This way to death by alcohol…REALLY???

this way death by alcohol

by Kenneth Justice

~ Yesterday at coffee a woman nearby me spilled sugar on the table which suddenly prompted the stranger sitting beside me to say, “Every time I see white powder on a table I can’t help but think of cocaine

Excuse me?” I said

The older man continued, “Oh sorry, that probably didn’t sound right. I’m a retired judge and I worked in drug court for the last thirty years of my career“.

Since I spent last year working at a drug rehabilitation clinic we cross-referenced a few names and it turns out we had some mutual acquaintances.

You’d think a drug court judge would be really tough on criminals wouldn’t you? But I’ll tell you something, when I was in my forties my younger sister got hooked on heroin and it changed my entire perspective on life. I knew that jail would not help her and it made me realize that sending drug addicts to jail probably wouldn’t help them either” he said.

What really stood out to me about our conversation was that his sister’s heroin addiction helped to humanize all of the faceless people that stood before him in court all those years. You see, its really easy to pass judgment on others for addictions, shortcomings, or what many people call ‘sins’ that we ourselves don’t struggle with…….but when the heroin addiction occurs within our own family; we start to realize that we are no better than anyone else.

Its easy to snub our nose toward the homeless, the divorced, cheating spouses, alcoholics, or fill-in-the-blank when we ourselves don’t struggle in those areas……but when all-of-a-sudden we find ourselves late on a mortgage payment, drinking too much alcohol, cheating on our boyfriend, or about to file for divorce….we suddenly see that those faceless people we walked by for so long are no different then ourselves.

Perhaps I am guilty of drinking too much coffee and getting hung up on things that are irrelevant…..but the more I observe Western Culture the more I begin to believe that there is a general dehumanization that is occurring all across Europe and the Americas. Too many people who are healthy and satisfied…..are not seeing the faces of the people who are sick and hungry. While some people enjoy record profits, earnings, and big paychecks……so many other people are struggling to scrape up enough money to make their house payment.

When I spent time working in the local jail, I was given a firsthand glimpse into the lives of the people at the very bottom rung of our culture; and what surprised me the most was that they are no different than you or I. While many of the men and women I met came from broken homes…..many of them came from good families, many of them came from the suburbs, from affluent areas…..just like the Judge’s sister; they are no different than you or I.

Are we headed to being the same world that Charles Dickens lived in? As I wrote over the weekend; Dicken’s lived in a time when the people at the bottom of society were ignored and despised. He took it upon himself to give faces to those who were mistreated and displaced……he gave a face to the faceless.

I’m not really sure where we are headed as a country. Many days I wake up and don’t see any visible signs of improvement. Too often people appear to be bullheaded in their desire for nothing to change, “leave me alone to live my life, don’t bother me with the problems of society” is the attitude of so many people.

So how is your sister?” I asked the Judge.

It is a tragic story” he said, “I took it upon myself to pay for many different treatment programs and after years of rehabilitation she finally overcame her heroin addiction…..but she never gave up alcohol. One day I received a phone call that she was in a coma at the hospital, she never woke up. She died at the age of 51 from alcohol poisoning….she drank herself to death

While the story of the Judge’s sister was indeed tragic, he spent most of the time in our conversation telling me about all of the success stories he experienced as a Judge. Many of the young men that came to him should have been given heavy sentences according to the letter-of-the-law; the Judge should have given many of them life in prison…..but instead the Judge broke the rules and would set them free. Years later he met with many of those young men who are now living successful lives and have wonderful marriages and children. “Had I given them life in prison I would have destroyed their lives…but instead I gave them hope” he said.

I’ll be honest with you. When I was growing up I did not have a sister who was hooked on heroin. I was very blind to much of the world around me…and I regret the many years of my life that I ignored what life was really like for the people at the bottom and for the people who lived next door to me. While I am still relatively young, I am embarrassed by the callousness I displayed for so long…..its difficult for me to even write this as I tear up over the may years of my life that I wasted on triviality.

I simply don’t want to waste any more of my life….is that too crazy of a thought? For now, I will have another cup of coffee.








