Many historians suggest that at least three decades must elapse before one can rightly discern the enduring legacy of an emerging trend or historical occurrence. Having now crossed the thirty year old threshold, I have recently given much thought to the lived-in realities that define my generation, and even the generations immediately following.
Over the course of the next decade, my generation will rise to lay claim to greater positions of power and authority, influence and responsibility throughout society. However, I have deep concerns that if my generation does not properly address the demons of our childhood, our lived-in experience, we will be doomed to either repeat the mistakes of our parents, or to be stagnated by them, in the years to come. And this would prove most tragic, not only for our society, but for our world as a whole.
The prominent issues that have confronted my generation are great in multitude and potent in its impact. The issues range from paternal absenteeism, which I, like many, deem to be society's greatest ill, to the AIDS epidemic which first emerged during my childhood. Yet, this past weekend's tragedy that unfolded at the Beverly Hilton Hotel and wrought the demise of the iconic Whitney Houston revealed yet another tragedy, one that, in part, also defines my generation; we are the children of addiction.
Certainly addiction, particularly substance abuse, did not originate with the parents of my generation. Previous generations have known well the horrific perils associated with parental addiction. But I argue that in previous generations, this addiction was not as widespread. The rise of heroin, cocaine, crack-cocaine, methamphetamines, even alcohol abuse over the last thirty years, has had dire consequences upon an entire generation. In many cases, the children of addiction were robbed of their childhood and forced to grow up all too fast.
Being counted among the children of addiction is an impossible hardship. From an early age, they are taught, even forced, in many cases, to veil their parent's addiction from the public eye. They learn how to cover for their parent's absence from work or erratic behavior while in public. Even before reaching driving age, they are well acquainted with driving inebriated, stoned, and passed-out parents home. These children have held their parents' heads steady over toilets. Theirs has been the great misfortune of cleaning parents soiled by their own vomit, blood, urine and feces. They have gazed upon parents through plates of glass over countless holidays. In too many earth-shattering cases, the children of addiction have been the first to discover their parents' lifeless bodies and to make arrangements for their burial after an overdose.
The tragedy of addiction transcends class and race. I have witnessed its impact upon former high school classmates from the impoverished Bottoms of Third Ward to the mansions of River Oaks in Houston, Texas, from the hardened streets of South Dallas to the manicured lawns of Highland Park near where I attended college. I have witnessed such addiction passed on as an inheritance to an emerging generation.
In my pastoral ministry, now rapidly approaching its tenth anniversary, I have engaged countless parishioners who are the children of addiction. Even now as young adults, some with children of their own, the pain of their parent's addiction remains present with them and continues to manifest itself within them as shame and distrust of others. As adults, some still seek to provide cover for parents still struggling with addiction.
This past Sunday, we bore witness to the overwhelming effect of a second weekend tragedy. For years, while the world looked upon her parents' addiction and made jest of it, there was Bobbi Kristina, the only child of Bobbie Brown and Whitney Houston, seemingly suffering in silence. As reported by Ian Drew, senior editor of Us Weekly, Bobbi Kristina became her mother's caretaker as she struggled with addiction. Drew stated, "In a way [Bobbi Kristina] was the adult in relationship." Although Houston's cause of death remains unknown at this time, the years of drug abuse has reigned supremely in the public's consciousness, and likely, too, within Bobbi Kristina's memory.
As paramedics whisked the 18-year-old into an ambulance and rushed her away to a hospital, my heart sank, once again. I could not help but consider that she was overcome by the weight of her worse fears too closely realized; that addiction would take away one, if not both, of her parents from her, forever.
My prayers go out to Bobbi Kristina, but not just to her, but to all who must somehow -- likely through prayer, a supportive community, and therapy -- find the strength to face the demons of their parent's addiction.
And after facing these demons, find healing and closure within themselves.
God is able.