There’s a great line in the West Wing, spoken by the character of Leo McGary talking about his addiction to drink and pills – addicts, he says, don’t lack will power in the same way that an anorexic doesn’t have an over inflated sense of vanity.
Which is true. He might also have said that addicts don’t choose the addiction – they choose the drug because they want to make the pain, the sorrow, the violent self-doubt, the guilt, the shame, the gnawing self-loathing or whatever the feeling is which causes them more pain they are able to process, to simply go away. But I appreciate it doesn’t quite trip off the tongue in the same way.
Because I am a realist, I also know that addicts also choose to get high but let’s be clear – there is no gradation (in my mind) between addiction to caffeine and addiction to morphine. The difference is not in the level of addiction: the difference is in the impact on the addict and their family, and the way in which the addict and their addiction is viewed and treated by the rest of society.
Lets face it: how many of you get a headache if you go without coffee for a day? Or how many of you smoke? How many have a stash of chocolate somewhere? How many of you start to fiddle with your hands when your smartphone isn’t working or has been left at home for some reason? The only difference between your addiction and that of a heroine addict is that your addiction is socially accepted, enabled and encouraged because you’re addictions make someone else a great deal of money.
Don’t get me wrong: as a smoker and caffeine addict, I’m not here to judge anyone or make some sweeping statement about society. I am not on some puritan rant and don’t want to see some Mormon-esque laws made which will see any of these things outlawed. That’s not my point.
My point is that we are all broken. All of us. We all need something to get us through the day, even if it’s just scented candles. We all hurt – we all need something to relieve of us of the hurt, if only for a while until we can find some healthier way to process that. And everyone makes bad choices in their lives. When Jesus said ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone’ to those judgemental blokes who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery, he was getting right in their patriachal faces about their own appalling hypocrisy.
Addicts dont want to spend their lives feeling like shit about themselves. They dont. Addicition is not a choice. Those I have known who battled addiction would not wish it upon their worst enemies. My sister, in her more lucid moments, knew the damage she was doing to herself and was eaten with guilt for the damage it was doing to her children, her family and her friends. She may not have understood so clearly that it was just as alienating and isolating for us as it was for her, because we were tainted with the same judgement by society that she was.
There was a lady I knew who was in all other respects quite lovely and we got on well – but if you mentioned drug addicts she would get very worked up and start spitting out words like ‘scumbags’ and ‘wasters’. And I would look away and try and change the conversation because hearing my sister and friends referred to in such a way hurt like buggery. Pineapple Head was a talanted musician, who wanted to be able to teach. She had it in her to give back. And the same is and was true of those I know and knew with similar issues.
There is a painful truth that not everyone can be saved. But there is a bright reality too – that many can. And it is not some emotional cry of the heart to say so. Consigning people to the dustbin is expensive, and the cost is too high for society to keep doing that. With all the appalling changes to the benefit system being undertaken by this government, this country is sliding backwards and creating an underclass that will rival anything from the Victorian era.
And that will damage all of us.