You Collude In Your Own Death (Season 2020, Episode 11)

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My pondering began with Bible study. Not a big shock since you already know how important Faith is in my life. I’d heard the story my entire life, sitting in the pew as a little boy listening to old preachers tell the story recorded in Luke 15. The story of the prodigal son.

As a little kid I sat there wondering why this son got a wild hair to confront his dad and make such a bold request, but mostly I wondered why the father gave him what he wanted. The adults in my life wouldn’t have so indulged me, I thought.

He takes the money and whatever else he got and left home. That baffled me, too. I’d never had the urge to run away from home. Well, not for long, any way. There were days, you know? But I figured I had it pretty well. And that’s where it started for me. Wondering why this son didn’t realize how good things were. Of course, I knew the end of the story. I know in advance how bad his life got. Mostly I wondered how long he was in that far country doing whatever he was big enough to do. I wondered why he had to lose everything before he gained clarity that things back home were really great.

That was likely my first serious pondering about delusion and my introduction to the fact – yes, FACT – that every human being is capable of self-deception. Seeing things inaccurately. Believing things that aren’t true.

Some months I put my own sermon about this story online, but I approached it from the perspective of the father, not the son. The father, by the way, did not deceive himself. He was seeing clearly the entire time. And thankfully, his clarity served both his sons.

Self-deception and delusion is an everyday conversation in my work. Twenty years ago I bought and read a book, captivated by the joining of 2 topics I was interested in, leadership and self-deception. “Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box” by The Arbinger Institute.

Leaders of every ilk can be prone to self-deception. But leaders aren’t unique. It’s a complex issue and our quest to simplify things likely contributes to our delusion or false assumptions. We like neat and tidy things and most things aren’t neat or tidy.

Fast forward and the topic of delusion and self-deception intersect with another conversation point, addiction.  In my executive and leadership coaching work, I often have conversations with clients whose families and lives have been horribly impacted by addiction. From people abusing prescription medications, to people not abusing – but people taking prescribed medications that have completely altered their personality, to people abusing alcohol and even people consumed by gambling or other addictions.

Almost weekly I have a conversation with people whose family is struggling to help a member of their clan get out of the pit. They tell stories of how the person just can’t seem to think or see things accurately. Fogged over with chemicals that have impaired their ability, I’ll often listen as they recite how smart, funny, and engaging the person was before they surrendered to some form of chemical dependency. Once in a while I hear about recovery. Like the prodigal son, it never happens quickly. In most cases, many years have elapsed before the self-deception and addiction are overcome.

Success stories are both rare and lengthy. I’ve yet to encounter a story of somebody who recovered quickly. The downward spiral is long and destructive. It seems it must get very bad before there’s even hope of it getting better. I never understood it. I still don’t.

The title of today’s show is a quote from an interview with a person who recovered from addiction. For over a decade she took anything and everything she could get. If it had any numbing or mind-altering capability, she grabbed it.

Once sober she realized she was colluding with her own death. Repeatedly she talked of how deluded she had become because of the drugs. Opioids had thrust her into a fog where she had no idea how unclear her vision had become. She just knew she wanted the feeling she had chased since she took her first drink of alcohol as a young teen.

Today, she’s able to talk about how alcohol and opioids damage brain chemistry and other physical cells. And how they also negatively impact our mental health. Craving the pleasure they can provide, no matter how destructive or temporary it may be, threatened her life and is threatening the lives of millions.

When I heard her say, “You collude in your own death,” I instantly felt a sadness – the same sadness I feel every time I hear a story or personally encounter somebody who has been touched by opioids or any other addiction. Collude defined is “cooperate in a secret or unlawful way in order to deceive or gain an advantage over others.” In this sense, she meant, you’re doing this to yourself. You’re taking advantage of yourself. You’re deceiving yourself. You’re willingly contributing to your own demise. Your death.

This woman made up her mind that she would fix her addiction so she could continue to use and abuse drugs. A novel thought.

