The Lifelong Quest for Sobriety…The Ultimate Hero’s Journey—Part 53

Guest Blogger and long-time Council friend, Bob W. presents Part 53 of a series dealing with Alcoholism and Addiction from a Mystical, Mythological Perspective, reflecting Bob’s scholarly work as a Ph.D. in mythological studies.

The 2010 movie, Inception, portrays the activities of two thieves, Dom, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and Arthur, played by Joseph Gordon Levitt, who are “extractors,” performing corporate espionage using an experimental military technology to obtain information by infiltrating the subconscious of corporate execs.  They execute their craft by establishing a shared dream platform in their targets’ minds.  Dom has been successful in this practice to such an extent that he believes he can also embed information and ideas in targets to cause them to accept something or do something they would otherwise reject.  In fact, he has been accused of the murder of his wife because he embedded her with an idea that resulted in her demise, and he has been a fugitive of such crime living in various places outside the U.S. ever since.

In the firm, his beliefs in this regard approach the level of grandiosity, maybe even a growing grandiosity that is quite familiar to many of us inflicted with the disease of alcoholism.

A Japanese businessman hires Dom and Arthur to perform this advanced procedure on a business rival. This client offers to hire Dom with the promise that he can remove any connection Dom has with his wife’s disappearance and the alleged crime, allowing Dom to return to the U.S. and be with his children.

In the film, the evolution of the scheme to accomplish this feat becomes incredibly intricate and complex and there are many hiccups as they work through the execution thereof.  Dom has not been entirely straight with Arthur and the members of their team of operatives about the possible pitfalls of the procedure they have designed. As the movie unfolds, the complications become more and more intricate, but it is only in the clear headed advice and hard direction of Ariadne, another member of the team, that Dom finally makes the adjustments for the whole scheme to be successful. In the end, he achieves his best outcome and is re-united with his kids.

How fascinating it is that this particular team member is called Ariadne.  Played by Ellen Page, it is Ariadne who provides the path to the solution in the movie.  Ariadne was also the character in an ancient Greek myth, the daughter of King Minos of Crete who gives Theseus the means to kill the Minotaur and escape from the Labyrinth.  Ariadne had given Theseus a sword and a bunch of twine as he was being led into the Labyrinth to be eaten by the Minotaur.  Theseus used the twine (Ariadne’s Thread) to mark his course into the Labryrinth and the sword to kill the Minotaur. 

The Thread was then the means he used to find his way back to the opening.    DiCaprio’s performance in playing Dom, and the process of misinformation he uses to manipulate everyone, is very resonant with this alcoholic.  How many times in our disease did we create a complex web of lies and deceit to accomplish some idiotic goal that had very little useful purpose except to feed our disease…and how many times was there an Ariadne, and, ultimately, a group of Ariadnes, to guide us to the opening of an ultimate path to Recovery.

The Lifelong Quest For Sobriety…The Ultimate Hero’s Journey—Part 52

Guest Blogger and long-time Council friend, Bob W. presents Part 52 of a series dealing with Alcoholism and Addiction from a Mystical, Mythological Perspective, reflecting Bob’s scholarly work as a Ph.D. in mythological studies.

The ultimate tragedy of alcohol and drug addiction is that some sufferers never achieve long-term, committed sobriety.  The end for most of them is catastrophe, an ugly, untimely demise occasioned by incidents of devastation for friends and family alike.

In the multi-season cable TV series, Breaking Bad, Walter White is a highly qualified, timid high school chemistry teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His knowledge of physics, chemistry and the related sciences is extraordinary. But missteps and fear in his earlier life kept him from achieving wealth and fame in the high-tech business world, a series of conditions for which he harbored deep resentments against his peers who were successful.

Early in the series, Walter is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Over subsequent episodes this triggers a massive mind shift; occasioned by a surge of hopelessness and fear for his family, he develops a hard aggressive edge.  Meeting a former student, Jesse Pinkman, who is a drug dealer, he decides to use his chemistry expertise to manufacture an extremely pure and highly popular form of crystal methamphetamine.  With Jesse, he builds a successful illicit drug business, accumulates massive amounts of cash, and eventually becomes a person of some renown for his skill and ruthlessness throughout the Southwestern United States. This all happens over many episodes with fascinating subplots of death and devastation to people both closely, and remotely, connected to Walter. 

