Twice this month I’ve heard someone say that it’s a good thing when people who are addicted to drugs overdose and die, to “Thin the herd and start over.” as one man put it.
If you share this view, there’s something I want to say to you.
First, I think you don’t understand what addiction is. Addiction is caused by trauma and suffering. It’s about pain and not knowing how to live with or heal your pain. Almost all severely addicted people have a history of childhood trauma.
Let me explain how this works. My mother was repeatedly raped as a child. In addition, her mother was emotionally abusive. So you have a little girl who is being brutally traumatized and who has no one to turn to for comfort. The compound effect of this was disfiguring for my mother’s nervous system. For the rest of her life, her heart rate, breathing and digestion all felt out of control. Her body, mind and emotions became an enemy. When my mother discovered heroin, she felt normal for the first time because PTSD rewires the nervous system into a constant state of terror and narcotics are a (destructive) short term fix for that terror. For some addicts the pain that drives them is less catastrophic, but the hook is always pain.
When you say that addicts should die what you are saying is this: Children who have been abused, neglected, even raped, and who grew up with nervous systems scarred from suffering now deserve to disappear; to die as punishment for having been injured and not yet knowing how to heal.
The inhumanity of this position is staggering.
You may imagine your world safer without such injured people in it. I know first hand the grief that addicts cause, but adding inhumanity to suffering is not the answer.
While the nervous systems of PTSD sufferers are often permanently altered, we’re developing better PTSD therapies all the time. We now have the opportunity to offer effective therapies to people who are scarred from trauma. The answer lies in healing, and in understanding human suffering.
Although drugs are not the answer to pain, there is more to the reality of addiction than you understand. Compassion reveals the truth if you can find it in yourself.
Cut paper portrait, @cincycac, pic by @riley_skates_brown
Thanks to Candy Chang for contributing a print to our Heliotrope print project, supporting the work of Heliotrope Foundation in Haiti this year, you can find them here: @theheliotropefoundation
Shot of the Swimming Cities rafts in the Grand Clol of Venice nicked from Fredric King's documentary "Fearless" which will be available online for just a few more weeks. Link in my bio.
For folks who like to see how things get made, the video team at the @cincycac has put together a video of The Canyon installation while it was being built. Check it out through the link in my bio today.
Back in 1999 when I was very first following the instinct to create a body of work that could be collaged out onto the street, to layer over the advertising, get torn and graffitied over, and to become a kind of living portrait of the city created on the city, I began with this little block print series. I thought of each block in the series as a syllable with which to build. The more syllables I made the more sounds I could construct, eventually forming words and remixing those again to create language. I made a handful of blocks, printed them onto transparent paper and started collaging them together outside on the street. I thought it would be a month long project but the sense of constructing a living language in direct dialogue with the city hooked me, and has lasted almost 20 years. And, I would say the language is still forming. This portrait “Jessica Downtown” is of my roommate and dear friend who I loved to daydream and argue about art with. She was a real creative force with which to share those seminal times. Here I drew her crossing the street as we explored the city together. This series will be up on Archivist Circle for 2 more weeks (under the 2000 tab). The whole thing will come down when the @cincycac retrospective does, so if you haven’t had a chance to explore it yet, the link is in my bio.
Thanks @artnet for featuring The Canyon, link to the feature in my bio today, exhibition up for just two more weeks!
I cried with you guys a lot yesterday as you shared stories of addicted loved ones. You told me about losing husbands and children, mothers and best friends, and about your own struggles to heal from pain without letting drugs consume you. I’m so moved by the outpouring of honest bravery and deep vulnerability that came flooding back to me in response to what I wrote about addiction and compassion. I can feel that we are ready for a sea change in how we understand addiction - which is to say how we understand human suffering.
For people who asked "What now?" I’d like to share a few resources that have been helpful to me. My journey started in earnest the day I picked up the book “In The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts” by Gabor Mate. Dr. Mate’s work changed my life, giving me a way to forgive my addicted parents by understanding the suffering which brought them to drugs. “Trauma and Recovery” by Judith Herman solidified my understanding of the way that trauma affects individuals, families, and cultures, and allowed me to ask the right kinds of questions to my addicted loved ones so that I might see them more clearly. “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel Van Der Kolk introduced me to forms of therapy that treat trauma including EMDR.
It’s my experience that therapies like EMDR, or Somatic Experiencing which bring the nervous system and body into the therapeutic process have huge potential for treating the trauma that drives so much of addiction. As well I’ve seen therapies that involve MDMA, mushrooms, and other psychedelics, when practiced along side a trained therapist do incredible things to uncover and heal repressed trauma. Folks also talked about the frustration of trying to have compassion with people who refuse to get help, anger at a drug industry that quietly profits from so much misery, and how difficult it is for people who are ready to receive help to actually get it. It's clear that we have a lot of work ahead of us. My own work right now lies in sounding the bell for a cultural wake up call. The link in my bio today is to a talk which broke my silence around growing up with addiction. Thank you for letting me know we’re in this together.
Thanks to Todd Chandler for contributing a print to our Heliotrope print project, supporting the work of Heliotrope Foundation in Haiti this year. You can find them here: @theheliotropefoundation
More paste ups from Cincinnati.
Family feeding pigeons, street paste, Cincinnati.
Canyon detail, sirens, and hanging trace paper installation. @cincycac