Quran and Me in Ramadan

*Picture taken from YouTube*

Imagine me trying to finish the Quran more than once in Ramadan! It’s improving my relationship with Allah, the book (English contents/Arabic audio) and helping my mental health. I’m so happy.

My study consisted of listening to the Quran in Arabic, following along, while also reading the English translation. The parts I knew I read in Arabic and revised. Also, I tried to match the English translation to the exact words. It was challenging.

Finally, I read the summary on the ajzaa and topics on a Quranic website. So interesting. I’m the same person who was reluctant to link faith and the Quran with my mental illness journey. But this year after reading I’m realizing how much I like learning about Allah and the past communities. It makes me feel whole.

I didn’t know this could happen. I’m also noticing where I needed to rely on others for an Iman boost and Islamic education. I think this is important for solidarity and community cooperation.

I anticipate this journey (inshaAllah) with the Quran to continue after Quran and I want to work hard to study under the experts in my area to let this improve my health.

3 Things I learned through this process:

• It’s helpful to read a summary of the chapters and itemized outlines in addition to the translation. This, before you get to tafseer and such obviously.

> Benefit: My memorization and reading became stronger by the end.

• Listening to Arabic while reading English makes you concentrate more on what’s being said in both languages.

>Benefit: Translation word to word became easier as time went on and my vocabulary improved somewhat

• It takes patience to sit with Allah’s words and digest the material properly in order to make lasting changes in your life.

>Benefit: I’m just getting started with my Quranic journey and this month has helped me get a jumpstart on my goals. Both health and Iman wise.

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Updated: I’m finished my Quran reading alhamdulillah! Now I’m going back through, and this time I’m reading only in Arabic. It’s my sincere hope that this thread inspires others like me to get back to the Quran in Ramadan and throughout the year (obviously not as strenuous though lol)

Next day…Alhamdulillah today I finished juz 30 (Arabic audio/English) & juz 1 Arabic. I’m going back to the beginning. It’s going faster this time. I’m also finally learning properly the dua for witr. I have so many things to learn in Arabic subhanAllah. Today has been emotional 🙂

Rumination: My Brain on Love After Divorce

To feel like you’ll never be in love again (even though it’s not necessarily true) is a crushing feeling. It’s an intrusive thought. It’s your OCD ruining things. It’s rumination trying to take over where you paroxetine leaves off.

At night, when I’m at my loneliest, my brain tells me I’m unworthy of romantic love. It taunts me and says I’m ugly, fat, undesirable, etc. I try to ignore these cruel and unrelenting thoughts, but it isn’t easy. The silence is even worse. It’s so deafening. I have to press my hands to my ears to block out the sounds of the voices telling me I’ll never get another chance at warmth and happiness. Sometimes I make counter noises and sing loudly, just to drown out the negative stuff. I want to talk back to the voices. I want to tell them I’m a good person.

My intrusive thoughts keep me up at night. Though it’s gotten much better, I still struggle with the feeling that I won’t feel love ever again. I have doubts about my current reality. Does anyone care about me? Do people know I’m alive? Will I die alone? Am I loved by Allah and His creation? Have I slipped into obscurity? What if I never meet The One?

If you’ve always lived with your significant other then these intrusive thoughts will seem foreign to you. OCD itself will seem like something ‘other’ as well. It’s hard to imagine the loneliness of living by oneself with psychosis and psychological trauma. With disorders that rob you of your sanity.

When you add loss of love to the mix, it gets even more complicated. I try to remain upbeat and keep myself occupied. I tell myself that whatever happens, I’ll be alright.

I’ve learned how to weather the loneliness at night and how to keep my brain occupied even when I sleep. And my medications are working better these days, thankfully. Will I ever find romantic love again is a question for God, and not for me. But I’m anxiously awaiting the answer. Until then, I sit in silence in the dark and tackle my rumination alone.

Getting Med Refills Each Month as a Disabled Person

As a patient living with multiple chronic, mental and physical illnesses, it can be a challenge to receive your medication on time each month. One issue faced by people is how the doctor chooses to fill the prescription; monthly or every 90 days. Each option means you have to keep track of your meds and remember when you last filled them so you can keep up with the script schedule.

