Clean and sober. Again.

Philip is a Native American water protector. I met him last September when he skillfully directed a couple of Portland protests against the Dakota Access Pipe Line (DAPL). Soon after the protests he left for the camp at Standing Rock, and he returned just in time for Thanksgiving. Sue and I joined him and his community for a prayer led by Native American women on the banks of the Columbia River at dawn that November day.

I had no idea he was struggling with addiction, and he didn’t know how to tell anyone. He didn’t reach out until he had lost himself in it. Again. He first entered rehab in the 1990s and had a 14-year-long period of sobriety that ended in 2010, and since then he has been in rehab four times. Today, when he made his speech to the assembly of staff, residents, and guests, at the Native American Rehabilitation Center, he said, “I got swept up in being an environmental activist. Suddenly it seemed so much more important than anything else. It was exciting, it was a kind of high; but it was exhausting, too, and I quit attending meetings, quit talking to my sponsor, started using again. What I see now, after a few months of looking back at things, is that I can’t afford to forget I’m an addict. If I’m using [drugs, alcohol], I’m no good to anybody. I want to be a better father, a better man. For myself, and for my people.”

I respect Philip’s humility and truthfulness, and I know how seductive activism can be. You feel you’re doing something important, something larger than yourself, larger than your family, your relationships. You spend hours on the phone, on Facebook, on email, and it all feels important: communicating, dealing with the details of meetings, speakers, sound systems. You practice your statements for the press, you lie awake at night thinking of what you should have said. Your routines slip. You eat take-outs because you don’t have time to shop or cook. You stop taking walks. You don’t have time for your friends; you figure you’ll see them at the next rally; you say to yourself that you’re bonding with them through the work. You begin living as if life is a crisis. It’s hard to find your balance.

I hope this time works for Philip. I hope he decides “just for today” to avoid the substances that have enslaved him in the past. I hope he can find a way to carry the burden of addiction with dignity and self-respect, so that he takes care of himself. 

Today is my 1500th post. I have been part of the Blip community for just short of seven years, and my many gaps, back-blips, and skipped days are mostly the result of my activism. Like Philip, I get swept up in it, and like Philip, I forget to take care of myself. I am not addicted to substances, but work is my habit. This journal is my indulgence. Photography and writing are how I keep track of the flow of days, how I remember, how I understand the little that I do, and how I tell about it. I am grateful.

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