Making Sense of the Senseless

teenager-drug addictsphoto © 2003 Artem | more info (via: Wylio)
As many of you are aware, my 22 year old nephew died last Thursday.  While we do not have the full details, we are fairly certain substances were involved.

I spend my days in the streets of the poorest neighborhoods where I see substances stealing the lives of people on every corner.  While some are still breathing, their life is no longer their own.  I guess in some ways I have rationalized the insanity of substance abuse in impoverished communities by seeing it as an escape from the hopelessness that is so pervasive in these neighborhoods.  However, the events of this past week, the loss of a young man who had everything to live for, have sent me reeling. I am on a quest for answers to this epidemic that extends into every corner of our society.

We are in the process of conducting a survey in our Hillside community and one of the questions that we are asking residents is, “If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about your community in the next year, what would you change?”  I am crystal clear on what I would change.  I would eliminate all substances from the face of the earth.  In my world 90% of the pain and suffering I see is caused by substance abuse.  The thing that is hardest for me to deal with is just how insane it all is: people losing their lives senselessly.  While I am dealing with emotions of grief this morning, I am also wrestling with a lot of anger.

Through my work at Embrace, I tend to encounter people who have lost years of their lives to substances and countless family members.  Our team helps people put their lives back together.  But if we could stop young people from falling into this hellish pit in the first place, we would save lives and prevent so much suffering.  In lieu of flowers, my sister asked me to find a program that was effectively preventing substance abuse in her area.  I did some research and could only find drug treatment programs.  I started thinking about Richmond and could only think of effective drug treatment programs.  I am sure there are great prevention programs out there, but I am not aware of them.

I apologize for the random nature of this post.  I am sleep deprived, distraught, discouraged, angry, and confused today.  Can you help me make some sense out of any of this?  Below are the questions I would love answers to.

1.)    Why are so many people in our society abusing substances?

2.)    Are there effective programs out there that prevent substance abuse?

3.)    If you were to design a substance abuse prevention program, what would it look like?

Please keep my sister and her family in your prayers. She has vowed to use her pain to help save other young people and I want to support her in that quest.


Filed under Personal Reflection, Stories from the Street, Urban Ministry

11 responses to “Making Sense of the Senseless

  1. Ashlee

    Dear Wendy,
    I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your nephew. It reminds me of death of one of my best friends in another senseless act, the Virginia Tech shooting. I recall asking God, not so much why did this happen, but how do I move forward? The most comforting realization that I had was that God is still God even in the worst circumstances.
    I think people abuse substances for partly the same reason that Cho Seung-Hui killed 33 people. They are in a lot of pain internally, but they don’t know how to release it. Although it is the typically answer, I think dialogue is one of the best ways to help people vocalize their frustrations. Some of the deepest conversations that I have had with people occurred at Allies Institute sponsored by the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities. They host an intensive four day retreat that encourages college students to talk through the issues in their life. It helps you to realize that no one’s life is perfect and that everyone is struggling with something. I think knowing that other people a fighting the same battles that you are helps people to feel less isolated and less tempted to find a destructive way to vent their anger.

    • wmccaig

      Ashlee – Thanks for your comments. As I suspected there are many reasons underlying the epidemic of substance abuse in our society but from what I have gleaned so far, the best response comes in the form of personal, relational, authentic relationships.

  2. Qasarah

    Wendy, this morning during the staff meeting I was led to pray that God make sense of the senseless for you and your family. Then I saw your blog post. Know that God hears your cries and feels your pain. In my experience of people who abuse any substance – whether “legal” or “illegal” – are trying to fill some void, avoid some pain/hurt/anger, substituting a physical feeling for spiritual relief/deeper healing. One of the best prevention “programs” may be as Ashlee stated – honest dialogue, truth telling and authentic relationships.

  3. Beth

    Wendy, this is such a heart wrenching time for you all. I can’t tell you enough how sorry I am. But I also admire your strength for Cindy and Alan. You are a wonderful sister.

    While I agree that substance abuse fills voids or camoflauges hurt and in some instances, helps to self medicate metal diseases, I can’t help but go back to my high school and college days. I did some pretty stupid stuff. I don’t think that I was trying to mask any pain I was suffering; I just think I was trying to fit in with the crowd I thought was cool and also, in part, trying to fight off the utter boredom growing up in our little small town. It started out with that sip of beer or wine cooler at a pasture party my freshman year in high school and then escalated into drinking so much that I didn’t remember or pass out. Flash forward to college, where I was out on my own with no parental control or my genuine GOOD friends to talk me out of doing the wrong/stupid things and I was expermenting with illegal drugs. It was only when my college roommate overdosed on ecstasy one night that I swore off drugs all together. I was so stupid!!! But I was also so very lucky that it never snowballed into a full blown addiction. Most people aren’t that fortunate.

