I am not an addict. I’ve never had to struggle with addiction. I do not wake up wondering if my next binge will be my last.
In fact, I’m a little jaded about that drama because for me it hits too close to home. For many of us, it is an exhausting story, just another volume in a series we know all too well.
Hoffman’s death is sad and tragic but it isn’t unique. I remember being young and hearing of a woman my mother knew who had kids my age that died from an overdose. In fact, I can think of about three people I had met in passing between the ages of 6 and 12 who died from drug overdoses. I guess to some degree it’s not shocking to me, it is just sad.
When reading the article written about Hoffman’s death (which was very well written) a part of me was disgruntled in regards to those accused of saying “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.”
Compassion for the addict? Of course. Love for the addict? That is a given or the people making those comments wouldn’t be so cold, so distant, so damaged. Those comments are made by people just like me: People who love the addict.
I can remember thinking this way about the people in my life. Addiction runs in my family, and many of them still struggle with it. I suppose it isn’t something you beat, as evidenced by Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death. It’s clearly a battle you have to keep fighting day-in & day-out. My father died in the midst of his struggle—not necessarily as a direct result of addiction but to cancer. He didn’t overdose, but he wasn’t taking care of himself and it caught up with him. Regardless of all the wonderful things he taught me, I’m fatherless now. I’d trade the wisdom he gave me for him to be here with me any day. I could go into the gory details of my family’s long lineage of addiction, but it amounts to this: my relationships with these people have been stunted.
Just as it says in the text Alcoholics Anonymous, “The alcoholic is like a tornado roaring through the lives of others. Hearts are broken. Sweet relationships are dead.” Addiction destroys relationship. I won’t pretend that it’s solely their fault. I play just as big a part in the dysfunction of these relationships. Resentment is equally corrosive. I am angry. Yes, to some degree I have become hard. I have known so many alcoholics and recovering alcoholics and they can be selfish people. Even the program of Alcoholics Anonymous identifies “selfishness—self-centeredness” as the main problem of the alcoholic. In fact, it goes on to say that the troubles of the alcoholic are of their own making. So, I am often left thinking, “It’s their own fault, why do they keep messing up their own lives and everyone’s around them; how long will this go on; they are wasting their lives away and they only have themselves to blame.” I’m not suggesting that the bitterness is acceptable. I’m confessing my own story, my own hopelessness and shame in relationship to addiction.
Just as the alcoholic/ addict requires a spiritual program in order to recover, those affected by the alcoholic/ addict require a spiritual solution in order to heal, as evidenced by the necessity for programs like Al-Anon and Alateen. I am not a member of either of these programs, but I do strive to be self aware and I have faith that through that I become more compassionate and honest. We must remember it is the ones who love the addicts the most that are saying the most hateful things. It is the child, the sister, brother, spouse or parent of these people that are saying the before mentioned intolerable things. That is pain talking, not blind fury, but pain. It is disappointment talking; it is coming from a place of such deep love, but a love that over the years has lost all hope. This is what I relate to, this is a feeling I have felt.
I’m not saying the addict doesn’t experience the same feelings, but I am saying that so do the people who love the addict. Yes, give love, compassion, and understanding to the addict, but also to those who both love and hate the addict—those who have been hurt by the addict. They were taught to hate the addict by the actions of the addict themselves. By constantly waiting for change, being given a glimmer of hope, and then being trapped in the hopelessness yet again when they relapse into the debilitating and selfish cycles of addiction.
I’ve been hurt and out of the pain grew a defense mechanism. I learned to keep my distance, so I wouldn’t get hurt. Addiction is so prevalent. For all the addicts out there, I imagine there are at least 2 people who have been hurt by that one. Maybe they themselves become addicts to deal with the hopelessness, or they become like me, angry and closed off. I’m no different from an addict in the fact that I am a work in progress. I am healing. I am recovering. I have to, day-in & day-out, fight my own battle of bitterness and anger. I have to fight the urge, and often I lose. I relapse into judging and even hating the people that I feel like wronged me.
On a daily basis, I have to pray and plead with God to keep me gentle and vulnerable, so I can give the people I love what they need from me. Sometimes, I’m no better than the addict at this. My point is just that. I too need compassion and understanding. I get so angry and sad sometimes dealing with the alcoholics in my life and thinking about my past experiences with these people. I feel so hopeless, and I shut down. I too need understanding.
Leave it to the complexity of God to place addicts and alcoholics at the center of my life—to make this issue something I cannot ignore. I have friends and family that are in recovery. Some of them have taught me a beautiful lesson that I hope to work into the relationships with the members of my family that still struggle with addiction. When I commit to my own struggle, and become willing to wrestle with it day-in & day-out with honesty and commitment, I am willing to feel for the people I love most. I won’t leave them emotionally stranded. I can be what I need to be and in that, I can let an addict be an addict without becoming hard. I don’t have to make excuses, but I don’t have to shut down either. I can love and have compassion for them. When I get late night phone calls about whatever drama is going on with the addicts in my life. It is sad, and I can be sad for them. I don’t have to shut down and tell myself it isn’t my problem and it is entirely their fault. I don’t have to rush to fix anything, but I don’t have to turn myself off. I don’t have to pick up that needle of bitterness or take a sip from the mind numbing bottle of cliché slogans. I can feel for myself the sadness, despair, and hopelessness my loved one must be feeling. I can empathize.
The walls I erect by saying things either to myself or aloud like the comments that have been mentioned about Hoffman’s death aren’t any different than the needle that was found in Hoffman’s arm, or the bottle that kept the author of the previous article on the floor of her bathroom. They are my addiction, my coping mechanism, my defense against the sadness, despair, hopelessness, and shame. I have a battle of recovery too. It’s just as valid, but perhaps less visible and dramatic. But just as the addict needs empathy, so do those affected by the addict. There are programs and people to help folks get sober and stay sober, but ultimately it is up to the individual. No one can do the work for them. The same is true for me. Am I willing to surrender myself completely and totally to God? Am I willing to walk my own journey, and in doing so become less resentful and more available to others?