Is there such a thing as Writer’s Anonymous?

There wasn’t a lot left – a couple of drops, really. But it called to me and awakened something inside of me. Not really lust, not really gluttony, but more of a memory than anything else. It was a drop of liquid that held a vision of a whole other life; a life spent spiraling and searching for an ethereal reality that couldn’t exist. Still, that vision of life was there, dancing in those few drops: A version of a life I thought I wanted.

It was a romantic idea, really. Hemingway did it; Steinbeck did it. I could go on but the image of the tortured writer spending endless and countless days scribbling thousands of unintelligible words into tattered and worn notebooks until he had another Old Man and the Sea or another Grapes of Wrath was a vision of a perfect life to me. Only I wasn’t like those glorified scribblers. If I spent an afternoon hunched over a bar sipping tequila, my pen might move from time to time, but then, the next day, I’d review my previous day’s work and see that it may as well have been written in Aramaic. There was no way to know what the hell I wrote. Maybe I wasn’t really writing anything; maybe I was just moving a pen in various lines across notebook pages.

But damn, I wanted to be a tortured writer on the hunt for the perfect set of words that would become my legacy. I wanted so badly to be just like those writers who lived their lives on the edge of reality and lunacy. It was a lust greater than any man could have. I figured that living on that edge would make my writing life somehow more real.

So when I saw those couple of drops of tequila lingering in a mostly empty shot glass, I saw that distorted reflection of who I thought I wanted to be and realized that the edge of sanity I sought wasn’t all that great a place to live. Alcohol may bring lunacy, but it doesn’t help with writing. I saw in those drops that attempting a writing life, in and of itself, creates lunacy; it simply isn’t easy parsing through millions of thoughts with a net that only holds a hundred or so at a time. It’s like fishing for plankton with a net suited for landing giant catfish. But what the hell, I keep at it, which is the lunacy and irrationality of the writer.

I remember this one time, after spending hours at a little dive, I scribbled enough words to fill more than 20 pages of a notebook. At some point, I placed the notebook down somewhere and went to take a leak. When I was done, I searched the joint for my damn notebook – but it disappeared. It was gone and I wasn’t even drunk. I threw back, MAYBE, two or three shots over the course of an entire afternoon, but somehow, that notebook went threw some notebook-rapture-vortex and entered into another dimension of sight and sound. Wherever it went, though, I wasn’t there. I was more than angry about losing that notebook; I drove home in complete grief over the loss.

This thing called a writing life is a bad habit, alcohol or no alcohol. I can’t quit – hell, I’m not even sure I want to leave it. Writing transports me – in my own parlance: I am a compulsive writer. Maybe I should start a “writer’s anonymous” group. “Hi,” I’d say at the start of my testimony. “My name is Juan and I am a goddamned writer.”

The group would chorus back to me, “Hi Juan!”

The problem was never the alcohol. The problem, if there’s one, is that I write because I have no other choice. When I’m sitting in my rocking chair wondering if the grandkids will ever visit me, I’m certain that if I can still hold a stupid pen, I’ll write a poem or a verse about how much old age sucks. I’m certain that I’ll still be fishing for plankton in my mind, even if I’m senile, I’ll be grasping at some great collection of words that I won’t fully capture.

Or maybe I won’t. Maybe my WA 12 step group will cure of my writing addiction. I don’t drink or drug. Don’t gamble much. Writing is my only remaining vice. I wonder if my writing glass will ever be down to 2 drops. On second thought, no I don’t. My name is Juan and I am a goddamned writer.

Share your story so that I can better understand my own life

Here’s the thing: People’s stories are valid.  But more so, people’s stories are important and must be shared if a life is to become meaningful.  We are all just future ghosts, and what we leave behind on this planet defines, really, whether or not we even existed.  And although it may not seem like it’s important, everyone’s life is part of a tapestry and if someone is missing from that tapestry, we simply can’t get the full picture of our own lives.

That’s right: I can’t possibly understand my own life in full if you don’t allow me to understand yours.  While it’s easier to understand people’s perspectives if they share at least some of my own beliefs, when someone doesn’t share my view it’s really difficult to even begin to empathize with them because if they don’t share their stories, then how can even begin to understand that part of my own life that may appear in conflict with them.

So, if some right-winger states an opinion that I think is utterly stupid, but I don’t know the person behind the opinion, then I can remain in conflict with the person even though there may not be any conflict at all.  For example, I have a friend who says all kinds of mouth-garbage with which I simply can’t agree (for example, she really believes that Santa Fe’ s unisex bathroom ordinance is “evil”).  However, I know her story with me and she pretty much echoes her husband’s view of the world.  In truth, she has close friends who are all kinds of colors and sexual orientations and so I can accept her rantings as echoes, not as her own truth.

