My brother started drinking at 14. Within a year he moved on to drugs and spent his first involuntary stint in rehab his senior year in high school. His oddessy through addiction took him into poverty, homelessness, many jails, a couple of rehabs and nearly landed him in Federal Prison. At his worst he would disappear for months on end, only calling home when he needed bail money. Occasionally, my mother or I would call the county morgues near where we thought he might be to see if they had any John Doe’s with tattoos matching his. This went on for about 10 years.
My brother has been clean for 7 years – a miracle for which I am grateful every day. My mother has been sober for 17 years, my step-father for 15 years. Most of the people I love have some sort of addiction, many of them are in recovery. I know from personal experience that alcoholism is a brutally sad disease. It is sad to live with, it is heartbreaking to witness. It can crush the joy out of childhood. It frequently blinds people to love, compassion and reason.
I have spent a lot of time in my life crying for my alcoholics, or yelling at them or hiding their liquor. I have tried to trick them or guilt them into getting sober. I can tell you that this does not work, that the only result of attacking their sick behavior with my own irrational behavior is that I became crazy myself. Though I am not the alcoholic or the drug addict I eventually found my way into my own recovery program.
What I have learned through my experiences with addiction is that everyone is a child of god, deserving of respect and dignity. I know this because the guy passed out under a cardboard box in that dark alley – he used to be my brother. I know this because the woman hiding her scotch in a coffee cup and wouldn’t answer the door in case the neighbors could smell it on her breath – that was my mother. I know this because of literally hundreds and hundreds of similar stories I have heard from real people with real loved ones living lives just like mine.
What I know today, what I believe in the marrow of my bones is that the value of a human life is not the sum total of their actions (good or bad). I am not obligated to love anyone. I don’t have to tolerate dangerous or unacceptable behavior. But I do need to live life on life’s terms. And so when I find myself dismissing the worth of another because I don’t like their behavior or because they have hurt or angered me in some way – I know that the fault lies within myself. Every person is a child of god and for this, and nothing else, they deserve a basic level of respect and dignity. This is what I believe.