Addictive

My New Year’s resolutions go a lot like an episode of Pinky and the Brain. This is how mine goes:
Pinky: What are you going to do this year?
Brain: Same thing we do every year. Stop television from taking over my life!

I am a television addict. I think TV addiction must be fairly commonplace these days. Almost everyone has a TV, sometimes in every room, sometimes in their bedroom, and can also watch TV on their computer, phone, and more. I imagine that some people would hear me say TV addict and scoff, because it isn’t like a real addiction. It isn’t like drugs and alcohol where it ruins a person inside and out.
But I know all about addiction, having watched my parents’ slow decay. I agree my addiction doesn’t cause the same level of harm that drug addiction does, but it has ruined my life, and that is what addiction is about.
Addiction is the great enemy of freedom, because addiction decides what you will do, how you will spend your time and money. Television may not be physically harmful like substance abuse (though it does correlate with a sedentary lifestyle) but it is the great waster of time. I spend hours every single day watching television. Sometimes, I try to multitask, to exercise, to groom my dog, to do my nails, to wash the dishes, so that I am not “wasting” my time, but even after those things are done, I still crave television. I yearn for it. I seek desperately through the channels for something to watch, and then relax, satisfied, and let the time fleet away.
And it has ruined my life. My house is a mess, I have only a part-time job when I need to find a full-time job, I’m overweight, I have few close connections with people, and don’t spend enough time with my family members. I act like I don’t have enough time, but I would! I would, if I didn’t give up hours a day to a box that gives me nothing in return.
This is an addiction. I know it is harmful, and yet, the behavior repeats. I try to change the behavior, but it makes my anxious and upset.
If anyone out there is calling me out, that this addiction is really just weakness, and that I need to take personal responsibility for my choices, YES! Absolutely. It is weakness. It is my own fault. It is I that have ruined my life, and for what? It couldn’t be come clichéd fear of success could it? Some nonsense that I am clinging to what I know, to what is easy, rather than a chance at something better?
I am responsible for the state of my life. But I use this bold language, the language of addiction, to help me to deal with the problem. I want to take this problem as seriously as I want my parents to take their problem. I want to demand from myself no addiction, not even one as stupid as television.
Because no addiction is harmless. It costs. I don’t want it to cost me anymore.

So sayeth the government “help the alcoholics and kick the drug addicts to the curb”

Many conservative people I talk to think that the drug war serves some godly purpose, protecting our children, keeping drugs off the street, and putting those terrible drug criminals behind bars. This is just such an inaccurate perspective.

Addiction is a problem that can tear apart families, is expensive for communities, and can lead to crime. But we need to step back, start over, and really ask “what is the best way to deal with the problems of addiction?”

I have had the unique opportunity to watch police forces deal with alcoholics and drug addicts. The difference is astounding. My father was a mean drunk. I think the fact that this phrase, mean drunk, exists, tells us all we need to know about how dangerous alcohol is. My father turned violent after a few drinks, and everyone fell to his wrath. Even the dog was abused. The police came to the rescue and dragged him away.

But my mother never pressed charges. She was too dependent on him for that. But the police got sick of coming out to our house, so they eventually pressed charges against him and made his stop drinking. He had to detox, go to Alcoholics Anonymous, and take that pill that makes you sick if you drink.

The government treated my dad like an addict with a problem, and they dealt with the problem.

Years later, my parents had serious drug problems. Pills, cocaine, crack, I don’t know what else. He wasn’t a mean drunk anymore. He didn’t stop being violent, but without the alcohol driving him into a rage, he was able to be cunning and cruel instead of just dangerous. The police were still over to our house frequently. Child abuse, stealing, embezzlement, a new string of crime. My father was still arrested, my father was sent to detention centers, to jails.

Where was he never sent? Detox. Rehab. Narcotics anonymous.

There was never a plan to deal with his drug addiction even though that fueled his property crimes and contributed to dangerous situation we had at home.

And when he was in jail my mom fell apart. She hallucinated, she slept all day, she delved into deep depression and all but abandoned her children at home. Things were harder for us at home while he was away because my family had no way to deal with the repurcussions of his addictions.

Isn’t the point of the drug war to protect children and serve the community?

The drug war did nothing to help us, the children of drug addicts, while the police were very helpful when alcohol was the problem.

