Kudos to TIME magazine for devoting an entire issue to a special report on the opioid crisis in the United States, "The Opioid Diaries." The photographs and accompanying text were disturbing, but that was the point.
To show life as it is, not as how we might like it to be.
I wish there was an easy answer to suffering. But there isn't. It is hard, impossible really, to judge people who, in their quest to relieve their suffering, turn to drugs. Here's an example from the TIME story.
"I got in a car accident and was in the hospital for three or four months. At first, I took it for the pain as prescribed, as needed. I started to like the buzz so I began taking more than I was supposed to. Then a family member introduced me to heroin, and I actually cried at first because I didn't feel any pain. All it takes is one time."
That's the dream almost everybody has -- to find a cure for suffering.
Opioid users seek that cure through drugs. Dangerous drugs, unfortunately, since street drugs are both cheaper and more powerful than prescription opioids, so deadly overdoses are killing thousands every year.
Religious beliefs of various kinds are much safer. But there's quite a bit of truth in Karl Marx's famous observation, paraphrased as Religion is the opium of the people, or Religion is the opiate of the masses.
Like drugs, religion is addictive. I know, because I was hooked on an Eastern guru-centered religion for over 35 years. It was difficult for me to wean myself from the good feelings I got from my belief system.
It didn't take away all of my pains and sufferings, not by a long shot. However, I got a lot of solace from believing that the events in my life had a cosmic meaning, since my guru supposedly was taking care of my karmic account so, as the saying went, "A sword thrust would be reduced to a pinprick."
I also enjoyed the reassurance that death wasn't the end, but rather a beginning. For either I'd be reborn with an opportunity to make further spiritual progress as a human, or enjoy the company of the guru in his divine form in higher spiritual regions of reality.
That's addictive stuff! The prospect of dying and being dead forever is scary. So I read this description by a sheriff of carfentanil's effects (a very powerful synthetic opioid) with a mixture of horror, understanding, and even a bit of envy.
"Unfortunately it's so addicting that if you die, addicts want to go to that dealer to get that more potent compound. It's unbelievable. They're chasing the next best high. They're not worried about dying. It changes your brain chemistry where death doesn't faze you, death isn't a fear anymore."
Well, if there's ever a drug that takes away the fear of death without nasty side effects (like dying), sign me up for a lifetime supply.
Since I'm a recovering religion addict, I know how powerful supernatural belief systems can be. So along with not judging opioid users, I also do my best to not judge people who are using religion to get through life by relieving some of the suffering that comes with being a sentient human being.
That said, I try to use this blog as a form of "tough love" for those who are still in the grip of religiosity. For I've found that even though it is difficult to give up faith in a higher power, the rewards exceed the withdrawal symptoms.
I feel like I'm more in touch with reality now.
I've broken out of the shell of my dogmatism, which I needed to protect me from skeptics who asked uncomfortable questions such as, "How do you know what you believe is true?" I wanted my beliefs to be true so badly, I was willing to ignore anyone or anything that cast doubt on them.
It's tough to face the suffering that is a big part of life head-on with eyes wide open. Like I said, I totally understand why people turn to drugs, religion, or anything else that promises to offer relief. Whatever gets you through the day is a difficult thing to give up.
So aside from the final sentence, which my atheist mind rejects, I like this advice from Angela Davis, a social worker with a facility that cares for opioid-exposed babies.
"If your family member is struggling with addiction, love them. Don't fight them, don't judge them. And for the love of everything holy, pray for them."