Spring, 2009. After the war on drugs? Scanning down the list of hits from an online search, I see this phrase and am stunned by the words. Long time meditation practices have taught me to notice strong reactions when they arise. Quieting the urge to click on the link, I realize a cool breeze of hope has begun to caress my mind. My heart is lifting; my blood pressure is dropping.
Did I miss some apocalyptic event? Who is behind such a thought? After a forty year war on drugs that seems to be chasing its tail? Everything shifts as excitement leaps forward and click.
Why do I care? My son, Jim, gone since 2003 – overdose. My brother Bill- killed when a friend was tweaking on crystal meth years before. My niece, Amanda, ended her suffering in 2010. It’s too late for them. Something has kept me researching and learning about this horrible disease when others tell me to let it be and go sit on a beach. No longer do I have to focus on finding treatment options, worrying about if or when the call would come or praying my heart out…so why do I still continue learning about the disease of addiction?
Am I looking to shake off mind numbing hopelessness and a sense of total failure as a mom? My research began to widen a year after Jim died. Like falling into a bottomless abyss I was overwhelmed by the breadth and depth of this problem. $75,000,000 is spent on drug research positions looking for candidates. The annual cost of the war on drugs to you and me is $41,300,000,000 according to the CATO Institute. To Read more, go to this website:
Who knew about the connection between the farmers in Tajikistan and drugs circulating in the US? Who knew about former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s failed efforts to rid sections of New York City from drug dealers before 9/11? With every local, state and federal resource available, nothing made a dent in the problem. Who knew about civilians and young boys being killed by cartels in Ciudad Juárez and El Paso resulting from the battle for turf? Why is Route 35 ideal for moving drugs deep into the heartland of the US and into Canada?
Have you ever heard of the Narcotic Farm in Lexington, Kentucky? It was the first prison/rehabilitation center specifically for addiction founded in 1934 (presently known as NIDA in Baltimore, MD). Substance addiction research in the US began within its grounds. Echoing off the walls of the Farm was some of the best jazz music of that time. Much of this information and more is generally unknown today.
In 2007 I began giving presentations to other parents and siblings who have lost
loved ones to the disease of addiction. My heart breaks at the denial and shame that
is present. Many fear being honest about the addicts suffering and the cause of their
death. Yet everyone wants to love and honor their family members. Shame thrives in
darkness; only light heals. No one should ever feel the need to hide the love of their
I started No Shame or Blame ~ Just Love®. These are wristbands given in memory of my children, and they are flying out the door. Perhaps these will help others find hope. Maybe they will be worn on the wrist of those suffering this disease. All need to know they matter!
Fifty moms, dads and siblings have gathered in Bel Air, MD. Struggling to keep their kids alive, they are tired and losing hope. Some are broke or mortgaged to the max. One man asks, “Why are you doing this? Why aren’t you sitting on a beach reading trash novels instead of talking to folks like us?” My answer is simple, “As long as someone suffers the disease of addiction, as long as a parent, grandparent and/or sibling struggle to save a life, I’m on a crusade to be part of the change.“
My husband and I were in a massive bookstore in Portland, Oregon. Tom spotted a compendium of well-known addicts and alcoholics. Just the sort of book Jim would have found. I had no clue – poets, presidents, business leaders, artists, entertainers, children of the well known. The toll of this disease is long and ever shifting like sand on a beach. This disease is an epidemic, growing worse instead of lessening. Efforts to re-educate about tobacco have successfully changed the landscape in usage. Today, prescription drugs lead the death polls along with life threatening fads like bath salts and smoking alcohol.
We launched the website Shatter The Stigma in early 2011.The site offers hope, dignity and education to those who suffer from the disease of addiction and those who love them. You can order wristbands, request prayers…no charge except for help with postage. Others share, too. Read an informative book? Find an organization making a difference? Come across an important news item? Posted for all to find!
An invitation crosses my desk. The CATO Institute is hosting a conference: Ending the Global War on Drugs, November 15, 2011 in Washington, D.C. Will a bereaved mom be welcome? Many are there as part of their jobs; where is their passion? I then met Howard, the COP on the Hill. He’s a retired law enforcement officer who supports decriminalizing drugs. He introduces me to others from law enforcement, the medical field and other parents like me – all pushing for legal changes, for humanity to be added to the dialogue.
As the speakers begin the dais comes alive with passion! There is a former councilman from El Paso, former DEA agents, journalists from Central America and Mexico, a former Director of Drugs from India, former Secretary of State George Shultz, and on it goes. This is a panel of distinguished speakers urging reforms to help save lives, to make the world a safer place, and to heal from an epidemic that continues to grow. Fed by fear, ignorance and greed, rather than science and heart, the war is a failed policy. Smarter, more powerful people than I care about this issue! They are not only from the US, this is a global initiative.
Too excited to sleep despite the long day, I pull out the 2009 report, After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation. The consortium who put this report together proposed a system so comprehensive and sweeping it seemed impossible. After a day spent with so many others working for change, maybe daylight is coming. Where can I see this in action?
Portugal! Discussed in many presentations, the best source to learn more about this is in the pamphlet: Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies. www.cato.org/events/drug-decriminalizationportugal what seemed a dream when I first read the 2009 report has actually been in place for over ten years in Portugal as of November 2011. Had I known, would I have taken Jim there to save his life? Would that have worked?
Everywhere I turn there are wonderful people working to make a difference. The focuses vary widely; all are important. Volunteer driven change is critically needed and groups are popping up everywhere trying to make a difference. I will do my part, too.
April 2, 2003. Tom, my brother Tim and I are leaving the last place Jim lived – a halfway house in Phoenix. Sitting for a while with the director and his assistant, Tom and Tim wait by the car. We’ve collected Jim’s things. Crossing the parking lot as the sun begins to set, I suddenly find myself…somewhere else.
A waking dream? It is night. I’m standing outside a large wooden door with a brilliant light above it. Next to the door is a sign reading, James’ Place. Curious, I open the door and my heart leaps with joy! Inside crowds of people are gathering, greeting each other with hugs and smiles. Behind them I notice a host of doors leading into what appears to be meeting rooms. A bell sounds and folks begin heading towards various doorways. I want to join in; the feeling of welcome and love is enthralling. As I step to the threshold of the heavy door, I’m suddenly back in the parking lot in Phoenix.
Shocked, upset and confused, I stumble. The guys reach for me and ask if I am okay. They look puzzled. I take the back seat as we head out of the parking lot. Drawing from what I had just seen, I make furious notes. We buried Jim the day before. Softly crying, I‘m not sure why. I was on the verge of entering a place of great love when a door slammed shut. What does this mean? For years I wonder if I’m to create something named James’ Place.
After ten years of integrating the losses, being with others who struggle for life, learning from so many, the answer is James’ Place Inc. We turn our energies into offering hope in the form of scholarships for recovery services for the disease of addiction. We work to open doors of healing to those who need access.
James’ Place just received its 501(c) (3) status from the IRS; this alone feels monumental. All the effort of organizing, collaborating, teaming with others kicks into higher gear as the real work begins.
Jim fought hard to live. As with other life threatening diseases such as cancer, diabetes or epilepsy, he found a way to have some great years before the disease won. Like all who suffer from this disease, dignity and respect are the rights of every human who draws breath.
Armed with respect, offering dignity to all, James’ Place Inc. continues to educate, raise funds and to partner with recovery programs. Others will change local and national laws, offer medical care and counseling – each group taking aim on that which is most important to them. Together we are all making a difference. We join our voices to the wave of reform and hope is now gaining momentum across not just the US but the world.
Our loved ones matter; so does our sanity and the future of generations to come. We salute all who are part of this massive wave of change. Wage hope!
Barbara Allen is Executive Director of James’ Place Inc. A former executive in the computer industry, she is a leadership coach and yoga instructor. Barbara serves on the Board of Directors for The Compassionate Friends and is active on many state and national councils for substance related efforts. She lives in Ellicott City, MD with her husband Tom and their yoga cat, Mr. Mestophiles. www.shatterthestigma.com