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No shame in addiction

There is no shame in addiction, or any other disease.  Though our reaction to disease and injury is naturally one of many kinds of disgust, motivated out of unthinking instinct to avoid what might harm us, it is easy enough to overcome this.  And when we become aware of how our family, friends, coworkers and neighbors suffer, developing sympathy and empathy for their suffering, we, too, instinctually suffer - whether or not they may transmit that disease to us, or otherwise injure us.  We suffer with them out of a different, and conflicting, instinct not to avoid our own harm, but to alleviate their suffering in altruism.  This other instinct must be observed: because, as much as there is an instinct to avoid what might harm us, there is also that instinct to help, motivated out of both sympathy and empathy for the one who is hurting, and the conflict between these two instincts is yet another cause for distress.

Relieving this inner conflict requires understanding neither of these instinctual reactions of empathy or sympathy, nor even the instinctual disgust with which they alternate, are naturally conducive to our duty, our interests, our Dharma.  Feeling any of these, we lack compassion - and compassion is what is required.  This compassion is developed not by feeling, but by rationality.

By rationality, not instinct, true compassion can be cultivated, and Dharma accomplished.  There is danger in the cowardice borne of disgust - quite as much as there is from the pity borne of empathy, or the callousness borne of sympathy.  Shame is caused through our pity, disgust and callousness, and we should not have those who suffer addiction, or any other disease or affliction, even poverty, suffer shame additionally - especially since shame is not conducive to their recovery.  We should do what is conducive to recovery, not what is unuseful - or even harmful.

Consider, there is an instinct to hope for their recovery - and to despair they will never recover.  But instinct is not always wrong: it is rational to hope for their recovery.  Though medicine and nursing do not always result in recovery, it is because they sometimes do that they are administered.  Hope is not necessary to the administration of medicine: only the rational understanding that there is an opportunity for recovery which should not be ignored.

Similarly, it is not necessary to diminish our capacity for empathy and sympathy, or even disgust, or to do away with them entirely.  No sacrifice is required to take hold of rationality.  We need not do away with any emotion, or instinct; it is enough to feel their discomfort, and simply be unmoved.  Our actions must be governed by reason, and choice - to the extent that they are involuntary, and unuseful, they should be minimized.

Consequently, while it is easy enough to contemn those who arrive at work exhausted from a night of drinking, tobacco, marijuana, or video games, or any number of intoxicants, or to feel pity for them when at last their disease matures into incapacity or death, understanding these coworkers do not choose to remain ill, or choose not to recover, illuminates weakness as the cause of their present disease.  Willing, but unable, they will not benefit from our condemnation or pity; nor will our own disgust with addiction or illness sufficiently protect us from a similar fate.  No one chooses to be sick, and may still become so even after precaution and prudence.  Not our coworkers, nor friends, nor family.  We ourselves do not choose to be sick.

It is better, should you be overcome with contempt or pity, to consider the strength of will in these athletes as they wrestle themselves daily, and though daily defeated, determine to fight again.  Admire this willpower.  They lack only strength - and adequate training.

Then consider, do you have strength to lend, can you support them and free them from that oppression?  Can you gain the medical skill, the resources, the ability necessary?  If you don't and can't, by trying to rescue them you risk merely following them into that hell and becoming captive yourself, and also requiring rescue.  Understand that feeling their pain does not take it away from them.  Not any more than shaming them and attacking them gives them the strength they lack.  If you lack the strength to rescue them and share in their victory, it is all you can do (and enough) to support them with friendship: share in their defeat so they may at least be comforted.  Such friendship is in fact the very source of strength which is required, and one which you have in sufficient abundance to safely share.

Consider, you have withstood what overcame them.  Do not deprive them of the opportunity to share in your victory.

Consider all those around you, overcome by emotion: anxiety, depression, anger. Consider those overcome by poverty, those overcome by all the many forms of distress.  Remember they are also your friends.  Once healthy and strong, as you are; now as you may yet become.  Understand the injuries that brought them here.  It is time to share in their defeat, and to grow stronger together - that they may share in your victory.

And if it is you who is suffering, find your strong friends - do not feel pity for yourself, or disgust for yourself. Do not feel jealous of the victories of others. You may share in the victory.  Because we are all fight, opposed to addiction and other disease, and all forms of distress.  You are not alone.