Doing Nothing Is A Death Sentence
What an ominous thought! What a tragic notion! The thought of such a statement really makes me mad. What does such a title mean?
Sitting in this office has its moments. Some days are very rewarding. Others can be very frustrating, if not demoralizing. Sometimes people respond positively to my "wise counsel". Sometimes they refuse to follow my "sage advice", only to allow an incurable illness in a loved one go unchecked. That incurable illness, of course, is addiction.
It is a myth that you can't help a person with addictive disease until he or she wants help. Granted you can lead a horse to water but not make him drink. What you can do is lead that horse to water, let him sniff the water, and make him thirsty.
We have an extremely unrealistic expectation of the person afflicted by addiction. We expect a person afflicted with a brain disease, one which precludes the ability to make a rational, life-saving decision about his or her life, to do just that. It just can't happen. The only thing the afflicted person's brain can desire is more of the chemical that is killing him or her.
That's where the affected persons come in. Most of my phone calls (90%) come from affected loved ones: parents, children, brothers and sisters, friends, employers, co-workers, and yes, parishioners. These people are in great pain. Someone they love is being consumed by a substance or behavior which is lethal. Both the afflicted and affected are powerless over this life-threatening disease. What can Erik do for them?
In the late 1960s, a technique to help those who didn't want help, or maybe more accurately stated, those who didn't know how or where to get help, was developed. It was called intervention. Simply stated, a group of the affected, with the assistance of a trained addictions professional, would confront the afflicted person, not only pointing out the problem, but also providing a solution. While not 100% effective, it did offer hope for the afflicted, as well as an alternative to a premature death.
There are some objections to interventions that I have experienced in encouraging this process.
- Intervention is painful and scary. It does take risk. "He or she might get angry at me." "I might get fired." "I don't want to be a snitch."
- Preparation takes time and planning. The problem didn't arrive over night. The solution is not immediate either.
- The affected person(s) need help too. The resistance to seeking help is astounding. "I don't have a drinking problem." "I don't take drugs." "When he or she stops and gets sober everything will be fine." We cannot help another until we experience healing ourselves. And, yes, we have been profoundly affected by the afflicted loved one.
Two statements frequently resonate with me when I pause to reflect on God's calling me to this ministry. One was spoken at Guest House, a treatment center for Catholic clergy and religious suffering from addiction, in an Easter homily in 1983. After reading the Gospel, the homilist solemnly proclaimed, "Rejoice! Today is the alcoholic's feast day." He elaborated on how the alcoholic (or anyone touched by addiction), once in recovery, has been privileged to share in Jesus' passion, death, and resurrection. The journey from sickness to recovery is an intimate sharing in the Paschal Mystery.
The second statement was made by the late U.S. senator Harold Hughes. He said, "Anytime you lie for or cover up for the alcoholic (addict), you are sentencing that person to death." Doing nothing is covering up.
Jesus said. "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." Lying, or covering up, prevents the Way to Life. The Truth is the Way to Life.
More Catholic Columns