Addiction on the Number Nineteen

addiction (2)

I would like to tell you a little story about a bus ride I had to work the other day.

Taking the bus is always interesting with all the different folk on board and relaxing not to have to drive, it’s nice not to have to drive but just sit back and enjoy the ride.

I have often seen the positive side of human nature on the bus. A mother was having no luck in quieting her crying baby and a stranger reached out and asked the child if she would like the paper, and offered her the daily news flyer. The child was pleased and stopped.

Younger folks give up their seats to older people; people shout “back door!” to the driver if he hasn’t noticed that someone wants to get off and the door isn’t opening properly. These are the heartening forms of socializing that take place on the bus.

Most recently there was a man who looked like he needed a shower, dressed in a dirty t-shirt, jeans and flip flops in his thirties (although he looked about fifty) sitting up behind the bus driver that caught my attention. He was very intoxicated on what was probably crack-cocaine or crystal meth and was “tweaking” severely. That’s slang for showing behavior that’s erratic and spasmodic due to the drug’s effects in the brain on the muscles in the body. He was rubbing his eyes furiously and then doing bizarre yoga-like poses with his leg in the air slid in behind the chair on the bus.   He was muttering to himself under his breath and in an altered state of reality, looking very out of control. My heart went out to him, alone on the bus on this intense drug high that was causing him to act out and be so out of control. He looked desperate and tragic.

Unfortunately, compassion was not the emotion that I saw in some my fellow bus riders. A man standing beside me was being cruel by talking in a low and nasty voice to the addict, calling him a stupid tweaker, and trying to confuse him. He was being hateful. The older Chinese woman next to me was angry at the addict and waving at him to get lost. I told her that he was having a very hard time but I don’t think that she understood. These hateful reactions were saddening.

Here was this poor soul deep in the throes of his addiction with the drugs totally taking over his mind and body (and looked like they had been for years) all alone on the bus. Most likely this man came from a traumatic background where he was abused emotionally, mentally, physically, and/or sexually. Or worse, perhaps he was neglected and his parents were abused and addicted and had mental health issues from trauma such as complex post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, anxiety, and maybe psychosis.

Unfortunately there is such a lack of understanding around mental health and addictions, and there is so much stigma and judgement and hatred that I saw on the bus that day. It is not an addict’s fault that they are addicted and come from trauma any more than a cancer patient is to blame for their condition. They are both responsible for doing what they can to get better. Trauma and mental health issues and addiction are a deadly combination. Sometimes the trauma needs to be treated before the person can stop using drugs/alcohol and that treatment just is not available through the public health system due to funding.

Addiction can happen to anyone regardless of their age, race, sex, religion, socio-economic status. It could well be that this poor man on the bus was a successful professional with a wife and family and two cars in the garage just a few years ago.

Unfortunately there is still a lot of stigma out there for mental health and addiction issues. We must look upon addicts with compassion and understanding for their difficult afflictions, not with hatred and judgment.

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