I joined a class field trip to a drug addict recovery center in south Tel Aviv today. We had a discussion with one of the administrators, young woman who was very passionate about her job, and then we heard from about eight recovering addicts about the conflicts and issues their drug abuse had caused their families, as well as what kinds of family trauma led to their drug use.
As you may have realized, I’m a huge fan of contact theory and I viewed today as a chance to spend face time with a demographic I really don’t know much about aside from stereotypes. This group were in the process of becoming clean or were already somewhat clean for months. You could see the struggle in their eyes, along with the love, pain, fear, laughter. They were married at some point, or on the verge of getting so; they had kids or the desire to create them; they had jokes to tell and empathy to share.
There were a few big points that I got the feeling these men and women wanted us to walk away with:
First, the matter of turning to drugs was not an issue of life getting bad and not knowing how to handle the pain. It was a matter of – due to family trauma as youngsters – never learning how to deal with life, good or bad. Whether it was losing a job, struggling through a marriage, a newborn baby, or making money, these folks did not have the emotional tools to handle life and needed an escape or a way to numb it all. Heroin (in most cases) was that tool.
It was fascinating that these people had varying backgrounds – Russian, Arab or Arab Jew – and they all had family trauma in common, whether it was an abusive father, drug dealer parents, absent parents.
In addition, it is not often the case that these people were bored and turned to drugs and got caught up in a serious and deadly cycle. At this recovery center, most of the addicts or former addicts experienced serious traumas in their childhoods caused by screwed up family relations or abuse. The drugs were the result of such a situation. These people stopped experiencing normal emotions at a young age, and, coming out of that daze now they are picking up where they left off – at age 9, 13, 18, etc.
For instance, one man in his 50s was telling us about his father who made him, at age 13, his secret-barer and assistant in doing drugs and drinking. The boy would have to hide this from his mother and help his father set up his pipes.
A mother of two described growing up in a home where her father was the dominant and her mother the submissive. To escape it, she ended up getting married – to her father all over again. Without any control in her life, she started on drugs, with the added bonus that her verbally abusive husband was strictly anti-drugs.
Another point was that it becomes a disease where the drug addict cannot make informed decisions any longer; the substance plays the master while the human mind becomes a slave. Once this relationship exists, it takes a lot of struggle to break free of those chains and every. single. day. is a battle to be waged and won by the human mind and physical condition.
A young father of three explained that the on-and-off periods of drug abuse and keeping ‘clean’ are not to be taken lightly. A person who has kept clean for thirty years can fall as low as a current addict with just one hit.
I am glad I got to participate in the discussion. It became clear how much these people hurt their families and themselves, but also how much they have been hurt. I don’t think I’ll ever forget some of those faces.