We Need to Change How We Go About Addiction, Because I Never Want That Phone Call Again So Long As I Live

It was 4:30 on a Tuesday.  I was driving down a familiar stretch of highway.  In another town, in another state, my best friend was right in the thick of her work day.  But I still thought nothing of it when she called me out of the blue.

“Anna’s* dead,” she told me in the way that people do when the shock has yet to wear away.

“Do you know how it happened?” I ask in the exact same way.

“The public statement is that it was natural causes,” she replied. “But I mean, you knew how Anna was…”

The conversation we had next was one I was a little too familiar having: we knew she had her things going on, we were hoping she’d clean up, we can’t believe this happened…  We’re speechless.  We’re sad.  We’re weirdly resigned.  After a while my best friend hung up and I spent the rest of my car ride blinking back tears until I gave up trying to fight them.

In a way, I felt like I didn’t have a right to cry.  Anna was my best friend’s former roommate.  A friend of a friend.  She was one of the thousand of various connections one will make throughout their entire life.  But it might as well have been a beloved childhood buddy or a family member.  It hit me in a way that I couldn’t shake off.

Two weeks ago, my best friend and I had this exact same conversation.  Downright verbatim: an old high school classmate had passed, and in a very similar fashion.  Replace “we knew she had her things going on” with “we didn’t know he had that going on…” and it’s the same conversation.

It’s a conversation I had last year with an elementary school friend, someone I hadn’t talked to in years, getting in touch with me to let me know that our friend’s sister suffered the same fate.  Or when it was my turn to call my best friend, telling her that someone we once knew well was gone.  The frightening part is that I could go on, playing Six Degrees of Preventable Deaths, reciting this and that conversation, point out this and that person from my life, using words like “heroin” and “alcohol” until people would stop me midsentence and go, “If this were fiction, no one would believe it.”

In some ways, it’s easy to dismiss the prevalence of this conversation.  We’re so interconnected these days.  The number of people who play or played at least some role in our lives easily reaches the thousands by the time we leave college.  We all keep tabs, remembering classmates and coworkers and families of friends when they used to fade into the background.

And statistics are statistics.  Know enough people, and you’re bound to go to a few funerals.  You’re bound to find out about a few deaths by overdose.

My hometown has a heroin issue.  There.  I said it.  My middle class, white-picket-fence-suburb-of-Boston is a statistic.  And my hometown is not a special case: heroin ODs are on the rise in Massachusetts.  Between January and April of this year, there were 185 heroin ODs in Massachusetts alone.  And the rate of overdose deaths in America has tripled since 1990.  This is an epidemic.  Way more than Ebola in America, but there’s no time on the news for the things that are actually killing us.

I know the general attitude when it comes to addiction: they brought it on themselves, they got what they deserved, serves them right…  So — of course — slash funding for resources.  Think about addiction and treatment in black and white terms.  Turn our backs.  Why waste money on recovery programs?  Why remove the stigma of those suffering from drug abuse?  We have the War on Drugs.  Close enough, right?

It’s easy to blame the addict.  Far too easy.  And I could go into how addiction is just like any other mental illness — including the genetic predisposition towards it — but we already know how our country feels about mental health issues.  It’s a useless endeavor to attempt to dissuade anyone’s negative opinion of the addicts themselves.

So that’s why I’m writing this, from my egocentric, bleeding little heart to yours: we need to change how we go about addiction, from the inside out, from the bottom up.  If nothing else, then because I never want to have that conversation again as long as I live.  I don’t want another phone call, I don’t want another text message, I don’t want another link to an obituary.  Addiction ruins lives, but it’s more than a bomb that hurts those in the immediate vicinity when it goes off; it’s a mushroom cloud, affecting everything in its path for miles upon miles, stretching farther and having more impact than we can even begin to fathom.

If I were in a better mood, I would remind you once more how interconnected we all are.  Everything affects everyone — socially, economically, emotionally.  It’s far too easy to balk at “one more dead addict”, forgetting the people who are affected by their deaths, and how their feelings will ripple out, creating a butterfly effect, affecting communities, regions, countries as a whole.

But I’m not in a better mood.  I’m tired and I’m sad and I’m honest-to-God sick of it.

People will die from addiction, be it suddenly from an overdose or slowly as their bodies break down.  And countless people around them will die a little bit with each piece of news.  In a way, the pain is reassuring: it’s a reminder that life is sacred and beautiful and important and commonality of losing it doesn’t cheapen the situation.  But society is too busy labeling addicts bad people, lost causes, to realize they’re making a bad situation worse.

