…and as I sit here in heartache, pain and anger bordering on rage, I know I am not the only one who has lost someone today. Parents lost a child, friends lost a buddy, employers lost a hard worker, and I lost a young person suffering from a wounded and broken spirit.
I am going to personify this grief as it relates to myself alone because I cannot do justice to those who also lost this person. I cannot say anything that will lessen the pain or help people begin the journey of healing. I cannot do any of those things and I will not try.
What I can do, is take all of my emotions and attempt to put them in nicely formed sentences and paragraphs, so that I can begin the journey of healing. I can try to help others understand the emotional side of the awful disease that claimed the life of this very treasured person.
Cancer is a disease that is often identified as the most horrible condition with painful and debilitating symptoms. I am in no way minimizing other critical illnesses or diseases, and the reason I chose cancer as a comparison will become evident.
Cancer, as we know, is a disease with many outcomes. People who have cancer can complete treatment and become cancer free. Sometimes people can endure treatment and become cancer free for a period of time, only to have it come back. Many times, cancer cannot be “cured” and we grieve the loss of someone we loved, because cancer took their lives.
I lost someone today. But I didn’t lose him to cancer. I didn’t lose him to heart disease, diabetes, pneumonia, or influenza.
I lost him to a tragic and misunderstood disease. I lost him to addiction.
There it is. Right there. Did you notice it, did you feel it? You likely thought of it in one of two ways. The first is with remorse and kindness and empathy. The second is with dismissive thoughts that he somehow deserved it because after all, using drugs is a choice….right?
When we look at addiction, we see the addict. We see what they are doing. We see alcoholics falling down in a drunken stupor, we see junkies with needles in their arms, we see crackheads with broken and missing teeth. We blame their use of drugs and we think that if only they made better choices, if they would only smarten up, they’d get better.
We blame them, and we stigmatize them, and we devalue them.
When we look at an addict, we don’t see that there is so much more.
We don’t see the pain or the trauma or the underlying mental illness that led people to seek escape from themselves. We don’t see that little boy or girl whose spirit is so terribly wounded and broken, that the only relief they can find is in being in an altered state of mind. We don’t see the flashbacks or nightmares they suffer from a war abroad or a war within their own homes. We don’t see the hundreds of attempts to quit, the counselling, the AA and NA meetings, the treatment programs, the police encounters, the jail cells, or the thousand other ways they have tried to quit. We don’t see them as deserving of the one thousand and one chance it might take for them to make that change.
I lost someone today. Paraphrasing one of the greatest physicians and advocates of all time, Dr. Gabor Matte explains that we have been treating addiction wrong. We are treating what people are doing. In reality, we need to be treating that pain.
So you see, addiction is much like cancer. Some are able to beat it. Some are able to escape it for a while, only to have it return. Some die from it.
No one wants cancer… No one comes into this world wanting to be an addict.
No one wants to suffer the ravages of cancer… No one wants to die from the horrible pain of not being able to stop, or endure the pain, that the addict faces when withdrawing from their chosen substance.
We have put a “grade” on substances. We see Heroin, Chrystal Meth, and now Fentanyl as being the worst drugs out there, yet tobacco kills 400,000 people per year. Alcohol remains one of the most difficult substances to recover from. Addiction is addiction. There is no grade for lost lives.
I don’t have any advice for those who love someone with the illness of addiction. It is ugly, abusive, and terribly relentless. It causes pain and heartache not only to the addict, but everyone around them, family and friends.
Let’s make the choice to understand why there is so much pain. Choose to sit down and have that cup of coffee or tea with someone struggling and just be present with them. Choose to love the person, while hating the disease. Choose to seek understanding, because choosing to ostracize and stigmatize will never be a solution.
The journey of healing begins with one step, choose to walk with someone today.