My father once took off his shirt and showed me his back. It was covered with holes from all the places he had shot up with heroin. He said he wanted me to see what can happen when people lose themselves to an addiction. “It’s like a sickness, almost like a cancer. Your body no longer belongs to you,” he said.
I was eighteen at the time and I remember thinking to myself… Well, if your body no longer belongs to you, then who does it belong to?
At the end of that night, a night where my dad tried to convince me that he loved me and that he was terribly sorry for all the missing years, all the years he was too busy drinking and using to pay his son any attention, just when he had finally convinced me that maybe I should forgive him and give him a second chance to be my father, after all of this, he asked to borrow money from me. He said, “Not too much… Just enough to get by for a day or so.. I will pay you back.. I promise… it’s just that… I need it for… Don’t worry… It’s not for drugs… Believe me.. It’s for something else.. And I wouldn’t ask if not.. And I know it looks funny that I have not seen you for years… and all of a sudden when I do see you, I am asking for money… but you know….”
I didn’t ask him what it was for, because the minute he asked for the money, I realized that my father was not talking to me, but instead it was that other thing, that thing that could make a father hustle his own son just to get a hit.. It was the addiction.
And as pissed as I was for the events of that evening and at my father, eventually what allowed me to forgive him was the realization that my father was right. Addiction is like a cancer that steals away not just the material aspects of one’s life, but more importantly, that steals away one’s physical, mental and spiritual aspects as well. In other words, in his own words, Your body no longer belongs to you.
If this is the case, if addiction is really a sickness, then it should be dealt with as such.. Right? Instead of more prisons being built to house addicts, we should, perhaps, build more clinics. We should train more social workers and doctors and less police officers and prison guards. This is why when I see CNN and other news outlets talk about what they call the Heroin Epidemic striking at the heart of America, I feel that they are taking the right approach. They are reporting this the same way they report starving children in distant countries where there is widespread drought, war refugees escaping ethnic cleansing and migrant workers enslaved in third world factories. They are reporting it in a manner where people can see it as a sickness and not as a crime and where people will tend to show more compassion than judgement.
But what does bother me, and I know some of you already know, and saw it coming for a minute, and that some of you didn’t, which is okay, because how can you know a thing unless you have lived it, or unless it has been reported to you in an honest and fair way, which our media outlets seldom do…. What bothers me is that this National Epidemic has actually been an Epidemic for some marginalized communities for a quite a while, and the plight of the people, in these communities, has been compounded by the criminalization of the addicts. You see, it’s not that I have no sympathy for those who are suffering from addiction in places like Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and Kentucky. Addiction is a beast no matter who suffers from it and no matter where the suffering is taking place.
What pisses me off is the double standard that takes place when a sickness that other people have been suffering from for years, a sickness that was criminalized, and that as a result of the criminalization has seen thousands of addicts locked away in prisons, not just for a couple of years, but in some cases, for decades, is now being portrayed in a manner that allows lawmaker, judges and police officers to show sympathy for the addicts. And don’t get it twisted, the angst comes not from the fact the fact that sympathy is being shown now, but that before Heroin Became A National Epidemic there was only condemnation and judgement.
If my father is right and addiction is a sickness, then it should be treated as a sickness across the board. Because if your body no longer really belongs to you, then we, as a community, need to make sure that we remember that this body still belongs to the community, and thus, as a community we should fight to save it, heal it and love it, instead of designating it as a criminal and locking it away, no matter who the addicts are and no matter where they reside.
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