I used to think drug addicts were all the same breed of wasted potential—easy to spot and best avoided lest they try to hustle you. They were “those people” and I was better than that. That was until I became hooked and discovered a world vastly different than what I had imagined.
I remember looking at my friend Stan’s teeth as he laughed on the day I met him. The remaining few jutting out like islands in a sea of animation. Frank, a 55 year old ex-biker who has been using crystal meth for over thirty years graduated from U.C. Berkeley, married, has a daughter he is in contact with and currently owns a home which he shares with several friends. He is not the stereotypical tweaker out to steal your stereo. In fact he’d probably rather make you dinner.
Junkies are people. People who are me, who are you, who are people you know. I have learned more about what it is to be human from junkies than from anyone else in my life.
The stereotypes that I had internalized about drugs and drug use were challenged when I discovered how many of the long term users I knew were intelligent, creative, productive, and perceptive people who accepted me, laughed at my dumb jokes, and showed me generosity. I came to understand the solace and relief that drugs provided. A magic that can erase unbearable pain or focus a scattered mind.
Most addicts I know have incorporated drugs into their daily lives and have no intention of quitting. Not like it never comes up but the options available are unnattractive. Nobody wants to give up their dope in exchange for withdrawal, assimilation and reentry back into the same fucked up world that they were trying to escape from in the first place. Especially if that means sacrificing the acceptance, support and security that is provided by their community. The drug communities that I have experienced have functioned as support systems. It gives me hope to see that humans, however wounded, have a natural tendency to come together and work as a community.
Our society fails to meet basic human needs of love and community. It is fragmented, cold, driven by greed, war, lies, and dependent upon the fear and insecurity of its population to maintain the status quo. Those who should give us love and teach us self-worth and respect, those who should guide us without an agenda and respect our boundaries, those who should teach us to hug, kiss, laugh, cooperate and respect, teach us to hate. Addicts are well aware of this. Many share histories of abuse and/or mental illness.
We have yet to break free from the shackles of morality and learn to be humans rather than judges. If there are those in need of love they deserve to be acknowledged, encouraged and treated with compassion.. I’m not trying to say that there aren’t thieves who have lost themselves in drugs and hustlers who won’t pick your pocket as they look you in the eye. There are all types. It’s the same with all people; there are some you can trust and some who will burn you. Perpetuating stigmas and participating in the dehumanization of a group of people strenghthens the hierarchal system we are trying to dismantle.
The question is not how do we help addicts get clean but how do we offer support without passing judgment. We must transform our society into a society that is based on love instead of fear and create a world that is not so unbearable to live in that the population needs to be drugged or entertained in order to cope with it. We can begin by starting a dialogue that acknowledges addiction and questions the way addicts; the homeless, the mentally ill, and all of those in need are dismissed. Sharing our stories of addiction with one another will help to break the spell of shame and alienation around drug use. The love and support of other addicts and the understanding and acceptance of those who do not use is an integral part of challenging the stigma. It would be much easier to overcome addiction if folks did not feel as if they had been branded with the scarlet letter. I think the best we can do is think about what Stan said to me last time I saw him, “A real simple act of humanity can bring people back.”
I am currently working on a multimedia project exploring the complexities of addiction and what that means in our society. I am looking for contributors willing to share their stories and insight on addiction. If you want to get involved or contribute please contact me for more information. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or mail me at 809 Aileen St, Oakland, CA 94608
“A drug is neither moral nor immoral-it’s a chemical compound. The compound itself is not a menace to society until a human being treats it as if consumption bestowed a temporary license to act like an asshole. In other words, drugs do not cause behavior. How a person acts after taking a drug is determined by a complex interaction of variables, a process in which the user’s beliefs and choices play crucial roles. (Taken From Saying Yes to Drugs)