I’m tired after having worked all day, it’s some hours past midnight, and my phone goes off. Another one. My wife is sound asleep and I do my best not to wake her as I get dressed and gather my equipment. I drive to a wealthy suburb, to an elderly housing complex, to an apartment in the ghetto, a quarter mile into the woods, under a bridge, to a poorly lit and cold basement. And there’s another one, cold, lifeless, stiff, lost. They have a needle in their hand, vomit in their mouth and next to their body is a couple of wax bags. This has been the fifth death this week and its only Tuesday. We work to identify this person and then make the grim notification to the family. Some are stoic, having already accepted that it was going to happen sooner or later. Some are heartbroken. Some refuse to believe it. They are all suffering as are others.
We have all been touched by it, the blight that is addiction to opioids, whether heroin or prescription pills. And if you have not had an experience with it, consider yourself blessed. Family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances, people in passing; many of them carry the burden and cross of addiction and while some fell willingly, I’d argue to say that most simply lost hold of a devil they thought they could control. And it’s reasonable to think no one wants to die losing the battle to addiction.
I won’t paint addicts with a broad brush as leaders in secular societies and even religious organizations have tried to. I will propose that we as men can treat those suffering from addiction the way in which Christ calls us to.
My examples are extreme, but knowing that we live in a world where millions are battling this particular devil, we are essentially surrounded by it, whether we want to admit it or not. The devil hides in the shadows of our society and, just like opioids, his ultimate end is numbness and separation from the life the Father desires for us.
Here’s my recommendations:
- Never shame someone for the burden they carry. This is not to say to hug every addict you see, but acknowledge their humanity, that God sees them just He does you, a loved child and understand that you could just have easily been in their position, as with any sin. All addicts are fighting and some have been more successful than others. They all deserve respect in life and death.
- Pray for them. I hate to be the one to repeat this but prayer is powerful. It helps us grieve, for both the living and the dead. The Chaplet of Divine Mercy has helped me in some darker moments.
- Be patient. It is a sad truth that many people fall after they have made every attempt at sobriety. And while some hope to remain in the fog, many are struggling to find their way out. There will be successes and failures. Moments of sobriety and the pain of relapse. Some will fail and succeed. Help when they fail. Celebrate and be thankful for success.
- For those that have been harmed as a result of addiction, this may be the hardest part. It is nothing new for those in altered states of mind to make decisions that harm those around them, even their loved ones. Forgive. It will be easier on your conscience and theirs. This is not to say that you let yourself be taken advantage of in times of forgiveness, but give those who want to make an honest attempt at sobriety and healthy living a chance.
And for those of you who are struggling, forgive yourself. Let those around you help you. Seek help. Pray and let God work to bring you where you need to be. Do not let the dark moments define you. You are loved as a child of God and are in my prayers.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12).