Categories: People Without Faces

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125 replies

  1. If any of us were to happen upon a person struggling to survive an accident, I am sure that we would all do what we could to help. The addict is ignored and shunned so often by people all through society because he is seen as doing harm to himself. That component makes many turn away in disgust. The truth is that a person drowning their sorrows in alcohol no longer has a healthy emotional state. The delusion that they won’t be in a coma, this time. Or won’t kill a family on the road, this night. That is the illness. Unless they can be treated for the underlying emotional pain, we are helpless to give them anything but kindness.

  2. There is an ethnography called “Righteous Dopefiend” that mostly just tells the story of a group of homeless heroin addicts that lived in California. It does a really great job of making them seem like actual people rather than failures at life. It also talks a lot about how law enforcement really doesn’t help things by coming along and taking everything they have and destroying their camps, and how going to jail ends up being more of a respite from the streets than a punishment.

    • Anna,

      I googled the title and read a few reviews just now…it looks like a REALLY interesting book. I empathize with many of the points the author makes. When I worked in the jail it seemed like nobody received any help by coming there.

    • Yeah, I can understand that, I feel like often times people who really need help more than punishment get put in jail, and it creates this ‘out of sight, out of mind’ type mindset. However, I like to think there is a growing awareness of addiction and how it’s incredibly similar to having a disease, which should help improve ways of dealing with it in the future.

  3. You give a face to the faceless

    And me too 😉

  4. “Leave me alone to live my life, don’t bother me with the problems of society” means, I refuse to see and look at my problems.

    Every living human is our problem, as the other mirrors us

  5. I especially share your concerns about this dehumanization. While people may use the power of the web and blogs as you have–to share broader insights and remind us of our humanity, I think it more often serves to encourage segregation and depersonalization. Instead of interacting with the real world or meeting new and different people, we seek out like-minded others, or remain insulated in our own virtual network of online friends and colleagues. Had a woman not spilled some sugar, you may have never met this judge and shared both your stories…

    • Textual,

      I agree that its not enough to merely write about problems or talk about problems with likeminded people….its irrelevant unless we go the next step toward action.

  6. She drank herself to death, because her inner sorrow was too overwhelming.

    When all the people flee, the elusive but real inner sorrow become unbearable…And we have become
    dehumanized in so far as we flee our dark side…

    • “When all the people flee, the elusive but real inner sorrow become unbearable…And we have become
      dehumanized in so far as we flee our dark side…”

      pretty powerful sentence there

  7. Good points, although I disagree that this problem of dehumanization is unique to the West. I lived in a non-Western country (and grew up in a household permeated by a dominant non-Western culture), so I can say the West is far more humanizing than at least some cultures.

    None of which contradicts your main point; if anything, it elevates what you have to say to a universal human tendency.

    • Blogging,

      very fair point you make. I’m always careful not to talk about things I don’t know about and my experience and observations are limited to only the Western Cultures that I am familiar with…….one of these days I will make it to the East 🙂

  8. The story of the judge was fantastic…waw…

    As for this “I simply don’t want to waste any more of my life” – why not try some soothing Indian tea…? :))

  9. My mother died of alcoholism. My daughter struggled with drugs for years and has won her battle. My inner judge has had lots of lessons very close to home.

    My heart goes out to anyone who is in such pain they have to escape from life no matter the method. And we all escape at times. Life can be difficult. We escape in TV, books, religion, shopping, sex, work and just about anything else you can think of. Our means of escape is simply more acceptable and/or legal and not life threatening.

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful post.

    We are all on this little ride together. Sometimes I think addicts, etc. are here to teach the rest of us compassion.

    • “we escape in tv…..”


    • For me, it was learning that I was just as vulnerable to vice and addiction, in an obvious way, than anyone else.

      When I was young, I remember myself saying, “Why can’t ‘they’ realize that what they’re doing is stupid? That drinking alcohol, doing drugs, having premarital sex… is stupid?” ‘Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall’, goes the saying in Proverbs, and I was about to fall.

      Years later, I came to ironically answer my own rhetorical question: “Oh.” And I rued that I had asked it. I had come to realize my life was not as idyllic as I thought it was, and I had partaken in many of the things I had so detested. My pride had blinded me. Not only did I not realize that my family dysfunction and the abuse I’d suffered was not normal, but that my struggle to cope had been arrogant and cowardly at the same time. I had not been loving others, or myself, and I was denying the mercy of my Master.

