Addiction is not alien to me. During my childhood days I became aware that addiction is a vital part of my family tree. I was barely eight years old when I learned that my grandfather's compulsive gambling, womanizing and alcoholism turned the family's once affluent lifestyle to downright poverty. My uncles, aunts and even some of my cousins were also caught in the addiction web—despite the glaring effects of addiction in the family—and my father had his own share of difficulties due to alcoholism and smoking.
I was a silent witness to the addiction battles that my family could not win. As years went by, I cried, grieved and bounced back as my grandparents, aunts, uncles and a cousin in turn lost the battle and left this world. My grandfather and uncles engaged in gambling, alcoholism, smoking and womanizing. My aunts were into smoking and gambling; My cousin was into gambling, alcoholism and smoking; then he took his own life while in his mid twenties. When my father left us, it was unbearable. It was so sudden, there were no parting words. And I couldn't grieve; I had to be strong because my mother was too weak to cope with her loss. My time for grieving and recovery didn't come until 10 years after the funeral.
I vowed not to join my family on the addiction battlefield and, after what seemed like a thousand and one summers, I decided, against all odds, to study psychology.
I work as a college counsellor and have encountered addiction over and over again as I help young people deal with their family, personal and social issues. Drugs, food, sex and gambling addictions are commonplace in my day-to-day counselling practice. I journey with my clients in their struggles with giving in to desires and making more responsible choices. Some of their battles are won; some are not.
Addiction again painted my life grey when my best friend of 20 years suddenly passed away. He had a big heart for helping people. He was a writer, linguist, editor, priest, counsellor and friend to people from all walks of life. He listened to me, watched me shed tears and helped me become whole again each time I came to him broken and hurting. But year by year his health deteriorated because of heavy smoking. He died waiting for a heart donor, while at war with diabetes, hypertension and enlargement of the heart. And for the nth time addiction created a deeper void in my life.
Months after I lost my friend, I started a support group to help young people share their struggles with various forms of addiction and gain from one another. I also did research about eating disorders among female college students who are engaged in sports, dance, pep squad and theatre—and certainly, a number of them value thinness more than health. I am planning to conduct another eating disorder study of male college students. And, before the year ends, I will focus on obese students at the college, as I've realized that food and behaviour addiction also need to be addressed.
The many faces of addiction are frightening, but it is never too late to confront the fears. Life goes on. The battles that my loved ones fought made me muster the courage to move forward and fight. And I draw strength from the wellspring of the One above as I continue, one step at a time, on this journey.
About the author
Delma is a college counsellor at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde in Manila, Philippines