There is hope.  Change is already starting.  Just this summer, Massachusetts passed a bill that will have insurance companies partially cover addiction treatment and recovery.  People are unhappy about it.  Insurance companies are fighting it tooth and nail, saying it’s going to make everything more expensive.  But it’s a step in the right direction.  It won’t solve everything — and it’s going to take a lot more than just making treatment more accessible to curb this epidemic — but it’s a damn good start.  For those suffering from addiction, for those suffering from yet another life lost, for everyone.

*name changed to protect the innocent

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Blogging Versus Essays — or: “It’s a Huge Fucking Pet Peeve When You Call My Articles ‘Blogs’.”

For the last year or so, I’ve decided to expand my operation.  I went from the would-be novelist (and not “would be” as in, “Someday I’ll write the next Great American Novel,” but as in, “For the love of St Fuckitallsburg, someone purchase one of my manuscripts.”) with a sporadic tendency toward short stories to pseudo-journalist, writing essays and op-ed pieces on current events.

It’s been one helluva ride.  While getting my work out there has not made it any easier in getting a manuscript sold, I have found a modicum of writing success.  I’ve had a few viral essays (and isn’t that everyone’s dream these days — to “go viral”?), including one with nearly half a million social media shares.  I got to talk on a radio show about another essay, and my time at one website helped set the stage for the release of my ebook.

I’ve been able to share my stories and provide insight and give at least a few people solace by articulating how they had been feeling.  It’s an exhausting labor of love (especially since most websites don’t pay their freelance writers *sigh*) but the emphasis is on “love”, not “labor”.

However, there are few things in this world that tick me off quite like when people mention an essay of mine that had just been published by saying, “Oh, I read your latest blog!”

This right here is a blog.  I am currently blogging.  Which is why it wouldn’t annoy me if you read this and then said to me: “I just read your latest blog entry!” (because, remember: saying, “I read your latest blog!” is kind of like saying, “I watched their most recent TV show!”  It’s nonsensical, unless you construct entire TV series(es) or blog websites in your spare time.)

But what I do for sites like Elite Daily, or Elephant Journal, or xoJane, is.not.blogging.  Even what I do for Thought Catalog — even though they grant their writers the most creative freedom — is not blogging.  Those are essays/articles.

Let me explain why it’s not blogging in a nice, bulleted, listicle format:

* I don’t have to write a pitch to a production team in order to blog.
* I don’t have to get approved for publication in order to blog.
* I don’t have to fill out W2s (for the few sites that pay their writers) in order to blog.
* I don’t have to cope with editors who can and will change up everything, from your wording to your paragraph structure, until you don’t recognize your own writing anymore.
* I don’t get nearly the traffic I do when I write for a website (instead of “blogging”) because, at the end of the day, those are websites that accrue millions of hits a day.  And I’m a schmuck with a blog.

It’s a tremendous pet peeve of mine when people label an article of mine a “blog”.  It might seem like semantics, but there’s a world of difference between the hoops a writer jumps through to have their work posted on a website and the supreme lack of hoops a writer jumps through to write on their own site, powered by WordPress (or Blogger, or Tumblr).

Any schmuck can sign up to any number of blogging sites, knowing full well that their pieces will never be emailed back to them, asking for a rewrite before it can be considered for publication.  Their entries are posted in real time, available for the world the second you click “publish”.  It’s hard work to write for someone else, but it forces you to be a better writer.  Blogging, if you’re not careful, can turn into one masturbatory verbal fest.

Obviously I have no problem with blogging — again, as blogging is something I am doing at this exact moment.  But it would be like confusing singing in a professional band with karaoke, or photojournalism with bystander cellphone shots.  The overlap is there, but replacing the former with the latter negates the hard work, the challenges, and the potential rejection.  It runs the risk of trivializing what is in front of you.

And if there’s anything you should never do to someone who is laboring away at their passion, it’s trivialize what they put out.  There are many writers in my shoes, who toil away, not content with just a few Tumblr tweens reposting your entry.  It takes a lot of ego swallowing to write for a website; an ego that is already big enough to play the semantics game with “blog” versus “article”.

For someone who doesn’t understand what goes on behind the scenes in the writing world, this change-up with wording can seem unnecessary.  But, for a writer who could fill up an additional full-length manuscript with rejected query letters and pitches, it’s the difference between appreciation and invalidation.  Something to think about the next time you run into a writer — or professional singer, or photojournalist, or anyone knee-deep in what drives them forward.

