Awkward Laughter

Because most things in life are humorous, even when they shouldn't be

By Onderwijsgek via Wikimedia Commons

Addiction: An Unlaughing Matter


Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Drug addict.

Drug addict, who?

There’s no good punch line here.

I swear. I wracked my brain. Then, failing to come up with one, I even Googled it.

By Onderwijsgek via Wikimedia Commons

I searched “alcoholic knock-knock jokes,” “addiction jokes,” and more trying to find something funny. All results just reinforced that, at least for addicts’ loved ones (like me), the subject is no laughing matter.

So for my readers who have come to depend on me finding a humorous twist on just about everything, I confess. I’ve failed. This story is a brief commentary on our society’s ridiculous approach to a very destructive and often deadly disease.

Death hasn’t yet struck down the wonderful woman who prompted this post, but I’m not sure why. She, and I’ll call her Judith, has struggled with some form of addiction for as long as I can remember.

Perhaps it wasn’t “addiction” originally. But 12 years older than I, she loves to tell the story of the time I witnessed her smoking pot when I was too young to know what it was. I later innocently “busted” her by mentioning around adults, “Judith smokes cigarettes that don’t have filters.”

Everyone laughed about that for far too long. Thirty-five years later, we all know she’s done worse.

We’ve seen it in the deterioration of her mind (she earned a college scholarship but is now unemployed), her body (a consistent hunch in her shoulders), and her spirit (an all too rare smile).

I’ve grown up watching the failed attempts of family interventions. I added to the problem by being the resident “hard ass” and then “softie,” unsure of how to help.

But after decades of uncertainty about what to do, I turned to the experts. I researched what works and what doesn’t and did my best to convey that to our family. Their “hard ass” impression of me stuck; my opinions were ignored.

That’s why when Judith got arrested eight months ago, I celebrated alone. I thought, “Finally, we have a chance to get her body clean long enough to get her mind straight!”

Family members chastised me for my unwillingness to speak on her behalf to limit her sentence for drug possession.

“What can I say that’s truthful to minimize it?” I asked, “Has she not stolen from us? Can we honestly say Judith’s clean?”

Scorn and shame.

Her judgment: five months in jail. During that time, I took her calls and visited regularly. I discussed the need to have a good plan in place when she got out and pushed to have counseling and other support for her and her family.

What I learned too late is that the penitentiary system isn’t built to redeem people, even minor offenders who want help, and loved ones often remain horrible influences.

While incarcerated, the judicial system offered minimal opportunities to Judith for drug and alcohol addiction treatment (but plenty of options to clean toilets and floors).

It threw up many roadblocks for me and other folks trying to help her recover (but provided zero counseling to those who could reintroduce her to society successfully).

So on the night they released Judith, her too-naive-to-know-better son and life-long addicted partner greeted her with booze and pot to celebrate the occasion. “She’d earned some fun,” they said.

Months later, they curse her spiral back into drug and alcohol abuse with neither understanding nor remorse, and the jailers ready themselves for her return.

Everyone else is left to laugh (and cry) at the absurdity of it all.

33 thoughts on “Addiction: An Unlaughing Matter

  1. Addiction is a terrible thing to witness. Year ago my brother and I had great plans to get my other brother clean and sober. He lost his house, his job… it was very painful to watch.

    We divided up duties, and mine was to contact AA for advice. The AA guy said to stand back.

    Talk about mixed emotions. I’m supposed to be a hard ass? How in the world is that going to help? AA guy said tell your brother that you love him, that it’s hard to see him in such a terrible situation and that you pray/hope/wish/desire for him recovery. Which is exactly what we did, after paying off some immediate expenses. (One last enabling gesture.)

    I have to say that I also felt some release from the unrealistic expectations my brother and I had set up for our selves.

    That was 20, 25 years ago. Not much has changed. Brother lost his right to drive due to one too many DUI’s. He and I don’t see one another except at Christmas.

    Yeah, it’s tough to watch.


  2. How sad for all of you. Some say addiction isn’t is a disease.. I beg to differ.


  3. This is a tragic failure on the part of the penal system. Shame on them. Different approaches work for different folks. The change only comes when one truly reaches their bottom and want to be open to help. Having a “clean” mind gives the perfect opportunity for that to happen if it is fostered by support. I am an addict and I reached my bottom, and have stayed that way for many years, but for many years I lived in an unimaginable hell. I agree with Jen. Addiction is as much a disease as Diabetes.


  4. I can’t fathom why addiction counseling isn’t offered in jail.
    That being said, until Judith wants to get better, there probably isn’t much you can do. And that’s the hardest thing to accept.


  5. As a recovering addict, I can say you’re doing the right things. I’m hoping your friend will be able to get herself help before it’s too late – and to extricate herself from those toxic relationships. Staying around supportive people is the #1 thing that made long term sobriety possible for me.
    And you’re right. There is nothing funny about addiction.


    • Thank you, Natalie. I’m certainly trying, but I’ve definitely made mistakes along the way with her. I have to say that my experiences with Judith and other loved ones are why I find so many of your older and recent posts inspirational.


  6. Wow! The dialogue “She earned some fun” said a lot about Judith’s family. How maddening that must have been to hear.


  7. Very, very sad. A dear friend’s brother was incarcerated for meth production. It was long enough for him not only to get clean but to teach himself to read. He was dyslexic but never diagnosed. I guess he had long enough to think and long enough to turn toward change. I hope and pray the same thing for your loved one, Judith.


  8. Working with the mentally ill population (most of which have some form of addictions issues) for as long as I did, I’ve seen how the jail system fails individuals and society. Hopefully something will trigger Judith in to seeing the love and support around her. Addiction is definitely no laughing matter.


  9. This is so sad but unfortunately so true. I feel you have the right understand and it’s a hard one to come by, especially when you see a loved one going through it. The hard ass approach isn’t easy. Keep it up. I know it’s hard but you seem to be the best support she has.


  10. Addiction is such a difficult thing on everyone involved.


  11. this was a very sad read. 😦


  12. Very powerful and very true. The way our judicial and penitentiary system treats offenders is, in itself, a crime.


  13. I’m so sorry you, Judith, and all her other loved ones are going through this. The system is so obviously and completely broken when it comes to dealing with addiction that it’s infuriating. And heartbreaking.


  14. This is a sincere, honest, and insightful commentary on how we treat those who suffer from drug addiction. 😦 Thank you for writing…


  15. WOW! “She earned some fun”……Nothing like being an enabler right? And they wonder why she ended up back in it! Very Powerful post. As a 7yr recovering addicted gambler and too much alcohol, I can say any addiction is deadly and devastating, even gambling addiction. I appreciate you sharing this. It is the only way we can inform, educate, and raise awareness about all addictions and shatter the Stigma of those addicted and in recovery.
    God Bless,
    Author Cat Lyon 🙂


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