When you imagine a drug addict, what does that person look like? Seriously. Just imagine a drug addict. What do you see? Do you see Rush Limbaugh? Do you see someone middle aged with a career and a family? Prescription drug addiction is on the rise. And it often begins by taking the pills as prescribed.
Meth is now manufactured in Mexico and transported to us because that’s cheaper. It can also be made in a two-liter bottle in your trunk. Heroin use is on the rise. Latino populations account for one of the smallest percentages of drug use. Why is that? Is that family or culture or what?
“Don’t we know better than to use heroin?” my buddy asks. “Don’t we all know better?”
Do you honestly think people start there? With heroin? Addictive behavior and mental illness are getting harder and harder to separate. You would have a difficult time convincing me that eating disorders aren’t both. You know they’re on the rise with boys aged 8-10, right? My son is keeping such careful track of his weight that it’s disconcerting.
I appreciate that people who advocate for mental illnesses feel that the conversation is not sensitive enough. America is a country of judgment first, compassion at some indeterminate later date. We know this. Mental illness is a factor in drug abuse, addiction, and violence. That does not mean you are going to be an addict or a violent offender if you have a mental illness. That means that your risk factors have gone up. The same way that early childhood trauma increases your risk factors. And sexual abuse increases your risk factors. And poverty increases your risk factors.
We have to begin the conversation by being honest. By relying on facts and not anecdotes. By talking about the issues rather than our insecurities.
When my buddy asks about heroin, he quickly adds, “You know, there’s so much pain, I don’t always know why people make the choices they do, but I know we’ll do anything to make the pain stop. I know we will.”
My wife is a drug counselor in long-term residential treatment. The assumption is that she’s an ex-addict, but that would be incorrect. You will not find a better drug therapist, and one of the things she does best is education. She takes the time to educate me on all my middle class, Master’s Degree, white privilege bullshit. Start the conversation by being honest.
Drug treatment is one of the cheapest and most important social safety nets. In our state, women with children, and teenagers are currently the only protected treatment populations. Men, you’re on your own. Women without children, good luck. At the same time the state and federal government cut funding, the police announced they no longer had the resources to investigate property crime.
Tell me, how are these things related?
If you don’t understand the intersections between poverty, sex trafficking, prostitution, drug abuse, mental illness, gang violence, child abuse and domestic violence, take some time to educate yourself. Go visit a treatment facility. At Mary’s work, they have a woman who voluntarily teaches yoga, another who voluntarily teaches writing classes. They have GED classes. They have legal advocates, housing coordination and mental health providers. They have dentists who volunteer work. They’ve built a community because that’s what it takes to address addiction. It takes all of us.
If you are under the impression that drug addicts make their own choices and shouldn’t get a dime, you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. You might as well argue stellar public education isn’t in the best interest of the country. Yes, because who doesn’t want to be surrounded by a desperate, uneducated populace? Whether or not vulnerable people live in your house, they live next door.
Start the conversation by being honest. About what you know, about what you don’t, about what you’re willing to learn.
8 thoughts on “But the facts don't support my anecdotal evidence”
My son has been an addict since he was 17. He is now 29 now. He has done well at times. He has never gone to rehab always says he doesn’t need it. I don’t trust him. He has lied to and stolen from us at times. Even if he decided he needed rehab he can’t afford it and we can’t afford it. He has a failed relationship with a girl he had been with since high school. Both made bad decisions. She had a baby and he claims the child as his. The baby is now 2 1/2. He loves that child but I guess the pull of the drugs are just too strong from him to be sober.
I’ve been thinking about your story for a week, Gwen, and I think it’s emblematic of the crisis of addiction. That sense of helplessness. You love, and you set boundaries, and it all feels tenuous. Whether or not it’s helpful to know that someone’s thinking about you, and hoping for your family, I am. I’m hoping for recovery for all of us.
I was thinking about this just the other day, from the angle of recovery. I was sexually abused, raised by a father who was sexually abused. (I was not sexually abused by my father – no, it was the child-molesting babysitter who lived across the street). My mother is bipolar, undiagnosed until she was 63: that’s a whole childhood of: “Why does my mother say hurtful things, look embarrassed, and not apologize?” “Why does my mother drink so much wine at night?”
