As a recovering addict and alcoholic, I find nothing quite so galling as a lecture about sobriety from a lifelong teetotaler. “Drugs are terrible! Take it from me, a person who has never tried a single one.”
You don’t even have to have struggled with the harrowing push-pull of chemical dependency to instinctively distrust such smug scolding; ask literally any human person. Ignoring overly sanctimonious counsel is, arguably, what makes us human. Pious warnings against pleasurable but illicit behavior are demonstrably, singularly, historically useless. I am pretty sure, for instance, that someone, somewhere once warned Donald Trump not to cheat on his wife.
Yet it was Trump, famously abstinent if not always sober-minded, who on Thursday made self-enforced abstinence from illegal narcotics the central plank of the administration’s belated new anti-opioid epidemic policy. He touted a “massive advertising campaign to get people, especially children, not to want to take drugs in the first place.”
“It’s going to wind up being the most important thing,” he said. “Really tough, really big, really great advertising.”
“This was an idea that I had,” he declared, “where if we can teach young people not to take drugs, just not to take them.”
Well. I see. Yes, that’s probably what we were doing wrong.
Nobody chooses their addiction. It finds you, and in my personal experience, it shows up as your best friend, your lover, your comforter, and your refuge until it’s too late and the destruction has begun. No one ever “gets over it” and no one is ever fully recovered. It is a matter of delicate equilibrium, and the temptations to succumb are many and powerful.
The best you can hope for is an armed truce: peace with vigilance. Every addict knows you cannot let down your guard for a moment. So being lectured about “Just Say No” by someone who has never been there — or worse, cannot acknowledge their own faults and limitations — is more than just galling. It is deadly because it gives false hope and ersatz comfort, not unlike the addiction itself.
You don’t need to have tried drugs to know this. It takes just a small measure of emotional imagination, but Trump has none. He is so grotesquely pampered, he can’t imagine an indulgence becoming a burden. He can’t imagine wanting something you can’t have.
I wouldn’t wish addiction on anyone, but it would be better hearing this crap from someone who’s been there. But if they have, they would never say it in the first place.