Sun. Jul 3rd, 2022

How the World Sees a Drug Addict

This is where I get as real and as raw as I possibly can about the crippling disease that is addiction.

The heroin-related death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the subsequent social media and blog comments outpouring has opened my eyes to the way people really view addiction. It is—more often than not—entirely misunderstood. Some fortunate people never have to live through the experience of being an addict. Some people never have to know what it feels like to love an addict, though I’d guess those numbers are small, because we are everywhere.

We are your children, your spouses, your friends, the people who serve you dinner at your favorite restaurant, your doctor, your neighbor, the actors in your favorite films, the musicians who perform your favorite songs, and so on. Some of us are quite obvious, and others are well-hidden, suffering the ugly effects of this disease alone on their bathroom floor, shaking violently, soaked in tears, and overflowing with shame.

Very few children fantasize about growing up and becoming a junkie with a needle in their arm, or of passing out on their sofa once again in front of a reality television show after they’ve polished off their nightly bottle of whiskey. When they take that first drink of beer as a curious youngster, or puff on a joint for the first time in college, they don’t imagine they might be taking the first steps in a journey that will lead them to a life of pain, despair, shame, and hopelessness. If most addicts had just a moment to fully experience the darkness of addiction before ever getting started, some may never pick it up. Inexplicably, there are some who would do it regardless, because they’re already looking for a way to escape the confusing pain of life, isolation, and above all, fear.

The people who will commit crimes in order to get money to buy their drug of choice didn’t necessarily start off as criminals. In fact, a lot of them hate themselves for what they’re doing. Many of them are experiencing the agonizing physical pain of withdrawals, or the terror of knowing that withdrawal is looming overhead if they don’t find money, some way, any way.

So a criminal is born out of necessity.

In the addict’s eyes, this may be the only way to survive the night. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be furious. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t face each and every consequence they bring their way. But it does mean that a certain level of compassion is needed. These are people that we love, after all.

They are human beings, completely redeemable human lives.

They are absolutely capable of change. Though it isn’t an easy road, and can’t be done without the total surrender and willingness of the addict himself to do the work of getting (and remaining) sober.

Addicts are hurting other people. There is no way around that, no way to tidy it up or sweep it under the rug. When in the grip of their addiction, they can be selfish, manipulative, mean, and destructive. They can abandon the people who love and depend on them, whether it’s a physical abandonment or an emotional one. I don’t make excuses for the addict’s hurtful behavior. But I maintain compassion for them, because I know their story all too well.

Three years ago, I was writhing on the cold bathroom tile. I hadn’t showered in days, and was wearing the same pajamas I’d been wearing for over a week. I could hardly catch a breath between sobs, and I spent my afternoon drinking and visualizing my suicide. I was sick, I was hurting, I was exhausted right down to my bones, and I was terrified. Terrified that I couldn’t stop the pain of deep depression. Terrified because I couldn’t stop attempting to alleviate my pain with booze. Terrified that I would never feel okay (never mind feeling good; I just wanted to feel okay). Terrified that my life had spiraled so far out of my own control that I would never get a grip on it again. Over the last few months of my active addiction, I did and said some truly awful things. I made some frighteningly destructive decisions during bouts of drunkenness, and I almost completely ignored my own child when she most needed her mother’s attention. I didn’t care about consequences. I didn’t care about anything at all, except for finally getting just enough alcohol in my bloodstream so I could pass out and STOP FEELING.

Today, I look at the news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s tragically sad and lonely passing, and I am reminded, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Not taking the news personally is difficult. Especially upon hearing that Hoffman had been sober for 23 years. After 3 years of my own God-given sobriety, I am shown the brutal truth. I can never stop paying attention to my own spiritual health. Not for one moment, for the rest of my life. It’s made even more disturbingly personal to me when I read the hateful, cold comments that people on the internet are leaving in regards to Hoffman’s passing.

Many are saying that it was his own fault, that he deserved what he got. A junkie doesn’t deserve to live. They’re a waste of skin, nothing more.

I cannot express just how painful it is to hear my brothers and sisters in the human race spouting off such callous nonsense.

Many people who know me might say I am kind, I am fair, I am loving, I am authentic. They may tell you that I contribute some sort of creative energy into the world. Some of them would offer to you that I was there for them when they were hurting, and that in some way I was able to help them find their path to healing. I’m certain that not everyone likes me or wants to spend time with me, but for the most part, I don’t burn bridges. I strive to be compassionate, helpful, a good mom, a good friend. I’m not a degenerate. I’m not a horrible, selfish loser who wants nothing more than to get trashed with no regard to who I might hurt, and even in the height of my using, I wasn’t that. I wasn’t engaging in these things for fun.

I was self-medicating a serious and dangerous depression.

I’d be willing to bet that Philip Seymour Hoffman was likely feeling the same pain that I felt, as were most (if not all) addicts who have succumbed to overdose. Most of the recovering addicts I’ve met are amazing individuals, and this world is a better place for their being here. And many of them wouldn’t be the healthy contributions to society they are today, had they not first been addicts. Being at the bottom of a dark and lonely hole really helps one to appreciate standing on solid ground!

Before casting judgement on an addict, imagine the despair. Imagine what it must feel like to believe there is no alternative; to see no other option, to just sit there all alone on the floor in front of your toilet with a needle in your arm knowing that you might lose everyone you love, everything you’ve worked for, for years. In fact, you might lose your life. And, in fact, you might welcome just that. These people need love, not more fuel poured on the fire of their self-loathing. They are not choosing despair. For them it is not a choice. They do not want to suffer. They want to be happy just like everyone else. They do not see any other option. Loving them doesn’t mean accepting destructive behavior or enabling their addiction, but it does mean having compassion, rather than disdain. So much is at stake. This is, truly, a life or death situation.


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