What’s more, is I know several people who completely disagree with everything I write and teach.  However, they share their stories and so when I hear their perspectives, I hear that perhaps my own opinion is not as formed as it needs to be (or maybe I don’t exactly understand my own writings as well as I should).  Regardless of how much I agree or disagree, if I didn’t know people’s stories, I would have no way of really measuring what I know or believe.

So, share your story in some way or another.  Without it, there’s simply no way I can learn.

The 4 things I’ve learned from blogging

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It has now been 4 years since I’ve started my blog, jblea1016.com. While I can’t say that blogging success has allowed me to retire, I can say that it has grown and continues to grow. I am quite grateful to everyone who reads visits my blog and actually reads the posts; it’s not easy to write new content. Believe it or not, sometimes, I simply don’t have any ideas about which to write. But I love writing and jblea1016.com has become my outlet to share things that I find interesting and/or useful (maybe even a little entertaining?) and now that I’ve been at it for 4 years, I can’t imagine my day to day (writing) life without it. But I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way and I am happy to say that I have learned form those mistakes and I wanted to share 4 things that I have learned since I started this blog 4 years ago:

1. Promoting the blog takes almost as much focus as actually creating content for the blog.

Figuring out that it takes social media promotion to actually push social media was a tough pill to swallow. I’m really not much for self-promotion, which has been a huge limiting factor in my writing career. While it may seem obvious that people need to know about a blog before they can visit it, it took me a really long time to accept the fact that I have to use other social media to get people to visit the blog. So, if you’re going to start a blog (or have already), then be prepared to promote your content with as much focus as creating it. For my purposes, I have found LinkedIn to be useful (although with its recent “upgrades,” it’s a lot less useful) and I have recently began using Instagram to get the word out about the blog. Surprisingly, social media promotion actually works (Obvious, right? What can I say, I’m a slow learner…)

2. People have a really, REALLY short attention span.

Content on my blog basically has an 8-10 hour window where it gets visited after I’ve initially posted it. One day, I might have a bunch of traffic because of a popular post, but lo and behold, the very next day that once popular and attention-getting post has fallen by the wayside like yesterday’s diapers. What’s worse is that if I don’t post regularly, the blog itself really fades in terms of visitors. I’ve always found it surprising how quick the decay rate is for social media; when I first started jblea1016.com, I thought that people would love each post and that each post would read over and over again throughout the week. But that’s simply not the case. If I really like a post (like the podcast posts), then I have to remind people about it every day sometimes 2 or 3 times a day! There’s such a huge bombardment of information that unless people are reminded, my content will be lost in the shuffle of high social media turnover rates.

3. Tend to resist the space between their ears.

I advise people, over and over again, both in real life and in the blogosphere that only they can own they space between their ears. One of the big reasons why I started this blog was to provide insight into how critical reflection and journaling can help people find their best and healthiest path. But really, people don’t seem to care much about my posts about critical reflection. As a matter of fact, I’ve written a few posts about demonic possession within the heroin addiction domain and those posts are, by far, the most popular on my blog. I would prefer that people use my blog (and my book, 49 Tips and Insights for Understanding Addiction) to mine the space between their ears. But alas, they don’t and in my experience, people really do resist turning the light towards their own abyss.

4. I have far more to learn than I know.

I’ve studied and written quite a bit on this blog (almost 1,000 posts) and I can safely say that, while I am an expert within the addiction treatment field, I know very little about anything, including that domain. There’s always a comment or two about what I need to learn and it seems like I really don’t know much of anything. I hope to continue growing and learning as a writer and as a blogger; I’m always open to suggestion about ways and means to improve my work (feel free to lambast me below in the comments section below).

So, after 4 years, I feel like a real blogger. I don’t make any money off of jblea1016.com and I don’t know that I ever will. But it’s a great avenue to express stuff and as a writer, I simply love my blog and I hope to keep it up into the foreseable future. Thank you to all of my readers; without you, I’m just talking to myself, a lot.

Like it or not, fighting Addiction is everyone’s war

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Among the challenges I face in attempting to educate people is their strict adherence to what they think they know. Popular culture provides certain myths that become adopted as though they’re facts – without little reflection or testing about the basic truth of the myth.

For example, that there could even be a question about addiction and whether or not it’s a disease. TV show like, “Intervention,” present a certain attitude that, if a person could go to rehab and “deal” with his or her addiction, then they could become the healthy person they once were. But this view is crap.

