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.