Another issue you may face is wait times at the pharmacy. Due to covid and distancing procedures, getting your meds can take twice as long as it did in the past. And even calling your pharmacy on the phone can be a daunting task. Pharmacy staff is often overwhelmed by customers in person and on phone lines which causes everyone to wait longer. It’s understandable, but frustrating.

Some doctors choose to e-file your scripts while others still rely on giving patients hard copies of their hand written prescriptions. This causes more lag time for patients and ultimately ends up in longer wait times at the pharmacy. The goal should be to minimize stress for those who are already dealing with a lot, not to bog them down in minutiae and red tape.

Those patients who take multiple medications often need pill minders and med calendars to help monitor their monthly intake of medicines. Otherwise it can get confusing as to what they’ve taken and when. One tip given by a local pharmacist is to keep your empty pill bottles each month (in a safe case) so you have the dates when last filled and any necessary med information needed in order to remind yourself when to next fill the scripts.

Do you have challenges filling your meds each month? You can always ask questions, at the pharmacy, at your doctor’s office, and whenever you feel you need more information. Getting your medicine shouldn’t be confusing. It should be a smooth process and one which facilitates part of your medical care.

Catching Up

Well I did it. I finally got my meds for my OCD. This has been the longest Spring I’ve experienced since I can remember. I think I can trace a lot of my symptoms back to normal spring time mania. That stuff I go through every year. But also, I got my Covid-19 shot. I was warned about possible psychiatric side effects afterwards so I was prepared. So far, I’ve experienced insomnia, paranoia, and excessive anxiety. 

Photo by Ben Mack on Pexels.com

I’ve also noticed an increase in join pain/myalgia due to my weight and thyroid issues. It’s been difficult but I’m on the mend alhamdulillah. Getting the OCD medication has made me feel complete because it means my psych profile is totally covered. All of my diagnoses are being looked after and I’m happy with the care I’m receiving. 

The first time I was treated for OCD was at an inpatient facility. A PA made a subtle reference to my symptoms and I felt seen. It was a nice experience. Since then, I’ve struggled with taking my medicine properly and adhering to my doctor’s regimen on a regular basis. But lately, I’ve started taking things more seriously. 

I understand how important it is to follow what he suggests and listen to his advice. And I know it’s for my own good. Still, it’s hard to accept that I need help. OCD is a debilitating disorder. The intrusive thoughts never stop. You’re always second guessing yourself and ruminating. Playing scenes out in your head and running over dialogues repeatedly. 

It’s exhausting. I’m tired of hearing myself think. Sometimes I just want a break. I’m doing well with my other meds too; those for migraines and narcolepsy, thankfully. And it’s helping me with my daily routines and family life. I am getting organized with my health care after all this time. It feels bittersweet because I’d love to be able to share this part of my life with my mom. She’d be so proud of me. 

Anyway here’s hoping I tolerate the Paxil well and take it properly/regularly. Last night was the first time in a long time that I didn’t wrestle with my thoughts. I woke up feeling refreshed. Even if somewhat tired. Let’s make this a habit. 

Life Plan For Mental Illness

 

Life Plan for Muslims Living with Mental Illness

Purpose
To illustrate how a person living with mental illness in a Muslim community (or any marginalized area) can safely and happily share their life with others

Who Should Make a Life Plan
Anyone who wants to share their lives with loved ones and feels comfortable adding them to their support team. A person who has a mental health diagnosis and wants to inform people how to address any concerns or questions about their health and safety, should an emergency arise (how to get the individual to their doctor and such). Someone who feels comfortable sharing emergency contacts and wants to teach others about their mental illness.

Who Should Be Involved
The individual who has been diagnosed should make this plan with their diagnosing psychiatrist. That way, the patient and doctor can discuss the person’s needs as far as their physical environment, support system, transportation, religious and psychosocial development, educational counseling, financial needs and so forth. Once developed, the person may share this plan with whom they wish. But as it is now part of their formal diagnosis and medical record, it cannot be altered or commented on by a layperson. And should not be tampered with. The purpose of the life plan is to augment the support system and make their job of helping the patient heal easier and more cohesive. It also helps the patient communicate with their doctor during check ups and any emergency visits.

When to Communicate Needs (Patient)
When the person notices their quality of living standards are reducing to the degree that they cannot handle day to day tasks and it is interfering with their quality of life. As an example, if a person isn’t able to attend to daily hygiene needs and if this is harming their standard of living, they may want to reach out and tell a friend they are in need of extra attention. Note: this isn’t cause for alarm right away or a call for action. Their prescribing doctor is the only one who can diagnose any new symptoms and understand the situation. Communication helps those around the person know that things are happening and to be more empathetic at this time. For the Muslim friend or neighbor, this is a great time to make dua and ask for relief of hardships for the person, nothing more. They must refrain from offering unsolicited advice, piling on extra household chores, parental duties, etc, and make a concerted effort not to add to the person’s overall hardships. In general, stress and pressure exacerbate mental health conditions and make recovery much harder. Stress also makes living conditions more tense. A person may feel shy to tell their friends and family members this and can ask for help with communication from a physician or social worker.

Always remember, reliving a sick person’s difficulties can bring many blessings inshaAllah.
It was narrated from Abu Hurairah:
“The Messenger of Allah said: ‘Whoever relieves a Muslim of some worldly distress, Allah will relieve him of some of the distress of the Day of Resurrection, and whoever conceals (the faults of) a Muslim, Allah will conceal him (his faults) in this world and the Day of Resurrection. And whoever relives the burden from a destitute person, Allah will relieve him in this world and the next. Allah will help His slave so long as His slave helps his brother. Whoever follows a path in pursuit of knowledge, Allah will make easy fro him a path to paradise. No people gather in one of the houses of Allah, reciting the Book of Allah and teaching it to one another, but the angels will surround them, tranquility will descend upon them, mercy will envelop them and Allah will mention them to those who are with Him. And whoever is hindered because of his bad deeds, his lineage will be of no avail to him.'”

When to Communicate Concerns (Support team/living partners or roommates)
If you are living with a mentally ill person or know someone with a diagnosis and become concerned about their symptoms, you may not know how to approach the topic. First, as long as the person has a regular doctor and/or therapist in their life, know that you are in no way responsible for their medical care. Your empathy can be best used by following Quran and Sunnah and not panicking. If you notice a change and are worried for someone’s safety, don’t be afraid to talk about things directly. Asking about suicide and suicidal thoughts does not induce suicidal behaviors or ideations.

An ice breaker may be “hey, I notice you’ve been withdrawn lately, do you mind if we talk?” or “Can we talk later? I’m worried about you. Are you alright? You seem upset. Would you like to talk?” “Is there anything you’d like to discuss? How can I make things easier for you?” “I really don’t know what to say but I want you to know I’m here for you and I support you.” “Please tell me how you’d like me to talk to you about your mental health symptoms. I don’t want to seem dismissive when I don’t know what to say.”
HIPPA
As someone’s friend, neighbor, roommate or family member, you may not talk about their mental illness or diagnosis with others. Even if the person discloses their diagnosis publicly. They are allowed to decide what they want to publicize however gossip rules still apply and it is best to leave sensitive subjects to the professionals. If you overhear someone crying on the phone, laughing with fiends late at night, talking about their inpatient experiences, describing uncomfortable symptoms, talking about their most and least favorite physicians or simply having an episode that a doctor has to handle, please let the professionals do their job and do not violate their personal space. Often times, this is how disagreements happen and feelings get hurt because lines are crossed that need not be. The saying that “too many cooks spoil the pot” applies to this situation. Please use best practices and do not violate someone’s privacy, which in turn will keep everyone safe.

Online
Many Muslims with mental health issues are visible online. Some are mental health advocates as well. If you see someone who has chosen to be an advocate for mental health online and they have specified their particular area of interest, please reach out to them directly and make contact. Get to know them. Get a business card. Give them the respect that you give other advocates and activists. DM them and give them the Islamic Greetings as you would any other Muslim advocate. Offer direct advice and sincere Islamic naseehah when they make a mistake, from the Quran and the Sunnah. With love and sincerity. If you have questions about where they’ve studied, ask them kindly, and not to poke holes in their life and ruin their mental health even further. Help them heal Islamically and spiritually and don’t step over their doctors who have worked hard to put their minds back together. With this, Insha’Allah, the community can come together and learn much more about the topic of mental health and those of us living with mental illness can feel safe and accepted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drowning in Bottles