    I don’t know if anyone could have gotten through to me back in those days, but I sincerely think that if someone who had experienced the pain of addiction would have spent time with us in high school and told us what the true effects it would have on our lives, it really would have meant a great deal. Someone we could have related to…..all we had was Nancy Reagan telling us to “Just say no” for crying out loud. With all of the advocacy programs out there today, I struggle to think of ONE that reaches out to all socio-economic classes. This problem reaches everyone, as you are so painfully aware.

    I will see you all on Wednesday. Until then, please know that I am praying for you all.

    • wmccaig

      Beth – As I was reading your comment, I was struck with how similar you and my nephew are. Like you, Kevin was the life of the party. Loved to make people laugh, especially by saying shocking outrageous statements. I think you are correct…young people can not be reached by national campaigns, they need to come face to face with the truth from people who have personally experienced the downside of all this. You and Charles (see above) have personal experience with this issue and can relate to it all in a way I never will be able to relate.

      Thank you for sharing so openly and honestly. Having grown up with you and having lived those teen years as your friend, I can totally relate to what you are saying. When I look back, I wonder where I would have ended up had Chris not been around to keep me on the right path.

  4. Penny

    You and your family are in my prayers. My heart breaks for Cindy and what she must be going through. I wish I could be there to give you a big hug. I’ll talk to you soon….

  5. Charles Fitzgerald

    Wendy, my thoughts go to the insanity the books talk about for addicts like myself. Why we do what we do might always be a mystery to normal people but an addict in his addicted state of mind doesn’t see the insanity. Why did I overdose over and over again only to go and find the drugs I remember hiding from the people who were with me. Why did I wish my mother would just die so that I could get what ever she left for me to continue on my path of destruction. Why did all the people around me think that what was going on with me and them was just life. Why did I not care about taking someone’s life for no reason at all. Why,why why??? The real question should be how, how do we bring about more awareness to the disease of addiction. How do we let families know that it’s not going to just go away. The disease of addiction doesn’t care about your economical,social or political status, it wants your life. Don’t ever forget Jim T., Richard W., and our friend Rudy and the others who have the same information that I have but choose to roll the dice of life. They are highly intelligent people from different walks of life who for some reason or another choose death over life. Let’s not forget that some must die so that others can live. I thank GOD every day for allowing me to live and letting others know that they to can live. It was mentioned earlier about the peer pressure of others but I chose those peers because they accepted me just like I was. In my day in time, either you were an athlete or you got high and hung out with the thugs. There was to much expected of me to be an athlete so I chose the thug life. You can teach any dummy how to get high but success requires work. I guest you know that my choice of treatment facilities would be the Healing Place model because it’s ran by addicts like myself. I have been to other facilities where the staff were normal people, it takes and addict to understand and addict. Our thinking is so far from normal that we’re labeled as crazy, that’s how I know how to talk to a Thuron. When I’m talking to and addict I’m remembering how I was at that same particular state of mind. It’s always better to find the message in any situation because “nothing absolutely nothing happens in GOD’S world by mistake”, so the question is not why but how do I find the message and learn and help others to learn from it.

    • wmccaig

      You are a very wise man Mr. Fitzgerald. I do not think it is an accident that God brought you into my life. You have taught me so much. I think you and Beth are onto something. I have been reading a book about community development on this flight and I am think the same principals of indigenous leadership could apply in this situation. Who better to help those who are abusing substances than those who have themselves abused substances. However, the question still remains “how” do you prevent people from getting there in the first place.

      My friend Beth reminds me a lot of my nephew Kevin and of you. All three of you are fun. You all three find pleasure in making others laugh. You all three are the “life of the party.” I think there is truth in you observation that in High School we fall into “tribes.” I was not athletic, but I choose the “brainy” crowd. I think there are certain “tribes” that are more at risk for substance abuse.

      What is we applied the same principals we use in community development to this issue by finding the young people who learned the lesson of just how insane all this is the hard way. People like You and Beth who lost friends to this insanity. There were at least 50 young people at Kevin’s funeral who like Beth, have to be questioning the insanity of the lifestyle. What if we mobilized those assets and took all that passion and the rage I am sure they feel and helped them channel it toward saving lives instead of sitting on the sidelines letting it happen or helping to make it happen.

      Thank you Gumby for dreaming with me! God will use all things for good. I just pray I have the wisdom to discern how we can join God in whatever is to come from this tragedy. Wish I could be with you guys. I know you could help me find the answers I am seeking. Miss you all!

  6. Pingback: Creating Safe Spaces: Preventing Addiction? | Wendy McCaig

  7. I’m sorry to hear of your loss and that of your sister and her family.

    I don’t have any answers to those questions. I wish I did. Even in my neck of the woods, which would not be considered impoverished by most, I see substance abuse wrecking lives all the time. In my job I see a lot of it. Every year, I know of at least two to three people, aged 14-17, with severe substance abuse problems.

    From what I understand, it comes down to making daily, specific decisions. It isn’t enough to say, “I won’t do drugs anymore.” The person must say, each and every single, specific time, “I will not take this drug in front of me.” It comes down to that, every time, every day. I wish I could offer more solutions.

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