Tag Archives: Trauma

Torture in hospitals continues to this day

Just want to keep people aware that these things are absolutely continuing to this day. They have not stopped persecuting psychiatic patients just because YOU dont hear about it. Every single thing in this post has happened to me within the last five years, and is still happening to others. Remember, and dont forget it! Your relatives may not talk about it, but it is happening to someone.

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Torture in Connecticut’s Institute of Living psychiatric units in 2013
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Vermont treats its psychiatric patients like criminals, even in 2016
Doctor Threatens Restraints and Shot of Haldol - Painting in acrylics c. 18 by 27 inches
Doctor Threatens Restraints and Shot of Haldol – Painting in acrylics c. 18 by 27 inches
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In restraints, being tortured, at Hospital of Central Connecticut “for disturbing the milieu
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Restraints torture, permitted by W-1 director at HOCC Michael E. Balkunas MD.

Hospital Seclusion Room
Stripped and locked in seclusion for punishment at CT’s New Britain General Hospital
Featured in Counterpoint Article
Torture in restraints in Brattleboro Vermont ER in 2016
John Dempsey Hospital Psychiatry First Floor, U-Conn Health Center, Farmington, CT
John Dempsey Hospital Psychiatry First Floor, U-Conn Health Center, Farmington, CT-restraints torture!

Psychiatrie Macht Frei…(huh?) Art Work

All i can say is everything in this picture was as deliberate as i know how to make it, without planning it at all, and it contains symbolism both public and private. With reference to my signature quotation, (see below)  it makes use of what the negative spaces  offered me without leaving any in the end.

“There is no negative space, only the shapely void. Hold your hands out, cup the air. To see the emptiness you hold is to know that space loves the world.” P. Wagner

(for those who are not familiar with WWII, over the gates over Auschwitz, the notorious concentration camp where Jews and many other despised groups were taken to be tortured and killed, were emblazoned the words: ARBEIT MACHT FREI, or “work will set you free,” which was of course a lie and a horrible joke, because it was only meant to kill you at what was not a labor camp but just a death camp. )

PSYCHIATRIE  MACHT  FREI?

Psychiatrie Macht Frei? Mixed media anti-psychiatry picture, 24"by 19"
Psychiatrie Macht Frei? Mixed media anti-psychiatry picture, 24″by 19″

Psychiatrie Macht Frei? Mixed media anti-psychiatry picture, 24″by 19″

A poem plus art.

Edited on July 29, 2016 and reposted.

The poem below is the introduction to my third book, and my second book of poems, this time with art, which should be published in the spring of 2017 by Sundog Poetry and Green Writers Press, both Vermont publishers.  Wowee!!! I am thrilled. Tamra Higgins of Sundog has generously said that she wants to make sure that I have an art show and reading at the time of the book launching. Moreover  I believe that Sydney Lea, Vermont’s wonderful former poet laureate, who had agreed to write the forward for it when it was still going to be published by CKP will still do so for the new publishers. I feel especially blessed!!!

I am very much a novice watercolorist and these are two beginning paintings.

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TO THE READER

who may be sitting as I am
in a green recliner with a cup of tea
staring out through the porch
to a darkened streetlamp outside the diner,
with a book in her lap, mine, I hope
the only one I feel I should have to mention
if I mention a book in a poem I write;
to the reader, the nitpicker, the one
who may be wondering why
on p. 47 there are two ands, one
right after another, and whose fault that is;
and to the reader, who may be tired
after a long ride home on the bus
after dark and a meal not worth mentioning
who picks up my book but finds his eyes
closing before he has opened the cover,
I say: Forgive me
I am only a writer sitting in a green recliner
with a cup of tea, I can’t explain
those two ands or the mysterious
streetlamp or warm the feet of a tired
reader in his bed. I can only put music on
and tell him stories to make movies
turn in his head, to let him wake
with the sudden understanding that poetry
may be all it takes to make a life—
well, my life at any rate, and maybe his,
and maybe the nitpicker’s and yours, too,
staring through the porch to the streetlamp
where what happens so mysteriously is poetry—
and the whole night is wrapped
in the words spoken by two strangers
meeting there, or not spoken, which is poetry too,
and all of us who listen are waiting
for the music of what is to happen.

Ice Hospital: Poem and Art

Five Watchers at the Tree of Creation
Five Watchers at the Tree of Creation

 ICE HOSPITAL

Living in a hospital is like living in an Ice Hotel

where all the appointments beneath the furs and fleece

are hard frozen to the floor

Like Ice Hotel staff, the nurses try their best

to be kind, to find compassion for those suffering

here on their sub-zero beds.

But really, they have their warm lives elsewhere.

The psychiatrist knows better. She visits briefly

once a day at the height of the sun, chewing her Vitamin D,

and encourages Hotel visitors to Happy Talk

and Life Skills. If she fails to ease their suffering

in any part, it is because she does not see it, blind

to the fact that the beds are frozen pallets that chill

to the bone. She sees only the furs and warm fleeces.

She cannot fathom why one would not rise and walk

under her cheerful ministrations after a few nights

spent on a banquette of ice. Only the aides

are savvy enough, being low-paid and long-working,

to bring in oil lanterns and hot water bottles.

The patients love them and when finally it comes time

to leave, strange how difficult it is to say good-bye

to even the hardest corner of this place.

_________________________________

luckily i no longer live in a hospital but in a little corner of paradise, in Brattleboro Vermont. And soon I will be writing you about my place. All week i had a headache, which was a beach that was decidely not Miami. But I stopped taking the Abilify on a whim, and wouldn’t you know, immediately the headache ceased. I cannot tell anyone this, because they will become up in arms at my stopping a “necessary medicatoin” but if I do not tell anyone, and things go just fine, won’t that be funny as hell? I think so. And that is precisely what happened when I stopped the Zyprexa, the last time. Everything was fine fine fine,. for six months, and never stopped being fine. I mean I did just as good off it as on it, and we never started it with any good being done, again.

 

But no negativity from me today. Instead I will leave you with the sunny face painting I did for a member of BRattleboro TIme Trade, in preparation for a papier mache sun we want to work on. Love to all of you!

Sun Face Painting By Pamela Spiro Wagner - plan for papier mache sculpture
Sun Face Painting By Pamela Spiro Wagner – plan for papier mache sculpture

Restraint Chair Use at RRMC

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Please note that i am reposting this frorm a week ago as it got accidentally deleted, but i cannot repost the comments. Anyone who wishes to recomment is welcome to.

