Life is precious, and I can't let my thoughts about the sad demise of Whitney Houston go by unmentioned. There are no definitive reports as to her cause of death, but I think the assumption that drugs were involved, whether directly or indirectly, would not be amiss. At the very least, years of substance abuse likely damaged her health to the point where she was susceptible to losing her life so early.
As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, using drugs or alcohol to alter my perception of reality goes against my beliefs. In fact, drinking and drugging are out of the question for observant Mormons, which protects many of us and our children from the ravages of that particular addiction. However, it does not protect all, because the freedom of choice which is our birthright still allows every individual to make his or her own personal decision.
In the interest of respecting and protecting privacy, I will not mention names or details in sharing with you that my family has been touched by the destructive forces of drug/alcohol addiction. I have seen the consequences with my own eyes, and the definition of devastating is to watch mood-altering substances take over a person's body and soul, changing a loving, honorable person into a mere shadow of his or her former self. This unspeakable horror, the epitome of evil in this world, is a tragedy for everyone concerned, and I hate it beyond my power to express.
In June of 1971, Richard Nixon officially declared a "war on drugs," citing drug abuse as "public enemy number one." I think he identified the aggressor correctly, but it's plain to see that a war on drugs conducted by the government has not been able to get the job done. What is essentially a moral battle cannot be fought with laws only. Rather, individuals and families must wage this war...and it must be fought in the hearts and in the minds of every man and woman, every parent and child. Vulnerability to drugs begins in the spirit, and the best defense is having a healthy one.
Love and example are powerful teachers, and while they cannot alter personal choice, they can certainly influence it. A strong family (where freedom is encouraged within the limits of reasonable and firmly enforced parental boundaries) is a bonus...as is allowing a child to assume the natural and/or justly applied consequences of behavior whenever possible. Refusing to "fix" everything that goes wrong in a young person's life creates numerous opportunities for him to realize that certain behavior brings certain results. It also allows ample room to develop much-needed coping skills and engenders the self esteem that comes from acting upon the world independently. In addition, children should be taught to understand, accept, and express their feelings, while being encouraged to channel them in non-destructive ways. All of these things, offered in an atmosphere of love and personal responsibility, increase resilience and even forge some armor.
I also believe it is essential to gift our children with a strong spiritual foundation and practice, whatever form that might take. Of course, there is no guarantee that this will keep them off the path of substance abuse, but it does place an anchor in the soul that can help a person find his way back from the abyss that is addiction, just as his family can provide the necessary tether.
In more general terms, we can all fight the moral war on drugs by speaking up, reaching out, and chipping in. Our society is sick, and we really do have to be the change we wish to see in the world. We can use our voices by avoiding media that glorifies drug use, refusing to laugh at jokes that minimize that behavior, talking turkey with other parents who seem to view experimentation as just another phase of adolescence, and forming alliances with those who agree that drugs are a scourge on our society. What's more, if we really want to see our culture's attitude toward substance abuse change, we need to walk the walk by using moderation ourselves. I'm not saying everyone has to become a teetotaler, not even close, but I can't count the times I have attended parties in the workplace where grown, professional men and women have behaved like frat kids, drinking their way to stumbling steps, slurred speech, and sick stomachs. What can possibly be the point of placing oneself beyond having fun...especially when you can't even remember anything the next day...or if you do remember, you're not proud of the memory?
The thing is, it matters. What we do matters. A society is defined by the way people behave...and yesterday's taboo can easily become today's tradition. Has the use of substances become a tradition in our country? Yes. Has the abuse of substances become a tradition? I fear that it has, and I fear the results as well. Families are destroyed, people forfeit their lives, and our nation is weakened. We are losing too much and too many...with too little resistance.
So, my friends. Here comes the thought question. Are we fighting the good fight...doing everything we can to make a difference? Or are we being complacent...onlookers only? Or worse, enablers?
One thing is certain. To do nothing at all is a choice in itself.