    • “my pride had blinded me”


      Entire memoirs could be written on that statement brother….so many of us are guilty of being blinded by pride….I really appreciate your comments

  10. These words were not lost on me–you eloquently organized my thoughts in this post. Absolutely spot on and excellent. I’ve lived outside of the States for some years of my teens–and the window that I looked through changed my life–a little at a time.
    Things need to set in sometimes–until I felt compassion, I didn’t know what it was. More of us could use some in daily lives methinks. And now I’ve arrived at the next stage of the game–I’m living my life as a witness of the unconditional love of my husband, his family, and my God–yes, in that order it sprang to life within me. Now I’m ready to go help wherever I can, I won’t be able to do it all, but I will want to, and that change from inward service to outward? Is built on my faith, now rearranged in the appropriate order–in God, and the seed he planted in me.

    I’m sending you a huuuuuge online hug–hope that’s OK.

  11. Most people don’t want to accept that there are people out there struggling. Instead, they choose to keep their head in the sand. But, that type of attitude helps no one. Each person could make a difference in the life of someone else, if only they were to open their eyes to the world around them. Keeping your eyes closed doesn’t make the problems go away.

  12. That’s an awesome judge you met! I always wondered why it’s considered a sin to do drugs, do you know?

    • UncurbMe,

      I think people have a tendency to label something a “sin” that they don’t like;

      Sometimes it can be confusing, take for instance the subject of food;

      —) I know vegetarians who think meat eaters are guilty of immorality or “sin” for eating meat

      —) I know vegans who think vegetarians are guilty of some kind of moral wrongdoing or “sin” because vegetarians eat dairy

      —) I know meat eaters who think vegetarians are guilty of “sin” or whatever u want to call it for not eating meat

      Life is weird at times

    • That’s the beauty of it! 🙂

  13. So beautifully written. It’s good to hear about a judge that tried to make a difference and that he could see the results. Again, for so many, a judge is usually considered a mean, corrupt face hiding behind the black robe of the grim reaper. You put a face on that profession as well. I lift my cup of coffee up to you, sir. 🙂

  14. For various reasons, I’m pretty conscious of the tendency to ‘dehumanise’. It’s ugly, and unworthy, But while I agree with you, please don’t forget the other side of the coin. My husband was alcoholic – and intensely human, charismatic, talented and intelligent – but my children and I suffered for it. He chose not to seek help, while I was criticised, accused of overreacting or imagining it, told to pull myself together, or regarded as pathetic and/or self-indulgent for not leaving sooner than I did (not simple for a woman with four children).

    Don’t for goodness sake think I’m asking for sympathy here. I don’t need it or want it. It was a long time ago, my kids and I are all terrific, and we probably all learned a lot more about strenth, compassion and understanding than many who have an easier road. But please remember in your advocacy of the ‘dehumanised’ that those they may have damaged along the way often slip through the cracks even more silently and irrevocably. We were just lucky.

    • Helen,

      You give a great view of the other side, thank you 🙂

    • I don’t think problems are isolated to lone individuals. I think the more hidden they are, the deeper they go– the more they affect others, and it increasingly becomes easier for those just barely outside the circle of destruction, as it were, to turn a blind eye. So many times did I see something like this, for myself, or those I cared about.

    • Second you on that Helen. Witness so many identical situations where the ‘other side of the coin’ is the worst of it’

  15. I would have come to the same conclusion — get busy enjoying life!!

  16. Embarrassed by your youthful callousness. Bless you, sir. I wish there were more like you.

  17. Another great post! I’ve never understood the “my problems are okay, but your problems are unacceptable” mentality. We all have struggles, and we all make bad choices, so why would we judge someone else for their particular flavor of bad choices?

    Your new judge friend sounds like a pretty awesome fella. 🙂

    • He was definitely very talkative 🙂

    • “My problems are okay, but your problems are unacceptable.”

      Brilliant summation. Yet in my experience, some will hold their problems tight to the vest, and will lash out if they are suddenly revealed. Such was my own situation; a self-loathing as well as a contempt for others seemingly suffering more.

