You know, I thought I would “have” this by now. I graduated with a masters degree in counseling three years ago. I have logged over 2,000 hours of face-to-face therapy sessions. I have spent the last three years learning from women in jail for everything from possession to murder charges. I thought I would be able to handle anything at this point.
Yet, I still drop to the floor in complete despair when I learn another person I care about has died from a drug overdose. This morning was no different. All of the same questions flooded my brain that did when my friend’s son died of a drug overdose, and my friend’s boyfriend, and a former client, and so many others. What could we have done differently? What was the tipping point? How can this be stopped?
Addiction is a nasty, horrible, life-sucking disease that causes waves of mass destruction in its wake. Addiction is never an isolated event. It is a family disease, a relational curse, and it touches us all in some way or another. Now there is one more story, one more person, one more life that has been taken by satan’s worst weapon.
In mourning the most recent death I have encountered due to addiction, I realize that there is one quality that most (if not all) addicts share that is often ignored. Everyone knows about the shame, the abuse, the betrayal, the negligence, and the poor choices that come with addiction. Today, however, another common quality came to light as I started to reflect on all of the men and women I know who are either in recovery or in their addiction: they want to help someone else.
I can’t name a single person I know who is in recovery, or in the throws of addiction, who doesn’t talk about wanting to help others. They know their disease is a nasty killer, and if they can’t save themselves they at least want to prevent someone else from going down. As selfish as addiction can make a person, there is a genuine selflessness at the heart of every addicted man or woman I know.
I believe this is the addict’s curse: they want so badly to pull someone else out of the pit, that they forget to grab onto the rope themselves. It’s a force stronger than codependency. It is a genuine hope that no one else will die from addiction, while at the same time forgetting one’s own worth and dignity. It’s why Step 12 reads:
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
But in carrying out Step 12, so many people relapsed because in helping others, they lose themselves. And it isn’t just addicts who falter here. It’s all of us – anyone who tries to bypass the work of self healing and skip to “I just want to help others!”
The desire is good, but the outcome can be deadly. There is a fine line between self care and selfish, but it is an important line. I am the least healthiest version of myself when I forget to do the things that keep me mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually sharp. And when I am dull in these areas, due to lack of the discipline of self care, I start to lose focus of what is important and I am no help to anyone.
A few years ago, I wrote about the Gift of Addiction – similar to the story of the sinful woman who anointed Jesus with her hair and tears in Luke 7 in the Bible: “A person who has been forgiven little, loves little.” A man or woman in the throws of this or her addiction knows how much they need grace and mercy and forgiveness, because he or she has been forgiven for so much. Many people walk around every day not knowing how much they need forgiveness, or how much they have been forgiven.
If an awareness of the need of grace is the gift of addiction, then a lack of awareness of the need for self care is the curse. And it is killing our friends, fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, cousins, bosses, colleagues, pastors, and strangers.
I don’t have the answers, but I continue to explore the questions: How can we love each other so well, that not one more life is lost to drug overdose or suicide? How can I live each day in such a way that my interactions give hope to those around me?
You don’t have to have the answers, but I challenge to ask the questions and live a life that is contagious with hope.