It all started when i bodily “escorted” the nurse,KJ out of my bathroom, where I had situated my mattress, and had her leave my lunch on the table outside. I had been vocalizing loudly and softly virtually only the three words, “oswall wistofi matootam” for days uncontrollably, and over the past hour i had screamed at the top of my lungs from my room, which the nurse had to have heard but made no response. When she simply left my lunch at the table, i felt utterly ignored and abandoned, and in a rage of certainty that she was plotting against me, picked up the cup of coffee and threw it straight at her. With unusual accuracy, it found its target in her center. My next lob hit only the wall.

In certainty of repercussion, i slammed my door and waited. Soon the usual code was called, but instead of burly men bursting in the door, i heard them packing up the sitting area for quite some time, and it knew it took them some several minutes to prepare an injection of my medications. But my terror only increased, so i grabbed a chair to defend my self. Finally they opened the door. KJ in an oh so nice voice said, “pam, i have medication for you.” And they quickly grabbed the chair and four men upended me and laid me on the floor near the bed frame, which was covered in my artwork and books. It took quite some time for the staff to methodically pack up all items they feared, apparently, might go flying at them afterwards ( though if proper protocol had been followed from tHe first, nothing would have).

This proper protocol, by the way, had been developed by another nurse and i after much discussion of my detailed advanced directive and my intense horror of locked seclusion and mechanical restraints, both of which i have experienced in abundance and usually for discipline or convenience, almost never for any truly emergent reason. That said, i believe the first nurse, KJ had lost her temper with me, and decided not to follow this protocol on the unit because she wanted to punish me, as will be demonstrated by what followed.

Having brought the two IM medications with her, which the protocol for agitation we had worked out calls for, she eventually called for the men to deposit me on the bed frame so she could inject them, one in each leg. She did so. Then, instead of having them keep me in a protective hold for as long as i needed to calm myself and potentially fall asleep, which usually took little more than 10-15 minutes, she said, she was having everyone leave and locking me alone in my emptied room. I screamed aloud at this. “I have an advanced directive! You cannot do that!” I pleaded but they forced the door closed against me and locked it.

I screamed to no avail and then started hitting my head in terror against the door in an effort to get them to open it. This worked in a short time, and three aides were sent in. We sat on the bed frame and they actually held my limbs, i thought in such a way as to comfort me. Little did i understand the truth, because even as i very quickly calmed down, soon through the door, the same angry nurse pushed a big prison-issue restraint chair. She yelled at me, “now you are going to have to sit in this!!!

I yelled back, “No!!! No restraints. My advance directive says so!”

I want to interrupt here to quote the government’s own research. SAMHSA’s issue brief #1 March 2010 on promoting alternatives to the use of seclusion and restraints says:

“…the use of seclusion and restraint has often been perceived as therapeutic to consumers. This misconception has been challenged and refuted. Increasing research has identifed the role of trauma in mental and addiction disorders. Research into trauma and trauma-informed care identify common themes about the impact of trauma and how traumatic life experiences can impede an individual’s ability to manage his or her own behaviors or engage in appropriate behaviors in the community.

“Also, there is a common misconception that seclusion and restraint are used only when absolutely necessary as crisis response techniques. In fact, seclusion and restraint are most commonly used to address loud, disruptive, noncompliant behavior and generally originate from a power struggle between consumer and staff. The decision to apply seclusion or restraint techniques is often arbitrary, idiosyncratic, and generally avoidable . Moreover, some studies indicate that seclusion and restraint use leads to an increase in the behaviors staff members are attempting to control or eliminate.”

But they grabbed me and forced me into that chair and despite my struggles and terrified screams of protest they forced nine straps around my body, yes, 9-point restraints because K— J—-, RN, was still angry with me and refused to utilise our calming no-restraints, no seclusion protocol. This protocol had not only helped me but had also since then, so i was told, been used to calm and help other agitated patients without seclusion cells or mechanical restraints after i insisted that the unit staff start doing their “best to avoid restraints” with everyone, not just for me because my A.D insists on it.

Once strapped in to that horrendous chair, i screamed at the nurse, “You are just punishing me!” And calmly, she answered back, “Well, you threw hot coffee at me, what do you expect but punishment!?”

Then she walked out of the room, leaving two aides in the room to tighten the straps so tight that i could not move and felt the circulation in one hand go dead.

In horror, i shrieked for help. I pleaded for anyone to help me, for god’s sake. What the hell were they doing to me?!? Please just help me, someone!!? It upset the other patients to hear this just outside my room. I even begged them to put me in regular 4-point restraints on a bed where at least i could relax and fall asleep. Why hadn’t the nurse not brought me to the seclusion room to begin with, where the walls and door were all were padded if she was not going to follow the protocol?

In the end, it took two hours and two episodes in that terrible chair before they freed me.

That evening, as a response to the trauma, i defecated on the rug in the dining area, and painted with feces on the wall.

Surely this is no way to treat an animal, let alone a troubled psychiatric patient, especially not when there is already a calming,non-violent protocol set up to deal with her when she is agitated?

I say, chairs like this need to be trashed. Once a hospital orders one — and where do they get them? From prison suppliers!) they will use it. They say they use it for emergencies only, but as i have shown, once they have such a chair, it will be used abusively–always, always, always.

The only way to end seclusion and restraints is to stop it now and. For good. The more hospitals dilly-dally saying, soon, we will when we can, they will never stop. There will always been someone to say, no, what about this or that. But abuse is abuse and restraints are abusive by definition. Stop the use of a restraint chair and bed and all use of mechanical restraints by stopping. And then you will find a way to deal with problems arising that work better.

The painting i did below depicts the chair they held me in, minus the waist strap but with the toe restraints.

“There is no negative space, only the shapely void. Hold your hands out, cup the air. To see the emptiness you hold is to know that space loves the world.” P. Wagner
Pamela Spiro Wagner
rutland regional medical center
Rutland vt 05701

802-747-1855 until i can use my cell phone

Rutland PICU art

These are the latest fractured portraits and artpieces i have done at Rutland Regional Medical Center’s PICU. The portraits are not meant to be recognizably anyone, unless of course,  they are. The set of small oil pastels were just experiments. The last picture is a gouache painting, about 22″ by 36″. The others are about half that size and in colored pencil.

 

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I’m still here…

So sorry to every one for disappearing so unexpectedly. I was sent to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital Emergency Room on December 31, 2015, largely because MRR was short on staff, and there i was brutalized for 6 days before Rutland Regional Medical Center took me in, on their state hospital PICU unit.

