FSDP is excited to introduce the premiere of Families Matter – Family Matters, our new blog authored and curated by FSDP’s Guest Blogger—pioneering harm reduction therapist, educator, advocate and author Dee-Dee Stout. We are indeed privileged to have Dee-Dee on Team FSDP, sharing her wisdom, charm and storytelling ability with us….
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Treat people as if they are who they can be and you help them become who they’re capable of being —- Goethe
Hello! And welcome to the premiere of FSDP’s blog Families Matter – Family Matters!
I will be talking with you about everything and anything having to do with alcohol and other drug use: family concerns including treatment, policy, advocacy, and whatever else you all might want to know/talk more about. I hope you will send me questions, topic ideas, comments, thoughts and more anytime. Please send your requests to firstname.lastname@example.org
And now to the blog….
It was suggested that I might use this premier “episode” to talk more about who I am in relation to addictions/mental health, harm reduction, and advocacy. For this episode I decided to focus on “advocacy”: what it is and how I got started. (I’ll save how I’ve changed as a result of learning to be a better advocate for later – especially regarding how I now work with folks including families).
Worms. Yes, those creepy crawly things some of you might use to improve the soil in your gardens or perhaps on a fish hook. Worms were my first lesson in advocacy and it come from my wonderfully crazy father. What do worms have to do with advocacy, you ask? Well, let me start at the beginning…
When I was about 3, I decided for some reason that I hated worms. I don’t mean kinda- didn’t-like-them, or say “eeuuwww – worms!” whenever I would see them. I mean all-out-I’m-declaring-a-war-on-them HATE. I would go around our neighborhood squishing them all spring whenever I saw one – and that was pretty often in the Midwest in springtime. At this point, my folks and I were living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where my folks were in school at the University of Michigan and my dad was studying science. He saw me stepping on worms one day and didn’t think that was a ‘positive behavior’ (he knew worms were helpful). So, he got the brilliant idea that if he taught me about how special worms were – their scientific value if you will – I wouldn’t want to kill them anymore. Sounds logical, right?
So, he set up all kinds of fascinating scientific experiments on worms: he put them in darkness to show me how they didn’t need light to move around well; he put vinegar on them and watched them recoil from that ingredient; he cut them in half to show how they could still survive. Finally, he tried putting salt on them which they didn’t seem to like. These experiments went on for a week! At the end of the week, I distinctly remember my father asking me, “so Adelia, don’t you feel bad for killing these wonderful creatures now?” To which I naturally replied, as any 3-year-old would, “well I still don’t like them but I guess I won’t kill them anymore.” Vindication was his – and I had learned my first lesson in advocacy – or how to stand up for a being without a voice!
Now if you knew my dad you’d know that this lesson in “advocacy/knowledge is important” idea isn’t at all strange for him. For instance, my dad always had binoculars, a copy of Peterson’s Guide to Birds, and trash bags in the car. These items were as important and as ubiquitous as the gum he always kept in the ashtrays. Whenever we were driving with him, we would practice “spotting” birds, stopping to view them through those binoculars to then find their photo in the Peterson’s guide. We would also stop periodically to pick up trash: not ours as we had a small trashcan in the car, but just litter: on the side of the road, caught in trees, at roadside picnic areas – everywhere (side note: at 81 he’s still picking up trash now in downtown Chicago!).
Now you might be asking, what in the world do these stories have to do with advocacy? Well, I believe they’re all connected if we look at the origin of the word. According to dictionary.com, advocacy stems from the Latin “advocare” which means “to add a voice.” Another site, vocabulary.com states the origin is the word “advocatus” which means “one called to aid another.” So, advocacy of the Earth, of our planet’s creatures – great and small – and our responsibility as stewards of them – such as keeping their home free of trash – is advocacy: we are giving voice to and aiding those who need us to do so.
I don’t think I ever realized just how long I’ve been an advocate of one sort or another until recently. And that the early lessons I got especially from my dad has led me down this path of demanding we hear the voices of those that struggle to speak – and just how these experiences have shaped my life, especially now.
