Is there an attitude shift around addiction and mental health? I sense a healthy move from lip-service accountability about mental health and substance use disorder to a growing compassion and duty to our fellows. The idea of an altering zeitgeist is the theme of Episode 41 of Rebellion Dogs Radio:
Two people are taking a stand to help end the stigma—and systemic discrimination—around addiction and mental health.
Meet Lucy, likes to rock 'n' roll by night/ addiction & mental health treatment by day.
Meet Michael, lawyer representing those with untreated addiction/ mental health conditions in the cross-hairs of Canada’s criminal justice system, someone who's been a law-making public figure, one who's been a defendant in the same legal system he helped author, and wait, there's more, an author in long-term recovery.
“Given that addiction and recovery remain an enigma to most lawyers and judges,” Michael Bryant writes, “there is a tendency to randomly embrace or reject any submissions on point. The discomfort with the subject is high. Eggshells everywhere.” In his new book, Mere Addiction, Michael J. Bryant offers an insider’s candid commentary about how abstinence bail conditions are a set up for failure and recidivism, leading many addicts/alcoholics to battle the stacked odds of overcoming addiction without support. Another senior lawyer I know in recovery refers to making drinking a violation of an alcoholic’s bail or parole as the criminal justice system’s means of “manufacturing crime.”
Lucy Di Santo's music is no stranger to Rebellion Dogs Radio; we've played Acid Test on our show. But do you know her story; her band's story?
Lucy is lead singer of Acid Test, signed to Sire/Warner Records in the 1990s, toured the UK, USA and Canada with Nine Inch Nails, Grace Jones, 54-40 and Snow. Then a series of rock 'n' roll road blocks curtailed the tour bus including - no stranger to the music biz - addiction would befall not one, but two band members. But of course, addiction is not suffered by ½ a band; addiction impacts the whole band. Just like one member of a family doesn’t suffer from addiction; the whole family suffers.
In the case of Acid Test, one substance use disorder pat led to recovery, and the other, premature death. The 2012 loss of band-mate Mike Harland AKA DJ- Jus’ Rite brought disbanded Acid Test survivors together and eventually the seed was planted for a new record dedicated to their late colleague.
At the time of posting Episode 41, this news-peg-du-jour which speaks to shifting consciousness about mental health awareness. In June, after the shocking suicides of one TV and one fashion celebrity Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins emailed all of his employees about the matter of mental wellness and coping with mental health issues. Here’s how it was reported by Christina Farr for CNBC[i]
“In light of recent tragedies, I wanted to step away from Cisco Live for a moment to talk about the importance of mental health,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, we all know friends, family, and coworkers battling mental health conditions, or maybe you’re going through your own struggles.”
Robbins, who took over the CEO role in 2015, encouraged employees to “talk openly and extend compassion,” asked that they “have each other’s backs,” and told them that professional support is available. Robbins had no idea what was about to happen. More than 100 employees responded to his note within days, some sharing in painful detail their own personal struggles.
“I didn’t understand the magnitude of the problem,” Robbins told CNBC in an interview. “The volume of responses we got back led us to be more active.”
Roughly one in five adults in the U.S. per year suffer from mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The costs to treat depression, stress, anxiety and other ailments exceeds $200 billion a year, and for many employers the number of sick days and lost productivity associated with mental health represent one of their biggest expenses
But relative to physical sicknesses, there remains a stigma in publicly addressing behavioral health. Insurers and corporations have been slow to recognize its importance, and many qualified health professionals, including psychologists and psychiatrists, don’t accept insurance, even in Cisco’s backyard.”
Large employers across the country are just beginning to prioritize it through their benefits programs as part of a broader focus on employee wellness. Technology companies in particular are adopting new health programs as another way to attract and retain talent in the hyper-competitive market for engineers. …
The article goes on to explain Cisco’s 7/24 access to professionals, meditation, yoga and paid leave.