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In the ER not only did they restrain me as i have depicted, but they injected me with 15mg of Haldol and much more over the course of those 6 days, despite my advanced directive, signed by four people and notarized, that explicitly states that under no circumstances am i to be given Haldol!

 

The ER doctor admitted that he violated, knowingly, my advanced directive.  Due to facebook supporters calling the local newpaper in outrage, the newspaper called not the hospital–that would have violated my privacy, so they claimed, even though i had alerted the paper myself to their treatment of me! No, the newspaper, the Brattleboro Reformer, called my twin sister, Carolyn Spiro MD and asked her if this treatment of me, her sister, and her twin, was proper, and her amswer was, Absolutely!!!!

 

So you see where she stands on the issue of the torture of both psychiatric patients and her own twin sister! I have had nothing to do with her for years because of this.

 

Meanwhile, i have many many good words to say about the Rutland Regional Medical Center PICU but i don’t have enough time on my iPad tonight to say them all. So i will just end with this other artwork. I hope tomorrow i can tell you more about RRMC where they are trying, in a very small constricted place, to do things right, at least in terms of seclusion and restraints.

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Trauma Art

John Dempsey Hospital Psychiatry First Floor, U-Conn Health Center, Farmington, CT
John Dempsey Hospital Psychiatry First Floor, U-Conn Health Center, Farmington, CT.  PAM  IN RESTRAINTS AND  SECLUSION for 3 days and 2 nights alone  in the 1980’s

 

I was left alone like this, offered neither food nor water and given only an apple when I begged for one, for three days and two night at John Dempsey Hospital in the 1980s at University of Connecticut Health Center, in Farmington Connecticut. If anyone remembers having been through this, Please get in touch with me! ( If anyone know whether Jim or Don Steadman, the aides, are still alive, please let me know…or have them get in touch too. I believe they would remember attending to me while the doctor kept me trussed up like this…)

Dreamer with Vulture Tearing At the Fabric of the Universe
Dreamer with Vulture Tearing At the Fabric of the Universe

 

Oil Painting, Maybe unfinished…..

 

 

 

 

Art from State Hospital Vermont, November, 2015

 

The optics of unwanted  "treatments"
The optics of unwanted
“treatments” (you may have to scroll way down to see the next two)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Markus-a staff member
Markus-a staff member

 

Five Point Restraints At Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital (cont)

After they had me trussed up in restraints…No, let me back up a bit, because it was not that easy…Hannette was the point person, shall we  say, the person who had my head between her hands and was cradling it, “oh so gently” as she “oh so soothingly” commanded me to CALM DOWN RIGHT THIS MINUTE!” Again and again, she subjected me to these absurd demnds as if I could possibly do so upon her order. And as if I ever would do anything but attempt to writhe away from her clammy awful grip on my ears that nearly deafened me to her voice even so.

 

Finally the job was done and they had fastened a thick plate of velcro across my chest so I could not even sit up or do more than bend my neck a bit to see their handiwork, briefly, before i lost strength and had to lie back down. But I was emotionally overwrought with the situation, and what had happened in the space of only minutes.

 

WTF? How could this have happened when all I ever wanted was an Ativan to calm down and help me speak? And now what?

 

But they just trooped out, with Annette leaving last,  saying, “You will tell us in WORDS when you are safe enough to be released, or you will remain in restraints.” She then departed too.

 

Although two monitors were posted silently in the adjoining room, I could not see them for my position, nor were they permitted to speak to me, as  I knew from prior experience. I let out a scream that echoed through the empty chamber like a banshee howl but it made no difference. Yes, I could hear Chelsea from somewhere, — a sweet  female staff member who remembered my Advance directive and the other times I had been restrained — saying, “Pam, take a deep breath, try to stay calm, I am here, you are not alone…” And I mentally thanked her. But as soon as I could remember that she was there, she was taken away, removed by someone who was told not to talk to me….and so it went. A Dr. Lasix came to me within the half hour and told me he wanted me to come out of the  restraints as soon as possible but I would have to agree to talk with him. What did I have to say to that?

I could not respond with a shake of my head or a simple nod so I remained silent. He shrugged and left.

Several people attempted to engage me in conversation, but as no one phrased their comments as Yes or NO questions, I had to remain still. I was not unwilling to answer, simply unable to. But time and again they told me I was “unresponsive” or non-compliant, though I was calm and had been rewarded with the requisite assessment to possibly come out of restraints every fifteen minutes. But no one let me, because they would not let me answer their questions without speaking aloud.

 

The hours passed. First one then two then three. Finally the nurse Jennnifer decided to relent and allow as how I might answer the safety questions with a shake or nod of my head.

 

“Will you remain safe and not hurt anyone?” she asked me, standing above me.

I nodded my head.

 

“Will you remain safe and not attempt to harm y0urself?”

 

I nodded again.

 

Will you get up go back to the unit to and to your room and continue to behave safely if we let you out of restraints?”

 

Nod nod nod.

 

Jennifer seemed happy with my responses but also at a loss as to what to do with them. She paused. “Okay, thank you Pam. I have to go back and confer with Hannette and see if she will agree to take you out of restraints now that you have agreed to be safe.”

 

She left, turning her back, promising to be back within a few minutes.

 

Instead, it took a good half hour, and when she did, both she and Hannette arrived with a plan. “We have decided that we want to free up one hand and you will write a safety plan with the free hand. Then we will approve it and if it is adequate we will see about taking you out of restraints.”

 

I frowned. Even as she spoke, Hannette had moved to the end of the gurney where my stocking feet lay exposed. Her belly squished against my toes and soles of my feet, and I felt an immeidiate disgust and worse. I felt instant revulsion, as if I were being deliberately molested by someone who knew I was helpless to resist. So I kicked at her mightily.  If I could have spoken in words I would have yelled something too, like “You effing …something or other…!” but alas, I could say nothing in protest, only scream, and kick. This did have the effect I wanted of getting her to stop and move away. Someone told her to move past me at the head of the bed next time and she did…

 

But the safety plan writing thing was their way of upping the ante abominably. How dare they? They had already illegally kept me restrained in FIVE points for far longer than necessary, just because they wanted to prove a point and force me to speak. without even offering me Ativan to calm down let alone to promote speech. Now this??? I flat out refused. And so somewhat triumphantly they trooped out, leaving me alone again, still in restraints at 6:00 o’oclock in the morning.