My most powerful and personal lesson of advocacy – namely championing a cause – came when a bit later, when I was about 8 or 9 years old. I have always had an extremely close and empathetic bond with animals of all kinds: for one, they don’t judge and they love us unconditionally. As a kid, I grew up with cats (two Siamese, to be exact) though later I added a dog or 2 to the mix that always included a couple of cats at least. But I also felt a closeness to all animals and enjoyed studying about them. After my folks graduated University, my dad took a job as a traveling salesman for a hospital and clinic supply company (he would remain there for 25 years and not leave until after my mother died). His territory was the entire state of Michigan which included both the Upper (or the “UP”) and Lower Peninsulas. Sometimes I had the opportunity to travel with him which I loved.
On one of these trips, I became aware of something called “roadside zoos” which most gas stations seemed to have then. These so-called “zoos” were actually cages (usually quite small) holding all sorts of animals indigenous to Michigan: bears, beavers, otters, raccoons, and more. Often the gas station would have a large stuffed black bear out front signaling that they had one of these “roadside zoos.” The animals locked in these cages paced a lot – when they could move – and always seemed sad and scared. I cried every single time I saw one of these zoos. On one of these trips, I became so upset that I couldn’t be consoled. My dad told me I should write to my Congressmen and other politicians to complain about these zoos and inform them of the conditions these animals were in (my first lesson in Civics!) and so I did. I wrote to our State Senators, the Governor, and even the President of the United States. And I received letters back (one was even handwritten!). I was very impressed!
Later that year, the State’s Congressional body moved to outlaw these “roadside zoos” and of course my dad said my letters must have had an influence on this decision. I’m not so sure about that but it sure pleased me as a youngster to think it might have, and caused me to pass along this Civics lesson to my own son and others. It also added to my lessons in the importance of standing behind something you believe in: advocacy.
The final piece of my younger “lessons in advocacy” came from being raised in a rather unique church: The United Church of Christ in Midland, MI. The UCC as it’s known, is a church of social justice. We were taught by our beloved minister, Reverend Glenn Baumann, that God lives within each of us and that the only sin was alienating oneself from god (and therefore from others including oneself). We were taught to recycle early on (Michigan was the first state in the US to implement recycling. Anyone remember the Seinfeld episode on such?) as part of caring for the land and resources that were loaned to us while we lived here. This concept of caring included animals. It also included other animals, people, especially those who were marginalized such as drug users, including me.
In 1973, a psychologist by the name of Dr. Don Crowder moved to Midland and advocated for opening an overdose clinic. Of course, Midland’s City Council said we had no drug problem in our city (Midland, MI was then, and is today, the international home of the Dow Chemical Company: you know, Ziploc bags, Saran Wrap and Napalm bomb manufacturers). Dr. Crowder went ahead and opened his clinic which was also staffed by another young psychologist in practice with him – and the two of them trained many of us drug users to help those overdosing, generally in the form of “bad trips” from psychedelics in those days. As I left Midland in 1975, I’m not aware of what happened to the clinic. But again, it fit into my idea of civic duty, church life, and generally caring for others who needed us to go to bat for them, to “sustain the weight of” their burdens – in other words, to be advocates.
I don’t know what led any of you to advocate for sensible drug policies and drug users in general but I hope to hear some of your stories, now that you’ve heard mine. I am a firm believer in the power of stories (hence my book is full of them!) to shape and to influence culture – and of course people. And I see the beauty, as you all do, in what FSDP co-founders Barry Lessin and Carol Katz Beyer have created here at FSDP: loving those that may be (just now) unlovable, and moving away from the one-size-fits-all of treatment for problematic drug users and their families/communities.
It is these stories – sprinkled with science and humor – that I’ll be bringing to you all over the coming months. Thanks for hanging in with me for this premier episode!
Next month: Why “tough love” isn’t love at all but certainly TOUGH – and how we can do better to change this horrible yet ubiquitous phrase. Peace.