For those of us who have or have had a loved one who struggles with addiction, we all know one thing, addiction affects everyone touched by it and everyone handles it differently.
Within the family unit, dynamics drastically change and how could they not. Life as we knew it changed and to survive a loved ones addiction we have to recognize our lives have been tragically altered.
But what about strangers?
The other day I was driving through Langley, B.C. I was stopped at an intersection when a young woman, clearly in distress, was trying to maneuver her shopping cart, piled high with bags, off the curb. The cart tipped to the side and bags of bottles and cans fell out of the cart spilling onto the road. Her anxiety level escalated and how could it not?
She scrambled into traffic in attempt to pick up the cans that rolled away.
I put on my flashers and threw my car in park. One other driver did the same. We quickly retrieved the cans and bottles she had clearly spent all night collecting and returned them to her cart.
Two men in a raised Ram truck honked their horn and yelled obscenities. A few drivers used hand gestures while continuing on their way. But the majority of the drivers sat patiently in their vehicles. Most people find no satisfaction in judging a person battling the disease of addiction. The tide is turning.
Even just a couple of years ago, those struggling with addiction were judged as morally weak. Morally corrupt. Someone people avoided at all costs.
It has taken a very long time, but thankfully society for the most part is beginning to recognize that addiction is not a moral failing. Addiction is a horrific disease that affects the brain and every single thought and action of the person affected. Those struggling with addiction are not having fun. They are simply trying to survive. The party for them ended a long time ago when addiction raised its ugly head.
What has caused the dramatic change in the way society looks at addiction? Sadly it has been the dramatic rise in overdose deaths due to the entry of fentanyl in the drugs being sold.
When the rate of deaths of teen, young professionals, parents with young children began to rise, and it wasn’t only the “homeless junkie on the street corner” overdosing and dying, society started to look at drug addiction differently. To those of us who have a loved one addicted, our loved ones were never the “homeless junkie on the street corner”, they were our very loved sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. They were more than their addiction. They were our beating heart and they were struggling every single day.
Tragically the number of deaths continue to rise. Addiction can no longer be swept under the carpet as a dirty little secret within a family. For too long many families suffered in silence afraid of the repercussions and stigma around addiction.
I was never one of those people. I recognized very early on in my son’s struggle with addiction that he was battling a disease. I called it a disease long before addiction and disease were used in the same sentence. I recognized it was way bigger than any other disease I could imagine because it did not seem to present as a disease but rather a moral failing. But I knew my son was not morally weak. I knew his heart. I knew he was sick.
So today, thankfully much of society is looking at addiction differently. But we still have a very long way to go. Everyday our death rate is rising dramatically and families are left devastated, wondering what they should have done, what they could have done differently. Thinking that somehow they had failed their loved one.
Addiction affects every single family member differently.
And clearly addiction affects society differently. The “good old boys” in the Ram truck, honking their horn and yelling obscenities. The people raising their fingers and driving over the pop cans and those who sat patiently in their cars aware that addiction had a once beautiful girl in its grip. That the disheveled girl in front of them was someone’s daughter. Was once a girl with hopes and dreams until addiction took hold and held her hostage. And so they waited while we picked up the bottles and cans and returned them to her cart.
Addiction affects everyone differently. But be assured, the subject of addiction does affect everyone in one way or another.
We need all levels of government on board to address the drug crisis. We need a dramatic change in how addiction is looked at and treated. We need to embrace harm reduction full on. We know harm reduction is the only way at this time. Hopefully one day researchers and doctors who are working tirelessly, will find the cause and cure for those battling addiction but that time has not yet come. Lets all push for harm reduction. Our loved ones deserve nothing less. We deserve nothing less. Society as a whole deserves nothing less. Addiction is a disease. Let us give those suffering with this unforgiving disease the kindness, compassion and respect they deserve.
Until next time my friend, take care of yourself.