I woke up at three a.m. and tossed and turned, thinking about addiction. My years as a rock and roll chick meant that I was constantly around drugs. During those youthful years I drank vodka like water, smoked a little pot, snorted cocaine, dropped acid, injected heroin and popped pills. Drugs are funny, sometimes fun and more than often chronically addictive. Not everyone who tries drugs will become addicted though. I know some people who have a manageable relationship with their drug of choice but for millions of others, the toxic dance of substance abuse can be devastating.
I have a loved one who is struggling with heroin addiction and it breaks my heart. I have been there with cocaine and alcohol and in my long and beautiful conversations with my dear one, I have had something of an epiphany regarding the demon of addiction. She's a jealous lover craving affection. And I have done some soul searching and realised that my chronic promiscuity as a teenage girl was a desperate attempt to find affection and nurturing. To be held, to be wanted by someone of some importance was my drug. So many teenagers crave affection but as parents we often slip into the very damaging thing I call 'puppy parenting' which is when we begin to withdraw our intimacy, our affection and our respect for our children as they grow from cute little things into teenagers. I see it all the time. I am convinced that the distance between adolescents and their parents contributes to affection-craving behaviour which is often destructive and misdirected.
Alcohol, drugs and sex and food all feed us some comfort in the first instance. We feel all warm and fuzzy and happy - a little like being in love. Everything seems better, brighter and the possibilities endless. The next day though, reality comes crashing down and we are all alone again in a hostile and cold world - with a wicked hangover, downer, shakes and the horror of remembering some shameful decisions made while under the influence. Mega shame, humiliation and a lot less in the bank account than there should be.
But the call of the bottle, the needle makes the shame go away ever so briefly.
Addicts often drive loved ones even further away but that is counterproductive. I read Kate Holden's memoir about her heroin addiction and the thing that stood out for me was the pain and power of her parents' love and unconditional love at that. They realised they were powerless to stop or control their daughter's drug use and yet they 'got it', the understanding that the more love you give an addict the less need they have for a surrogate nurturer. I am using this strategy with my darling friend. The more love I give him, the little care packages and gifts, the sharing of my time, my shoulder to cry on and my overwhelming belief that he is strong enough to wrestle this beast and snap off its head - these things are helping him make progress. There is no judgmental attitude at all from me. He gets enough of that from everyone else, including staff at the clinic where he is receiving drug replacement therapy.
No-one but someone who has been in the jaws of addiction can possibly understand the power a drug can wield over a person. There is still a lot of negative discrimination against people with this disease. It is a lifestyle disease as much as diabetes. But it is not being treated in many people because they are too ashamed to ask for help, too afraid of the further humiliation that will be inevitable. To tell a junkie or alcoholic that they are weak and disgraceful is to drive the user to greater lows.
All the women I know who drink excessively have nurturing issues. Most of the addicts I know are incredibly intelligent and artistic and deep thinking. They are also nurturers whose balance is out of whack because they don't get back nearly as much as they give. The drug gives them warmth and shelter.
If I can share this message with one person who knows someone with addiction problems it might save a life. Random acts of kindness, true acceptance, intimate conversation and hugs go a long way. I am going out to buy my friend a teddy bear today to hug when I can't be there.
I propose a special awareness day for addicts and suggest that everyone wear a tiny teddy bear pin. It's an idea. Hug-a-junkie day. I like it.