There is an event going on next Sunday titled “Memorial Silence For Those We Lost to Addiction”. It is one I am happy to plug and support as it resonates strongly with my own story, and has prompted me to write something (this article) which (I believe) is pertinent, as well as personal and painful.
Remembering can be a good thing. I come from a tradition whose most important activity was to, each week, remember the death of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Communion service. Each year, we as a nation, remember those who died in war in order to secure the freedoms we now enjoy and often take for granted. Each week, I learn of the death of someone who I knew but, because of Covid restrictions, we cannot remember in the normal way. Right now, many out of righteous indignation remember those who have died, principally because of their race. I remember those who recently died because of their faith. We remember all sorts of things. Remembering brings out many emotions, positive and negative.
Remembering is a personal thing and what and who we choose to remember, and how we do so, will obviously vary. So I come back to next week’s event, for since becoming a homeless activist some fifteen years ago, I can remember many (I exaggerate not) larger than life characters who “we lost to addiction” and before their time. The courteous chap who hanged out under the railway bridge who I had meaningful philosophical conversations with, the sweet lady (and there was more than one when I think about it) who managed to disrupt the night shelter I was managing, and the lovely (and I’m not being ironic) chap who I had to evict from the night shelter on Christmas day who was upsetting other guests, who later died on the streets. Then there is a least two who died and I later received flak from their relatives after paying my respects to them online, because, among other things, of their denial. The common factor in all these cases was addiction of one sort or another, typically drugs and alcohol, even though there are many other forms – sex, gambling, etc. Every year, there will be a list of those who I knew, who died, linked to my homeless work and their addiction.
Some will enquire: why this interest? There is a personal angle and no, I am still not ready to share what that is. Whether I ever do, remains to be seen and I don’t feel bad either, knowing as I do the darker side of saints and pillars of the community and the church and we are all sinners and what really matters (and I will get back to this) is the grace of God. But I will tell a story, and by reading it you may get insights (but don’t jump to conclusions). Hardly a day goes by when I don’t think about my dad who died before his time, in a road accident, over forty years ago. I loved my dad, warts (and there were many) and all and he gave a lot to me and this is my tribute. For most of his adult life, he was an alcoholic or recovering alcoholic, and I am still figuring out why this was so. In many ways he died unfulfilled and by his behaviour he had a more than a passing impact on our family’s lives, but at least his championing of the underdog is part of his legacy I am able in a small way to take on.
Causes and cures are something we can discuss way into the night and still not agree, along with the chicken and egg question: what comes first and what do we tackle first or matters of approaches like bio-medicine and psycho-therapy? I am talking about mental health and (whatever) addiction. I am also talking about the tragic revolving door syndrome that I continually see first-hand, when I meet up with my homeless friends. If we don’t crack it (and humanly speaking, it is an unsurmountable challenge) we will see people in and out of recovery and ending up like those we are remembering.
So now to the “Christian” bit – what else do you expect from a gospel preaching, community activist? It is written “for the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” John 1:17. The Law (of Moses) was a good thing because it told the Jews (God’s chosen people) and anyone else who wanted to join them, how they should live, although without giving them the power to keep the Law (and all too often they failed). The grace and truth that came with Christ are even better. Among other things – it is Truth that sets us free! As for grace, it is that which saves us, not just from Hell but from our whatever addictions. But I will leave the last word with a recovering addict, John Newton (1725 – 1807). His hymn, “Amazing Grace” is much loved and sung regularly the world over: