OPINION: Addiction Heartache

 It’s no secret that a lot of homeless folks are addicted to either drugs or alcohol.  The ways they got there are as various as anyone else’s.  But the toll has been higher; it’s left them high and dry, wasted, alone, and needing another hit.  Badly.

It’s easy to judge, especially for those of us whose addictions are culturally sanctioned – junk food, television, shopping…  and/or alcohol or pills behind closed doors (because we have doors). And it’s a fact: addiction is wrong. It puts some people in jail and  it kills others.  And it is always de-humanizing. It strips us of our ability to act responsibly, even morally.  Like Edward in the Chronicles of Narnia or Gollum in the Lord of the Rings (handy references for folks who don’t know an addict – or think they don’t), we would sell out our sister or our brother or our souls to get that thing that literally means the world to us.

Personally, we are experiencing this in all aspects of our lives right now.  The Gainesville Catholic Worker is struggling with finding ways to treat folks who are addicted to drugs or alcohol with both mercy and responsibility. Those substances aren’t allowed in the house, and no one living in the house is supposed to be using illegal drugs or entering the house under the influence of anything. There are too many people struggling with this to allow what some people even consider fairly normal use – wine at dinner or parties, etc.  And we try hard to treat guests and visitors with respect and dignity, whatever their addiction.

We are also experiencing this in our family life as Ben deals with the painkiller addiction that his cancer treatment left him with.  If you are inclined to let Ben off the hook and differentiate him from other addicts, he would be the first to tell you not to.   A lot of the folks you see weaving in the streets started out their drug use for the “legitimate” pain and trauma caused by accidents and illness.  Even more sought emotional relief, like Ben,from a substance that was available to them.  Ben will also be the first to admit that, if he didn’t have family, insurance, or other resources at his disposal, he could be out on the street too.  That is a fact, but it doesn’t really help.  We are as helpless as any addict in the face of addiction when it comes to dealing with addicts – whoever they are.  They have to hit “rock bottom;” they have to decide they want help and find within them the humility and heart to ask for help. 

And we have to wait and hope and hold them accountable, while offering alternatives and “tough love.” And we try to recognize ourselves, or a loved one – or Jesus – in the brokenness of it all. I don’t know what else.  I wish I did.


Posted on 03/03/2008, in OPINION and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. “I don’t know what else. I wish I did.”

    There is nothing else. You obviously have a good grasp of the awful nature of the problem. I know it’s easy to get discouraged since so many don’t want it. Thanks for trying.


  2. Yes, you understand the nature of addiction. As the director of Novus Medical Detox, I daily see the ravages caused by prescription drug addiction created by doctors prescribing it to their patients and then the patients either continuing to obtain it or purchasing these drugs on the internet or the street. Probably the worst of these drugs is OxyContin–legal heroin.

    Pain is real. I have had it much of my life first from polio and then from two surgeries. However, there are alternatives to painkillers and they must be tried first. Let’s not treat the symptoms but the cause.

    Prescription drug addiction is an epidemic and we must do everything we can to stop it before it overwhelms us. Education is a must.

    Steve Hayes

  3. Moriel Peace

    Such thoughtful words on this blog. Thank you.

    Jesus was addicted to the poor and suffering. (Hell, just read the Gospels. He couldn’t get enough of them!) And Jesus created his world by surrounding himself with those who were living under the injustice of a military dictatorship – the Roman empire – hellbent on taxing the populous, at times to death, to support the military and all those foreign wars of occupation; suppressing any form of rebellion and courting the upper-classes so they would look the other way when empire-building superseded the cultural mandate of responsibility for the people.

    In today’s America, money-shifting in the form of immoral tax cuts for the rich and draconian cuts in social service programs mean the wealthy are shirking their responsibility for the least of these.

    As written in the Gospels, the poor will always be with us. Unfortunately, so will the rich. Although there is nothing wrong with living a financially successful life (for many, it’s a requirement and personal responsibility), it seems the wealthy have an addiction, of sorts, to material things that actually substitute for the human sense of responsibility toward the greater community.

    Perhaps that’s why there are so many gated communities in our culture.

    For Christ’s sake, whoever’s on the ballot, vote Democrat Nov. 4!


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