Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Perverse Pleasure of Laughing at Addicts

I have a brother who used to have a drug problem. I'm not talking about the socially acceptable kind. I mean the sort of drug that runs the risk of killing you every single time you do it. It took me forever to see it, though.

Like me, my siblings were all, to some extent or another, adversely affected by our upbringing. Some of us have survived relatively intact and others of us are still struggling a great deal. There was a long period of time when my own behavior was so risky that I really am very blessed to have made it through to the other side. I can only call it a blessing because it's more than I can, in good conscience, ascribe to luck. I'm not saying that there's no possibility that I will turn out like some of the people I used to associate with.

Lately I've noticed how much of a thrill many folks in this society get from making fun of or looking down on people with drug addictions. I guess it's just so easy to do. After all, how many people are willing to stand up for someone who "just isn't willing to pull themselves up by their bootstraps" and kick their addiction to substances that they know are harming them? I can't even count how many jokes and quips and skits I've seen that use people with drug addictions as the punchline or as the object of derision. Frankly, I'm downright sick of it.

I understand that a lot of people need to have someone to look down on in order to feel better about themselves but enough already!

Reading an article in the newspaper is what got me thinking about this today. I am very annoyed after reading this article about a woman who nearly burned to death in Michigan. It seems to me that this woman's tragedy is being used as a PSA by the newspaper. Her addiction to nicotine nearly cost her her life. Instead of focusing on how much damage was done to her apartment, they should be focusing on how much damage the cigarette companies have done to people's lives.


Daisy Deadhead said...

After a period of sympathy in the 80s, and near-understanding in the 90s, white suburban "chattering class" types have lapsed back into a certain derision for addiction, thinking they and their families are above it. I'm not sure where this comes from, but I sure have noticed. Maybe the new speed epidemic, and the fact that it tends to be concentrated in poor areas? Cocaine, back in the day, was for the rich and famous as well as for the poor. They were forced, in one way, to care about it.

A very annoying suburban hausfrau I work with (who is only working now to put her son through Yale) unquestioningly parrots the whole "will power" argument about addiction, and I was consequently very sorry I had ever mentioned (in passing) that I had a drinking problem in my youth. It's weird, too--she acts like my ethnic jokes (about myself, okay?) are out of line, and it took me awhile to figure out why: she doesn't believe in any genetic propensity for alcoholism, and most Irish jokes about drinking sort of take that propensity for granted, don't they? She is not Irish and doesn't give two shits about the Irish (and has genuine Calvinist hatred for Catholicism) but acts like the jokes are somehow morally suspect, leaving the "will" out of it. Really, we've had arguments about it.

Although "will" is involved in picking up the first drink, I have to say, there is a point in addiction where physical craving outweighs "will" and you just can't lay it down, try as you might. There is physical dependence involved. I guess they are criticizing the fact that some people never drink in the first place--but this woman DOES drink. She doesn't understand that for some of us, drinking was a dangerous risk the first time we ever tried it, and for her, it wasn't any risk. To her, it is a sign of her superiority, and my inferiority. And I'm sure a degree of ethnic derision is involved there, but she would never admit it. As in the case of your brother. Black addicts are regarded as more low-class than white addicts, as Irish and/or hillbilly alcoholics are more low-class than alcoholics of other Euro-extraction.

Culturally, drinking is so ingrained that most of us cannot even pinpoint when we started, as children. It was the air you breathed... i.e. When did you first eat a potato? When did you first eat a piece of bread? When did you first have a drink of alcohol? Nobody can remember, and one thing we learned in recovery is to stop blaming ourselves for something that was so prevalent in our families and culture, that we did as imitation of those around us.

Sorry to babble, but I have been thinking about these things a long time, and you brought it to the surface. Thanks for the discussion.

belledame222 said...

the "just say no"/DARE crap has taken its toll.

it's also of course not unrelated to racism, classism, xenophobia (drugs are a GREAT excuse for immigrant-bashing!) and so on and so forth.

Lisa Harney said...

This society has rarely treated addiction with any kind of compassion. Because using in the first place is a choice, it's treated as if the addiction itself is a choice. There's a simple refusal to examine why people use drugs in the first place. I believe that getting hooked in the first place has a lot to do with their situation. You take the drugs to not worry about what's going on in your life, or to perform better at something. I've used drugs for both - marijuana and LSD for escapism, and ephedra (which I was addicted to) for performance.

Never mind all the euphemisms for "do you really believe or did you really say that thing?" Like:

* You're on drugs
* You're smoking crack
* You must be stoned

and so on. I'd say they rank up there with the use of "retarded" or "autistic" as slurs.

It's complete garbage, and just reinforces the idea that anyone who is not like you is not worthy of your respect.

Ruth said...

I agree that bashing people and taking cheap shots at people with addictions is all too common. I cover addiction as a topic on my blog - provide information, resources, etc. and get email from addicts who are happy that the topic is covered in a way that's respectful to their experiences. Then I get email from others asking why I include the topic. It's because that kind of support - and your post along these lines - is needed very much to offset the negative "stuff" out there.