“Most addicts here,” he says, “come with an empty glass inside them; when they take heroin, the glass becomes full, but only for a few hours, and then it drains down to nothing again. The purpose of this program is to gradually build a life for the addict so they can put something else into that empty glass: a social network, a job, some daily pleasures. If you can do that, it will mean that even as the heroin drains, you are not left totally empty. Over time, as your life has more in it, the glass will contain more and more, so it will take less and less heroin to fill it up. And in the end, there may be enough within you that you feel full without any heroin at all. – Johann Hari, Chasing the Scream
Four years ago, maybe longer – this seed feels like it’s been part of my heart for as long as I can remember – I began to imagine a place where people who could not help themselves – the addict, the previously incarcerated, the marginalized – could go to live and breathe and heal. A place where they could be given the gift of time, of space, of quiet, of help, of love, and most importantly – of the opportunity to become familiar with the only thing that truly fills any of our glasses enough: Jesus Himself.
I began to realize what a good, good life I’d been granted and how that privilege had, in turn, affected every decision I made and many of the opportunities I was afforded thereafter. More importantly, I began to realize that most of the rest of the world is not afforded those same opportunities, and that often has nothing to do with their own choices, abilities, or character. This is where a righteous anger, a desire to fight, began to rise within me.
One night, as I was trying to explain my vision to my family, my dad played devil’s advocate (shocker) and asked me, “Yes, but why – why do you think this matters? Why would anyone invest money in this?”
And I got mad. My heart rate increased and I very passionately expressed, “Because I grew up in a home where I was loved without expectation or exception. I was nurtured and cared for and believed in. Success and a path to it was assumed because I had an army around me to help me get there – even if there were mistakes and screw ups – I had an army. I have an army. I’ve always had an army – and that shouldn’t just be for me. We frown and scowl and turn away in disgust when a person can’t pull themselves up and pull their own weight – but we never consider that no one ever told them they could. We never consider that the world is warring against them, and they are alone. They don’t fight because they don’t know there’s a chance of something better, something different. They don’t have an army. Everyone should get to know that they are loved without expectation or exception. Everyone should get to know that they have an army. They just should.”
With that, a familiar smirk of pride and satisfaction slid across his face and my dad said, “Now that I would invest in.”
When I pitch the nuts and bolts of my vision to people, their objections are almost always the same:
- People will take advantage of you. You don’t know addicts. They’re deceitful, and they will do anything to feed their habits. To them I say, I know addicts a little, and I know that out of every ten that we try to help, maybe two will actually want to be helped. But that is two. Two lives, two sets of families, two sets of choices that will spread out like roots across our city, our state, and even our nation. “Two” is worth it.
- The cost of running something like this will be too much. You need to find a way to help more people at one time in order to get solid investors. To them I say say that I’m more concerned about the long-term goal of lives being restored than I am about churning people through a factory that they return to six months later. And also, “two” is worth it. Maybe someone else with a lot of dollars will agree.
It just seems to me that if we take a young person fresh out of rehab or incarceration, and we send them to a halfway house that literally isn’t fit for human habitation; if we slap them with fines they can’t pay and demand they hold a job but also be prepared to show up for random drug testing at any moment of the day – we should probably consider that the stress of it all will drive them right back to the one thing that makes coping more bearable. We should consider that the drug culture, where they are accepted and even valued, is far more appealing than the one we are demanding they be a part of.
I can hear you now – declaring that they got themselves into this mess. Maybe so, but what if the messes you made when you were sixteen landed you in a hole you could never, ever climb out of? What if you were forced to wear your ugly on the outside while the people in charge simultaneously demanded that you get un-ugly?
What if you had made a life full of mistakes and you were only twenty?
What if you’d seen things that haunt you and done things you can’t take back?
What if you believed your worth was small, inconsequential, disposable – because that’s what life had taught you? And someone showed up and asked you if you’d like a home – somewhere you can call yours for a good while. And you said, “Sure,” because what other options did you have? It can’t be any worse than the halfway house with the mattress not he floor and the roaches and rats as bedmates. No worse but probably no better because as far as you can tell, the general consensus is that addicts are worthless.
So you climb in the car and go for a ride, and then you pull up to a clean white house on acres of land – and there’s a plush garden full of bright vegetables and herbs on the side of the house. There are horses in the barn and chickens in the back. And two dogs laze on the front porch.
You feel like maybe you’re being duped because this is better than you ever could have asked or imagined – and you know what you’ve done but the fellow sitting next to you, he just keeps looking at you like he knows what you will do, and like it’s really, really good.
And maybe that’s a best case scenario. Maybe instead, you’re annoyed that this guy thinks he’s saving you. Maybe you’re sick of feeling like a charity case, but you go in and get settled anyway because you don’t really have a choice. And over the days and weeks and months, you are treated like a valuable part of a community. You have a job and this guy expects things of you. He treats you like you are perfectly capable of doing what is asked of you – and over time you find yourself acting like he’s right. He helps you with your legal issues, shows up for your court dates, and drives you where you need to go. He asks you questions about your life, your family, and he laughs with you. He never, ever treats you like you’re any more wounded than the whole rest of the world, and over time you find yourself believing that he just might be right. Most of all, you find yourself curious about the Jesus he knows.
And maybe that’s still a good scenarios. Maybe for every ten, only two actually walk into a better life – but y’all, “two” is worth it.
*If you have any interest at all in the drug epidemic in our country and around the world, go and get a copy of Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari. It will challenge the way you think about addiction. You will disagree with him on some things, but on others you will find yourself uncomfortably faced with the idea that maybe you’ve been thinking about addiction all wrong for your entire life.