Another interesting element is that he remains anonymous through most of these episodes, even to his brother-in-law who is a senior DEA agent.  His street name becomes Heisenberg, recalling the German scientist who ran the Nazi attempts to build a nuclear bomb, the individual whose existence in the waning years of WWII created a fear that drove the Manhattan A-Bomb Project for the United States.

The process of Walter’s descent into such depravity, through so many episodes, seems a spectacular characterization of the descent of many of us into the deep dark terrors of alcoholism and drug addiction.  In truth, we became our own Heisenbergs within our families and the circles of our associates and friends.

On a few occasions, Walter attempts to remove himself from the business, but his success and renown, and the sense of power that it gives him, pulls him back.  He has become addicted to that sense of power and is unable to resist its pull. The addictive element of that sense is unmanageable…precisely as the addiction to alcohol and drugs became unmanageable to all of us in our disease.  This same addiction, this addiction to power, is also one that many of us felt in our earlier alcoholic lives; it may have even accelerated our own descents into the abyss.

But, tragically, Walter does not recover.  By the end of the series, he has destroyed all of those whom he believed wronged him in his life…and, more severely, he has destroyed everything and everyone that he ever held dear. It all becomes a grim reminder for all of us as to what could have happened if we didn’t get sober when we did.

The Lifelong Quest For Sobriety…The Ultimate Hero’s Journey—Part 51

Guest Blogger and long-time Council friend, Bob W. presents Part 51 of a series dealing with Alcoholism and Addiction from a Mystical, Mythological Perspective, reflecting Bob’s scholarly work as a Ph.D. in mythological studies.

There is a 1964 British war film about an 1879 battle between a British contingent of 150 men at Rorke’s Drift in the Natal Colony of South Africa and an army of 4000 Zulu Warriors.  It is set at the height of the British Empire under the reign of Queen Victoria at a time when the Sun truly never set on Great Britain.  In South Africa, the Zulu Nation was challenging Britain’s domination, and had defeated a major British force at Isandlwana just a week prior. The stories of these engagements as told on film were largely true and the defeat at Isandlwana was not only one of the worst in British history but a major embarrassment for the high command in London.

The British contingent at Rorke’s Drift was commanded by Lt John Chard, played in the film by Stanley Baker, and Lt Gonville Bromhead, played by Michael Caine.  It was Caine’s first major role.  Chard was a very practical, experienced engineering officer and Bromhead was an insufferable public school snob who resented that Chard was his superior, the result of the fact that Chard’s commission was just a few months earlier in time than was Bromhead’s. 

The battle lasted days, with multiple instances of near defeat for the British.  But the overall defense was brilliantly organized and commanded by Chard and courageously executed by all the men.  After a massive final assault by the Zulus and a long and intense barrage by the British which just kept beating back hordes of Zulu warriors, the Zulus just quit suddenly and left the region.  After a few hours, as the British were clearly away all the bodies, the entire Zulu force returned and, standing on the ridge overlooking the encampment, they voiced a chant of praise for the valiant British warriors.

The movie’s introduction, of the events at Isandlwana, and the summation of the achievements of the Rorke’s Drift defenders at the end, were beautifully narrated by Richard Burton, as only Burton can do.  The Rorke’s Drift success was cast as a truly bright shining moment in the history of British warfare.

But what strikes me most in this story, and its presentation on the screen, is the parallel I see with those of us who are achieving success in our ongoing battles with the scourge inherent in our addictive psyches. The initial efforts to stop the insane patterns of consumptive behavior were bad enough, but many of us also faced, and may still be facing, constant challenges to our sobriety, challenges that require a fiery vigilance and a deep resolve to repulse.  We are much like the soldiers at Rorke’s drift fighting so bravely and steadfastly to defend ourselves.

While there is no final victory over alcoholism or drug abuse for most of us, the cheering of our compatriots in our small daily victories and in our constant milestones in sobriety sound much like the Zulus in the praise and resonant esteem of their chants from the ridge at the film’s conclusion.

Meth’s Resurgence Spotlights Lack of Meds to Combat the Addiction

crystal meth

[By Carmen Heredia Rodriguez of Kaiser Health News, republished by permission.]

In 2016, news reports warned the public of an opioid epidemic gripping the nation.

But Madeline Vaughn, then a lead clinical intake coordinator at the Houston-based addiction treatment organization Council on Recovery, sensed something different was going on with the patients she checked in from the street.

