(This is the first in a series of articles addressing drug and alcohol addiction.)

Throughout the month of September, the United States will celebrate the 21st year of National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month, focusing on “spreading the word that addiction is a medical illness, treatment is effective, and recovery is possible.”

A BLUNT—A young male lights the end of a blunt to burn off extra paper on the end so he doesn’t have to inhale it.

The New Pittsburgh Courier will tell the stories that plague the African-American community through the survivors of alcoholism and drug addiction…diseases that are destroying the strong sense of pride instilled within the Black culture. We will tell the story of those who have struggled as an alcoholic or addict…with the hope that by bringing this problem to the forefront of our societal ills, we will make an effort to reach out to a community that is in desperate need of historical solidarity.

To introduce this series, the story of the enabler must be told. Believing that the life of an addict can be placed in their hands and molded to a successful solution proves, unfortunately, to be the downfall of the empowered one…the addicted. The answer lies not in the hands of the problem solver, but solely in the hands of the dependent. However, the road travelled is an uncompromising course for all involved.

Addiction has no social or economic status. It attacks full scale…silently, quickly and without notice. It can touch any home as it moves into every community, be it the ghetto or a tree-lined suburban cul-de-sac. There is no mandate on ethnicity or educational requirements…no age limits or restrictions on one’s background or gender. It does not matter if you are single, married or divorced. It is an illness that does not care if you have babies to love, children to raise or teen­agers with needs. It has been referred to as a silent killer, an equal opportunity employer…and it selfishly opens doors that welcome and consume all prisoners.

In attempts to “help” the addict, the enabler(s) are really providing a course of action that enables the progression of the disease. The enabler merely assists the alcoholic or addict to avoid consequences of his (her) actions, primarily due to the fact that they are on a continuum of “cleaning up” after his (her) unacceptable behavior. It is that objectionable behavior that affects the family, causing the suffering of all involved.

For years, Gwen H. watched her husband struggle with alcohol and drug addiction. “Life,” she states as she looks off in the distance, “is not easy for the enabler or the children of an addict. Although it is not easy for the troubled, addicted soul, our suffering is more intense because their world of forgetfulness through drugs is our world of reality. We live their reality.”

In the beginning, Gwen, who is educated and well-spoken, did not look at her husband as an addict. It was her deep love for him that convinced her she could change him. “How foolish,” she said as she shook her head, remembering the years of frustration. “His drug of choice became his reason for living. Out of 25 years of marriage,” she pauses briefly, still unsure as to why she did not leave, “there were separations, threats of divorce, and unfortunately, only about four years of complete abstinence. Every year was different. Some tolerable…some unbearable.” She is emphatic when she states she “would never recommend this path of life to anyone.” With an anger she claims has softened over the years, “It took over my self-esteem, my peace of mind, and the healthy welfare of my children.”

Throughout their tumultuous life together, Gwen recalled how she and her husband worked and bought a home in the suburbs throughout the many addictions. “We truly loved each other. That I am sure of, but I always remember the old saying, ‘Love is not supposed to hurt.’” She closes her eyes as if taking a step back in time to a place she does not want to return. Together, Gwen and her husband raised three wonderful children who struggled to hide the effects of their father’s illness from her as a form of protection, and from a world that was so quick to judge. Gwen, too, struggled to hide the closed door from the world, but she found herself in a downward spiral completely beyond her control.

Unfortunately, her husband’s drinking became an everyday thing, and it led to a desire to reach higher to unknown heights of euphoria. His path took him from alcohol and marijuana to crack to prescription drugs. She recalls, “The prescription drugs were the answer to his prayers. He learned how to combine the drugs from one doctor with medication from another doctor to attain the high he so desperately sought.” Over the years, throughout this journey, there were jobs lost, blackouts, hospital visits and overdoses. “You name it, I’ve been there,” she states with a noticeable sadness in her eyes.

Her voice trails off as she talks about her husband’s early demise…a result of a combination of toxicity caused by the prescription drugs. “For a long time, I blamed the doctors. I tried everything to get them to stop giving him the prescriptions. Nothing worked. He was an expert, and he knew every name and every dosage. His agenda was to get high, until, one day, he reached a high he could not come back from. It reached his heart and there was no turning back.”

Drug free, he was a genuine caring and wonderful man who loved and protected his family. When he was sober, Gwen knew she could depend upon him and felt the protective nature he possessed. On drugs, he became a man on a mission, embroiled in a world of selfishness, infidelity and self- preservation. His world made his wife angry, self-sufficient and extremely independent. As an enabler, she accepted the responsibilities of maintaining a home and providing for three children who resented their father, and eventually her devotion to him. But they grew up to be responsible adults, although Gwen can still detect the problems that surface from those years of growing up with a drug-addicted parent.

Although she eventually lost respect for her husband, she never lost the love. Her voice and her eyes soften as she remembers when she first fell in love with him. “I knew he would eventually kill himself. He had been on a self-destructive path all his life,” she says sadly, “but I never lost hope that he quit for me…for the kids.” Continuing, she wipes a tear sliding down her face, “But when I buried him, as I looked at him, he no longer looked like the addict. He looked like the man I fell in love with so long ago, and I wrapped him in that love so that I could bury him.”

It is her strong faith that carried her throughout those troubled years. “Unfortunately and with many regrets, I did find peace again. And I truly believe, because of my faith, that the goodness and love he had in his heart,” she pauses as her voice trails off, “I believe that he was finally able to find his peace …without the drugs. But I emphasize,” she says with a strong voice, “ it is not a life I recommend to anyone.”

Gwen H’s husband sought help throughout the course of his addictions. S

he remembers how he tried to conquer his demons, although unsuccessful in his attempts to reach sobriety. But many options are available to those who desire to change their life and the lives of their families.

In celebration of the benefits and progress of substance abuse treatment, the contributions of treatment providers are applauded. Throughout this month, the community is encouraged to improve and expand the availability of treatment to those in need, recognizing that substance abuse recovery is attainable. Each year, treatment programs across the country celebrate the success and education of said programs. These organizations work diligently to transform the lives of thousands, and annual celebrations throughout the month of September are because of their continued success.

Although various treatments are accessible 24-7, 365 days each year, Recovery Month brings this national health crisis to the forefront by highlighting the benefits of treatment through knowledge and education; encouraging understanding and support for treatment programs. In the days ahead, we will examine the effects of recovery through those who have or have not succeeded. We will take a look at the effects of alcoholism and drug abuse within the African-American family and community, with the hope that one in need will ask, one who aspires will knock, and one who succeeds will open the door to a new life.

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