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The Streets of New York

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“This is a powerful collection of photos that truly reflect the outcome of drug use in on the streets of New York. While the pictures speak a thousand words, the accompanying descriptions shed more light on the individuals stories— although its more like a darkness. Chris Arnade is an inspirational photographer whose courage and curiosity drives him to meet hundreds of people who are suffering with addiction, poverty and what is typically seen as poor life decisions such as prostitution. You can visit his website to view more of his heart-breaking and thought-provoking work.” -Enjoy, Robyn

Chris

Chris

Chris Bishop was drinking in front of a liquor store when we met. A resident in the local homeless shelter, he told me the following: At the age of 13, Chris killed his father, stabbing him with a knife after a childhood of abuse. He spent the next 18 years in correctional facilities. ‘When he was drunk and mad he would hold me out the apartment window and threaten to drop me to the street, eight floors below. He beat me and my mother all the time. I have been drinking ever since. To forget.’ When I asked how he wanted to be described, his eyes teared up and he said, ‘I am human, like everyone else.

Vanessa

Vanessa

Vanessa, 35, had three children with an abusive husband. She ‘lost her mind, started doing heroin,’ after losing the children, who were taken away and given to her mother. The drugs led to homelessness and prostitution. She grew up on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, but now spends her time in Hunts Point, ‘trying to survive every day. Just doing whatever it takes.’ She was standing on the cold street corner looking for business, wearing only flip flops and smoking with her two friends. When I asked her how she wanted to be described, Mary Alice jumped in and said, ‘She’s the sweetest woman I know. She will give you the shirt off her back, if she has one on.

Beauty

Beauty

“Beauty, 21, was born and raised in Oklahoma, and was brought to New York City by a pimp who promised her she could ‘make some mad money.’ She has since had nine pimps. ‘I have been through nine nigg*s. Got my first black eye from one, another punched me in mouth, but this guy is good to me.’ Her mother was an addict. ‘She started using crack. That’s when it all started, the walls started coming in on me. Now she is incarcerated. I can’t blame my mom, she’s my mom. I smoke weed, but not crack. I don’t like that peppermint burning smell. I want to get out of this stuff, but I am scared. I guess I could stop at any time. Some of the guys tell me I could be a model. Money wise it’s good, but otherwise, fuck Hunts Point. Maybe I can become an RN, or go into childcare.’ When I asked her how she wanted to be described, she said, ‘I’m a good person. I don’t like to see anyone down. I like to make people happy.'”

Luis

Luis

“I call him Luis, but I am not sure. Luis is unable to do more than mutter a few words, often breaking down in tears. He refuses to go to the local shelter or methadone clinic, sleeping instead in various spots, spending his waking hours bumming cigarettes and panhandling in front of bodegas. I worry that my pictures put a happy face on addiction. Photos cannot capture the pain, suffering, and destruction wrought by heroin, crack or in this case, whiskey. Sometimes it requires smoking a cigarette with a sobbing incoherent drunk to truly remind you what loneliness and addiction can do.”

Clarence

Clarence

“The ‘brickyard’ is a vacant lot on an otherwise industrial side street in Hunts Point. It’s where many of the local addicts spend their time, gossiping and smoking. They bring their carts filled with what they can collect to sell to the adjacent scrap metal shops. It’s where I found Clarence, who has lived for 40 years in Hunts Point since moving from North Carolina as a teenager. I spoke with Clarence, a former truck driver, for a long time. He told me all that his addiction has wrought: job loss, homelessness, health problems. Never once did he sound angry, bitter, or depressed.”