Drowning In Bottles

E5705D0C-3A25-4606-AD97-1EAA0A6CB433

My Story of Addiction and Substance Use Disorder 

 

                         By: Karen Michelle Kaiser

 

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Disclaimer

This book is for mature adults and teenagers. It contains the following content triggers: 

 

Alcohol addiction 

Alcoholism 

Alcohol intoxication 

Cutting

Overdose 

Addiction 

Self-injury

Sexual abuse 

Substance use disorder 

Other common methods of self-harm and expressions of suicidality 

 

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I want to talk about a topic that I haven’t been able to discuss openly for most of my adult life; alcohol addiction and acute substance use disorder. I’m an African American Muslim and I grew up in the Washington, DC area. My experiences are limited to my life and to the people I’ve met. My intention is mainly to discuss my alcoholism, how it began, why I felt so secretive and how I pulled myself out of it. I want this to be a source of strength and support for others like me who may feel hopeless or helpless in the face of such a situation. May Allah bless my efforts, and reward my teachers and mentors for their guidance. And may He continue to reward my family for their support. Ameen. 

 

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The Beginning 

The first time I took a drink of alcohol, I was 16 years old. I was at a summer party with some friends. That’s the first time it happened publicly. But before then, I remember taking sips of my parents’ wine from their glasses at holiday parties and such. And feeling like I was doing something wrong, but exciting at the same time. I loved holding my father’s mugs and thinking I was as adult as he was. 

 

He kept his liquor in a cabinet on our entertainment center, right above his records. The cabinet made a creaking sound when you opened it. He never offered me anything to drink, but the pull of alcohol was still really strong. I liked how it made me feel and how it numbed my emotions. I felt ashamed that I was taking something that didn’t belong to me; something I didn’t have permission to consume. But regardless, it became a routine. 

 

Addiction 

Immediately after that first taste, I was hooked. I was addicted to alcohol. It wasn’t because I liked drinking, it’s because being drunk made me forget the things that made me sad and anxious. I will admit though, I liked the feeling of weightlessness that comes with it. It’s fun also. Right before you lose your balance and your inhibitions, being intoxicated is like being at a carnival. I always liked being less me; or more me. When I’m drinking, my tongue is looser and I’m funnier. My jokes are better. I’m the life of the party. I love that. I suck up the oxygen in the room until there isn’t anymore. And then I keep going. It’s as though my stomach is bottomless. I drink until a trapdoor opens and all the contents of my stomach drop out onto the floor; along with the bile and my guts. It’s a painful experience. But then, so is alcoholism. 

 

Mental Health 

Beginning in 9th grade, I often slept through my classes, because of poor mental health and exhaustion. Even as an athlete, I felt rundown on a constant basis. I later found out I have excessive daytime sleepiness and narcolepsy. It took years of tests to receive a proper diagnosis. But by then, my life had been so disrupted by sleeping that I’d become severely overwhelmed. This caused me to feel worse about myself and lazy overall. Though I didn’t realize it, I drank as a result of how I perceived my health status. Drinking was my escape. 

 

I was in 10th grade when I met the first guy who talked to me about alcohol. He went to another church and neighboring high school. He was one year older and really cute. He asked me one night if I’d ever been drunk. He told me what it was like. He told me not to believe people who said you don’t know what you’re doing when you’re drunk. And he said you’re just more ‘you’ when you drink. To me, that sounded like he was setting me up for a compromising situation. I was leery of him, as he kept trying to get me to go to parties where there’d be alcohol and older students. So we never met in person. I had many experiences like this as I got older. It scarred my psyche. I never told my parents about why we never dated but I was embarrassed and ashamed of our phone conversations. 

 

In college, my narcolepsy got much more debilitating. It was exacerbated by bipolar depression, anxiety and my response to trauma. I was bullied so much throughout childhood that my self-esteem suffered. No one knew how much I hated myself. And they didn’t know I had been molested and sexually assaulted at least three times in my life. My mom suspected something, but wasn’t sure who the culprit was. This left many questions for me. And I couldn’t talk to my father or other family members because I was too shy and introverted; though my father was always supportive. So I drank to hide my pain.  

