The Nature of the Beast

Addictions brings up a multitude of opinions, thoughts, and ideas all dependent on whether one is actively substance using or reaching out to help someone who is in the throes of the disease. As a mental health practitioner in this field, I often believe I’ve seen it all. Then the rug is pulled out from under me and yet another thing is revealed.

Working with men who are grappling with varying degrees of addiction in a NYC shelter system has been ‘an eye opener’- no pun intended. I’m often shocked to speak with who I consider a geezer only to find out that the gentleman who totes his walker, has no teeth, and who doesn’t know who our previous mayor was, is younger than me. I’m actually the geezer but you wouldn’t know it on first glance.

Why do I bring this up? We all deal with addictions in some shape or form- unless, of course, you are the person in that Twilight Zone episode where you were actually living in a toy village under the supervision of a giant. Most of us have a sister, a neighbor, a husband or maybe even ourselves who are dealing with the decision not to pick up a drink or a drug. For many people the effects may be a lost evening- so what? We’ve all heard it and said it- “I work hard and deserve to relax.” The creeping thoughts of being late for work in the morning, the novel revision that goes undone “just for tonight” or the last couple of bucks spent on a six pack when your check hasn’t cleared may not be problematic-yet.

The tricky part is that the disease of addictions is progressive. The guy or gal I see in front of me at age 25 will look and feel a lot worse at the age of 55. There is no system that goes untouched by the effects of the disease of addictions. This is a malady that decimates one’s physical, emotional and spiritual life and any other aspects you can think of. Families and other relationships are ruined.

Yesterday, a colleague of mine was personally upset and felt a bit betrayed by one of the young men we’ve been working with. The release that marijuana, cocaine and pills brings is one that is hard to compete with. I reminded her that it is “the disease” that does this. I’ve spoken with several clients who were so upset when Whitney Houston had died. How could this disease take out this very lovely woman who was an icon, who had a daughter she loved desperately, and who seemingly had it all? I can only say the same way it would take out a 75 year old man who is living in a shelter, smoking crack with no one who can be named as next of kin.

I, too, get personally upset sometimes by people who continually relapse on substances. If I were a bank teller, would I be emotionally hurt by the guy who takes ninety percent of his savings out of his account? Would my feelings sting if I was a cashier and someone bought six bags of marshmallows and no sources of protein in their grocery shopping?

Doing my part is all I can do in the world of addictions. There is help out there for people who want it. Until they are ready, all I can do is to be at the ready, too.



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