Sonya

Sonya

“Sonya lives on the top floor of an abandoned building with her husband of ten years Eric. They left Rhode Island in pursuit of drugs, settling in Hunts Point five years ago. Eric said, ‘This is the only reason me and Sonya are in Hunts Point, because this is literally right now the best heroin in all of New York City.’ Sonya left her husband and family after being turned on to heroin by Eric. ‘I wasn’t addicted to drugs until my 30s. Before then, I was a normal person, meaning I wasn’t a fucking junkie. I lived in Rhode Island and had a family. I was a soccer mom. I always kind of knew I was a heroin addict. I always knew not to fuck with heroin. I always knew it was the drug for me. It just makes you feel good. And when you’re feeling bad, having a magic button is kind of a great thing. Unfortunately the magic button is also a stupid button because it comes with a lot of consequences. I am happier in some ways than I’ve ever been in my life. But I’ve lost so many things. I want to get out of my addiction but in some ways it’s made me grow a lot. And I think I know now how to live more than I ever have.'”

Supreme

Supreme

“Supreme saw me taking pictures and asked to be photographed with his dog Obama (yes, Obama). I asked him why he was giving the camera the finger, he said, ‘Thats for people judging who I am.’ I said, ‘Who are you?’ He said, ‘A doped up junkie.’ I told him I post the pictures online and write a short description. He said, ‘I ain’t mind people knowing what I do or who I am. Its me.’ Supreme and I chatted awhile more; despite the finger he was happy to talk.”

Egypt

Egypt

“Egypt, 38 and homeless, was 14 when her mother, an addict and prostitute, put her out on the streets. She has been working the streets, in the Bronx, addicted to heroin and crack, much of the time since. While telling me her story, she started crying. She was high, having just shot crack. ‘Mix it with lemon juice. If you do it with water you will be fucked up. Abscess, dead.’ She noticed a beat up alley cat wandering. ‘That cat’s how I feel. I really do. I didn’t come out here to fucking cry. See, that cat needs a hug. I get that. He wants somebody to love him. Saying, ‘Don’t touch that,’ is like saying not to touch me.” I apologized for making her cry. She said, ‘I didn’t cry. There’s no time for crying out here. If you cry, you’re a pussy, and you can’t let them do that to you. You can’t let them see you cry. You can’t show your weakness. I’m a cancer. You scrape us off and we come right back. But we’re curable. It’s only as hard as you make it. If you think you can change, if you know you can change, you can. If you set your mind to something, that’s what’s going to happen. You have to want it. You can’t have someone else want it for you.'” Original Images and Descriptions by Chris Arnade.

The Pink Cloud

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Many people like to criticize a person who is in early recovery and flying high on their ‘pink cloud.’ This is a word used to describe that possessive positive feeling when your in the first months of  recovery. I know a lot of people say I am sitting on a pink cloud. They like to remind me that relapse is possible— as though they don’t think I know that! I absolutely hate when I am in a meeting, smiling wide and so excited about my bright future in sobriety and someone glares me down, rolling their eyes at my optimism. I understand they’ve most likely ‘been there and done that’ but whats wrong with being happy for me and encouraging more excitement?  Is too much positivity a bad thing?” -Robyn

pink cloud The Joy of Recovery

Getting free of drugs or alcohol is something to celebrate. Addiction destroys lives and escaping this hell is certainly a wonderful achievement. Enjoying the freedom and newness of early recovery is to be encouraged. It is a time for waking up to the possibilities of life and benefiting from improved relationships with friends and family. The nightmare is over so there is plenty to smile about. Sometimes though, the newly sober person can feel so good that it becomes dangerous.

People may feel exceptionally good for weeks, or even months, in early sobriety. This pink cloud period is undoubtedly enjoyable, but it can also be risky. Some will come back down to reality with a bang, and that can be painful. It can also lead to overconfidence which could put people at increased risk of relapse. The individual is feeling so good that they fail to do the things they need to do to stay on track.

The Pink Cloud Defined

Early recovery is often referred to as a rollercoaster ride because it involves a mixture of great highs and great lows. Emotions that have been anesthetized with alcohol and drugs suddenly awaken, and feelings can be particularly intense. As the body and mind adjusts to this new life, there can be rapid changes in mood. There will usually come a time though, when the individual hits a smooth patch. Life will feel wonderful and the future exceptionally bright. Staying free of addiction now feels effortless and the individual may wonder what all the fuss was about.