She figured if her addiction was a “disease” then she’d cure herself so she could pick up where she left off. She said she never turned down any drug, but with addiction – “if you can manage it, then it’s really bad news.” Meaning, it’s detrimental to every addict if they’re not able to suffer badly enough for their addiction. It was the first time I’d heard somebody articulate that. “Addicts who can manage their addiction are the most hopeless because they’re not going to change.”

“I gave up everything I had so I could have a relationship with the drugs,” she said. “Thankfully, it got really bad. Bad enough I had to do something.”

“I was goal-oriented. That’s why I was able to sacrifice anything and anybody for the drugs,” she reflected.

Looking back now she realizes that she wasn’t able to channel that trait – being goal-oriented – into something productive. Instead, she gave herself over to the pursuit of the feeling she got when she was medicating. It trumped everything else in her life. She never saw it for what it was at the time. Only after she was sober for an extended time was she able to see her addiction for what it was. “I was not going to be stopped,” she confesses. “I was colluding in my own death and hurting a lot of people all along the way. Taking a good honest look at myself I had to take responsibility for myself.”

“I had to be willing to change. What made me willing to change was the realization that I was never going to get enough drugs.”

Neuroscience tells us that the brain adapts to any drug you take regularly by producing the exact opposite effect of that drug. So you can’t get enough of the drug to escape.

Her name is Judith Grisel. She wrote a book, Never Enough: The Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction.

Judith’s statement not only captivated me, but it troubled me. Made me wonder about the ways we’re all capable of colluding in our own death. While I’m interested in the opioid crisis, addiction and brain chemistry, particularly how brain chemistry is altered by chemicals – I’m also interested in the main topic of this podcast, WISDOM. I continue to define wisdom as getting it right in real-time. It’s making up our mind to do the correct thing at the moment. It’s demonstrated in the choices we make, the words we use to convey meaning, the way we interact with others, the beliefs we embrace, the self-control we exercise, and everything else that determines WHO we are.

I suppose part of my quest to learn more about these things is my lifelong commitment to sobriety. I come by it honestly. I’m pretty hardwired to be sober. But I was also trained inside a Christian home where drugs and alcohol didn’t exist. I endured high school in the 70s without ever having taken a drink or a drag from a marijuana cigarette. I’ve been around more drugs that I care to confess, but I’ve never partaken. Mostly, because it would violate my conscience and beliefs, but truly, even if that weren’t the case, I still think I’d refrain because having command of my faculties is just too important. Since high school, I’ve joked, “I have a hard enough time sober. The last thing I need to be is drunk.”

So it’s not my thing and never has been. In that regard, I can’t possibly relate to the person convinced they cannot live without it. I’ve still never had a drink or taken an illicit drug. As for pain medications, doctors have always struggled to appropriately dose me. One bout with suspected gall stones required 4 morphine shots before I stopped “shuffling” my legs, writhing in pain. Asked by a nurse to put a number on the pain, I think I said, “Six or seven.” It just didn’t seem that bad.

For me, the interest isn’t in the substances themselves, but the influence they have on the human brain. How they’re able to completely change our minds and our personalities.

Alcohol is commonly seen as a drug that can provide courage. Courage that otherwise wouldn’t exist. Inhibitions that fade away after a few drinks. Judgment that is impaired, but without us sensing it. People declare they’re fine. No idea how out of control they are. They’re colluding in their own death without even knowing it. Which makes sense because if they realized what they were doing – they might make a different decision.

A Path To The Grave

After discovering Judith Grisel I invested the 7 plus hours to listen to her read the book, Never Enough. Today’s show is my attempt to share with you what she’s taught me, coupled with some observations along the way.

There will never be enough drugs because the brain has an extraordinary capacity to adapt. Hence, her title, Never Enough.

“Most addicts die trying to satisfy an insatiable drive,” she says.

“Alcohol makes you feel like you’re supposed to feel when you’re not drinking alcohol.”

