Monday 22 July 2019

Womanity: It's easy to place the blame on addicts

It's easy to place the blame on addicts, but are there really any choices while living with addiction?​

Louise McSharry
Louise McSharry

Last week, Bob Geldof spoke publicly about his daughter Peaches' death on television. It's been six months now, since the 25-year-old mother of two was found dead as a result of heroin use. He spoke to ITV News, saying that he blames himself. "You're the father who is responsible and clearly failed," he said. "You go back, you go back, you go back, you go back, you go back, you go over, you go over. What could you have done?"

No matter what your feelings on cranky old Bob, it's impossible not to sympathise with him in this instance, so that's exactly what a British newspaper did a few days after the interview. One of their esteemed columnists wrote: "It wasn't your fault, Bob. Peaches was responsible for two young children, yet she chose to carry on taking the drugs that killed her." Did you get it? The judgement? It's in the 'yet she chose'.

I find these kind of statements (and there were many in the aftermath of Peaches' death) difficult to cope with. First, because they betray a total lack of understanding of addiction and how it works. Second, because at one point in my life, my own biological mother 'chose' to carry on drinking rather than take care of me. I say 'chose' because of course, on one level, that's what she did. But in reality, it was no choice at all

If you followed Peaches Geldof on Twitter or Instagram, you will know that she loved her children very much. The account was filled with images and videos of her little ones, along with bright and involved conversation about parenting techniques with her followers. Given a real choice, I have no doubt that she would have chosen those two little boys over absolutely anything. But, unfortunately, addiction doesn't work that way.

No loving parent, in their right mind, would choose an illicit substance over their children's well-being, and yet it happens all the time. It happens, because people living with addiction are not in their right mind. They are not able to make good choices, for themselves or others. Their substance of choice becomes the most important thing in their world, and they genuinely can't see life beyond it. And so, their minds play tricks on them, convincing them that it'll all be okay, justifying bad decisions, and yes, bad choices. They'll just do it one more time, and then that'll be it. It'll be over

Then comes the guilt and the fear, the dark feelings that are frankly un-faceable, and the only way to make them go away is to have another drink, or another smoke, or another hit. And the cycle continues. And it seems there is no way out.

Can you imagine that? Can you imagine having and loving two beautiful children, and yet finding yourself completely unable to stop doing something which you know endangers them? I find it difficult to get my head around the horror a person might feel. And yet, lots of people seem happy to just write off the tormented souls who live in those situations.

They write them off by talking about 'choice', by calling them 'junkies', or 'winos' and genuinely never stopping for a moment to consider where these damaged people came from. Because they are damaged, for one reason or another. People don't wake up in the morning and decide to become drug addicts or alcoholics. Yes, they all make an initial decision to drink or take drugs, but no one would choose the life of an addict.

In fact, and this may come as a shock to some - every addicted person was born a baby. Every addicted person was a child. And for every addicted person, something went wrong. Maybe they were abused. Maybe they were unloved. Or maybe they just grew up with the unspeakable and inexplicable emptiness some people are afflicted with.

No matter what, it is that led them to their path. Surely they deserve empathy before blame? Some sympathy, before judgement? Because it's not really a choice at all, is it?

Irish Independent

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