Lives Worth Talking About

Today I have the honor of participating in a service at Westminster Abbey in which we will grieve the lives lost to addiction while also supporting the families who have experienced it. The event is organized by a charity known as DrugFam, which was founded by a remarkable woman named Elizabeth Burton-Phillips. Elizabeth’s twin sons both became addicted to heroin, and only one them survived. She tells this moving story in her book Mum, can you lend me twenty quid?, which I commend to you.

As the 2000 people come to the Abbey today, there will be for each a brochure on the pews which contains the message below. If this message or issue resonates with you, I hope you will consider supporting the work of DrugFam (donation link here).

Addiction never truly happens to just one person. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and children are pulled into the pain and destruction that addiction to alcohol and other drugs can cause. Many of the emotions addicted people feel — hopelessness, shame, sadness — are also visited on the hearts of everyone who loves them. As family members understandably focus intently on saving the life of the person they love, they sometimes forget that they too are suffering and need help of their own. That’s why the support, compassion, and understanding that DrugFAM provides families is so important.

Today we come together to recognize the terrible damage of addiction and to memorialize the lives of those we have lost. We all need to grieve these enormous sorrows in our own time and way. But though this may be a day with some tears it is not a day of despair, but of hope. We have hope because we recognize that recovery from addiction is a reality that tens of millions of people around the world, including in this very building, are living today. We also know that many families facing addiction who seemed on the brink of destruction received the help they needed and as a result are thriving, loving, and strong today. By bringing addiction out of the shadows as we are doing here — making clear that the lives of addicted people are lives worth talking about — we are giving countless other families who have been too afraid to reach out the precious assurance that we are here for them.

Addiction isolates. It cuts off from society the person who experiences it and the families who struggle to help them. The community of fellow sufferers — the people who have “been there” — is the best remedy for this isolation, and the beginning of healing. As we come together today, we will be strengthened by that fellowship and can go forth from here freshly charged to bring comfort and understanding to families facing addiction.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.