We talk about a lot of things as if they didn’t reflect a real person and a real life.
Addiction is one of them. And let me just tell you, every single number is a life and behind every single life is a family.
Statistics are easy to toss around until one of those numbers represents YOUR child.
My son was killed in a single-vehicle motorcycle accident. One of the 76 individuals who died on a motorcycle in Alabama in 2014. If you look it up, you’ll find tables printed with clean edges and comparative data one year to the next.
But if you look at me-and hold up a photo from BEFORE-you’ll see grief etched into a mama’s face that can’t be measured, sifted or weighed.
My son was not an addict. He was a health nut. But he liked his motorcycle and never saw the contradiction between spending hours at the gym then putting that beautiful body on a fast moving, unprotected engine-on-wheels. A helmet was not enough to protect him that night.
Addicts don’t start out wanting the life so many of them end up living. They take a puff or a pill or a drink and think it’s all in fun. They have no way to know that the one moment of weakness or even purposeful exploration may result in a lifetime of struggle.
Once caught in the cycle of craving and crawling out and caving again they may or may not eventually find the light. They may or may not become sober for the rest of their days. They may or may not have the inner strength, the outside support, the medical intervention and inpatient treatment they need to conquer this demon.
And it is a demon.
Addiction is never a choice even when the first indulgence into drugs or alcohol is.
Parents living with addicted children do everything they can to guide them to help. They try tough love, abundant grace, boundaries, threats and rewards. Some even move their families to try to escape habitual influences on their child-hoping against hope that a new place and new friends will create a safe space where addiction can’t flourish.
It rarely works. In the end, addiction takes too many of our children. Addiction kills.
And the wreckage left the other side of those deaths is enormous. It’s messy and ugly and hard to sort through.
The one thing NO parent of an addicted child needs is someone else’s misguided advice on how they could have “saved” his or her child. They don’t need quips about “seeing it coming”. They don’t need anyone to heap shame on them because of the choices their child made and the disease that robbed them of choice in the end.
So when we talk about addiction and numbers and treatment and responsibility and especially death, we need to remember that every single statistic is a person.
Every single person has a family.
And that family is devastated.
Speak gently. Extend grace. Offer love.
They already know shame.