 

I knew I had to remain as still as possible to earn yet another assessment within the next fifteen minutes. But my muscles and veins hurt becuase I had remainedstill for so many hours, and no one had done any range of motion exercises on me, actively or passively. I was  becoming afraid that I would develop a blood clot if I did not move my limbs on my own, and no matter what they interpreted it as, I began a methodical program of movement. I carefully circled each leg ten times in each direction, the restraints clanking as I did do. Then I bent each knee up and down, up and down. Ditto with my arms, until I was satified that I had exercised them at least a minimum  and could relax into the required absolute stillness for the next fifteen minutes so I could earn an assessment.

 

Finally, Jennifer returned a final time. But this time it was only to tell me that they were leaving for the night. “First shift will have to take you out of the restraints. It is too let for is now.”

 

when end I herd this, I let out a bnshee scream of exhaustion and utter frustration, but it was too no avail. Only when first shift finally came on and found me still in restraints at 7:00 am did they relent and give me Ativan and take me out by 7:30.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Statement to the Police About July Assault in ER

Dear Reader,

This is only part of what i have not been able to write about for months. And there is a great deal more. Now that “Mike” is formally being charged with Assault, i feel i can share this much. In the future i will say more. But for now, at least i will share this statement that i wrote for the police, some weeks later, which is only a second statement, as they already had the statement I originally wrote the very day the assault happened.

Alas, I do not have a copy of that statement, which another ER nurse had to transcribe for me as I was not permitted the use of an ink pen at the time. It was also after I had been illegally but forcibly administered IM Haldol, despite the fact that the record itself shows that I was lying on my bed in my room with my headphones on and the lights off. The record also shows that  an order for PRN 4-point restraints was entered into my chart at that same time. And this PRN order was kept there for the entire 8 days that I was held captive in that Emergency Room, a matter that the lawyer’s grievance deals with but for which a mere grievance seems hardly adequate.

Let me start at the sort of beginning, which is to say only that I had been hospitalized by force at R— at the State Hospital Unit there — and I will talk about that experience in a whole different post. But after 6 weeks I was discharged to a step down facility largely because I had so alienated the hospital doctor that he wanted to get rid of me…Let’s face it. I told him each time I saw him, “Get lost, I do not want to talk with you, You are useless!” Needless to say, this did not go over well, useless though he may have been. And though I found the Social Worker very helpful and so too many of the nurses and mental Health workers and the Occupational Therapist was wonderful as well, but ONLY THE DOCTOR mattered. At least in his own mind, and so he arranged to discharge me somewhere I would no longer get under  his skin or on his nerve i.e. anywhere but in his hospital!

That this step down facility had no medication supervision, beyond opening a safe and having a resident take whatever she or he wanted, this mattered little to the doctor, apparently. Despite his insistence that I needed the medications to such an extent that I have been on a so-called ONH or “order of non-hospitalization” for months now, meaning that wherever I am, I can be hospitalized if I do NOT take the meds, as contradictory and gobbledigoookish  as that sounds! SO I was sent off to  R–, Vermont, to await a bed first at Alternatives and then a more or less long term placement at MRR in Brattleboro, where I am today. (Though how I got here was not via that route as it turned out.)

But in R, Vermont, I did not last longer than a week at the step-down facility as I failed to take the meds and I suppose this is why I ended up trying to set my hair on fire, after receiving commands from “on high.” That is also why I was at the ER when what I describe below occurred.

I knew when the staff member left me alone in the ER, after she walked away and left me there, that I was sunk, that I was going to end up back in the hospital, and with that realization, my heart plummeted. I did not want this, I did not want it. I  decided then and there to do all i could to be compliant  with the doctor and the crisis team, even more so than I already had been, which was plenty. I asked if I could take 10mg of Zyprexa. I even suggested it before the Crisis Team could get there. But it did me no good. They took one look at the report from the step-down facility staff member, who told them about how I had waved lit cigarettes near my just-washed hair and singed it, and they decided — in the lingo of Emergency Crisis teams, that I was “a danger to myself” and could not leave and had to be hospitalized against my will. This would not do. I said as much. I said,”I do not want to go to any hospital. I do not do well in hospitals. I want to go back where i was. Please do not make me go to a hospital. I want to leave”. And with that. I got off my gurney, as I recall, and I am sure the hospital chart can correct my memory if faulty for details now, and proceeded to walk slowly towards the door. I walked slowly because I did not want to trigger an assault by the goon squad. And I did not want to scare anyone into thinking I was doing anything besides deliberately and consciously choosing to leave. But as I did so, a man, a nurse, followed me. I walked slowly out the main door, still dressed in hospital pajamas, since where was I going to obtain any clothing? And I took about 10 steps when he yelled at me, “You go any farther and  I am calling the police!”

Now I will let my statement take over the account.

“I want to scream to someone that i saw in the eyes of the nurse who attacked me someone who recognized Satan and that was why he started screaming at me so uncontrollably before i did anything as “Pam” to “deserve it.” Do you understand this? This should have been obvious to anyone watching the video, but i do not yet know where we go off camera…i only know these facts: that he told my body that if it took another step away from the hospital (i had already walked slowly out the main hospital doors) he would call the police. I believe i shrugged and said, “Go ahead and call them.” Then i decided, remembering the Springfield VT police brutal tactics not to trust them in R—– and so i turned around maybe fifteen feet from the double doors deciding to return and proceeded, again slowly, back towards the entryway. It was then that this nurse started to scream at me. i was shocked at this, because i had already reconsidered and was returning under my own steam. i objected to his screaming and i asked him, likely also loudly, why he was screaming at me when i was already complying. He continued screaming even louder and then he grabbed me and bear-hugged me in a suffocating restraint hold that set me off big-time. He is a big man, and i could not get away from him. He dragged me into the hospital lobby, where, desperate for release, i kicked backwards at his shins.

This must be what so enraged him that his reaction was to throw me forcefully to the ground and jump on top of me, mashing my face into the carpet in such a frenzy that i feared he was going to kill me. I could not breathe or even scream for several long seconds as he continued to grind my face into the carpet. I was terrified for my life and did not know when or whether he would stop. Finally –i never knew what made him stop – maybe someone came out of the nearby ER and saw him attacking me? Whatever was the case, he hauled me back to my feet. At this point i was breathless and extremely frightened, but i nevertheless screamed at him in fury, “You rapist!” I may even have screamed, “You fucking rapist!” I really don’t know. I only know “rapist” was the worst thing i could think of to call him as he had violated every ethic of nursing and emergency care-giving possible and as far as i was concerned he had raped me just as completely as any man who violated my sexual parts.

Unfortunately for me, this only served to further inflame a man already too out of control for explanation, except as someone who felt face to face with Satan: his reaction was to haul off and slap Pam’s face, to shut her up, grabbing my mouth so i couldn’t scream that word any longer.

