No Snark Sunday: Addicts

When our daughter was born we lived between junkies and a liquor store. It was a gorgeous apartment, the owners of the store were great people. We loved everything about it except for the constant parade of despair seeking one or the other (or often both) fixes.

It was pretty much a nightmare. Our stuff was always being stolen. Sometimes I’d be filling the coffee pot in the morning and look out the window to find people crashed out on our deck. The junkies in residence had literally burned down their previous house trying to convert the hot water heater to propane grill tanks because their natural gas had been shut off, so there was a constant fear they were going to do something similar and endanger us as well. Out on the street mothers left babies in hot cars to go inside and buy (they were selling). As for the booze crowd, there is apparently a thing where you buy two single Twisted Tea tallboys, chug one on the sidewalk, throw the empty into the back of your truck and then crack the other, putting it in the beverage holder, and then take off down the street. This is, like, a normal part of some peoples’ day. I saw this out my window multiple times a given week. I was a regular on the police tip line.

The sad part was, they were less obnoxious before they woke up.

“Daddy, there’s a man sleeping on our porch and he smells like tinkle”

It sucked. We moved.

So, given my experiences, I see a massive challenge for myself at least with our new compassion policy toward addicts here in Gloucester which we here at The Clam whole heartedly support. Namely: Some addicts are frequently really fucking annoying and even dangerous. I’m not blaming here, It’s a disease I get it, I’m just stating a fact. It is a pain in the ass to have people nodded out in your deck furniture and having to check for needles before you let your toddler go out and play in her own yard. It’s dangerous as balls to have blitzed dudes driving around in huge trucks.

What are we supposed to do with our anger and annoyance at the breaking of the social contract that comes with a highly visible percent of a group of people in the full blazing flame of their addictions?

I don’t have any good answers. I’m tremendously glad the police, as a matter of policy, are making a change. I hope beyond hope that those in need take the police and public health system at their word and get help and that it works, that folks get into treatment and their lives and their families lives and the life of our community are transformed as a result. This is a fresh start for us all and I and we here at your favorite snarkblog intend to put all our effort and energy into making the new system successful even past its inevitable hiccups as it comes on line.

But I’m still going to be pissed as fuck when my bike gets jacked at the train station for the fourth time so someone can sell it to one of the scrap dudes for just enough to score on. One of my favorite quotes is by one of the pioneers of quantum physics, Niels Bohr. He said, “The opposite of a fact is a falsehood but the opposite of a profound truth is often another profound truth.” Let’s apply it to this situation:

"I like to think my bike is there even if some jackwad stole it"

“I like to think my bike is there even if some jackwad stole it”

Derek Potocki was ensnared so tightly in the grip of his addiction he donned an absurd disguise and robbed a local bank in a generally safe, trusting community, apparently without any kind of even rudimentary plan to ensure his own success.

Derek Potocki is an idiot jackhole.

Both of these are true. People in the grips of their addictions do things they otherwise wouldn’t. Idiots in the grips of addiction do astoundingly stupid things involving false beards and running around town like some kind of whacked-out Papa Smurf until the cops nab them at the train station in what would make the lamest episode of “The Fugitive” ever.

This kid is heart

This kid is stealing…my heart

So, I’m asking myself, where am I going to find this compassion as the inevitable visible reality of addiction hits me in the face when I’m least suspecting it? I am most certainly going to dig for my better self, but I have to admit I don’t feel an increased need to tolerate the nuisance or dangerous behavior caused by addiction, plain old garden-variety uncaring  stupidity or the all-too-prevalent cocktail of both. I have compassion for addicts as human beings. But I have none for behavior that makes my town feel like a shithole or endangers others. It’s just that simple.

My fervent hope is that the new policies and support systems provide actually less of an excuse for chemically-induced dubmassery as now there is a place where addicts can go for support and thus even less call to steal a bike or rob a bank or pass out on the bench in front of Clammedia Tower surrounded by Dunks cups and sandwich wrappers.

So with that hope in place I’m going to do my best to make this work. I commend everyone involved especially Chief Campanello . It’s not going to be easy and we can’t give up. I want to break the back of addiction in Gloucester and move on to our future, which I know is bright.

Because what we’re doing now clearly isn’t working.


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  1. Fuck, Yes. This.

  2. I have a place in my heart for Gloucester, my mothers’ ancestors are from Gloucester, I lived for two years in the 70s in Gloucester, I live during the summer in Essex on the West Gloucester line, and yet, I am happy not to live in Gloucester. I live in Dover, NH where we are having significant drug problems of our own, along with Portsmouth NH. My town is, also, working hand in hand with the Police Department and the local hospital to try to help people overcome their drug habit.