That was a sign Judith saw hanging behind a bar and she admits it accurately said what she felt when she first started to drink. Any modification in life, produced by alcohol (at first), beat facing her life of rules and tedium. But in time she discovered that the substance betrayed her.

“I sought any opportunity to use mind-altering drugs…and at any cost,” she admits. She traded herself away a piece at a time to alcohol, cocaine, meth, and whatever else she could use. Looking back, almost all the memories were bad.

Judith believes that the opposite of addiction is choice, not sobriety. Addiction robs you of freedom. Drugs obscure freedom.

Recovery is birth at the bottom. 

I’ve read that before. Mostly in a Bible story I’ve known since I was a small boy. The parable of the prodigal’s son in Luke 15:11-32.

A selfish, rebellious younger son tells his dad to give him his inheritance. Get it now. He wants what he’ll get when dad dies, but dad isn’t dead. Yet. Shockingly, the father gives him his inheritance. He also gives the older brother his, too. But the older brother stays home.

Armed with newfound riches, the younger son leaves home and goes to a far country where he lives it up. He indulges in every vice and sin he wants. He’s the life of the party as long as he’s paying the bill. But then the money runs out. Along with the friends.

Now he’s destitute. He finds himself feeding pigs and wanting what they’re eating.

Recovery is birth at the bottom.

There, in the pigpen, he comes to himself and realizes that the servants in his father’s house have it far better than he does. He makes up his mind he’ll go back home and beg his father to just let him be like a servant because he no longer deserves to be a son.

The only way for an addict to feel normal is the take the drug, but it’s always a short-lived outcome. So the brain works hard to return to a homeostatic state…and now more drugs are required for the feeling. There is no free lunch, says Judith.

Changes to brain chemistry brought about by addiction are always in the wrong direction. Addiction never benefits a person in the long haul.

As I listened and read Ms. Grisel’s work, as a Christian I thought addiction sounded a lot like sin. Temporary pleasure. There’s never enough to make one full. And the longterm cost is extremely high.

Another idea kept pushing to the forefront of my thoughts.

Our choosing. Our behavior. Our responsibility.

The evidence compels me to understand that people are different in how we react and respond to stimuli – like drugs or alcohol. I grew up hearing adults talk about the potential negative impacts of that “first drink.” My Christian upbringing notwithstanding, it seemed apparent to me that the wisest option was to simply avoid it altogether, which is what I did. To this day I have avoided taking my “first drink.” That has been my choice. I could have made a different choice. I’ll never know what might have been because I only know the result of the choice I made.

Leaning toward wisdom has the aim of helping us get it right in real-time. That means, our choices – decisions we make in real time – need to be the ones that serve us best over time. Choices that benefit us immediately have to be contextualized. What is the benefit? Is the benefit moral or immoral? Does it build or erode our character? Does it benefit us while harming others? After the immediate benefit, then what? Our brain wrestles, or not, with a variety of questions. We think it through or we don’t. We consider carefully or we act impulsively.

These choices – especially these first ones – are on us.

Recovering addicts universally also talk about the importance of getting out of the context of their substance abuse. Namely, they confess that if they were not removed from the people who surrounded them, they’d never climbed out of the pit. Fantastically, they also admit that if they remain away from those people and places where their addiction happened for long periods of time…if they were to go back they’d instantly be triggered with memories and urges to use again. So many report having experienced that exact thing.

More choices. In the people we allow to surround us. The influences we permit to impact us.

Consequences. Issac Newton determined that what goes up must come down. There are always consequences. Wise decisions benefit us. Foolish ones hurt us. And not just us, but others, too.

Addiction has a few insidious components. Tolerance is up near the top. It’s why the alcoholic has to drink more and more. The first experience with alcohol, however great it made you feel, can’t be replicated with the same amount. Maybe it’ll never be replicated, but people will still try. Addiction knows nothing of moderation because it alters your brain chemistry. Addiction always asks for more.