 

Religious Conversion

I was 21 years old when I converted to Islam. I felt as though I didn’t have anyone to turn to, in order to share my past difficulties. And I was scared people would find out how chaotic my life had been, so I didn’t tell them anything. That left me feeling like I couldn’t trust anyone in my Muslim circles early on. When I converted, people told me to forget my old life. They said it wasn’t necessary to think about what had happened. And that Allah had forgiven my past mistakes. But nobody asked me if I knew about trauma, had negative experiences, addictions, mental health issues and so on. I think this was irresponsible, even if unintentional. I think I should have been counseled by a licensed therapist and Imam, screened for mental health concerns and substance use disorders, and formally welcomed to a community. And furthermore, I should have been guided in what to do if I developed any of these issues subsequently. That would have been ideal anyway. 

 

Since none of that happened, I ended up trying to quit alcohol cold turkey, several times. Trying to manage my addictions and substance use issues without professional help. Trying to hide my trauma and anxiety and not being forthcoming with clinicians when I did finally find them. This was dangerous and proved almost deadly to me on multiple occasions. 

 

When I met my future husband, I’d pushed all this down and forgotten it happened. I’d repressed memories of the abuse, my visits to the psychiatrist, my sexual assaults, the alcoholism, and so on. Anything I did remember, I kept to myself out of fear of judgment and shame. We didn’t have marital counseling; in fact, it wasn’t even recommended to us. At that time, there was no counseling center at the masjid, and of course, no place to discuss addictions or alcoholism. My marriage was set up to fail, in a way. 

 

Cold Turkey 

I remember my first Ramadan when I was in college. I stopped drinking so I oould pray and fast. But I didn’t have guidance, so I didn’t know how to taper and pray as a dry alcoholic. I’d go back and forth, wrestling with my alcohol addiction. I’d stopped going to parties, of course, but memories of the alcohol kept attacking my psyche. I still had strong cravings and some withdrawal symptoms. It was so hard to put the bottle down, metaphorically speaking. Sometimes, I’d make a mistake and take a drink. 

 

I heard about 12-Step programs, but I didn’t know anything about them. I didn’t want to quit drinking for the sake of someone else. I wanted to do it for my own benefit. But I’ll admit, I never looked into recovery seriously. I’d only heard of halfway houses and rehab facilities in my area briefly. I thought quitting cold turkey was best for me & my Iman. For some reason, I thought Islam distinguished me from other addicts because I’d only heard of recovery from a Christian perspective. One day, I told my therapist I was quitting therapy & moving on. She was upset, but couldn’t stop me. I stopped seeing my psychiatrist abruptly too. It was the summer of 1996. I was in the throes of a full blown manic episode, only I didn’t know it. In hindsight, I’ve since learned that stopping therapy and meds and not seeking inpatient treatment is not advisable. I’m happy to know better, nowadays. 

 

Going Without Alcohol 

The first few Ramadan’s were peaceful for me. I forgot my old life and never told anyone about my addictions. I didn’t seem to need any additional support. I was in a kind of mental health remission. But then I had my son. And it triggered something in me. The stress exacerbated my symptoms and my addiction resurfaced. I had kids back to back, every two years. The hormones and stress of being a new mother made my bipolar disorder and anxiety return with a vengeance. I developed poor coping skills as a result. I wanted to drink, but couldn’t. I wished I had told someone that I’d been a heavy drinker in college, so I’d know what to do. When my midwives asked me about alcohol and substance use, I wasn’t honest. I also didn’t remember or realize the importance of the emotional issues I was dealing with. 

 

I found other ways to soothe my pain and anxiety. When my husband wasn’t home, if there were pills in the house, regardless if they were mine or not, I’d take them. I was right back into my addictive behaviors before I knew it. I didn’t know how to reach out for help. I realized later I was substituting one addiction for another. So quitting alcohol cold turkey, without a support system, didn’t do anything positive for me at all. I began to use my husband’s work tools to cut myself, resorting to a teenage coping mechanism I used to employ. Self-harm was something I indulged in when I needed help managing tough situations. I’d cut, scratch my face, wring my hands, wrap things around my neck, injure my limbs (or re-injure them), etc. Anything to feel pain or hurt myself. I still have scars on both arms from where razors dug into my flesh one time when I was with my children. Thankfully I wasn’t seriously injured, nor were they. 

