Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thoughts as I struggle to go to work.

There was an article in the Batavia Daily News last Friday, 11/13/09 which describes the deficits which GCASA is facing in 2010 and the curtailment in staffing and services which will occur to balance the budget.

GCASA is a private nonprofit agency which has contracts with State and County governments and since State and County governments are going through their own financial difficulties there is no ability to provide additional resources to provide services to help people struggling with substance abuse problems.

We live in a society where alcohol, tobacco, gambling, street drugs, and prescription drugs are glamorized and sold as the means to experience the good life. These advertisements and marketing strategies are, of course, lies because while these substances and activities can provide temporary enjoyment, their consistent use and abuse leads to disease and death.

While the breweries and distilleries and casinos and state lottery commission spend billions of dollars per year to convince Americans to use their products, there is very little spent to warn people of the dangers and to help them when their use turns to abuse and addiction.

Substance abuse kills hundreds of thousands Americans a year. Two of my own children were killed by a three time drunk driver and so I personally know the pain and tragedy that substances cause our society. The man who killed my children was known as the "town drunk" and he had never had any treatment for his alcoholism.

The comments to the Daily News article are very disturbing for me and the GCASA staff. They indicate a contempt and disdain for the services that GCASA provides and for the patients that we serve. As a Psychiatric Social Worker I am well aware of the shame and humiliation which mental illness and addiction bring to patients and their families. Throughout history people suffering from these disorders have been ridiculed, vilified, stigmatized and humiliated. These reactions are what in psychology we label "projections" because we tend to attack others when we see what is most shameful in ourselves.

Any one who is willing to sit quietly for 10 minutes and just watch one's own thoughts and feelings will quickly observe how we each are full of lust, greed, hate, envy, fear, arrogance, and shame. We all have our weaknesses and what Carl Jung called our "shadow side". We hide it not only from others but most of all from ourselves but it is there and not repressed very deeply either if we are only willing to watch.

We live in an addictive society. We are addicted to our substances, consumerism, militarism, sex, eating, anything which will alter our mood and help us feel less scared, less depressed, less frustrated with the chaos and darkness we see around us. It is always a delight to find people who are willing to look into the darkness, call a spade a spade, take the ugly bull by the horns and with the help of others move toward the light.

What we do at GCASA at the superficial level is provide medical services to help people with their addictions and to help our society become aware of and deal with the shadow side of the culture, but at the deeper level we attend to people's spirit and help them become all that they were created to become so that they can realize their potential, create healthy more satisfying lives for themselves, and to help others.

It seems strange to be criticized and hated for this but even the existence of agencies like GCASA reminds us as Americans of our weaker natures, of our vulnerabilities, of more shameful problems, and it is understandable how those who would step forward to call attention to this and try to help would be feared and subject to the expressions of contempt and disdain.

The work we do at GCASA is honorable and noble work in spite of the lack of support and outright contempt it engenders. We will continue on as best we can trying to help and serve those who are in need. If the man who killed my children had had the help he needed with his alcoholism, my children today would be 22 and 25 instead of killed at 5 and 8.

What we do at GCASA among other things is turn pain and sorrow into understanding and hope, anger and shame into compassion and self respect, confusion and loathing into clarity and admiration.

I will go to work today because I believe in the work, to honor the memories of my dead children, because I know that there are people suffering who need a place to turn, and because there are many colleagues and volunteers who understand. They are silent in the comment section of the Daily News article for various reasons, but I know they are there and so it keeps me going.

Having worked in the field of mental health and substance abuse for over 41 years, I am in the last stretch of my career and life. I have seen many ups and downs and the support for mental health services and substance abuse services wax and wane on the political tides of our society. Overall, though, the treatment for people with mental health and substance abuse disorders is much better now than it was when I started at Kings Park State Hospital on Long Island back on 10/31/68. I think and I hope that I have helped.


No comments: