April 11 Dreamland, An Awakening

This is Haley Paternoster. I didn’t know her but I see this mural of her every time I go to my son’s school. She overdosed on heroin a few years before he started attending there.

“The best way out is always through.” Robert Frost

My eyes were opened today. I decided to go see Sam Quiñones speak about his book, Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic at the African American Performing Arts Center this evening at 6:30PM. Except, I never got there. I listened to him speak on NPR. I listened to a couple of other interviews and read a synopsis of his book, all with the intention of being informed when I went to hear him speak tonight. After reading and watching the videos, I decided that I didn’t need to go see him live. Unfortunately, my First would be that I “kinda heard” this dude speak about his book. Listening to recorded interviews and not going to see him speak live and in-person didn’t sit well with me, but I still didn’t go. After watching, listening and reading, I needed time to process. I didn’t want to feel, remember, cry and be vulnerable in an auditorium full of strangers. So I went to my safe place instead: Hot Yoga.

This is my nutshell version of Sam’s years of investigative journalism (Cliff’s Starchild’s Notes):

We are all in pain. True dat. Sometime in the late 80’s/early 90’s Big Pharma (the pharmaceutical industry) decided that we needed to be a nation of medicated people because there is big money in it. We can split hairs on physical pain vs. emotional pain but whatevs.  Doctors started handing out prescriptions for opiate painkillers like candy. Literally, like candy. I’m sure you (or someone you know) have had a splinter removed and been given Oxycontin, Vicodin or Codeine. No joke. A nation of “legal drug” drug addicts was quietly being created. Meanwhile, some very motivated and enterprising folks in Jalisco, Mexico were creating a heroin delivery service that predicated itself on non-violence, brand identity, customer service and good, old-fashioned, “coming up” (money-making). The marriage of these two industries/infrastructures birthed the baby that we now know as the every-day addict: The Midwestern Mom, The Little League Dad, The Privileged Rich Kid, The Club Kid.

I am not going to tell anyone else’s tale here, just my own experience. Nope, I’ve never been a drug addict or gotten high off of painkillers or heroin, that’s not where I’m going with this. But make no mistake about it, drugs have wrecked my life. You don’t have to be the user for that to happen….

I’ve been on both sides of this fence. I worked as a pharmacy tech and turned away the strung-out grannies at the counter demanding their Morphine Lollipops screaming bloody murder when we wouldn’t fill their counterfeit prescriptions. I’ve seen the doctors that (I heard) earn tropical vacations for writing the scripts (legally and illegally). I’ve known guys in my ‘hood who supplied their moms drugs so they wouldn’t have to find her behind the dumpster on her knees getting them herself. Family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, baby-sitters, boyfriends, you name it, no one is immune. Live enough of life and you’ll meet and know, intimately, the people who buy and sell this precious commodity. None of this is news. And none of this is the reason why I didn’t go tonight.

Not to get all woo-woo on you here, but I’m about to get all woo-woo. Namely, what is this universal pain that everyone is trying to numb-out? It’s there, no doubt, we all just have our own way of putting it to sleep: drinking, drugging, shopping, eating, running, biking, swimming, yoga-ing, working, traveling, fighting, sexing. Don’t see yourself yet? How about gaming, porn, sleeping, failing, over-achieving, controlling, facebook-ing, instagramming, gambling, gossiping, too much TV, movies, computers, online dating? Not yet? Cleaning, praying, volunteering, being productive, being perfect. Yours is in there somewhere. Pain aversion is the most complex of human experiences. What are we really running from, though? I think it’s the one thing that is going to catch us in the end, no matter how fast we run anyway. Dying.


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