Completely Self-Serving Plug:  Improv Theater Training–February 2—Hope for NH Recovery, Manchester, NH

Each millennium brings with it an event so huge it changes the course of human history.

The first thousand years anno domini brought us the sack of Rome, with its joyous fires, picturesque streams of blood and a return to home rule.

The second millennium’s Black Death helped increase workers’ wages, reduce urban crowding and create a middle class.

This third thousand years brings the Hope Improv Theater.

The Hope Improv Theater comes into the world Saturday, February 2, from 12:30 to 5:30 with an initial training for actors.  We’re looking for enthusiastic folks with a hankering to change the world, spread recovery and have fun. Experience is NOT preferred, but a willingness to explore communication through improv theater is.

To sign up for this free training, please write me at keith@recoverynh.org or text me at (603)361-6266.

I love improv theater. When done well, it’s watching a juggler manipulate burning kittens on a high wire while wearing wet ice skates. When done poorly, it’s observing a group of stamp collectors arguing about the value of an 1851 Hawaiian Missionaries 2-cent stamp while wearing wet ice skates. I’ve been part of both, and want to help prevent philately in our time. Hence, the Hope Improv Theater (HIT).

We’ll use short-form improv scenes to educate the public about recovery, communicate the challenges of early recovery and, always, entertain. I spent five years running and acting with a national theater group focused on AIDS, teenage pregnancy and runaways.  This process is simple yet difficult to explain, so if you want to learn more, I’d direct you to Dorothy Oliver’s excellent monograph on the subject.

I look forward to hearing from you and seeing you February 2 at 12:30 at Hope for NH Recovery in Manchester.

 

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Shipbuilders of Sunken Vessels:  Quick Dispatches from the Belly of the Treatment Industrial System

A confession: although I’ve been clean and sober for 11 years, I didn’t go to a 28-day treatment facility. When I reached the jumping-off point, the spot where suicide made more sense than simply wishing for death, I was lucky enough as a veteran to walk into a VA facility and say, “I’m Keith Howard and I don’t want to be alive any more.” From that short sentence, I was detoxed off alcohol—my poison of choice at that point was stolen dollar-store mouthwash—and introduced to a program of recovery that remains central to my life.  After a five-day stay, I was discharged and told to go to meetings. I did. It worked and I’m here to write about it today.

“Here” is Los Angeles and my putative purpose is the Evolution of Addiction Treatment Conference, a five-year old gathering of treatment professionals. Apparently, four or five conferences are held each year in Cape Cod, Palm Springs and other epicenters of the addiction challenge. I used the word “putative” because I’m really here for the first West Coast Faces and Voices of Recovery Mid-Year Leadership Retreat, held concurrently with the treatment conference. Like Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Rancher and Cowman, treatment and recovery folks should be friends, although that’s not often the case, with treatment folks relying on a clinical model and recovery people favoring peer-based supports. In short, and perhaps unfairly to both, treatment partisans believe letters after one’s name are important while recovery supporters see lived experience as key.

Anyway, I’ve got a free morning until an afternoon-long leadership meeting, so I’ve been chatting with a variety of treatment professionals. Despite my introversion, I can strike up conversations with most anyone. Here are some quick impressions:

–Addiction treatment is an industry, and like all industries it needs to grow to survive. I had an interesting conversation with a marketing exec for a California treatment center where they’re broadening the treatments they offer to include “addiction” to smartphones and other technologies. While I’ve broadened my view of what the solutions to addiction can look like, I’m a bit put off by the word used to include every damn behavior. During our conversation, my newfound acquaintance told me “addiction” only requires two behaviors: 1) You sometimes do more than you’d intended to, and 2) you continue despite negative consequences. Thus the following are some of my addictions:

Poker

TV news

Stephen King novels

Peanut M&M’s

Conversations with marketing execs for treatment facilities

–I’ve been invited to be part of a focus group for a treatment facility. Not because I run a recovery center. Not because I’m an active member of a recovery program. Not because I’m from New Hampshire.

I’m invited because I’ve never been to treatment and that’s apparently a black-swan event in this field.

