November 10

I watched the latest episode of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. I really like the show because it gives an interesting overview of the places and cultures he visits. Most of the time, he acts like an interviewer, talking and eating with the locals. Most of the time I find myself fascinated by the insider take on cultures or locations because there’s almost always some way my preconceived ideas or biases or assumptions are shattered. Or at the very least, questioned. The episode tonight spotlighted Massachusetts and the area he lived when he was younger. From the outside, it looked like what I imagine Massachusetts to look like: quintessentially charming and coastal. However, the food was secondary in this episode to the drug problem that has become entrenched in the daily lives of the people in Franklin County. It was something Anthony Bourdain had experience with, having been a major drug user when he was younger. It was both interesting and disturbing to get a glimpse into a problem that is at once foreign to me, and yet probably much closer than I realize. I’ve never had the desire to try what I’d call legitimate drugs. My drug of choice is coffee. And alcohol. Yet even then I dislike not feeling in control, so I’ve had relatively few moments of getting too crazy with either. I’m probably luckier than most that way. And thankful for that. There was a doctor interviewed in this episode that stated how a lot of the abusers are people who started out on pain medication for legitimate reasons and ended up addicted. And as most addictions go, it takes more and more of something to achieve the needed high. The main users in Franklin County were middle class white people of all ages, but specifically the younger generation. Too often we assume drugs abusers are people who for some reason have purposely chosen the life of a derelict. But that’s not true. It could be anyone. Unwittingly and unintentionally. Maybe taking medicine for chronic pain. Or for surgery. Or for depression. Or any number of ailments and find themselves unable to live without the panacea that makes their life bearable. I don’t think people begin down that road choosing the inevitable destruction that awaits them if they become an addict. I imagine it must happen either quickly or so slowly that it’s incredibly difficult to be objective to the problem. Either way, it’s tragic. One good thing from the episode was that the townsfolk were working on the issue and not just from a law enforcement side. They were collaborating on ways to address the issue on a larger scale. Someone pointed put that it was really a problem for everyone because it affects everyone somehow. I guess that’s true. So many of our social issues are problems that on the surface seem individual. But when looked at deeper, extend out into society like ribbons unfurling and touching many others. One problem leads to another that leads to another. As John Donne states in Mediation XVII:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

I’m thankful for the reminder.

June 29

A student called me last night on his way to rehab. Unfortunately, it’s not his first time going. I was hopeful that he was back on track; he had been clean for about six months up until a few weeks ago. He was doing well in school and at his student campus job. You’d never guess he was struggling to keep his life in check. It just goes to show you that everyone has a story and you can’t always tell what it is by appearances. By looks alone, he would seem to be one of the fortunate ones: good-looking, intelligent, talented, well-liked. But as is so often the case, looks are deceiving. He confided in me the first time we met; he wanted me to know that he was trying to get his life back on track. He had gone away to school, got into trouble with drugs and alcohol, and came back home to have some accountability. The first semester he was at school here, he did well. The next semester he dropped out to detox. He came back and did well. Now he’s out again. It’s a cycle that must be exhausting and incredibly difficult. And not just for him. His mother called me today. She wanted to make sure he had alerted me that he wouldn’t be back on campus for a while. We had talked the last time he dropped out, and she cried then just as she did today. She couldn’t hide the sadness and anger as we talked about the disappointment in seeing him this way when he has so much going for him. And how frustrating it is knowing that regardless of all of us wanting and trying to help, the battle is his. Ultimately, he has to find it within himself to stay on the path of recovery. I’ve never struggled myself with an addiction, but I know it’s a constant battle, especially when there’s someone in your life who keeps trying to drag you back into it. For him, it’s an old girlfriend who won’t let go. Who doesn’t see the need for him to stay clean. Who, even when he tries to escape her influence, somehow finds him and gets him to slide back into his old ways. My heart breaks for him and his mother. He’s only in his early twenties, but they’ve already been through so much. I hope this time is the one that works. Today I’m thankful he knew he needed to get help.