Their behavior, marked by twitchy suspicion, a poor memory and the feeling that someone was following them, signaled that the people coming through the center’s doors were increasingly hooked on a different drug: methamphetamine.

“When you’re in the boots on the ground,” Vaughn said, “what you see may surprise you, because it’s not in the headlines.”

In the time since, it’s become increasingly clear that, even as the opioid epidemic continues, the toll of methamphetamine use, also known as meth or crystal meth, is on the rise, too.

The rate of overdose deaths involving the stimulant more than tripled from 2011 to 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

But unlike the opioid epidemic — for which medications exist to help combat addiction — medical providers have few such tools to help methamphetamine users survive and recover. A drug such as naloxone, which can reverse an opioid overdose, does not exist for meth. And there are no drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration that can treat a meth addiction.

“We’re realizing that we don’t have everything we might wish we had to address these different kinds of drugs,” said Dr. Margaret Jarvis, a psychiatrist and distinguished fellow for the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

Meth revs up the human body, causing euphoria, elevated blood pressure and energy that enables users to go for days without sleeping or eating. In some cases, long-term use alters the user’s brain and causes psychotic symptoms that can take up to one year after the person has stopped using it to dissipate.

Overdosing can trigger heart attacks, strokes and seizures, which can make pinpointing the drug’s involvement difficult.

Meth users also tend to abuse other substances, which complicates first responders’ efforts to treat a patient in the event of an overdose, said Dr. David Persse, EMS physician director for Houston. With multiple drugs in a patient’s system, overdose symptoms may not neatly fit under the description for one substance.

“If we had five or six miracle drugs,” Persse said, to use immediately on the scene of the overdose, “it’s still gonna be difficult to know which one that patient needs.”

Research is underway to develop a medication that helps those with methamphetamine addiction overcome their condition. The National Institute on Drug Abuse Clinical Trials Network is testing a combination of naltrexone, a medication typically used to treat opioid and alcohol use disorders, and an antidepressant called bupropion.

And a team from the Universities of Kentucky and Arkansas created a molecule called lobeline that shows promise in blocking meth’s effects in the brain.

For now, though, existing treatments, such as the Matrix Model, a drug counseling technique, and contingency management, which offers patients incentives to stay away from drugs, are key options for what appears to be a meth resurgence, said Jarvis.

Illegal drugs never disappear from the street, she said. Their popularity waxes and wanes with demand. And as the demand for methamphetamine use increases, the gaps in treatment become more apparent.

Persse said he hasn’t seen a rise in the number of calls related to methamphetamine overdoses in his area. However, the death toll in Texas from meth now exceeds that of heroin.

Provisional death counts for 2017 showed methamphetamine claimed 813 lives in the Lone Star State. By comparison, 591 people died due to heroin.

The Drug Enforcement Administration reported that the price of meth is the lowest the agency has seen in years. It is increasingly available in the eastern region of the United States. Primary suppliers are Mexican drug cartels. And the meth on the streets is now more than 90 percent pure.

“The new methods [of making methamphetamine] have really altered the potency,” said Jane Maxwell, research professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s social work school. “So, the meth we’re looking at today is much more potent than it was 10 years ago.”

For Vaughn, who works as an outpatient therapist and treatment coordinator, these variables are a regular part of her daily challenge. So until the research arms her with something new, her go-to strategy is to use the available tools to tackle her patients’ methamphetamine addiction in layers.

She starts with writing assignments, then coping skills until they are capable of unpacking their trauma. Addiction is rarely the sole demon patients wrestle with, Vaughn said.

“Substance use is often a symptom for what’s really going on with someone,” she said.

The Lifelong Quest For Sobriety…The Ultimate Hero’s Journey—Part 50

Guest Blogger and long-time Council friend, Bob W. presents Part 50 of a series dealing with Alcoholism and Addiction from a Mystical, Mythological Perspective, reflecting Bob’s scholarly work as a Ph.D. in mythological studies.

The 2018 film, A Star is Born, is the fourth remake of an original 1937 film about an aging star and a young new prodigy.  This one stars Bradley Cooper as Jackson Maine, a famous C& W singer, and Lady Gaga, as Ally, a struggling lounge singer whom Jackson takes to stardom.  The story is impeccably done by Cooper and Gaga; its power is in the truly profound impact it seems to have on many of us in recovery.  This recent version also tracks almost precisely with two prior ones, a 1954 version with Judy Garland and James Mason, and a 1976 version with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.

