Life is Fragile: International Overdose Awareness Day

Life is fragile. 

Sometimes I forget how precious and fragile life is. I get so busy living most days that I forget how close I was to dying.

I actually did die a couple of times, although they don’t call it dying when paramedics/ doctors are there to resuscitate you. I think it’s just called “coding”. At least that’s what I’ve learned from Grey’s Anatomy.

Sometimes I forget how fragile life is, but not today. Today, I remember how quickly my life was almost taken from me. And I remember my friends whose lives were taken from them.

I remember today because this day, August 31, is recognized as International Overdose Awareness Day. It’s not a day to celebrate or glorify drug use but to instead raise awareness through education and information so together we can help fight the stigma associated with drug use.

Nobody plans on becoming a drug addict. We are not born with an innate desire to get high, but we are born with a longing for connection. And some of us are also born with a genetic predisposition toward becoming addicts.

What I have come to believe through person experience, specialized education and lots of research is this:

When our inherent need for connection goes unfulfilled for an extended period of time, our human nature instinctively finds ways to fill the gap that lack of connection leaves in the very fibers of our existence. Some people fill it with work, shopping, sex, or money and  others fill it with drugs.

The difference between a person born with a propensity toward becoming addicted and someone who’s not is the ability to walk away from drugs after a period of using. Someone who is not wired for addiction can fill their lack of connection with drugs (keep in mind alcohol is a drug) for an extended period of time and when someone comes into their life who fills that innate need for connection, they no longer feel a desire to use drugs and they can choose to walk away. Someone born with the genetic predisposition toward addiction, however, can use for a very short period of time and their brain chemistry changes so that they are no longer able to choose anything over their addiction. Their brains are altered to believe that their drug of choice is the key to their survival and without it they will die. (You can read more about this progression here.)

For centuries now, drug addicts have been marginalized and criminalized. People often believe that drug addicts are inherently bad people but they aren’t. They are people, like you, who are wired for connection. The difference between me (a recovering drug addict) and you (a non-addict) is that my brain is diseased and yours isn’t. And the difference between me (someone who survived multiple overdoses and is now in recovery) and someone who died of a drug overdose is nothing more than luck, impeccable timing, and intervention at first, followed by hard ass work every single day to treat my disease.

I’ll never know why some of us addicts are spared and others aren’t, but I do know that I’m not any different from them. My friends who have died from the disease of addiction are fun, loving, intelligent people whose brains just couldn’t grasp the idea of living life without a drink or a drug. Their brains didn’t have enough time in recovery to develop the gift of perspective that I and other recovering addicts have developed.

Typically when people hear of addicts dying from an overdose, they respond with words like:

Stupid 

Irresponsible 

Childish

Pathetic 

Selfish

Or phrases like:

Well they did it to themselves.

They got what they deserved.

But what they deserved out of life was love, acceptance and connection. And what they deserve now that they are gone is understanding and compassion. They weren’t bad people who deserved death, they were just sick people who never had the chance to get well.

Life is so incredibly fragile and today I sit in remembrance of those whose lives have been taken by the disease of addiction. I remember their kind, gentle spirits and find comfort in the belief that they are resting in peace and their pain has been lifted.

*My thoughts and prayers are with families who have lost loved ones to the disease of addiction. Find a letter I wrote to you here.

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