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Don’t Just Hate the Disease. Love the Addict

He was a gentle giant. The love seat in my office barely contained him. Goofy, fun loving, and sensitive to a fault. His body was intimidating but his face was endearingly boyish. He was a sweet kid with a huge heart.

I don’t have words to describe how much I hate speaking of him in the past tense…but I have to…because he’s gone and I need to do more than shed tears for him.

He was young enough to think he’d blow my mind with his insights from studying Buddhism, Taoism, and comparative religion. I listened patiently and told him I’d rather hear him speak about his childhood, prison, and the ink on his arms.

He studied my carpet when he spoke of growing up. Another lost boy who grew up without a dad. He spoke of a step father who was good to his “real children” and he was fiercely defensive of the mother who chose a man over him.

His shame was not his own. He blamed himself for being deprived of love and yet he was palpably loving toward others. We give away what we want to receive.

We talked about freedom and how to attain it. I asked him to weigh everything he ran from and the inevitabilities of either working through it or continuing to self destruct. He was among the many I chastised by saying:

“You destroy something beautiful.”

With a thousand yard stare he replied, “You know enough about what happens in prison to know a lot of what I’m running from.”

He cried openly about the hatred he encountered there. “I wanted them to see that we were all the same. All of us grew up without fathers and because of that, we hate men. We all encountered violence and drugs at a young age. We were never children but we never grew up either. I feel like a little kid all the time, except when I’m high”

He was endlessly grateful for any service provided or the smallest of gifts given. He had an extended family member who moved heaven and earth to help him. He went to meetings. He got a sponsor. He had periods of abstinence. He was just always scared.

I was always happy to hug him but it felt like giving a drop of water to a man who’d crawled across a desert.

Like so many I’ve served, he just stopped coming. I have a long list of folks I can only hope and pray to hear from. Sometimes I do – and my heart sings with joy.

What I heard this morning just left me with an all too familiar feeling of being kicked in the gut. I cried and thought about how young he was and how much I hate the disease of addiction. The tears lasted but the hate passed quickly. I cannot honor the spirit of this young man with hate in my heart.

Besides, it’s the most hollow thing in the world to hate a disease. I can’t hurt the disease. It’s an abstract thing. It has no neck to wrap my hands around. It has no house for me to burn down. It is a hateful and destructive force that takes away people I love.

Instead of hating the disease, we must love the addicted and do everything in our power to support the journey toward freedom and transformation. In the end, love has to be stronger than hate.

Our greatest enemy in diminishing the power of addiction is apathy. I get that. It’s harder when you care. Sooner or later, you will. All of us are affected and none of us are free until all of us are free.

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