Substance use is measured along a continuum of functioning. Addiction is the end result this continuum and by the time a person has slipped into an addiction, he or she has probably endured significant losses. A person afflicted with Addiction has also endured significant bio-psycho-social changes that more than…

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3 things all treatment programs for heroin addiction should have

While there appears to be a heroin epidemic that is causing middle America to lose their minds, the fact is that, while not every heroin user wants to get clean, there is a treatment protocol that will work.  This protocol should address all three (3) layers of a human life: 1) the biological; 2) the pycho-emotional; and, 3) the spiritual.  In addressing all of these layers, there is a higher likelihood of lasting recovery.

1. The Biological Layer

First, because of heron’s deep effect of the body, I really recommend that someone in treatment finds and sticks with a Suboxone-prescribing doctor.  Suboxone is a medicine that is comprised of both buprennorpine, an opiod, and naloxone, a opiod-blocker.  The idea is that buprenorphine stimulates opiod receptors enough such that the naloxone can “knock them down.”  Suboxone should be first administered when the patient is withdrawing and then tapered down over a period of time.  Methadone is another heroin substitute, but there’s no real way to taper from methadone (it is a safer alternative to heroin if administered within the confines of an official clinic).  Therefore, I strongly advise that Suboxone be used to address the physical component of heroin addiction.

2. The Psycho-emotional Layer

Second, I also recommend that a heroin treatment program contains some form of psycho-emotional counseling such as CBT, EMDR, or Seeking Safety.  The reason I recommend psycho-emotional support is that almost every single heroin addict I’ve encountered (and I’ve encountered a lot) has had a history of trauma and would certainly meet criteria for a formal PTSD diagnosis.  Learning to manage the shame and anxiety associated with PTSD is critical in order to heal wounds that the heroin covered.

3. The Spiritual Layer

Lastly in terms of my list, but not in terms of importance, is that all people in recovery, but especially heroin addicts, must find a spirituality that is based upon something sacred.  The way I attempt to develop this spirituality is through discussion and exploration of healthy alues because in my opinion, healthy values will lead to the sacred within a given person’s life.  Heroin addiction reduces the entirety of a person to a single point of value: heroin and it’s imperative that healthy values emerge that can replace the heroin’s value.

Again, there’s no magic bullet that can heal everyone, but, I do recommend that all treatment programs address these three (3) layers in some form or fashion.  Heroin addiction is complex and isn’t a simple matter of not using heroin. Peace, light, and love to everyone.

3 things an opiate addict can do that might help her kick

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A while back, I got a call from a mentor with a GED program about a client of hers who needed help. The client was a seventeen (17) – year-old girl who’s addicted to Oxycodone. Anytime I get these types of calls, I can’t help but need a deep breath; opiates are a common enemy of mine and when the person they’re impacting is still a minor, I can’t help but lose a bit of neutrality. It’s sad to me that someone so young needs help to overcome an addiction to an opiate. Recovery is hard work and when the person who enters recovery is still trying to herself out, it makes the work all that much harder.

The good news, though, is that she recognizes, for whatever reason, that she needs help to kick. To me, it’s a strong indication that the person wants to get clean; if she…

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There are NO shortcuts for addiction Recovery

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Beware: This message may offend you…

One of the harder aspects of trying to treat addiction and substance abuse is that sometimes people want me to have answers that are somehow easy and/or guaranteed. But, every time I take on a case or follow-up on an existing case, I learn more and more just how much people want someone else upon whom they can either project responsibility or place blame. Here’s the thing, though: I’m not here as a lightning rod to displace the negative emotion that accompanies substance abuse. I’m here, in my opinion, to teach the mechanics of substance abuse and substances, and to also teach tools for coping with those mechanics, once understood. But I can’t teach what someone isn’t willing to learn and to learn, ultimately, means to process and use the information I teach.

I get asked questions, all the time, about things to do…

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Why should you explore the space between your ears?

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So, I’ve begun teaching a writing class (can’t disclose where) that I call: Exploring the space between your ears.  The point of this course is to lead addicts through a series of reflective writing exercises such that they learn to “own” the space between their ears (you know, their thoughts, emotions, etc.)

It’s like this: cave exploring is a generally lightless experience.  It’s probably a bad idea to explore a cave without a flashlight.  What’s an even worse idea is to dive into a cave without an idea of where it leads and how much room there is to navigate and move around.  Yet we tend to live our lives without knowing where the space between our ears leads.  We don’t explore that area enough, and when we do, we usually find things there like self-doubt or fear.  For some, the space between their ears holds unearned shame which then leads to other dark places from which people can’t escape.

