If I could tell you about addiction, it would not be mine.

Of course, I have addictions. Don’t we all? But as far as addictions go, they are fairly benign: the extra Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, the bright-eyed nieces, when the rain falls on the roof and drenches the streets, cows.

I am addicted to words, as they stream through my blood and flush my face.

I am addicted to Clippers Tea, all the way from England, because it takes me back to my cousins’ kitchen and when I miss them the most, I can find my way home in a good cuppa.

The addictions to address here, however, are the insidious kind. The snakes and demons, entwining the hearts and minds of members of our society. Eight years working in and around the child welfare system has brought with it a kaleidoscope of lessons about addiction and addicts, a whirling cylinder of hopelessness and grief, loneliness and loss and struggle. Please forgive my vague language; you see, these are not my stories to tell, not in detail. Here is what I can tell you.

I can tell you about the clients whom I have shared tables with and held space for as they cried. I can tell you about the endless conversations where they pledged time and again to choose their children over the meth or the heroin, and I can assure you that they were true to the core in their intention. Do you want to know about the parents who used before and after visitation with their kids, because seeing them and having to leave them all over again was too much to face sober? Or the clients who got loaded before and after their court hearings, knowing that each time in front of their judge could bring them one step closer to the ultimate payment for their sins, a forced loss of their parental rights? How about the ones who called me after a relapse, trembling and crying; the ones who came to the office in the seizure of their use and spit utter hatred into my face. Or the ones who could say, every time, that what was happening to their family was their fault.

In all my time and travels, I have never met a person who so represents all the potential of humanity as an addict. At every moment, they are poised to fall forever or turn their lives around.

I can tell you about the victims of this epidemic. Can you guess? I’m sure you can. They are the kids of those addicts. The ones who parent their younger siblings; the ones who scrounge food and check their mom to make sure she’s still breathing in the middle of a binge. The eight-year-old who was molested at a drug house or the 12-year-old who can describe to the last detail the mechanics of a heroin fix, they are the ones who create this deep-seated need to create comprehensive methods to address addiction in our country. I can tell you about the kids who worry fervently about their parents after they are removed from them, the ones who called me to ask if their mom was eating or if dad was showering. My fingers know the story of the five-year-old who blamed herself for her dad’s use and wanted to die—actually wanted to die—because of it. And I delight in sharing the resilience of these kids. Their ability to rebound is astounding; they go to school and relearn their place in this world and hold fast to their siblings. So many of them, in the face of overwhelmingly negative statistics, go on to avoid addiction and find instead success.

The hardest part for me was not the constant relapses or the crying kids; it wasn’t the battles with treatment centers or the disappointment of a client missing court. No, it was sitting in a room with a loaded, distraught parent and knowing that I was only ever one or two steps away from being where they are. We are all only one or two steps from a fall from grace. One less mentor here, an early death in my immediate family, a sudden job loss—and suddenly homelessness, addiction, and despair could be the life that any of us lead. It was all I could to not cry with them. Empathy is a necessity, but not always an asset.

The most important lesson I have learned about addiction is that recovery is absolutely 100% possible. For every person who never claws their way free, there is one who has successfully left that world. I count many addicts in recovery among my dear friends and colleagues, and I am so very lucky to have them in my life. These people are rock solid. They are passionate about their recovery; it is not a hobby but a way of life. They are tireless advocates for parents and people who are still active in their addiction. They are, to a one, the most honest and caring individuals I have ever known. To know someone who has lost everything there is to lose, to know them on the other side of that battle, is to know a triumphant warrior.

It has been said that we must be subservient to each other. To that end, addiction is not a “them” issue. It is an “all of us” issue. Because they are our people. No matter how far down the pit of drugs or alcohol they have gone, they are still part of us. We share the same DNA, the same brain waves, the same bone structure, and vascular systems. Our hearts are equal.

It has been said that we must be subservient to each other. I urge you to get educated about drug addiction. Be kind to those you meet in the depths of their use—I can promise you that they would like nothing more to have never gotten hooked in the first place.

Look in their eyes and tell me you can’t see the same.

Photo Credit: unsplash-logoAlex Iby

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