 

Blackout

Before I stopped drinking, there were a few times where I got blackout drunk. This kind of thing started in my third year of high school. I wanted to numb my feelings and feel happy. But I’d drink too fast and too much. I’d consume alcohol until I got physically ill. Drinking like that is extremely dangerous. And if you’re around water or near a pool, you can get hurt. I realize now that I was passively suicidal, and severely depressed. I was also dealing with many impulsive behaviors and had no safety net. 

 

During beach week I drank until I passed out. But before I blacked out, I went canoeing at midnight. I could have fallen overboard. I want this to be a lesson for my kids and other youth. When I woke up, there was so much vomit on my shirt and on my face. I was crying. My friends said they couldn’t stop me from getting sick and they didn’t know what to do. They tried turning me over during the night, but I still woke up on my back. It took me two days to fully recover and sober up. My parents didn’t know where I was or who I was with. I’ve never felt that awful before. Unfortunately, even after that, I still drank. Because this is how substance use disorder and addiction work. And it’s deadly. I went through this painful ordeal many more times in college and even afterwards, subhanAllah. I overdosed with substances too. It got to a point where I’d take extra vitamins and try to drink water, electrolyte solutions or juice with my alcohol and pills, just so I wouldn’t get as sick. It was exhausting. 

 

I always found a liquor store or a beer & wine place wherever I lived. I knew exactly where to go & what time they closed depending on what part of the area I was in. This is problematic for me now that I’m sober. I don’t want to live like that. You become a slave to your addiction. People think you’re a low life or you’re just a bad person if you drink. They think you have poor character and that your parents raised you wrong. I hate that mentality. I’m tempted to negate this and remind people that I was raised in the church, like I’ve done in the past. But addiction doesn’t discriminate. It isn’t a character issue at all. It’s about trauma and about a lack of proper coping skills. It’s about connection. It’s also about impulsivity for some of us and self-will. And an underlying mental illness makes things more complicated. 

 

Hoarding 

This morning, I opened my nightstand drawers. They were a mess. I had pill bottles everywhere and drugstore receipts. I found a few loose trileptal pills (for mood regulation) too. Tops to empty bottles. Nail clippers. Trash galore. This is also a part of my addiction. It’s called hoarding & ocd. It’s a part of my adhd and anxiety disorder as well. It’s representative of my hectic life. So I bought a lockbox, a pill minder, and pill pouches to organize things and it helped. I still have a long way to go though. 

 

I don’t drink anymore, but I’m so disorganized. I don’t know how to take my meds properly, therefore my behavior still mimics addiction. I have the lockbox, but I don’t yet use it properly. I can’t figure out how to tell my doctors I need help with this entire process. I want to make a difference for others. And I wish I’d met someone like me along the way. I wish I’d been to a place like the women’s shelter I was at in Texas much sooner. What I miss about that area is someone coming to my room and asking me to go to a meeting. It was such a nice feeling. Funny enough, when I was in Senegal, it felt much the same way. My family members would come to my door to give me attaya (Senegalese tea) or something. It’s about camaraderie, plain and simple. 

 

At my mom’s house I used to collect bottles of beer in large plastic trash bags in my room. I was ashamed for anyone to discover I was drinking, so I hid it. I’d finish a six-pack and shove the empty bottles into the bag hoping that somehow hid my ‘crime’. Eventually when the bag got too full, I’d sneak outside when no one was looking and stash it in the trash can. I got tired of that routine and I got tired of thinking people would find out. Sometimes I’d keep the bags in my room. But then I’d hoard 3 and 4 bags of bottles at a time. I was drowning in my alcohol addiction. I couldn’t see my way out. 

