Relating to the Struggles of Others...

I have now read three books authored by recovering drug addicts. A couple of years ago I read Clapton: The Autobiography.  I read High on Arrival by Mackenzie Phillips last month. And Saturday I finished reading Pill Head by Joshua Lyon. I don't have a fascination with drug abuse. But I am interested in the struggles of others.

I actually read Clapton because the hard cover edition was given to John as a Christmas gift. He only "reads" audio books. And I can't resist an autobiography. So I took ownership and read it. I bought High on Arrival after listening to several of Phillips' book tour interviews. As a human being, my heart went out to her. And I wanted to read her story. But I had never even heard of Pill Head. It was just a book that kind of jumped out at me as I was browsing Barnes and Noble last week, waiting for John to get something he was looking for.

Addiction has been on my mind lately. Partly as a result of having just read Phillips' book and also because I know people who struggle with addiction. I want to be able to understand what they go through so I can be a better friend. And I know that on so many levels, I can't fully understand. So, when I saw this book (written from the perspective of the addict), I had the urge to read it because I thought it might give me valuable insight into a problem I don't have.

I've wondered out loud to John, "How can a person choose such temporary relief again and again when they know the long lasting consequences that immediately follow the temporary relief?" John's answer is always: "You can't understand the mind of an addict because you're not an addict." His first wife was an alcoholic and he knows the behavior well, but also knows it will never make sense to someone who doesn't suffer from addiction. Again and again (for the benefit of his daughter), he tried to help his ex-wife even after they were divorced. He never could. She ultimately died at the age of 46 as a direct result of her alcoholism. I never knew her. But I've been told that she was very sweet before she started drinking. And whenever I think about her, I feel such compassion. I think about what an amazing man and husband John is, and that she could be living my life right now. But because of her addiction to alcohol, she is dead.

I'm always trying to understand why people are the way they are. (And of course many times I'm trying to figure out why I am the way I am.) I recognize that some of my traits are inborn. But some of my coping mechanisms have developed over time, as a result of specific kinds of wounds. I know my own wounds and why certain sensitivities exist. But I can't always know someone else's deepest wounds. I have learned throughout my life that there is always more to the story than a person's behavior tells you.

I heard Tim Keller preach a sermon once on how we must first feel morally superior in order to harbor harsh judgment or a grudge against another person. While I might feel comfortable with a judgment call here and there, I find that I am very uncomfortable feeling morally superior to anyone. So connecting those dots became a useful tool for me.

Pill Head was a difficult read in many places (as was High on Arrival). And it was more than just the language. It would be easy for someone like me to read either of those books and feel a sense of moral superiority or disdain. But I came away from both stories feeling almost unfairly blessed that I have never had to fight this battle. There is nothing in me that craves a substance as a means of escape. It's not that I'm stronger or better. The impulse, the temptation, the tendency just doesn't exist for me.

This author described his social anxiety and how he needed chemical help just to be able to loosen up and talk to people without fearing their rejection. I'm the opposite. I talk too much. And the last thing in the world I need to be is more open. I don't need any help feeling at ease with people.

Good company and a great meal produce a sense of euphoria for me. I have often wished that I could tone down my personality a bit. But I've never needed chemical help to get maximum enjoyment out of simple pleasures. I'm not stronger or superior. I know that I am as flawed as the next person. I just don't think about how I might escape feeling or facing something unpleasant. Although I often wish I could be less emotional, I'm thankful that I am comfortable feeling and expressing emotion. Because trying to control feelings and moods seem to be a gateway into substance abuse of all kinds.

According to the stats in Pill Head, millions of people are taking prescription painkillers to numb emotional pain. And according to experts quoted in Lyon's book, once they become addicted, their brains are permanently rewired to want pills for the rest of their lives -- even after they've gone through withdrawal and no matter how long they've been sober. I know how frustrated I feel with little things I'm unable to change about myself. I can't imagine how daunting that would be.

I am not sure why I'm writing all of this, where I'm going with it or how to conclude this blog post. I just wanted to write about the subject because of the compassion I'm feeling. At one time, I was studying to become a licensed professional counselor. I didn't complete my education in that field. And although I sometimes wish I had followed through, John thinks it was for the best. He teases me that I would have been the kind of counselor who gave my cell phone number to every patient/client and told them to call me day or night if they needed me.

Ha. I think he's probably right.


Unknown said…
I've been meaning to read on your blogspot for quite some time. Tis a good one to start with. Once again, you have a gift with your chosen words & the way that you relay thoughts in a clear concise way!
Shari said…
Thanks for reading and responding, Candi!