“I know that some of you don’t understand.”
That’s a lyric from Neil Young’s song, “The Needle and the Damage Done,” the anthem of heroin and loss. I used to wonder about that line and had no idea what it meant until I was forced to confront the complexities of addiction. We all recognize addiction as a destroyer of life, but few grasp the underlying nature of its power, the malevolent force that not only defies our humanity but in some ways defines it.
I’m the father of a wonderfully bright, sensitive girl who fell into the trap of addiction. Many people, perhaps most, never find their way out again. My daughter did, but it took years – precious years. She lives with a lot of regret, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Hard lessons are lasting ones.
Have you ever really thought about the expression, “hooked”? Here’s the thing – it’s not the hook so much as it is the barb on the end. The hook grabs you but the barb prevents you from freeing yourself. Once the hook is set you won’t ever be rid of it, even if you do manage to get away multiple times. That’s not to say the addict’s situation is hopeless, but as long as they continue to swim in waters where hooks are dangled, chances are they will bite again. But why? The “why” is the mystery of it. The “why” is the barb.
The authors, Barbara Zito and Dr. Art Tomie, set out to illustrate a critical piece of the puzzle by presenting the “mystery” of addiction in the form of a woodland fable. This series of short stories: “The Tail of the Raccoon, Part 1: Secrets of Addiction”, “The Tail of the Raccoon, Part II: Touching the Invisible” and “The Tail of the Raccoon, Part III: Departures”, shed much needed light on the least widely understood mechanism of addiction – the compulsion and loss of free will that occurs when an object is paired with reward.
This compulsion operates in another realm, beyond the physical euphoria associated with the drug. Addiction is a primitive, hard-wired behavior pattern that belies the notion of free will. The addict is trapped, compelled not only by an unrelenting physical dependency but by the brain’s vulnerability to ritualistic behavior at an unconscious level.
The authors’ goal is prevention, because that is where the potential for victory is greatest. Early and continuous education is the only lasting strategy for battling the scourge of addiction. Recovery, on the other hand, is more like a tenuous truce that can lapse back into the chaos of war when triggers are present.
This series should be read and discussed in every classroom so that children are given the reasoning tools to resist experimentation; so that they can understand and recognize the drug as a potential agent of evil. For those in a rehab setting, or their families, the books offer a glimpse behind the curtain to better understand, and hopefully cope, with the drama of addiction.
I know that some of you don’t understand. Truthfully, I don’t either entirely, but I do know this: No one sets out to be an addict. It is a horrible existence. At one point in my daughter’s recovery I said to her, “It’s a prison.” She said, “Yes, a prison in Hell.” You might think to yourself, So why stay? The door is open, isn’t it? No, not really. If you understand anything, understand that.