An unlikely place showed me something more beautiful and profound than the sunrise this morning. It happened at a drug rehab. I was helping a friend who fell into heroin's trap - after three years clean.
Her hands and face were clammy, eyelids drooping from exhaustion, and her speech was slurred. Not a pretty sight with one exception. Shining through these unpleasant withdrawal symptoms was the willingness to reclaim her life. She didn't know what the future held, but she wanted to admit herself to the treatment center. Sort of. Maybe not as much as she wanted to watch the morning news with a cup of coffee, before going to work as the responsible parent of a beautiful daughter.
She knew she was where she needed to be for a life that resembled normal again. She was now staring down temptation and choosing the pain of withdrawal. She knew pain sometimes meant life. As she fumbled in her suitcase to give me what wasn't allowed behind the double doors at the end of the former monastery's hallway; I witnessed something that figuratively brought me to my knees.
A young man, in his mid-twenties, was also being admitted. He sat in the corner chair alone, disheveled and distraught - sick as all hell. Slumped over, he stared at the floor, either still high or in withdrawal from whatever wanted the better of him. It was hard to tell which. His wet hair, or greasy hair, hung in his face. His stained shirt tried like the dickens to tell the story of the night before, and his face screamed nausea.
Shame enveloped him. In fact, he smelled like it. His upper body slowly threatened a fetal position while, simultaneously, attempting to sit upright. Essentially, he was motionless - accompanied by the occasional sigh that assured him he was still breathing.
Meanwhile, a woman I assumed to be his mother scurried about him, handling paperwork, arranging his luggage, and signing papers. Every minute or so, she'd glance in his direction.
Each time her eyes saw him, her expression changed. She wore a pained scowl, but when her eyes landed on him, the scowl changed to that look of mother love. It said, "I'd take this hit for you but love you enough to know I can't. You're on your own this time, boy of mine."
This is the deepest form of compassion and empathy we know. The inability of a mother to protect her young or guard him from pain is close to torture.
Admission was complete, and she approached him with a look that said it's time to go. His head hung like lead in both hands, his body limper now. I couldn't help but imagine what happened during the last 18 hours. It had been life changing. For both of them. Even if they didn't get its impact quite yet.
I ran inpatient rehabs in the eastern region for a large hospital corporation once upon a time, and owned an inpatient treatment center in the ski resort of Sun Valley, Idaho. I'd witnessed this many times before. My memory flooded with powerful scenes as I recalled these threshold moments for families. I could comfortably guarantee most would never be the same - hopefully, better. Much better. And, at the least, their family would grow from the inside out if they showed up emotionally. Since the teacher appears when the student is ready - this parent and child would understand in due time. Today was not the day.
He was not a handsome kid. Not this morning, anyway. Likely smart though, brainy even. I guessed electronics whiz, or a gamer. Popularity didn't seem his strong suit. Fitting in was probably unfamiliar. Perhaps opiates had a hand in remedying this. Or alcohol.
My bet was on opiates.
Opiates are rampant. This interloper has tragic consequences for families and communities everywhere. Not a day passes that someone doesn't tell me of an opiate struggle. Opiates are our homegrown, homeland terrorists. We sweep them under the rug every chance we get, hoping they stay across town. But opiates can't be swept. Its threat lurks on every front lawn, in every upscale neighborhood, high school bathroom, and stay-at-home mom's purse in every town of every state. It prowls. And, somehow, we remain distanced from it - until it's in our living room. Like a thief in the night, it steals our children out from under us. And worse, our chances in this battle to win our children back are not in our favor.
Shame silences it too. If it's your kid, you might keep it quiet to avoid tarnishing your child's reputation - or as damage control to squelch rumors you're a bad parent. You get help and hope for the best. If it's a neighbor's kid, we hope the addict goes far away for a long time so our own children are protected from their influence. If it's a relative, perhaps we're more compassionate and give them space to work through this hard time. Or, if we're really honest, do we keep them at arm's length because it's uncomfortable and awkward? Plus, just the word heroin scares us. In other words, do we distance ourselves just enough to avert anxiety because it scares the hell out of us - and because we hate anxiety? This has a serious unintended consequence.
By not embracing and engaging with the issue in general, or mobilizing with the community to prevent it, we are completely unprepared when it strikes.
And it could.
I don't want to induce fear, but I do pray for a collective wake up call. This problem is taking all of us hostage, whether we're in avoidance or denial.
It is killing our children - and destroying their lives.
Are we the first to wave the flag and write a check when a new veterans center is proposed in town? Does helping vets deal with PTSD feel like a more worthy cause, even though our tax dollars already provide significant help? Even 45 years after the fact. Don't get me wrong, I fully support these efforts and am personally involved in starting one - right now. But why aren't we equally concerned and compassionate about our children and this homeland terrorist that is killing our boys and girls right here at home, one by one? Is giving money or time to the local rehab or providing more resources and research to treat this problem effectively not nearly as interesting or inspiring? Or popular?
