Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Shame of Addiction

There is a man standing on the ledge of a building. He knows and fully understands the consequences of the fall he's contemplating. What you don't know and fully understand is the path that brought him here. You don't understand that the thought of his body mangled and broken on the sidewalk below is nothing compared to the mangled and broken soul he is carrying around with him every day. The thought of the fall is not as scary as the thought of living another day with this unbearable burden. You step forward with something to say and his eyes lock with yours as he waits for you to speak...

Humble said it.
A Sweet Dose of Truth said it.
Russell Brand said it.
and now I am speaking for our children.

Child 1 had already been trading her sexual favors for her mothers drugs before her mother talked her into shooting up for the first time at 13. Custody battle ensued. The wild ride that was her life lead to her slipping Oxycodone into her teacher's drink as a desperate cry for help. This act got her into a special school, one she lived in for more than a year. When she got home, she was clean and sober. She got a job, she was buying a car. She had plans and dreams. At 16, she died in the middle seat of a pickup when her aunt was too drunk and had too many pills in her system to stay on the road.

Child 2 lost his sister when he was 13. His life up until this point has already been crazy. Going to live with his dad, he lost half of his siblings and his entire life as he knew it. Losing his sister, he lost his world. By the end of that year, he was sexually active, always stoned and drinking on a regular basis. He entered his first rehab facility at 15.

Child 3 had a good family life, but she suffered from depression. She met Child 2 at one of their AA meetings.

Child 4 was a mess from the start. I wouldn't even know where to start with the family...he was expelled from school for having drugs on school property.

Child 5's mother was his supplier and was nice enough to supply his friends, too.

Child 6's mother was a raging alcoholic. By "raging," I mean being a huge embarrassment and blaming her failures on him. Every cruel word and every slap pushing him to be the "problem child" in school. The weird clothes, the weird hair, the weirdness that was his defense to keep people away so they couldn't cut him even more and so they wouldn't see the humiliation that was his life.

and then there was my friend Zach. Sweet, beautiful Zach. When Zach was 4 years old, he lost his father. His mother slipped into depression, not leaving her bed for days. Zach climbed the counters to search the cabinets for food. Zach's mother cried and told him how sorry she was. Zach went to live with his grandparents until he lost his Grandma and then it was just Grandpa and Zach. Zach didn't have friends in school. Our lunch hours were spent standing side by side in silence on the edge of the crowd, just watching. Zach ended up in prison over DWIs and drug use. He was clean and sober, he had plans and dreams. When he left that safe haven and got back out into the "real" world, he ended up back where he started. I said, "Zach, what are you doing?" He said, "Mac, they are my friends. They are here." No one else cared. Just these people who were right there where he was. People who understood and didn't condemn him for his past. I got a Facebook message a few months ago that my friend had died from an overdose.

...when you look into his eyes and speak the message you stepped forward to share, what are you going to say? Are you going to shame him further? Add to the burden he's already carrying? Tell him that the decision to jump would make him stupid or #dumb? Are you going to label him as "not bright" or a "great example of poor decision and ignorance."? Is that going to encourage him to step off of the ledge in the direction that will lead to more shame, more judgment, more heartache... or in the direction that takes him to blessed relief from the unending pain?

You cannot shame our children into sobriety. You cannot call them stupid or dumb and expect for that to fix the problem. For some, this is a way of life. For others, this is a way of coping with life. Instead of pushing them farther toward the edge, why not hold out your hand and tell them, "I see you. You are worth more than this. Life is unfair but I believe in you." Our children will soon be adults. With this as with everything else, Early Intervention is key. You cannot model the example of judging someone for the choices they make or the choices they never had and then two tweets later say not to judge anyone because judging someone says more about you than them. Our children will follow your example before they follow your words. In the words of a very wise woman, "Shame is not a good way to convince a kid that they should make a different decision. Shame is more likely to lead to suicide and drug use than "peer pressure"." In 140 characters or less, you can teach our children to shame the ones who are already shamed, or you can encourage them to help solve the problem by offering friendship and support. #makegoodchoices.


  1. boy. This is a good post, Mac. And it's one of those eye openers that I have had the great good fortune never to have had to deal with. Sorry for your friend.

  2. Really moving and real post Mac. I am so glad you wrote it. I am with you. I am so sorry for the loss of your friend. So many tragedies like his happen daily. I have watched a friend I never thought would relapse go back to her life of meth use...leaving her 4 kids (one with Autism) behind. She was my sponsor when I got clean. As an addict myself, I am so saddened by the way the world looks at the addict suffering everyday. They are worth it. They are just regular people that made poor choice. They need our help getting free. Not our judgement.

  3. And when I hear that people should be responsible for themselves...sometimes the environment they're in is just too much, when there is no example, or no one who encourages's hard. Too hard. Thank you for this Mac.