By a Fourth Generation Puget Sounder
In my 30 years of living with an addict, the hardest struggle for me was the erroneous general perspective that addiction was a “personal problem” for the addict only. What a very small, narrow-minded perspective to take! I know my son and I are still dealing with the impact that addiction, dishonesty, and trust had on our lives, as are my husband’s friends, employer, and the community at large.
There is a saying in the addiction community that every addict will impact 6 other people in their addiction. I know you can tell yourself that “this is a relatively small number” and because you personally don’t know an addict, it will never affect you; however, as a community, we can no longer fool ourselves into believing we are not being affected in Burien by addiction. Our streets are full of struggling addicts! Whether it is due to drugs alone, or alcohol, or dual issues, we can no longer ignore the “personal problems” we see living on our streets. We daily see street people stealing in local stores, and nothing is done. There are some hard truths we need to face, and some difficult decisions ahead for all of us. What do we as a community feel needs to be done? Is our town council hearing us?
Addiction is not a choice, but it is also not a disease according to the American Psychiatric Association. It had been called a ‘disease’ to remove stigma, moral guilt, and shame, and facilitate insurance coverage (according to “Psychology Today”). According to the study ‘Addiction and Moralization’, it is described as “beyond one’s conscious control, and without regard for one’s rational judgment.” Read those words again. An addict is not rational, and takes little responsibility for the damage they create. An addict’s moral values are skewed because they must feed their addiction. As their value system breaks down there is a great deal of shame involved. That shame makes the addict guilty, which then makes them dishonest; lying is easier than taking responsibility for one’s actions. And the cycle goes on. That shame and guilt are an impediment to getting well; without honesty, an addict cannot address the problem and get well. By allowing an addict bad behavior we are just continuing the cycle of addiction.
The recovery from addiction takes treatment, responsibility, and self-awareness. Shelters give them somewhere to feed their addiction with others like them. Treatment gives them back their honesty, dignity, and a chance to regain a place in society. Studies show that 70 % of alcoholics who stay engaged in treatment for at least 1 year will achieve lifelong sobriety, and with drugs addicts the recovery rate after 1 year of sobriety is 50-60-%.
From the outside, looking at the addiction, it feels so hard to know what is right. You want to love them through, and help them to see their worth. The hard truth of addiction is you can be there when they hit bottom, to help pick them up and take them to treatment. That is all you can do. Verywellmind.com says it well: ”People with addictions rarely change until the addictive behavior begins to have consequences. While you might want to protect your loved one, resist the urge to try to protect someone with addiction from the consequences of their actions.”. Feeling sorry, putting a roof over someone’s head, allowing drug-filled encampments, allowing people to steal with no consequence isn’t mercy; it isn’t kind; it isn’t the bottom. It is part of the problem. Be honest with yourself, Burien, and stop enabling the homeless by giving them shelter…get treatment programs in place instead!
If you need help, please navigate to one of the resources below: