(Twenty-first in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)
I know how men in exile feed on dreams of hope.
After our son’s death from overdose, John and I truly felt like “men in exile,” forced into separation from our son, banished from each other’s’ lives. We are not just on different continents, but in different worlds, different dimensions. And hope? Any hope would have been just that—a dream, a mirage.
His untimely death took all hope of a sober and content son in this life away. Lost hope is what crushes parents when their child dies a needless death, an ignoble death to many. Had he fought in a war and been killed in action, to society it would have been a noble death. Most people who are separated from the life-and-death battle with addiction can’t see the struggle that this generation of young people are fighting on a moment-by-moment basis against an enemy that is in their brain, in their body—not outside it—one they can’t shoot and kill or put in prison. But we, as parents and friends, see it and wonder how much longer can they fight before they lose?
An ancient proverb tells us “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” Hope was definitely deferred while John and I hung on for the last several years of JL’s life, waiting for our desire to be fulfilled for him to be clean and sober.
But what about his hopes and his dreams? Do individuals who are addicted to drugs or other substances or destructive habits still carry hopes and dreams deep inside? That is one of the soul-robbing aspects of addiction of any sort: the need of instantaneous gratification for pleasure that sidelines future aspirations and hopes while that insistent, always present, urgent need for immediate satisfaction is a mirage they head toward. All plans beyond the present compelling urge their mind and body are clamoring for are pushed aside until they finally disappear, out of sight, and ultimately out of reach. Acquiescence to the fate before them. Crushed hopes. Lost dreams.
I saw this many times in the last few years of JL’s life, and it was torturous to observe. In conversations, I would try to give him a picture of what his future could be like once he was clean and sober, to remind him of his hopes and dreams, the ones he had when he was young, and again, as a university student. But I could see the absence of hope in his eyes. It was, and is, devastating to think of someone I love living without hope. It was so hard to watch, and must have been even more devastating to bear. I know I couldn’t do it.
Hope is essential to life. It is breath to our souls. With it, we envision a better future, which motivates us to figure out, and then take, steps towards that future. I want to be a person who can not only say words of hope and encouragement to others but who can also offer practical solutions and wise help. What will that look like for me – and for you – to the people we know who are struggling with addictions? Perhaps the first step is offering the dignity of viewing them and accepting them as a person – not causing them to feel ashamed of who they are because of their self-destructive behavior. When the stigma surrounding addiction is removed from the room, anything can happen, even hope, even dreams.