Maybe someone came out and helped her at this point but I do not recall, even though it might have happened. The next thing i remember is screaming from inside my room in the Emergency Department for a long while and when the police officer appeared, begging him to listen to what the nurse had done. He clearly did not believe me. All he did was leave a statement form for me to fill out –i repeatedly informed him that the Emergency Department staff did not permit me access to pens — and he told me i would have to somehow transmit my statement, signed and notarized, to the police station on my own.

In the meantime, i overheard the same nurse, who i believe was called Mike, telling falsehoods about how i had run into traffic while heading towards the train station. I objected loudly and vociferously. All i got for this was to be restrained yet again, this time by the same police officer among others, and despite my repeatedly asking what medical emergency justified it, to be forcibly injected with Haldol, a medication that my Advance Directive — which the ED had noted and logged in that very night– explicitly directs is never to be administered. This same drug was given to me against my will and over my strenuous objections, even though i lay on the bed the whole time. I was not overtly agitated by this time. At no time was i was more than tearful and most certainly never out of control.

I later complained of ribs (left ) pain — from how hard Mike had compressed me either in his restraint hold or when jumping on top of me, and knee abrasions (right) the latter from being dragged on the carpet. i told the ED personnel several times that night and over the next few days i spent in the Emergency Department. They never looked at my ribs or my knee to appraise these injuries, not until a few days later when Dr Sandy C——     ordered x-rays.
Because no one would document these injuries i was forced to photograph them myself in the mirror.

Ribcage bruise a week later

I Will Be a Gadfly or Die!

How very similiar Michael and Charlie look...and and no wonder, since they share the same sadism genes!
How very similiar Michael and Charlie look…and and no wonder, since they share the same sadism genes!

In the next few days I will be writing and having a guest post from someone but today I want to write about a frustration that has got my goat bigtime. It has to do with the letter that I wrote to Kathryn Power, “bigwig” at SAMHSA or, for those of you who wonder what the letters stand for, the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, for Region One, which covers the New England region.

 

Apparently she took my letter very seriously, which I did not know. This may have been because I never received her reply, if she sent one, having given her the wrong return address ( I did not know the proper one where I was to be living at MRR in Brattleboro.) Or it may be because she failed to copy me on any of the emails she sent to any of the parties she subsequently wrote to, both in the Federal government and at the state level. Whatever the case may be, apparently she wrote to several officials, including the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and possibly the Department of Protection and Advocacy ( which dumped me completely after assuring Susan Stefan, Atty at law known for her work against seclusion and restraints, that they were working closely with me). I never knew this, nor have I learned the outcome of these contacts. I only just today received faxed records of these initial emails.

 

So I know that Ms Power contacted Mirian Dephin-Rittmon who is the new commissioner of mental health in Connecticut. I would like to think that Ms Dephin-Rittmon responded somehow, but I have no such evidence, and if the response from Patricia Rehmer, her predecessor, is any hint of what I could expect, then the answer will b: NOTHING, nada, zilch, a big fat zero. And why is that? Because in Connecticut the Commissioner of Mental Health and Addiction Services, while she may nominally be serving all citizens with mental health problems, actually has no such mandate. Not at all. She serves in fact ONLY those who are hospitalized in STATE facilities, which are extremely limited, and how lucky for her, and in fact for them, because they get protections that none of the rest of us ever got.

 

It was not that we were not indigent and also on Medicare and Medicaid, and also on SSDI and possibly on SSI. Most of the patients at general hospital psychiatric units in Connecticut, if they are repeat offenders of any sort, are usually on assistance of this kind. How could they not be? Most have been “disabilified” – that is, disabled and made into disabled-thinking persons — by medications if not by illness and by the systematic undermining of their personhood by the State. (I know, that is an argument that needs to be enlarged, but elsewhere, elsewhere…) But they are not in State facilities, decidedly not. Why is that? Because courtesy of the State Government, most state facilities, especially for adults, have been closed down or turned into prisons.

 

So if you need a hospital, you must go to a general hospital psychiatric unit where the Commissioner of Mental Health and the Department of Mental Health actually have no jurisdiction or sway. Literally the only way you can get into the safety zone of a State Hospital, that is to say, into the ONLY state hospital that now exists in Connecticut, Connecticut Valley Hospital, is by being thought such a bother to the nursing staff at a general hospital that they want to get rid of you, and they send you off to CVH for “longer term treatment.”

 

But this, mind you, is a punishment, it is not something that they do out of caring or attempts to render better treatment. Not at all, and I should know. After all, I have been threatened with such “treatment” several times, and the last time was when I was at New Britain Hospital in 2014. There, because I was labeled “a borderline” and therefore dismissed as manipulative and dramatic. Every word I said was disregarded…Nothing I could say was taken seriously. And every act was regarded as willful and deliberate. So they could justify punishment and torture as my just desserts, and they tortured me by dragging me to the seclusion cell for swearing under my breath, and four-pointed me for hitting my head lightly against a wall, after they stripped me naked in the cell and I begged for a blanket they pointblank refused me ….

 

You see the picture? I was “so impossible to deal with” that they were going to “send me away” as punishment and in revenge.

 

We all knew this, we all knew that CVH was the last stop, their last resort and final punishment for those of us so obstreperous as to object to their outrageous brutalities and keep objecting rather than bow our heads and submit. In the end, because I was so determined to get out, to escape to Vermont, I did, I gave in and gave up and submitted, and it worked. I played their game and got out of their abysmal unit. I submitted, for which I cannot forgive myself…

 

My point here though is that it is only when a patient has been deemed such a pain in the ass that she is sent away, sent down the river to CVH that Pat Rehmer or Miriam Delphin-Rittmon ever comes into the matter. Before then, they are not interested or concerned with what happens or happened for that matter. They do not give a damn. Not that they don’t care about torturous seclusion cells or four-point restraints in general, it just ain’t their juris-my-dicktion to care about what happens to patients in city hospitals. Sorry, but it ain’t. So they don’t pay attention. They just can’t and so they don’t. It is, as my friend Josephine says, always as if newly minting the expression, what it is!

 

That said, there is Capitol Region and the Connecticut Mental Health Center too, but they serve exclusively the uninsured, so that of course was not for me, who have been covered by Medicare and Medicaid for years. So lucky me, I could luckily go to New Britain General Hospital and be tortured by the likes of Michael E Balkunas, with utter impunity because DMHAS has no oversight or jurisdiction over these psychiatric units, NONE WHATSOEVER.

