I want to preface this post by saying I have never pondered as long & hard about a post as I have about this one. I’ve been mentally composing it for three days now. I awoke at 2:30 this morning & knew I’d never have any peace until I wrote this. Eventually I got up at 4:00 am & started writing it. If this post offends anyone, I’m sorry but I’m not sorry. This is too important of a subject to ignore or discuss with useless euphemisms.
This Saturday I found out the painful news that a classmate of mine from high school died. Out of respect for his family & many friends, I will simply call him John. His death was shocking news for several reasons, the most obvious of course being that he was young & presumably healthy. However, it was even more shocking for me because this past Wednesday John had sent me a link to a new band he’d discovered on YouTube which he thought I’d appreciate & asked for my thoughts on the song. As it turned out, I got busy with work & other obligations & didn’t get a chance to listen to the song . . . Furthermore, on Friday night I sent John an article about one of our mutual favorite bands, Asking Alexandria. I had just read that the band’s lead singer (Denis Stoff) had abandoned them & that their previous frontman (Danny Worsnop) was rejoining the band, at least for their upcoming tour. Because I knew John was such a huge fan of this band, I was sure he’d be interested to hear the news, so I sent him the link. He responded within a few minutes, saying how excited he was to hear that Worsnop was back in the band & recommending that I listen to their debut album & let him know my thoughts on it. Within 12 hours of that conversation, John was dead . . . And now I will never be able to share my thoughts with him on any of this music because he is gone forever . . .
No one is coming out & saying exactly what caused John’s death, but a quick Google search revealed to me that John had an addiction problem spanning at least the past two years about which I knew absolutely nothing. Due to that & the fact that no one is specifying a cause of death, I am highly suspicious that drugs were involved which brings me to the point of today’s post.
Our country has a serious drug problem. And I don’t just mean the number of people who use drugs. Obviously that is a problem. But what I really want to talk about is the way our country treats addiction & those who suffer from it. We’ve been fighting the “war on drugs” for decades now & anyone with the least bit of common sense can tell you that it isn’t working. You don’t need to be a scholar on this subject to know that prescription drug abuse (largely of opiates/narcotics, aka pain pills) & subsequently heroin has skyrocketed in this country in just the past decade. With this of course comes a huge increase in deaths related to drug abuse, as heroin is arguably the most deadly & addictive drug known to man. In fact, for the first time, more people have died in Virginia (my home state) of opioid/heroin overdose than from car accidents in the past year.
With all of this in mind, I think it’s high time we asked ourselves if the way we’re “treating” addiction in this country is working. The obvious answer is no. Criminalization & imprisonment for drug use are CLEARLY not solving the problem. It didn’t work for John, & it will never work for anyone because addiction is a DISEASE. Is it a (largely) self-imposed disease? Absolutely. (There is some evidence that suggests a genetic predisposition towards addiction.) But I don’t see anyone arguing that people with lung cancer or COPD should be incarcerated or denied medical treatment even though their disease is almost always related to smoking, an activity in which they obviously CHOSE to engage. Nor do I hear anyone arguing that type 2 diabetics should be punished for (largely) causing their own disease due to poor diet & lifestyle.
The difference of course is that addicts are one of the last groups of people on whom it is safe to look down, to despise. Frankly we all enjoy the feeling of being better than somebody. It’s just human nature. But it is no longer societally acceptable to look down on women, gays, lesbians, Muslims, Jews, Italians, blacks, etc (& rightfully so), yet drug users are still safe to despise. I am guilty of this myself, as a nurse & just as a person. How many times we have all thrown around the work “junkie” without stopping to think about the HUMAN BEING behind that word? As Russell Brand, a reformed heroin addict, has stated so eloquently,“It is difficult to feel sympathy for these people. It is difficult to regard some bawdy drunk & see them as sick & powerless. It is difficult to suffer the selfishness of a drug addict who will lie to you & steal from you & forgive them & offer them help. Can there be any other disease that renders its victims so unappealing? Would Great Ormond Street [a children’s hospital in London, think St. Jude’s] be so attractive a cause if its beds were riddled with obnoxious little criminals that had ‘brought it on themselves?'” As my mom, a teacher, has often observed, it is usually the folks who are most unlovable who need love the most.