Addiction to drugs and alcohol also results in increasing the very things most addicts are working to escape or avoid. It produces the exact opposite of what we’re going for. Dependance destroys us because when we stop taking the substances we feel worse than we did before we ever started taking them. It’s like we only lowered the quality of our feelings, thoughts, and emotions from the already bad place from which they started. It’s homeostasis – that balanced normal state we each have. Substance addiction gives us big ups and downs. Those swings grow increasingly impossible to manage.

A Life Of False Fixes

I don’t remember if Dr. Judith said that or if medical Dr. Pamela Peele said it. I’ve consumed substantial content from both of them…and many others. But it was one of the two who said it. I wrote it down because it seemed so congruent with everything I’ve read and studied about the influence opioids have on the brain. And addiction in general. It reminded me of that ancient Jewish boy who grabbed his inheritance and left home. His life fits that bill – a life of false fixes. We’re left to wonder what he was fixing, but it was clearly a life of utter selfishness. He wanted what he wanted and I suppose most all our foolish choices stem from that same urge.

Google the phrase “cycle of addiction” and here’s what you get (click here). Tons of illustrations like the one below.

This one starts with emotional trigger, followed by craving, then ritual, then using, then guilt, then back to emotional trigger. But every illustration seems to display “a life of false fixes” because they’re all cycles. They don’t end. They just perpetuate themselves, which seems to be the way self-deception works, too.

What are we trying to fix?

Many things I suspect, but at the heart of every problem seeking a fix seems to be one central thing – to feel better about oneself.

I’ve spent way-yonder-too-much-time pondering this dilemma, the reason people want to feel better about themselves. What I’ve seen is the easy tendency we all have to look outside of ourselves for solutions to the problem of fixing how we feel about ourselves. A person doesn’t need an addiction to surrender to that urge. We just need to be willing to look at ourselves as victims and sadly, that road is smooth and easy. Almost all of us can hit that onramp at highway speeds.

It seems chemical ingestion and the repeated act of ingesting chemicals (addiction) change not just how we feel, but how we act. At some point, likely very early, as Dr. Judith’s story clearly shows about her getting drunk for the first time at 13, it feels pretty terrific. As great as it feels, it’s equally fleeting. And for her, and millions of others who may be so predisposed genetically or emotionally (or both), the cycle began. And continued for a decade. A ten-year run of chasing something you’ll never catch, but you don’t know it. Until you do.

“Everything is hard until it’s easy.”

It remains my all-time favorite quote even though I’ve yet to discover who to credit with saying it. Or writing it. I’d bet I’ve written it down more than anybody alive. 😉

Dr. Judith spent a decade destroying her life until it dawned on her the truth of what a drug buddy said, “There’s never enough cocaine.” By then she had spent years chasing false fixes when the problem was staring back at her every time she looked in a mirror. And I wonder what she saw. Did she see herself as a homeless, drug addict? Did she see herself as a victim? Did she see herself as broken and unfixable?

This much is clear. She did not see herself as she really was. Nor did she see her problems or fixes as they really were. It’s like looking in a math book for the answer to a history question. Everything about it is just wrong. And confusing. Because clear thinking has left the building replaced with self-pity and self-loathing.

Every story I’ve ever heard about such things involves hatred, anger, resentment and bitterness. The chemicals do that, but not before selfishness kicks in.

I started reviewing all the stories I’ve listened to through the years. Parents. Grand parents. Children. Mothers. Fathers. Brothers. Sisters. Aunts. Uncles. Friends. Some of them stories about others. Some of them stories about themselves. Stories of people who went looking to fix a problem with a substance.

Without exception, they all began with a choice to please themselves. Each person – each story – centers on a person who reached a point where they made up their mind they didn’t care about anybody more than they cared about themselves. The irony is, that’s the moment each person lost themselves. Funny. Not in a ha-ha way, but funny in how colossally backwards that is. But I find that’s true with or without substance abuse.

The more we focus on ourselves in a self-centered way, the more broken we become. And the more we look at external excuses and blame others. We’d be happy if not for them and how poorly they treat us. Never realizing the carnage we’re causing.