 

Did Kathryn Power not understand this when she wrote to Miss Miriam? Apparently not. She might have believed that the Commissioner of Mental Health in Connecticut could or would do something to help a mentally ill elderly citizen who had been tortured in a psychiatric unit in Connecticut. Foolish Kathryn! And then maybe she thought that Protection and Advocacy could be called upon to help me as well? Oh, what a sad, sad day for Ms Power when she learned, or did she, that P and A in Connecticut has no interest in helping anyone? Did she really think I had not applied myself to anyone for help before I went to her? Where does she think I have been for the last year? Doing nothing? I have tried and tried and tried and tried. But no one answers and no one does a thing!

 

Oh, I could laugh if I were not so broken and so sick at heart. But I will not let the fuckers win because then the torture will just continue unabated. No, I will continue to nip and snap and irritate Mikey B. and the nurses at W-1 at HOCC in New Britain until they themselves cry “uncle” and change their ways. I will not stop until they are stopped in their brutality and stop hurting people. I will never cease this campaign until I know that patients at W-1 are safe from harm or W-1 is closed down and I am certain that Dr. Balkunas has lost his license for good.

 

But the worst thing was that Ms Power finally sent the letter to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in Boston which was directed to open a Complaint! Yes! But just whne I had hope for this, bizarrely enough, they closed it on the basis, get this, that my complaint “alleges abuse at MANCHESTER MEMORIAL HOSPITAL IN APRIL OF 2008″ — Say what?????? Huh? !!!!! My letter does no such thing. It never mentions Manchester Hospital at all.  Why would it? I had never even been there in 2008 or before 2009. And the first time I was EVER at MMH was in October of 2009, so WTF??? THis is so bizarre and so outrageous and so disgraceful a reason to deny my complaint a basis to go forward that I have had it…To say in the first paragraph that I allege torture at New Britain Hospital in 2014 and then in the fourth or fifth paragraph to somehow segue in this extreme non-sequitor to alleging something in Manchester Hospital in 2008, when I was NEVER THERE…just gets me down completely, because  you know, no one in the chain of information who saw this and they did, NO ONE CALLED THE OCR  on this or told them to get their act together and fix their mistake,.no they essentially let it go and made me suck it up…

FUCK THE THE ASSHOLES I cannot take this shit any longer.  FUCK THE WORLD I WANT TO GET OFF! I have had it. I’ve had it, No one gives a damn about anything…I give up.

NEW POEM, OR REWRITTEN POEM, ABOUT BEING MUTE

ON NOT SPEAKING

Over the seasons of my sixties

and unwillingly

suddenly silent

no wonders spark in my visual brain.

But a reason why’s no wonder.

For so many years schooled

into naming everything

words and sounds categorize the world

and wordify my senses.

Precipice, for instance,

with its sliced peaks.

And acrid’s encaustic, that bite on my tongue.

Even blench

somehow leaves me paler

and more livid than before.

But there are descents into being speechless

for reasons besides pathology.

Although these may not seem any reason

or even be

reason enough, to many,

who believe only talking out pain aloud

makes sense.

Sensible or senseless

I know when shutting up is preventive.

or at least is less insane

than trying to be heard

by those inured to hurting

or being hurtful

when they indeed would rather hurt me

than pay heed, having heard me.

But if silence as you claim

overspeaks the chattering air

why do you refuse

to hear all I cannot use

my voice to say.

Hartford COurant Article (that won’t be) about Michael E Balkunas, MD, Chief of psychiatry at HOCC

Patients placed in Seclusion or Restraints are to be debriefed afterwards. To see standards of care, see below this reprint article.

I moved to Brattleboro Vermont on February 4, 2015, leaving my home state of Connecticut where I’ve lived for nearly 60 years. l had to move because of the horrific psychiatric abuses I experienced in Connecticut hospitals and my fear that if ever I were hospitalized again I would be killed.

I feel guilty, however, just getting out without accomplishing something to stop what continues to happen in Connecticut psychiatric units and hospitals.

The experience of mechanical four-point restraints – leather cuffs that are tightened around the wrists and ankles to immobilize a patient to a bed – or being isolated by force in an often freezing seclusion cell is almost universally terrifying. Nevertheless, both cell and/or restraints are routinely employed to curb loudness and undesirable behaviors at the Hospital of Central Connecticut on Grand Street in New Britain. I know this because I was subjected to both seclusion and restraints multiple times in the spring of 2014, despite a diagnosis of chronic paranoid schizophrenia, as well as PTSD that was triggered by precisely this sort of thing.

Bizarrely, the hospital psychiatrist, Dr Michael E Balkunas, treating me at HOCC challenged my PTSD diagnosis. “Patient misperceives her treatment as traumatic,” he wrote in my chart. Well, maybe so, but I don’t know how I can be accused of misperceiving three entire days callously abandoned alone, tied to the four posts of a metal bedstead at U-Conn’s Dempsey Hospital (for trying to escape the locked unit) as anything but brutality, even if it was in the 1990s. I also think it is nearly by definition traumatic to be forced to defecate in one’s own clothing while tied to a bed which is what they did at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living in the winter of 2013. This was after I was told to lie down and place my own limbs in the leather cuffs (“as a consequence but not a punishment”) for walking away from the very same “Side Room” that I had just been assured was “not a seclusion room unless you call it a seclusion room.”

Again, maybe I misperceived being grabbed and held face-down and nearly suffocated numerous times by staff at Yale Psychiatric Hospital in August 2013, who injected 10-20 milligrams of Haldol, a known drug of torture. Maybe this was just kindliness that I misunderstood as traumatic, maybe it was merely a “psychotic misperception” on my part? Maybe, and maybe not.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that in the ED of New Britain’s HOCC, a security guard in May 2014, grabbed me by my left shoulder immediately after he was warned by the nurse that it was my left shoulder that had a rotator cuff tear.

My New Britain chart records that I was admitted to that hospital, and to the IOL and others with a detailed Psychiatric Advance Directive, the first page of which states that seclusion, four-point restraints and forced medication invariably result in regression to “primitive states and severe worsening of symptoms.” It also makes several concrete suggestions how better to deal with me when I am upset. Even though I spent many hours on this document, Psychiatric Advance Directives have no legal clout in Connecticut and doctors can and do ignore them freely.

Perhaps because of this, HOCC staff literally forced me (“escorted me”) to seclusion and/or restrained me again and again. They took to stripping me “for safety’s sake,” and even though I put up no resistance, they had the male guards spread-eagle my limbs while still naked and put restraint cuffs on without even covering me.

