Thursday, February 27, 2014

Let It Go: A Song about Avoidance

Elsa has some serious talents and abilities, but as a child she almost kills her sister, and then her parents die when she’s still very young.

She learns that emotions hurt. Love hurts. Caring hurts. Fun hurts. Family hurts.  She quickly learns to avoid feeling anything.  Avoid any connection, any closeness, any chance at vulnerability.  She must “conceal, don’t feel.”  “Don’t let them in, don’t let them see.”

Elsa has learned that all feelings are bad.  She has tried to keep herself isolated and alone while surrounded by people trying to love her.  Her sister tries and tries to get her to open the door – but Elsa can’t.  She can’t stand the thought of hurting Anna, or the thought of being vulnerable again.

What does she do when she realizes that avoidance doesn’t work?  That you can’t avoid emotion forever.  It builds and builds until eventually – it’s going to come out. 

And Wow does it come out.  When it does, it looks like it would for most neglected and abandoned kids who feel guilty for things that weren’t their fault.  They lash out with a horrific torrent of emotion that pushes everyone away.  They break all the rules.  All the things they cared for and loved end up getting smashed and destroyed as they run away.

Elsa doesn’t realize it but she has made her emotions only have two settings: High and Off.
She is either calm or in crisis.  She can’t be a little happy, or a little sad.  She has no range of emotions.    She is either holding everything in – or it’s all barreling out of her like a cannon. 

Her reaction leaves behind a broken family asking questions, begging for her to come back. Elsa’s never going back. The past is in the past.

Elsa lets it all go.  She’s now  “a runaway” but she doesn’t care.  She can’t keep loving those she left behind – it hurts too much. 

She thinks she’s free.  She thinks that now she has control.  The fears that once controlled her can’t get to her at all.

She doesn’t see that she has traded one version of isolation for another.  She hasn’t really let anything go.  She is still afraid.  Still isolated.  She still has no control over her emotions.  She’s just traded her stone palace for an ice palace.  She is still hurting those she loves, she just doesn’t have to see it.  She is still avoiding all feeling, still uncomfortable in her own skin.

“Let it Go” sounds nice as a song title or a slogan.  But in reality, it’s just as backwards and hypocritical as her life has been.  She hasn’t let anything go.  She hasn’t “become free.” She isn’t accepting who she really is, or freeing herself from other’s judgments.  She’s just trading one prison for another.

What she needs to let go of – is her avoidance.  She needs to feel, REALLY feel. Not just the happiness, but the sadness as well. She needs to let herself feel the joy, the heartache, the sadness, the love, the contempt, the appreciation, the guilt.  She needs to feel it all.  She needs to learn to accept feeling all those emotions.  She doesn’t need to enjoy them all, just accept that they are there, and be willing to feel them.

When she let’s go of avoidance – then she’ll have control.  Then nothing can hold her back anymore.  Then she’ll truly be free.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Book Review: FALLOUT

It’s all about perspective.

It took me 12 days to finish all 1890 pages of this three book series.

It’s a ride – it’s meant to be.  Reading these books is supposed to feel a little like an addiction.  They draw you in, take you high, make you crash, and show you the bitter reality yet gleaming hope that can be left at the other end.

This book continues “Christina’s” story, but from the perspective of her children.  As the author says “I chose to pull out of Christina’s point of view, into her children’s to give them a voice, and to give a voice to my readers who struggle with their own parents’ addictions.  I also believe the ultimate hope of these stories lies here, with the generation that can choose to break this cycle.” “[Meth] doesn’t only destroy the addict.  It tries to destroy everyone who loves him or her. Parents. Children. Partners. Spouses.  Friends.”

This book does not show the typical teenager’s life.  (Although sadly it is becoming much more common)
 It shows the life of the children of addicts.  The broken, the beaten, the abandoned.  The totally screwed up families that form from a meth addict with 5 kids from all different fathers who end up in all different states, some in foster care, some with grandparents, aunts uncles.  It shows the stress on the biological families, the foster families, and everyone else who tries to help or make sense of the shattered remains.

I work in a State-funded, child and adolescent mental health clinic.  Half the kids I see are in foster care.  Over half have been abused or neglected - and mostly by drug addicted parents.  

This book is just like the first two.  It is not sugar-coated, nor is it hyped-up to scare you.  It is simply accurate.  
Chillingly accurate.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Book Review: GLASS

If ever a book nailed addiction – it’s this one.

This is the sequel to CRANK, and it’s spot on.  I speak to meth addicted kids every day.  Today I sat down with a 16 year old girl at a drug treatment center and she saw my book and asked me “Is that the sequel to Crank?”
I told her the basic gist of the book.  “It’s the natural progression of a meth addict in Reno.  From user to abuser,  to having sex while getting high to then giving sex to get high, then stealing to get more money to get high, then becoming a dealer, then a bigger dealer, then selling to prostitutes to try to avoid becoming a prostitute yourself.”
She looked at me and said very flatly and honestly “Wow, I’ve been every one of those.”