The term pink cloud tends to be used negatively to describe people who are too high on life. They are individuals who have lost touch with reality and are now living in a fantasy land. The emotions that this person is experiencing do not properly reflect their actual situation. The pink cloud syndrome in addiction recovery was first described by Alcoholics Anonymous.

The Dangers of the Pink Cloud

It might seem odd to claim that there would be any disadvantages to feeling good. The addict may have spent decades battling their problem so it seems reasonable that they should get to feel great now. While it is true that life in recovery should be about enjoying life, there can be problems if people become too confident and complacent. They may conclude that their problems are over, and that there is no need to do anything more to maintain their sobriety. There is also the risk that when the pink cloud period ends, it will lead to huge disappointment.

Relapse is most likely to occur during the first few years of recovery. It is particularly likely to happen during the first few months after leaving rehab. The most usual reason why it occurs is that the individual stops putting enough effort into staying free of addiction. They start ignoring their problems and stop asking for help. The relapse process describes how people begin the road back to addiction as soon as they hit a point in recovery that they fail to get beyond. The risk then is that those who are on a pink cloud may feel so confident that they become stuck.

If an individual experiences a particularly pleasant period in recovery, then it can be disappointing when it ends. Life is full of ups and downs, and nobody can stay up forever. Emotions eventually settle down as the body adjusts to recovery, and the highs and lows become less intense. The individual can respond to the end of the pink cloud by assuming that they have done something wrong. They can begin to lose faith in those tools that have been keeping them away from alcohol and drugs. They may even start to question if recovery is that worthwhile after all. People can feel cheated when the super highs of early recovery are replaced by more modest emotions.

Criticisms of Pink Cloud Syndrome

There is no denying that people in early recovery do tend to experience periods when they are emotionally high. There are undoubtedly risks associated with feeling overly confident, and the comedown can be harsh. The main criticism against pink cloud syndrome is that it can be used negatively to describe people in much the same way as dry drunk is used. This could mean that the individual feels guilty about experiencing positive emotional states. The problem is not feeling good in recovery, but with staying on track.

Shake it Out by Florence and the Machine

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If your ready for a real recovery song, than this is it. Not only does Florence and the Machine have an incredibly strong vocalist but they have an incredibly strong message with this song. Seriously, just read the lyrics while giving the song a listen and you’ll know what I mean. My favourite line is, “And I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t. So here’s to drinks in the dark at the end of my rope And I’m ready to suffer and I’m ready to hope. It’s a shot in the dark aimed right up my throat Cause looking for heaven, found the devil in me.” I interpret this as the struggle we face when we first try putting down that drink or drug. Then coming to the realization that it’ll never get better if we don’t give ourselves a chance. There will be downs but we must look for hope because looking for something as good as that first high only brought these tears, these fears, into our lives.

Lyrics:

Regrets collect like old friends
Here to relive your darkest moments
I can see no way, I can see no way
And all of the ghouls come out to play
And every demon wants his pound of flesh
But I like to keep some things to myself
I like to keep my issues drawn
It’s always darkest before the dawn

And I’ve been a fool and I’ve been blind
I can never leave the past behind
I can see no way, I can see no way
I’m always dragging that horse around
All of his questions, such a mournful sound
But tonight I’m gonna bury that horse in the ground
Cause I like to keep my issues drawn
It’s always darkest before the dawn

Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh woaaah!
Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh woaaaah!
And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back
So shake him off, ooh woah!

And I am done with my graceless heart
So tonight I’m gonna cut it out and then restart
Cause I like to keep my issues drawn
It’s always darkest before the dawn

Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh woaaah!
Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh woaaah!
And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back
So shake him off, ooh woah!
And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back

And given half the chance would I take any of it back
It’s a fine romance but its left me so undone
It’s always darkest before the dawn

Oh woah, oh woah!

