Do you ever have days where it’s like your life suddenly has a theme like a 30 minute sitcom? Maybe you can’t get away from a certain song or you keep running into the same person all week long. For me, the last week has been exactly that, except the theme has been far less pleasant: addiction.
Given, many of my days and weeks follow this theme since I work in substance abuse, but this week has been different. It’s like the Big Guy has been trying to get through to me that I needed to write about it, but until today, I just wasn’t picking up what He was laying down in the slightest. While in the shower tonight, it hit me that there’s a reason that I just can’t get away from the topic and I was filled with the incessant need to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys, I suppose) and put it all out in the open. So, here we go; this is my raw post on addiction.
As I mentioned earlier, I work in substance abuse. I’m part of a program geared towards adolescents with substance abuse issues, whether they are their own or part of their lives because of family. Our clients range in age from 12-18, and believe me when I say most of these have experienced lifetimes already. Meth, suboxone, marijuana, cocaine, synthetics, opiates: it doesn’t really matter, most of the young folks I work with have tried them all, and they began at frighteningly early ages (think 8-years-old). Those who haven’t used yet are typically living with someone who uses. Either way, there’s more sorrow and suffering there than I can even begin to describe and 9 times out of 10, the drugs are usually the least of the problems -often the result of a much bigger issue (or issues) at hand.
As a social worker before I began my current job, I saw first-hand the impact that drugs had on kids and others in the family… not that it was something I wasn’t already familiar with. Drug addiction runs rampant in my family but it’s not something I’ve ever talked about in depth with anyone who wasn’t a close friend, and I was hesitant to discuss it here because it’s so personal. It’s my family’s dirty laundry and it brings up a lot of painful memories (and if I’m being honest, even recent experiences) that I like to keep locked away so I don’t have to deal with them. But I said this was my raw post on addiction, so no holding back, right?
I’ll say this: the kids on my caseload now and in the past as a social worker have it worse than I ever did. I entered homes that smelled of filth, cigarettes, and weed that hadn’t been cleaned in months or even years. Trash covered the floors and climbed up the walls from the overflowing trash cans. Babies crawled around amongst roaches and dog feces, older kids didn’t have clothes and what they did have hadn’t been washed. Many of their scalps bled from scratching at their extreme cases of head lice and don’t assume these are all little ones, it applied to the adolescents too. These innocent little people didn’t even know where their next meal was coming from specifically in the summer time when they didn’t get to rely on the school cafeteria to feed them breakfast and lunch. Most of their parents sold their SNAP benefits (food stamps) to help support their habit along with their medications that were intended to help them with the mental health issues that stem from their parents addictions. Sadly, those things only fall into the neglect criteria.
Abuse, both physical and sexual, was an even bigger issue with the drug homes (and with the kids I work with now). As if being exposed to meth labs and 5-year-olds being able to explain to me -in depth- how to roll a joint or how daddy snorts his ‘medicine’ isn’t enough, these kids endured and are likely still enduring horrific beatings that resulted from their parents’ drunken and drug-induced rages. Drug houses are also breeding grounds for sexual abuse and human trafficking rings. Oh, I’m sorry. You thought those things only happen on Law & Order:SVU where cases are wrapped up within the confines of an hour prime time tv slot? Think again. These places have “visitors” at all hours of the day. If mom and dad are stoned out of their mind, do you really think they’re paying any attention to who is with their kids or, more importantly, what they’re doing with them? I’ll spare you the details.
My own story is not so extreme, but then again, I’m learning that my normal was not the same as everyone else’s normal at home. I never went without necessities, though there were times we came very close. I was never sexually abused, but we did live in utter chaos because along with substance abuse comes extreme mood swings. We (and by we, I mean my mom, my brother, and myself) spent the majority of our time walking on eggshells so as to not upset my dad because we knew what kind of Hell that would bring. There was a lot of emotional abuse and the only time my father wanted to parent was when it came to discipline. I’ve mentioned in other posts that my husband and I live in the same house where I grew up, and from time-to-time, I find myself staring down the hallway reliving some of the past that I’ve blocked from memory. It’s in times like those that I realize my childhood was far from normal and I’m not even sure that anyone outside our immediate family was aware of any of it. I was a straight A student from 4th grade on; I never got into any trouble (I never once had detention or even missed recess in elementary school), I was active in clubs, and basically just flew under the radar all 12 years of public school.