If you really want to understand the pain & desperation that lies behind addiction, please consider reading any or all of the following books:
- Dark Days by Randy Blythe (recovered alcoholic & lead singer of the Richmond, VA-based metal band lamb of god)
- Seven Deadly Sins by Corey Taylor (recovered alcoholic/drug addict & lead singer of both Slipknot & Stone Sour)
- My Booky Wook & My Booky Wook 2 by Russell Brand (recovered heroin addict & comedian/actor)
- Death Punch’d by Jeremy Spencer (recovered alcoholic/cocaine addict & drummer for Five Finger Death Punch)
- Indie Spiritualist by Chris Grosso (recovered alcoholic/drug addict & philosopher)
I don’t think anyone with a shred of decency could read any of these books & not find themselves feeling a great deal more compassion for those who succumb to the horrors of drug abuse & addiction. In order to provide a brief insight into the minds of these men who have so courageously conquered addiction, please peruse the following quotes:
- “The mentality & behavior of drug addicts & alcoholics is wholly irrational until you understand that they are completely powerless over their addiction & unless they have structured help, they have no hope.” ~ Russell Brand
- “The priority of any addict is to anaesthetise the pain of living, to ease the passage of day with some purchased relief.” ~ Russell Brand
- “Eckhart Tolle says, ‘Addiction begins with pain & ends with pain,’ meaning that pain is behind compulsive behavior. Eleven years clean, I still feel the urge to medicate pain. Whenever events don’t go my way, my first instinct is to annul the feeling, to look for an external resource to solve the problem. The second part of Eckhart’s edict kicks in here—addiction ‘ends with pain.’ Medication of any kind offers only a temporary solution; it always leads back to pain & becomes therefore predictably cyclical.” ~ Russell Brand
- “What I wanted was to be in love, to have a companion to look after me- someone to replace my mother. But before I could persuade anyone to fulfill that function, I found drugs.” ~ Russell Brand
- “Once I finally got a bit of success, it became clear that my internal deficit of sadness & longing would not really be sated by the things I’d always thought would save me. This realization made me turn to hard drugs– specifically heroin- in an even more concerted way than I ever had before.” ~ Russell Brand
- “Heroin is a greedy drug, robbing you by increments first of your clothing, then of your skin; finally when it comes for your life it must be a relief. They’re not present, those people: if you talk to them, they just look beyond you, they’re not really there. That’s why the invisibility of the homeless scoring drugs . . . is almost by mutual consent: they don’t want to be seen, & no one wants to see them.” ~ Russell Brand
- “Then I could lean back & everything was suddenly all relaxing & beautiful. It was at this point that I knew that I was an addict, though the pain of that realization was greatly mitigated by the impact of the heroin: that’s how it gets you.” ~ Russell Brand
- “Perhaps heroin had, similarly, held me in times of trouble. The prospect of relinquishing it was terrifying. The only reason I did so was because I was more afraid of what was going to happen to me if I didn’t . . . at this juncture I was finally willing to do whatever it was going to take to bring that about- up to & including giving up drugs. From that moment on, I really did take things, in the textbook rehab fashion, one day at a time.” ~ Russell Brand
- “…but if we’re really sick & tired of being sick & tired, well, then some shit has got to change. Other people can (& should) most definitely help us through this difficult process, but ultimately it’s up to us to decide to even begin making the change in the first place.” ~ Chris Grosso
- “All I wanted to do was find the next party so I could forget & feel alive . . . When you try to describe addiction, I guess there is no better word than gluttony.” ~ Corey Taylor
- “Just because we might act like assholes sometimes does not mean we are defined as assholes forever.” ~ Corey Taylor
- “For many, many years, my life as an active alcoholic was just like today. I was surrounded by life, things, & people that could have brought me great joy, grand opportunities I wasted because I sat in a haze of alcohol, drugs, & sadness. I simply would not & could not get up & walk a few blocks through the fog back to freedom & life.” ~ Randy Blythe
- “If you are unlucky enough to have an active alcoholic or drug addict in your life, you probably don’t understand why [they] wil not just stop drinking . . . Or doing whatever substance it is they are doing that is killing them & killing you, that has changed them into this awful person, that makes them do such strange, self-destructive things. I can tell you why- they are insane . . . And their addiction’s need for drink &/or drugs has twisted their perceptions to the point where they do not even know that they are unhinged, that the problem (if they even recognize that they have one) is their addiction. They may even pay it lip service, but they don’t truly know yet, know it in their soul- because if they knew, they would stop.” ~ Randy Blythe