  3. Pamela Campbell

    Jim, what you describe is a seething factor beneath the surface in many a household on this Cape, and goes back many generations–long before heroin, there was plain corrosive booze, but always there have been families, community members at churches and the big places of business like Gorton’s the hospital, Varian, etc; merchants, neighbors, in-laws, newcomers, all the warp and woof of a small community like this, being betrayed and hurt and somehow affected by the behaviors associated with addiction. It has left this anger and annoyance you speak of in almost ever sector, burning bridges and trust, causing many an extended hand to be withdrawn no matter how much love and compassion and even identification is genuinely extended. In the recovery community, as well, there is anger and resentment at heroin addicts who turn to methadone instead of the “real” recovery of total abstinence; sometimes, in the same family, there is resentment toward an addict attempting to stay “clean” with methadone (one must use those quotes no matter how real it feels to be using methadone instead of heroin and free of the needle and mad lifestyle but not the need for a drug)–the city is always a hair-trigger away from many a heated argument started by the addict, even if that was in 1968 (or, with booze, centuries before that). I used to hear “I grew up in a dysfunctional city” instead of family at workshops I attended when I worked in human services, talking about Gloucester, and it always brought laughs, but it is so true. IMHO there is much more to this than what our enlightened police chief has proposed: attached to his policy is an expectation of willingness on the part of addicts to accept the help, and that is by no means a given. We cannot be naive enough to believe this is all the city has been waiting for–an enlightened police chief willing to call addiction a disease–because the very next villain after the need to use is the unwillingness to stop. Every family, agency, doctor, friend, husband, wife, child, parent on this island who has dealt with an addict knows that. In effect, what we need here is an entire community willing to learn from Al-Anon and act on Al-Anon principles: to learn how to set the limits in our own minds of what can and can’t be up to us. Your anger, mine, everyone’s–that’s ours. We’ve earned it. We can let it be corrosive inside or we can put it to use as resistance to the excuses that are bound to come after treatment, if treatment is accepted: now you have an alternative to jail. Use it. Get sober. Ask for help. Go to meetings. Be alive, and be responsible, just as the rest of us are trying to be. Illness is not a ticket to abuse of others.

  4. I commented on the first post about the Chief’s new plan, and that was to eliminate the language of contempt around this: junkies, addicts, staying clean, etc.

    People suffering from drug dependence and addiction get to that point from all sorts of places. This isn’t a disease of moral failings, rather, its a disease of altered brain function which drives behavior.

    Second, compassion often gets conflated with excusing harmful behavior. Explaining criminal and socially unacceptable behavior isn’t excusing, it. The Chief’s mission is twofold here: get people with drug addictions immediate, voluntary and effective help, and also to continue to hold people accountable for criminal and illegal behavior.

    It takes an average of 66 days to form and solidify a new habit. Do you know of any substance abuse treatment programs that come anywhere near that long?

    What is helpful is to make it easiest for people to do the right thing: make sure recovering people have places to go to without triggers, make sure they have a steady supply of fresh, whole, nutritious food, safe shelter, some sort of meaningful work (structured and supervised, voluntary or paid), and people available to call on to get through the rough patches – coaches and friends, healthcare providers and community agencies.

    Substance abuse and dependence is characterized by remissions and relapses – as are diets, exercise routines and every other type of new wellness behavior we all take stabs at. The best we can do when it happens to us is to acknowledge the laps and get right back on the path. When it happens to others, we can continue to offer support through recovery.

    I’ll ask again – please interview the chief and ask about future plan to investigate, charge and prosecute criminal behavior around substance abuse.

    How does he see people asking for help re-entering Gloucester society – OK – no high falutin’ words – townie life? What would he like the citizenry to do?

    I’ve taken care of patients with all sorts of addictions, dependencies and unhealthful behaviors (smoking through a tracheostomy while on oxygen seemed to have my name on it). I can empathize with the suffering without condoning or facilitating it, even when it leaves the person looking and acting ugly.

    Hope you can relate to some of this. Your points are valid and well taken.

  5. Pamela Campbell

    I tried to go in and add/subtract/edit but could not figure it out. As a matter of fact the very first post-op patient I ever took care of in nursing school had the following order WRITTEN for when he awoke: “May have cigarette per tracheostomy with supervision.” I totally agree with you that the greatest obstacles to sobriety on Cape Ann are not having enough time and intensity of overnight treatment away from access to drug of choice, and safe and numerous options for spending supportive sober time back in the community once discharged. It is especially true of heroin addiction, because many people become as addicted to the behaviors of finding and making surreptitious connections and buying as to the drug itself, and those habits do not go away easily. The irony is that this issue is a very old one here, has undergone countless high-cost attempts to turn it around before this, and still needs the multiple, well-staffed program approaches and post-discharge community supports you mention, but comes at us now in a climate of hatred toward nearly everyone in need. I certainly don’t mean to suggest we should not be compassionate about how difficult it is to be newly sober on this island; God knows it’s uphill no matter what. But we must acknowledge the depth and breadth and duration of anger and resentment in this community that it is based on real and terrible experience; that needs attention and intervention too, not just scolding and shaming. I doubt there’s anywhere on the planet as well-informed about heroin addiction as this one! What’s needed IMHO, as much as a plan to divert addicts to treatment, is an attempt to “treat” that.

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