A middle-aged man told me of his struggles to hang onto a woman he loved passionately since they were young. Her battles with substances of all kinds had wrecked her life and taken a heavy toll on his, if only because he refused to walk away. Her infidelity was extensive. He’d lost count. He described his own life – his own cycle of pursuing a life of false fixes. It sounded every bit as bad as hers. And I was just sad hearing it all. “Does she realize the pain she’s causing?” I asked. “Not in the moment,” he said. “But yes, she eventually figures it out and that just makes it worse because then she falls off the ledge and behaves even worse.” Everything is hard for them. And it’s gonna remain hard until something tragic happens to one or both of them. She can’t let go of drugs and alcohol. He can’t let go of her. They’re both lost. And you just can’t help but think it could be SO MUCH BETTER. But each of them is devoted to their own delusion. She’s looking in all the wrong places for answers and he’s fooled into thinking he’ll change her.

There are too many such stories in every naked city and town.

Coming Face-To-Face With Truth

For those who find a way out, their stories are equally universal. And they fascinate me the most. I remain puzzled that boys, girls, men and women. Old, young and in between. Educated. Uneducated. Town folks. City folks. People from backgrounds that couldn’t be more different. But they all behave exactly the same way under the influence. And those who climb out of the pit do so with help. Lots of help. But first, they had to make a different choice by coming face-to-face with the truth.

For the prodigal son in Luke 15, the Bible says…”But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!” (Luke 15:17)

Coming to his senses meant he finally saw clearly. At that moment, self-deception left him. His mind was clear and accurate. For the first time in who knows how long, he was thinking wisely.

Every person I’ve ever talked with who recovered or has a person close to them who did talks of such a moment. A moment of truth.

There are so many common denominators in all this and I continue to be intrigued by them all. At just how universal the stories are. You hear one and it’s just like the other dozen you heard. You hear another two dozen and they seem eerily like the prior dozens. That’s because these substances affect the brain the same way. Further proof that we’re not so different. Any of us. We’ve got far more in common than we realize.

So strong is the attachment to the substance and the pursuit of the feeling that few things, if any, can detach a person from it. Scientists often talk of lab rat experiments where the rats will literally kill themselves for a moment of pleasure. We’re no different. A moment of relief. A respite from whatever pain we’re enduring, self-made or otherwise. Freedom from guilt and shame. Craving the very thing that’s causing all the damage. Craving to satisfy self, which is at the heart of all the problems.

We have met the enemy and he is us.

But we don’t know that until we know it. We can’t see it until we do. Like those hidden images in a print hanging on a wall, we stare until our eyes cross, struggling to see what others claim they see. We think they’re lying to us. There’s nothing there, we think. They tell us to step back a bit. Squint your eyes, they say. Nothing seems to work. Increasingly frustrated we reckon they’re messing with us. Until we see it. Plain as day. It’s a smack your forehead moment. Now, step away and don’t come back for a month. The minute we see the print on the wall we spot the hidden image with ease. Why was it so hard earlier?

Every story of recovery I’ve ever heard has a similar feel and tone. But unlike the exercise of peering into a print, these people had to endure some pain that was greater than the pain they were medicating. Without that none would have looked into the face of the truth. So they say.

“Nobody could say anything to me,” they now report. They use words like “stupid” and “ignorant” to describe themselves then. But they didn’t see themselves that way in real-time.

“Cloudy” may be among the most common terms they use to describe themselves then. “Foggy” is another.

These are not terms that express clarity, purity, or accuracy.

The bigger term comes to the forefront when they speak of facing the truth.

Misery.

“I was just miserable,” is the common refrain of every single one of them. But having the ability to recognize that misery often required some jolt – some external force or influence. Often it was law enforcement. Many of them got arrested. Others suffered violence (beaten up, shot). Something happened that grabbed them by the lapels and shook them as they’d never been shaken before. And in a moment or in a series of moments they realized they were miserable. “I hated my life,” they reflect.

