Opioid addiction has been shoved off the front page by the newest study. Risky drinking has increased massively – 30 percent — in our country in the past ten years.
No doubt you have such a story somewhere your life. If you do, it is a very old story. This is how it goes.
You nudge, encourage, suggest, retreat, try again.
You watch, and you try to “do something” about it. This can go on for years. Dysfunction becomes normalized. You learn to live with it. You try not to let it overwhelm the good and healthy and normal life that it threatens. Every day.
You become a watchdog for loved ones who refuse (or are unable) to hold themselves accountable for their behaviors.
You watch the elephants in the room for so long it’s sometimes hard to see anything else.
And the public health numbers climb. How does this happen?
Rather than swerve into the usual socio-economic analysis of the “issue,” as I prepare for a summer sojourn to a place of quiet and restoration, I’d like to ponder for a moment the spiritual fallout of this big number on everyone else – and the possible juncture where we might look to begin, infinitesimally, to change it.
This morning I happened upon a remarkable description of what it feels like to live with the stuff one has no power to change. It is written by a 20th century French mystic, using the Christian metaphor for ultimate suffering “the cross.”
“But on one particular day,” wrote Madeleine Delbrel, “or maybe for several years, the cross comes to us veiled and we do not recognize it. It is veiled by something which for us hides its form, its shape, and its size. Or it seems to be made up of monstrous parts that are totally incoherent. Or it seems to emerge like a phony shadow from phony lighting. Or it weighs us down and hems us in. The mystery that it presents us with from the moment that it approaches us ‘rejects’ one vital element of our human being.”
In the cancer world, where I’m spending more time these days, people talk about everyone effected by the disease as “survivors.” Too rarely do we extend the same compassion to those who carry the “cross” of loved ones’ “risky behaviors.”
So here’s a bit of light. A friend recently introduced me to a great little book for cancer survivors. It’s called, Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips, by Kris Carr. Carr has lived with liver cancer for a decade, and her book is chock full of self-care tips in which survivors of all manner of disease – addiction as well as cancer — can find loads of replenishment.
It offers up good quotes, like this from John Wayne, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway,” and from Lao-Tzu, “By letting go it all gets done.” It tells us to take breaks, be with positive people, get playful, dress up, and to say thank you. Obvious, but in the vice grip of risky behaviors, easily forgotten.
At some point in their lives, those I consider my healthiest friends reached a fork in their roads and made such mental checklists for themselves. Instead of turning a blind eye to the diseases that were slowing vaporizing friends with maintenance drinking issues, or emergent drug dependencies, or eating issues — they realized that they had to detach, lovingly, or they would lose themselves. They needed to look after their themselves too — their own promises and health and fulfillment.
The question we should be asking in the face of the new numbers isn’t, “How could this happen,” but rather, “How, despite all, can I serve life and find joy?”
I’ve reviewed enough 12-Step literature to remember the mantra, “You didn’t cause it; you can’t cure it.” I’d like to take this one step further, in light of the latest news flash about our sorry state of affairs. In the words of a dear friend, “Go with the good energy.” Go where there’s life and health and creativity and play and joy.
A cross laid down becomes a fork in the road. Not a cop-out, but a change in attitude and direction. If we want others to take responsibility for their lives, as survivors we must do so too.