Addiction: The Victim or The Crime?
My heart was broken. It was split wide open and the raw grief inside was pooling and choking me.
My sister and her husband had just left to take the 6 hour drive back home. They had come to tell us their son, my nephew, was gone. He was 21 years old. Handsome as hell, crazy smart, with a love of music and nature and a smile that left you with no other option but to smile back. And he was gone.
Along with every future event we all thought we’d share with him, every milestone we thought we’d watch him pass with ease. It was hard to believe. He lost a four year battle with opioids. A battle he quietly fought, a battle I never knew he was fighting.
I had lost a friend the month before and heard about others who struggled through friends, but I still didn’t really understand the scale of the epidemic or the nature of the addiction. I started to search online to find out everything I could. I don’t know why I believed having the details would help.
I just wanted answers even though I knew I would not find any for the real questions in my heart. But still I wanted to know more. I wanted to understand.
I found staggering statistics that seemed to grow with each article I scrolled through. I found no rhyme or reason in the demographics of the casualties of this disease. All walks of life seemed to be represented. I found most started with a pill, some prescribed, some not. Once the pill became unavailable or too expensive to feed the need, most turned to a needle that was shockingly cheap, $5 a bag. It was made cheaper by adding other things like horse and elephant tranquilizers that were so potent that a single grain, like a grain of salt, could kill anyone in a matter of seconds.
At the end of the articles, I also found comments. I knew better than to read them, but I did. The one that I read first was, “Stop wasting the narcan…these people don’t want to live.”
The comment ripped through me. How can someone read of a mother’s pain in losing her son and find only this response in their heart? I responded, though I doubt it did any good. I wanted to hurt him back but then thought better of it.
Instead I hoped to educate him. I wanted to change his view, make him see his judgment won’t help, but his understanding might. I wanted to change the view so many seem to share where they can only see the victims as addicts and not people who love and fear and laugh and cry. They are people, worthy of our love and compassion, who are just lost in their addiction. My nephew wanted to live. He had plans. He had a job he loved, a girl he loved, places he wanted to see.
He also had depression and was given pills that he didn’t want to take because he didn’t like the way they made him feel. In college, someone offered him a pill that he did like. A pill that let him relax and have fun. It also changed the biochemistry in his brain which created a dependence on the drug that caused his mind to need it just to feel normal.
I am positive he wasn’t thinking about that when he was 17. I’d wager he didn’t think taking the pill was a big deal at all.
I’m sure most of the young people that are finding their way to this drug don’t think much of it. They certainly aren’t planning on becoming addicts.
It was just a pill. A pill that doctors prescribe every day.
If you watch the television for any amount of time, you probably will see countless ads for all kinds of pills. A pill for everything that ails us. At the end of the ad we hear the droning of all the possible side effects, some as permanent as death, but the ads always finish with “ask your doctor if it’s right for you.”
I think that most of the drugs we see ads for don’t cure a thing. They just block the symptoms so you can enjoy life. That is what we see in the commercial, a depressing scene of a person in a dark time of their lives until they get a pill. Then they are sailing around the world in perpetual sunshine. That is overriding the message. If you have a pain, take a pill. It won’t make you better but it will make you feel better. That is the message our kids have grown up listening to and it seems quite logical to me that this is one of the results of such a message.
No one thinks taking a pill for anything is a big deal. Until it is.
It was for my nephew and millions of others who are struggling. I didn’t know about my nephew’s struggle. Not because he didn’t need help and love and support. But because he was ashamed. He was afraid his addiction made him unlovable. If he had read any of the comments I saw at the end of these articles, I can understand why he held that belief despite the truth that we could never find him unlovable. I will live the rest of my days hoping he knew that.
I’m not sure what it will take to turn the hearts of those who continue to perpetuate the stigma of addiction. It seems the only way is the hard way. Saying goodbye to someone we love.
But still I pray. I pray for the addicts and their families who hope silently that somehow they find grace in this world and a community that can support their journey back to themselves.
I pray that we find a way to heal as a nation, for this epidemic is but another symptom of a larger disease. We are a society that does not know how to live with pain—not our own or anyone else’s. We fear it and hide it and shame it.
This is our collective disease. There isn’t a pill in the world that can cure it. The cure for this can only come through love, understanding and compassion. I know this. But how do we get there?
I wish I knew the answer but I don’t. I only have a say over my own heart. Until we get there, my heart is open, despite the pain, or maybe wider because of it. I am sending love to everyone whose lives have been touched and an invitation to all who read this to change the dialogue from fear to kindness. There is a way through this and I believe it begins with compassion.
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” Dalai Lama XIV