Monthly Archives: April 2011

Smoking Insanity

My rehearsal finished shortly after 3pm and I’m in my car and heading home through downtown Vancouver by 3:45pm.  The voice on the radio announces that Howe Street is closed near the Art Gallery, reminding me again that today is the annual 4/20 Marijuana Freedom Rally.  Although the event doesn’t officially start until 4:20pm there is already a visible haze hanging over the air of the thousands of people peacefully puffing and protesting.  I read later in the Vancouver Province that “about 15,000 people are expected to show up at the Art Gallery on Howe Street between Georgia and Robson to listen to speeches, music and to smoke pot.”

  I turn right onto Hornby from Smithe and slowly head towards Georgia.  As I drive past the Art Gallery I close my window and vents to keep out the acrid odour of the Vancouver pot cloud; the monster of insanity lurks in the smoke.

Two years ago today my then nineteen-year old son took part in his first and last Marijuana Freedom Rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Ontario.   After spending a gap year playing soccer for a club in the Netherlands, he was nearing the end of his first year studying humanities at Carleton University.  Unknown to both of us he was also tip toeing along the razor sharp edge of insanity.

Two years ago today I was in Los Angeles with my oldest daughter, completely oblivious of the dark dance my son was smoking.  April, 2008 and it’s almost two years post marriage blow-up.  I’m deep in the throes of an incredibly complex and difficult separation agreement negotiation and there’s with no end in sight.  All of my children are suffering the effects.  I feel like I’m practicing triage in the middle of a jungle teeming with poisonous snakes, insects and insidious crazy-making diseases.  I’m running from one child to the next holding their heads above the raging torrent of water and teaching them to swim at the same time, while madly kicking my arms and legs to keep from drowning myself.  It’s a time of painful transition for all of us.

My weed-smoking son is one of two.  His identical twin brother played for the same soccer team in Holland and 2008 is the first year of their lives they have lived apart from one another.  This is a year of individuation and separation.  For the first time friends will know them as just one, not part of a pair.  For the first time they are without the support of the other.

Back in Los Angeles, I’m walking and shopping along Third Avenue Promenade in Santa Monica with my daughter when my phone rings.  I take it out of my purse and smile when I look at the caller ID picture of my Carleton son.  He’s scheduled to fly back to Vancouver after his last exam in a week and I’m looking forward to having him back home.  He’s been battling demons for the last year or so and I’m afraid they’re beginning to get stronger.  Long distance mothering is difficult and it will be good to be able to guide without a blindfold.

“Hey Sweetie,” I smile into the phone, “what’s up?”

As he answers I feel my heart lurch.  “I’ve changed my flight.  I’ve decided to stay here for a couple of weeks and then go visit Christophe in Montreal before coming home.”

“Okay,” I answer back, “let me know what day you’re coming home.”  We chat for a few minutes longer before disconnecting.  Something feels off.  Everything inside me is screaming that something is wrong but I can’t put a finger on it.  I push down my voice of intuition and smother it with self-denial thoughts of “this is just a process of letting go.”

Before the month would be over, my son would be admitted into the locked psychiatric ward of the Ottawa hospital with a diagnosis of acute weed-induced psychosis.  I had no idea such a thing existed, nor did any of my children.  All four went through the D.A.R.E. program where they (and I) learned that marijuana was to be feared as a “gateway” to hard drugs.  No one and no pamphlet listed insanity as a side effect.

I had fallen down the rabbit hole into the world of mental illness.  And that’s just what it felt like, like I was chasing the white rabbit with no idea of where to go, what the rules were or even how to speak the language.  I learned very quickly that there is a massive difference between how we view and treat those with a physical illness and those with an illness manifested in the mind.  There is no equality and little respect.  This is something that must change.

Patrick shortly after his release from the hospital

It would be about a year and a half before Patrick fully recovered from the siren’s call of psychosis.  Today he is not the “old” Patrick, but someone who has walked through his own dark night of the soul and emerged with a new awakening.  His life has taken a new direction, one filled with creativity and spirituality, but one that is still very much the life of a 21 year old.

Patrick’s journey back to wellness is inspiring and illuminating.   I struggled with this blog post, not because I feared the content, but because the content is so much bigger than is written here.  I discovered that what I was writing was, in fact, the beginning of the book that Patrick and I talk about writing.   One that shares our experience – his on the inside of insanity looking out and mine on the outside looking in.  A book about the hidden danger of smoking pot but also about what is possible in a time of crisis.  My son took my mantra and made it his own.

Marijuana leaf

For more information on weed-induced psychosis please visit the following links.  And please share them with others!

