This week, a woman lost her life. She was only 25 years old, and had been struggling for years with addiction, abuse, and homelessness.
Although this is about one woman, it is the story of many in our community and beyond. Those who’ve fallen through the cracks; those who have been ravaged by abuse, torment, and mental illness; those who have tried to find ways to cope and whose control has been lost to those efforts.
Her obituary read that she she died “suddenly.” This has been stirring in my head and my heart the past few days. So here I am, compelled to write a post about when “suddenly” isn’t so sudden.
I feel like the word “suddenly” dismisses the strength and determination that she had to survive this long. For at least the last three years that I have known her, her life was a battle. To have this to be negated stirs up feelings of unjust inside me. She was a warrior, standing up for herself the best she could in a life that was far from easy.
I would often see her once every few weeks. Some days she looked like she was doing OK. Besides a body that was emaciated, occasionally you could see a flicker of joy cross her face. Other nights, the pain revealed itself in tears. The physical toll that addiction had taken on her body left her almost unable to walk. And other nights still, she was not around at all. Worry was in the hearts of many as they wondered if she would make it out of the hospital to see another day.
To say her loss was “sudden” is a lost opportunity to talk about the realities of addiction. It makes me wonder why the strength of those who had suffered a “long, hard fought battle with cancer” seems almost to be commemorated, compared to a shame that veils the struggle that someone suffered after a long, hard fought battle with addiction.
Just a day before I heard about this woman’s death, I came across a video from Sustainable Human featuring Dr. Gabor Mate called “The Hungry Ghost Inside Us.” Watch this video. Then, you will understand my current thought process and feelings. People are suffering. It’s a real suffering; an agonizing loss of self. The video also explains how this is about all of us, not just “those people.” And it’s not just limited to those who have turned to hard drugs to cope. I am suffering. Maybe you are, too.
Right now, many people are grieving the loss of this woman. Her family and friends, who remember her from a time before she fell victim to her pain. The community and friends that have witnessed her decline and offered support and love as the stronghold of addiction continued its course. My heart breaks for her and for everyone.
I started to cry as I told Chad how upset I was that her obituary seemed to dismiss her strength and struggle. He is always my voice of reason and said that often times they don’t state how someone died – and that the family has the right to maintain dignity in such a situation.
I know this.
But my plea is that we need to talk about addiction. Not in terms of the “war on drugs.” Government policy and curbing crime is doing nothing to support those who are suffering. What we need to start talking about is how to actually help people heal their traumas.
There are so many people hurting. If you are one of them, I pray you are able to get the help you need to heal.