Pain and addiction
He was barely twenty and was wearing a stylish polo shirt. He appeared confident and mature. I was interviewing him for his addiction to heroin. He was found passed out in his car in a parking lot after shooting up with an elixir of different types of opiates he had gotten hold of.
“When did you start using, and why?” I asked.
“Oh, about a year ago. I just wanted to reduce my pain,” was his response.
“Where is the pain?”
“It’s the pain of life, Doctor. I am always uncomfortable.”
“How did you get into IV drugs and heroin type of drugs?”
“Oh, I tried different things but none of them took the pain away like these pain drugs.”
“Did you see a doctor for your life pains?”
“Yes I did, and tried a few antidepressants, but none of them worked like what I found on my own.”
“What were the consequences of your use?
“Well, I dropped out of life, and got involved in the criminal world to support my habit. I stopped most of my relationships, was fired from multiple jobs, and dropped out of community college. I have many criminal charges for theft, assault, possession and other stuff.”
I felt a sense of overwhelming sadness sweep over me as this young man’s story was repeated with minor variations in four other patients that afternoon. I had pulled a back muscle the night before and was feeling pain and discomfort of my own.
The rate of depression and addiction to opiates is at all time high, especially with our younger population. No one has really pinpointed the cause. The availability of opiates has been particularly deadly as it blocks, numbs and kills the pain like no other chemical. This also leads to severe addiction, deadening of the soul, and a total alteration of what is to be human when not monitored by a skillful prescribing physician.
Could it be that we have become intolerant of experiencing and being with pain? Could it be that our cultural bias of ‘happiness at any cost’ and shunning of pain be it psychic or physical has conveyed the wrong message to our newer generations? Could it be that the diminishment of inner spirituality and the bankruptcy of the houses of religious dogma have left our youth frustrated and in search of escape routes from this reality as we know it? Could it be the materialist philosophies now so in vogue have ignored, denied, and shunned the concept of an immaterial soul in all of us that can develop resilience and grow stronger in face of pain of life and being?
These are not merely academic questions as they are the critical dilemmas at this point of our collective history. All our attempts to prevent and treat addictions, although well intended and necessary, will fall short if we don’t address the uniquely human condition of pain first.
One hundred years ago, in a series of talks in Paris, a spiritual teacher who had faced the bitter pain of persecution in his own life told us:
“If your days on earth are numbered, you know that everlasting life awaits you. If material anxiety envelops you in a dark cloud, spiritual radiance lightens your path. Verily, those whose minds are illumined by the Spirit of the Most High have supreme consolation.”
~ Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks