We’ve known the man in the above image (Doug) for many years, and have often ministered to him and his needs. He is a homeless drug addict, and he is just one of a myriad of individuals just like him that I’ve done my best to help. His sign reads “Down but not out.” To know Doug is to realize the irony of that statement. Doug gave up a long time ago.
I’d like to open a topic that’s a little different from my normal posts, just this once. So for a moment, allow me to switch hats, that I may share foundational information gleaned from Psychology classes, addiction treatment seminars and experience.
Physical pain is a faithful messenger, heralding a problem that must be addressed. It’s the harbinger of a difficulty which requires action. As infants we quickly learn to avoid pain. It took only once to discover that fire is hot, don’t touch it. Doing the wrong thing gets you a stinging swat on the behind, so do the right thing.
On into our adult lives we are programmed to recoil at the very prospect of physical pain, though most of us have learned how to live with it. These days it is not so much the pain our bodies feel that frightens us. We can tough through that, at least to some degree. Heartache and mental anguish, however, are what is most dreaded. These are far worse and quite difficult to alleviate.
Nobody is alone in this quandary of learning to deal with emotional wounds. Nearly every alcoholic and drug addict has, at the root of their addiction, some mental nightmare from which they hope to flee. So often we find ourselves numbing the pain by travelling down a rabbit hole into a dark world that offers false hope for relief. Some people may abuse sex or become addicted to pornography as a means of feeling better. Some even resort to damaging gossip addictions. Various drugs are a quick trip to an illusory wonderland. There are some who never return from the darkness, because they’ve found false relief. They’ve gone through the rabbit hole and come out the other side to find another world: A place where all their dreams come true, and fantasy becomes reality. To come back means to feel the pain all over again, only then, it is exacerbated. This world of their own making is seen only by them, and outsiders are unable to perceive their blissful paradise. Outsiders see only the reality of a lost soul suffering delusion.
In my mind this points to one glaring issue. It appears to be largely overlooked by various community organizations and agencies who work with at risk youth and adults. Early detection is essential in the prevention of drug and alcohol addictions, and more importantly in teen suicides.
Identifying life situations which activate traumatic emotional response is key to early preventative treatments. Some examples are broken homes, long term illness and many other stressors. Identifying potential markers and learning to recognize early warning signs is mandatory if we hope to offer preventative assistance.
We already know the big issues that lead to these social ills: Broken marriages, single parent homes, long term illnesses, chronic pain, bullying and psychiatric issues are among the top dilemmas which cause young people to seek artificial peace. But there are others as well. These issues activate a response, a need for relief from mental torment. How many teen suicides may have been prevented if a teacher, a counselor or doctor had recognized the key indicators of emotional upheaval and addressed them? Parents also need to be aware. We need more educational programs for parents that teach them to recognize the ‘problem-indicators’. This will help tremendously. Yes, there must be a plan of action in place. Treatment begins through conveying knowledge to the sufferer. The following three very simple, yet key pieces of information is what the potential sufferer needs.
- They are not alone. (There are people who care about them.)
- Others are experiencing the same thing they are. (They must not isolate themselves)
- Help is available. (Any kind of hope is better than no hope.)
These three key pieces of knowledge alone, though they seem obvious to us, are the 3 biggies which cause problems. Do not take it for granted that people know these things. Knowing these can buy enough time to get the person in contact with the right help. And maybe prevent many addictions or suicides. The difficulty is in convincing the sufferer of these truths. Support groups are highly beneficial, and in a group setting, many times the patients come up with alternative plans to soothe what’s going on inside. Isolation is the largest cause of people responding in the wrong way to their intense inner misery.
Questions to consider
What are the signs to look for that a young person may be at risk?
Who do I talk to when I notice someone is at risk?
What help for them is available in my community?
Do I have the phone numbers for help on hand?
Do I care enough to help?
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7