When I was in Melbourne, Australia recently with our family, I was starkly reminded of the ubiquitous presence of opium in the past as well as the present. Not that I can ever really forget it’s demon-like presence. But when I am asked what I do and I respond that I am a new author, the next question is what my book is about. After I give a short description, I am always surprised at how many people have stories of their own involving this ancient plant – a plant that truly offers humankind a double-edged sword. It can so wondrously relieve pain when our bodies have been injured or undergone surgery. Yet it has a mysterious way of latching on to a large percentage of we mortals who, having once legitimately used this soothing balm, then find the memory of that bliss like an oasis in the desert that we chase after at all cost.
Within a week, I heard three stories. One seems like something out of another era. A 60-yr old man, after hearing about our son and Opiate Nation, began to tell me about his years growing up in Singapore. He explained that both his mother and his father were addicted to opium and would regularly go to the opium dens to smoke. He remembers the intoxicating smell when he would go to find them to use the opportunity of their being in a blissful state to get money from them. He never wanted to use that drug or any other.
When we were at our daughter’s business meeting, and gave a brief summary of our memoir, a middle-aged woman came up to me afterwards and wanted to know where she could buy our book. I asked her if she had an addiction story in her life and she told me about her 28 yr old son who was given opioids after a surgery when he was 21 and was hooked. He is clean now, on methadone, but still struggling with learning how to get back into living life. The pain was clearly evident on this mothers face.
I heard the third story while John and I were at a workout class. As new members, the instructor asked us about ourselves. Again, when I told her the subject of our book, she wanted to know how to get a copy and so I asked if she had an addiction story in her life. Yes. She saved her boyfriend when she found him last Christmas morning after he had overdosed on heroin. He had been addicted 30 years ago and been clean, but had a crisis in his life and so went back to what he knew would remove all the pain – at least temporarily – or perhaps permanently.
These stories served as a reminder to me that in our troubled world, there will continue to be the option and increasing easy accessibility of opium products to dull the pain – and the need for those of us who are involved in this struggle to continue to share our stories and be open so that others will feel comfortable sharing the pain that they live with and that they choose to not dull. Pulling together, we may one day see the tide turn.
Now, during the holidays, let’s remember that there are millions of people around us who are fighting for their sobriety from alcohol and drugs – and possibly, for their very lives. They need our attentive ear, encouragement, and support. And let’s be careful to what excesses we allow ourselves – remembering the importance of our example in the lives of others.