A much needed conversation has emerged from the tragedy in Las Vegas. It’s about opioids, prescription drugs (in particular anti-depressants), addiction and withdrawal. It’s a topic I can speak to with authority as I tried to commit suicide at age 23 after coming off of prescription anti-depressants.
I have spoken much and often on this topic over the decades since. I have gone into high schools and spoken on depression and suicide. I have been interviewed for both print and radio on the topic as well. In fact, following the overdose of actor Heath Ledger (of “The Dark Knight” fame) in 2008, I did an extensive national radio interview sharing my thoughts on all aspects of this national epidemic.
While it is unlikely that addiction and withdrawal to/from prescription (or illegal) drugs was the sole cause of the detailed planning and execution of the Las Vegas shooting, awareness of the perpetrator’s apparent reliance upon such drugs at least brings to the forefront, once again, a national nightmare that continues to grow due to our refusal to address it head on.
We have been over-medicating our population for decades. More accurate to say we have been willing participants in over-medicating ourselves for at least that long. While it’s easy to blame either pharmaceutical manufacturers or physicians, we have a responsibility to behave not as sheep but rather thinking, free-willed humans.
No one forces us to go the route of popping a pill for every discomfort or ailment. No one makes us medicate our children similarly. We choose to follow that option rather than looking into and applying our efforts to slower and less facile remedies. We want to be numbed, sedated, narcotized and relieved instantly of anything that is an inconvenience or causes pain.
But pain is meant to bring us present. Whether emotional or physical…it’s an indication that we are out of balance in either our emotional, physical and some would say spiritual selves. We are lacking something we need or overindulging in something we do not. Deaden the pain and lose the opportunity to know the root cause.
Part of our preference for instant pain killers evolved along with our desire for instant everything: news, success, fame internet, access…every form of gratification. We have lost the ability to just be with ourselves and work through the challenging situations that life presents. We have lost all semblance of patience. Which brings us to where we are: “safe spaces” demanded so as to not even rattle one’s minutest sensibilities.
But here’s the thing. Life is uncomfortable, at times unsafe and periodically painful. All efforts to avoid this messy fact ultimately leave us deadened to life itself.
Walking and deadened.
When I didn’t die after my attempted suicide, I made a decision. If I was going to try and live my life then I had to accept all of it, the good, the bad and the ugly. I couldn’t spare myself only the parts I wanted to avoid without also costing myself the parts I wanted to enjoy.
They are the flip side of the same coin.
My detailed thoughts on the proliferation of drugs can be heard here in the radio interview I did following Heath Ledger’s death. But in short, we are responsible for the choices we make. Long before we die, we have to choose how autonomously we want to live and then take responsibility for that autonomy. This means we cannot blame anyone else for our decisions…and this includes drug manufacturers and physicians. It means rejecting so-called expert opinions before thinking through and analyzing problems for ourselves. It means accepting that pain has a purpose, as does fear, and when we try and suppress either we wind up missing every opportunity to grow that life has in store for us. And since life is change and change is intended to beget growth, it means missing life. Period.