comscore Stephen Tsai: Compassion needed for those with addictions | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Stephen Tsai: Compassion needed for those with addictions

Honolulu Star-Advertiser logo
Unlimited access to premium stories for as low as $12.95 /mo.
Get It Now

My mother was an intelligent and creative woman who once ran the occupational therapy department of a respected New York facility for the elderly. She grew up in Kalihi, and through her brothers’ sacrifices, became the first member of her family to graduate from college. She reared three children alone after her husband died.

And she lived the last 25 years of her life with daily doses of painkillers.

After suffering a severe back injury in her 40s, she underwent multiple surgeries, none of which would ease the discomfort as well as prescription medication.

She later was diagnosed with scleroderma, an autoimmune disease that leads to the hardening of connective tissue. Every swallow of food was a challenge, and the pain was constant, until her last labored breath 20 years ago. A morphine pump surgically connected to her spine had to be removed from her body before she could be cremated.

My sister, also brilliant and creative, devolved into drug addiction. She said drugs initially eased the physical pain, and then it eased all pain. And then? Work, AA and NA meetings, church were helpful. There were recoveries, relapses and more recoveries and relapses before she reached narcotic sobriety several years ago.

A close relative is a natural whiz in repairing cars and appliances, and reupholstering furniture. He taught my kids to surf, and he shares whatever extra money to help those without permanent homes. He makes friends easily and everlastingly. And he once nearly died from a drug overdose.

After surgeons cracked open my chest and retrofitted my arteries during a quintuple-bypass surgery in 2016, I was given a bottle of painkillers in case I needed any relief. I did, but I got rid of the bottle without opening it. With my family history and composition, I figured if I took one, I would want another, and then a hundred more.

I have heard the debates against addictions. A friend insisted that not being able to conquer an addiction was a sign of weakness or lack of will power. He argued his point between spits of tobacco dip.

Addictions can be puzzling to those not acknowledging the disease. How can someone trade dignity and health for flickers of ease? How can actors, singers and athletes perform on the grandest platforms, yet struggle to say ‘no’ in private?

The reaction from outsiders can be anger, sadness, pity, disgust, apathy.

But whether it initiates genetically or recreationally, an addiction can be as gravitational as quicksand, like pie to a diabetic, only with greater consequences. The disease’s grip is powerful enough to make it a priority over wealth, well-being and relationships.

It can engulf your neighbor, a co-worker, and even a popular star athlete, particularly if he absorbed sports-related concussions, a traumatic brain injury from a car accident, and debilitating blood clots.

It is not easy to continue to fight to emerge from the darkness. Some make it. Some make it, and then relapse. Some repeat the cycle the rest of their lives. The hope is there will be compassion and support — not ya-blew-it disdain — for those continuing to battle for freedom from chemical restraints.

Comments (33)

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Terms of Service. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. Report comments if you believe they do not follow our guidelines.

Having trouble with comments? Learn more here.

Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

Be the first to know
Get web push notifications from Star-Advertiser when the next breaking story happens — it's FREE! You just need a supported web browser.
Subscribe for this feature

Scroll Up