Bad Parenting 101: How to give your children nightmares

The ways to screw up a child must be limitless. Some are grotesque and obvious. In my home, there was a constant presence of violence and drugs. At times, my father would be overcome with anger, and would act out in rage. At times, my parents’ desire to fulfill their addiction would win out and they would have to have something. It wasn’t entirely in their control, and I feel certain that my parents knew these things were wrong, on some level.

Unlike those things, there are many instances where my parents did bizarre and unacceptable things. And I don’t think they knew how wrong they were. I say that in part because I didn’t know they were wrong until years later. Only with time and distance away from my parents, away from the crazy, could I see that lines had been crossed.

The Story

My father was a mean drunk, but my mom never did anything to protect us. It was my oldest sister, Mimi, who took care of us. She called the police even though our mother always grounded her for it later. One time, (I was very young so I don’t remember all the details) but my sister struck my father, her stepfather, after one of his episodes began. When the police showed up to arrest him, he demanded they take her too. Days later, after they came home and everything was back to its “walking on eggshells” normal, Dad sat me down to talk about what happened. He told me he was sorry about what he did to my sister, having her arrested when she was just looking out for the rest of us. He told me he felt bad right away, but it was too late and there was only one thing he could do. He tried to kill himself by hitting his head on the wall in his cell. He knew she would be walked by his jail cell, so he used his blood to write to her on the wall, to tell her he was sorry.

I was six when this conversation happened. I don’t remember how I felt at the time. In general, I was very sensitive, raw, in tears at the slightest chastisement, and terrified of the man telling me this story. Blood and violence were normal to me, so this sort of blended into everything else, a quiet little story amidst screaming and breaking glass.

The Image

But it’s actually a terrible thing to say to a child, maybe to anyone. It’s literally a nightmarish image; my sweet, protector sister dragged in handcuffs in front of my dying father, his head bashed in, an apology smeared in blood. What could he have hoped to accomplish by telling me this? Was I supposed to forgive him? Understand him? Feel bad for him? How could he conceive that this story was a good idea? The story may not even be true, which only makes my father’s mistake more glaring.

More than anything else, I just can’t understand why he wanted to do that, to say such disturbing things to such a young child. But my father never made any sense. I don’t think he ever understood right from wrong, not really. I don’t think he ever understood how normal people behave and operate. He walks like a stranger through the world, mimicking as best he can the behavior he sees, a sociopath in his heart, unable to understand what being human really means.

Maybe this is part of what drove him to drugs. Maybe the drugs rotted his mind and with it his sense of morality. It could just as well be both. I can’t know for sure. But from my parents I inherited an inaccurate sense of right and wrong, a skewed idea of normal and abnormal, of appropriate and inappropriate. It is the subtlest of ways they have impacted me, and I walk the world like a creature, trying very hard to fit in but not quite pulling it off.

How my drug addicted parents taught me compassion for drug addicts

We can never afford to be reckless, and yet that is exactly what we are with our drug war policies. The drug war turns drug addicts into criminals and throws them into prison with thieves, rapists, gang-bangers and murderers. Despite our iron fist tactics, we spend more money on the drug war every year, put more people in prison every year, and have seen the amount of drugs and drug abuse only go up. What is going on?

People turn to drugs for many, many reasons

It is so tempting to label drug addicts criminal because locking them up is less messy than examining what drove a person to drugs in the first place. Children who grow up in households with drugs are very likely to become addicts themselves, maybe on their own or maybe because of their parents directly. While I responded to my parents’ drug problems with anger and hatred toward all drug users, my sisters, who had been abused more than I had, starting using drugs. I can only imagine why. Maybe it made them feel better for a little while when everything else was so terrible. Maybe they bought into the garbage that they were worthless and started doing drugs to hurt themselves.

A lot of people who try drugs walk away soon after. I believe the people who become addicted have fewer reasons to walk away. Maybe they have no where to go. Maybe they want to die. Most drug addicts have a story that would break your heart, not make you demand their imprisonment.

Only rehab will work

I never took up smoking. I tried to once, but I kept forgetting to have a smoke. I know lots of smokers on the other hand. Most of them are trying to quit. Most of them have quit before, maybe for a few years, or a few months, or a few days. They quit and could only be strong for so long before they went back for another cigarette. Not long after that, they are ready to quit again. I know people who have tried to quit dozens of times. Good for them. I hope they can do it.

Now imagine if we treated smokers like we treated drug addicts. Oh, you couldn’t stay strong. Go to jail. You had a bad day and took a hit. Go to jail.