Substance dependency further clouds that space between the ears because all it leads to is more substance use.  For those addicted to drugs and alcohol, the space between their ears isn’t theirs, really; substances of abuse hijack that space such that people can’t even explore that area because all they’ll find is a never ending desire for MORE….

That’s where the class comes, in – at least, the hope for this class is that participants learn to both explore that space between their ears in a safe and creative way so that they can wrest the map away from substances’ clutches and create their own map to a healthier place from which something good and strong and beautiful can emerge.

Since no one can know anyone else’s space between their ears and I since want everyone to get to know their own, I’m sharing the exercise through which I led the class.  I asked the participants to answer:

Have you ever done something that you didn’t understand? In looking back at your behavior, why do you think you acted as you did?

(an aside, this exercise comes from my book, “49 Tips and Insights for Understanding Addiction”)

The class found value in looking inside the space between their ears and I think it was a good introduction for them to reflect on their behaviors that they may not have understood when they first acted as they did.  As a matter of fact, their general responses showed real thought and I would even dare to say that they gained some valuable information that they can use along their path towards Recovery.  I offer this same exercise to anyone: Really dig in to the space between your ears, addict or not, I can safely say you can learn about yourself in a very deep and real way.  Good luck and safe travels down the rabbit hole that can be our innermost thoughts….

Visit Il Vicino on April 12th to support a worthy cause

So, my alma mater and my son’s track team are working with Il Vicino in Santa Fe, NM to raise some money.  St. Michael’s high school is a private, Catholic school based upon the LaSallian traditions and principles:

  • Concern For the Poor and Social Justice. We are in solidarity with the poor and advocate for those suffering from injustices.
  • Faith in the Presence of God.
  • Quality Education.
  • Respect for all Persons.
  • Inclusive Community

For those who know me, those are basically my own guiding principles and if I’ve EVER guided ANYONE to a healthier version of themselves, it’s only because of the LaSallian tradition in which I am so deeply steeped (my BA and MA are also from a LaSallian school).  But really, the track team is finally on par with other schools, as St. Michael’s completed a rebuild of a track that was dilapidated and really not worthy of a track team.  It had been that way since the school’s move to its current location; I myself ran on that sub-par track and i can say that now that the track is complete, the team can compete on a state level.

However, there’s still work to be done and it is my personal dream to see St. Michael’s host a track for the first time in history,  This summer, I’d visit the track and take pictures of the construction’s progress (pics below) and I did so with deep pride and satisfaction.  Although many people in Santa Fe believe that St. Mike’s is for the “rich kids,” that is FAR from the truth.  I came from a tough neighborhood and by all statistics, I should have been a casualty of my circumstances, but my parents struggled to send me and my sister to St. Mike’s and it has made ALL the difference.  I send my son there and from both a parent’s and and alum’s perspective, St. Mike’s makes a difference for ALL who attend, regardless of their families’ financial circumstances.

Therefore, I urge everyone to visit Il Vicino on April 12th and mention or bring this flyer: SMHS.IlVicino.Flyer.  When you do, Il Vicino will donate 20% of the bill to the St. Michael’s track team.  Please support a worthy cause!

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Maybe I’m too old and tired, but my story hasn’t ended yet

One morning, I was eating with a colleague who was trying to encourage me to take on a certain project.  I was hesitant; his pitch seemed a bit off to me.  There was something missing and I wasn’t exactly trusting his idea because our current efforts were flailing.  “Look,” he said with a seriousness that was perhaps a bit much for the circumstances.  “You might know a thing about how things are going, but you have no idea how the story ends, yet.”

His words struck me, but not because of our work, but because in terms of my own life, I’ve been kinda wondering what the next stage looks like.  These days, I’m wondering whether I should renew my licenses; I just don’t know how much more I have to give.  The reality is that I’ve been in the substance abuse field for a quite a while and I’ve seen more than my fair share of suffering.  There’s a really good chance that I’ve seen MORE suffering than I can take….

But I still want to write and still believe that I have something to say; albeit with more doubt than I’ve ever had.  What’s strange to me is that now that one of my books has won an award, I wonder more than ever if there’s any impact from what I write.  I know I’m not supposed to be attached to outcome and that I should “fight the good fight” without an attachment to “winning or losing.”  The fight itself is supposed to the point, but I want to win.

Maybe that’s the problem: I want to win an unwinnable fight.  Maybe I simply don’t have what it takes to face my fight.  Perhaps I’m simply too old and tired to fight anymore.  I really don’t know.  What I do know is that my story hasn’t ended…..