AND, since this is a blog and not an article, I can just leave the post here, as is, without an editor asking for a more concise conclusion.  Mastubatory verbal fest complete.

Why You Should Be Upset About Being Upset at Girls Saying “Fuck”

Potty-Mouthed Princesses Drop F-Bombs for Feminism by FCKH8.com from FCKH8.com on Vimeo.

The title is, “F-Bombs for Feminism: Potty Mouth Princesses Use Bad Words for a Good Cause”.  The video — which has taken off like wildfire across the internet — shows girls aged roughly between 8 and 14, dressed up as princesses.  They start by daintily holding their hands and saying, “pretty,” while music fit for a tea party plays in the background.  One of the girls interrupts the pretty-fest, screaming, “What the fuck!” and pointing out how she is not, in fact, some pretty, helpless princess.  The girls then ask you one simple question: what is more offensive, a girl saying, “Fuck,” or gender inequality?

And — judging from many of the comments surrounding this video — the answer is unfortunately the former.

The comments range from ones that actually bring up a valid debate point (“Should we really be using children to prove a point?”) to the absolute asinine.  The most common comment I’ve been seeing includes some type of bemoaning of “innocence lost”; how horrible it is that they’re “making girls says the F word” and how these poor girls have now lost their “purity” by daring to swear.

But here’s the problem: getting upset about an 11-year-old girl swearing is symptomatic of the exact problem they’re addressing.

Let’s flip the roles around.  Instead of young girls swearing about how inequality could affect them, it’s young boys swearing about how inequality could affect their friends, their sisters, their moms (or themselves, since gender inequality affects everyone, but that’s for another article).  Now we have a 12-year-old boy in a Prince Charming costume swearing up a storm.  There’s a 13-year-old boy yelling, “What the fuck!”  There’s a 9-year-old saying, “Fuck toxic societal values!”

Genuinely think about how we react when we hear a pre-adolescent (or “tween”) boy swearing.  Genuinely remember how society at large handles any situation like this.  What do you think the reaction would be to this video?

A laugh, a facetious roll of the eyes, and a, “Oh, boys will be boys!”

Maybe some people would mention something about the potential exploitation of children to prove a point.  But I’m willing to bet money that absolutely no one would be bemoaning the “lost purity” of these boys — a purity that should have been preserved at all costs.

We see “shattered innocence” as something that comes from war, assault, abject poverty.  Not swear-free talking.  Unless we’re dealing with girls.

This type of reaction is a reminder that we still hold arbitrary and unfair standards for girls versus boys.  Worrying about a girl’s swearing — putting such a heavy emphasis on chaste thoughts and words — is the precursor to judging a grown woman based on how few men she’s had sex with (while, ironically enough, being as sexually attractive as possible).  If society is overly fascinated with the concept of purity, then it isn’t that much of a jump from “good girls don’t swear” to “good women don’t have sex.”  The reaction to this video demonstrates that, in many ways, we still haven’t veered from the values that are as old as the Middle Ages.

And this is the stuff we have to get at.  We can identify the overt, but it’s a lot harder to get at the more subtle, nuanced forms of inequality.  It’s also a lot easier to piss people off when you do.  But it’s these little judgments — fretting over what a girl says versus the “boys will be boys” mentality — that create the foundation for bigger judgements: like where one stands on equality laws or how one reacts when they hear about sexual assault in the news.  And, since it is so subtle, no one questions their judgments or takes a moment to wonder where they are coming from.

So let me be the first to say, “What the fuck!”  Because I am far more worried about the implications of such a public reaction than I am about a tween saying a Swear Jar-worthy word.

Run Like Hell: A Runner’s Tale of Redemption

A long, long time ago, I ran junior varsity track for my high school (junior varsity on the track team at my high school was kind of like saying, “Eh, it’s like intramural sports, only with meets.  Here, have a uniform.”).  My junior year, our high school temporarily dug up its racetrack, which resulted in me not signing back up for track (“Me?  Go to other towns to practice?  You mean, put effort into this?  Surely, you jest.”)  And running essentially faded from my routine, replaced by absurdly brief trips to Northeastern University’s gym, where I’d give the elliptical a half-hearted stab as a way to “lose a few pounds.”

I returned to running after college as a way to (sigh) try to “lose a few pounds,” and later as something to process the immense strain of teaching overcrowded classrooms with unforgiving administration.  I slowly built up my distance, occasionally getting a good 5- or 6-miler into my day.  And — thankfully — somewhere along the line, I stopped running to “lose a few pounds” and started running because I liked feeling efficient with my body.

