I’m talking to people tonight, only I can’t zone in. I’m listening, mostly — as they talk about addiction, alcoholism, denial, self-image, and self-harm. They roll their heavily made-up eyes as they puff on cigarettes and share that their 18-year-old sisters just announced that they’re pregnant and are “super excited” about it. “What do they know about being a mom?” they complain. Their own moms are addicted to heroin, and “Dad ran off with his secretary,” not to mention their 19-year-old boyfriends were killed in car accidents about two months ago. “His blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit. He’d just graduated from AA . . .”
Some of them are old enough to be adults — they are adults — but they’re shoplifting like it’s 1999, and they too would rather drink than work on their recoveries. Never mind that they’ve been hospitalized because of their addictions. They are invincible, and, somehow, it’s everyone — and everything — else’s fault. “I have a personality disorder,” they say, or, “I don’t know. I just don’t know . . .” And they shrug their skeletal shoulders and cast bleary eyes to the floor and sigh.
And I cry a little inside as I look around the room at their faces, taking notes. They are all of them beautiful — each in their own way — but they are sick and cannot see what I see . . .
And not only that. In addition to observing each woman’s loveliness and potential, I am remembering the far off hustle and bustle of the streets in Bangkok, and the cripples on the dusty sidewalks of Siem Reap, and the children crying in Syria, and the man who lives in a one-room hut on the muddy hillside in Clear Water Bay. What is drug addiction to poverty? An eating disorder to starvation? Self-harm to all-out war? Don’t they know how good they have it?
And yet . . .
Their problems are real problems, too, I’m seeing, and no less of a struggle than their third-world counterparts’. It’s no more their fault that they are vulnerable to alcoholism, or an eating disorder, or drug abuse than children in Africa are at fault because they are vulnerable to starvation. And the same is true for you — for the job you just lost, the mortgage you’re worried about, the rattling sound your car is making, the anger problem you have, the medical bill that’s coming that don’t know how you’re going to pay . . .
Whatever your struggle, it is important.
The most important thing, though, isn’t actually your struggle. It’s how you deal with your struggle. The minute the world takes a step outside of its own head, and figures out what it really wants, and finds its value not in itself or in appearances but in what it can do for others, and realizes what it can and cannot control, and takes responsibility for its own actions . . . is the minute this world becomes a better place.
Note: Some portions of this story have been fictionalized.