- “…not all drug addicts are horrible human beings. Most of them just need help breaking the chains of their addiction, not a prison sentence . . . most drug addicts I have known started off as decent, normal citizens, only becoming involved in a life of crime after their addiction led them down that dark path . . . addiction will almost always eventually lead an otherwise sensible person into committing actions that would horrify them if they were not caught in its vicious grip.” ~ Randy Blythe
- “I had become a mere receptacle for alcohol, a garbage can to throw booze & drugs into. Now I was empty, just like those bottles, & just like those bottles, all it would take to bring me crashing down was one slight nudge . . . I was desperately unhappy. It was time to try something else, or I would die . . . I was terrified, empty, & heartbroken; but I dug in & did my job. That was my first day sober. I haven’t had a drink since.” ~ Randy Blythe
- “In the end alcoholism & drug addiction are almost always horribly lonesome repeat journeys to drink at the wells of despair, & the alcoholic or drug addict often feels as if they are the only person on earth who has experienced & understands their particular pain . . . This is, of course, an illusion; a merciless trick that the substance-fueled & monstrously inflated ego plays on the drunk or junkie. No one is unique in their addiction.” ~ Randy Blythe
- “…but somewhere along the way I had allowed myself to get lost in a haze of alcohol. When I woke up one morning in Brisbane, Australia & realized that no matter how far I tried to run into a bottle, I would always carry my problems with me . . . I gave up the race. I began to face my problems, to try as hard as I could to live in a manner I could be proud of, & to take responsibility for my own actions & life. There is no escape. So I simply stopped running. That was the change in me, that was the big ‘aha!’ moment in my life.” ~ Randy Blythe
If you’re looking for evidence that the decriminalization of drugs, even “hard drugs” like heroin, can actually be effective in reducing drug use & deaths, look no further than Portugal. Besides, it just seems like common sense to me that as long as drugs are illegal, there will never be adequate rehab facilities & resources to help those suffering from addiction because, after all, who wants to help criminals? And as long as people are regarded as criminals for being or having been addicts, that criminal history will continue to cripple them for the remainder of their lives. Is it any wonder that so many of these people never rise above the cycle of negativity when our society is constructed such that they can’t even qualify for a decent job? As Randy Blythe noted, “It is no wonder to me, even after doing such a short amount of time, that so many men & women released from prisons cannot function in normal society anymore & wind up back behind bars again & again. Being locked up causes a profound psychic shift to occur.”
To those who may say I am sullying John’s name by writing this post when I have no concrete evidence that his death was actually linked to his addiction, my thoughts are that if John were still here he’d be begging us to talk about this. Whether his addiction led to his death or not, it is obvious to me that it did have a massive negative impact on his life & on those who loved him. Ignoring the issue isn’t fixing the problem. As is often the case in life, the subjects that are the hardest to talk about are the ones we most need to discuss. I didn’t know John well but from the testimony of those who did, it’s obvious he was a kind-hearted person who loved to serve others. Thus I believe he would want his death to be an inspiration to those he left behind to open their hearts & minds to those suffering from addiction, to see the human being behind the “junkie” or the “druggie” who can be so easy to dismiss when caught in the throes of addiction. Until we can learn to see the suffering & the pain behind addiction, until we can learn to see these people as PEOPLE, not criminals, we will only continue to have more Johns & more broken hearts left in the wake of tragic & untimely deaths such as his.
Because I am such a staunch believer in the power of music, I feel compelled to share this song by Brandi Carlile which was written from the perspective of a drug addict begging for forgiveness from those they’ve hurt. Every time I take care of a drug addict I try to remind myself of this song because its lyrics are so powerful & help to remind me of the person behind the addiction. Here’s a sample of those lyrics:
Tell me, did I go on a tangent?
Did I lie through my teeth?
Did I cause you to stumble on your feet?
Did I bring shame on my family?
Did it show when I was weak?
Whatever you’ve seen, that wasn’t me
That wasn’t me, oh that wasn’t me
I wanna believe, do I make myself a blessing to everyone I meet?
When you fall I will get you on your feet
Do I spend time with my family?
Did it show when I was weak?
When that’s what you’ve seen, that will be me
That will be me, that will be me
That will be me
In conclusion & in honor of John, I’d like to share the links to a few songs which I’ve found of comfort over the past few days: