medical care. Even though kratom has the potential to help the opioid crisis in this country (as it can help users with detox and withdrawal) the media would rather liken it to the opioids themselves and scare people away from it. I guess the opioid crisis isn’t worth solving unless someone can make money off of it.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Despite my already disillusioned, cynical state, I continued to be shocked by the backward depravity of society. Even though weed is legal now in many states and has been proven to help with many mental and physical issues, the scaremongering about this medicinal plant is still going strong as well. It may sound like just another conspiracy theory, but I don’t believe all of the news stories about weed being laced with fentanyl either. Unless you are actually trying to kill someone, it makes absolutely no sense why anyone would put that in the weed they are selling. Why would you risk killing your customers? Why risk drawing the police’s attention for nothing? Why would you add a more expensive drug to another drug for free? It’s nonsense. I know a lot of people that smoke and sell weed. I even know quite a few people that have done fentanyl and heroin. I know it’s just anecdotal evidence, but none of them have ever even heard of such a case happening in real life. Even a recent case of a local high schooler “overdosing” on fentanyl that was in a weed gummy, turned out to be total bullshit. She just got way too high and freaked out. I’m willing to bet all of these stories are just rumors, if not purposeful propaganda to scare people away from using cannabis.

I am so tired of the masses being mind controlled and manipulated by false information. I used to think in this miraculous age of technology that could only continue for so much longer. But after the Trump presidency and all of the lingering, idiotic lies from that fiasco, I’ve utterly lost that hopeful outlook. It almost seems like the internet has made everything worse in some ways.

Even though I am just one random person, I just had to speak out about this. Kratom is a miracle drug that has helped me so much in the last few years. It breaks my heart to think that people will be prevented from receiving this same help due to lies and misinformation spreading like wildfire. I won’t be surprised when kratom is eventually made illegal just like cannabis was. I’m definitely going to keep stockpiling it for myself for when that time comes.

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On Using Drugs

Recently I met yet another person who told me they have never drank alcohol or tried any drugs. It is always so fascinating to me when I am reminded that these people exist. There is just some part of me that cannot understand them. I simply can’t imagine how someone can go their entire life without even trying any of these mind-altering substances. Especially the legal ones. I, myself, can think of at least two very compelling reasons to do so.

The first reason that always comes to mind is plain curiosity. I don’t know how anyone could be told that there was a drink or a plant or a powder that can make you think and feel totally different and not be intrigued. I have always considered myself a very curious person and look for that same curious nature in others. I am especially curious when it comes to the mind. Anything that can completely alter the mind is just too interesting to avoid. I’ve tried basically every drug besides heroin, cocaine, crack, and meth. I’d probably be willing to try cocaine, I’ve just never had the opportunity. Besides from what I’ve heard, it’s not that great anyway. The only reason I wouldn’t try meth, crack, or heroin is because I’d be too afraid to become addicted. On my deathbed, I may give them a go just to see what it’s like. At that point, why not?

Knowing that many of these substances are illegal could be an understandable deterrent for some people. But alcohol, and even marijuana in some places, are legal. How could you not be curious enough to try them at least once? They are obviously very popular habits for a lot of people. Wouldn’t you want to know why that is? There are few experiences in life that are so distinct and unique. How could you not want to know what other states your mind is capable of experiencing?

If sheer curiosity isn’t enough to get you interested, I can think of another reason: suffering. I always knew I would try drugs even when I was fairly young, just so I could know what they were like. However, I didn’t actually venture down that road until I was in high school. A time rife with turmoil, when emotions are running high, high school seems to be the time when a lot of people begin to experiment with drugs and alcohol. While for the most part, drugs have been a fun, social experience, there have been times when I’ve used them as a crutch.

I’d imagine there are times in everyone’s life when they feel so terribly that they would do anything to feel better, or even to feel nothing at all. If I hadn’t already tried drugs at these points in my life, I certainly would have then. When someone tells me that they have never even had a drink, it makes me question if they have ever truly suffered. Maybe this is an awful thing to say, but it’s what I wonder about. There are certainly people I’ve met in my life that seem to have somehow escaped any encounters with that deep sadness that so many of us know well. Nothing seems to touch them. They have never been broken. In some ways I envy these people. Yet, in other ways, I almost pity them. Although it’s been painful to feel things as deeply as I have in the past, to suffer within the prison of my own mind, it has made me a fuller person. It has given me a bitter-sweet depth to life that I would not have found otherwise.

So I may be a jerk, totally misjudging people and creating false perceptions, but these are the things I can’t help but ponder when I meet someone who has managed to stay inside the bubble of sobriety all of their life. Naturally it makes me reflect on the reasons that hasn’t been the case for me. I am too curious. I have also at times been too desperate to try to relieve my suffering at any cost. Therefore, I end up questioning if these other people somehow lack those qualities/experiences. Or perhaps I am just lacking something. Maybe they simply have a stronger will, better coping mechanisms, a strong social supports. I’ll probably never know. Regardless of the reasons behind it, I do know that I will never be able to feel fully understood by these types of people. Whatever it may be, we have a fundamental difference that divides our worlds.

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Injustice

Recently I have been contemplating the awful, unjust inconsistencies in our judicial system. Yesterday I got coffee with a friend who spent 15 years of his life in prison. When people hear this there is an emotional recoil, a silent fear and judgment. Even I wondered if it was dangerous for a young girl to be around that type of person. I knew it was a drug related offense, but I had for some reason assumed it was heroin or something along those lines. (Not that that would make 15 years a fair sentence.) Yesterday I discovered, to my shock and outrage, that it was just weed.

This wonderful man who is kind and smart and funny AND a yoga teacher spent his entire youth locked in a cage for possessing a fucking plant that never hurt anyone and does in fact help people. He even spent years of his time there in solitary confinement. Now that he’s out he has a medical marijuana card ironically. And why? For the PTSD he now has from being stabbed eight times in prison.

Every time I think about this, a swelling rage blooms inside my chest. How on earth could this be called justice? As a child I truly believed this was a just world. It’s what we’re taught to believe. It was a long fall from innocence as I slowly lost faith in the courts, the law, the police, this country, and this world. At first I lashed out at these injustices with indignation and fury. I desperately tried to make a difference. But now I am so tired. All I can do is be a witness to these atrocities.

Black men are shot in the streets every single day by police. Non-violent drug offenders are given longer sentences than the men who have sexually abused the children I work with. The most innocent among us, the animals, are systematically abused and killed by the billions behind tall factory walls in the darkness. Never knowing a kind touch in their whole short lives.

I still grieve over that innocence and faith I’ve lost. There is no justice in this world of ours. It’s more amazing to me now that I ever could have believed there was. But even though I know it’s hopeless, I have no choice but to keep fighting. Even though I’m tired and jaded by the futility of it all, there is nothing else for me to do. I’ll keep trying to protect the innocent with everything I’ve got. I’ll lend my voice to the voiceless. Even if I’m doomed to fail, there is nothing else so worthy of my time.