It was, for each of them, their moment of coming to their senses. All those abilities to sense the accuracy and truth of themselves and lives which had been lost along the way began to return. That hidden image in the print became clear. They saw themselves and their situation for what they truly were – horrible ways to live.

The suffering they were attempting to escape was growing. Until it got so large it got them in trouble. Or until they figured out they no longer wanted to endure the misery they found themselves in.

“The more you try to fill it with substances, the bigger it gets,” says Dr. Judith.

Where do you go for the answers?

Where do you go to fill whatever you sense may be missing?

But there’s another aspect to those questions that feels important.

Do the places you go help you in colluding in your own death? Or, do the places you go help you in colluding in your own life?

Those seem central to this whole thing. As I listen to experts and first-hand accounts I realize the management of our feelings and thoughts is central to our well-being. Substances help us avoid managing them making it even harder to figure out what we’re feeling and why.

This sends me down the path of trying to learn more about fear because it seems to me that so many of us are afraid of what we feel or think. But why? And what is that fear?

As I often do, let me pick on myself to illustrate. Again, this is only because I’d rather pick on myself than anybody else.

I manage my own thoughts and feelings with Faith, reading, writing, and music. None of these collude in my own death. Each of them, especially that first one – faith – contribute mightily to life. Not just any kind of life, but a good life. A life guided by principles, morality, integrity, character, and truth.

Alienation is often a subject whenever conversations turn toward addiction. Experts tell us opioids are especially effective at helping people battle suffering. And there’s high or strong suspicion that alienation is at the heart of suffering for many people. A challenge with alienation may be in the language itself. It can depict something that is done TO us as opposed to something we feel ourselves.

Maybe a more accurate term is emptiness. That’s something we can all own. On our own. And it doesn’t imply something done TO us. I suspect it’s also an experience common to all of us, if only for moments at a time. It also explains that language I commonly hear and that quote Dr. Judith uttered, “The more you try to fill it with substances, the bigger it gets.” What are trying to fill, if not emptiness?

“It took me 15 years after getting sober to sit still,” admits Dr. Judith Grisel. She described herself as being in constant motion. Impulsive. Compulsive. Always darting from one thing to another.

Yet, many addiction experts talk about how alienation and emptiness go hand in hand. Or at least how they CAN go hand in hand.

We want to find causes. Reasons. For every story of a person from a broken, troubled home are others with a close-knit family and a strong community.

I listen to the words people use. Pronouns are particularly important. The personal pronoun “I” is always at the forefront. Self-centeredness is fundamentally at the heart of it, but I’d argue that’s at the heart of all our foolishness. And that feeds into the next observation.

The words missing. The feelings that aren’t expressed by addicts. Thanks. Gratitude.

Those who have and are recovering admit it’s the way forward, but you can’t get there when you’re fixated on yourself.

I’ve heard too many stories of people who abandoned a community that served them or was trying to. The prodigal son left home where his dad and brother were. Perhaps there were other unnamed family members. There were servants to be sure. It was home. Nobody kicked him out. Nobody pushed him away. He wanted to leave because he no longer wanted the constraints. He wanted to be free. And in searching for freedom he enslaved himself in a prison of his own making. He neglected to be thankful for what he had. He wasn’t deluded after he left home. He became deluded and that caused him to leave a place where he should have remained all along.

How does it end?

For too many, not well.

Most people – 70-80% of people – drop out of rehabilitation programs within 6 months according to American Addiction Centers. Medscape reports that over 44,000 people in America die each year due to drug overdose. The Centers For Disease Control estimates that daily 114 people die due to drugs. The cost in human lives is high even if you just focus on the users. But when you compute the people in their families, those friends in their lives and the folks who surround them (or once did), then it’s a staggering number.

Permit me to share the summary of all – and I mean 100% of the people who admit they found their way out of the pit.

