It’s all too easy to see the ugliness associated with drug and alcohol addiction: There are few diseases that have as frustrating an impact as addiction does; not only on the person living under the oppression of his or her addiction, but also on all those around him or her. We watch as those who suffer with an addiction continue to use even though the addiction will ultimately lead to death. Left untreated, drug and alcohol addiction can seem to be a long and drawn out suicide and those around the user can feel powerless to stop the apparently inevitable conclusion. But, there’s a side to addiction that can get lost underneath the veils of suffering: The loving side of those around a user that maintain hope and faith and continue to love the person who uses in spite of the addiction.
You see, there’s a real person underneath the addiction. He or she may be hard to recognize from the impact that using has had on his or her humanity. Using invariably changes a person, but so does the simple process of living. I don’t think anyone is the exact same person that they were at some distant point in their past. We all live through time and events and are shaped and formed by the experiences we face in the time and places of our lives. Nothing or no one stays the same; we adapt and continue to breathe and even though we make mistakes or behave in ways that have negative consequences, I’m willing to place money that there’s someone on the face of the Earth who loves us, even though we may not be able to see that love.
I’ve gotten to see that love from many different types of people. Yes, people are different and there’s no one type of treatment that fits everyone. However, the one constant that I have seen, and continue to see, is the strength that people draw from their love for their sons and daughters and husbands and wives and mothers and fathers. Those who love simply want those who use to live in a healthier and safer way. They can hope in the face of impending death, not because they have superhuman qualities, but because they are simply human and recognize that as long as there’s breath in someone’s lungs, he or she is capable of learning, if only he or she had an opportunity to learn.
Maybe that’s the first step we can all take: Approach someone struggling with an addiction not through judgment but through compassion. Even if a user commits criminal acts, seeing those acts as symptoms of an insidious disease may help us see that there’s at least a chance that if the addiction didn’t exist, the person would not have committed those acts. In seeing the person and not the acts, we can draw from the deep well of love and hope and not from a place of judgment and anger.
As a treatment provider, I have had the privilege and blessing to witness the power of that deep love time and time again. Recovery emerges from that well of love and I have learned to judge treatment’s success, not by looking at whether or not someone uses, but by seeing the love given and received for any amount of time. If a user gets to the point of feeling worthy of giving and receiving love, in spite of using, he or she has found the key to disrupting the ugliness associated with addiction that has become all too easy to see. No one lives forever, if we can learn to measure the success of our lives by the amount of love we both give and receive, than our lives will transcend the ugliness and hope will win. In approaching with compassion, the shame that keeps addiction loses its grip and the need to use can diminish. Rather than seeing the ugliness of addiction, maybe the time has come to recognize the beauty in the fight for life.