Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Remember, Compassion


"Remember, compassion," I said as sweetly as I could through gritted teeth, hiding my own impatience.  Reminding my two older children to not get mad when their new baby brother cried all the time.  But, the constant crying of my third child was wearing us all down a little bit.

"Imagine what it must be like to be hungry or in pain or sad or need to be held but you don't have the words to say it," I explained to my then 3- and 5-year old "olde” kids.  "You cry, you scream until someone helps you."

I still use the "remember, compassion" line with my kids.  And myself.  A lot.  

I think we could all use the "remember, compassion" line.  I don’t want to sweetly say it to anyone though.  More like I want to scream it to the world.

When I saw the news of Philip Seymour Hoffman I felt sad.  I felt so sad that he died, that his children lost a father.  I felt sad because addiction is an incredibly sad disease.

But then I got angry and confused.  Reading Twitter and watching people on TV talk about how “Hollywood is so messed up” and “do drugs and that’s what you get.”  The messages were so ugly and mean and heartless.  Where’s the compassion?

You think prescription drug abuse and heroin addiction is just in Hollywood? Oh man, I have compassion for your ignorance.  I am a suburbanite born and raised (much to my wish-I-lived-in-a-big-city chagrin) and my very suburban family has been impacted by prescription pill addiction in a devastating way. For my mother, it began with prescriptions from doctors in the 1980s for her anxiety and depression.  Then a LOT more prescriptions for chronic pain and more anxiety in the 1990s.  The new millennium has been a blur of opiates and muscle relaxers and pain patches and overdoses and withdrawals and relapses.  I have sat with my mother holding her hand while she suffered the most terrible, ugly, inhuman withdrawal.  I searched for the mother I knew as a child.  For a moment, I thought I saw it.  Right before she kicked me out threatening to call the police because I was trying to control her.

Sure I’m mad, my heart is filled with all kinds of mad.  Mad that I don’t see that mother-person I knew so many years ago.  Mad that I can’t help her.  Mad that she is missing so much of life.  And then I remember, compassion.  I imagine what it must be like to be hungry or in pain or sad or need to be held, but not having the words to say it.  And my heart breaks.

My husband, Tim, is a high school principal in a very suburban area. He has seen a lot of well, everything.  One night, I called him wondering why he was late and yeah, I was annoyed because he had promised the little kids a special story and I was tired and I needed a break and you know, geez why wasn’t he home already?  

"Sorry honey, I have a kid with me right now overdosing on heroin," he said very calmly.  "Tell the kids I love them, but I'm not making it home for that story tonight."

But Tim sure had a story for me when he got home.  He told me how a young man stumbled into his office unable to stand or make much sense.  His eyes were rolling back in his head and he was crying and moaning.  Tim got down on the floor and held his hand while he waited for the ambulance and searched for some sign of the regular teenage kid that had been in his office a few days earlier.  "I couldn’t see him," Tim said.  "He was no where.  It's the most awful thing I've ever seen.”

Should we get mad? Hell yes.  Mad that a teenage kid will either die or struggle for the rest of his life with addiction. Mad that he was so stupid to get mixed up with heroin. 

But then we remember, compassion.  That kid is just like my mother, just like Philip Seymour Hoffman and a million other people...broken.  I lump myself into this broken people category (but thankfully I've never been a drug user).  Everyone has different reasons for being broken.  Parts of my heart are patched together shoddily with cheap glue that needs to be reapplied sometimes.  Those damaged parts of my heart are from bad genes, a mean mother so doped up she said a lot of cruel things that sometimes haunt me and really shitty coping skills early on in life.  

Broken people tend to have an unbelievable sensitivity that makes them feel more and feel deeper. Which sadly, makes them hurt more.  Sometimes broken people just don’t have the words to express to the world that they are hungry, in pain or sad or that they need to be held.

Should we get mad? Maybe. But I think we should all take a moment to remember, compassion.  It probably won't totally fix the broken people, but neither will rage and hateful comments.  There is always room for more love, understanding and acceptance.  

If you want to DO something, here’s my advice:

  • Open your eyes suburbanites, addiction doesn’t give a shit how much money you have.  Your kids will see drugs and know people that snort or shoot heroin.  Know that it can happen in your neighborhood.
  • Talk to your kids about drugs and the real, ugly, deadly consequences.
  • Report doctors that are more drug-pusher than doctor.
  • Don’t share prescription drugs with people.  Duh, but I’ve seen a few mom friends do this.
  • Lock up the prescription drugs at your house and your in-laws if you have children over the age of 12.  Hopefully you would do this with a loaded gun, do it with the pills.
  • Volunteer at a homeless shelter, soup kitchen or hospital.  Help people that are broken or sick or down on their luck or sad...that really can make a difference.  
  • Hug your kids and your friends.  Be a good listener.  Reach out to someone struggling.  
  • Teach compassion. Remember it. Live it.


  1. When I saw the cover of the Daily News and listed all the drugs in his house next to his photo, I was outraged. This man was ill and doesn't need to be vilified. He has children that can see this. It makes me mad when people treat people who suffer from addiction as criminals instead of people who need help.

    1. It makes me so mad when people get mad too. I just wish we'd all be a little kinder and less judgemental.

  2. I'm with you.
    This was beautifully written.


  3. I mean. This is amazingly well written. Beautiful.

  4. Beautiful! I am considering embroidering those two words on a wall hanging to remind myself and my family to remember compassion every day. Thank you for this.

    1. thank you! I love your idea of puting those words on a wall hanging. I might do that too. Thank YOU so much for reading and commenting and caring.

  5. Oh man, I wish this could be everyone's motto! How better the world would be...

    Addiction is horrible, I know, I've seen it first hand too. I feel terrible for all those who struggle with it. And especially those who leave loved ones behind.

    Thank you for this post, Angela!

  6. Amen. I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago about how we need more kindness. I think compassion goes hand in hand with that. Build a campfire and someone pull out a guitar. I feel a round of Kum Bah Ya is in order.

  7. This is so good, Angela. Thank your for being so open and real about this! 'Remember: compassion' is just easy enough to remember and to teach by example.

  8. This was so important to read. I need to practice this mantra and teach it to my kids. Sadly, compassion is never the first emotion that pops up on my emotional meter. In fact it isn't even in my top five probably. I need to work on this. What a gift you are giving to your kids.
    Thank you for your honestly. Our family went through at least three years of gigantic anxiety because my SIL was using opiates and prescription drugs. It made the family a combative, ugly anxious mess for a while there. Her boyfriend died of an overdose so we didn't feel like we had much time. Thankfully she has been working her ass of at recovery. I wouldn't wish addiction on anyone. It really is a family wide problem not an individual one. Thanks for your honest story. So excited for you to share this this summer!

  9. Angela, this makes me feel so close to you. I'm broken too.

    I love this post.