I say that to make this point: substance abuse affects everyone, not just the misfit families and problem kids. It’s an ugly, painful disease and it knows no boundaries. It’s everywhere. My younger brother is battling it as I type this. My high school boyfriend of 4 years had his own issues with drugs, and I’m told this is an ongoing issue. Parts of my husband’s family are in just as deep as my dad. It literally surrounds me from every angle, at work, at home, and in the general public. It’s frustrating to sit back and watch people you love throw their lives, families, and careers away for a short-term high. The even more frustrating part is when these same people think they can convince you they don’t have a problem, but you can tell by looking at their placid, gray complexions, darty eyes, and their inability to sit still that they are anything but sober or healthy. At what point do you cut them off? Anyone who has never dealt with a drug addict has no idea how draining it can be, physically, emotionally, and financially.
Now that we are just a few short weeks away from our baby’s arrival, it’s something that gets discussed pretty frequently in our house. How do we shield her from the addicts in our lives and the affects that their addictions had on us? I’ve always been particularly irritated by those who enable. Until recently, I saw them as weak and spineless. “Oh, you can’t pay your bills because you blew your paycheck on getting high? Here, honey, have some money. Please, let me continue to support your needy, irresponsible adult self because you refuse to change. You need me to bail you out of jail again? Be right there! You want me to listen to you complain about how your life is in shambles but you refuse to acknowledge that this shit storm is self-made? Poor thing!”
Yeah, that was my attitude. Real Christ-like, wasn’t it? I will say that it’s not that I didn’t have any sympathy for the addict or the enabler, I just thought of it as they weren’t doing the addict any favors by ‘helping’ them. If anything, continuing to support their bad decisions by doing what they thought was helping them was only prolonging recovery, and I couldn’t understand why they didn’t just implement some tough love. This baby has changed that for me though. Like I said, we talk about it a lot because the reality is the majority of this child’s biological family isn’t fit to even visit most days, let alone do typical family stuff like trips to the park or overnight stays. I don’t say that to be judgemental, I say that because I’ve been exposed to the various scenarios that could play out as a result of their addictions and none of them are good. Cutting them out of her life completely just seems harsh, though, and the thought saddens both of us. The same thing, I’m sure, applies to those who enable. No one wants to be the bad guy and cut people off. No one wants to see their loved ones go to jail, wind up homeless, or exiled from their own families. It’s too hard because we love them. So what do we do?
There are tons of resources out there for recovery: rehabs, outpatient substance abuse therapy, support groups, medication assisted therapy, etc. I’ll provide some links at the bottom of the post if that’s what you’re after, but I’m going somewhere different with this one. Last week, I heard a friend say, “You pray for rock bottom with grace on the way,” and it made a ton of sense.
As I said before, my younger brother is currently battling addiction, whether he wants to call it that or not, that’s what it is. So far, he’s dodged every legal bullet shot his way, which most would consider lucky. Until recently, my prayers for him were something along the lines of, Make him better, Lord, but don’t let him suffer too much in the process. That’s the Spark Notes version, anyway. However, after his second DUI in less than a year, I’m whistling, or praying, a different tune. I’ve decided that rock bottoms isn’t necessarily a bad thing and often times, it’s exactly the catalyst needed for change for those who are dealing with substance abuse or addictions of any kind, but particularly for young ones who think they’re invincible and have never really had to deal with any consequences from their actions. I don’t know what rock bottom will look like for him and I’m not looking forward to seeing it, but I know it’s necessary and my prayers will reflect just that. And there’s nothing to feel guilty about if you’re in the same situation with a loved one. It’s okay to want to see change at any price and it’s okay if you’re finished offering them anything other than prayer and emotional support.
As someone who works in mental health, I know the benefits of therapy and I’ve seen it work for even unwilling participants (because treatment doesn’t have to be your idea for it to work!). However, I’ve seen God do even bigger things for His children, we need only ask. When I think of the magnitude of addiction, only one solution is bigger than the problem itself: prayer. The answer to those prayers may come in the form of treatment, incarceration, etc. but if anyone can get results, it’s Him. If He can put my less-than-perfect childhood to use to serve others, I’m pretty sure He can handle my prayer requests for rock bottom with grace on the way and He can handle yours too. At the end of the day, a loved one’s problem affects you, certainly, but it’s not your cross to bear. So from this point forward, I’m choosing to follow the advice given in 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because he cares for you.”