The Long and Short Term Effects of Marijuana Use

Recent Spike in Marijuana Induced Psychosis

The Downside of High – a CBC documentary by David Suzuki

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Dream Visit from my Father

I wake gently in the morning, even those days that begin with the beep of my BlackBerry alarm.  I lay in the same position in which I awake, keep my eyes closed and I breath out slowly and evenly.  I let the last vestiges of the dream sink into me, running it through my head like a film.  What does it have to tell me?  What am I telling myself?

Last night’s dream leaves me feeling particularly good because my dad came to visit me.  Mornings after a visit from my dad are always better.  Like all my dreams I seem to drop into it in the second act and my friend Darlene is working on some kind of project with my Dad – which involves meeting up with him.

I’m not jealous but I’m wishful.  In the dream I’m telling her stories about him (I can’t remember which stories, just a feeling that I was sharing memories of him – like one would if you had never met the person – which was kind of weird since she was spending time with him) although at this point in the dream my Dad was also kind of Robert Redford…..it wasn’t clear if she was doing a project with Robert Redford or with Dad….they were kind of both the same person.  I smile at this.  I don’t usually think of my dad as Robert Redford, he’s more like the father in The Waltons.

I ask her what they do, and she gives me an old photo album.  Big with a worn, brown leather cover.  I slowly and carefully, almost reverently, turn the pages of this heavy book.  The pages where the photos would be is like a threadbare corduroy, a dark mustard brown colour, the fabric pulled tight, the corduroy in rows almost – like double furrows down the page, the fluff of the fabric worn almost completely away.  There are no photos, just the little corner pieces left to indicate where the photos were at some point.  My dad/Robert Redford has taken the photos out of the album so that Darlene may use it for the project.

I turn the pages wistfully and comment on how cool it would be to see the photos that were once here.  A couple more pages and there, lying loose, close to the inside binding and almost falling out of the book, are two photos.  I pick up one of them, a strip of four photos like those received from a mall photo booth.  They’re brown sepia toned pictures of my Dad at about ten or twelve years old.  I hold them gently as it’s obvious they’re very fragile.  Only two pictures remain and those two are in danger of disappearing – the emulsion has peeled away from two pictures at the top of the strip and pieces are loosened on the remaining two, like sunburned skin or the loosened paper label from a jar put through the dishwasher.

I hold it carefully and look into the eyes of my father as a child and smile.  “I wish you could have known him,” I tell Darlene.  Oblivious, in that dream-like way, that she is the one meeting with him in this dream.  And then, almost as soon as I say this, something in me softly realizes that I can see my father too, I simply have to ask.

And just like that I’m in the front seat of the car and we’re waiting for my Dad.  We’re picking him up, like teenagers heading out on a Friday night.  It’s dark and Darlene, my sister Shari and my son Patrick are sitting in the back seat.  I’m in the front passenger seat, which is oddly covered with a slight dusting of snow, which spreads a light one inch blanket across the entire front seat area – passenger seat, centre console and driver’s seat.

We’re parked in the driveway of our farmhouse on Harbell Road in Salmon Arm, just slightly ahead of the house, facing away from the road and toward the big barn at the end of the long driveway, so that I have to turn my head and look slightly over my left shoulder to see the back door of the house.  Up ahead to my right I know the machine shed is there beside the old outhouse, although I can’t see them through the dark night.

Looking and waiting for my dad to come out of the house I notice the shadowed shapes of the life-size reindeer, silently lined up as if to pull Santa’s sleigh, although it’s nowhere to be seen.  Big, blown-up birthday candles jut out of the top of each reindeer’s head – are they lit? I look at these stranded, frozen, flying reindeer with fond, melancholy recognition, thinking “Oh look, there are the Christmas reindeer of my childhood. If only you’d been there when….”  In my real childhood we had no such thing.  No lawn decorations of any kind.  But in this dream the memory is just as real as the snow I sweep from the seat of the car.

Then my father is jogging toward us, his arms full of packages meant to be used in whatever project he and Darlene are working on.  He runs through the dark, heading to the driver’s side before he remembers with a barely there “Oh, right, Darlene drives during these excursions” and he changes course and heads for the passenger door.  I’m smiling as he opens my door and greet him with a “Hey dad!”

He smiles back, hands me the packages and then wordlessly circles the car to get into the driver’s side, not surprised at all to see me sitting in the seat he thought he was to occupy.  I brush the snow away from the console and put the packages down.

We’re driving down the driveway, which is now paved and morphed into a narrow road.  “When did this happen?” I think,  “When did our farm driveway become a road and where does it lead?”  To our left I know is the house where Bubba Bland lives, down the paved road past the side lawn and the big tree with the tire swing.