  18. When people talk about problems or anything that’s bothering them, will always find a solution or simply make them feel better, not forgotten. I hate the phrase: This is my life..I know what I’m doing..I agree that everyone deserve a second chance, but second chances for some people are like reading the same book twice.
    By the way my coffee taste good too..:)

  19. These Dickens references make me think about currency. I believe that we may be on the verge of redefining currency. This could benefit mankind. I’m talking about emotional currency. More and more people, myself included, are finding money generally distasteful, a necessary evil. I am trying to set about a formal study of psychology, to help integrate this system, to make a better future for all of mankind. My blog started because I discovered that I have Asperger’s/High functional ASD, what have you. I believe that the future will be brighter when the neurotypical and autism, I call it ‘The human spectrum’, come together to understand the nature of the universe.

  20. I’ve often reflected on this too. I’ve most recently felt this way with the shooting at LAX. We’ve allowed ourselves to grow numb and apathetic in many ways as a society. Maybe a coping mechanism for dealing with the unhealthy lives we all lead?

  21. “dehumanization” Case number this and that, insurance number this and that, Social security number this and that. We aren’t any more than numbers for years now, most of the times.
    Less and less we look at the human side of things, since we lost sense of our own humanity.

  22. Great Post! Having lived in various places here in the States and having the opportunity to meet a broad range of people over my lifetime, I have found that a large amount of people don’t want to know whats going on in someone else’s backyard. ,It seems so much easier for many to turn a blind eye. The problem is, when you can’t or don’t have compassion for your fellow man, when you can no longer empathize with the challenges of another human being, you become desensitized to the issues facing a majority of people. I have found that people who have the most compassion for another person are those who have overcome great difficulties in their lives. Also, those who have watched someone close to them struggle with addiction, abuse, mental health issues, e.t.c… It’s easier somehow for those people to show empathy and understanding of another person’s plight in life.

    It’s wonderful that you met a Judge who cared for the people brought to his bench and didn’t just see them as nameless faces, he saw them as human beings. We definitely need more Judges like the one you were lucky to have met.

  23. Excellent post! I might argue (for lack of a better word) that the problem is less about dehumanizing than it is about selfishness. I only care about what affects me. I am unable to connect to anything outside of my own frame of reference. One my frame widens (like the judge) then I am able to connect with much more.

    • I’m sure selfishness plays a big role, yet I’m somewhat convinced that one of the main elements of Jesus’ ministry was that he humanized the needs of the lower classes and those that were ignored. Perhaps the Pharisees and hypocritical Christians of our day are guilty of selfishness …but many of them simply believe they are “good believers” when In fact they are very detached and disconnected from the needs and life of people who are the outcasts, captives, sick, and suffering

    • I think we’re really saying the same thing. I agree that many are detached. I think the root of the detachment is selfishness, where we’re only concerned with our own needs and lives and tend to ignore those on the fringe (or beyond). If it doesn’t touch us we don’t bother with it.

  24. It hurts even more when a friend “dehumanizes” you. When I told a friend about my childhood abuse growing up and gave a description, his response was, “Oh, so typical child abuse?” It didn’t feel typical at the time. That tendency to dehumanize can also act like a safety blanket. We don’t like moral ambiguity, and I don’t think that’s limited to Western culture. Labels are simple, so they feel safer. In the end, I think a lot of people hide behind them.

  25. This is a very thoughtful post. It hits home in a personal way for many. It’s all about perspective and how we view one another on a human level. Beautifully told. Thank you 🙂

  26. I follow your blog regularly. I enjoy reading them as they are always fresh and relevant. This blog I took the liberty of reposting on my Facebook page, if you don’t mind. What a great humanizing message!

  27. Interesting coffee place you have! Judges, prostitutes, mail order brides! All kidding aside, you have a very thoughtful piece here. I didn’t realize the depth of sadness in the human condition until I spent a year working in a busy urban trauma center emergency department. I gained new admiration for the staff of such places. They see the worst and the best of people from all walks of life on a daily basis. It was an eye opening and heart rending experience.

