“Well do you think he’s learned a lesson?”
A friend and family member asked this question in my home about my son yesterday. Thankfully, I was not within earshot at the time. But let me just say what this lesson has been for the handsome, young man in this photo. Not only his lesson, but all of ours.
Here is what he’s learned thus far:
- That mental illness fuels many decisions, particularly risky decisions.
- That trauma does not heal itself and cannot be medicated away with any substance known to man.
- That Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is real and impacts every aspect of life.
- That very few people in your life are really your friends and care about what is best for you.
- That the time has come to deal from his sister’s murder and the guilt, depression and anxiety related to that are still there, waiting to be honestly heard.
- That substance abuse is a pervasive disorder that only grows worse with time.
- That even though your child is almost grown, you can still benefit from parenting classes.
- That a good life does not come without work and sacrifice.
- That sometimes, even those you consider the best of friends or family will desert and gossip about you.
- That there is not one friend from the past that he wishes to hang out with when he comes home.
- That Mom will always answer the phone when he calls.
- That everyone does, in fact, die famous in a small town.
There are many more lessons to come, but these first ones are the most important. Never has there been a time when I have looked on this face in judgement. Nor any other face suffering with a substance abuse disorder. I think the thing that most breaks my heart, other than judgement against him, is that people don’t try to understand what’s really going on. Most people don’t care. The media takes bits and pieces of a story in order to get the most sensational version they can in order to have more people look at it. But to those who sit with those suffering, they get it. To anyone who has any interest in how to change this cycle it takes very little effort to google what went wrong.
What takes the most courage is to sit with this information, to study it, to understand that the person above is not unique in this situation. There are 1.8 million people in prison across this country, 80% of those people are there for drug crimes. More than 45% of only the male prison population have suffered some type of childhood trauma. That doesn’t even take into account the women included in that 1.8 million.
So what lesson have I learned? The war on drugs has failed. It has failed to fix the drug epidemic. It has failed because imprisoning addicts without adequate mental health treatment doesn’t change anything. It has failed because it has become a vast money maker in our country. It has failed because we are incapable of recognizing that trauma has a true and lasting impact on those involved, particularly in men. It has failed because we have become a nation of judgemental assholes who spread rumors and misinformation like it is gospel. We have stopped truly caring and see traumatic incidents sensationalized in the media and accept them as commonplace.
That’s what we have learned.