This week I’m bringing you the first post in a new series called “Food for Thought.” Despite my blog’s focus on travel, I’ve always written occasional blog posts that are meant to be thought-provoking—discussions of what’s important in life and questions that I find myself pondering.
But I’ve decided to take this a step further with a regular series in which I’ll tackle topics that I wish we could discuss over a cup of coffee. I’ll share insights about culture, parenting, social responsibility, marriage, feminism, sustainability, and much more, and I hope you’ll chime in. Today’s post offers some food for thought on a topic that hits home for me: drug addiction and recovery.
As a teenager, I was exposed to drug and alcohol addiction. Some of those people got clean and stayed clean, but others didn’t. The people who got sober did so through a lot of hard work and dedication combined with the power of community. They were not able to “do it on their own.” Their journeys weren’t perfect, but the beauty of the situation was that they grew into better human beings through the process. Their road to recovery was also a road to better mental health and much stronger personal relationships. On the other hand, those who didn’t get or stay clean led lives that were unpredictable and even tragic.
I was recently thrown back into the reality of drug and alcohol addiction through two almost simultaneous experiences. First, a person whom I see on a regular basis started acting more and more erratically; I began to worry and finally confronted him, and he admitted to me that he was a drug addict but desperately wanted to get clean. Hours of conversation have followed, and through the process, I’ve learned so much about heroin addiction and witnessed the day-to-day challenges faced by a person trying to stay newly clean.
Second, a dear old friend recently passed away. Perhaps the saddest part of this friend’s story was not that he died too young but instead was the way he lived his life. He had all the potential in the world but was a drug and gambling addict and could not shake his addiction. Despite all the ways in which he was gifted, unique, and loved, he ended up lonely in a small apartment without the things that most of us aim for: a meaningful relationship, job security, strong family ties, or basics like health insurance. A life that could have been so much turned out to be a life of very little.
These two people’s stories reminded me of the pain that drug addiction causes not only the addict but also the people around him or her…the pain of desperately wanting better but not knowing how to get it, the pain of destroyed self-confidence, the pain of a life unlived, and, for those who care about the addict, it’s the pain of wanting to love someone who is unable to fully love back, of watching someone spiral downward, of wanting to help but being turned away.
This pain stems partly from shame. While those on the outside may judge, addicts are already judging themselves. Getting clean takes so much bravery! It takes breaking down those barriers of shame and denial. It takes owning their story and learning to love themselves (and others) again. Sadly, heroin addiction and related overdoses are on the rise as cheaper and more powerful variants of the drug have become more common in the U.S. This is a huge problem that afflicts many more people than we realize. It’s time to get beyond the stigma and show compassion.
Does any of this hit home for you? What advice do you have for dealing with drug and alcohol addiction?