Do we really believe addicts aren't worth it? Why is that? Because they picked up a needle? Because they knew a dealer? Do we assume they must be 'bad' kids, or they're weak, or worse yet, a bad influence on the community? Really?
Isn't this similar to what Eve did? Women have been blamed and banished from churches for two thousand years as a result of biting an apple. Imagine if it had been a Cosmo. Where did this get us? Further ahead? I think not.
Ignoring women in church has not gone well. Not at all.
And what if your child gave her the drugs? Maybe they are lucky or smart enough not to get caught, or at hiding their habit. Or, perhaps this mother was paying more attention than you are. It IS possible.
Do not assume it can't be you.
It can be.
His mother walked toward him across the cold linoleum floor, putting her arms gently around his shoulders in a warm embrace. His head lowered even more. His eyes hadn't looked away from the floor since I arrived.
He was defeated. It's been a long time since I'd seen defeat this deep and dark. It coursed through his veins and out his eyes, as if vibrating from his soul.
He was as broken as a human being could be.
His brokenness was even more visible because he was clearly aware of its depths. His guilt of what this was doing to his parents written all over his face. He knew exactly how disgusting he was at the moment too. His sense of self had been annihilated. Torn to bits and dissolving before his eyes.
A guttural sound came out of nowhere. My eyes met hers as she held him, she broke down sobbing. But something was different. Her head was above his and out of his sight. I thought I saw a tiny smile surface. It was ever so subtle, but distinct nonetheless. Her tear stained cheeks gave contrast to this slight glimmer peeking out. Then she let out a gut wrenching cry and something unexpected happened. The smile worked its way into her eyes. Eyes, that moments before, had been consumed with fear, disappointment, and loss.
Fear was transforming to hope before my eyes.
She had surrendered her ability to help him. She'd given her fear, guilt, and the need to fix it to a power greater than herself. Whether that power was God as she understood God, or to the professional staff at the rehab, I can't know. But I knew one thing.
Her act of spontaneous surrender had opened up room for hope to move in.
His total defeat and brokenness on full display beside her authentic surrender, love, and hope was absolutely amazing. Such powerful imagery in three dimensional, real life. Humanity at its best. It was also rich with symbolism, yet as authentic and raw as life can be. I was experiencing this surreal moment as a spiritual experience. Everything is holy now. Even withdrawal and heroin.
This manifestation of the human condition mirrored every human being, every family system, and everyone's interior life on this planet.
The moment that breeds rebirth. The moment dreams are born of and butterflies emerge from.
The falling leaf from an oak tree in fall steps into a full waltz with the exact millisecond a sprouting plant explodes through the ground in spring. These two people bound by genes, love, and years met two of the most powerful human truths at the same time, in the same experience. It was life itself manifesting through humanity. The art of surrender and brokenness is the place where miracles happen. This was transformation alive.
It may sound strange, but this is what being a Christian should look like from my perspective. That's what Christ did. We have to be all in. No matter what.
This very contrast that invites the raw and dirty truth of our soul into the dance of life that revels in the holy, happy mystery of life. We are most alive when we're living the grit and the glory. This is exactly the path when we live with the clear intention of becoming fully alive.
It is to recognize and hold death, every kind of death, in one hand; while holding resurrection in our other hand.
This creative tension; of knowing we will rise up; holds during the process of dying - as we dive head first into our inner prisons or what wants to break us. This experience and process drives humanity forward, and us deeper into being and becoming.
Are we ready to embrace each other and our addictive natures, our tempted selves, our collective imperfection and engage in a stare-down with our own dirty secrets, and this societal threat and the stigma that follows it? Do we have the courage to be honest with ourselves, and do everything we can to stop the greater threat to our kids? If my friend can do it, we can too. Hell, we just have to stand and stare. She had to get sick as hell to ward it off.
We can do this. For her and the millions of families and addicts out there alone and stigmatized. And while you're at it, go hug an addict who's clean and tell them how freaking proud you are of them. Then go hug an addict who's not clean, and tell them you'll be in the trenches with them, sick and dirty if necessary - when they're ready. Tell them they will not be alone. Or shamed. Or stigmatized. Show them what love looks like. And don't enable them. Love calls bull shit when it sees it too.
While you're at, release your own shame, stigma, and secrets. They don't help anyone, especially not you. Become fully alive. Those who are supposed to be there after will be. Plus, it will better prepare you to help others.
This is not religious talk.
This is the language of aliveness.
Aliveness is the outcome of transformation in all its glory.
Soon both young people went through the looming doors at the end of the monastery hall. I felt a familiar, tiny smile appear as they stepped through the threshold into the possibilities that await them.
Hope was alive.