Jon Orens came to speak with our class about about his experience with his son who struggled with addiction. Orens lost his son Dan in 2016 and has been advocating for reform ever since. He speaks about his experiences with his son and about the advocacy and research he has been involved in with groups in and around Philadelphia, even working with Philadelphia’s Opiates Task Force.

He spoke to us on a variety of topics relating to addiction: from brain chemistry to drug laws. He covered a lot in a very short amount of time, but one thing stood out to me.

Orens was incredibly frank about his relationship with his son. Even admitting that at a certain point in his sons addiction he was an ‘asshole.’ But, somewhere along the line, his attitude shifted. At a certain point it was no longer defiance he was expressing but helplessness. Oren’s description of this attitude change was really impactful. Sometimes we just want to do what we want to do, disregarding how it might affect those around us. In addiction, at least for me, there was a slow progression from it being something I wanted to do to something I needed — when I felt embarrassed and ashamed of what I was doing. I was an asshole when other people wanted me to stop and I didn’t want to. But when other people wanted to me to stop and I couldn’t, my attitude changed. I wanted to stop too. I lived in a state of constant shame and regret, and its hard to be indignant with people after its obvious to you and everyone else that there is a serious problem. After all protests had been made and I couldn’t reject them or fully accept them, I ended up existing in this weird space where I can recognize all the hurt I am causing, but its not enough. I could empathize and agree with the protests and pleas, and I even wanted to stop as much as they wanted me to. And I tried. If I was allowed to continuously do damage to myself and my family, I probably would have. I know that that might not be the case for everyone, and I hope it isn’t. I had to be forcibly put into time-out from society. Court intervention gave me a glimpse into my future and the time and distance I needed to reflect on that. I have some problems with the punitive approach, but at that time in my life it was what I needed.

Oren’s illustrated how difficult it can be from the perspective of the parent. Eleven years is a long time. I know I am not responsible, but I had the urge to apologize for how hard addiction can be for parents. Both parties are often helpless, and neither realize it until much later than we’d like. I was interested in this topic before taking this class, but I didn’t expect to become as passionate about it as others. With each new speaker, I am starting to think maybe I do have some responsibility to do what little I can to help going forward.