In real life there is no such road.  In my real childhood the lawn spreads from the back porch to the summer house – a small, screened-in out building that we children used to sleep in during hot summer nights, the mosquitoes buzzing around our heads despite the wire mesh screens meant to keep them out.  Too many children opening the doors with unthinking abandon.

Walk along the grass away from the driveway with the house on your left and the summer house on your right and you’ll see the large maple tree with branches low enough to climb and big enough to settle into to read a book.  Hanging from the biggest branch is the big tire swing.  Lay a folded towel to protect your soft stomach from the hard ridges of the inside circle of the big tractor tire, dive through with your hands above your head and position yourself just so, finding the perfect balance point, and then push off, arms and legs dangling, long hair flying to just sweep across the top of the lawn and the hay field that the big maple borders.

Only in my dreams is Bubba Bland’s house where the alfalfa grows, his driveway paved over the grass of reality.  In fact, Bubba Bland’s brother now owns the farmhouse of my childhood.  The house where my dream father lives.

So we’re driving along the narrow, paved driveway road, Bubba’s house somewhere to our left, the machine shed and then the old chinchilla house to our right.  Then we’re driving between long rows of parked cars, under a large white tent.  It’s a car lot.  “Wow.  Progress.”  I think.  “Our farm has turned into a car lot?” I ask my father.  “Yep.”  He answers, both hands on the wheel, his attention focused on the road ahead of him.

Then we’re at our destination, the no-longer-a-barn at the end of the now long, paved driveway.  We park the car inside the large cavernous building and then we’re sitting at a desk or table with a large, over-weight man dressed badly in drag, a large “beauty” mark on his right cheek.  He’s removed his wig and his balding dark hair is messed.  Is he smoking, or is that the filmmaker in me adding details to complete the dream picture?  He looks like a mafia man wearing make-up.

My dad has the photo album on his knee.  My son Patrick sits beside me.  We’re here to talk to the mafia man in a satin spaghetti strap dress about a job for Patrick.  Go figure.

And there my dream ends.   My dad, me and my son in a scene from a 1930 gangster movie, minus the guns and danger and with the added colour of a man in drag.

I’m left with the lingering memory of my father who died suddenly on September 22, 2004.  At the time of his death I was just entering into the possibility that my husband was having an affair.  Double death.

I cherish these dream visits from my father.  An unexpected welcome to visit with him once again.  During my entire adult life my dad was one of my spiritual teachers and he continues to be so in death, the wall between worlds disappearing in dreams.

My dad working at his wheel.

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Unplugging to Plug In

I sometimes find myself pulled between two worlds – the connected world I live in now and the world I imagine my grandmother lived in, minus the heavy physical labour required simply to exist.  My grandmother was a pioneer in the Red River Valley in Northern Alberta and daily life was arduous.  Plus, she was a working mother, the only teacher in the regional one room school.

My grandmother was born in 1900 and died shortly before her 96th birthday in the fall of 1996.  I got my first cell phone that Christmas.  I don’t think we even had an answering phone at that time, hard as it is to believe now.  I opened my first email account in the summer of 1999 when we moved to Arizona, as an easier way to keep in touch with the friends I left behind.

Just over a decade later and I’m more connected than I ever thought possible.  I have four children ages 21 – 26 years old and I’m the one with the growing twitter world.  Most of the time I enjoy and embrace the immediacy of connecting with a universe far wider than my own backyard.  The learning and awakening happens at light speed and I shift and change with each new awareness.

Suki plugs in....

There are times, however, where I feel the need to withdraw from the age of technology.  Where I need to unplug in order to plug into myself.  I need time to allow the shifts to settle into place, to let new perceptions filter down into my being.  It’s almost as if I lose the ability to communicate when I’m in that space – I’m in the gap between and don’t have the words to language the experience.

If I ignore my need to become a hermit from time to time then my soul will scream louder and louder until I finally listen.  My intuition speaks in a dissonant voice, restless energy runs through my body telling me it’s time to slow down and go inward.

Emails are read yet go unanswered.  Facebook updates, already infrequent, become non-existent.  My twitter stream flows by without my presence.  I miss connecting but it’s as if I am without the necessary adapter to plug-in.

I am no longer content to float on the surface of life, but I sometimes wish I remained asleep.  It is hard, this life of exploring my own depths, but it is the life I chose and the life I keep on choosing.  My mantra of the last five years is as much a part of me as the incessant rain is in Vancouver, the reason I’m surrounded by so much beautiful growth.

I will show what is possible.

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