The other day, I was riding on the subway when I heard a commotion behind me. People started running around in the car, and a young girl slammed into my seat as if she was fleeing some kind of murderous thug. The reason for the panic was a crack-head who had decided to beat up on a young, innocent man who happened to be riding on the same car.
The poor young man who just happened to cross paths with the addict was bleeding from the forehead, but was helped off of the train and seemed to be okay. Physically, at least. I can’t vouch for his peace of mind, or discount any nightmares he might have well into the night.
This incident, though brief, stayed with me long after the train doors closed and we were safely home. I posted about it on Facebook, and the way that people reacted had a lot to do with the way they approached drug addiction.
Those who had either suffered from addiction and then recovered, or who had family members who were in the throes of addiction, were angry. One old friend from grade school posted some searing criticisms, a few of which were unnecessarily personal and vitriolic, and unfriended me.
Many others were in agreement that just because someone is an addict, that doesn’t mean we need to ignore the fact that they are capable of hateful, criminal, destructive behavior that destroys countless other lives. They were sympathetic to the idea that even though we can feel sorry for the abuser (even though many of us refuse to call it a “disease”) it was more important to recognize the pain of the innocent victims, like the young man on that train.
We have a society that is waking up to the scourge of addiction, and that is a good thing. We have programs for those who cannot rip the heavy chains of addiction from their necks, and who fall, and rise, and fall even further even after mountains have been moved to help them. We show concern for the afflicted, even though in many cases that affliction was self-imposed.
In other words, we are a compassionate society that tries to help our loved ones and strangers escape the hell of addiction. That’s good, because the alternative is losing generations to. Not even a heartless, bitter woman like yours truly thinks that is a good idea.
But while we are so concerned with the addicts, let’s also pause for a moment to consider what we owe to those who are the silent victims of the scourge: Families, friends, and strangers whose only crime is being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Frankly, I’m tired of the do-gooders preaching to me to shut up about my anger at these destroyers of peace. I’m fed up with the holier-than-thou masses who shout down at me from their mountains of superiority, giving me lessons in how hard it is to shake an addiction. I’m over the people who keep saying “it’s a disease, dammit!” and plug up their ears when I say “a self-inflicted one, dammit!”
I’m even willing to bow to the experts on addiction and concede that there is some truth to the science of addiction, because I have seen firsthand how normal humans can be biologically transformed into hollow-eyed zombies looking only for their next fix. There is an alchemy there, a change worked upon the body and the spirit by these toxins.
But I’m not going to be silent when I see humans turn into animals and prey on other innocent beings, or bow my head and pray for their redemption. I will pray, all right, that the victim is made whole and brought to a place of peace and safety.
Only then will I have some consideration left over, a few beads on my rosary, for the suffering, victimizing addict. And if that guarantees for me a place in purgatory, or hell, so be it.
Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, and can be reached at email@example.com.