Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Look, and it can't be seen.
Listen, and it can't be heard.
Reach, and it can't be grasped.

Above, it isn't bright.
Below, it isn't dark.
Seamless, unnamable,
it returns to the realm of nothing.
Form that includes all forms,
image without an image,
subtle, beyond conception.

Approach it and there is no beginning;
follow it and there is no end.
You can't know it, but you can be it,
at ease in your own life.
Just realize where you come from:
this is the essence of wisdom.

-Tao te Ching (Stephen Mitchell)

At 16, I was insanely jealous of Whitney Houston. She was gorgeous, talented, and seemingly full of self-confidence. At 16, I was a geeky, unsure college student, not long out of braces, with a bad haircut and poor self esteem. I could play piano quite well, but this is hardly something you brag about at age 16. Whitney, as far as I knew, had it all. So when I heard she died on Saturday, the first memory I had was being in a dorm room with some guy friends, listening to Whitney, and singing along at the top of my voice. One of the boys suddenly switched off the CD, knowing I would be exposed as the geeky terrible singer I am  was, and then they laughed hysterically at me. I don't think I ever intentionally listened to Whitney after that, and God knows I did not sing aloud in the company of others. Though, to be clear, I do that now regularly, without shame, often horrifying my children in the process.

Anyway. After reliving that moment, my next feeling for Ms Houston was deep sadness. She died not much older than I, and younger than my beloved spouse. I have no idea exactly what troubled her. But addiction played a part. Which begs the million dollar question: How can someone who has it all throw it all away?

Not a day goes by when I work clinically that I do not encounter the stink of addiction. So common it is, that as we head toward computerized physician order entry, we developed a pre-made order set for alcohol withdrawal. This I know: the brain really does NOT like to go cold turkey from booze. It tortures my patients with voices and crawling, nonexistent bugs and the oddest hallucinatory specters. People find themselves tied down, literally, figuratively, medically, until their nervous system settles and they find their way to the surface.

Lately, it is heroin taking the biggest toll. I finally had to ask why this renaissance of a drug I most associate with my days at San Francisco General or with my historical reading of the 1960's and '70's? They tell me: "That's simple. Heroin is cheap. And we can't get pills any more." So, we pull people out of their endocarditis or their empyema or their terrible skin infections. We plead for sobriety. We hope for the best.  

I cannot in good conscience compare my attachment to running to the self-destructive monster of addiction. But I have to say, it has felt really good to get back to it after about 9 days off (illness, work). It does provide endorphins, the original feel-good drug, and one for which I shall not apologize. But beyond that, it grounds me. It makes me feel at ease in my own life. Add in some Beethoven, three children tucked safely into bed, and a husband whom I adore (shouting-out to St Valentine), and I am medicated on life. Now, the Tao, the Buddha, and even Jesus would say: only by letting go of it all can you be truly free.

At the moment, I am content with being attached to the earthly. Earth, with a heavy dose of love.


  1. It is great to meet people with passion for things that they do and so many of those are positive and uplifting. Good addictions, I suppose, although I never quite thought of it that way until reading this. As for singing, I have a wonderful voice, proven often when I am walking to work or in the shower. But the strangest thing is, it doesn't come out that way when other people are around. Being an engineer, I have researched this and concluded that it is a matter acoustic interference.

  2. "....Learning to love yourself,
    is the greatest love of all..."

    The human rot wrought by addiction is merely the transparent self-immolating self-destruction of self-loathing. When we take it undercover, we still side-step the greatest challenge that is learning to love ourselves. It is a prerequisite for loving others and loving god.

  3. Bear in mind that withdrawal symptoms are less difficult to treat than the significant diseases that smoking can cause. www.runningaddicted.com has more information on the How to Improve Your Stamina with Respiratory Training.