This wouldn’t help a person quit smoking. It certainly won’t help a person stop doing drugs. But this is why we have to stop thinking of addicts as criminals. So many people just want to see them punished, and don’t really care if they get off drugs or not.

There is nothing inherently criminal about using drugs

Alcohol and cigarettes are both extremely unhealthy and addictive, yet somehow the world survives when adults have legal access to them. The key to dealing with these vices is to teach individuals to be responsible with them. We teach kids not to pick up smoking and emphasize the need for designated drivers. Other drugs, especially marihuana, need the same treatment. Just because a person smokes a joint doesn’t make that person dangerous or criminal, just like having a drink after work doesn’t. Let’s remember the time when just having a drink was criminal. The prohibition created the crime where there hadn’t been one before.

I know how hard this is. My parents are criminals and drug addicts. They are criminals because they steal, because they are abusive and violent, not because they smoke crack or drink alcohol. They have to be punished for attacking each other, or for stealing. But the addiction has to be treated, it has to be dealt with. It won’t just go away.

Did my parents become criminals because they were addicts, or did something drive them to crime and to drugs? I can’t know for sure, but I remember a time when things were better, when my parents were healthier and the drugs hadn’t overwhelmed everything. I believe if someone had tried to help them cope with their drug problems, things could have gone differently. Instead, my dad went away for months at a time and my mom totally fell apart. He came back still a drug addict, and everything repeated.

This is what the drug war gets us. I want a refund.

Lessons from the Handbook: Three things my parents should not have taught me

Human beings learn everything, everything, from the people around them. Babies and children learn untold amounts of information from their parents and families, from language to religion, manners, and culture and custom. By watching and interacting with our parents, we learn to behave. We learn how the world works. We learn how to act and interact with the world around us. Parents are models on which we base all our actions.

Some of us have an especially hard time learning how to play the game because our parents or other families members don’t play by the right rules. Parents have a sacred duty to raise children, but having children doesn’t automatically turn people into parents. When people are abusive or let drug addiction get in the way of raising their children, their actions and behaviors can pass on a set of very dangerous lessons. Here are three worst things my parents taught me.

#1 It’s okay to lie to get what you want

Drug addicts want drugs. Need drugs. They don’t usually care about a lot of other things. Food. Safety. Hygiene. None of those things are important as drugs. My parents lied a lot in order to get money for drugs. Then they lied some more to cover up where they had been or what they had been doing. They lied to me to get me to fork it over. They lied to their parents, siblings and friends. They lied to parents of my friends, which then implicated me in their lies. They did it over and over, and generally got away with it. At worst, someone stopped talking to them because he or she never got their money back. I think I fared worse than my parents. Suddenly, I wasn’t welcomed at a friend’s house because my dad owed his dad forty bucks!

#2 If you need something, take it

My room was never off limits to my parents. Some parents will agree with this because they want to monitor their children’s activities. But my parents did not monitor, they would take things to sell or pawn. I tried to hide money everywhere. In the CD player, in a drink carrier, under my bed. My sister bought me a fancy necklace for babysitting all summer, so I hid it in floppy disk storage. Before long, it was gone. Things I didn’t hide would go too. A game station I got from Christmas, my bike I bought with my own money. One day, they weren’t there anymore. Sometimes I had to the nerve to confront my dad. He was a hard man with a short temper.

Where is my bike, I would say.

I needed money, he would bark at me.

My parents also emptied out my bank account. Since minors aren’t allowed to have accounts my themselves, they were able to do this with ease. All my confirmation money gone up in smoke.

I was not asked if they could borrow or have, I was not informed ahead of time, that these things were going to be taken. I was never assured that I would get the things back or that they were sorry they had to take them. I wasn’t ever told where the money went. My parents made it very clear that they could do whatever they wanted with my stuff and I couldn’t do anything about it.

#3 It’s better to both lose than let the other person win

My dad started this game but my mom has since become the master of it. My parents are still married, which is beyond a mystery to me. How many times have they gone to jail, how many times have they been to the hospital, because of how they mistreat each other? But moving on is somehow much much harder. I tried to convince my mom to leave him. She had a dozen excuses, from where she would live to how she would pay for the divorce. I had answers to all these ridiculous cop-outs, but it was no use. Sooner or later, we got to the real issue; if she leaves him, he’ll get the house; he’ll get the car. She just can’t let that happen. She can’t walk away with nothing while he gets everything. Thank god her children have grown up and moved away, but not before the abuse and neglect changed who they were forever, all because it she thinks it’s better to hold on to something as stupid as a car instead of taking her children some place safe.

