Many years ago, a little after I first joined the Army (I believe I was 18 or 19 at the time) another soldier and I stepped outside. This soldier was in his 30s. Anyway, we saw another soldier smoking. The other guy said, “Wow, look at him. He’s smoking like he’s about to die! Good thing he got out here and got that smoke in!”
I looked at the soldier who was smoking for a little bit and then I turned to the guy who was with me and asked, “Do you think he really wants to smoke?” He said, “What do you mean?” I replied with, “Well, I’ve heard some people talk about how difficult it is to quit smoking. I mean, I just wonder if he’s actually trying to quit and having a tough time doing so, you know…like he really doesn’t want to be out here doing it.” I may as well have been speaking in Chinese, because that’s the confused look the soldier next to me gave me when I said that. It’s like what I said made no sense.
Even at that early age and as someone who never smoked, that was probably the first time I really began to think like that. Before then, I was like my friend in that I saw someone smoking and figured they did it 100% because they wanted to. But there was something about that guy who was doing it on that particular day that made me begin to wonder and even empathize with him a little bit.
The dictionary defines addiction as: “being abnormally tolerant to and dependent on something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming” or “an abnormally strong craving.”
What I find interesting is that we as a society have somehow tied addiction to mostly alcohol and/or drugs, even though nothing in the definition implies that those are the only addictions that exist. Yet, these are the ones we frown upon the most.
Any of us can be addicted to anything. Addicted to certain foods. Shopping addictions. How about addicted to our phones? Yep. Why else would there be stories of people getting hit by cars because they’re staring at their phones and walking across busy streets? Why do people have such a strong need to text and drive?
As for me, in case my blog posts haven’t made this sickeningly clear, I am addicted to writing.
Anyway, I understand that those addictions may not be as debilitating as alcohol and drugs in many ways, but they are still addictions no less. I think we are all guilty of being “addicted” to something. So to a degree, we should be able to understand it.
I have never suffered through alcohol or drug addiction myself, but I’ve dealt with many friends and family members who have. I’m well-aware of the ill-effects that these addictions can cause for those who are addicted and what it can do to them and their friends/families.
However, in this case, I’m not so much thinking about those who are closely involved with addiction like this to the degree that they are experiencing it at this very moment with a friend or family member. I’m writing this because of those people who make judgments about those who suffer with either drug or alcohol addictions.
First off, I’m not asking anyone to “just deal with it.” It’s not an epic revelation to say that addiction can tear people and families apart. So if you are someone dealing with a loved one who is suffering with addiction right now, it is a very sensitive situation. Along with that, every situation is different.
These days, we all want people to understand us, yet many don’t care to try and understand other people. That’s where my mind is right now. I’m mostly looking at those who are mainly on the outside and looking in.
I truly believe that as non-addicts, there are some areas in which we can empathize with addicts. By the way, keep in mind that “empathize” isn’t the same as “accept.”
Referring back to my example about me and a fellow soldier watching someone else as they smoked all those years ago, I think quite a few people feel the way that fellow soldier did; that people who deal with smoking, drugs or alcohol addiction actually want to be there. This tells me that is why people are so cold toward those going through that. They say things like, “They get no sympathy from me,” or “They brought it on themselves,” or “They knew what they were getting into.”
Despite how this post looks, I’m not asking anyone to simply feel sorry for addicts. Many have simply destroyed lives, whether it be the lives of their friends and families are even their own. So much ugliness comes with addiction that I truly do understand why some people would never even think to have sympathy for an addict. In many ways, I wouldn’t blame you.
What I’m saying is this, and I can understand that this can be very tough to do. Think about that addict who is desperately trying to stop, but can’t. I don’t mean the ones who make it clear that they don’t care about stopping, nor about who they hurt. Certainly you realize that NOT every single substance abuser is that way, correct? So I’m just asking you to think for a second about those who really want to stop.
I get that it may be hard to understand. After all, we may see them popping pills every few hours or so. They’re always drinking. It’s hard to see that they don’t want to be doing this. But speaking as someone on the outside, I honestly feel that their bodies have taken over. The same way we spoil that diet to eat that extra piece of cheesecake after dinner; it’s not the process itself that we want; it’s that our bodies our telling us that it’s okay. “It’s just one piece.” One piece today. Then another piece tomorrow. And so on, and so on.
I understand that they’re not exactly the same thing, but my point is that I don’t believe it’s so much the process of going out to get that alcohol or to weasel drugs out of someone as it is that a substance abuser’s body is forcing them to believe they MUST have it. Now everyone can say, “Oh, they can just say no” or “They can just ignore it.” But come on, people…we’ve all eaten certain foods where we’ve regretted it many times immediately after doing so. We “could’ve said no” at those times also. The only difference is that eating a slice of cheesecake doesn’t have that ill effect on the lives of that person and the many around them, but it was still a mistake nonetheless, just as taking that drink is.
