“I don’t want to give money to a homeless person.  What if they spend it on booze?”  Ever heard someone say that?  Or maybe you have said it yourself?  When it comes to substance abuse concerning those whom society may label “broken”, I have a few observations I like to make.

  • What is substance abuse?  You could define it as what we use to numb.   When something is wrong in our lives, we want to fix it.  If we can’t fix it, numbing is the next best thing.  In fact, numbing becomes our attempt to fix it. Truth is that today, North Americans  deal with more debt, obesity, medications and addictions than ever before.  No wonder we find ourselves seeking coping mechanisms.

For example:

  • What about “busy-aholics”: buying into the truth that if we stay busy enough the truth of our lives won’t catch up with us.  For example, it’s easy to ignore the pain of a family in turmoil if we keep ourselves busy – or even further, we drown ourselves in projects or climbing the latter of success.  Our focus and determination, although not bad in itself, distracts us from pain.  Or what about parents who put their kids in so many activities for fear of them getting into trouble.  Not that activities are wrong, but when we overload ourselves and our family’s with too much, it can end in fatigue.  Being busy becomes what we believe is the answer to prevent trouble.  These can be attempts at numbing.
  • What about those who have a glass of wine after work to unwind, or the one who drinks before bed to “take the edge off of life”?  “Take-the-edge-off-aholiism” is encouraged when you’ve had a rough day.  “Girl, you really need a drink.”  Why is this considered socially acceptable for us, but not for someone who faces cruelty and pain on the streets?
  • What about those who binge on food to numb boredom or depression?  Or those who drown themselves in coffee, or depend on prescription pills to get through the day?
    • It’s interesting to note that more die from prescription overdoses than from heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine drug use combined.  They don’t get these drugs from “drug dealers” but parents, relatives, friends, and doctors.
  • How about the “margarita mom” who drinks to numb the hard days with challenging children, or her feelings of losing her identity?
  • How many feel they need to smoke weed or drink to be more comfortable in social settings?
  • What are we numbing and why?  While someone homeless may drink to keep warm or to drown away the loneliness they feel in a day, are we any different to want to numb the pain that comes from feeling inadequate and “less than”?  Don’t we all want to numb because of feelings of shame, anxiety over pressures, and fear of disconnection?  When you look at society as a whole, homeless, poor, rich…. are we really any different?
  • After thinking about all we consume to numb we can see it’s not only the homeless who deal with substance abuse. The wall of “us and them” crumbles with the awareness of our equal humanity to struggle.  We need to guard ourselves to not fall prey to the lie that we are above, or that we would never… (fill in the blank)
  • I like how Cliff Newbury defined substance abuse “Our addictions are our attempts at self-redemption.”   Profound.  Isn’t that universal among us despite color, economic status, and position?  Perhaps this awareness can bridge the gap between us and “them” and tear the wall of judgment.  Maybe then compassion and empathy have hope to flourish and see the change we all desire become a reality.