Selfish Addictions, Not

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Reflected on the news of the day.

Another celebrity passed away from a drug overdose. A lot of attention is drawn to his legacy and so on. One commentator spoke, “The way we talk about a celebrity who ODs says a lot about the way we think about people who are struggling around us. It’s time we tried to understand struggles we don’t endure ourselves. It’s called empathy, and we could all use a lot more of it.”

I differ with the above assessment.

A lifelong walk with a rare disease which includes chronic pain and degenerative realities has me visiting with many like people who suffer through the complications of using pain drugs and so on. The key word used by this author was “empathy”. This an attribute owned by those who have been there. It is by its use experiential and thus limited, not likely or preferred to be acquired in order to assure understanding.

It is far from “cute” to say that the best we can expect from most is “sympathy” and I mean in a charitable sense, not some phony “boy am I lucky, you poor soul” kind of way. It is asking for honest and deeply held compassion for your neighbor. It do not take kindly to elitist sensibilities which choose to see those in need as takers, rather than sufferers.

To see the addict as selfish is to climb aboard the “screw you” train. It provides the convenient excuse to look past rare diseases, congenital disorders, degenerative disease, and  a myriad of accidental placements in life. Did you choose your parents? Did you choose you gene pool?

The human animal is far to complex to be cut, labeled, and packed like a piece of meat. It takes compassion, insight, work and sympathy to best understand why each of us walks, talks, thinks and acts as we do. Five years of psychotherapy might do it, but certainly doesn’t guarantee it. It starts with giving yourself the benefit of the doubt. It is finished by having your neighborhood, your community following in kind.

A very astute friend of mine challenged me one day to not throw a trouble kid on the trash heap of life, when I judged him to be seriously flawed in character. It was a very tough message and a very easy decision. We took him in. Not all of these endeavors work. We’re not Psychoanalysts, gods, prophets or miracle workers. We are people who by fortune have capacities others don’t. It’s not only that hard work pays off.

Does this excuse personal responsibility? Hell no. Does its bends and twists excuse sympathy? Hell no. Like in all endeavors you try. When it doesn’t quite workout, you retool and try again. And when the whole damn thing is a mess sometimes you have to deal with putting the whole project off to the side and declaring lessons learned. In no case, do you scrap the person. Find them a place where they can prosper. Encourage them to come. Never regret having made the effort.

I will not mourn those who fail to try. I will not give celebrity to those who take. I will offer a hand up until I have no more strength or capacity to help. I will offer charity, compassion, sympathy. I certainly hope that empathy is required to wake my soul when I fail to do the above. That said, experience is one mean way to gain understanding and usually offers far more pain and risk of failure than sympathy ever will.

Addiction is rarely selfish, likely self-centered, and always self-destructive. It hides behind the very walls that allow it to thrive. It is like cancer in that once you know of it, the cure is often times fleeting. It requires you to almost kill yourself, to save yourself.


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