And I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t
So here’s to drinks in the dark at the end of my rope
And I’m ready to suffer and I’m ready to hope
It’s a shot in the dark aimed right up my throat
Cause looking for heaven, found the devil in me
Looking for heaven, found the devil in me
Well what the hell I’m gonna let it happen to me, ohh

Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh woaaah!
Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh woaaah!
And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back
So shake him off, ooh woah!

x2

 

Osho on Drugs

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Osho is a spiritual leader who has studied countless texts and spoken all around the world. He is known for his rather radical views of love and sex but he has more opinions than that! He brings up some good points about the use of drugs and addiction, though I must admit he kind of brings up some temptations too!

Uploaded on Mar 8, 2010
OSHO: About Drugs

Drugs! What a controversial topic — For or against? — Legalizing or prohibiting? Allowing or condemning? Here comes a profound insight on the subject… —

“Whenever you start stopping something you give great importance to it, and particularly to the youth. It becomes a provocation.” —

This video is available for translation as part of the OSHO TALKS Video Translation Project. — Join the project as a translator at: http://www.oshotalks.info — OSHO International Foundation: http://www.osho.com

Why We Smoke SO Much!

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” When I first started smoking, I thought I was cool. Then I stopped. When I picked up smoking several years later, it was a way to get high. Then I stopped.  It wasn’t until I found myself in recovery that I really started smoking like a chimney. My parents were concerned and frankly annoyed my this new habit. There was a sense of relief  however, when they discovered in their NAMI class (National Alliance on Mental Illness) that this was commonly seen in people who have mental disorders and addiction. So I went on their website and found the article that explains it all! So if your a smoker, you may relate to this bit of text! It does focus on mental illness but a lot of the information can be useful to all.” -Peace, Robyn

Smoking and Mental Illness

People living with mental illness have a very high rate of smoking. A study by The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that 44.3 percent of all cigarettes in America are consumed by individuals who live with mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders. This means that people living with mental illness are about twice as likely to smoke as other persons.

A positive note is that people who live with mental illness had substantial quit-rates, which were almost as high as the group without mental illness. NAMI has led many changes in our mental health system─getting access to the tools to quit smoking is a way to improve the quality and quantity of life. Improving lives is a new advocacy pursuit.

The Connection between Mental Illness and Smoking

There is no one single, certain reason why so many people who live with mental illness smoke. It may be a combination of brain effects, psychological effects and the social world in which we live.

From a brain-based perspective, research is being done to determine if and how nicotine is involved in some of the brain’s memory functions. If nicotine is a factor, then this could explain why so many people living with an illness like schizophrenia or other illness involving cognitive deficits may smoke. Even though smoking is thought to enhance concentration and cognition, the effects are short in duration.

Researchers and the medical community have a great deal to learn about how smoking impacts the brains of those living with mental illness. It is known that people diagnosed with schizophrenia often smoke before the onset of symptoms and that they smoke more often and inhale more deeply than smokers without schizophrenia.

While we still have a lot to learn about why people smoke, there is plenty of information to support the serious health risks of smoking. So while there may be good reasons why you were attracted to smoking, the key is to figure out ways to increase rates of quitting. Nicotine isn’t a health problem on its own, but when smoked and combined with hundreds of other chemicals that are present in cigarettes the practice of smoking is toxic.

Psychologically, all addictions soothe cravings. People often find themselves relaxed and less tense when their addiction is fed. This is true of cigarette smoking. Smoking can also be part of a social norm, one where people in your social circle all hang out and smoke. Some people who live with mental illness learned to smoke in a hospital or in group-living settings. These examples help illustrate how the mental health culture needs to move forward to reduce the tie between socialization and smoking.

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Facts About Smoking

People die from smoking-related illnesses. Every year, smoking kills about 200,000 people who live with mental illness. Smoking harms nearly every organ of your body and diminishes your overall health. Smoking is a leading cause of cancer and of cancer-related death.

Smoking also causes heart disease, stroke and lung disease. With the increased risk of heart disease from second-generation atypical antipsychotic medications (SGAs), individuals living with mental illness must try to quit.

