Addiction isn’t limited to homeless, poor, and the ignorant. Addiction happens in every walk of life. I’ve had some up close and personal observations of addictions among the homeless. The outcome is the same, no matter where it occurs: it is a selfish act that rips the fabric of lives apart. It binds the user into a web that is difficult to unravel, and it puts those who care about the addict into a merry go round of pain, stress, fear, sadness…the list is endless of negative outcomes.
Addiction is defined as the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity….I’ve had an addiction to food and cigarettes. Terrible: I once weighed nearly 310 pounds. I still fight the food addiction with the help of Christ: if I find myself bored, stressed, unsure, I can easily turn to food and eat myself into a feeling of fullness that can be confused with security if I let it. By the grace of God, and only His grace, I have overcome both. Food is an easy access, and for those who are addicted to food, you can eat anything in excess to fill that need.
Alcohol and drugs are the same thing: they fill a need, they make you feel better at some point, but the excessive use is deadly. I watched homeless men and women drink themselves into oblivion day after day. Nothing seems to deter them from abusing themselves. Cheaper booze is used and it gives a fast drunk, but wreaks havoc on the body and liver. Money better used for shelter, or food, or anything better is spent on the habit. Meth and heroin and “tree”-marijuana- are the drugs of choice seen frequently, too. We can crusade to save someone, but until that person recognizes that the choice has to come from themselves, the addiction continues. As Christians, we need to reach out to these people, to help them when they are ready. Trying to help them before they are ready to be helped can be a lesson in futility. I watched one man pull himself up out of his misery and fear, through faith, and day by day, begin to heal. He stopped drinking about four weeks ago. He got a bus ticket from a charity, contacted his sister, and was able to pull himself out of the chaos he was living in among the mangroves. His only habit now is smoking. What did it? He went to a church with some coaxing. He heard music there that touched his heart. He was a musician at some point in his life, and he accepted Christ in his life in October last year, but slipped backwards terribly. The music lifted his heart. From that day, he began his recovery. There were Christians there to help him maintain and move on. There are so many not successful stories. One guy has an infection in his bones. He has been in and out of the hospital at least four times, on and off antibiotics. His pull for alcohol and cigarettes outweigh his need to heal. Once out of the hospital, he doesn’t keep taking the antibiotics. His bones are not healing. He ends up with a fever and dehydration comes from drinking. He knows he needs to get out of the dirt and into rehab. He admits it. He carries a number in his wallet from Maine of a Christian rehab that he wants to go to. The timing of hospital discharges and the connection between finding a way to get to Maine is too long: the pull for alcohol takes over and he loses track of time, doesn’t follow through. It’s painful to watch. He wants it, his faith get weak, and he fails. His failure makes him ashamed, and he drinks more. One young woman has used meth to the extent that she functions like a 13 year old in her decisions. The chemical has destroyed her brain. She uses prostitution to get money to drink or get her hands on drugs. Her mother is in Niagara Falls and wants her to come home. I’ve seen DTs and the sufferer wants alcohol before food. The alcohol fills them up, then they don’t eat. They don’t eat, then they become malnourished. Their systems fail. The cycle is deadly.
Addicts need help to overcome the pull. One older homeless mother worries about her addict son. He lives in a neighborhood where there is constant traffic in and out of his home for drugs. The mother of two of his children died from effects from drugs. The older homeless mother sends supportive texts and emails to her son of encouragement and love, to try to pull him out of his addiction. She prays for him daily, and speaks to him about getting out of his habit through Christian rehab. Even when an addict finally successfully gets themself into a rehab, once they are out they need constant support. Faith in Jesus can carry them through. But lack of faith is just as much a problem as it is in normal day to day functions for those of us who are addicted. We don’t know that He is there is the first place, and the pull of the worldly need can’t be overcome easily. We need to be there for these people, not judging them, not pointing fingers or turning our backs on them. Losing patience with them doesn’t help. For the guy who wants to go to Maine, all he needs is a consistent connection to community support, either from the hospital social workers or from the community services that are often only available once or twice a week with a long line waiting for them. They need HOPE. Just as the Lord helped me overcome, He can help these guys too. And we need to be there to give them a hand up, not a hand out-that breeds shame on their part and the cycle of abuse will continue.