In 2013, running took on a new meaning.  It’s been over a year since the bombings and yet I still cannot articulate exactly what it meant to me, and how different it all is when it is your city under attack.  I watched what I considered a part of my Northeastern neighborhood become gated up and I laced up my running shoes with a brand new resolve.

One week later, I signed up for my first half marathon. Continue reading

Five College Subjects That Will Make You a Better Writer (Aside from English)

Elite Daily writers are welcome to post their writings to their blogs after publication.  So, without further ado, here is the original version of my article (link down below).

5 Non-English Majors That Will Make You A Better Writer

Like many would-be writers, I majored English in college. I brushed off the comments about the degree’s lack of marketability, or if I would “teach English” someday, and dove headfirst into the subject. It was trying at times – it definitely put me into a position where I forgot what reading for pleasure felt like – but I don’t regret my degree in the least. The English degree makes a lot of sense for fiction – and nonfiction – writers. Dissecting previous works and understanding what made them successful is vital information. Plus, almost all writers carry a deep, passionate love for reading as well, which makes the gravitation over to studying English as a subject that much more powerful.

However, for my aspiring writers currently in college now, it’s important to take a step outside of our writing workshops and English literature surveys. We need to make use out of the classes outside of our required core courses, because there are other subject matters that will make us better writers:

Continue reading

Non-Compete with the Homeless

Woman Doing Yoga

So, this is a new one.

I have hit the ground running in terms of establishing myself as a yoga instructor.  And — unlike my tai chi instructing attempts — this has been pretty fruitful.  I teach two classes a week at my favorite studio — the studio I’ve been with since I moved to New Hampshire and actually did my teacher training at — as well as two classes a week at another studio the town over.  As of last week, I started teaching a class at another studio and, as of yesterday, I signed on to become a teacher at yet another studio.  This is on top of my volunteer work at a homeless services center, where the classes have been small at times, but the people who do come seem genuinely interested in understanding yoga.

Since my teacher training wrapped, nearly every attempt has turned into a hit, at least in terms of studio owners letting me on.  Only time will tell if the classes will be popular, if the clientele will stick around, or if the owners will like me enough to keep me on board.  And sometimes those attempts are misses: one studio I was subbing at closed their doors recently (just as I was about to potentially become a regular teacher), and another studio just ignored me completely.  But the most recent miss is one for the books:

This particular studio was looking for new substitute and regular teachers.  I did my usual song and dance, writing to them about my experience, my training, and my teaching philosophy.  They then sent me a formal application to fill out, which included writing down where else I teach.  I mention every place I work at — including my volunteer work at a homeless services center — and send it in.

Today, I got a reply back, letting me know that I would not be able to teach there due to their non-compete agreement.  They ask that their instructors do not teach at any other place within a 15-mile radius, which is a fairly common practice.  They then cited the two places that would fall into that category: the studio I started at last week and the homeless services center.

The best part is not just that they took the time to mention the homeless center, but they mentioned it first out of the two places that would potentially violate a non-compete.  Now, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt: I’m sure if I were not teaching at the other studio, they would not have counted my time at the center against me.  But the fact that they took the time to write out that I teach at the homeless center is tickling me pink.

And it’s not like it could have been mistaken as work at an actual studio.  I specifically mentioned in my cover letter and in the application that it was volunteer work (because, while I don’t do it for the résumé boosting, it totally is a résumé booster).

I mean, who notes your volunteer work at a homeless center as potentially violating a non-compete? And even if I were getting paid, how in the world are you going to count yoga for the homeless as a non-compete violation for a studio?  ‘Cause, y’know, I’m totally gonna get all those clients who can afford yoga classes at an upscale studio to shuffle on down to the services center to take classes there instead.  Yes, lady in the $65 Lululemon tank top with the $150/month unlimited pass to the studio, I also teach at a homeless services center.  And if you’re really interested, I’m there on Tuesdays.  You don’t need this swanky studio!  Come swing by — we meet in the cafeteria!  Just make sure to take anything of value with you and lock up your car; the neighborhood is notorious for smash-and-grabs.

I can’t stress enough that this is more funny to me than anything else, and, for the sake of storytelling, I’m choosing to believe that this studio would genuinely feel threatened by my time at a homeless center.  It is just so tempting to reply back with something like, “I totally get it!  My time with the homeless would violate a non-compete.  Because, I mean, who can compete with the homeless population?  The city officials sure can’t!”

Oh, it’s funny because the city in question has no interest in helping curb homelessness or addressing the root causes of it, but they’d sure like the homeless people to magically disappear.