Thursday, May 31, 2012

Barriers to Recovery persist, no matter your home run total

Every day after I get out of work I turn my radio to local sports radio in my car for the ride back home.   Although I am a die-hard Patriots and Boston Red Sox , I can’t help but identify and get wrapped up in Philadelphia sports talk radio because I understand the fans’ frustration towards their teams when they don’t produce or reach expectations.
Last week they were discussing whether or not Josh Hamilton (center fielder for the Texas Ranger) deserves a long-term contract after this year since his current contract is coming to a close.

To give you a brief history on Josh Hamilton, he was the first overall player drafted in 1999 and was one of the highest rated baseball prospects in years.  Active addiction derailed his early career and he didn’t see time in the Major Leagues until 2007.  From 2006-2009 he was clean, with a short relapses in 2009, and  early 2012.
The host of the show asked Philadelphia Philly fans if they would want Hamilton on their team given his history with addiction.  It didn’t even take me two callers to remember why I work to address the stigma that exists for people in recovery.

I sat in my car and heard a number of Philadelphia sports fans tear him apart saying they wouldn’t want him on their team because “the guy has demons” and has “too much baggage” and would become a liability to his team.   The way they portrayed him you would have thought Josh Hamilton was a serial killer rather than a baseball player.
 Just to put this into context a little bit, the Philadelphia Phillies organization right now has a terrible offense.  They can’t produce runs and are desperate for a big bat in their line-up.   

Currently Josh Hamilton leads the major leagues in home runs and runs batted in.  He even broke the record for total bases in early May, hitting four home runs in one game and a double.  Not to mention that Hamilton is a four-time All Star, and 2010’s most valuable player, winner of the batting title and for the past two seasons has lead his team to championship games. 
I remember reading a feature on Hamilton in Sports Illustrated years ago and watching him hit an amazing 28 home runs in the 2008 home run derby.  I wonder if anyone was thinking about his demons and baggage while they watched this.

I also wonder if anyone stopped to consider that because Josh Hamilton has faced his “demons”, or conquered barriers of stigma and negative public perceptions, and is living a career that is constantly under a microscope, that he is stronger and a better player as a result.  He is a man who relies heavily on his faith and has earned the respect of his teammates to a point that when the Rangers celebrate championship victories they refrain from shaking up  and spraying champagne, but choose to celebrate with bottles of ginger ale.

People in recovery from addiction and alcohol overcome barriers every day.  Some of these barriers include stigma, shame, lack of family services, funding, insurance discrimination, and not to mention many people in recovery may have criminal records making job applications harder than hitting four home runs in a single game.

Many people in recovery vote, take care of families, inspire others in recovery daily, write elected officials, advocate, have gainful employment, and go back to school.
It is time we highlight and elevate that recovery is a reality for millions of people, and that we can change the negative public perceptions about people in recovery by telling our stories and discussing these barriers together.

Many real life examples are out there.  Devin Fox, an NCADD-NJ Advocate, recently graduated from Rutgers University with a masters degree in social work, and also from the Rutgers Recovery House.  The Recovery House is a great example of removing a barrier for someone in recovery, meaning a safe and fun housing option existed on a college campus where alcohol and other drugs are prevalent at that age.Congratulations, Devin, to you and your family!

As a person in recovery since Sept. 6 of 2003, I can honestly say that life is better as a result and overcoming barriers has made me a stronger individual.
NCADD-NJ Advocates are planning a forum to discuss this exact topic at Ocean County College on Wednesday June 13th from 6-8PM.  For more information on the event click on the link below.

And as for Josh Hamilton…  I am sorry that the Philadelphia Phillies fans that I heard on the radio didn’t want him on their beloved team, but the way I see things, it is their loss.  Let him go to the Red Sox instead! 

By Aaron Kucharski 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Death does not get last word

The loss of a loved one, especially of someone young, can leave us at the brink of despair. So overwhelming is the sadness that some of us never find a way to see beyond the grief. The alternative is to resolutely explore the tragedy to find if some good can come of sharing it. This takes a particular strength, for it means having to endure the anguish of the loss with each retelling. The second of these choices was on courageous display at a recent legislative hearing as a number of fathers and mothers recounted the deaths of sons or daughters by overdose.

The issue before the Assembly Judiciary Committee that brought these parents to Trenton was expansion of the state’s Good Samaritan law, which would give immunity to people who call for help should someone in their company suffer a drug overdose. One can well imagine that those testifying would rather have been anywhere, doing anything else than what they were there to do: describe their children’s last hours and know at a core level that the proposal under discussion would have saved their lives.

One woman was clearly shaken at the prospect of sitting before the lawmakers and talking about her son’s overdose. She said under her breath that the legislators intimidated her. More daunting must have been the idea of going in front of a group of strangers to speak about something so personal and so raw that it racked her body. Yet she made her way to the witness table and did just that. She told the panel the stark facts, that instead of someone calling to get medical assistance for her son, “he was left alone to die without the help he needed.” The story embodies the cruelty of having one’s child die coupled with the knowledge that it was preventable.

A father who similarly lost his son followed. He also spoke about the 911 call not made. And after his son died, he recalled lying down with him and feeling the coldness of his body. That image left the hearing room stone silent.

This mother and father each buried a child, seeing the natural order of their world upended. Somehow, having gone through this, they not only did not withdraw but took responsibility for trying to rescue others’ children threatened by what had taken theirs.

Credit should also go to Assemblywoman Connie Wagner, one of the bill’s sponsors. She knows first-hand the experience of a parent seeing a child lost in addiction, but in her case not lost to addiction. At the hearing, she spoke about her son, who, after three separate 911 calls made when he overdosed, has found his way into stable recovery. The Assemblywoman knows well how fortunate she and her family were. She does not pretend to know the depth of loss the witnesses described. But with those stories brought before the legislature, it is impossible to think the Good Samaritan law will be denied in cases of drug overdose for much longer.

- Daniel J. Meara