Telltale sign- you know it’s too good to be true

There is no one in this world, no matter how rich, how powerful, how prestigious, who does not have regrets. Every one has made mistakes, done things they should not have or not done things that should have been done. This simple fact leads to one of the easiest ways to spot a drug addict or alcoholics.

If you listen to a drug addict, you realize quickly that they can do no wrong, that they are blameless in all things. If you’ve ever argued with an alcoholic, you know how quickly you get exhausted by their endless circling. An addict will make great leaps and bounds to avoid taking responsibility for even the tiniest thing. Instead, these people will say things like, “that’s not how it happened,” or they will turn the conversation around to describe all the faults and flaws of the person they are talking with.

Normal, healthy individuals, know they have made mistakes and admit them. We might bring up our own mistakes as we criticize someone else to ensure them our criticism is heartfelt. In an argument, we might admit our mistakes and apologize and be frustrated that someone hasn’t let go yet. But we know we’re done wrong and don’t deny it. An addict is wholly different because an addict’s life is based completely on lies. An addict has to lie everyday in order to get money for his habit. An addict has to lie to cover up his habit, to explain where he has been or why he looks so tired. An addict will tell stories of hardship and heartache that require twenty dollars or more to help, and a great deal of misfortune falls on addicts because the addiction is demanding. So the addict builds up quite a wealth of lies, an existence that is totally false, dishonest and disloyal. They have built a house of cards. Any admission of wrongdoing, no matter how small or how long ago, will bring that house of cards down, so all mistakes are wiped from memory. Nonexistent.

I don’t have a relationship with my mom, but I run into her all the time. She hasn’t accepted my decision to walk away from our relationship, and will demand I answer for it. I know she hasn’t changed from when I was a kid, I tell her. I know she is the same person. She inevitably asks me what she did that was so bad. Well, I say, there was the lying and the stealing and the drugs. She admits to none of it. She apologizes for nothing. Instead she screams and yells, she brings up every bad thing I’ve ever done and every good thing she did that I didn’t mention. My mom still “borrows” money from relatives on a daily basis. If she admits to any wrongdoing, she is on a slippery slope to losing her source.

So if you ever meet someone who can always think of a reason or explanation why everything goes wrong but it never involves their own choices, beware of that person. There is a reason they cannot admit what every knows, that they are humans capable of bad decisions. Their bad decisions will outweigh every healthy person. If you find yourself listening to this kind of person, run, run away, before they suck you in.

The Dangerous life of addiction

There are so many dangerous drugs on the street and in the community that people are naturally emotionally invested in the war on drugs, often time without a clear understanding of the facts. It doesn’t help that our government, who has a vested interest in maintaining the war on drugs or else they will look foolish, puts out all kind of false propaganda. For example, propaganda advertisements have put forth information that says people will become addicted to narcotics after using it only one time. That information is false, where studies have shown that recreational use of cocaine will usually take several months to turn into an addiction, while crack cocaine will take about three weeks. The more accurate information may not terrify people away from cocaine, but it will definitely scare them away from the much more potent crack.

Our government also over emphasizes the likelihood of people dying from drug overdose, when in reality more people die from taking aspirin than coke and heroine together. Again, the government tries to frighten people away from drugs, and again, the truth would be much more helpful.

Dying from a drug overdose is not the worst thing that happens to drug users. The worst thing is having to live with the addiction. Once a person is addicted, they have a life of suffering in front of them, a life where they risk disease, where they enslaved by a substance, where they care more about their next fix then their children.

My parents have been addicts for decades. They look haggard, aged far beyond their years. Their livers are damaged and they face chronic illness as a result of the abuse done to their bodies. In addition to their physical ailments, they have failed every person they are supposed to love. Instead of raising their children, they stole from our bank accounts and bedrooms, stole from siblings and parents, lied, and cheated. They aren’t like people, the decency drained from them in their desperation to get more drugs. They have several more years of this miserable existence to look forward to.

The misinformation put forth by the war against drugs robs us of the opportunity to warn people of the gravest danger. Our zero tolerance policy robs us of the ability to teach people to be responsible and guard themselves against the real horror of living with addiction.