I just read a fantastic book by actress Kristen Johnston titled, “Guts,” and I really saw this in that book. There wasn’t a huge sense that she was happy doing all of what she did, even throughout the process. But the addiction had become so out of control that she didn’t feel she had a choice at the time.
Just like with Kristen, I’m sure many alcohol and drug addicts don’t fully realize just what they are getting into. If an addict was told in the very beginning, “Now if you take this drink/pill, you will become addicted to it. You will NEED it every few hours. You will spend TONS of money to get this whenever you want. Your body will make you crave it all the time. You will feel VERY sick if you do not get this when your body says you want it. You will treat your family and friends like shit. You will lie to them. You will steal from them. You will ruin tons of romantic relationships. You will ruin your career and lose many jobs. You will be near death many times or hell, you may even die from it,” I don’t believe there is ANY way in hell a person would say, “Yeah, yeah, cool. Bring it on!” if they knew for certain that stuff would happen. Many would either NOT believe it, or they would feel they had control of it in some way. That stuff would never happen to me.
Just as no one would continue to abuse alcohol and drugs if they knew all that would happen, I can’t imagine a lot of addicts wake up in the morning looking for all the ways they can screw over their friends and families. Hell, as far as I know, they may wake up every morning and say, “This is it. This is the day that I quit all this.” Of course, that time never happens, but I just have a hard time believing that everything an addict does is what they actually want to do. There’s no way. Not all the time.
So how the hell are we as non-addicts supposed to empathize with them? As I said above, empathizing isn’t the same as accepting. Addiction is NOT “okay.” Substance abuse can kill that person AND other people so no…I absolutely would NEVER say to just feel sorry for them from those aspects.
I’m talking about that person who is really trying to quit. That person who hates themselves for what they’ve done to themselves and their friends and/or family members. That person who is truly remorseful. That person who isn’t strong enough to quit on his or her own or follow through with their treatment. That person who desperately wishes he or she could stop, but can’t.
See, we make mistakes all the time. Mostly, they are mistakes that can be forgotten about in a matter of minutes or be water under the bridge in a few hours. But imagine that if that one mistake caused an insane downward spiral of badness that you NEVER thought was possible (as I mentioned above). Imagine if this happened with EVERY mistake you ever made. It’s probably hard to understand that when you look at all the minor mistakes out there that can be made every day, but that’s exactly it. With a substance abuser, they all once believed that that first drink was “just a mistake” and that it will “never happen again.” Once the effect of that pill kicks in, then they feel good enough to tell themselves that it will be the very last one they’ll ever take. The effect is so gradual that an intelligent person should realize just how difficult it is to really notice.
With all due respect to women in abusive relationships, let’s go there for a second. I truly cannot see a woman getting into a relationship and saying, “Oh, I’m going to let my boyfriend/husband beat the HELL out of me any time he wants and I’m staying no matter what!”I can’t imagine this is ANY woman’s initial mindset. Yet, it happens every day. Just like with addiction, many will judge that woman as well. Sitting on the outside and having invested absolutely NO time in that relationship whatsoever, of course we have all the answers. Same with addiction. It’s easy for those of us who are NOT addicted to tell those who are how to handle it. The effect hasn’t been felt on us yet.
All I’m saying is to not lump every single substance abuser in the same category of “trash who doesn’t care about anyone but themselves.” (Sadly, I’ve heard addicts referred to in this way before, and this is one of the nice comments). Some truly do not care what they’re doing or who they hurt. Those aren’t the ones I’m referring to. I’m talking about those who care enough to be hurt by what they’re doing. Those who are really trying to stop. Those who get it, but aren’t strong enough to follow through. Lord knows we have ALL been at a place in our lives where we haven’t been strong enough to do something as we would like. Come down off your high horses and again, don’t necessarily accept what they’re doing, but try and empathize.
Many of us have gone through the same things a substance abuser has. It’s just that our mistakes were easier to fix or to let go of. Our lack of strength in whatever area didn’t necessarily hurt other people, but we still needed that strength. If you’ve never suffered with alcohol or drug addiction, talk to someone who has and do so with an open mind. Read about it. Learn what they’re going through. You don’t have to change your mind on what you feel, but do me a favor…at least take the time to try and get where they’re coming from and where they are. Preferably those who are recovering; I think they would be the best ones to talk to.
We all want to be understood. So take a second and do for someone else what you would expect them to do for you.