Can we make life more bearable for those who are vulnerable?: Robert A. Winter (Opinion)

Guest columnist The Rev. Robert A. Winter, a native of Michigan, has been an Episcopal priest for 55 years, serving parishes in Michigan, Rhode Island and Ohio. He retired in 2003, but continues to serve as chaplain to the Berea Fire Department.  Recent reports indicate that methamphetamine has once again joined opiates and alcohol as a drug of widespread…

Guest columnist The Rev. Robert A. Winter, a native of Michigan, has been an Episcopal priest for 55 years, serving parishes in Michigan, Rhode Island and Ohio. He retired in 2003, but continues to serve as chaplain to the Berea Fire Department. 

Sept20Winter.jpgThe Rev. Robert A. Winter  

Recent reports indicate that methamphetamine has once again joined opiates and alcohol as a drug of widespread abuse. Reactions include most of “the usual suspects”–hand-wringing by politicians, but no effective legislative action; calls for “treatment,” but no groundswell of support for the resources necessary to provide it; finger-pointing at “illegal aliens,” but no recognition that — even if they were the sole suppliers of the drugs involved — there would be no importation without a massive market.

Indeed, the problem seems so massive, so intractable and so expensive, that the temptation is to throw up our collective hands and hope for the best. 

There’s an old joke to the effect that “reality is for people who can’t handle drugs.” Think about that, and you realize that addiction grows in the gap between what we desire and what we experience. Ask any random group of addicts why they drink, smoke weed, mainline heroin or snort cocaine or meth — ask them what they are seeking — and the chances are good that the answer would be some form of “oblivion.” They want reality blotted out, usually because reality is too painful to be borne.

Yes, many people bear troubles more painful than what any given addict might have to face. Yes, there may well be other paths to reacting to pain: meditation, yoga, marathon running, gardening, religion and dozens of others. Most of these alternatives are included in many treatment protocols, and some of them may actually work for some addicts.

Beyond these, how else can we treat addiction as the disease that it is instead of as some kind of moral failing that could be interdicted by making penalties more severe?  The truth is that you can’t punish a disease into oblivion — especially a disease that leads one to seek oblivion.

What if we could work at making reality itself more bearable?

What if, when you are threatened with losing your spouse, counseling was available? What if, when you are threatened with losing your truck, low-cost loans were widely available? What if, when you are threatened with losing your job, vocational training was available? What if our social systems were set up to enhance the lives of people instead of only profiting from them?

What if, in short, we recognized that this is a societal problem, rather than one affecting just a few “others?” And then looked for a societal solution?

I am writing this while visiting my 8-year-old granddaughter, so I have had two weeks of observing the hope and joy that live in the heart of every child … until they realize that the cards can be stacked against them.

The heart of a child is very soft, tender and vulnerable. Whether it develops into an adult heart capable of engaging honestly with the world and with the hearts of others — or whether it develops a cold, hard shell that shuts out engagement, morality and everything that makes human life truly human — depends in large part on what the eyes of that heart see.

What are our children seeing? Is it a reality they will be able to embrace, or one from which they feel they must flee?

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