By David Lichter
This issue is dedicated to our chaplaincy ministry to victims and families in the opioid crisis. This is most likely a family and friend issue for many of us. If more than 115 people die from overdoses every day in the United States, it’s touching most of us, at least indirectly. As the National Institute of Health notes, this is a national crisis that affects not only our social and economic welfare, but our public health also. Should we not also consider spiritual health? We appreciate those who wrote for this issue addressing a holistic approach to this crisis.
In my own family, I came to appreciate how subtle and hidden this addiction can be. One older family member in her late 70s, after knee surgery, was prescribed Percocet (oxycodone and acetaminophen). While it helped reduce pain in the short term, it also came to be used for any ailment, from common cold and feeling sluggish to a headache and sleeplessness. She mentioned, “Percocet has been a godsend.” We only learned of this in a passing conversation, months after the knee rehabilitation. It took time for her to recover.
A more tragic example in my extended family ended in the breakup of a marriage in which the husband hid his addiction to painkillers. It resulted in costly auto accidents (dosing at the wheel), loss of job and home, bankruptcy, divorce, and breakup of their family. Only after all of this did he finally get some treatment a couple of years ago. However, his occasional “flu-like symptoms” sometimes prevent him from seeing his children, leaving them disappointed. This signals that he still uses and tries his own detox to wean himself off.
These are just a couple of personal examples. You have many more that tell the toll of opioid abuse.
While we study the effects of opioid addiction, we are also familiar with Bruce Alexander’s 2008 book, The Globalization of Addiction: A Study of Poverty of the Spirit. He uses a much broader exploration of addiction, utilizing resources from Plato to St. Augustine, and many modern thinkers to expose the power of our human appetites and desires on ourselves and those we love. He argues that our society can create a type of “dislocation or poverty of spirit” that contributes to the draw of addiction.
This term dislocation is helpful, as he sets it off from our need for interdependence and integration, for relationships and belonging — a need that makes life meaningful, enjoyable, and productive. Dislocation reminds me of the term “connectedness” in the definition of spirituality by the consensus conference as “the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose, and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature and to the significant or sacred.”
Although painkillers, heroin, or other opioids are powerful, we in the chaplaincy ministry probably realize more than most the insidious and pervasive influence of this poverty of spirit, as a dislocation and disconnectedness that underlies most experiences of addiction. My relative who continues to fight his painkiller addiction certainly continues to experience more profoundly the disconnect from himself, his past, his children, and his life. This is a profound poverty of spirit. Would you find this to be the case with those to whom you minister?
Thank you for your ministry.