 

Lack of Connection 

They say addiction stems from a lack of connections. I’m noticing throughout this narrative that what I’m often missing is a connection to family and friends. And a lack of a genuine connection with myself and to Allah. When my Iman is higher, I don’t want to drink or give in to my addictions. My impulse control issues, even if they do come up, are easier to manage, and I’m less apt to reject help than when my Iman is lower. When I’m away from my deen, though, this isn’t the case. Part of my problem is my social anxiety. I drank to calm my nerves in social situations or because I didn’t know how to say ‘no’. Or maybe because I felt I couldn’t. Additionally, if I became embarrassed in public or anything, drinking was my way out. 

 

It’s summertime as I’m writing this and getting pretty hot. I live close to two alcohol establishments. I don’t feel compelled to buy anything at the moment. But in the past I would have. I would have been so tempted to go grab an alcoholic beverage. I wouldn’t have been able to control my cravings. At times like this, it feels like my veins are reaching for the haram, day and night. I can feel it like I feel my heartbeat. It calls to me. 

 

Tawbah 

It’s hard to admit that tawbah is part of addiction. But I still need to learn the true meaning of repentance. I don’t understand this but I wouldnt have wanted people to see me walk into a liquor store as a Muslim and as a hijabi. So I would have altered my appearance. I’m sure people think that means I unequivocally know right from wrong, I sometimes do. But what they’re missing is the impulsivity. And the compulsive disorder. That’s the part I can’t control. And mania and psychosis both significantly alter your perception and your judgment. You cannot consent to anything in those kinds of conditions. However, where tawbah comes in for me is talking about the haram unnecessarily in public rather than studying about my illness with a qualified therapist or teacher, remaining quiet about doubtful issues instead of speaking out of turn and sharing things that I didn’t have permission to.

 

Overdose

With alcohol, I’ve experienced acute intoxication, extreme drunkenness and poisoning. Many times at parties, I used to mix alcohol and beer together, meaning I’d drink one right after the other. Done correctly, you don’t get sick and you can continue drinking. But when mixed improperly, you will vomit after a while and have a bad hangover. The same is true with substances. I don’t like to think about how many times had alcohol poisoning. Because my behavior was so self-sabotaging back then. Hopefully now I’m taking much better care of myself. And I don’t have the need to tempt fate or see how much punishment my body can handle before I give and and take care of it. Overdosing hurts. And I’m never sure if the last time will be my “last time”. I don’t want to keep thumbing my nose at Allah’s mercy without realizing how many times I’ve been saved before. 

 

Reaching Out 

I notice a common refrain is to tell someone like me to reach out for help when we’re struggling with mental ill health or having an addiction problem. Often hotline numbers are passed around as well. This is helpful, but only to a point, The person who is in need isn’t always ready or able to ask for help when the need it the most. And the people who need to help don’t always know instinctively to reach out to their loved ones and check on them without prompting. This causes a disconnect. Maybe instead of all of us simply saying “reach out” to one another and “take care of your mental health” we can direct these phrases and make them more meaningful, we can explain how we want people to connect with one another. That way we’re working on community building skills and creating better experiences. 

 

Harm Reduction 

The first thing I do when I notice a craving is think back to the mindfulness steps I learned in therapy. Though a trigger can produce powerful results, I’m often able to get control quickly. Depending on where I am, I’ll sit down and meditate for a few minutes and notice my breathing and my body. I’ll sometimes close my eyes and just try to focus my attention on what may have happened to bring about the feeling of anxiety in that moment. By then, the craving has usually passed and I feel better. If not, I take steps to alleviate it. Thankfully I have a good community with whom I feel safe and comfortable and I can communicate when my needs properly. And I have a mentor who always reminds me about my prayer. This helps tremendously. 

 

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Epilogue

The first khutbah I ever heard was about depression and anxiety disorder. The Imam said if you need to take medication to stabilize your brain, you should feel free to do so. I enjoyed that lesson. But I didn’t think much about it at the time. I moved on with my life as a Muslim and forgot his words of wisdom. Years later, I remembered that sermon and regretted I hadn’t taken heed much sooner. Remembering that  khutbah might have saved me from heartache and turmoil. But I know that saying ‘if’ is something undesired in Islam. 

