We've decided to repost - below - something we'd written earlier about the death of Prince, not because we believe in the profundity of our writing, but rather in the story itself...
This story does not belong to one person: A full picture of addiction will never be the measure of one person's story, anyway. But by sharing separate truths, in the form of individual stories, we can see more of the problem. Instead of separate lives ebbing away in secrecy, shame and solitude, let what some of us were lucky enough to've lived through be a light, however small, in those dark places.
The big picture instead of a million little ones in shards.
Unlike, say Ebola, an epidemic of addiction can't exist in a vacuum. Hiding away the afflicted won't stop its spread. Society itself conspires, however unwittingly, to buck-pass, deny, legislate into infinity. It's not because people don't care, individually or in the collective. It's because the problem is, inherently, as tricky as any which exist...
While it's true that becoming an addict is a thing that happens to a single person, it actually takes a village to make addiction possible. And because the early stages of opiate addiction look like anything but problematic use - after all, what kind of cruel person would deny someone pain relief? - by the time it's recognized as such, that horse, as they say, is long out of the barn.
Today's announcement that Prince died from an opiate overdose is heartbreaking, but not a surprise. What was surprising was that the opiate in his system was one of the strongest kinds manufactured - the kind they give to cancer patients as their suffering is at its greatest.
We don't know how he came to possess a drug this powerful. Whether it was physician-prescribed or dealer-bought, it seems criminal from here, yet trifling over the 'hows' would be disingenuous of us. After all, we only have one perspective, which, in the end, the damnable bitter end, may be the most important one: We know what an addict will do to get the medicine he - or she - needs.
If your first experience with opioids is due to pain, that means a doctor gave it to you. The tricky business of refills begins its convoluted dance. Few physicians are specifically trained in pain management and far fewer in addictionology. Either way, because so many signals get crossed or hidden in the early stages of narcotic abuse, even trained specialists are operating in the dark without one very important variable: the honesty of the patient.
By the way, we're not implying liars are prone to becoming drug addicts; but once the 'habit has taken hold'? We've rarely known an addict who isn't at least riddled with the buckshot of obfuscation: It's how we roll.
Still, addiction is a group effort and the whole village of suppliers - casual, legal or worse - has an equal hand in truth- hiding. By the time anyone besides the addict realizes what's happening, things have probably been unraveling for some time.
From personal experience, the opioid high - which effects people in surprisingly different ways - is such fun in these early stages, that it warrants putting off the internal 'conversation' necessary to avoid full scale addiction.
It just feels too good to consider stopping. Although, we had sprained muscle when we were given our first prescription - pain scale 8 - our first conscious thought after the hydrocodone got into our system was stark, indeed. It was simple: This stuff is too good to waste on pain.
We can't speak to the statistics about the differences between alcoholism and narcotic addiction, either, only that in our case, they're inextricably linked by virtue of the simplest measuring standard: One's too many and a hundred isn't enough. (As we've mentioned here before, a fifty pill a day habit might give hyperbole a run for its money.)
"You should've known better."
Although if we heard this comment directed at another addict/alcoholic, we'd be tempted to shin kick the speaker with a mighty curse, in our case, we sure as hell should've. In a way, we saw it coming: With over seven years of good - OK, 'good' as in spiritually maintained - sobriety, we knew that we had a chemical predisposition that would require more and more of any drug only - the horror - to get less and less of an effect. But we'd never had opiates.
By the time full-blown dependency is realized, the threat of tyranny is long gone: Instead, the ruthless despot of full blownvaddiction is on his crazy throne and every resource and energy of the kingdom functions for one goal: to acquire supply. And, like any country exporting its entire treasury on war materiel, it quickly disintegrates from within.
To be fair, we've known doctors who truly understand addiction, ones who are moral and empathetic: we're not lumping them in with the ones with thick prescription pads and a paucity of ethics. Now, with the grim tidings from Minneapolis, we'll assume the same parallels exist in the courts and leave them to their scramble.
For the those only peripherally familiar with addiction, there comes a point in using when the recreational aspect of 'the high' pales beside the necessity of the dose. Despite the fact that plenty of intelligent people become addicts, the realization of 'addict status' is usually on a much slower course than reality. It's like putting on a seatbelt only after you hear the sirens.
That's why they call it getting hooked. We also don't know the statistics on folks who realize a severe addiction and, at that same moment, walk away from it completely. On their own. Without getting help. We think they exist, but in microscopic minority. Realizing one's own addict status is like having a dog that bites at both ends: You need help on the backside to get out alive.
We're expecting the usual backlash via articles, essays and, sadly, well-meaning posturing in the wake of the coroner's report. It's how things. Are done.
While they're already making much of the oversupply of opiate painkillers, there is very little coverage of an equally important aspect of the discussion: A shortage of the drugs that help people recover from opiod addiction. Unlike methadone, these drugs do not simulate the narcotic high. (The drugs are called 'opioid agonists'.)
While the criminal aspects of any addict's death concern us, we know that scorn, shame or fear of prosecution will have little effect because we're just too damn familiar with what an addict will do, in the end, not to get high, but so sickness far surpassing the original complaint that landed them the prescription in the first place.
Instead of demonizing Prince, who IS the victim here, and hissing about his fame, know this: That very thing is probably the reason he's not here today.
Thanks for reading this. We may scratch it out and start over but feel the need to print it today. We cobbled it amid doing other things, sacred drudgery, really - the kinds of things that are very hard to do with dirt piled deep over our heads which is where we could be right now. Without a lot of help from Spirit - and how It works though people.
In closing.. Brothers and sisters
If we may - this is from Prince's 1996 album "Emancipation".
It's just part of the song, but these are the words we thought of when we heard of his passing.
As we copied the lyrics, it seems we're having mix of feelings: a definitely
delayed reaction to his death and realizing the full weight of a phrase we've heard our whole lives, "But for God's grace, there go I."
There go a lot of us.
Lyrics from "The Holy River'
Let's go down to the holy river
If we drown then we'll be delivered
U can still see the picture on the wall
One eye staring at nothing at all
The other one trying to focus through all your tears
U can try and try but there's nothin to hide
U can't run from yourself and what's inside
U got to find the answers 2 the questions U most fear
So over and over you ask your soul
Why'd U come down to a world so cold?
And a voice inside says 2night the truth will be told.
U surrounded yourself with all the wrong faces
Spending your time in all the wrong places
Puttin your faith in things that only make you cry
People say they love U when they wanna help
But how can they when U can't help yourself?
The more they say they love you, the more U just wanna die...
Let's go down to the holy river
If we drown then we'll be delivered (Yes we will)
If we don't then we'll never see the light (No)
If U die before you try
I'll have 2 come back and face the light (Oh yes)
When U believe it U got a good reason 2 cry