Journalist Johann Hari:
It is now one hundred years since drugs were first banned… I set off three and a half years ago on a 30,000-mile journey for my new book, Chasing The Scream: The First And Last Days of the War on Drugs, to figure out what is really driving the drug war… what I learned on the road is that almost everything we have been told about addiction is wrong…
Chasing the Scream is a compelling and highly readable book. It offers a unique historical perspective with fascinating accounts from those he encountered in his travel and research. The author skillfully weaves his story to develop a revolutionary theme – our understanding about drugs and addiction is fundamentally flawed.
Johann Hari shares:
“Human beings have an innate need to bond. Healthy, happy people bond with other humans. But if you can’t do that because you’re so traumatized by your childhood that you can’t trust people, you may well bond with a drug instead.
What I learned is that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety…The opposite of addiction is human connection [my emphasis.] And I think that has massive implications for the war on drugs. Our laws are built around the belief that drug addicts need to be punished to stop them. But if pain and trauma and isolation cause addiction, then inflicting more pain and trauma and isolation is not going to solve that addiction. It’s actually going to deepen it.”
Angie: A Love Song to Heroin?
Given the fantasy lifestyle of fame and the grind of touring and recording, life at the top for a rock star can be isolating. Celebrities can surround themselves with fellow wounded travelers and addicts. In his 2010 autobiography Life, Keith Richards wrote of how he composed the Rolling Stone’s masterpiece, Angie while recoverying from his heroin addiction:
“While I was in the [Vevey drug] clinic (in March-April 1972), Anita was down the road having our daughter, Angela. Once I came out of the usual trauma, I had a guitar with me and I wrote ‘Angie’ in an afternoon, sitting in bed, because I could finally move my fingers and put them in the right place again, and I didn’t feel like I had to s–t the bed or climb the walls or feel manic anymore.”
Richards has shared elsewhere that the song reflects the end of his relationship with heroin and can be seen as a lament at the loss of his deep-seated connection with the drug. Perhaps the poignant and beautiful melody is also a cry for more human and healthy connections in his life. Brings to mind Johann Hari’s comment that “the opposite of addiction is human connection.” Richard’s comments reveal that in the advanced stages of addiction ( though clearly dysfunctional) one can have an obsessive, even passionate love affair with an addictive substance
Abortion and Disconnection
My professional social work career has focused in the last 20 years on helping women and men to find spiritual and emotional recovery after an abortion loss. This experience left them suffering a variety of painful symptoms. One of the common symptoms used to cope with the complicated grief and the confusing feelings and memories of the abortion event, is the abuse of alcohol and drugs (and/or other addictive or compulsive behaviors.)
Johann Hari’s perspective on addiction touches on a foundational aspect of recovery for people with complicated mourning and emotional trauma after an abortion experience. While women and men have different ways of processing emotion and grief, the heart of healing is restoring the connection with the child that was rejected while in the womb. This pathway to healing often requires a treatment process such as the program developed by Dr Theresa Burke, Rachel’s Vineyard.
Rachel’s Vineyard is a unique and very effective healing process that enables the participants to safely access their complex and often toxic feelings about their role in the abortion and feeling powerless and exploited by the experience. Women and men journey through this painful material as they bond with other retreat participants and the leadership team. They find a safe, spiritually positive healing environment, loving support, and people who intimately understand their loss and stories. For the first time they are able to work through the pain, as they travel to what is at the heart of their healing journey – re discovering and re-claiming their connection as a mother or father to their unborn child.
Hari’s addiction perspective on the role of human connection touches on this core issue in abortion of disconnection found in the rupture in the physical and emotional connection with the unborn child in the womb, as well as the isolation and secrecy of the abortion event. This can help us better understand why many women and men would seek solace in drugs and alcohol, or addiction to pornography, work, and other high risk / self-destructive behaviors after an abortion procedure.
Does it not make perfect sense (drawing again from Johann Hari’s addiction insights) that until you find a process to re-connect in love with that aborted child (or children) you will struggle to move away from your relationship with those addictive behaviors and substances and other destructive Shockwaves that can flow from an abortion event? Regardless of your moral, spiritual and political perspective on abortion, unless you understand and accept this foundation healing element (which is naturally challenging for abortion supporters and apologists) you will be limited in helping people fully recover from a painful abortion experience.
In his book Hari points out the failure of the war on drugs and the philosophy of punishment and isolation in addiction treatment, especially of prisoners:
Ironically, the war on drugs actually increases all those larger drivers of addiction. For example, I went to a prison in Arizona — ‘Tent City’ — where inmates are detained in tiny stone isolation cages (‘The Hole’) for weeks and weeks on end to punish them for drug use. It is as close to a human recreation of the cages that guaranteed deadly addiction in rats as I can imagine. And when those prisoners get out, they will be unemployable because of their criminal record — guaranteeing they with be cut off even more. I watched this playing out in the human stories I met across the world…There is an alternative. You can build a system that is designed to help drug addicts to reconnect with the world — and so leave behind their addictions.
Johann Hari’s book offers examples of policies and programs that get better results. This is an important contribution to the addictions field and certainly helps us better understand the relationship of complicated mourning and isolation after abortion loss - and substance abuse. This doesn’t mean the author offers all the answers and solves every complicated problem associate with addiction. But it is well worth reading with an open heart and mind. This is a national and international issue that is vital to our national security and the health and the welfare of our communities, families and to so many wounded people struggling to recover from the challenges of addiction and violence.
Perhaps, putting aside the constrictive and suffocating polarization between liberals and conservatives on this issue, we can begin to seriously re-think the massive expense and destruction that have been the deadly fruit of the “war on drugs.”
It may be even more challenging for our nation to re-think our legalization of abortion in 1973 and look honestly at the real life consequences for many of our fellow citizens.