Is it any wonder that what resulted was someone who would wash her hair in her own urine, defecate on the floor of her room and smear feces on the wall? Yet Dr Balkunas, the director of W-1, the general psychiatry unit at HOCC claimed that my trauma was imaginary. Why? Because treatment cannot be traumatic. He simply never got the connection between my horrendous decompensation and his so-called “therapy.” Maybe he never appreciated that he was torturing me, like a person who ripped the wings off butterflies as a child. Someone like that would not have understood how those creatures suffer either.

——————–

These are the NURSING De-Briefing standards for after restraints and/or seclusion:

APNA STANDARDS

DEBRIEFING AFTER RESTRAINTS/SECLUSION

Standard: As soon as possible, following the release from seclusion or restraint, the nurse, the person and others as appropriate should participate in a debriefing.

– See more at: http://www.apna.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3730#Release

Intent: A debriefing is done with persons who have been secluded or placed in restraints to:

  • Discuss and clarify any possible misperceptions the person may have concerning the incident.
  • Ascertain the person’s willingness to involve family or other caregivers in a debriefing to discuss and clarify their perceptions as well as identify additional alternatives or treatment plan modifications.
  • Support the person’s re-entry into the milieu.
  • Identify alternative interventions to reduce the potential for additional episodes.
  • Hear and record the person’s perspective on the episode.
  • Ascertain that the person’s rights and physical well-being were addressed during the episode and advise the person of processes to address perceived rights grievances.
  • Address any trauma that may have occurred as a result of the incident.
  • Modify the treatment plan as needed.

NONE of this was EVER done, ANYWHERE, in any hospital I have ever been in. Why? Because they all knew perfectly well what they had done to me and WHY…Not because I was dangerous to anyone, but as punishment…Naturally they did not want me to have a chance to tell anyone.

– See more at: http://www.apna.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3730#Release

So You Thought Your Genes or Drugs Cause Drug Addiction? Read This and Think Again

 
Johann Hari Headshot

FROM THE HUFFINGTON POST:

The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think

By Johann Hari

It is now one hundred years since drugs were first banned — and all through this long century of waging war on drugs, we have been told a story about addiction by our teachers and by our governments. This story is so deeply ingrained in our minds that we take it for granted. It seems obvious. It seems manifestly true. Until I set off three and a half years ago on a 30,000-mile journey for my new book, Chasing The Scream: The First And Last Days of the War on Drugs, to figure out what is really driving the drug war, I believed it too. But what I learned on the road is that almost everything we have been told about addiction is wrong — and there is a very different story waiting for us, if only we are ready to hear it.

If we truly absorb this new story, we will have to change a lot more than the drug war. We will have to change ourselves.

I learned it from an extraordinary mixture of people I met on my travels. From the surviving friends of Billie Holiday, who helped me to learn how the founder of the war on drugs stalked and helped to kill her. From a Jewish doctor who was smuggled out of the Budapest ghetto as a baby, only to unlock the secrets of addiction as a grown man. From a transsexual crack dealer in Brooklyn who was conceived when his mother, a crack-addict, was raped by his father, an NYPD officer. From a man who was kept at the bottom of a well for two years by a torturing dictatorship, only to emerge to be elected President of Uruguay and to begin the last days of the war on drugs.

I had a quite personal reason to set out for these answers. One of my earliest memories as a kid is trying to wake up one of my relatives, and not being able to. Ever since then, I have been turning over the essential mystery of addiction in my mind — what causes some people to become fixated on a drug or a behavior until they can’t stop? How do we help those people to come back to us? As I got older, another of my close relatives developed a cocaine addiction, and I fell into a relationship with a heroin addict. I guess addiction felt like home to me.

If you had asked me what causes drug addiction at the start, I would have looked at you as if you were an idiot, and said: “Drugs. Duh.” It’s not difficult to grasp. I thought I had seen it in my own life. We can all explain it. Imagine if you and I and the next twenty people to pass us on the street take a really potent drug for twenty days. There are strong chemical hooks in these drugs, so if we stopped on day twenty-one, our bodies would need the chemical. We would have a ferocious craving. We would be addicted. That’s what addiction means.

One of the ways this theory was first established is through rat experiments — ones that were injected into the American psyche in the 1980s, in a famous advert by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You may remember it. The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.

The advert explains: “Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It’s called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you.”

But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexandernoticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?

In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.

The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.

At first, I thought this was merely a quirk of rats, until I discovered that there was — at the same time as the Rat Park experiment — a helpful human equivalent taking place. It was called the Vietnam War. Time magazine reported using heroin was “as common as chewing gum” among U.S. soldiers, and there is solid evidence to back this up: some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers had become addicted to heroin there, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Many people were understandably terrified; they believed a huge number of addicts were about to head home when the war ended.

But in fact some 95 percent of the addicted soldiers — according to the same study — simply stopped. Very few had rehab. They shifted from a terrifying cage back to a pleasant one, so didn’t want the drug any more.

Professor Alexander argues this discovery is a profound challenge both to the right-wing view that addiction is a moral failing caused by too much hedonistic partying, and the liberal view that addiction is a disease taking place in a chemically hijacked brain. In fact, he argues, addiction is an adaptation. It’s not you. It’s your cage.

After the first phase of Rat Park, Professor Alexander then took this test further. He reran the early experiments, where the rats were left alone, and became compulsive users of the drug. He let them use for fifty-seven days — if anything can hook you, it’s that. Then he took them out of isolation, and placed them in Rat Park. He wanted to know, if you fall into that state of addiction, is your brain hijacked, so you can’t recover? Do the drugs take you over? What happened is — again — striking. The rats seemed to have a few twitches of withdrawal, but they soon stopped their heavy use, and went back to having a normal life. The good cage saved them. (The full references to all the studies I am discussing are in the book.)

When I first learned about this, I was puzzled. How can this be? This new theory is such a radical assault on what we have been told that it felt like it could not be true. But the more scientists I interviewed, and the more I looked at their studies, the more I discovered things that don’t seem to make sense — unless you take account of this new approach.

Here’s one example of an experiment that is happening all around you, and may well happen to you one day. If you get run over today and you break your hip, you will probably be given diamorphine, the medical name for heroin. In the hospital around you, there will be plenty of people also given heroin for long periods, for pain relief. The heroin you will get from the doctor will have a much higher purity and potency than the heroin being used by street-addicts, who have to buy from criminals who adulterate it. So if the old theory of addiction is right — it’s the drugs that cause it; they make your body need them — then it’s obvious what should happen. Loads of people should leave the hospital and try to score smack on the streets to meet their habit.

But here’s the strange thing: It virtually never happens. As the Canadian doctor Gabor Mate was the first to explain to me, medical users just stop, despite months of use. The same drug, used for the same length of time, turns street-users into desperate addicts and leaves medical patients unaffected.

If you still believe — as I used to — that addiction is caused by chemical hooks, this makes no sense. But if you believe Bruce Alexander’s theory, the picture falls into place. The street-addict is like the rats in the first cage, isolated, alone, with only one source of solace to turn to. The medical patient is like the rats in the second cage. She is going home to a life where she is surrounded by the people she loves. The drug is the same, but the environment is different.

This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.

So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.

When I learned all this, I found it slowly persuading me, but I still couldn’t shake off a nagging doubt. Are these scientists saying chemical hooks make no difference? It was explained to me — you can become addicted to gambling, and nobody thinks you inject a pack of cards into your veins. You can have all the addiction, and none of the chemical hooks. I went to a Gamblers’ Anonymous meeting in Las Vegas (with the permission of everyone present, who knew I was there to observe) and they were as plainly addicted as the cocaine and heroin addicts I have known in my life. Yet there are no chemical hooks on a craps table.

But still, surely, I asked, there is some role for the chemicals? It turns out there is an experiment which gives us the answer to this in quite precise terms, which I learned about in Richard DeGrandpre’s book The Cult of Pharmacology.

Everyone agrees cigarette smoking is one of the most addictive processes around. The chemical hooks in tobacco come from a drug inside it called nicotine. So when nicotine patches were developed in the early 1990s, there was a huge surge of optimism — cigarette smokers could get all of their chemical hooks, without the other filthy (and deadly) effects of cigarette smoking. They would be freed.

But the Office of the Surgeon General has found that just 17.7 percent of cigarette smokers are able to stop using nicotine patches. That’s not nothing. If the chemicals drive 17.7 percent of addiction, as this shows, that’s still millions of lives ruined globally. But what it reveals again is that the story we have been taught about The Cause of Addiction lying with chemical hooks is, in fact, real, but only a minor part of a much bigger picture.

This has huge implications for the one-hundred-year-old war on drugs. This massive war — which, as I saw, kills people from the malls of Mexico to the streets of Liverpool — is based on the claim that we need to physically eradicate a whole array of chemicals because they hijack people’s brains and cause addiction. But if drugs aren’t the driver of addiction — if, in fact, it is disconnection that drives addiction — then this makes no sense.

Ironically, the war on drugs actually increases all those larger drivers of addiction. For example, I went to a prison in Arizona — ‘Tent City’ — where inmates are detained in tiny stone isolation cages (‘The Hole’) for weeks and weeks on end to punish them for drug use. It is as close to a human recreation of the cages that guaranteed deadly addiction in rats as I can imagine. And when those prisoners get out, they will be unemployable because of their criminal record — guaranteeing they with be cut off even more. I watched this playing out in the human stories I met across the world.

There is an alternative. You can build a system that is designed to help drug addicts to reconnect with the world — and so leave behind their addictions.

This isn’t theoretical. It is happening. I have seen it. Nearly fifteen years ago, Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe, with 1 percent of the population addicted to heroin. They had tried a drug war, and the problem just kept getting worse. So they decided to do something radically different. They resolved to decriminalize all drugs, and transfer all the money they used to spend on arresting and jailing drug addicts, and spend it instead on reconnecting them — to their own feelings, and to the wider society. The most crucial step is to get them secure housing, and subsidized jobs so they have a purpose in life, and something to get out of bed for. I watched as they are helped, in warm and welcoming clinics, to learn how to reconnect with their feelings, after years of trauma and stunning them into silence with drugs.

One example I learned about was a group of addicts who were given a loan to set up a removals firm. Suddenly, they were a group, all bonded to each other, and to the society, and responsible for each other’s care.

The results of all this are now in. An independent study by the British Journal of Criminology found that since total decriminalization, addiction has fallen, and injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. I’ll repeat that: injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. Decriminalization has been such a manifest success that very few people in Portugal want to go back to the old system. The main campaigner against the decriminalization back in 2000 was Joao Figueira, the country’s top drug cop. He offered all the dire warnings that we would expect from the Daily Mail or Fox News. But when we sat together in Lisbon, he told me that everything he predicted had not come to pass — and he now hopes the whole world will follow Portugal’s example.

This isn’t only relevant to the addicts I love. It is relevant to all of us, because it forces us to think differently about ourselves. Human beings are bonding animals. We need to connect and love. The wisest sentence of the twentieth century was E.M. Forster’s — “only connect.” But we have created an environment and a culture that cut us off from connection, or offer only the parody of it offered by the Internet. The rise of addiction is a symptom of a deeper sickness in the way we live — constantly directing our gaze towards the next shiny object we should buy, rather than the human beings all around us.

The writer George Monbiot has called this “the age of loneliness.” We have created human societies where it is easier for people to become cut off from all human connections than ever before. Bruce Alexander — the creator of Rat Park — told me that for too long, we have talked exclusively about individual recovery from addiction. We need now to talk about social recovery — how we all recover, together, from the sickness of isolation that is sinking on us like a thick fog.

But this new evidence isn’t just a challenge to us politically. It doesn’t just force us to change our minds. It forces us to change our hearts.

Loving an addict is really hard. When I looked at the addicts I love, it was always tempting to follow the tough love advice doled out by reality shows like Intervention — tell the addict to shape up, or cut them off. Their message is that an addict who won’t stop should be shunned. It’s the logic of the drug war, imported into our private lives. But in fact, I learned, that will only deepen their addiction — and you may lose them altogether. I came home determined to tie the addicts in my life closer to me than ever — to let them know I love them unconditionally, whether they stop, or whether they can’t.

When I returned from my long journey, I looked at my ex-boyfriend, in withdrawal, trembling on my spare bed, and I thought about him differently. For a century now, we have been singing war songs about addicts. It occurred to me as I wiped his brow, we should have been singing love songs to them all along.

 

 

The full story of Johann Hari’s journey — told through the stories of the people he met — can be read in Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, published by Bloomsbury. The book has been praised by everyone from Elton John to Glenn Greenwald to Naomi Klein. You can buy it at all good bookstores and read more at www.chasingthescream.com.

Johann Hari will be talking about his book at 7pm at Politics and Prose in Washington DC on the 29th of January, at lunchtime at the 92nd Street Y in New York City on the 30th January, and in the evening at Red Emma’s in Baltimore on the 4th February.

The full references and sources for all the information cited in this article can be found in the book’s extensive end-notes.

If you would like more updates on the book and this issue, you can like the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/chasingthescream