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Coyhis: Taking a stand: Saving the children of meth

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What about the children of meth? Whatever we can say or do about those suffering through meth use, aren’t we also impacting the next generation – today’s children and even those in their mother’s womb – through the methamphetamine epidemic? Jerry Moe and Candace Shelton, presenters at the Wellbriety Conference, say yes.

Moe has been a children’s therapist for 28 years. In his role as the national director of children’s programs at the Betty Ford Center in California, he is a powerful advocate for kids. In a passionate, energetic and even child-like presentation to the conference, he speaks for the little ones who can’t speak for themselves. “Today if you will allow me,” he says, “let me be their voice. Little boys and girls who don’t have a voice and who are dealing with so much stuff in their life. I also want to bring you a message of hope. We know how to help these little boys and girls. It saddens me to say, but I want to tell you, some of their moms and dads are probably not going to get better. But guess what? We cannot lose another generation of our children. We need to do something for these boys and girls. It’s time for all of us to stand up and be counted and to be a part of the solution.”

Moe gets right down with the kids whose parents and other adults in their lives are drug, alcohol, and especially, meth users. He works with them in many different ways to give them the self-confidence and love to understand that they didn’t do anything wrong. He reveals that so many children think at first that their parents’ addicted behavior is somehow connected to them. He works so effectively with them by finding the kid in himself. He reported that one 9-year-old, when asked later how he liked Jerry, said he did and then grew silent. He thought for awhile and told his grandmother, “But that kid has a mustache.”

Children’s art is one mode of healing that Moe uses to help children express what they can’t express in words. He shows the conference samples of kids’ drawings that reveal horrible green monsters, scenes of parental fighting and child abuse, and prison images. “I’ve never at any time during my professional career had more boys and girls whose parents are incarcerated,” he says. He closes with a very sober wish and a question. “How much more in our families, in our communities, in our tribes, how much longer is addiction going to be a legacy that gets passed from generation to generation? We are downstream and all these people are drowning. We go in and try to save them. But isn’t it also time to go upstream and get kids before they jump into that lake called addiction?”

Candace Shelton, Osage, is also a powerful, caring advocate for children’s lives “upstream” in the pregnancy of their moms. In her role as a senior Native American specialist at the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Center for Excellence in Tucson, Ariz., her job has been educating communities about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder at a time when interest in Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is not as high as it could be. But it should be, because as meth enters the picture, unborn children are now subjected to both alcohol and methamphetamine before they are born.

She talks about the many characteristics of fetal alcohol individuals, which Indian country has known about for a long time. These include physical, mental, behavioral and learning disabilities that are possibly lifelong. But what about the effects of meth? Is there something called Fetal Methamphetamine Syndrome?

She says, “We don’t have a documented meth syndrome yet. I think we are going to get one. There is a lot of research going on right now. The problem in research is how to do a controlled study. Women who use methamphetamine often drink in order to come down. The effects on the developing fetus and on the newborn can’t be distinguished yet. How much is about meth, and how much is about alcohol?” Her presentation ends with a vision that looks far upstream and could be called Pregnancy is Sacred.

“The ancestors believed that life is sacred. The ancestors knew and believed that everything we have, whether the two-legged or the four-legged, or the winged ones, or the reptiles that live, everything around us, is sacred. We have to respect that. We respect life, we respect mother earth. I believe we have to go back to that. If we started living as though life is sacred, we would start to believe that pregnancy is sacred. This is about the future of our nations. We have children born every day who are impacted by prenatal exposure to alcohol or other drugs.”

<b>Healing the Healers</b>

Dr. Eduardo Duran’s (Apache/Tewa) presentation looks even farther up the river of this addictions pandemic we all face and share as healers. Duran works as a healer with the Miwok/Maidu community in Northern California. He looks far upstream at the some of the underlying spiritual issues and deeper causes of the substance abuse tragedies affecting both Native and non-Native communities today, as well as dealing with the everyday issues of counseling. He talks to us about healing the healers. Most participants at this conference are involved with some aspect of addictions at the community level. Some are counselors, therapists, ceremonialists, traditionalists, recovering people, administrators and staff or program providers at facilities dealing with Native health.

So, every one of us is a healer in one sense or another. But as we work in contact with addictions issues at a time of mass afflictions such as now, we must especially attend to our own healing journey because we are relating to the intense struggles of our brothers and sisters. These struggles of other people can adversely affect us because we are all connected. If we don’t look after ourselves and each other as healers, we might get sick.

Ed Duran begins with a reading from the Tibetan Book of the Dead that widens the entire recovery discussion and paints a powerful picture of what healers in the field of addictions recovery are dealing with.

“From the eastern quarter of your brain a white goddess will appear to you holding a corpse as a club in her right hand and a skull cup filled with blood in her left hand. Do not be afraid.”

He has our attention, then casually remarks, “If you can encounter that image and not be afraid, then I think we will be able to help some folks.”

He talks about the work of counseling or therapy for American Indians as much more than it is in the white world because the issues of decolonization and dealing with Indian Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome are always right up front for Natives. He gives a spiritual definition of decolonization as the exorcism of an energy or a spirit that has taken over our minds and spirits. What is that colonizing energy or spirit? An important part of his talk is about understanding why the spirit of meth is tormenting us today. Why is it here? We know how dark and serious it is, but does it have a positive purpose?

“I always ask the people I work with what do you think this energy, of whatever it is, whether its meth or crack, what is the spirit trying to tell you? What is it trying to teach you? I think the Indian community, and not just the Indian community but the whole society, is being taken over by this energy, by the spirit called methamphetamine. It must want something otherwise it wouldn’t be here. … most of the songs and the ceremonies we do are about forming harmony in a relationship with the sacred. A lot of times these things that we consider as evil or dark, or that we want to get rid of, a lot of times they are there to try to teach us something.”

This is the question allowing us to look far upstream to understand the underlying causes for the tragedies we face with drugs and alcohol. An inquiry of this kind can help us discover why the babies are drowning in the river in the first place. They can take us beyond what he calls the “psychobabble” and the conventional recovery talk which, he says, is not working for many people as they deal with their own struggles with drugs and alcohol. He emphasizes the fact that as healers, we must help and support each other in a very honest and open way because none of us is big enough to carry the kind of illness we help our brothers and sisters with.

<i>Don Coyhis, Mohican Nation, is founder and president of White Bison Inc., an American Indian nonprofit organization based in Colorado Springs, Colorado whose Web site is www.whitebison.org. Richard Simonelli is a freelance writer allied with Natives in the areas of addiction recovery, education and traditional knowledge. He is a staff associate and media specialist for White Bison.