–Interesting conversation on data with the director of an Arizona treatment program. She believes follow-up phone calls to discharged patients after 30 days, 90 days and one year are an appropriate way to determine program success. Apparently these phone calls consist of asking the former patient whether they’re using and whether their lives are better. Her concern was that it’s hard to find people after 30 days, much less a year, and that her statistics were meager because of that. When I suggested the problem might lie in asking people with substance-use disorder to be honest about their usage, she looked at me blankly. I said I spent 30 years lying to people about my drinking and drug use. She responded that if that’s true, every treatment facility faces that problem so statistics are still comparable.

People lie at the same rate no matter who the questioner, so we can trust the results of these lies? Oh.

–Treatment folks I’ve talked with seem to think the 28 days users spend in treatment is the most important part of the solution to addiction. They’re very concerned about how to structure that time and what modalities to use, with little regard for the following 20, 30 or 50 years after treatment. In fact, there’s some expectation users will go through treatment multiple times. It’s like talking with representatives from the boatbuilding industry who are focused on the mechanics of ships and their creation while ignoring all the sunken vessels clogging up the harbor’s mouth. After all, those boats can be rebuilt in 28 days and sent out to sink again.

A Radical Moderate Take on Recreational Marijuana Use

 

Smoking marijuana is not a revolutionary act.  Finally, at 60, I understand this. You see, boys and girls, I started smoking weed in 1972 when I was 13, and the whiff of revolution—at least as defined by Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies—still hung in the air.  While I was going door to door for George McGovern, I also read Steal This Book, Revolution for the Hell of It and Woodstock Nation. Abbie and Jerry Rubin were my Marx and Engels, and they were one-hundred percenters when it came to the benefits of smoking weed.  Not only would it make The Who and Dylan sound better and mean more, it would help bring down the sexist, racist, imperialist government.  Lighting a joint was also poking Richard Nixon in the eye.

They were naïve, and so was I.

Smoking weed is simply smoking weed.

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Recently, through a chain of events too convoluted to explain here, I’ve been asked to opine on legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in New Hampshire. As a man in recovery from opiates, alcohol and a variety of other chemical solutions to life, I don’t use pot in any form.  Still, my first response was “This issue is outside my concern. I don’t smoke, although I know plenty of people who do without any negative consequences.  Likewise, I know opioid addicts who have ceased using that substance but continue to smoke weed.  More power to them.  Recreational weed use is, honestly, none of my business.”

My public and political position remains the same, but last night I had a chance to experience public recreational marijuana use. I didn’t much like it.

I’m in Los Angeles for a conference. After a day filled with canceled flights, shuttles and Ubers and buses (oh my), I got to my hotel around 7 pm. Being in a place where going outside doesn’t require layering, bundling or gloving, I went for a two-mile walk to a CVS. Along the way, the smell of marijuana smoke was almost ever-present, except when I walked by In-N-Out, where fries and grease overwhelmed it. In an hour-long walk, I passed five or six folks smoking weed on the street, engaging one woman with a very cute dog. She offered to share her weed with me in a kind and neighborly way, but I preferred playing with her dog.


All this marijuana smoking didn’t have much impact on me.  None of the smokers seemed any more or less threatening or kind than any random collection of humanity. Still, I remember when I was first in recovery, battling an obsession to drink. If I’d walked a gauntlet of folks with bottles of vodka in their hands and offering me a sip, I’m not sure how I would have responded, or how long my resolve would have lasted.  Frankly, I have serious doubts. In the same way, I wonder how many newly clean and sober folks, offered joints on the street will walk away and how many will say “screw it” and get stoned.

 

Getting stoned is not a big deal for non-addicts.  Getting stoned is nothing more than a form of relaxation for the vast majority of Americans. Getting stoned, for people like me, can be the first step backward into the abyss, the beginning of an end that can come soon enough.

If New Hampshire does legalize recreational use, I hope communities can implement and enforce regulations to keep marijuana use off the streets. Let it stay in the living room where it belongs, and away from the newly recovering.