Our Lack of Empathy for Addiction


Last weekend I had a dose of reality that once upon a time would have had me reaching for the Ben & Jerrys. Not a nice little portion, but a pint that I would have drained. This wasnt a moment of hardship, sickness or death, just one of those times in life that triggers anger and disappointment.

Unfortunately, these kinds of moments are a cue for most of us to numb with our drug of choice whether it be food, alcohol, sex, TV, cocaine, cigarettes, anti-depressants, or something else when we should actually be feeling our way through it. Expose it to the air. Cry. Create. Release.

No one does that 100% of the time. The idea is to shoot for the majority of the time. On this occasion, I didnt even have the fatty-food urge. Such a victory, I cannot even express the satisfaction. It almost was enough to wipe out the anxiety-producing occurrence that set it off.

Yet I am fully aware that this is one time, one emotional battle, one triumph. There have been setbacks and there will be more challenges every day. A professional helped me see that theres a difference between really wanting to enjoy some Pringles and reaching for them mindlessly because I feel horrible about something going on in my life. My first conscious moment of living this was a day a number of years ago when a breakup had me front and center staring at an ice cream case, but I took the time to think and picked up a bouquet of flowers instead.

All of this is in the forefront of my mind lately because you can hardly flip on the television, scan social media or read the latest news without someone taking pot shots at addicts and addictions. Yet we are overrun with people struggling in one or more behaviors that are replacing feeling with numbing. Do the math the addicts are ripping on the addicts.

Is schadenfreude the god-awful trendy addiction of our time?

Piling on, snap judgments, dismissal, and black-and-white thinking have replaced compassion, understanding, reaching out, and any semblance of nuance. Instead there is glee at putting another down. Even bleeding hearts that feel deeply for the disenfranchised have no problem throwing out the word fatty and dont hesitate to vilify the overweight.

But it doesnt stop there. Far from it. The death of singer Amy Winehouse last weekend opened a discussion about addiction and like so many before, it seems hung up in semantics around the word disease and whether addiction is in that category. But, outside of medical circles that require such classification, is the label even useful or relevant? Im talking about base level humanity here.Why would a person be strung out, over-weight, blazing through his bank account, alienating loved ones or filling her lungs with tar if addiction wasnt powerful and consuming? Certainly some of these put others in jeopardy and some are more damaging than others, but they all have enough in common that most of us could eke out a little empathy, no?

If you werent a fan of Winehouse, why feel the need to get in the mix with negativity? What are you gaining from that? Some kind of moral superiority? Or does it make your own woes seem less painful for a few minutes to revel in someone elses misfortune? Besides, those who simply look at addiction as someone exercising a choice are showing their own lack of depth and tolerance.

Our media though is more interested in tragedy than talent, so the ink began to defect from praising [Winehouses] gift to chronicling her downfall, Russell Brand wrote in a moving blog post published on TMZ.com last weekend.

A recovering addict himself, Brands thoughts drew much support but also brought out the knee-jerk responses dismissing Winehouses life and talent because she consistently struggled with substance abuse. Admittedly not familiar with Winehouses music myself, I was captivated by Brands description of the first time he saw her perform.

& A voice that was filled with such power and pain that it was at once entirely human yet laced with the divine, he wrote. My ears, my mouth, my heart and mind all instantly opened ...That twerp, all eyeliner and lager dithering up Chalk Farm Road under a back-combed barnet, the lips that Id only seen clenching a fishwife fag and dribbling curses now a portal for this holy sound. So now I knew. She wasnt just some hapless wannabe, yet another pissed up nit who was never gonna make it, nor was she even a ten-a-penny-chanteuse enjoying her fifteen minutes. She was a f**king genius.

She was here and now she isnt. She passed through. Her addiction doesnt negate her gift or her personhood.

I admit criticism, sometimes even the constructive kind, makes me crazy. Thats why I was so intrigued by the Dalai Lamas recent appearance on the Australian edition of Master Chef. Despite being there as a guest judge, he wouldnt render a judgment. Or maybe he did, in his own way.

As a Buddhist monk, it is not right to prefer this food or that food, the Dalai Lama said, according to Reuters.

Certainly intelligent critique is necessary for elevated discourse and has its place in our society. During Howard Sterns recent interview of Lady GaGa, he challenged her in a frank discussion on this.

I think nobody should judge anyone, GaGa said.

In the course of the discussion, Stern said, You dont judge anyone? and further making his point later, added, You do judge. You are a great judge of talent.

I have a technical expertise in music, GaGa said. And I can listen to music and be objective and be critical and all sorts of things. But I think its wrong as a singer and as a public figure to put other people down.

Alleluia. Lets get addicted to that.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.