That is the story of GLASS.  It is the real story of our teenage girls who decide to try “the monster" - methamphetamine.
It shows the human side of them.  Just like CRANK, it shows that they are not all bad.  They have good intentions, they want to get clean.  They still care for people, they have standards, and they have ambitions…until they get high again, or start crashing again.  Then the standards fly out the window, the good intentions are abandoned, and all ambitions are replaced with only one – STAYING HIGH.

The book shows those lurkers, those who can tell which girls are runaways, which ones need a hit soon, and what they are willing to trade in their desperation in order to get it.  It shows how messed up and confusing relationships get when you mix, love, meth, trust, sex, need, lust, and desperation.

It also shows what all addicts know, but pray they’ll be the exception.  In the end – you get caught.  The truth becomes obvious.  It all hits the fan, and the whole web of lies breaks to pieces as your shattered life comes crashing down around you.

My only complaint against the book (other than being graphic and disturbing) is that it’s written like it’s poetry and printed on 600 pages.  The book reads like a novel written in paragraph form.  It could have been printed on 250 pages and it would read the exact same way.  The printing now seems to be a gimmick the author employs to make the book “different” than others.
It’s unnecessary and now it’s just getting in the way.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Book Review: CRANK

Two weeks ago I saw this book performed as a stage play: Flirting with the Monster

It is the story of a 15 year old honor student.  It tells in poetic verse how she goes from first time user, to addict, to dealer. 

I work at a residential treatment center for teenagers with serious problems: drug use, cutting, suicide attempts, repeated assaults, etc...

As I walked the hallways this last week I saw at least three different kids reading CRANK.  I talked with one girl about the book: She told me she loved it because she could totally relate to the main character.
We then spent a half hour talking about what parts she related too, how she knew she should stop using, but she could never forget how amazing the drugs felt.  We talked about her progression from snorting to smoking, but she had never done IV.

I found that knowing the story gave me a window into the lives of the kids I work with every day. 

Do I recommend the book?
 - not to everyone.

The book is... well... real.  Yes it is fiction, but it is the most accurate portrayal I've ever read.  I talk to drug addicted kids every day.  I hear their stories.  I hear about who ran away from home, who ended up in prostitution, who was raped, who stole from their parents, who started shoplifting, who got pregnant, who gave the baby up for adoption, who got an abortion.

I hear about who's "only" using pot.  I hear the other kids laugh because they used to be the same way.

This book reminds me of so many teenage girls I work with - it scares me.  Many of them are poetic, many of them are very artistic.  This book reads exactly the way they speak.  I can hear them saying the words.  I can see them writing it. 

That's what makes the book so amazingly accurate, and so terrifying at the same time.  It's just too real.
It doesn't try to scare you.  It shows you the good and the bad.  It doesn't make the main character into a raging monster - it makes her real.  It shows her good side and bad, how much she wants to be the honor student she was, and how hard she tries to turn her back on meth, but she knows she can never really walk away.

The book is based on the real life experiences of the author's daughter.  The emotions, the stories, the hate, the rage, the fear, the sorrow, are all very real.... and it scared me to death.

Sadly - I'm moving on to read the sequel.  This is the life of too many teenagers today - and they need our help.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Book Review: The Talent Code

This book is like “The Best of Malcolm Gladwell” – but it’s not by Gladwell.

Daniel Coyle is the author, and he’s even better.

Gladwell is a great writer, and he is good at seeing things in a different perspective. But his greatest talent is in telling stories. Gladwells’ books are fun and easy to read.

Coyle is better at putting it all together. Coyle has taken ideas I remember reading in Tipping Point and Outliers and David and Goliath – and he puts it all together with the neurological study of myelin.

Yes, Myelin. The thing that get’s destroyed by the disease MS (Multiple Sclerosis). It’s the little layers of fat that wrap around every nerve in your body to make the signals travel faster.

Coyle explains how myelin is the basis of all talent, all great ability. There are no “natural born talents” or “geniuses.” It’s all about practice.  There are people born in the right place at the right time, with access to the right people and the right materials - but that happens to lots of people.  It's about the practice.

You need something to get a kid excited, otherwise they'll never practice hard enough or long enough. Then you need them to practice on the edge of failure, all the time. Always moving forward, always correcting, and always trying again.

He shows that all the best coaches, whether they know it or not, are helping develop myelin on the right nerves, in the right order.

Soccer coaches need to let the players try all sorts of different moves to be able to change tasks and maneuver new ways at any second. They need a web of myelinated nerves doing a thousand things at once.

A violinist needs precisely the correct movement every single time. The notes must be perfect. The violinist doesn’t need a web, but a direct myelin nerve for each note. Exact precision.

They all need to practice, correctly, for 10,000 hours to build up the myelin needed to become a star.

Coyle has visited the talent hotbeds of the world. From a shabby Russian tennis club that has produced more top twenty women than the entire United States, to a small poor British family that turned out three world class writers. From the small island of the Dominican Republic and all it’s baseball stars to Brazil and it’s soccer geniuses, to Korea and it’s female golfers. He has studied the great coaches, the great players – and he has found the secret.

It is not money, or equipment, or genes, or “natural ability.” It’s about Myelin. How do you grow myelin?