“There but for the grace of God go I.”
Oh, it is easy to be judgmental, perhaps easier because when looking at other people’s failures, we are not holding a mirror to our own. Addictions, failures, mistakes – they are all a part of life. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that.
And, that can be very true of addiction; in fact, perhaps maybe more so than other things that can befall us in life. Disease, death, even divorce and financial problems, often are seen by those not involved as a “blameless” situation – we are suffering through no fault of our own. Of course, some of those might not be that clear-cut; a divorce may be the result of adultery, financial hardships through poor choices. But, in these areas, many times there is empathy and understanding – after all, many of us have been there.
Not necessarily so with addiction. Whether it’s alcohol or drugs, these problems still hold some kind of taboo. It’s as if discussing them in the open – not judging, but talking – will shine a light on something we’d rather keep hidden. As the saying goes, we are afraid of what we don’t understanding.
The truth about addiction, the secret we’d rather forget, is that it could happen to each of us. No one sets out to be an addict; for every story of addiction, there is the underlying tale that would tell us why and how this particular person came to this specific place. In order to learn that, though, it means opening up ourselves to the idea that addicts aren’t just some “losers” predestined to a sad, self-inflicted kind of exile, but real people who have taken some wrong turns and who have lost their way.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to cover Canadian County’s Adult Drug Court. Over the years, I’ve written my fair share of crime stories, some of those in the system because of drugs – which is the norm in a majority of cases, experts say; as a former legal assistant with 22 years’ experience, including criminal law, I have a pretty good understanding of the legal system and how it works. I never believed it was right to look at addicts with some blanket judgment that they were bad people; I thought I was pretty realistic about who these people were and what they faced.
I knew nothing.
That became clear within about five minutes of meeting four graduates of Canadian County’s drug court program. They were four people as alike – and as different – as anyone can be. But, they had something in common, a character trait that some people who’ve never experienced their issues has – grace.
That’s because they weren’t the faces of addiction alone – they were the faces of mothers and fathers, sisters and sons, daughters, friends and employees. They were the face of recovery. They have lived through the fire and loss of addiction and have come out the other side, not just alive but thriving. And, with a sense of self-awareness many people could use.
They see how drugs and/or alcohol changed them and their lives and they know the inherent selfishness that goes along with addiction. “It was always all about me,” one of them said – and the other three agreed. But, despite a life that includes the black mark of a felony conviction, they are rebuilding their lives, working to reach out to those they love and realizing there is a lot of love in return. They only needed to reach out for it.
That’s far too simplistic, of course. It’s easy to say “addiction will never happen to me.” But, I believe it’s closer to most of us than we’d like to admit. The loss of a child or a job, a spouse or a parent – all of these could trigger the need to escape, which is how many addicts begin. For people like me with a chronic condition, facing endless pain can make trying to ease it for good appealing. While I’ve never abused pain medication, I can see how for some people the feelings that could lead to looking for a way – any way – to make the pain go away, even for a while.
Unfortunately, some of us – too many of us – can’t open our hearts and minds to the very real truth that all of us are susceptible to addiction. In embracing that philosophy, it’s easy to look at those who have fallen with judgement and anger. I wish you could meet these four real people and see how they have transformed not only their lives and their families, but others who are given the gift of knowing them.
“Now it’s about doing something for others – because I was so selfish, I took so much, I wasted so much time,” one of them said. “Every day is a chance for me to give back and to let people know they are never alone, someone always cares.”
That’s a huge testament to someone who herself struggled with isolation, who still gets snide comments for past behavior. It’s a testament to who she is, who all of them have become, as they’ve been brave enough to face not only what they did, but also what led them there.
In a time when “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” seems to have fallen by the wayside, these people – people who many would judge to be unworthy – are among the most honorable and honest people I’ve met in a long time. And, we can all learn a lesson from their journey.