Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Very Present Dragons

Lost another one to addiction. We connected over our mutual love of journaling. She had a great laugh. I can't pretend to have known her well but we talked together several times over several months. I remember talking with her about another young woman her age I worked with who had died from a heroin overdose a few months previously. I remember that she listened intensely to that story. Then, on January 21st, she said she "wasn't ready" to stop using and left to spend the weekend with a "38 year old guy who owned his own business and had his own place." When someone in the grip of addiction says they ain't ready, believe it. He survived. She didn't. Single mom, only child, beautiful young woman, aged 23, dead on the 23rd.

A few days later, another kid, this one a young man of 16, told me that he desperately wanted to live. He said he wanted to stop the drugs and go to college. He was done with wasting his time. I believe him. I left my day job with these stories swirling in my head and threw my hands up in the parking lot as I wondered whether or not there was anything really, truly, that I could offer these people, possessed as they were, and are with powers I can't pretend to understand. I sit with them and they look to me for release, asking an urgent, simple question, something like this: "Can God help me to overcome this/be delivered from this/ be made well/ stop using?" My weak attempt at any answer (if I have an answer) is a Jesus-question; I say, "Do you want to be made whole?"

Psychologists talk about a "locus of control" -a center from which we all make choices. We either choose from posture located internally or allow some external source to choose for us. Obviously, an individual is more helpless and vulnerable if the center of control is outside their ability-scope. Those for whom a locus of control in internal however, we are told, tend to be the healthier ones among us. As any addict knows, addiction eventually takes any semblance of power, or control away. Their helplessness is a choice to resist and perpetuate a vicious cycle of irresponsible unchoosing. The addict loses her right to choose.

So, what hope can I offer? Sometimes I look into the eyes of these people and I see death looming, lurking, as a sort-of patient and altogether civil, even comfortable gentleman-friend visitor. Almost as if he's stopping by for a lovely chat over afternoon tea. But this innocence is a fiction; this is Death as non-menace.  Once our Visitor finds a home, it is simply a matter of time until the invasion is complete and then the fangs (Think Vampire).  All I know, is that I cannot heal these people. Their deliverance must come from within. There is light there and I am certain that "one pure heart a-full with love can all the fires of hell endure." My job, I think, is in the coaxing. My sword is drawn against very present dragons that are ever more real than any windmills. I speak truth and life but the healing is not mine. My work is to seduce the Seducer without being seduced.

A few days ago, we gathered to remember this young lady and I told the survivors (mostly younger women; all were her friends) that it was okay to be angry with the friend who left them.  I told everyone that no one should die with a needle in their arm and that she left a lot undone. One young lady responded tearfully that she didn't want to dishonor the memory of the deceased by turning back to a life of using. She said she'd use this tragedy to help in her personal struggle to overcome, one day at a time. That's right! That's right. This friend was deciding for hope. For life before death.

Sometimes I get a share in a small part of the joy these amazing people experience when they make a choice to stand and fight, pleading with the universe for just one more good day. And sometimes the beauty slips away too young, too fast.


  1. Well said Wayne. I admire you for being a shoulder, an ear, and a voice for those reaching out and for those who make a different choice. Keep on keepin on, dear friend. Blessings to you and your family.

  2. Thank you for the encouragement! It isn't always easy to be so close to the pain. These folks are despised and rejected by the culture but it is a great privilege to sit alongside them and I am deeply humbled by their trust and affection.