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What it takes to overcome an epidemic

A friend sent me a link to a Time magazine article in which Flea (bassist for the band Red Hot Chili Peppers) describes his battle with and recovery from drug addiction. His account is down to earth and well worth reading. He highlights how easy it is to use drugs to deal with emotional pain and mental illness:

“Temptation is a bitch though. All my life I’ve gone through periods of horrific anxiety: a tightness in my stomach that creeps up and squeezes my brain in an icy grip. My mind relentlessly whirring, I can’t eat or sleep, and I stare into a seemingly infinite void of despair, a bottomless pit of fear. Ouch. Man, drugs would fix all that in a flash.”

His transformation is concisely summarized in a way that would seem completely counter intuitive to those who have not experienced some form of recovery:

“What I’ve learned is to always be grateful for my pain. That mindset has helped me stay away from the temptation of drugs.”

The uninitiated wonder, “Why would anyone be grateful for pain?”

Answers: Because it’s real. Because it’s truth. Because as Three Days Grace sang, “I’d rather feel pain than nothing at all.” And because there’s a way to overcome it that doesn’t involve medicating it. Drugs numb pain. The only way out of it is through it, but you have to see that to know that.

Addiction causes tunnel vision but it doesn’t allow you to see any light at the end of that tunnel.

Philosophical question: If you had to choose, would you live in shame and with moderate (but ever increasing) amounts of pain, or would you rather go through excruciating pain for a stretch with the hope it would heal and transform you?

Maybe that seems like a no-brainer to you. The key is you have to both see that that option exists and you have to have the means to access the help required to get to the other side.

One of the worst pieces of mythology that persists in our culture is that help is available to anyone who wants it. If you believe that, then please locate me a detox bed available in Maine. Then find me a licensed rehab center for the uninsured or an opiate replacement therapy program for those without financial means.

Our culture largely views addiction as a personal failure. If you see it that way, please sit with someone who is going through withdrawals from heroin or delirium tremens from alcohol. Try convincing them that sufficient will power will see them through (assuming they don’t die, which is a real possibility when not medically supervised).

Until we address addiction as a community problem, overdose rates will continue to climb. Until we are unified in our willingness to remove obstacles to addiction recovery, we will watch families suffer, rates of homelessness and incarceration increase, and we will continue to despair that the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

I have a personal responsibility to serve those who struggle in my community. I have an obligation to those who are afflicted. I am blessed with an insatiable desire to connect with kindred spirits and even further blessed to know that those spirits belong to those who see themselves as broken.

Just. Like. Me.

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