My dad is gay, and we didn’t know until he attempted suicide.
I was sexually abused as a child, and later developed PTSD, and later developed alcoholism. I also smoked for a long time.
I don’t know how else to describe it but this: we are in so much pain. As a nation, as a culture, we simply do not understand *how* not to be in so much pain, except addictions. Addictions tend to cause more pain down the line than they mitigate, but at the beginning it all starts with this situation: I am in so much pain, and I don’t know how to deal with it.
As a culture, as a nation – we don’t place enough emphasis on rest, on balance, and vacation from work. We don’t place enough value on healing from past wounds, or preventing trauma from happening in the first place. We don’t place enough value on wholeness: from our food supply to our medicines, to how we raise children, to our television-watching.
It’s always the worst-behaved celebrity who will get all the press. It’s a dive to the fucking bottom.
We need to learn, as a culture, as a people, to hold onto the good: health, wholeness, healing, transformation, comprehensive sexuality education, smaller classroom sizes, universal access to healthcare and mental health care, addiction treatment and prevention.
It’s good versus evil, and evil has most of the marbles: but we are the ground the game is played on, and we need to remember that.
Thank you both for sharing your stories. I’ve had a couple of tough weeks running into naive and glib responses to addiction and mental illness. And I can’t shake this interaction that I witnessed last week when a mutual friend asked Mary to help a girl they’ve both known since she was in elementary school. “I don’t have anything to give her but love,” he said. Goddamn. That’s certainly part of the problem. Gutted resources have put so many more people at risk.
Diverting funding to other things, or arguing violence and crime aren’t related to addiction and mental illness is just madness. Of course they’re related. They’re so much more related than our political system and our communities are willing to admit.
I believe getting clean requires treatment. That doesn’t necessarily mean rehab, but most of us don’t have the resources to change our shape without help and support.
I’m with you, Anna. We could change the entire country with honest, comprehensive, whole-body care. I believe drug treatment and college should both be free. But then I’m one of those radical liberals who believes education can save us.
Anna – read Gabor Mate’s book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. His work on trauma and addiction is so amazing, also on ADHD and trauma. All the interconnectedness, which is so understandable because of how he writes.
My therapist recommended the Hungry Ghosts book to me. I’m familiar with the concept of ghosts from my theological readings (Chung Hyun Kung, Rita Nakashima Brock). I will have to get it now. 🙂
I love you both – I love that you (Jill now) can create some space and time to to talk about the stuff that really, really matters. Not just about addiction, or pain-centered truths, misplaced truths and misconceptions, but family, love, building a life together, raising kids with all of who we are.
@Gwen: I'm so sorry about your son.
It's hard – addictions are just hard. There's so much suffering. Yet – rehab/quitting/working a program is not just about the drugs/alcohol – it's about learning a new way to live without the drugs or alcohol. It's about owning your past (your pain, your wounds, your bad bad behaviors) and wanting something new (a new, less addicted me!) and loving yourself through it.
There are so many obstacles to self-love, especially when your addictions make you feel like such a fuck-up.
As a person who played the role of "the family-fuck-up" for years, I can say with authority that when you get your life together, everyone around you in your family has to change – change their perceptions and expectations of you. And you have to have new perceptions and expectations of yourself. It's a lot of work.
My sister just picked up a big box I have been keeping for her for 13.5 years. It’s a box full of photos, letters, (hundreds of letters) jewelry, drawings, and whatever else that she kept- all memories of her husband who committed suicide almost 14 years ago. (Deliberate heroin overdose.) We talked about how we (back then) mostly focused on the drug problem. The drugs were a manifestation of other problems, not THE problem and we know this full well now. Back then, the whole family kept blaming drugs. We should have looked at HIM and sought to help him rather than hating and abandoning him for his choice coping mechanism.
It’s so hard. It’s always hard. Addicts are destructive. They refuse help. They spiral. They blame. We’re demanding that they change their shape when we’re demanding that they give up drugs. And if they change their shape, we have to change ours. I have so much sympathy for addict brain, and for friends and family trying to set boundaries with addicts. Trying to love them and keep limits. It’s fucking heartbreaking, and I’m sorry. Thanks for sharing your story. That box. I keep thinking about that box, and your family.