A famous right-leaning commentator was on the Today show this morning arguing with Matt Lauer about drug abuse, Whitney Houston’s in particular. Lauer held his own against this commentator’s strange attack on the media’s so-called silence on the severity of Houston’s drug problems. But the commentator was insistent that the media deserves a lot of blame for not doing more.
He didn’t clearly indict their callous joy in reporting every instance of odd behavior, disheveled appearance or vocal limitation. He didn’t seem to care about that so much, instead insisting that people other than the addict have control over addiction. If addiction has ever touched his family, he must have always been blessed with enough wherewithal to have a space the size of a continent between that person and himself. Those of us whose families have been touched by this insidious disease, especially those of us who have sought help from experts, know that other than always being honest about the behavior you witness and how it has impacted your life, and pointing out where services can be obtained, there is little you can do to help a substance abuser. In regard to witnessing behavior, titillation aside, the media had not been silent. They reported suspected drug abuse, and the confirmation of that fact when it came from the abuser herself.
I believe that judgement of someone else’s personal life choices, those that don’t touch my life, should remain in my own head. Yes, sometimes I will have a somewhat judgemental conversation about the day’s news with someone close to me, but that’s more about processing information, the continuing reasonably private process of deciding what I think. At least I hope that’s what I do. None of us can stop judgemental thoughts from entering our minds. We have them because there are times when we need to. We can’t be safe from the dangers of the world if we suspend all judgement. Judgemental thoughts are reflexive for that purpose. What we do with them, how we treat people and show respect, is the thing that defines us.
I was upset, too, when I heard the news about Ms. Houston. I feel so sad for the pain her family is feeling now. But I was also upset because it triggers thoughts for me of the immense pain that addiction brings to families who are touched by it. I’ve lived with someone else’s addiction blowing hot down my neck. Even if an addict gets help and gets clean, abuse may have weakened their body and brought another host of health problems to impact both body and mind. A family can be in tatters long after a remission — if they’ve been lucky and it came. If it doesn’t come, the pain of that reality and the helplessness of being witness to it can make an innocent party feel like they bear of world of guilt for not ‘doing something’.
I still carry scars from my inability to affect positive change in the life of an addict. I’ve been upset about being hurt, about being angry, about time and money I’ve wasted in the fight, about trusting when I didn’t realize I shouldn’t. Now I’m angry again because I wish jerks like the one I heard this morning would work on educating themselves and shut up until they know what they’re talking about.