One CEO says enough is enough and he won’t stand idly by, pretending that he can will or hope away the financial and productivity costs of mental health problems. Cisco makes it okay to speak up, say, “I have a problem or think I might; who can I turn to for help?” Cisco suggests that this position adds shareholder value and is not a dragging cost to his company’s operations. Cisco talked about, CNBC reported on it, now we're talking about it. It sure looks like a movement, to me.
I found myself swept up by this, “if you see something, say something” new-attitude, this month. I have a modest profile in the North American music scene but a voice nonetheless. Unless someone is blatantly reaching out for help when I'm on the job, I’m discrete about living in long-term recovery. This is the music biz; it’s artistic, counter-culture, a lot of the sponsors that pay the artists are booze companies. Before we know it, cannabis retailers will be sponsoring pop music tours.
So why would I want to be a buzz-kill? Why would I brag about my sobriety? Well, the music industry isn’t spared from tragic premature deaths due to alcohol and other substance/process addictions. The 27-Club took baby-boomer icons Janis, Jimi,Brian Jones and Jim Morrison. GenX lost Kurt Cobain, Millennials lost Amy Winehouse: all lost to substance use disorder at the age of 27. Music is one of the few professions you can drink on the job and not be punished for it. So, just like Cisco’s leadership saw something and said something, IndieWeek, an annual music festival and music business conference added a health and wellness day to it’s Indie_101 conference schedule. So, what could I do? I had to ask, “Would attendees be receptive to hearing from professional musicians I know who currently negotiate a clean & sober path in the music scene? IndieWeek said, “Yes.”
So, I moderated “Second Chances: Recovery over Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Rob Laidlaw plays bass for 80’s A-list touring stadium acts. He also produces and writes songs with today’s emerging artists. Lucy Di Santo seemed like the perfect add on. She's in a 90's come-back band and an addiction treatment counselor with whom I volunteer in her Wednesday morning after-care at Bellwood Health Services.
As it turns out, the panel date and all of Wellness Day got moved from Friday to Wednesday, conflicting with Acid Test’s Fall tour: Wednesday in Montreal, Quebec, Thursday in Kingston Ontario, Friday and Saturday as delegates and performers at IndieWeek. So, to make up for this change, Lucy and I did a short YouTube video together for Indie Week delegates. That left Rob and I to hold court with IndieWeek attendees.
Rob shared his lived experience, how snorting lines with record label executives over record contracts, the Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll life's wearing on his performance and reasoning. Rob found himself sucking back a few late-morning drinks at an airport bar before a flight and he was quite embarrassed that his band-mates didn’t concur that mid-day shots was not the way to fly. Rob looked for help.
Getting sober, Rob wondered if he had a future in the music business. How could he live the life and stay sober? It didn’t seem possible. But he found a way and got threw the first awkward sober live performances and back stage shenanigans as a straight-edge, all while the party raged around him.
At the IndieWeek conference, I disclosed that IndieCan Radio wasn’t my only broadcasting gig and music isn’t my only form of journalism to which I draw upon lived experience. I can prepare for, and cope with, people getting high and tipsy around me when we’re all there for music because I’ve come to be comfortable around music, regardless of the environment it’s being performed in. When there are free beer tickets offered, I give them away. But when the music’s over and it’s after-party time, more about the booze and drugs, I go home.
Click to listen or download our interviews with Michael Bryant and Lucy Di Santo as well as teasers for Episode 42: No God No Problem, Accommodating the Growing Demand for Secular 12-Step Facilitation. This was a presentation I put on at NAADAC 2018 (Annual Conference of Treatment Professionals) in October. You and I will chat next episode about the timely role secular AA plays in a professional environment of more inclusive ethical standards, a search for better outcomes and best practices and... how to avoid legal jeopardy suffered on facilities with outdated practices. AA may have once been the lone last-house-on-the-block. Today, we have neighbors: Women For Sobriety, SOS, Refuge Recovery, SMART Recovery, Life Ring. Still, AA is ubiquitous and secular AA meeting make up a growing subculture and thus, are another helpful arrow in addiction treatment quiver.