Inhaled cigarette smoke is made up of 4,000 chemicals, including cyanide, benzene, ammonia and carbon monoxide to name a few. There is no safe tobacco product, so switching to a smokeless or chew product will not eliminate your risk of smoking-related diseases.

People are finally waking up to the fact that smoking is a true health hazard, and people need to quit in order to live longer. More psychiatric facilities are going smoke-free, and NAMI is advocating for access to smoking cessation in outpatient settings.

State mental health commissioners and state medical directors are committed to changing the way the public mental health culture relates to smoking. Check out their toolkit (http://www.nasmhpd.org/general_files/publications/NASMHPD.toolkitfinalupdated90707.pdf) to see what policy changes and strategies they are using to create a healthier mental health system environment.

Smoking’s Effects on Symptoms and Medications

Research shows that people living with mental illness do not have worse symptoms after they quit. It is understandable that this is a concern with quitting smoking. Quitting is hard work, and it may take many efforts to be successful. Be sure to get support, talk with your doctor, set a quit date and explore the tools for success (Link to tools for success section) that are available to help you quit.

If you are a smoker and you quit, you can usually get the same treatment results from lower doses of psychiatric medications. Smoking increases the breakdown of medicines in your body, so smokers need to take higher doses to get the same results as someone who does not smoke. Without cigarettes you may need to take less medication. An additional benefit is that a dose reduction will likely reduce side effects of medicines, such as weight gain and other side effects.

On Top of the World by Imagine Dragons

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After you get over the lows that you first experience in early recovery, something will start boiling up inside you. Its like a feeling of none other; a mix of excitement and pride. You might just say you feel your “on top of the world!” You’ve traveled a journey so uniquely embroidered with your own struggles and fears, but now look where you are! This is an awesome upbeat song that reminds you how you got in recovery and where your going. The catchy rhythm and lyrics keep you focused on a positive day, letting you know that things have gotten so much better than before. Check out the lyrics:

If you love somebody
Better tell them while they’re here ’cause
They just may run away from you

You’ll never know quite when, well
Then again it just depends on
How long of time is left for you

I’ve had the highest mountains
I’ve had the deepest rivers
You can have it all but life keeps moving

I take it in but don’t look down

‘Cause I’m on top of the world, ‘ay
I’m on top of the world, ‘ay
Waiting on this for a while now
Paying my dues to the dirt
I’ve been waiting to smile, ‘ay
Been holding it in for a while, ‘ay
Take you with me if I can
Been dreaming of this since a child
I’m on top of the world.

I’ve tried to cut these corners
Try to take the easy way out
I kept on falling short of something

I coulda gave up then but
Then again I couldn’t have ’cause
I’ve traveled all this way for something

I take it in but don’t look down

‘Cause I’m on top of the world, ‘ay
I’m on top of the world, ‘ay
Waiting on this for a while now
Paying my dues to the dirt
I’ve been waiting to smile, ‘ay
Been holding it in for a while, ‘ay
Take you with me if I can
Been dreaming of this since a child
I’m on top of the world.

Oooooooo… OoooAhhhhhOoooAhhhhh[2x]

‘Cause I’m on top of the world, ‘ay
I’m on top of the world, ‘ay
Waiting on this for a while now
Paying my dues to the dirt
I’ve been waiting to smile, ‘ay
Been holding it in for a while, ‘ay
Take you with me if I can
Been dreaming of this since a child

And I know it’s hard when you’re falling down
And it’s a long way up when you hit the ground
Get up now, get up, get up now.

And I know it’s hard when you’re falling down
And it’s a long way up when you hit the ground
Get up now, get up, get up now.

‘Cause I’m on top of the world, ‘ay
I’m on top of the world, ‘ay
Waiting on this for a while now
Paying my dues to the dirt
I’ve been waiting to smile, ‘ay
Been holding it in for a while, ‘ay
Take you with me if I can
Been dreaming of this since a child
I’m on top of the world.