Addiction: Community, Compassion, and Healing

Kelly - IGM Facilitator

Kelly - IGM Facilitator

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“Addiction is not a choice that anybody makes; it’s not a moral failure; it’s not an ethical lapse; it’s not a weakness of character; it’s not a failure of will, which is how our society depicts addiction. Nor is it an inherited brain disease, which is how our medical tendency is to see it. What it actually is: it’s a response to human suffering, and all these people that I worked with had been serially traumatized as children. All the women had been sexually abused. All the men had been traumatized, some of them sexually, physically, emotionally neglected. And not only is that my perspective, it’s also what the scientific and research literature show. So, addiction then, rather than being a disease as such or a human choice, it’s an attempt to escape suffering temporarily.”
           – Dr. Gabor Mate 

I want to shine a floodlight on addiction, I want to stand on the rooftops and shout with a megaphone so everyone can hear me, maybe just maybe what I have to say will change one person and give them a clearer understanding of what addiction is and who it can affect. Society paints a dark and dirty picture of addiction, and this perspective is one filled with stereotypes and stigma. It is an ugly perspective that portrays the drug addict in a dark alley with other street people injecting heroin, streets lined with drug addicts overdosing and living in tents, its a casino with someone pouring their mortgage payments into a slot machine, its sex, strippers and internet porn, its bags filled with expensive designer shopping bags purchased online in secret. The ugliest dirtiest stigmatized perspective of addiction is the LIE we are fed that people become addicted by their own free will. The idea that we are addicted because that is the life we chose and we chose not to stop the behaviour, versus the side that states it’s a disease and with treatment and detox we can be a valuable member of the community. I agree that with treatment addictions are manageable for those that find themselves in that position. However, we need to address and clearly understand what starts people on the path to becoming addicted so we can take a more preventative approach.

Addictions are side effects and characteristics we develop as a result of chasing new ways to cope with issues we are struggling with. They allow us to escape for a short period so we may keep living with the burdens of trauma. Society views addiction in black and white and not enough is being done to slow the epidemic at this moment in time. Addicts are stigmatized as people who society can throw away and they are viewed by the public as people that have less value in our communities. We are seeing more and more of the stigma-based approach of “not in my back yard”. Many people seem to want to empathize with addiction as long as it stays out of their neighbourhoods. Addiction affects everyone and everyone is worthy of acceptance, compassion, housing, and love no matter what they are struggling with.

Addiction is not a disease to fear nor something we should shun people for struggling with. Addiction is a reprieve and a coping mechanism to allow a person an escape temporarily from the suffering they are experiencing, often it stems from a place of unresolved trauma. Addiction provides a place of distance and numbing from problems to allow a person to cope and live to fight another day. It allows them to shut off the pain, forget the trauma and other problems, the escape is a safe place, the quieting of the mind that allows a person to get through another day.

So where do we begin when we are trying to assist someone with an addiction? We as a culture need to start being more trauma-informed, we need to be willing to openly have conversations that allow a safe space to be heard without bringing judgement and condemning the choices that others have made in an attempt to cope. We need to meet people where they are, not where we think they should be. We need to be able to provide tools that allow addicts to engage in their own wellness and allow the person to undertake their recovery plan at a pace they are comfortable with. Getting to the root of the issues that led to the path of addiction will be a lengthy process and must be self-guided to allow for true healing.

When we begin to take our blinders off we will see that everyone is suffering from pain that we have no idea about. Everyone could be dealing with something that is negatively impacting who they are and how they are managing their lives. Having an open mind and educating yourself on topics like addiction and mental health makes it much easier to feel compassion toward all beings, including yourself.

The more time we take to understand our struggles and learn techniques for successfully managing these struggles the greater our capacity for compassion becomes. Firstly with ourselves and then for others. Our world can transform into a kinder more empathetic and compassionate one by starting with self-love and compassion for ourselves. Once we learn that we are worthy of acceptance and love with all our flaws we will begin to recognize a world of wounded human beings, not a world of dehumanized monsters. We now have tapped into a new degree of love and understanding with an ability to be empathetic human beings in a world lacking just that. The path toward ever greater healing and wholeness may well be never-ending, so in the meantime, perhaps we can all be less judgmental and more compassionate toward those who are using various addictions to cope with their pain. If we can remember that addiction is more than just substance and alcohol abuse, that it could be anything that is a distraction or an escape from pain, we will become aware that this affects almost every person we know. When we are lying in the judgement of someone else, we are often seeing something we recognize in ourselves but do not want to see.

More statistics and articles on addiction in men:

How Addiction Affects Men Differently

Addiction Among Males

Hurt People Hurt People. Healed People Heal People.