    • Painting,

      well, I hang out at a lot of coffee houses…this morning I met this older gentleman who walked in with his nurse. Turns out he contracted meningitis while running a refugee camp in Africa, and 15 years after the meningitis he developed Parkinson’s…he is very feeble and in order for him to get out of the house his live-in nurse had to come with him, fascinating story to say the least.

  28. Reblogged this on Dear Miracle and commented:
    Due to the death of my mother and many prolonged estate matters, as well as a dozen other unexpected and expected deaths near and far to me (friends, animal companions, relatives, associates), I have had to focus all of my attention elsewhere. However, I will be back very soon with lots to talk about! In the meantime, I follow “The Culture Monk” and particularly enjoyed the content of his most current blog.

  29. I feel sorry for people who have not suffered in life. They are blind, they do not feel, they can’t connect. Others see that they don’t see, and they are somewhat embarrassed for them.

  30. It all goes back to “the more we know the more we realize how much we don’t know”. The same is true for experiences in life. When people ask me “how are you and all your gang?”, I always say, “Tonight they are all good, who knows what tomorrow will bring”. I hope my children will behave and all will be perfect tomorrow, but because of my own past and all I have seen my own mother experience I would never assume life will be easy.

  31. Thanks for another clear-eyed, heart-felt post, Kenneth.

  32. I am passing this one on to my local member of parliament!

  33. Wonderful post. Isn’t it interesting how we bump into interesting people when we least expect it.

  34. For me it became just too much work juggling family, job and responsibilities with substance use, mainly alcohol. I really did get sick and tired of being sick and tired and a few arrests for stupid stuff made me see where I was headed. Clean and sober 11 and 1/2 years.

  35. Wonderfully stated! I’m not sure I can change my strong opinion on cheating as I’ve been on the receiving end of that, but I totally agree that perspective is huge. Actually, I strongly believe in empathy. Very few people practice it and it really shows. That’s the beauty of life… it’s never too late to change. (Of course this probably helps because I’ve just been watching “Scrooged” with Bill Murray LOL – a version of a Charles Dickens’ tale. Go figure. 🙂 ) Oh… I meant to say on a previous post… “A Tale of Two Cities” was far from boring and I loved it! Read it in high school. Fabulous book.

  36. Very inspiring! Another moving post.

  37. Food for Thought.

    Until an ICI (Invisible Chronic Illness) sufferer, I never gave thought to the millions around the world who are invisible. We withdraw from someone talking or singing to themselves. We cringe from those who stagger or spill food & drinks. We are impatient with those that are slow (in thought, speech or movement). We ignore the homeless, jobless or criticise those on Government Social Service benefits.

    I had to quit my 16 year secure job at the age of 56 due to chronic ill health and pain. Suddenly, I became one of the ICIs. I now see the homeless begging on the city street, feel compassion towards someone in obvious pain and/or have some disability, welcome the kindness of the person who gives up their seat for me on public transport when I’m too fatigued/in pain (to stand).

    So why did it take so long for me to ‘see’.

    I was too busy living my own life to take the time to open my eyes and look around me.

    • Vicci,

      “I was too busy living my own life to take the time to open my eyes and look around me”

      great comments and your last sentence is a really strong reminder for us to slow down in order for us to see those around us 🙂

  38. Reblogged this on Gotta Find a Home and commented:
    You see, its really easy to pass judgment on others for addictions, shortcomings, or what many people call ’sins’ that we ourselves don’t struggle with…….but when the heroin addiction occurs within our own family; we start to realize that we are no better than anyone else.

  39. beautiful, powerful, thank you for sharing this.

  40. Reblogged this on Second Chances at a First Class life and commented:
    My interest is in seeing people who have been to prison reenter society with dignity. I’ve found so many people who want to just live their lives – “it wouldn’t happen to me” – but many, many times, when I have a one-on-one conversation with someone I find they have a son, a niece, a father, a sister, an uncle, a BFF who has gotten in trouble. The humanization of the issue is immediate. But people don’t want to talk about it because incarceration is a taboo subject in polite society. It goes unquestioned. Of course the system has only given people what they deserve. Instead we’d benefit from more compassion as described in the story below. After all, about 95% of inmates return to society at one point or another. Do we want them to have a chance at a life outside or will we consign them to return to prison? Let’s give people a 2nd chance at a 1st class life instead.

