(Fifteenth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)
For much of the world, Christmas and the holiday season this year has been nothing like our normal times of celebrating with family and friends. Togetherness is dangerous in most countries due to Covid-19. Yet, despite all the health and safety warnings, many have travelled and gathered with their loved ones. Why would people risk the well-being of themselves and their beloveds just to spend a few hours or days together?
Community. We all need it and ultimately cannot live without it. Communities may seem optional when all is well, but they become indispensable during hard times, whether personally or corporately. They can be small or large and most of us have several different sizes and types that we are part of: our family, school, sports, church, work, etc. What communities have in common are shared interests, beliefs, and needs, even while the individuals may have diverse characteristics. They are united and working towards a common goal and understand that they can achieve it because of, and with, the support and encouragement of others.
So, if being together is so important for those of us who are doing well, how much more significant would community be for those of us who are struggling to just survive? Those dealing with mental illness, addictions, poverty, homelessness?
A few weeks ago, I referred to Dreamland, by Sam Quinones, and his belief that pain avoidance is largely responsible for the opioid epidemic due to its link with valuing comfort and prosperity. The second point of his book is that there has been the loss of close-knit communities in American society over the past 40 years. Because of this, children have grown up more isolated than ever before, and he believes that in this vulnerability addiction thrives.
Our kids were not raised by a village, and it does take a village to raise a child: aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents all close-by, interacting and watching over young lives. It takes community to stay healthy, even if we are not in recovery. Life lived in isolation is not life. We need each other to experience being truly human. All of the young adults with addiction issues whom we know of from our son’s generation resurfaced into life via AA/12-step groups, and many with medication. And if they are not still an active part of a recovery group, then they are involved in some type of community and/or in a service or action group.
Most of the time while our son was in active addiction or attempting recovery, he had no healthy community of friends. He had his relationship with us and a few good friends, but that is not community. And when he went through numerous excruciating detoxes and then attended 12-step meetings, he would ultimately relapse due in part to not fully engaging with a community. He also needed Medicated Assisted Treatment, which I have written about previously. It is essential with opioid addiction: the evidence is overwhelming that it is a life-long battle due to the changes that take place in the brain.
During the last year of our son’s short life, he spent about 6 months in a sober living home with half a dozen other guys. It was a significant part of his recovery and not only did he thrive, but he enjoyed being part of a small community that was much like a family. Yet, with his decade of opioid addiction, he needed medication to minimize the cravings that eventually outweighed the benefit of community. If John Leif had been on Suboxone while he was part of a sober community, he would most likely be alive and have been part of our Christmas celebrations this year.