 

I don’t think about drinking alcohol much anymore. By this, I mean I don’t fantasize about drinking when I’m alone. But sometimes when I’m out, I do get tempted. I don’t know what to do in those moments and sometimes I get nervous. Usually I don’t give stores a second glance. The idea of getting drunk makes my stomach turn in knots. But when I pass a liquor store, I do check to see if it’s open. If I see the window sign flashing, my heart pounds. I actually feel butterflies in my stomach. I wonder if I’ll get the urge to go inside. But then the clash of colors from the different advertisements triggers my vertigo, and I walk away, anxious, but sober. This is a good thing. 

 

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Resources

 

SAMHSA www.samhsa.gov 

NAMI www.nami.org 

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention www.afsp.org 

Muslim Youth Hotline 

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Back Cover:

What they don’t tell you about an alcohol overdose is that it hurts. By that I mean it’s physically painful. It’s as if you can feel your cells shrinking, trying to get away from the poison of the alcohol. I’ve felt this too many times to count. When you OD or have alcohol poisoning you first feel really bad, like something is going to happen. It’s an aura, of sorts.

 

You know you went too far with the drinking, and you wish you could take it back. But it’s too late at that point. You feel queasy and you start sweating. You feel hot and dizzy. Your skin gets clammy too; first your hands, your upper lip, and then the rest of your skin. You start to experience a cold sweat even if you’re hot. Then your stomach starts to hurt. Like all the way at the bottom. You realize the vomiting is inevitable.

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Karen Michelle Kaiser is a native of Washington, DC. She grew up in Silver Spring, MD, where she attended elementary through high school. After college, she became a mother to three children, a blogger, and a mental health advocate.  

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What I Mean When I Say I’m Lonely

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Here’s the thing. I’m not mad at anybody for not understanding what I go through on a daily basis. Everybody has their own struggles and their own issues. I understand that. What hurts is when I say I’m lonely and isolated, and I want to explain what this feels like, people always rush to commiserate. And for a moment I think, maybe I’m not the only one living in a black hole, in this box of nothingness. People say, ‘reach out’, ‘tell someone when you’re hurting’ and I think ok, that sounds easy enough. The lonely ones will get my language. They’ll know what to look for when I’m being swallowed up by the echoes of my walls. My townhouse has a lot of them. The hardwood floors and cascading ceilings make the sounds of nothingness worse. Especially at night. You see, not having a family and no one to talk to day after day makes the walls and ceilings absorb silence in a way you can only imagine if you live alone. If you’ve lived alone for years as I have. I have 3 kids and I was married for 11 years. The loneliness you feel when surrounded by people, particularly children and a spouse is nothing like the loneliness you feel when you are utterly alone. When you are the only one in the house. I’ve lived it; it’s worlds apart. And I’m starting to resent when people try to compare their loneliness to mine. It’s not the same at all. If it were, people would have known I was in trouble last night when I was suicidal and hurting. They would have reached out instead of ignoring me and shutting me down. I felt completely abandoned by the universe and it really hurt. But then I realized that if I were going to survive this bout with loneliness, I had to talk to myself the way I always talk to my friends when they need me. So that’s what I did all night. It wasn’t easy. I tweeted and stayed online. I didn’t let myself sleep. I knew if I went to sleep, I wouldn’t wake up. I just kept telling myself affirming messages as if I were encouraging a friend who was in trouble. I cried a lot, because I was hurt that no one was there. But I kept telling myself I could do it. And soon enough the rain ended and the morning came. I had made it through the night alhamdulillah. I took my medicine and slept most of the day. In the evening I started to feel better. It’s night now and I’m still not out of the woods. But I’m recovering. I never want to have to do that again. But I know now that I can if I need to. But also I want people to stop telling me they understand loneliness because they really don’t. I’m still waiting to find someone who does.

Love, Unanswered

*I wrote this short paragraph one night when I was feeling particularly vulnerable. I was involved in an unconventional friendship with a person who at the time didn’t see me the way in which I saw him. It made our friendship very challenging to say the least. 

I want him to take me seriously. To see me; all of me, no matter how wild and uncontrolled that ‘me’ is. As a person, I mean. Not as a group of symptoms to be managed. Or a challenge to overcome. I wonder if he could ever love me. I don’t care about his situation and if he’s available. That’s not what I’m talking about. I just want to know if someone like him could ever love someone like me. Is it even possible? I wonder and I hope… 

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