  41. Such a thoughtful post. We live in a world of Us vs Them. I wish I could be more optimistic about the human race getting to the simple truth: there is only Us. I’m afraid small kindnesses are not enough, and the world has grown so extraordinarily unkind.

  42. Great post! It’s appalling that people are merely ‘moved out’ of society for failing to follow binary rules.

  43. Beautiful, thought-provoking post; thank you so much for your honesty and heart 🙂

  44. CM thank God you got an awakening any at all; many people live their lives with blinded eyes, but what you are describing is what majority of society in any culture is dealing with; it might appear that many folks who are rich and well to do have it together as well, but addiction doesn’t discriminate. All walks of life face the evils that is prevalent on the street. Ask some of those folks you meet living on the street and you might be surprised about their backgrounds. Now that you are at your point of awareness, what will you do about it? I’m not talking about writing and drinking coffee (lol) 🙂

  45. I know it would be easy, but I am not going to blame the dehumanization on technology. I agree that it happens, but I think it happens because we forget to care, not because some giant screen forces us to stop caring. Great post

  46. How wonderful to know that there are people like your friend the judge in our justice system… People who can see through eyes of compassion, rather than being blinded by self righteousness

  47. Reblogged this on Rise Like Air and commented:
    Everyone has a story. Everyone. And it could be ours one day.

  48. On pp. 79-80 of AA’s “12 by 12” I believe the root of almost all addiction comes from “In many instances we shall find that though the harm done others has not been great, the emotional harm we have done ourselves has. Very deep, sometimes quite forgotten, damaging emotional conflicts persist below the level of consciousness. At the time of these occurrences, they may actually have given our emotions violent twists which have since discolored our personalities and altered our lives for the worse.”
    For me this is the basis of my dis-ease.
    Wonder full post thanks.

  49. Great post, re-blogging. Grateful for thoughtful-living people.

  50. Reblogged this on I Am Gina Marie and commented:
    Grateful for thoughtful-living people.

  51. I read with empathy throughout this thoughtful article. Dehumanizing goes on even of the very poor and homeless. They elicit no feelings in others. Here my friends might say don’t give money to these beggars, they all belong to a syndicate. And so simplifying the reality of other lives means we don’t exercise even our conscience. Thank you for this beautiful article.

  52. Hello Kenneth, I bumped into this post somehow and I am so glad that I did. Where to begin…for now I begin by clicking on follow and digesting this meaningful post. Thank you. 🙂

  53. I’m so happy I found your blog, this is just such a beautiful piece. It’s so true, you only understand what people go through when you put yourself in their shoes. Many just pass judgement without knowing what’s going on.

    Beautiful piece of writing. Just beautiful.

  54. Reblogged this on Working Class Hippie and commented:
    Most touching yet intellectual post I’ve read in a while. Well-worth a read!

  55. That’s a beautiful thought. I wish more people thought like you.

  56. Learning this more and more everyday. Not to be so judgemental. Life is one huge lesson. Thanks for this post.

  57. That last bit, about regret over how long it took you to find awareness, sounds very familiar to me. I still beat myself up sometimes for the same lack of sensitivity in my youth. There are many other, similar, ideas that crop up in my mind at times–the awareness of global poverty changes my comfort to hedonism; the awareness that women are disrespected makes me angry because it places me, unwillingly, in a group of idiots without the sense to respect their own mothers; The same with racial bigotry–it makes me ashamed to be white. So much yin and yang in every speck of existence, the rights and wrongs all confused into a single casserole–even coffee has its ups and downs, pros and cons. Still, I drink coffee.

  58. For the last 6 years I have struggled with a brother who is addicted to heroin as well. As I often looked down on him for his addictions it wasn’t until recent that I began to understand him as a person again, and that of my brother. He’s been sober just over a year now and I finally feel as if I’m getting him back. It’s a true treasure what this judge has done for those in need. My brother is capable of so many things, an excellent life being one of them. I just hope he can make these choices with a second chance. Great post!!

  59. Very well said. The further people stray from the collective of being human, the less likely they are to recognize the the humanity in their own hearts. Thank you for surfacing this.

  60. Reblogged this on SABAS LOG.


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