In this version, Jackson is a serious alcoholic and addict who stumbles into a back-street drag bar, desperately needing a drink between gigs;  he  finds Ally as a waitress who also sings in the small club venue.  The connection, both in the acting and in the energy Cooper and Gaga bring to the roles, is mesmerizing.  Predictably, and in line with its predecessors, they form a bond and perform together.  The bond leads to an affair of the heart.  Soon Ally’s career begins to take off while Jackson’s is continuing a drunken downward spiral.   

While Ally remains fully committed to Jackson, he becomes a major liability to her career.  He vacillates between loving attention to her and mean-spirited comments and abuse. Her manager does everything he can to try to keep Jackson away from Ally in various phases of her development and touring.  But Jackson’s drinking and drugging just keeps getting worse.  At the Grammy’s, when Ally goes up to accept the Award of Best New Artist, a falling down drunk Jackson goes up with her and, on stage, he wets himself and passes out.

Jackson does rehab and seems to be recovering, but the damage he believes he has done to Ally’s career and the constant pull of the disease lead him to a deep state of remorse and regret.  While Ally is singing at a major concert at which Jackson was to be present, he hangs himself in their garage.

It is interesting that this story seems to have a basic fundamental power…it has been told and retold in the span of generations over the last 80 years…with the players having the same general presence in their generations as Gaga and Cooper do here.  While, to this alcoholic, the option of suicide is never a valid one, there are untold examples where the bottom reached in a drinking life seems to present no other recourse to the sufferer.  It is a sad, sad, tragic reality.

How wonderful it is that many of us have been able to move beyond that point of “pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization” and put the probability of such a tragedy well behind us.  

The Lifelong Quest for Sobriety…The Ultimate Hero’s Journey—Part 49

Guest Blogger and long-time Council friend, Bob W. presents Part 49 of a series dealing with Alcoholism and Addiction from a Mystical, Mythological Perspective, reflecting Bob’s scholarly work as a Ph.D. in mythological studies.

In all these Notes, the fundamental core element is the idea of the Hero, the individual who journeys into the Underworld of her/his life to initiate a process of ongoing recovery from the ravages and horrors of addiction.  This is the same Hero that attends the core of thousands upon thousands of stories told in all the societies of the human experience all over the world. We have merely focused on it here in these Notes, seeing its parallel in the lives of all of us.

The recent DC Comics movie, Aquaman, is a tale of an undersea society of women and men living in many tribes, the center of which is the mythic world of Atlantis.  Atlantis was also a world of hubris that was created by Plato and other scholars and which, as a result of massive mythical conflicts, was eventually buried on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. 

Aquaman
Aquaman

The hero of the modern movie, Aquaman, was a crossbreed of the queen of the undersea world and a surface human, a lighthouse keeper who rescued her from near death on the rocks at the foot of his lighthouse.  This hero, Aquaman, is blessed with significant powers and, upon reaching adulthood, he is drawn into a conflict between the tribes of the undersea world.  He is charged with the mandate to restore order to this world. To carry out this mandate, he must journey to a strange and dangerous realm and retrieve a golden trident, a weapon which grants him a set of powers that approach invincibility. This trident will enable him to prevail over all others and to restore peace and prosperity to the undersea realm.

The parallel to other mythic systems, particularly to that of King Arthur of early Celtic lore, is clear and very powerfully done in Aquaman. As in King Arthur, the golden trident is akin to the sword Excalibur which Arthur, a seemingly common man of royal blood, retrieves from a stone and is elevated to the mantle of King. As King, Arthur leads the Knights of the Round Table, each of whom set out episodically on quests of chivalry, conquest and spiritual enlightenment.

Does all of this strike you as profoundly as it strikes me…that all of us in recovery, those of us who have truly committed ourselves to lives of responsibility, accountability and service, are heroes of precisely equal stature and power…all of us?  Our journeys to achieve levels of sobriety have the same elements of these majestic stories, from the explorations into the frightening darkness of our pasts to the glory of the milestones that we celebrate with our Fellows and through the service that we are challenged to provide to others.

As we look at all the great heroic stories of the human experience, all those stories that mirror the lives of so many of us, there is this heroic mantle that seems to have been laid upon all of us.  It is the grace of a Higher Power, a mantle which we all are mandated to wear, to work, to be of service, in small and large ways, to make the world in which we live a better, safer place.