“I can’t believe that was me.” Every single person looks back, now in a sober-minded state where clear thinking prevails, and they cannot believe their behavior while taking the substances. Both men and women can’t believe their lies, cheating and shameful choices and behaviors. Each of them admit that prior to their substance use and abuse they would have never considered doing such things. And now, in hindsight, they still find it tough to believe they did.

It began with lying. Maybe first to others, but for certain, to themselves. “She loved me and didn’t deserve what I did to her,” he says. He cheated on her repeatedly, but she didn’t know. He lied to her daily. Many times a day. He convinced himself he deserved to behave the way he chose. “I betrayed her in every way,” he continues. He blew up the marriage and the family even though his belief when he married her is that they’d grow old together. Until he was sober, he hated her for it. All of it. Even though he betrayed her.

Guilt and shame were common for each person. “I would never admit it,” she says. “But I was so ashamed I couldn’t stand it…until I drank more to took more pills.”

Using anger and hatred to deal with guilt and shame. “I burned everybody who loved me,” say all of them, in one way or the other. The people they turned on the most? Those they had been closest to before they entered the fog. Once in the abyss, those with whom they were closest became public enemy number one. Now, with clear hindsight vision they all readily admit that the people who most tried to help them get straight were the ones they hated the most when they were using. “I didn’t want to hear anything he had to say,” says one person.

“I hated everything and everybody,” reports one recovered addict. “Mostly, I hated myself, but I kept that as quiet as possible.”

Paying the piper can be expensive. Every sober person needs more than a brief chat to reveal the vastness of the damage they caused. While many will mention some financial or material related loss, that’s not where the focus is. Rather, each of them begins and ends and spends most of their time talking about the relationships they destroyed or damaged. For most, there were some critical relationships that got restored. In fact, they tell me that without those, they’d still be in the abyss. But each of them reports relationships that will never be repaired or restored. Lost spouses. Lost kids. Lost parents. Lost friends. Some damage is so great that no matter how badly we want it or how hard we work at it – restoration just isn’t possible.

Regret. Enormous doses of regret are always part of the conversation. You can’t help but listen and hear the regret that will always follow these people. “What might have been,” seems at the forefront of their lives now. And I’m saddened to wonder if such a weight might compel some to go back into the pit feeling that’s where they deserve to be, even though that is yet another lie and unclear thought.

A father grows older. No relationship with his now-grown kids who remember the man who sank into alcohol and treated their mother so poorly until she was forced to kick him out. He’s not the same man today, but in their minds, he’s frozen as he was. And so are they. They’re still kids who were sticking by their mom. He wonders what might have been.

A son grows lonelier. He splintered his family. The strain on his parents took a toll on their marriage. They still love each other, but they couldn’t find a path forward together because his mother obsessed about his drug abuse while his father wanted to let him go so he could continue building a life with his wife. Today, an adult son wonders about the love he broke apart.

A wife grows greyer. Youth is long gone. Replaced with wrinkles, crinkles, and popping joints. She’s no longer a wife, but she once was. He was her best friend, but her drinking and over-medicating drove him away. Coupled with her repeated infidelities. She remembers a time when she couldn’t have imagined life without him, but today she realizes she’s been apart from him longer than they were together. She too wonders what might have been.

I’m left thinking that the whole reason for the choice was to get away from pain. But the result was the compounding of pain. Many times over!

There is no greater pain than the pain of watching somebody you love…love their addiction more than they love you.

The prodigal son returned home to an elated father who didn’t even let him finish the speech he had rehearsed. He was prepared to just beg to be like a servant because even his father’s servants had a better life than he did while way from home. But dad didn’t listen to the entire speech. He was too busy being happy. Too busy putting a ring on his hand, shoes on his feet and nice clothing over his shoulders. Too busy telling the servants to prepare a banquet to celebrate the fact that his lost son was now home. To the older son, dad said this…

But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.  -Luke 15:32

I hope and pray that more people who use Fentanyl and other opioids — and people who abuse prescription drugs as well as illicit ones — and people who use alcohol — will come to their senses as this son did. There are too many celebrations just waiting for the opportunity.

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